اورویل رد فدر

کتاب: هیچی نیس، آرام باش / فصل 10

اورویل رد فدر

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Orvil Red Feather

ORVIL STANDS in front of Opal’s bedroom mirror with his regalia on all wrong. It isn’t backward, and actually he doesn’t know what he did wrong, but it’s off. He moves in front of the mirror and his feathers shake. He catches the hesitation, the worry in his eyes, there in the mirror. He worries suddenly that Opal might come into her room, where Orvil is doing…what? There would be too much to explain. He wonders what she would do if she caught him. Ever since they were in her care, Opal had been openly against any of them doing anything Indian. She treated it all like it was something they could decide for themselves when they were old enough. Like drinking or driving or smoking or voting. Indianing.

“Too many risks,” she’d said. “Especially around powwows. Boys like you? No.”

Orvil couldn’t fathom what she meant by risks. He’d found the regalia by accident in her closet many years ago while searching for Christmas presents. He’d asked her why she didn’t teach them anything about being Indian.

“Cheyenne way, we let you learn for yourself, then teach you when you’re ready.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Orvil had said. “If we learn for ourselves, we don’t need to be taught. It’s ’cuz you’re always working.”

He saw his grandma’s head turn from the pot she was stirring. He quickly pulled out a chair and sat down.

“Don’t make me say it, Orvil,” she said. “I get so tired of hearing myself say it. You know how much I work. How late I come home. I got my route and the mail doesn’t stop coming just like the bills don’t. Your phones, the internet, electricity, food. There’s rent and clothes and bus and train money. Listen, baby, it makes me happy you want to know, but learning about your heritage is a privilege. A privilege we don’t have. And anyway, anything you hear from me about your heritage does not make you more or less Indian. More or less a real Indian. Don’t ever let anyone tell you what being Indian means. Too many of us died to get just a little bit of us here, right now, right in this kitchen. You, me. Every part of our people that made it is precious. You’re Indian because you’re Indian because you’re Indian,” she said, ending the conversation by turning back around to stir.

“So if we had more money, if you didn’t have to work so much, things would be different?” Orvil said.

“You didn’t hear a thing I said to you, did you,” she said.

Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield. A big old name for a big old lady. She’s not technically their grandma. Indian way she is. That’s what she told them when she explained why she was a Bear Shield and they were Red Feathers. She is actually their great-aunt. Their real grandma, Jacquie Red Feather, lives in New Mexico. Opal is Jacquie’s half sister, but they grew up together, with the same mom. Jacquie’s daughter Jamie is the boys’ mom. But all Jamie ever did was push them out. Didn’t even quit using when they were in her. The three of them had all begun life in withdrawal. Heroin babies. Jamie shot herself between the eyes when Orvil was six, his brothers four and two. Opal officially adopted them after their mom died, but she’d had them plenty before that. Orvil only has a handful of memories of his mom. He’d overheard these details when his grandma was talking to a friend on the kitchen phone late one night.

“Tell us something about her,” Orvil would say whenever he got the chance, moments when Opal was in a good mood and it seemed like she’d answer.

“She’s how you all got those lousy spellings of your names,” Opal told the boys over dinner one night after Lony told them the kids were calling him Lony the Pony at school.

“Nobody says it right,” Lony said.

“She did that?” Orvil said.

“Of course she did. Who else? Not that she was stupid. She knew how to spell. She just wanted you all to be different. I don’t blame her. Our names should look different.”

“She was fu@king stupid,” Loother said. “That sh@t’s weak.” He stood up, pushed his chair back, and walked out of the room. He’d always complained the most about the spelling of his name, even though people still pronounced it right. No one had ever even noticed that Orvil was supposed to be spelled Orville—with that useless extra l and e. As for Lony, it was only because Opal knew their mom, knew how she said it, that anyone anywhere knew it wasn’t supposed to be Lony as in pony.

Orvil manages to get the regalia on and steps in front of the full-length mirror on Opal’s closet door. Mirrors have always been a problem for him. The word stupid often sounds in his head when he looks at himself in the mirror. He doesn’t know why, but it seems important. And true. The regalia is itchy and faded in color. It’s way too small. He doesn’t look the way he hoped he would. He doesn’t know what he expected to find. Being Indian didn’t fit either. And virtually everything Orvil learned about being Indian he’d learned virtually. From watching hours and hours of powwow footage, documentaries on YouTube, by reading all that there was to read on sites like Wikipedia, PowWows.com, and Indian Country Today. Googling stuff like “What does it mean to be a real Indian,” which led him several clicks through some pretty fu@ked-up, judgmental forums, and finally to an Urbandictionary.com word he’d never heard before: Pretendian.

