Live, Via the Spirit World Satellite Network
Lonnie Ray Inman was sitting in a worn leather easy chair listening for noises to sift down from upstairs. He had loaded and unloaded his Colt Python.357 Magnum four times, nervously fumbling its deadly weight as he alternately entertained fantasies of vengeance and prison. Every few minutes he would rise and go to the window to see if the black Mercedes was still parked out front, then he would pause at the front closet, where he opened and slammed the door until the violence in his heart subsided enough for him to sit again. He was short and dark and muscles stood out on his bare arms like cables. The front of his black tank top was soaked with blood where he had ripped the skin of his chest with his fingernails, trying to destroy the tattoo of a naked woman, the same woman whose picture was airbrushed on the tank of his Harley, the same woman who had turned his thoughts to murder. Lonnie Ray Inman dropped six cartridges into the cylinder of the Python and snapped it shut, determined this time to make it out the door and up the stairs, where he would burst through the door and kill Calliope’s new lover.
A thousand miles away, ten thousand feet up in the Bighorn Mountains, Pokey Medicine Wing watched Lonnie loading the gun. Pokey was into the second day of his fast and had been searching the Spirit World for clues to the whereabouts of his favorite nephew, Samson Hunts Alone. He had called for his spirit helper, Old Man Coyote, to help him, but the trickster had not appeared. Instead he was seeing a white city, with red roofs and palm trees, and a man who wanted to murder Samson.
Pokey’s body sat, dangerously close to death, in the middle of a two-hundred-foot stone medicine wheel, the holiest of the Crow fasting places, just west of Sheridan, Wyoming. Pokey had been under the hoof of a bull-moose hangover when he began the fast, and now the dry mountain wind was sucking the last life-water from his body. Alone in the Spirit World, Pokey was unaware of his heart struggling to pump his thickening blood. He looked for a way to warn Samson, and called out for Old Man Coyote to help.
Coyote was in the locker room of the Santa Barbara YWCA when he heard Pokey’s call. He had entered as a horsefly, and after watching the women in the showers for a while had changed himself into a baby hedgehog and was rolled into a ball in the soap dish, imitating a loofah. Lazy by nature, Coyote had given his medicine to only three people since time began – Pokey, Samson, and a warrior named Burnt Face, who had built the ancient medicine wheel – so it took him a while to realize that he was being called. Reluctantly, he left the hedgehog body in the capable hands of a soapy aerobics instructor and went to the Spirit World, where he found Pokey waiting.
“What?” Coyote said.
“Old Man Coyote, I need your help.”
“I know,” Coyote said. “You are dying.”
“No, I need to find my nephew, Samson.”
“But you are dying.”
“I am? Shit!”
“You should end this fast now, old man.”
“But what about Samson?”
“I’ve been helping Samson. Don’t worry.”
“But he has an enemy who is going to kill him. I saw him, but I don’t know where he is.”
“I know he has enemies. I am Coyote. I know everything. What’s this guy look like?”
“He’s white. He has a gun.”
“That narrows it down.”
“He has a tattoo of a woman on his chest – it’s bleeding. He looks out a window and sees a motorcycle and a black car. That’s all I know.”
“Do you have any water on the mountain where your body is?”
“No. There’s a little snow.”
“I will help you,” Coyote said. “Go now.”
Suddenly Pokey was back in his body, sitting on the mountain. In his lap he found a package of dry Kool-Aid that had not been there before. He looked down at it and smiled, then fell forward into the dirt.
In the shower of the YWCA a naked aerobics instructor screamed and ran into the locker room when the loofah she was using turned into a raven. The bird circled the locker room twice and nipped her on the bottom with its beak before flying down the hall, into the lobby, and out an open skylight.
Across town, Calliope took the empty salad bowl from Sam and set it on the dresser next to a statue of Buddha. “More?” she asked.
“No, I’m full,” Sam whispered. Grubb had fallen asleep in his crib and Sam didn’t want to risk waking him. “Calliope,” he said, “is this guy dangerous?”
“Lonnie? No. He thinks he’s tough because he’s in a biker club, but I don’t think he’s dangerous. His friends are a little scary, though. They take a lot of PCP and it makes them spiritually dense.”
“I hate that,” Sam said, proud because he was spiritually dense without the aid of drugs.
“I’m going to take the dishes out and check on J. Nigel. Why don’t you light some candles? I don’t think we should turn on the stereo, though. It might irritate Lonnie.”
“We wouldn’t want that,” Sam said.
Outside, a raven landed on the hood of Sam’s car. Lonnie Ray saw it from his window. “Shit on it. Shit on it,” he said, but as he watched the raven seemed to disappear. Lonnie slammed the closet door until the doorframe splintered.
Coyote was a mosquito making his way through the air vents of the Mercedes. He flew out of the defroster vent and settled on the driver’s seat, where he became a man. Sam’s Rolodex was on the passenger seat next to his pack of cigarettes. Coyote lit a cigarette and flipped through the Rolodex until he found the card he was looking for. He removed it and tucked it into the waist of his buckskins.
Lonnie Ray was rattling through the kitchen cabinets, looking for liquor, when he heard the pounding at his front door. On his way through the living room he snatched the Python off the easy chair and shoved it in his jeans at the small of his back. He threw open the door and was nearly knocked down by the Indian who brushed him aside on the way into the room.
The Indian looked around the room and wheeled on Lonnie Ray. “Where is he? Where’s the bastard hiding?”
Lonnie Ray recovered his balance and dropped his right hand to the grip of the Colt. “Who the fuck are you?”
“Don’t worry about it. Where’s the guy that drives that Mercedes?”
In spite of his own anger, Lonnie Ray was intrigued. “What do you want him for?”
“That’s my business, but if he owes you money, you’d better get it back before I find him.”
“You going to kill him?” Lonnie asked.
“If he’s lucky,” the Indian said.
“You got a gun?”
“I don’t need a gun. Now where is he?”
“Chill, man, I might be able to help you out.”
“I don’t have time for this,” the Indian said. “I’ll just catch him at his house.”
“You know where he lives?” Lonnie Ray asked. This was like a gift from heaven. He could send the Indian up to Calliope’s to do the dirty work: no risk, no prison. If it didn’t work, he and the boys could surprise the guy at his house tomorrow, no witnesses. Lonnie Ray hadn’t really relished the idea of having to shoot Calliope, anyway.
“Yeah, I know where the bastard lives,” the Indian said. “But he ain’t there. He’s somewhere around here.”
“You give me his address, I’ll tell you where he is.”
“Fuck that,” the Indian said, shoving Lonnie against the wall. “You’ll tell me now.”
Lonnie brought the barrel of the Python up under the Indian’s chin. “I don’t think so.”
The Indian froze. “It’s on a card in my pants.”
Lonnie Ray held out his free hand. “Don’t ever tell someone you don’t have a gun, dipshit.”
The Indian lifted his buckskin shirt, pulled a card from his waistband, and handed it to Lonnie Ray, who glanced at it and spun the Indian around by one shoulder, pointing him out the door.
Lonnie ground the barrel of the Python into the Indian’s spine, stood on his toes, and whispered threateningly into the Indian’s ear. “You didn’t come here and you didn’t see me. You understand?”
The Indian nodded.
“He’s upstairs,” Lonnie whispered. “Now go!” He shoved the Indian out the door. “And never, never fuck with a brother of the Guild.” Lonnie closed the door. “Fucking A,” he said with a giggle.
Upstairs, Calliope said, “Tell me what you know, Sam.”
“About anything.” She sat down next to him on the bed and brushed his hair back with her fingers. “Tell me what you know.”
The silence that followed would have been awkward except Calliope seemed to expect it. She stroked his hair while he tried to think of what to say. He sorted through facts and figures and histories and strategies. Clever retorts, meaningless jokes, sophistries and non sequiturs rose in his mind and fell unspoken. She rubbed his neck and found a knot in the muscle that she worked her fingertips into.
“That feels good,” Sam said.
“That’s what you know?”
A smile rose to Sam’s lips. “Yes,” he said.
“What do you want?” she asked.
He shot her a sideways glance and saw the candlelight gleaming in her eyes. She was serious, waiting for an answer. “Is this a test?”
“No. What do you want?”
“Why don’t you ask me what I do for a living? Where I live? Where I’m from? How old I am? You don’t even know my last name.”
“Would that stuff tell me who you are?”
Sam turned to face her and took her hand from his neck. He still had a niggling mistrust of her and he wanted to let it go. “The truth now – Calliope, are you part of something he cooked up? Some trick?”
“No. Who’s he?”
“Never mind.” Sam turned away from her again, stared at a candle flame on the dresser, and tried to think. She really didn’t know about Coyote. What now?
“Well, what do you want?” she asked again.
He snapped, “Dammit, I don’t know.”
She didn’t recoil or seem hurt, but began rubbing his neck again. “You came here because you wanted me, didn’t you?”
“No. Yes, I guess I did.” It wasn’t bad enough that she had to keep telling the truth; now she was expecting it back, and he was out of practice.
