“This truck is so old, Chief Sitting Bull drove it to his senior prom,” I said to Larry Kicking Bird as he got onto Highway 18.
“Quit your bad mouthin’ on my truck, James Eagle. How on earth do I get to Sioux Plains from here?” Larry asked.
“Easy, easy. Sioux Plains is pretty close to where Sitting Bull grew up. Put your truck on cruise control and it’ll remember where Sitting Bull’s senior prom was.” Larry sped up to about 80 miles an hour, but not long after, a cop tailed us.
“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of this,” Larry said. He eased the truck to the highway shoulder and turned off the engine. The cop was a big, young, and handsome Lakota man. He knocked on the window using his big wedding ring.
“License and registration, sir,” the cop said. Larry handed over his license and a crumpled piece of paper. The cop glanced at the registration and scratched his head.
“This is a pretty old truck,” the cop said.
“It was Sitting Bull’s getaway vehicle after killing Custer,” I said.
“You’re a big talker, sir,” the cop said. “You really think Sitting Bull drove this truck?”
“Of course not,” I said. “But if you do, you’re too dumb to be a cop.”
“All right, that’s it,” the cop said. “Get out of the car with your hands up.” I met up with the cop at the front of the truck with my hands stretched up. The cop frisked my whole body, even my private zones. He said he felt something ‘suspicious’ in my pocket.
“It’s just my trail mix,” I said and pulled the wrinkled baggie out of my pocket. “Want some? It’s real good, full of chocolate, almonds, and nuts.”
“I’m allergic to nuts.”
“You are?” I said. “Then you shouldn’t be feeling up mine.” The cop bit his lower lip. He told Larry to drive slower and took off in his squad car.
“That was amazing, James Eagle,” Larry said. “I thought he was gonna arrest us.”
“No way, he was about to break out into hives from touching my nuts. I gotta take a bathroom break at the next gas station.”
At the gas station, Larry bought two jugs of apple juice, garlic bread, and a slice of pizza. While we waited for his order to come out, we sat by a big window playing tic-tac-toe until the lady behind the counter called Larry’s number. I glanced over to my right and I saw a beautiful woman, maybe forty or so. If Lucy hadn’t taken her life all those years ago, she would have looked like that woman. I missed hearing her voice on the phone. I missed seeing her face whenever she came to visit me and Isabella on the weekends. The one thing I really missed about her was how much she could make me laugh. When she was fifteen, our heater blew out and the company I called had a discount for expectant mothers. As soon as the guys arrived, Lucy grabbed a pillow and stuffed it under her shirt. I struggled to keep a straight face while I showed the men to the heater’s location in the house.
“Hey, daydreamer,” Larry said and waved his hand in my face. “We didn’t stop here to sit around. The clerk told me the pow wow is less than an hour away from here, let’s get going.”
We got back in the truck, finally heading towards Sioux Plains. I wasn’t in a hurry to get to the pow wow, but Larry was since his wife, Amanda, would be part of the grand entry dance with Isabella. During the drive, we tried to sing along with the radio, but most of the time we couldn’t because we didn’t remember the lyrics that well.
“We’re getting old,” Larry said, shaking his head. “I heard this song thousands of times when I was young. Now I can’t even remember who sang it.”
“Don’t worry about getting old,” I said. “No matter how much you age, your truck will always be older than you are.” Larry smacked me across my back. About ten minutes later, we passed a sign that said Now Entering Sioux Plains.
“We made it,” Larry said. “Which way do I go to get to the pow wow?”
“Follow a lady who thinks she’s related to a Cherokee princess,” I said.
“James Eagle, that could be anyone.”
Larry drove around some more and eventually, he saw a few cardboard signs with drawn arrows leading the way to the pow wow. Years ago, I went to the Sioux Plains Pow Wow, when I could still kneel down without having trouble getting back up. Lucy was sixteen and she wanted to be with Isabella in the mother-daughter dance. I remember her dressing up in the fanciest regalia she could find. I couldn’t believe a guy like me made such a beautiful daughter. Isabella helped out too, though. They didn’t win the cash prize after the dance, but they were the two happiest ladies there. After Lucy died, I never wanted to go to the Sioux Plains Pow Wow again.
When Lucy was a junior in high school, she met Frank and before long she was married, gave birth to her two boys, and then she swallowed a bunch of sleeping pills. She was twenty-seven and her sons were nine and six. Lots of people told me she wasn’t happy with Frank. They told me he was beating her and threatening to take the boys away. I should have busted in her house unannounced to see how she was doing. If I had listened to myself, she might still be with me.
“James Eagle, what are you daydreaming about now?” Larry asked, shoving me with his hand. “Let’s go in before we miss Amanda’s dance.” Larry hopped out of the car first and he helped me get out since my feet were asleep. He told me I would have a lot more mobility if I lost some weight.
“Isabella thinks I look great just the way I am,” I said. “And if anything needs better mobility, it’s your old truck. It runs on dinosaur dung.”