Orvil knew he wanted to dance the first time he saw a dancer on TV. He was twelve. It was November, so it was easy to find Indians on TV. Everyone else had gone to bed. He was flipping through channels when he found him. There on the screen, in full regalia, the dancer moved like gravity meant something different for him. It was like break dancing in a way, Orvil thought, but both new—even cool—and ancient-seeming. There was so much he’d missed, hadn’t been given. Hadn’t been told. In that moment, in front of the TV, he knew. He was a part of something. Something you could dance to.

And so what Orvil is, according to himself, standing in front of the mirror with his too-small-for-him stolen regalia, is dressed up like an Indian. In hides and ties, ribbons and feathers, boned breastplate, and hunched shoulders, he stands, weak in the knees, a fake, a copy, a boy playing dress-up. And yet there’s something there, behind that stupid, glazed-over stare, the one he so often gives his brothers, that critical, cruel look, behind that, he can almost see it, which is why he keeps looking, keeps standing in front of the mirror. He’s waiting for something true to appear before him—about him. It’s important that he dress like an Indian, dance like an Indian, even if it is an act, even if he feels like a fraud the whole time, because the only way to be Indian in this world is to look and act like an Indian. To be or not to be Indian depends on it.

Today the Red Feather brothers are going to get Lony a new bike. On the way they stop at the Indian Center. Orvil’s supposed to be getting two hundred dollars to tell a story for a storytelling project he read about on Facebook.

Loother and Lony sit outside in the hall while Orvil is led into a room by a guy who introduced himself as Dene Oxendene. Dene sits Orvil down in front of a camera. He sits behind the camera, crosses his legs, leans in toward Orvil.

“Can you tell me your name, your age, and where you’re from?” Dene says.

“Okay. Orvil Red Feather. Fourteen. Oakland.”

“What about your tribe, do you know what tribe you are?”

“Cheyenne. From our mom’s side.”

“And how’d you find out about this project?”

“Facebook. Said it paid two hundred dollars?”

“That’s right. I’m here to collect stories in order to have them available online for people from our community and communities like ours to hear and see. When you hear stories from people like you, you feel less alone. When you feel less alone, and like you have a community of people behind you, alongside you, I believe you can live a better life. Does that make sense?”“Sure.”

“What does it mean to you when I say ‘story’?”

“I don’t know,” Orvil says. Without thinking about it, he crosses his legs like Dene.


“It’s just telling other people something that happened to you.”

“Good. That’s basically it. Now tell me something that happened to you.”

“Like what?”

“That’s up to you. It’s just like you said. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. Tell me something that’s happened to you that stands out, that you thought of right away.”

“Me and my brothers. How we ended up with our grandma, who we live with now. It was after the first time we thought our mom overdosed.”

“Would you mind talking about that day?”

“I barely remember anything from when I was younger, but I remember that day perfectly. It was a Saturday, so me and my brothers had been watching cartoons all morning. I went to the kitchen to make us sandwiches, and I found her facedown on the kitchen floor. Her nose was all smashed into the floor and bleeding, and I knew it was bad because her arms were curled up at her stomach like she’d fallen down on top of them, which meant she nodded out walking. First thing I did was send my brothers to the front yard. We were living off of Thirty-Eighth then, in a little blue house with this tiny gated patch of grass that we were still small and young enough to like playing on. I got out Mom’s makeup mirror and put it under her nose. I’d seen that on a show, and when I saw that it barely fogged up, I called 9-1-1. When they came, because I told the operator about how it was just me and my brothers besides our mom, they came with two cop cars and a CPS worker. He was this old Indian guy I never saw again except for that one time. It was the first time I heard that we were Indian. He recognized that we were Indian just by looking at us. They carried our mom out on a stretcher while the social worker showed my little brothers a magic trick with a book of matches, or he was just lighting matches and it felt like magic, I don’t know. He’s the reason they called our grandma and why we ended up getting adopted by her. He took us to his office and asked who else there was besides our mom. After talking to our grandma Opal, we left and met her at the hospital.”“And then?”

“Then we went home with her.”

“Home with your grandma?”


“And your mom?”

“She’d already left the hospital by the time we got there. Turned out she just got knocked out from the fall. She didn’t overdose.”

