I drove my dog home and went to bed.
Those eyes. That boy. The thunder and the rain.
I was in a bookstore in White People Town. I was there to read my book.
I am told that when writers do this reading and speaking it sells books, but I am not sure I believe it.
When you're finished reading, bookstore owners expect you to play questions-and-answers with white people who want to know things like what do you really think of Tony Hillerman?
I can only shrug. Tony Hillerman writes Navajo mysteries.
The Navajo are the real mystery.
I do not claim to know them. Does anyone know the Navajo? Is it possible? I exist outside the context of any group or clan. I was a migrant worker. Just another brat born into a sheep camp. I do not belong to any tribe. I can only speak for myself.
It is only within the context of recent history that the Navajo defined themselves within tribal perimeters. They had always been a loosely knit band of roving clans. For centuries, the warriors were beholden to no one specific leader, no chief, and warriors could join the ranks of any guiding star they wanted their family to follow. When the grazing was good at the upper levels, they moved their sheep there. When the mountain weather turned ugly, they moved their sheep down into the valleys.
The fundamental notion of the sheep camp is one of movement. People are always moving to and from the sheep camp. This included my mother, who met a white man (we call them Anglos) who (no accident) was a migrant worker but saw himself as a cowboy. My parents could work just about any job on any ranch. But they also picked cash crops, because at the end of the day, they could and did count their money. And then they moved on.
I look just like my Anglo dad.
I have lived on many reservations. I have lived among the Navajo, the Tewa, the Chippewa, and the Mescalero Apache. I have worked with the children of these tribes. The reservation with its poverty and its rich sunsets and its coyotes who laugh, howl, and disappear.
I am never asked in bookstores about poverty on the reservation. I am never asked by Anglos about the death that comes from the uranium mines imposed upon us. I am never asked why the Navajo do not have water. Yet the coal mines and the gold mines and the silver mines and the uranium mines and the copper mines have all the water they need. All over the West. All over the West the water goes to them. I am never asked by Anglos about health care on the reservation. I am never asked about the schools on the reservation where if you dared to speak in Navajo you got your mouth washed out with soap. I am never asked about tuberculosis on the reservation. I am never asked about starvation on the reservation. Those people who have the reservation in their blood just know. We know about these things. These events in bookstores seem to be about as relevant as a tea and crumpets party given by the Methodist Ladies Society. I am asked about Tony Hillerman. I do not understand these events.
I do not know Tony Hillerman. Why would I read him? To study the Navajo? It's like you've made some jewelry, and you've taken it to the flea market. You sit there at some card table, and white people come along, and want to know if you know Tony Hillerman.
I try not to look at white people.
I saw him then.
I saw him walk into the bookstore.
The bell above the door rang.
The boy at the lake. It's late at night. It's dark, and I am wondering how he got here. We are miles from the reservation, and he's dressed in a thin T-shirt.
I saw him steal a book.
He stood in line.
I signed it.
"Who am I signing this for?" I asked. I knew his name. His dad had told me. Up at the lake. In the rain. In the jeep. Purple veins up and down his neck like a road map into hell. With the gods above us and the dragons screaming blood.
Excerpted from The Boy and the Dog Are Sleeping by Nasdijj Copyright© 2003 by Nasdijj. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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