Bruises and worse.
The Indian child was a girl. A girl, poor thing. That fact had already burdened her short life with a kind of misery I could not imagine. I thought I knew about every ugly thing that one person does to another, but I had never even thought about such things being done to a baby girl. She sat quietly in the bathtub watching me, and I just prayed she had enough backbone not to fall over and drown, because I had to let her go. I doubled up on the floor at the base of the toilet and tried not to throw up. The floor was linoleum in a pattern that looked like rubber bricks set in mortar. Nothing, not Newt Hardbine or anything else I had ever seen, had made me feel like this.
The kid was splashing like a toad frog. Her fingers were wiggling and slapping at the surface of the water, no doubt trying to grab hold of something. "Here," I said, and handed her a washcloth that had BROKEN ARROW written on the selvage in indelible magic marker. She hugged that wash cloth and smiled. I swear to God.
After I washed and dried her I put her to bed in a T-shirt that one of Mama's people had brought me one summer from Kentucky Lake. It was tight on me, and said DAMN I'M GOOD. I am skinny and flat-chested like a model, and always looked great in that T-shirt if I say so myself. It was turquoise with red letters, and came down past the baby's knees. "These are good colors," I said, trying to pull it over her sleepy, bobbing head. "Indian colors." Finally her hands were empty and relaxed. She was asleep.
I took out the stamps I had brought from home wrapped in waxed paper, and licked one and stuck it on my souvenir postcard from the Cherokee Nation. I added a line at the bottom:
"I found my head rights, Mama. They're coming with me."
Chapter 2 New Years Pig
Lou Ann Ruiz lived in Tucson, but thought of herself as just an ordinary Kentuckian a long way from home. She had acquired her foreign last name from her husband, Angel. As it turned out, this was the only part of him that would remain with her. He left on Halloween.
Three years before on Christmas Day Angel had had a bad accident in his pickup truck. It left him with an artificial leg below the knee, and something else that was harder to pin down. Lou Ann often would get the feeling he didn't really like her, or anyone else for that matter. He blamed people for things beyond their control. Lou Ann was now pregnant with her first, which was due in two months. She hoped more than anything that it wouldn't be born on Christmas Day.
She had been thinking about herself and Angel splitting up for even longer than she had been pregnant, but she didn't particularly do anything about it. That was Lou Ann's method. She expected that a divorce would just develop, like a pregnancy-that eventually they would reach some kind of agreement without having to discuss it. This isn't how it worked out.
When she began to turn away from him in bed at night, and to get up quietly in the mornings to cook his eggs, Angel seemed to accept this. Possibly he thought she was worried about the baby. Later, when the arguments resumed, they had a hopeless quality that Lou Ann had not experienced before. The arguments made her feel that her bones were made of something like the rubber in a Gumby doll, that her body could be bent into any shape and would stay that way. She would sit at the kitchen table tracing her fingers over the artificial knots in the wood-look Formica table top while Angel paced back and forth and accused her of thinking he wasn't good enough. He listed names of people, mostly friends of his she could barely remember having met, and asked her if she had slept with them, or if she had wanted to. Angel limped so slightly it was barely noticeable, but there was just the faintest jingling sound with every other step. It was probably something he could have gotten adjusted if he hadn't been too proud to take it into the prosthetic shop. No matter how loud his voice became, Lou Ann could still hear the jingle. She could never think of anything to say that would change the course of these arguments, and so they went on and on. Once, several years before, she had become so frustrated with Angel that she threw a package of baloney at him. They both laughed, and it ended the argument. Now she didn't have the strength to get up and open the refrigerator.
Finally he had said it was because of his leg, and no matter what she said he wouldn't hear it any other way. She more or less gave up talking, and when she lay on her back at night she felt it was the guilt weighing down on her aching spine, instead of the baby.
She could remember wheeling him down the white corridor at the hospital to bring him home, just two and a half weeks after the accident. She had felt filled-up and proud; everything she loved in the world was in that chair. Having nearly lost Angel made him all the more precious. One of the doctors said that his boot had probably saved his life, and she felt like kissing it, although in all the confusion no one knew exactly where it had ended up. The boot had caught on the door frame, causing him to be dragged several hundred yards along with the truck as it spun into an irrigation ditch along Highway 86 west of Tucson. The damage to the truck was surprisingly minor. There was a bottle of Jim Beam in the cab that wasn't even broken. He lost his leg because of being twisted and dragged, but the doctor said if he had been thrown from the vehicle at such a high speed he would have died instantly. It crossed Lou Ann's mind that he might have just been saying this because Angel was so upset about losing a leg, but she decided it would be best to take the doctor's word for it.