12 Animal Dreams
On Sunday morning I put on jeans, changed into a denim dress, then back into jeans again, feeling stupid. I can get into a mood where I annoy myself no end. At the moment when I got completely fed up and stopped caring, I had on jeans and a white cotton shirt and silver earrings, so that’s what I wore. And yes, I’ll admit it, nice underwear.
I waited on the porch and was relieved when Loyd pulled up before Emelina’s household had roused. It was a little odd, living with a family that paid attention to my social life.
Jack stood up to greet me from the back of the pickup and I rubbed his ears. “I brought lunch,” I told Loyd, sliding into the cab with a basket Emelina had helped pack the night before.
He smiled wonderfully. “That’s mighty white of you.”
I didn’t know what to make of that. It was something people said, but usually when they said it both people were white.
I asked him to detour past the Post Office so I could check for mail. There was no regular mail delivery in Grace, probably on humanitarian grounds. A daily route up these stairstep streets would have put some postal employee into a cardiac high-risk category. Every family had a box at the P.O., which they could check daily or annually, as they pleased. Emelina leaned toward annual. I persuaded her to turn over the key to me; I was the only member of the household expecting mail.
The mailboxes were built right into the outside wall of the Post Office. I peeked through the little window of the Domingos family drawer and saw the striped margin of an airmail envelope.
“Hallie!” I called to Loyd, waving the envelope as I bounced back to the truck. He didn’t seem to register. “My sister Hallie. In Nicaragua.” I checked the postmark to make sure this was true, and it was. Mailed nearly three weeks ago. The stamps, two alike, were bright and beautiful, carrying across oceans and continents a child-like revolutionary hopefulness: a painting of a woman picking red coffee beans, and her baby strapped on her back. Hallie was in the fields of her dreams.
I ripped it open and read quickly. She’d arrived mid-September, was fine, got my letters, she spent a few days in Managua and then backtracked straight to the rural area near Chinandega. She’d expected (or feared) a little formality but they put her to work the day she arrived, wearing her one and only dress. “I’m in seventh heaven,” she wrote, and I could see her hiking up that dress and striding across the plowed rows, leading a battery of stunned men. “This cotton’s been getting sprayed to death and still eaten up with weevils. Cultivation practices are pitiful. I know exactly what to do. I think we’ll get productivity up about 100 percent from last year. Can you imagine? You’d think it was Christmas, everybody’s already talking about how the collective could use this prosperity: they could get a secondary-school teacher in here full time, or a good adult-ed program.”
I got a vivid picture of Hallie’s face and could hear her voice as I read. Her hair would be restrained in a red bandana, her face tense with concentration and her eyebrows knit at angles like accent marks. I could also recall her exact expression as she lay on our living-room sofa in Tucson with her long legs propped up, one hand pushing the hair up from her high forehead, while she calmly dispensed information over the Garden Hotline. I understood the full extent to which she’d been wasting her life on house plants.
The letter was short. She was living in a two-room house with a widowed mother of four young children, who insisted that Hallie have one of the rooms to herself-a luxury that made Hallie uncomfortable. There was nothing to spare. The day she moved in, a request went out to the neighbors and somebody brought over a plate and a tin cup for her, and somebody else brought a fork. Both women had recently lost sons.
The territory she would have to cover, giving crop advice, was huge. She was issued a horse. There were problems with the roads, she said, that made Jeeps a less desirable mode of transport for short trips: horses usually weren’t heavy enough to trigger the land mines the contras buried in the roads. The horse’s name was Sopa del Dia; she was white with gray spots.
She signed it, “Your insane-with-love sister Hallie,” with a P.S.:
Re your question about botany: tell your students plants do everything animals do-give birth, grow, travel around (how do you think palm trees got to Hawaii?), have sex, etc. They just do it a lot slower. Bear this in mind: flowers are the sex organs of plants. Tell the boys to consider that when they’re buying their dates corsages for the prom.
And a P.P.S.:
Sure I remember when we almost drowned in a flood. Plain as day. God, Codi, don’t you? We found those abandoned coyote pups, and the river was flooding, and you wanted to save them. You said we had to. I was chicken because Doc Homer would spank the shit out of us and I wanted to run for it, but you wouldn’t let me.
