After burning up all the blacktop New Mexico had to offer with The Fast Red Road and rewriting the Great Plains into a place both more and less Indian than they already were with The Bird is Gone, Stephen Graham Jones has now brought the story up to Montana. And it's leaner than it's ever been. Not because it's about the Blackfeet, who have been schooled by the government on how to starve, but because this time the story is just about one Indian boy, standing in the middle of the road at night, trying so hard to change history. And these next moments, the headlights already throwing his shadow miles behind him, across all of America, these next moments are going to decide everything. Balanced on the knife edge of winter like the Blackfeet have always been, a single act can resonate for generations. This is Ledfeather. The story of Doby Saxon, standing in that road just outside Browning, his hands balled into fists, the reservation wheeling all around him like he's what the last hundred years have been hurtling towards.
And maybe he is.
We thought he was dead already just when he opened the door. Junior looked at me from behind the counter and I knew what he was asking: if I'd put the sign up or not? We were supposed to be closed was the thing. He'd already turned the grill off and loaded everything back in the freezer and locked it. All I was doing was lining up bottled waters in the short cooler. It was what we were having to make tea from that week, because it was the second snow already, before the first even usually came, and in East Glacier, you get that kind of wet in the ground and everybody's driving into Browning to take their showers, because the water from the tap runs brown.
Instead of pulling the door shut, too, that kid, that Doby Saxon whose mom had married that crazy Yellowtail who didn't even have an Indian name anymore, he just stood there like he was waiting for permission to come in, waiting for me or Junior to say to him it was okay if he had the snow crusted all over him still, that he could stomp it off in here if he wanted, that we'd mop it up later.
But then I looked to what he was looking at.
I started to say something but Junior held his hand up to me flat and sudden, his palm to the ground, a cut off motion I'd only ever seen him use once before, in a bar over in Havre, right before one cowboy stabbed another cowboy in the neck with some shiny kind of cow tool I'd never seen.
I sucked my cheeks in, went stiff, ready to walk away like we'd had to then, because stabbed-in-the-neck cowboys aren't something an Indian can run away from in Montana, and didn't even look up to Junior when he said whatever he said to the kid. It was Indian, two words maybe, or one long one, and I was pretty sure Junior only knew four or five all told, most of them having to do with cigarettes, because sometimes that's the only way to get an old man to give you one, is to ask right.
What he said now, though, I don't think it had anything to do with cigarettes. I asked him later what it translated out to and he said he didn't remember saying it, but he was lying. I mean, I could go down to the old people's home in Browning right now and, if I said whatever he said that night to Doby Saxon, I think every wrinkled old face in that room, that hasn't even recognized their own kids for twenty years, every one of them would turn over to me, to see if this white woman was really saying that, and where did she hear it?
And did the kid understand what Junior said?
I don't know.
With Malory Sainte for a mom and a Yellowtail dad, he probably just knows cartoons and whatever you can learn from the label of a beer bottle. The only Indian they would have talked around him would have been about car starters and pawn stubs.
The kid did at least turn to the sound of Junior's voice, and that's when I saw that his truck wasn't just parked out on the curb, or across the street. The street was empty.
My face went hot and for the thousandth time I was glad I'd never had any kids on the reservation, because this is what happens. They drive off every road they can, and then, because it hasn't started hurting yet, whichever one can still walk does, to the nearest light, his face packed with windshield glass. But then I was running to him like he was my own son anyway, like they all were, and I was pulling him through the door, trying to get all the snow off at once, see where he was broken.
When I looked up to Junior, instead of calling the ambulance he was looking where the kid had been looking, at the back door, like some other Indian had just walked through, out, and he was trying to remember who it had been but it had been too long already.
He came back to me just as lost as the kid, then nodded slow like he does, pulled the phone off its rack.
This is how a night can start to last forever up here.
Inside of two minutes we had the table pulled out from one of the booths and the two bench seats pushed together, and the kid's chin wasn't even shaking, and that's not good.
"Where are they?" I said to him, close to his face, trying to give him all the warmth I'd ever had, all the bodyheat he needed, and he focused his eyes down on me like he was trying to make sense of my words, or just be sure I was real, but then he went blank again, just staring through me, and over the next hour and a half his clothes finally started to melt, and a pool formed around him, for us to mop up later.
It wasn't just snow, though.
The seats are orange so it was hard to tell at first, and the floor's just that varnished wood you can't tell anything with, but when Junior dipped his other dish towel down into the meltoff, it came back red, bloody, like that one side of the kid's face.
"Hold on," I said to him, "we called, they're coming. You made it."
This was the Blackfeet Reservation on a Saturday night in late November, though.
By the time the ambulance got there, it was Thanksgiving.