“That’s a good story. Thank you. I mean, not good, but thank you for telling it.”

“I get two hundred dollars now?”

Orvil and his brothers leave the Indian Center and go straight to Target in West Oakland to get Lony’s bike. Lony rides on the back of Loother’s bike—on pegs. Even though the story had been sad to remember, Orvil feels okay about having told it. He feels even better about the two-hundred-dollar gift card in his back pocket. He can’t stop smiling. But his leg. The lump that’s been in his leg for as long as he can remember, as of late it’s been itching. He hasn’t been able to stop scratching it.

“Some sh@t just went down in the bathroom,” Orvil tells Loother when he gets outside Target.

“Isn’t that what it’s supposed to do?” Loother says.

“Shut the fu@k up, Loother, I’m serious,” Orvil says.

“What, you didn’t make it in time?” Loother says.

“I was sitting there in the stall, picking at that thing. You remember that lump I got? I felt something poking out of it. So I pulled, like, I just pulled one out, put it on some folded-up toilet paper, then went back in and got another one. Then one more after that. I’m pretty sure they’re spider legs,” Orvil says.

“Pfffffft,” Loother says and laughs. At which point Orvil shows him a neat pile of folds of toilet paper.

“Let me see,” Loother says.

Orvil opens up the folds of toilet paper and shows Loother.

“What the fu@k?” Loother says.

“Right outta my leg,” Orvil says.

“Are you sure it’s not, like, splinters?”

“Nah, look where the leg bends. There’s a joint. And a tip. Like the end of the leg where it gets skinnier, look.”

“That’s fu@ked up,” Loother says. “But what about the other five? I mean, if they are spider legs, there should be eight, right?”

Before Orvil can say anything else or put away the spider legs, Loother’s on his phone.

“You looking it up?” Orvil asks him.

But Loother doesn’t answer. He just taps. Scrolls. Waits.

“You find anything?” Orvil says.

“Nah. Not even a little bit,” Loother says.

When Lony comes out with his bike, Orvil and Loother look down at it and nod. Lony smiles at their nods.

“Let’s go,” Orvil says, then puts his earphones in. He looks back and sees his brothers put theirs in too. They ride back toward Wood Street. As they pass the Target sign, Orvil remembers last year when they all got phones at Target on the same day as an early Christmas present. They were the cheapest phones they had, but at least they weren’t flip phones. They were smart. They do all they need them to do: make calls, text, play music, and get them on the internet.

They ride together in a line, and listen to what comes out of their phones. Orvil mainly listens to powwow music. There’s something in the energy of that big booming drum, in the intensity of the singing, like an urgency that feels specifically Indian. He likes the power the sound of a chorus of voices makes too, those high-pitched wailed harmonies, how you can’t tell how many singers there are, and how sometimes it sounds like ten singers, sometimes like a hundred. There was even one time, when he was dancing in Opal’s room with his eyes closed, when he felt like it was all his ancestors who made it so he could be there dancing and listening to that sound, singing right there in his ears through all those hard years they made it through. But that moment was also the first time his brothers saw him in regalia, dancing like that, they walked in on him in the middle of it, and they thought it was hilarious, they laughed and laughed but promised not to tell Opal.

As for Loother, not counting himself, he listens exclusively to three rappers: Chance the Rapper, Eminem, and Earl Sweatshirt. Loother writes and records his own raps to instrumentals he finds on YouTube and makes Orvil and Lony listen to them and agree with him about how good he is. As for Lony, they’d recently discovered what he’s into.

“You hear that?” Loother had asked one night in their room.

“Yeah. It’s, like, some kind of chorus or choir, right?” Orvil said.

“Yeah, like angels or some sh@t,” Loother said.

“Angels?” Orvil said.

“Yeah, like what they have them sound like.”

“What they have them sound like?”

“I mean like movies and sh@t,” Loother said. “Shut up. It’s still going. Listen.”

They sat for the next couple of minutes and listened to the distant sound of the symphony, of the choir coming through an inch of speaker, muted by Lony’s ears—ready to believe it was anything, anything better than the sound they had the angels make. It hit Orvil first what the sound was, and he started to say Lony’s name, but Loother got up, put a finger to his lips, then went over and gently pulled Lony’s earphones out. He put one of them close to his ear and smiled. He looked at Lony’s phone and smiled bigger and showed it to Orvil.

“Beethoven?” Orvil said.