“My sister’s saving people’s lives in Nicaragua,” I told Loyd.
“She’s a doctor? I thought she was a farmer.”
“People can’t live without crops. There’s more than one way to skin a revolution.”
I wanted him to know more than this about Hallie. That she was also a human being who did normal things. That she’d tried once, just as an example, to teach Carlo and me to break-dance. She’d thrown her hair around like a prissy rock star and we died laughing. In wool socks on the hardwood floor she could moonwalk like Michael Jackson.
I kept folding and unfolding the letter. “She has to ride a horse, because there’s land mines in the roads.”
The cab of the truck shuddered every time we hit a pothole, but Loyd drove calmly, his mind far away, the way I imagined he might look riding a horse. I’d never seen him so relaxed. I looked back a few times to check on Jack, who seemed equally content. I presumed he’d walked around in circles a few times back there before curling up in his nest of imaginary tall grass.
“Is there anything you know of that you’d die for?” I asked Loyd.
He nodded without hesitation.
He didn’t answer right away. Then he said, “The land.”
“Never mind. I can’t explain it.”
“The reservation? Like, defending your country?”
“No.” He sounded disgusted. “Not property. I didn’t say property.”
We passed by another of Black Mountain’s mines, abandoned for years, the buildings standing quiet as a shipwreck. The huge windows of the smelter were made of chicken-wire glass, but a lot of them were broken out anyway; inside loomed the dinosaur skeletons of old machinery. Next to the smelter were the concentrator and a hovel of shacks under rusting tin roofs. Beyond them lay more fallow alfalfa fields, their soil crusted white from all the years of slightly salty irrigation water. Hallie could have stayed right in Grace and done some good, but of course there was the question of relative desperation of need. Nobody was dying for lack of this alfalfa.
The edge of these fields was the southern border of the Apache reservation, just fifteen minutes north of Grace. I hadn’t been there before, and was surprised it was that close.
“Are you kidding?” he asked. “Gracela Canyon used to be in the reservation. The whites took that little section back after some guys hit gold down there.”
“Is that true?”
“Look it up, Einstein. It’s in the town records. They only gave the Apache this land in the first place because it looked like a piece of shit.”
To some extent that must have been true: it was dead-looking country, though not as dead as the used-up cropland. It didn’t look murdered. Here the gentle hills were pale brown grading to pink, sparsely covered with sage and fall-blooming wildflowers. Along the creekbeds were tall stands of cottonwoods. Their yellow leaves rained down. Every now and then we’d pass through clusters of homes that you couldn’t exactly call towns, with long horse corrals strung between the houses. Red horses raised their heads and galloped along beside us for the short distance they’d been allotted, expertly turning aside just before they reached the ends of their corrals. Loyd waved at the people we passed, and they waved back.
“Do all those people know you?” I asked, incredulous.
“Nah. Just my truck.”
Eventually we stopped in one of the settlements that was distinguished from the others by its size and the presence of a store. Rusting soft-drink signs nailed across the front porch marked it as a commercial establishment. Through the screen door I could see shadows of men in cowboy hats. Loyd pulled his parking brake, squeezed my hand, and held on to it for a second. “You want to come in?” he asked doubtfully. “It’s only going to take me ten minutes.”
“I know what this is about,” I said. “J.T. told me you’re into fighting cocks.”
He nodded slightly.
“Well, is it okay for me to go in with you? Are women allowed?”
He laughed, then dropped my hand and flipped his index finger against my cheek. “Big old roosterfighting Indian boogeyman might get you.”
“I’m a big girl,” I said. I got out and followed him up the wooden steps, but regretted it once we were inside. A short man leaning on the counter looked at Loyd and resettled his hat on his head, ignoring me completely. This wasn’t going to be any of my business. I bought a lukewarm soft drink from the old guy behind the counter. He grasped it through his apron and screwed off the cap, leaving a broad asterisk of dust on the white cloth. The other men watched this gesture in silence.
“I’ll be outside,” I told Loyd.
I sat in a wooden rocker on the porch. Jack had lifted his head and cocked his ears but hadn’t moved from the truckbed.
Almost immediately I could hear Loyd raising his voice. “I told you I want Apodaca’s line and not any of the others. I want gaffers. I’m not interested in knife birds.”
The short man said, “Loyd, I’m telling you, you got to go up to Phoenix. They’re getting goddamn tourists at those knife tourneys. It’s a circus. You can get two hundred birds through there in a day.”
“Don’t tell me what I want. Do you have gaffers out there, or did I just waste a tank of gas?”
Their voices dropped lower again. I felt uncomfortable listening in, though I was fascinated and slightly appalled by the notion of “knife birds.” It was encouraging that Loyd didn’t want them, whatever they were. The words the men used were as mysterious as Loyd’s railroad talk. He evidently spoke a lot of languages, not even counting Apache and Pueblo and Navajo.
Across the street from the store stood a substantial-looking whitewashed church-the only white building in an adobe town. It was shaped like the Alamo with a bell tower. The ground in front was planted with petunias, phlox, and marigolds: pink, purple, orange, in that order. One thing Hallie always said she loved about Indian reservations and Mexico was that there were no rules about color. She was right. It was really a splendid combination, now that I looked at it, but in some orderly country like Germany they’d probably arrest you for planting this in front of your house; in suburban Tucson they’d just avoid you. Keep their kids inside when you went out to weed.
People trailed out of the church in twos and threes, mostly women, carrying out the same color scheme in their blouses and skirts. They all looked at me as they passed, not with hostility, but with the kind of curiosity you’d have if you noticed an odd plant had popped up in your garden: you wouldn’t yank it out right away. You’d give it a few days to see what developed.
I could hear roosters cock-a-doodling somewhere, and I was curious. As I went down the steps an adobe-colored dog scooted out of my way and ran under the porch. The store, I discovered, had a deep backyard. The chain-link fence was overgrown with weedy vines, but I could still see in: it was a rooster garden in there. Roosters in small cubicles laid out in neat rows, one bird per cage. They strutted and turned in circles, eying each other as if each moment were new, as if they hadn’t for all their natural lives been surrounded by these other birds. They had red faces and glossy black feathers that threw off iridescent flashes of color, like a hummingbird’s throat. Beautiful. But the claustrophobic energy was tiring to watch.
I heard a door slam and I quickly went back around front. Loyd was ready to go, but not in the bad mood I expected. By the time we got to the edge of town he was smiling.
I offered him the last of my soda. “So, did you waste a tank of gas?”
He put his arm across the back of the seat, his thumb touching the nape of my neck, and shot me a sideways look. “No way.”
We weren’t headed back toward Grace, we drove north. There were no more towns, just reddish hills and a badly rutted road. “Was that Whiteriver?” I asked.
“No. This is what you’d call the Whiteriver metropolitan area.”
“You used to live here? After you left your mother’s pueblo?”
“Around here. We lived up at Ghost River. It’s a little higher ground up there. It’s nice, there’s trees.”
“You and your dad and…” I wanted to ask about his dead twin brother, but then again I didn’t. Not today.
“And Jack,” he said.
“Whatever happened to Jack’s coyote mother?”
“After she had her litter, she left us. She went back to live in God’s backyard.”
I was quiet for a minute, taking in the hills. “And where are we headed now?”
He smiled. “Who wants to know?”
“A hometown girl, looking for some adventure.”
“Well, then, we’re headed for some adventure.”
Loyd kept both hands on the wheel in the washed-out stretches, driving like a race-car driver-I don’t mean fast, but skillfully, with that generous kind of concentration that seems easy as a reflex. We were gaining ground, getting higher, passing through intermittent stands of evergreens. In between were meadows, solidly carpeted in yellow flowers, punctuated by tall white poppies with silver leaves and tissue-paper petals. In the distance, the southern slopes of the mountainsides were dappled with yellow. We passed through another tiny enclave of houses and horse corrals. The people there would have been born into that life; I couldn’t imagine it. For some reason I thought of Hallie’s first letter-the babies playing around the cook fire, in the refugee camps. But this wasn’t like that; it didn’t look desperate, just lonely. It was hard to understand why a person would stay. Loyd hadn’t. But then again, he wasn’t born here. And yet he seemed drawn back, for reasons beyond fighting cocks.