The grand entry dance began minutes after we found a spot to sit down. Amanda came out first and Larry’s eyes were glued to her. She was an attractive woman, but she was nothing compared to my Isabella. Isabella came out right behind Amanda. I moved my focus to her and from the corners of my eyes, I could see other old men checking her out.
“Welcome to the Sioux Plains Pow Wow!” the emcee shouted. “Here are our two featured senior ladies for today – Amanda Kicking Bird and Isabella Red Wolf. They came all the way from Rosebud Reservation!”
“Don’t Amanda look nice, James Eagle?” Larry said, nudging me with his elbow.
“Isabella’s the one getting all the eyes from the men,” I said.
“Amanda’s just as pretty as Isabella.”
“Oh yeah?” I said. I turned around and saw a man who looked way older than us. I asked him which woman he thought was better looking.
“What woman?” he said. “I can’t see a damn thing. I have glaucoma.”
“See that?” I told Larry. “Isabella’s so hot, she burned that guy’s eyes out.”
The other dancers soon joined Isabella and Amanda. When the dance was almost over, the emcee invited everyone from the audience to dance along in the circle. Larry got up and sprinted to Amanda. Isabella looked at me with her arms stretched out.
“Are you gonna get up or what?” she shouted to me.
“My knees gave in as soon as I sat down, I’m stuck here.”
“James Eagle, did you eat the salad I left you for lunch?”
“Yeah, I ate it,” I said. “I put it on top of a cheeseburger.” Isabella huffed her breath. She rushed over and sat beside me.
“The doctor said you gotta lose weight. It ain’t healthy to be as big as you are. Come dance with me for a little bit, that’ll be your exercise for today.”
“Exercise? Getting sweaty and exhausted? I hate that, I ain’t doing it.”
“You get sweaty and exhausted every time we make love and we still do that almost every day,” she said. I felt my blood rush to my cheeks. I heaved myself up, belly first, and walked with Isabella to the dance circle. She took my hands in hers, guiding me through some sort of slow dance. We bumped into Larry and Amanda a couple of times, but we quickly got back to our routine.
“Ain’t this fun? Dancing together in the fresh air?” Isabella said. “Remember how much fun Lucy and me had when we danced? She loved it. I wish she could be here dancing with us.”
“Me too,” I said. “I miss her.”
“I miss her more every day. If she was here today, I’d tell her not all men are bad and there’s always a good one out there, even if he’s stubborn and a little nuts in the head.”
“I ain’t stubborn and nuts in the head,” I said. “You’re more stubborn than me. I had to ask you to marry me five different times before you said yes.”
“I only married you to get you off my back,” she said, winking. “Thanks for coming to see me dance. I bet it was tough for you to travel here with memories of Lucy and all.”
“It wasn’t an easy trip. Larry’s truck is so old, it hauled rocks to Egypt when the pyramids were being built.” Isabella put her head on my chest and laughed very loud. I laughed along with her, but Larry wasn’t happy.
“James Eagle, I might be old, but my hearing still works good,” Larry said as he tried to twirl Amanda. “I told you to stop bad mouthing my truck.”
“Larry, you’re stepping on my toes again!” Amanda shouted. They moved on to another part of the circle. Isabella moved her head up to look at me and she smiled widely. She had two bottom teeth that were crooked because her father punched her when she was a little girl. But I loved those teeth. Whenever we kissed, I would run my tongue over them. Isabella hated her crooked teeth and she always talked about getting them fixed, but never actually did it. All of her teeth could have been crooked and I would have still found her beautiful.
“If we keep dancing like this, you should lose weight in no time at all,” she said. “Can we do this at home from now on?”
“Sure. And then after we’re done, I’ll eat one of those cheeseburger salads.”
It was dark by the time the pow wow ended. Larry and Amanda went home in the old truck and I walked with Isabella to our car. I told her about the young woman I saw at the gas station. She listened, not saying a word until I finished the story. Then she sighed with her eyes concentrated on the night sky.
“There ain’t nothing that hurts more than losing a kid,” she said. “We’ve lost our parents, you lost your big brother, and we got married and we lost both of our kids. First, Gray Mountain died at a week old and then Lucy took her life. It’s been years since they died and it don’t stop hurting any less. Every other woman I know brags about her kids and I can’t do the same.”
“We’re getting old, Isabella,” I said. “One day we’re gonna see Lucy again. She’ll take one look at us and say, ‘It’s about time you got here. Larry’s truck is due to come in tomorrow. Sitting Bull said he wants it back.’ And then Gray Mountain will look at us and say ‘You two are my parents? No wonder the Creator took me away so soon.’”
“You’re losing your mind, James Eagle.”
“Being married to you for so long made me crazy.”
We slipped inside our car at last. I got behind the wheel and drove us towards Highway 18. Isabella put her head on my right shoulder and she fell asleep after a couple of minutes. She snored louder than the sound of Larry’s old truck. I liked seeing her comfortable. I kept my right hand on her knee even though she didn’t feel it.
Header photograph: By Joe Mabel (Photo by Joe Mabel) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons