It happened up near Pasco, Washington. My aunt calls from Burns to tell me. “Jinella, I got some sad news. Kyrin laid himself down on the railroad tracks up near Pasco and got hit. Far as the cops could tell, he had his music plugged in his ears, you know how the kids do…and his arms were crossed over his chest.” She goes quiet. The women in our family are strong like that.
I make myself stay calm. “That poor boy,” I say. “Oh Auntie.”
“Maybe you and Lonnie could come over,” my aunt says. “Me and grandma want to give Kyrin a feast. Your uncle’s talking about a sweat.”
“I could come up, Auntie,” I say.
“Lonnie take off on you?”
I don’t say anything. My aunt doesn’t ask more.
“I’ll talk to my professors,” I say. “When’s the feast?”
“Next Friday. You got a ride?”
“I’ll take the bus.”
“Your brother’s coming in from Seattle. He’ll pick you up at the station.”
Most of all, my cousin was different. Different, really different – not like the gangstahs and goths on the rez – but deep down different. If he heard me say “deep down different”, he would have gotten a bracelet made that had the letters WWDDDD on it – like those Jesus bracelets, but stronger: What Would Deep Down Different Do? What DDD did was kill himself. So now he is Deep Down Dead and I almost want to go join him except all the stuff he taught me about living real is keeping me alive.
His name was Kyrin. It’s sort of a joke even though a lot of the kids on the rez have gangstah names. His isn’t gangstah, I mean he wasn’t. My aunt named Kyrin from this soy sauce that was on the table in the Golden Fork Chinese Buffet in town. She and her boyfriend had gone there to celebrate finding out she was pregnant.
Me and Kyrin used to go to the Golden Fork a lot when we could get a ride into town. He was soooooo skinny from his family nature and tweak, but he could put away the whole buffet serving dish of sesame chicken.
He was shout out proud of me when I got into college here. I know it’s just a podunk community college, but to him it was like I had my foot on the ladder that was going to just keep going up and up. He wanted so much. For himself. For his brothers and sisters. For his cousins, especially me. He decided to take the short cut. No ladder for him. Kyrin was on the nose of a bottle rocket.
Friday my friend Cassie drops me at the bus station. I grab a couple candy bars and a pop from the vending machines. I keep thinking about Kyrin. He wasn’t full-blood Wasco like me and my aunt. His dad was from up Yakima way. Maybe he was trying to get back there when he laid down on the tracks outside Pasco.
We hadn’t known exactly where he was for a long time. I’d get postcards from different places – Seattle, Portland, even Los Angeles. They weren’t picture postcards. He’d send post office postcards with squiggly drawings on them of robot birds and laser guns with about a million parts, sometimes faces on them, sometimes claws or maybe a beautiful Indian woman except where her heart was supposed to be there were gears. He loved those comic books that tell a long story and have weird pictures.
I don’t want to think about Kyrin gone, plus my grandma says it’s dangerous to think about things like death or murder, but I sit on the bench in the big bright waiting room and all I can think is: What did it feel like? Was he tweaking? Did he have his hip hop on so loud he couldn’t hear the train coming? Was he wearing enough to keep him warm?
The bus pulls in on time. It’s almost empty except for some loud old guys. I find a window seat on the south side, shove my bag up in the rack and sit down with my pop and candy bars. The bus driver makes a bad joke about luxury travel and we’re on our way out of Bend.
I always love it when the bus cruises down the long slope after the Badlands turn-off and all of a sudden, it’s desert. Not desert like in Arizona. There aren’t any of those big cactus that look like Gumbys waving. Our desert is miles and miles of flat sand and volcano rock. There is sage everywhere. Sometimes after a rain if you’re hiking one of the dirt roads out there, the air is so wet and green you think the sage is breathing like a human.
Kyrin used to ride his buddy’s dirt bike out there, south a ways from Millican, a ghost gas station we just passed heading east. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to ride by here without picturing my cousin tear-assing up Reservoir Road, no helmet, no knee or elbow pads, just his black hair flying and a wild grin on his face.
I close my eyes. When I open them again, we’re miles down the highway. The loud guys have figured out how to play poker on the back seat. They look like the old white guys who are always at the blackjack tables in our casino. My sister works there and she says she thinks they sleep in their cars in the parking lot. She says they must live on snack bar burgers, cigarettes and casino coffee.
One of the poker players looks like he meant to get on the bus to Vegas and made a serious mistake. He’s tall and skinny and his hair looks like a little Dutch boy’s. He actually has on a silky shirt that’s open down to almost his belly and three gold chains. There’s a big medal hanging from one of the chains that says Winner on it in rhinestones. The dealer looks like a weasel, if a weasel wore a t-shirt that said Bad to the Bone.
I don’t want them to catch me watching them, plus it’s an ugly sight, so I lean back in my seat, open a Snickers and watch the desert stream by. I feel okay. I’m happy to have a weekend off from town. It’s okay there. The other girls in my pre-nursing program at the college are nice enough, but Bend is really weird. It used to be a dinky falling-down town. The, something happened and all of a sudden all these rich white people started buying the little old logging company houses and painting them colors like pink and orange.
It’s even weirder in Sisters which is a few miles to the west. One my room-mates went over there and told me and Cassie we had to check it out. She said there weren’t just regular rich people from Portland and California there, but rich hippies. I never heard of anything like that. Cassie borrowed her sister’s car and we went over to see what all the fuss was about.
We sat outside a little café, people watching and drinking coffee that cost four dollars a cup. We saw a white guy with long silvery hair who rode a Harley that cost as much as my mom’s house and ladies with feather earrings and fancy beaded bags hanging from a leather cord around their necks. One of them actually came up to me and said, “Are you Native American?”