“We’ve had sex. Do you want to go now?”
Christ, she was like some gorgeous New Age district attorney. “No, I…”
“Do you want a bowl of chocolate marshmallow ice cream?”
“That would be great!” Sam said. Off the hook, no further questions, Your Honor.
“See, it’s not that hard to figure out what you want.” She got up and left the room, heading for the kitchen again.
Sam sat back and waited, realizing that it had been some time since a door had slammed downstairs. Suddenly he was very uncomfortable with the silence. When he heard footfalls on the stairs outside he leapt to his feet and ran to the kitchen.
A White Picket Fence Around Chaos
Sam hit the kitchen just as Yiffer stepped through the screenless section of the screen door.
“Cool! Ice cream!” Yiffer said, staggering to Calliope’s side at the counter.
“Keep it down, Yiffer. I just got Grubb and J. Nigel down.” Calliope picked up two full bowls of ice cream and nodded to the carton on the counter. “You can have the rest.”
“Bitchin’.” Yiffer grabbed a serving spoon from the empty salad bowl and dug into the ice cream, shoveling a baseball-sized clump into his mouth. Sam watched in amazement as Yiffer mouthed the ice cream until he got his jaws closed around it, then swallowed the whole clump, dipping his head snakelike to facilitate the passage. “Oh, shit, man,” Yiffer said as he dropped the spoon and bent over, grabbing the bridge of his nose. “Major ice cream headache. Ouch!”
Sam heard footsteps on the stairs outside, ran to the door, and popped his head out to see who was coming, ready to duck back inside should it be the crazed biker from downstairs. To his relief, Nina was trudging up the steps, obviously a little drunk herself. “Did Yiffer come home?”
Sam said, “He’s punishing himself with ice cream as we speak.”
“I’ll kill him.” She ran the rest of the way up the steps and Sam helped her wrestle the door open, then he stepped out of harm’s way as she stormed by him to Yiffer, who was still bent over, now holding his temples.
“You jerk!” Nina shrieked. “Who was that woman at the bar? And where the hell is my money?”
“Babe, I’m in pain here. I’m suffering.”
Nina raised her fist as if to hammer Yiffer’s back, then she spotted the serving spoon, picked it up, and began whacking the surfer unmercifully on the head with it. “You want pain (whack!), I’ll give you pain (whack! whack! whack!). Suffering? (whack!) You wouldn’t (whack!) know (whack!) suffering (whack!) if (whack!)…”
“Well,” Calliope said. “I guess you guys need a little space. C’mon, Sam.” She led Sam out of the kitchen and back to her bedroom. They sat eating and listening to Yiffer whining under Nina’s attack. After a few minutes she was losing momentum and Yiffer’s whines turned to moans. Soon Nina was moaning with him rhythmically. Sam stared at the candle on the dresser as if he hadn’t noticed.
“They do this all the time,” Calliope offered. “I think Nina gets in touch with that male energy that equates violence and sex.”
“Hitting Yiffer makes her horny.”
“Oh,” Sam said. He flinched at the sound of breaking dishes from the kitchen. Nina screamed, “Oh, yes, you asshole! Yes!” Yiffer groaned. The house shook with the sound of a door slamming downstairs and J. Nigel joined the din with a wail of his own.
“Lonnie must think that we’re doing it,” Calliope said.
“Do you think he’ll give us time to explain before he shoots us?”
“Don’t think about it.” Calliope stood and stepped out of her dress, then gestured for Sam to take off his shirt. The moaning in the kitchen was rising in intensity and J. Nigel was wailing like a siren. The windows rattled with a salvo of door slams.
Sam looked at her and thought, A bowl of ice cream, a load of loonies, and thou… “Now?” he said. “Are you sure?”
Calliope nodded. She pulled his shirt off, then pushed him back on the bed and took off his shoes. Sam let her undress him as he tried to put the noise out of his mind. As she pulled the sheet over him and crawled in beside him, he imagined the two of them being shot in the act. When she kissed him he barely felt it.
In the crib next to them Grubb began to stir, and with the next series of door slams and a crash from the kitchen he came awake crying. Despite Calliope’s soft warmth against him and the smell of jasmine on her hair, Sam was unable to respond.
“He’ll be okay,” Calliope said. She stroked Sam’s cheek and kissed him gently on the forehead.
“I’ll be back in a second,” Sam said.