The road smoothed out a bit and Loyd took his right hand off the wheel and laid it on my leg. For a little while he and I both pretended it wasn’t there. Then I asked him, “What would these people around here say if they knew you had your hand on a white girl’s thigh?”
He smiled. “They’d say I was a lucky son of a bitch.”
He lifted the hand and ran his palm up the length of my arm, from my wrist to my shoulder, lightly, just stroking the hairs and not the skin. My nipples stood up and my scalp tingled and my whole body wanted that hand on it, everywhere at once. But he took it back and put it on the steering wheel, and I pitied myself for envying a steering wheel.
“You still haven’t told me where we’re going,” I said.
He nodded at the road. “That’s where we’re going. We’re almost there.” After a minute he geared down into four-wheel drive and turned off the dirt road onto a side path, not really a road but a pair of tracks in the gravelly ground. If you hadn’t known it was there, you’d never have seen it.
If we are going to see some more people about gaffers and knife birds, I thought, I’m going to have to sit and be still, be a white girl. No matter what, I’m going to have to stop thinking about kissing Loyd. I looked away from his face, out the window. There was nothing out there now but fields of yellow flowers, rocky red hills in the near distance, and off to the east very high mountains softly blackened around their tops by a pelt of pine forests. It would be cool up there now, even today. I pictured myself lying under the pines on a floor of brown needles. It was hard to keep Loyd out of the picture.
“What is this?” I was out of the truck, entranced, before he’d even set the brake.
“Kinishba,” Loyd said. “Prehistoric condos.”
That’s just about what it looked like. Out there in the middle of God’s backyard, without a fence in sight, sat a long rectangular building made entirely of carefully set stone, no mortar. Dozens of small doors opened into it across the front.
“Can we go inside? Is it allowed?”
He hooked his elbow around my neck, like a friendly wrestler, as we walked toward the site. “It’s allowed. I allow it.”
“What, are you the landlord here?”
“Till somebody tells me I’m not.”
He let me go and turned toward the truck, whistling once. Jack leaped in a high arc over the tailgate and streaked through the field of foot-tall grass, looking like the soul of happiness. He headed downhill toward what must have been a river; I could see cotton-woods. We were in higher country here, with more vegetation.
“That’s a good dog,” I said.
“Yep. That’s a good dog.”
The doors were no more than four feet high. I ducked through one into a small, rectangular room with a dust floor. It was cool as a cave, and quiet. The door was a square of bright light with the silhouette of Loyd coming through. Even inside the room, the ceiling was low, just inches above my head. I touched it. “People were short back then. Didn’t eat their Wonder bread.”
“They would’ve had to build a special room for you. You would have been their queen.”
I laughed, though it struck me I’d been complimented. Was that how Loyd saw me? Not as a grain elevator on the prairie, but a queen? At the back of the room a door led into another room, which was darker, having no openings to the outside. Two more doors led out of that room-one to the side, and one up through the ceiling, which was made of thick, curved trunks of small trees. There was another whole set of rooms on top of this one.
“Can we go upstairs?”
He shook his head. “I wouldn’t trust those beams. They’re kind of old.”
“Eight hundred years.”
I looked at him. “Are you kidding?”
We went from room to room, changing directions in the dark until the compass points were entirely lost to me. It was a maze. Loyd said there were more than two hundred rooms-a village under one roof. The air smelled cold. I tried to imagine the place populated: stepping from room to room over sleeping couples, listening through all the noises of cooking and scolding and washing up for the sound of your own kids, who would know secret short cuts to their friends’ apartments.
“The walls are thick,” I observed.
“The walls are graveyards. When a baby died, they’d mortar its bones right into the wall. Or under the floor.”
I shuddered. “Why?”
“So it would still be near the family,” he said, seeming surprised I hadn’t thought of this myself.
Without warning we came out into a bright courtyard in the center, surrounded by walls and doorways on all four sides. It was completely hidden from the outside-a little haven with a carpet of fine grass and an ancient ash tree. A treasure island. I was drawn to the shade. “We should’ve brought the picnic basket,” I said, settling under the ash. The ground was cool. My brief vision of a living city was gone; it seemed ghostly again. For eight hundred years, those bones in the walls had been listening to nothing more than the dry skittering of lizards.
