1 Ashleigh Luttery Jennifer Graber Native American Religions & Cultures 12 December 2011 An Epilogue to Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony “You got a name?” Helen Jean giggled to herself. Of course she had a name. Who didn’t have a name? “Helen Jean, but you can call me whatever you like.” The tall Mexican smiled a toothy grin and stroked his side burns. She always wondered why men kept their sideburns so bushy. The Mexican’s side burns were nice though, tamed but long, jet black, and shiny like the reflection of the night sky on still water back home at Towac. He was tall and strong, with a sunburned face full of wrinkles. Oddly enough, Helen Jean found him handsome and couldn’t help but get nervous when she looked into his eyes. They were a deep brown, not hazel like the weird Laguna Indian that she’d just left back behind at the bar. “Helen Jean? That’s odd that you have two names. I’ll call you Arena.” Arena, huh? She didn’t really like that name and didn’t see why he couldn’t just call her by her name, but something about the way he swayed as if the world were spinning, made her second guess resisting the new nickname. She shrugged. He wouldn’t remember her anyway. She only cared about getting him to help her out a bit. She’d seen him and his buddies looking at his check from his railroad job back at the bar. Yes, he could help her out a bit. The Mexican walked her to his truck and popped open a beer and passed her one. She couldn’t see the label, but she assumed it tasted terrible anyway. 2 “Oh, no thank you,” she muttered. “No thank you?” the Mexican asked. He seemed genuinely shocked. “How else are we to have a party unless you don’t drink up?” “I’ve had a little too much wine already today.” Helen Jean batted her eyes while the Mexican gulped down the beer for himself. She couldn’t pretend to be asleep any longer. The Mexican’s blinds were damaged and bent in different directions, letting in the sun. Maybe they had been damaged in a fight. Who knows what goes in men’s lives? The Mexican was sweaty, heavy, and smelled of stale beer and sand. She’d laid there for about an hour after the sunrise and poked him repeatedly. He wasn’t going to wake up any time soon. Fortunately, before they’d gone to bed, she asked him to help her out a bit and he gave her eight dollars. She’d been given more, but it was better than nothing. He did make her some eggs and rice, and she was grateful for the food. In the dim light, she struggled to find the bathroom. Running her hands along the cool mesa walls, she eventually found a narrow bathroom at the end of the hall. There was a light green slip hanging from the shower rod. It obviously belonged to a woman. A girlfriend? He hadn’t mentioned any other women, like the war veterans who bragged about all of the women they’d slept with during their glory days. She definitely hadn’t asked. There was some lilac shampoo, with the bottle top crusted over. A past girlfriend? Helen Jean figured this would be the right time to wash her hair. She didn’t know when she would be able to put in her tight signature curls, but at least it would be clean. 3 It was time to go back to her apartment. She hadn’t been there in the past two days, and she desperately wanted to change her clothes. Her tight blue pants were starting to chafe and she was curious about trying on the green slip. The Mexican was still snoring, stiff as a rock. Helen Jean gathered her things and rolled the light green slip into her purse. It was cool and light, similar to the fuzz on caterpillars she’d played with as a child. She was sure she could wear it with something. On the way to the bus stop she heard loud, irregular snoring, sounding like the unpredictable thunder before a summer thunderstorm. She followed the sound and found a drunken man passed out. Another drunken Indian. She looked on with sadness then quickly noticed his wallet lying about a foot away from his left hand. Thirty five dollars! Before she could even consult her conscience, she found herself slipping the dollar bills into her purse. She felt bad, but at the same time rationalized that she was helping the drunk. He would only spend the money on more drinks…right? This was the big break she needed. This time she would actually leave Gallup for a larger city. Maybe Albuquerque? When she’d worked in the movie theaters, she would oftentimes hear her boss talking about visiting his older son in Albuquerque. Helen Jean could only imagine and dream of the opportunities that she could take advantage of in such a large city. Maybe she could get a bus ticket out east on Highway 40 out to Albuquerque. She’d love it if she could bring her sisters out there. Stephanie and Elaine were not in the apartment, as usual. She would like to have been able to tell them goodbye, but at the same time she had come up short on her rent the past three months. It was time to go. She wouldn’t have to deal with the awkward goodbyes and the 4 patronizing looks Stephanie and Elaine always gave her. It always made her question herself, and that was the last thing Helen Jean needed now. She packed her bags and prepared to leave for the bus stop. There was a 10:20 bus leaving on Highway 40 and going straight to Albuquerque. She felt as though it was going to be a good day; she just knew it. All she could think about were the times when her grandmother would tell her stories about Manitou, the Great Spirit who lived alone in the center of the sky who looked over all of the people. After her grandmother died, she hadn’t listened to many stories. But it always brought her comfort to think that the spirits were looking after her no matter where she was. Albuquerque was a strange place, full of Spanish décor and heritage, intermixed with Indian fusion, but also a place breeding with tourists. White people came to see the western city, something they would not have been able to see out east. Helen Jean felt ashamed that she was still circling around the same type of men, but she was trying to do better. Her grandmother always said one could never be perfect, that it was a process in bettering oneself. She couldn’t expect to be an angel immediately just because she was in a new city. Fortunately for her, while scoping out the nearest bars, she stumbled upon Albuquerque’s Munchers, a western themed diner for tourist. Helen Jean was fortunate enough to land a job there as a waitress. Of course she had to wear stereotypical Indian regalia. But she wasn’t going to mention that she was a Ute and would normally wear long deerskin dresses, not short, skimpy dresses made out of colorful cotton fabrics and fake eagle feathers. Who was she to mention that? She wasn’t going to mess this up. She couldn’t lose her job. 5 The owner of the diner and her husband had been kind to Helen Jean. If she washed dishes at their home and cleaned their bathrooms, they let her stay in the garage. She wasn’t sure if they actually liked her or if they liked the cheap labor, but she didn’t need to ask. She had a clean and comfortable space that she made her own. She’d saved all those letters she’d written on Stephanie’s pink stationary and finally had a few dollars to send back to Emma and the girls. A few days ago, she’d received a letter from Emma. She felt nervous and waited before she opened and read the letter. Dear Helen Jean, we all miss you so much and it deeply warms our hearts to know that you are well and on the path to having a successful life out in Albuquerque. We would love to come and visit, but as you know, I don’t make much money and the girls are always busy washing dishes down at the local diners. There isn’t much going on out here. I am still working in Cortez. On a sad note, the Rainwater twins were arrested the other day. There has been a new development since last time we talked… Helen Jean couldn’t read on any longer. Janice, her oldest younger sister was pregnant. They were not sure who the father was, but it was more than likely a black man’s child. Great. The white world barely respected and acknowledge the Indians as a whole. Now Janice was going to have a black man’s child? Helen Jean did not know what she was going to do or even if there was anything for her to do at all. She couldn’t let her sister end up like all the other Indian girls who were run off the reservations because the fathers of their children were black, white, or Mexican. Those girls only ended up circling around the same bars every night looking for a bottle of wine they could share with some pathetic war veteran. Helen Jean could only pray to Manitou, to the White god, or any other gods and spirits for that matter, that Janice would not 6 suffer the same fate. But she couldn’t focus on that right now. It hurt too much to think of her baby sister as one of those Indian women in Gallup with their long dirty hair, stained pants, and blouses held together by safety pins. Tears welled in her eyes, but she closed them tight and forced them back. She could not cry—not for herself and not for her sister. Besides, there was no time to cry. It was 8:07 and she was already late for work.
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