He got up and wrapped his shirt around his hips, then, checking the hallway, he darted out of the room and into the bathroom. He closed the door behind him and leaned against it, staring blankly at the ceiling. The sex sounds from the kitchen reached a crescendo with a piercing scream from Nina, then stopped, leaving only the sounds of crying babies and slamming doors. Sam took a deep breath. “I can’t do this,” he said to himself. “This is too weird. Too fucking weird.” He lowered the lid of the toilet and sat facing the shower stall, assuming the posture of Rodin’s Thinker. For once in his life, it really seemed to matter that the sex be good, but this was like a combat zone. “I can’t do this,” he said.
“Sure you can,” a voice said from behind the shower curtain. Sam screamed and jumped to the top of the toilet tank. Coyote stepped out of the shower holding a beaded leather pouch.
“What in the hell are you doing here?” Sam asked.
“I’m here to help,” Coyote said.
“Well, get out of here. I don’t need your help.”
“You are wasting that woman.”
“Do you have any idea what is going on around here? Listen.” Another door slammed and Nina resumed shouting at Yiffer. From what Sam could make out it had something to do with the yard sale.
“You must leave here, then,” Coyote said. “You must find a place on the woman’s body and live there. Hear only her breath, smell only her scent.”
“If you don’t get out of here I won’t even have a chance. What if she sees you? How could I explain your being here?” Thinking about it, Sam realized that if he told Calliope that there was an ancient trickster god in her bathroom she would accept it without question – would probably ask for an introduction.
Coyote held out the beaded pouch. “Put this on your member.”
“What is it?” Sam asked, taking the pouch.
“Passion powder. It will make you as strong and stiff as a lance.”
Sam shook the contents of the pouch – a fine brown powder – into the palm of his hand. He sniffed it. “What is it?”
“Corn pollen, cedar, sweet grass, sage, powdered elk semen – it is an old and powerful recipe. Try it.”
“You want the woman to think you are not a man?”
“If I try it will you go?”
Coyote grinned. “Put just a pinch on your member and you will pleasure the woman to tears.”
“And you’ll go?”
Coyote nodded. Sam tentatively took a pinch of the powder and began to sprinkle it on his penis.
Calliope opened the bathroom door, catching Sam in mid-sprinkle. “You won’t need that, honey,” she said. “I’m on the pill.”
“But…” Sam looked around for Coyote, but the trickster was gone. “I was just…”
“Being responsible,” Calliope said. “Thank you. Now come to bed.” She took his hand and led him out of the bathroom. Sam submitted, glancing over his shoulder for signs of Coyote.
Yiffer and Nina had taken the fight to their bedroom. Nina was calling Yiffer an idiot and going on about a newspaper ad being misplaced. A door slammed downstairs and Yiffer stormed out of the bedroom. “I’m going to kick his ass!” he shouted. In the hall he looked up at Calliope and Sam as he passed. “Hi, kids,” he said, then he proceeded down the hall. Sam could hear the kitchen screen door ripping off the hinges as Yiffer went through. “You’re history, biker boy!”
Calliope pulled Sam into the bedroom and closed the door.
“Shouldn’t we call the police or something?” Sam asked.
“No, he’ll be okay. Lonnie’s afraid of Yiffer. He won’t fight him and he’s afraid to shoot him because of jail.”
“Oh, everything’s fine, then,” Sam said.
“Come to bed,” Calliope said. Sam shot a glance to Grubb, who was lying quietly on his side staring suspiciously at Sam over the edge of a pacifier, as if saying, “What are you doing with my mom?”
“Can we blow out the candles?” Sam asked.
Without a word Calliope blew out the candles and pulled Sam down on top of her on the bed. Outside, the sounds of Nina screaming down from the top of the stairs, Yiffer pounding on Lonnie’s door, and J. Nigel crying for attention faded into white noise.
“You must find a place on the woman’s body and live there.” In the dark, the noise far away, Sam ran his hands over Calliope’s body and the world of work and worry seemed to move away.
He found two depressions at the bottom of her back where sunlight collected, and he lived there, out of the wind and the noise. He grew old there, died, and ascended to the Great Spirit, found heaven in her cheek on his chest, the warm wind of her breath across his stomach carried sweet grass and sage, and…
In another lifetime he lived on the soft skin under her right breast, his lips riding light over the ridge and valley of every rib, shuffling through downy, dew-damp hairs like a child dancing through autumn leaves. On the mountain of her breast, he fasted at the medicine wheel of her aureole, received a vision that he and she were steam people, mingled wet with no skin separating them. And there he lived, happy. And for the first time in years he felt that he was home. She followed, traveled, lived with him and in him as he was in her. They lived lifetimes and slept and dreamed together.
It was swell.