“We’ve got all day,” Loyd said. He sat about two feet away from me, clasping his hands around his knees and looking at the toes of his boots.
“So who built this place, eight hundred years ago?”
“My mama’s folks. The Pueblo. They had their act together back then, didn’t they?”
They did. I couldn’t stop running my eyes over the walls and the low, even roofline. The stones were mostly the same shape, rectangular, but all different sizes; there would be a row of large stones, and then two or three thinner rows, then a couple of middle-sized rows. There was something familiar about the way they fit together. In a minute it came to me. They looked just like cells under a microscope.
“It doesn’t even look like it was built,” I said. “It’s too beautiful. It looks like something alive that just grew here.”
“That’s the idea.” Loyd seemed as pleased as if he’d built it himself.
“Of what? The idea of Pueblo architecture?”
“Yep. Don’t be some kind of a big hero. No Washington Monuments. Just build something nice that Mother Earth will want to hold in her arms.”
It was a pleasant thought. I also didn’t mind the thought of being held in Loyd’s arms, but he was making no moves in that direction. He was explaining the water system-they evidently had some sort of running water-and how they’d grown squash and corn on the hillside facing the river.
I reached over and ran a finger from his knee to his ankle. He looked up. “I’m talking too much, right?”
I shook my head. “No, keep talking.”
I hesitated. I hadn’t expected to have to make the suggestion, and my stomach felt tight. “Yeah. Just, could you move over here and talk?”
His eyes brightened. I’d taken him by surprise. He leaned over and I took his head in my hands and gave him the kiss I’d been thinking about for the last two hours. It lasted a good long while. He twisted his fingers gently through the hair at the base of my skull and held on tight, and my breath stopped while he laid down a track of small kisses from my earlobe to my collarbone. We lay back on the grass and I rolled against him, looking down into his eyes. They were dark brown, a color with depth to it, like stained glass. It was a little surprising to look at brown eyes after all the pale blues of Grace.
Just being held felt unbelievably good, the long drink I’d been dying for. For a second I hugged back as tightly as I could. Something inside his buttoned shirt pocket made a crackling, cellophane sound. I raised up a little and poked it with my finger. “If you’ve got a condom in your pocket, Loyd Peregrina, this is my lucky day.”
He did. It was.
By late afternoon the shade had moved, and we also had rolled over a few times in the grass, I suppose, traveling from our original spot. Anyway we were in the sun. We disconnected and I lay on my back, feeling the forbidden touch of sun on my nipples and eyelids.
Loyd lay with his head propped on his elbow, just looking at me again, the way he had on the day of Emelina’s party. With a finger he traced concentric circles around my breasts, and triangles on my abdomen, as if warpainting me for some ceremonial mission. Whatever it might be, I felt up to the job. I knew when reason returned I’d be scared to death of feeling that good with another person, but my body was renewed. I felt like a patch of dry ground that had been rained on.
Jack had come into the courtyard and was sleeping in the shade, a little distance away. “He found his way in here without any trouble,” I said. “You boys must come here a lot.”
Loyd kissed my check and sat up and pulled on his jeans. “Yep, kind of a lot. Not as much as I’d like to.”
I thought of the condom in his pocket, the presumption, and felt irritated. “Well it’s a good seduction spot. It worked on me.” I found the rest of my clothes and concentrated on getting my shirt buttoned up. I’d lost an earring somewhere.
Loyd stared at me for a full half minute, and then lay back down, his hands clasped behind his head, looking straight up. “I don’t mean that I bring people here. Nobody but me and Jack’s ever been here before.” He glanced at me, and then away again. “But I guess that’s just what you expect me to say.” He didn’t say anything more for another minute, and then he said, “Shit.”
“I’m sorry. I guess I believe you. I do believe you.”
He was wounded. I suppose some sharp thing in me wanted to sting him, for making me need him now. After he’d once cut me to the edge of what a soul will bear. But that was senseless. Anybody would say that baby was my own fault, and he didn’t even know about it. I looked at this grown-up Loyd and tried to make sense of him, seeing clearly that he was too sweet to survive around me. I would go to my grave expecting the weapon in the empty hand.