They ride up Fourteenth toward downtown. Fourteenth takes them through downtown to East Twelfth, which gets them to the Fruitvale without a bike lane, but on a street big enough, so that even though cars get comfortable, swerve a little, and go faster on East Twelfth, it’s better than riding the gutter-edge of International Boulevard.

When they get to Fruitvale and International, they stop in the Wendy’s parking lot. Orvil and Loother take out their phones.

“Guys. Seriously? Orvil had spider legs in his leg? What the fu@k?” Lony asks.

Orvil and Loother look at each other and laugh hard. Lony hardly ever curses, so when he does it’s always both super serious and funny to hear.

“C’mon,” Lony says.

“It’s real, Lony,” Orvil says.

“What does that mean, it’s real?” Lony says.

“We don’t know,” Orvil says.

“Call Grandma,” Lony says.

“And say what?” Loother says.

“Tell her,” Lony says.

“She’ll make it a big deal,” Orvil says.

“What’d the internet say?” Lony asks.

Loother just shakes his head.

“Seems Indian,” Orvil says.

“What?” Loother says.

“Spiders and sh@t,” Orvil says.

“Definitely Indian,” Lony says.

“Maybe you should call,” Loother says.

“fu@k,” Orvil says. “But the powwow’s tomorrow.”

“What does that have to do with it?” Loother says.

“You’re right,” Orvil says. “It’s not like she knows we’re going.”

Orvil leaves a message for his grandma when she doesn’t pick up. He tells her they got Lony’s bike, and then about the spider legs. While he leaves the message he watches Loother and Lony look at the legs together. They poke at the legs, and move the toilet paper so that the legs bend. Orvil feels a pulse in his stomach, and like something falls out of him. After he hangs up, he takes the legs, folds up the toilet paper, and stuffs it in his pocket.

The day of the powwow Orvil wakes up hot. He covers his face with the cold bottom of his pillow. He thinks about the powwow, then lifts the pillow and tilts his head to listen to what he thinks he hears from out in the kitchen. He wants to minimize their time with Opal before they go. He wakes his brothers up by hitting them with his pillow. They both moan and roll over, so he hits them again.

“We gotta get out without having to talk to her, she might have made us breakfast. We’ll tell her we’re not hungry.”

“But I am hungry,” Lony says.

“Don’t we wanna hear what she thinks about the spider legs?” Loother says.

“No,” Orvil says. “We don’t. Not now.”

“I really don’t think she’ll care we’re going to the powwow,” Loother says.

“Maybe,” Orvil says. “But what if she does?”

Orvil and his brothers ride their bikes down San Leandro Boulevard on the sidewalk in a line. At the Coliseum BART Station, they lift their bikes and carry them on their shoulders, then ride across the pedestrian bridge that gets them to the coliseum. They slow to a roll. Orvil looks through the chain-link fence and sees the morning fog clearing to blue.

Orvil leads his brothers clockwise around the outer edge of the parking lot. He stands and pedals hard, then takes off his plain black hat and stuffs it into his hoodie’s front pocket. After gaining some speed, he stops pedaling, takes his hands off the handlebars, then grabs hold of his hair. It’s gotten long. Down to the middle of his back long. He ties his hair back with the beaded hair clip that he’d found with the regalia in his grandma’s closet. He pulls his ponytail through the half circle on the back of his hat, which latches with the snaps of six small black plastic buttons in a line. He likes the sound, the feel of it when he can get them to snap down perfectly in a row. He picks up speed again, then coasts and looks back. Lony’s in the back with his tongue sticking out from how hard he’s pedaling. Loother’s taking pictures of the coliseum with his phone. The coliseum looks massive. Bigger than it looks when you see it from BART or driving by on the freeway. Orvil’s gonna dance on the same field that the A’s and the Raiders play on. He’ll compete as a dancer. He’ll dance the dance he learned by watching powwow footage on YouTube. It’s his first powwow.

“Can we stop?” Lony says, out of breath.

They stop halfway around the parking lot.

“I gotta ask you guys something,” Lony says.

“Just ask then, homie,” Loother says.

“Shut up, Loother. Whatsup, Lony?” Orvil says, looking at Loother.

“I been meaning to ask,” Lony says, “like, what’s a powwow?”

Loother laughs, takes off his hat and hits it against his bike.

“Lony, we’ve seen hella powwows, what do you mean what’s a powwow?” Orvil says.

