I sat in the booth chewing listlessly at my rubbery eggs and over-fried
bacon and my bone-dry toast. I looked at my plate, at the yellow oilcloth
they called a tablecloth in this dingy little roadside diner, at the
sunlit rectangle with the co'-cola sign across the bottom that was the
door to this place, at the fly that kept landing on my eggs. Bored, I
yawned and wished I was back in bed. I thought about visiting Grandma
since I was in this neck of the woods, but decided to leave well enough
alone. I looked at the other people eating, just some white kids in one
booth and a couple of Indian men in the booth behind them.
The kids looked pretty young to be 'way out here on the highway by
themselves, but you never knew about these local country kids, they could
be pretty independent. There was a boy and two girls, the boy eating with
the quiet desperation of a teenage male, wiping up every drop and eyeing
the girls' plates as though he'd snatch and devour what they didn't eat
fast enough. The girls ate in leisurely silence. I yawned again and tears
squeezed out of my eyes.
The two Indian men,looking prosperous in their crewneck shirts, the
kind with alligators embroidered on the pockets, talked quietly as they
ate. I could hear snatches now and again, "...that fence is
illegal...built it?...Mama's land..." The fly landed on my eggs again. I
was beginning to dislike that fly. I thought about Grandma again, how I
missed her, but I was doing O.K. as I was out here.
A shadow appeared over the cola sign and the door swung open on its
squealing hinges. Three Indians from the rez down the road a bit, I guess,
in Levis and dusty ropers, with bandanna headbands holding back their
hair, pulled themselves over the threshold and settled into the nearest
booth. As they ordered, one of the girls stared hard at them from across
the room. The fly washed its legs on my eggs. Grandma surfaced in my mind
again; no need for anybody to guess the truth and if I went to see her
somebody was bound to.
The two Indians with the 'gators on their chests were laughing now,
"...Mama turned right around, faced the backseat ... ran him right off the
road... how many Lincolns can there be in Wyandotte county?...... wasn't
him..." The waitress delivered a second plate to the white boy behind
them. I lifted my forkfull of eggs, but put it down with disgust when I
saw the flyspots. 'Sorry, Grandma,' I thought, 'but I've made a place for
myself where nobody treats me like shit.' The white girls and the rez
Indians ate on without a word, the first girl still looking hard.
In a voice just absolutely dripping with scorn she spoke; "Look at
those Indians." The boy, devoted to the serious business of food disposal,
glanced up at the girl and over at the rez Indians she pointed to. The
three rez Indians froze in their seats, sliding their eyes sideways toward
the white kids. The second girl looked at the three men near the door and
got a little smile on.
Turning back to her companion, she pointed over her shoulder to the two
city Indians behind her and said quietly, "Look at those Indians." The
first girl frowned and returned to toying silently with her food. The boy,
shoveling forksfull into his mouth, looked at the two girls and over at
the two city Indians. The three men by the door commenced eating again and
I looked at the blond hairs on the back of my hand in a shaft of sunlight,
wondering mildly how her reply made any sense to anybody.
The two 'gator Indians had apparently taken to telling lies about their
youth,"...playing piano in this honkytonk...whupped those Texas whiteboys
...get their tails across the state line and never come back..." The rez
Indians paid their check and cleared out. The white boy had at last
captured the remnants of the girls' breakfasts. The first white girl gazed
at her emptied plate and desultorily sucked the straw of her sodapop,
while the second girl stared out the door into the lighted square above
the sign. She looked sad, and I briefly wondered what she had to be
unhappy about; being free, white and someday twenty-one. I asked for a
refill and took a sip, at least the coffee wasn't half bad.
The white boy, having eliminated all possible food in his vicinity,
whispered something to the first girl, who nodded. He leaned over the
seatback to one of the 'gator Indians and said, "Hey, Daddy, can Arlene
and me have some pie?" The other Indian, the one who had sat with his back
to me, turned to wave the waitress over. I looked at the second girl and
at the second Indian and saw the original version of her face, except she
dressed hers in brown hair and freckles.
The eggs turned rowdy in my stomach as I lifted my cup to drink the
dregs; the fly was buzzily drowning in my coffee. I got up and paid my
check at the old black register by the door. For some reason I wanted to
look at those folks across the room again, but all I saw when I looked was
Grandma's house in my mind. Well, hell.
'Family is family,' I thought as I stepped through the door into dusty
daylight, 'and the rez is right on my way.'