“Codi, I couldn’t believe it when you said you’d come up here with me. I couldn’t even believe I asked.”
I sat forward, letting the point of my chin dig into my knee. “I can see what it means to you. I’m sorry for thinking what I did.”
He spoke slowly. “I’ve been looking forward to this ever since Labor Day. Not because I thought we’d…Not for any one reason. I just wanted to come here with you.”
I looked at him. It was the truth. I could think of nothing at all to say.
“I don’t blame you if you’re still pissed off at me for when we were in high school.”
My heart lost its rhythm for a second. “What for?”
“For being a jerk.”
“You remember that?”
I suppose it was an insulting question. He said, “I have a lot of reasons in my mind for the way I was, but they don’t make much difference. I hurt a lot of people.”
I looked at him carefully. “In what way exactly do you think you hurt me?”
He shrugged. “Well, maybe I didn’t. Maybe you didn’t care. But still, I could have been a lot nicer. We went out those couple of times, and then so long sucker, that’s it. Loyd’s a good-time boy, he don’t call the same girl twice.”
I breathed out. Nobody knew, so Loyd couldn’t, but for one minute I’d been afraid. I didn’t want him to know how much of a mark his careless love had made on my life. It would oblige him to one of two mean possibilities: compulsory kindness or a vanishing act. I leaned over and kissed him. “You’re forgiven,” I said. “Plain Jane forgives Mr. High School Honcho for being a red-blooded boy.”
“Plain Jane my ass,” he said, rolling me over on top of him and grabbing mine. “I like you a lot. A real, whole lot. You buy that?”
“I’ll buy it. Just don’t try to sell me no knife birds.”
He looked straight into my eyes. “I’m serious, Codi.”
“Okay,” I said. “Sold.” I laid my head on his chest and nearly went to sleep while he gently stroked my spine. I felt like a baby being coaxed, reluctantly, into dreamland. A few yards away, Jack was already there. His legs jerked helplessly, making him look vulnerable.
“I’ve lost an earring. You see it?”
“No. I’ll help you look in a minute.”
“What’s Jack dreaming about?”
“Chasing rabbits,” Loyd said.
“That’s what everybody says, but I don’t think all dogs dream about that. You watch a city dog that’s never even heard of a rabbit-it’ll do that same thing.”
“How do you know they really dream?”
“They do. All mammals that have been tested have REM sleep, except spiny anteaters.” I cringed after I said this. I sounded like Codi Noline, brain of the seventh grade, despised by her peers.
“Well, I’m sorry, but it’s the truth. I read it in the encyclopedia one time.”
“You are an amazing person.”
He meant it, he wasn’t making fun of me. His hand stopped moving and came to rest on the small of my back. He was actually thinking about all this. Carlo wouldn’t have paid the slightest attention to a conversation like this; he’d be thinking about whatever men think about, how much gas is left in the tank. Loyd asked, “What do you think animals dream about?”
“I don’t know. Animal heaven.” I laughed.
“I think they dream about whatever they do when they’re awake. Jack chases rabbits, and city dogs chase, I don’t know what. Meter readers.”
“But that’s kind of sad. Couldn’t a dog have an imagination, like a person?”
“It’s the same with people. There’s nothing sad about it. People dream about what they do when they’re awake. God, when I used to work for T'ia sorting the pecans I’d go to bed and dream about pecans, pecans, pecans.”
I studied his face. “Didn’t you ever dream you could fly?”
“Not when I was sorting pecans all day.”
“Really, though. Didn’t you ever fly in your dreams?” Even I had done that, though not often.
“Only when I was real close to flying in real life,” he said. “Your dreams, what you hope for and all that, it’s not separate from your life. It grows right up out of it.”
“So you think we all just have animal dreams. We can’t think of anything to dream about except our ordinary lives.”
He gently moved a lock of hair out of my eyes. “Only if you have an ordinary life. If you want sweet dreams, you’ve got to live a sweet life.”
“Okay,” I said, feeling happy. I was sure no other man I’d ever known would have concerned himself with what animals dream about. “I’m going to sleep now, and I’ll give you a report.” I settled my head back down on his chest. His heartbeat moved faintly against my ear as I looked out across the ground. I saw my silver earring gleaming in the grass.