Are you a white bitch? I was thinking, but I just nodded. She put her hands in front of her skinny chest and bowed. “Namaste,” she said, “I honor your peoples’ ways.”
She hovered there till Cassie – who is not shy – said, “Excuse us, but we need to be by ourselves. We’re planning a ceremony to celebrate N’ugartkim. It’s private.” The lady bowed again and walked away. Her type walk funny, like they don’t have any bones in their bodies. I don’t speak Wasco so I said, “Cassie, what’s noogartkeem?”
“I don’t speak Wasco either,” she said. “I made it up.”
The sugar from the two candy bars plus the desert blurring outside the bus window makes me sleepy. I check my cell. I still there’ll be a message from Lonnie, which, of course there is not. I turn my phone off, fold my jacket behind my head and settle in for a nap.
The bus lurches. I wake straight out of a dream in which Kyrin is standing up on his buddy’s dirt bike which he is riding at about a hundred miles an hour past the big park in Bend. He is screaming about how they killed the geese there. He rides into the park and full on into the pond. When he hits the water and the bike keeps going along the pond I feel the bus lurch and wake up.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the driver is saying, “we’ve hit a deer. I need to get off the highway and call the Burns terminal.”
He parks on the gravel shouler. The poker players bend down between the seats to pick up the fallen cards. I start to feel like I can’t breathe. It happens to me sometimes. My mom says I have nerves like my dad. “That’s what made him take off like he did. One day he’s listening to Willie Nelson over and over. Next day he’s gone.”
I look out my window toward the buttes to calm myself. I name the colors – dark blue, brown, pale where the sun is hitting on them. I tell myself a story about a girl stuck on a bus who gets off and goes to see a hurt deer. I clench my hands and dig my fingernails in. It doesn’t help. I wish I had a paper bag so I could breathe into it like the nurse at the school clinic taught me, but my throat is so tight I doubt even that would work.
I close my eyes and I see the deer. She is still alive. I know it. I make myself get up and walk to the back of the bus. The poker guys look up at me. “Excuse me,” I say, “I gotta check out something.” I’m scared they’ll hassle me, but the short guy just deals and says, “Ante up.”
I kneel on the back seat and look out. The deer lies on the white line. Her legs are folded under her. She stares straight ahead. There’s no blood. Every time a car or truck goes by, she shivers. I want to go to sleep and wake up in my aunt’s house.
I turn and look at the poker players. “Does any of you have a gun?” I say. The tall Vegas guy shakes his head. I go back to my seat. I hope I don’t puke.
“The deer is alive,” I say in a loud voice. “Does anybody have a gun?” Nobody answers. A stupid thought comes into my head: What would Kyrin do?
The driver turns around. “We’ve got to sit here a while. One of the front wheels is bent. They’re sending help from Burns.”
I go up to him. “What about the deer? She’s alive.”
“I saw, honey,” he says. “I don’t have a gun. But the sheriff’s on her way. She’ll be able to take care of it.”
I go back to my seat and watch the light on the mountains. I’m breathing okay, but I can’t stand thinking how scared the deer must be. What does she think the cars are? Does she hurt? Does she wonder why she can’t move?
Nobody comes. The sun is starting to go down. I don’t see this actually happen because I can’t make myself turn around, but orange is reflecting in the driver’s mirror. I sit with that stupid sentence on loop delay in my head: What would Kyrin do? What would Kyrin do?
Shut up, I say in my mind. He’d get high. That’s what he’d do. He’d do some goddamn tweak and go to his happy place. He’d lie down on the whiteline with some gangstah shit thumping in his ears. Forget you, Kyrin.
We must have gone into one of those science fiction wormholes. The sun’s copper now, almost all the way down. I try to make myself feel better by looking at the bushes, the grass, a few junipers in the distance. The buttes are glowing, like they’re lit from inside.
The sheriff hasn’t showed up. The repair truck from Burns isn’t here. At least the traffic has thinned out. At least the deer doesn’t have to shiver so much. I look out at the sagebrush. It’s gone silvery. The tops of the buttes are pink, then gray, then black.
I check my cell. Nothing. I wonder why I keep thinking Lonnie will call. It’s as dumb as asking myself what would Kyrin do. I call my aunt and tell her I’m stuck on the bus out by Riley. “Jinella,” she says, “are you okay? You sound funny.”
“Auntie,” I say, “I’m kind of freaking out. We hit a deer. She’s on the white line. She’s still alive. I don’t know what to do.”
There’s a long silence. I hear the t.v. in the background and the racket of my little cousins playing.
“Anybody on that bus got a gun?” my aunt says.
“No. But the sheriff’s on the way.”
“Good. She’ll know what to do. You just sit tight, Jinella. Call me when you’re almost to town. And you pray. Pray for that deer, girl.”
“I will, auntie. I’ll call you as soon as I’m almost there.”
We say goodbye and I hang up. What comes next isn’t anything I plan. I go up to the driver and ask him if I can get off the bus and stretch my legs. “Sure,” he says, “just be careful.”
I step down onto the sand and walk away from the bus. There are no headlights in either direction. The deer is a pale shape on the black highway. I move slowly up to her. She doesn’t turn her head. I set my palm on her neck. She shivers a little, then lowers her head. I pet her. Only a few times. “I’m sorry,” I say. “You will be able to go away from this place soon. I won’t forget you.”
I don’t want to make her more scared so I walk back to the bus. The red and blue lights of the sheriff sparkle to the east. I get back on the bus. “The repair truck is right behind the sheriff,” the driver says. “We’ll be on our way in no time.”…