“Yeah, but I never asked nobody,” Lony says. “I didn’t know what we were looking at.” Lony tugs at the bill of his black-and-yellow A’s cap to pull his head down.

Orvil looks up at the sound of a plane passing overhead.

“I mean, why does everyone dress up, dance, and sing Indian?” Lony says.

“Lony,” Loother says in that way an older brother can take you down by just saying your name.

“Never mind,” Lony says.

“No,” Orvil says.

“Every time I ask questions you guys make me feel stupid for asking,” Lony says.

“Yeah, but, Lony, you ask hella stupid questions,” Loother says. “Sometimes it’s hard to know what to say.”

“Then say it’s hard to know what to say,” Lony says, squeezing his hand brake. He swallows hard, watching his hand grip the hand brake, then leans down to watch the brakes grip the front tire.

“They’re just old ways, Lony. Dancing, singing Indian. We gotta carry it on,” Orvil says.

“Why?” Lony says.

“If we don’t they might disappear,” Orvil says.

“Disappear? Where they gonna go?”

“I mean, like, people will forget.”

“Why can’t we just make up our own ways?” Lony says.

Orvil puts his hand across his forehead the same way their grandma does when she’s frustrated.

“Lony, you like the taste of Indian tacos, right?” Orvil says.

“Yeah,” Lony says.

“Would you just make some food up of your own and eat it?” Orvil says.

“That actually sounds pretty fun,” Lony says, still looking down but smiling a little now, which makes Orvil laugh, and say the word stupid in the middle of his laugh.

Loother laughs too, but he’s already looking at his phone.

They get back on their bikes, then look up and see lines of cars streaming in, hundreds of people getting out of their cars. The boys stop. Orvil gets off his bike. These are other Indians. Getting out of their cars. Some of them already in full regalia. Real Indians like they’d never seen before if you didn’t count their grandma, who they probably should count, except that it was too hard for them to tell what was specifically Indian about her. She was all they knew besides their mom, who’s too hard to think about or remember. Opal worked for the post office. Delivered mail. She liked to watch TV when she was home. Cook for them. They didn’t know much else about her. She did make fry bread for them on special occasions.

Orvil pulls at the nylon straps of his backpack to tighten it and lets go of the handlebars, lets the front wheel wobble, but balances by leaning back. In the backpack is the regalia that barely fits, his XXL black hoodie, which was too big for him on purpose, and three now squished peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in ziplock plastic baggies he hopes they won’t have to eat, but he knows they might have to if the Indian tacos are too expensive—if food prices are anything like the food at A’s games when it’s not dollar night. They only knew about Indian tacos because their grandma made them for their birthdays. It was one of the few Indian things she did. And she was always sure to remind them that it’s not traditional, and that it comes from lacking resources and wanting comfort food.

To be sure they’d at least be able to afford an Indian taco each, they rode their bikes up to the fountain behind the Mormon temple. Loother had just been there for a field trip to Joaquin Miller Park, and he said people threw coins in for wishes. They made Lony roll up his pants and gather all the coins he could see, while Orvil and Loother threw rocks at the community building at the top of the stairs above the fountain—a distraction they didn’t see at the time might have been worse than the fountain scraping itself. Going down Lincoln Avenue after that was one of the best and stupidest things they’d ever done together. You could get going so fast down a hill there was nothing else happening in the whole world but the feeling of the speed moving through you and the wind in your eyes. They went to Bayfair Center in San Leandro and scraped out what they could from that fountain before being chased off by a security guard. They took the bus up to the Lawrence Hall of Science in the Berkeley Hills, where there was a double fountain, which they knew would be practically untouched because only rich people or monitored kids on field trips went to that place. After rolling up all the coins and turning them in at the bank, they came away with a total of fourteen dollars and ninety-one cents.

When they get to the entrance at the coliseum, Orvil looks back at Loother and asks if he has the lock.

“You always bring it,” Loother says.

“I asked you to get it before we left the house. I said, Loother, can you get the lock, I don’t want it messing up my regalia. You seriously didn’t bring it? fu@k. What are we gonna do? I asked you right before we left the house, you said, yeah I got it. Loother, you said, yeah I got it.”“I must have been talking about something else,” Loother says.

Orvil breathes out the word okay and signals for them to follow him. They hide their bikes in some bushes on the other side of the coliseum.

“Grandma’ll kill us if we lose our bikes,” Lony says.

“Well, there’s no not going,” Orvil says. “So we’re going.”

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