Along the street only a few people came out of their houses, holding their arms against the sun. Grandma Paul took her time picking her way around the woodpile and up to the road: she knew someone was dead or dying, it was just a matter of finding out who. She saw five or six people crowded around and a few more coming out of their houses and she decided it had to be a pretty bloody disaster to bring people out on a day like this. Even a couple of huge, roadkill-fattened crows had landed in the beer-tree to see what was going on.
"Goddamn mail guy's run over somebody's kid," said big Emerson Tuskogie to nobody in particular, sucking down the last of his Coke through a straw. Emerson Tuskogie was well known on the reservation as somebody who held the government responsible for everything.
By the time Grandma Paul had made it to the scene, ten or twelve people were looking down at the sobbing mailman, who had rolled me over onto my back and taken off his shirt, which he held around my head in an attempt to stop the blood from seeping out of my ears.
When the mailman realized he couldn't stem the bleeding with only his flimsy government-issue shirt, he took off his pantsan almost impossible task the way his hands were shakingand pressed them around my head as if he might somehow keep the blood inside where it belonged. Everyone stared at his fiery hair and mayonnaise-colored skin, which seemed to be glowing, putting off a light of its own.
"Ambulance?!" he cried, looking around wildly. Old Oonie Neal had already sent her grandson off to call the tribal police, but nobody bothered to say a word.
The mailman put his ear to my chest, heard nothing, then looked into my eyes, the whites of which had turned a stark demon-red from the capillaries bursting under all that pressure. He looked up into the sun as if he might find some kind of answer there, but this seemed to disorient him even more. Finally, still holding my head in its bundle of clothes, he lowered his mouth over mine and began breathing into me, even though my lungs and respiratory system were fineit was my head that was the problem.
"Ambulance'll be coming," someone said, but the mailman kept on, blowing into me with everything he had. Blood gargled up out of my throat, making it difficult to get any air into me at all.
Emerson Tuskogie politely tapped the nearly naked mailman on the shoulder and said, "Kid's dead."
Everybody pretty much agreed with Emerson on this point, even Grandma Paul; you don't run over some kid's head with a mail jeep and hope to keep him going with a little CPR.
The crows looked down and seemed to whisper between themselves, the sun burned and the poor mailman had nothing left to do but kneel on the sharp rocks in the incomplete shade of the beer-tree, half naked and shuddering, his face covered with tears and snot, his mouth rimmed with my blood, holding his clothes around my head, waiting for the ambulance to come and take me away.
I DON'T BLAME my mother for not coming out of the house that day. When she
heard the mailman scream she knew, just like Grandma Paul, that something
terrible had happened and she didn't want anything to do with it. She stayed in
her chair at the kitchen table and didn't move, didn't even stand up to stretch
her legs until late that night when there was no longer anyone around who would
fetch her a beer. From all that I know about her, my mother never was the kind
of person who liked to confront things head-on; she was always standing back,
protecting herself. It's one of the reasons she drank so much beerif you
drink enough of it, beer can protect you from anything.
Until she became pregnant with me my mother had never tasted beer or alcohol of any kind. Grandma Paul's father and brother and both her sons had all died as a result of alcohol in one way or another and she forbade Gloria, her last living child, to touch the stuff. My mother obeyed Grandma without questionnever even had a dropuntil she was eighteen years old. It would take becoming pregnant with me to turn her into the dedicated alcoholic she would be for the rest of her life.
Excerpted from The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by BRADY UDALL. Copyright © 2001 by Brady Udall. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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