“Is God a man or a woman?
God could be an armadillo. I have no idea.”
“He wanted the songs, the stories, to save everybody.”
“Everybody likes to have a place to think, to meditate, to eat a burrito...”
“For the rest of our lives, all we can hear are our names chanted over and over, until we are deaf to everything else.”
“She wanted to find a way to love them in death, because she forgot how to love them in life.”
“Fuck you,' Samuel said as he stole the ball, drove down the court, and went in for a two-handed, rattle-the-foundations, ratify-a-treaty, abolish-income-tax, close-the-uranium-mines monster dunk.”
“Father Arnold finished the ceremony and asked if anybody had any final words for the dearly departed.
"Final words?" Chess asked, "I don't know if I'll ever be able to stop talking about this.”
“A few days earlier, Chess and Thomas had driven to Spokane for a cheap hamburger. They walked in downtown Spokane and stumbled onto a drunk couple arguing.
"Get the fuck away from me!" the drunk woman yelled at her drunk husband, who squeezed his hand into a fist like he meant to hit her.
Thomas and Chess flinched, then froze, transported back to all of those drunken arguments they'd witnessed and survived.
The drunk couple in downtown Spokane pulled at each other's clothes and hearts, but they were white people. Chess and Thomas knew that white people hurt each other, too. Chess knew that white people felt pain just like Indians, Nerve endings, messages to the brain, reflexes. The doctor swung hammer against knee, and the world collapsed.
"You fucker!" the white woman yelled at her husband, who opened his hands and held them out to his wife. An offering. That hand would not strike her. He pleaded with his wife until she fell back into his arms. That white woman and man held each other while Chess and Thomas watched. A hundred strangers walked by and never noticed any of it.
After that, Chess and Thomas had sat in the van in a downtown parking lot. Thomas began to weep, deep ragged tears that rose along his rib cage, filled his mouth and nose, and exploded out.”
“He sang 'Stairway to Heaven' in four different languages but never knew where that staircase stood.”
“Where's your dad now?" Thomas asked.
The word gone echoed all over the reservation. The reservation was gone itself, just a shell of its former self, just a fragment of the whole. But the reservation still possessed the power and rage, magic and loss, joys and jealousy. The reservation tugged at the lives of its Indians, stole from them in the middle of the night, watched impassively as the horses and salmon disappeared. But the reservation forgave, too. Sam Bone vanished between foot falls on the way to the Trading Post one summer day and reappeared years later to finish his walk. Thomas, Chess, and Checkers heard the word gone shake the foundation of the house.”
“Thomas," Chess said, "if you don't want to be famous and have your stories heard, then why'd you start the band up?"
"I heard voices," Thomas said. "I guess I heard voices. I mean, I'm sort of a liar, enit? I like the attention. I want strangers to love me. I don't even know why. But I want all kids of strangers to love me."
The Indian horses screamed.”
“Thomas Builds-the-Fire's stories climbed into your clothes like sad, gave you itches that could not be scratched. If you repeated eve a sentence from one of those stories, your throat was never the same again. Those stories hung in your clothes and hair like smoke, and no amount of laundry soap or shampoo washed them out. Victor and Junior often tried to beat those stories out of Thomas, tied him down and taped his mouth shut. They pretended to be friendly and tried to sweet talk Thomas into temporary silences, made promises about beautiful Indian women and cases of Diet Pepsi. But none of that stopped Thomas, who talked and talked.”
“Is God a man or a woman? God could be an armadillo. I have no idea.”
“Coyote: A small canid (Canis latrans) native to western North America that is closely related to the American wolf and whose cry has often been compared to that of Sippie Wallace and Janis Joplin, amongst others.”
“He'd been just like all of the other performers in the world. He'd wanted to be universally loved. He wasn't all that different from Victor, Thomas, or even Junior. They all got onstage and wanted the audience to believe in them. They all wanted the audience to throw their room keys, panties, confessions, flowers, and songs onstage. They wanted the audience to trust them with their secrets.”
“Junior based all of his decisions on his dreams and visions, which created a lot of problems.”
“When Indian women begin the search for an Indian man, they carry a huge list of qualifications. He has to have a job. He has to be kind, intelligent, and funny. He has to dance and sing. He should know how to iron his own clothes. Braids would be nice. But as the screwed-up Indian men stagger through their lives, Indian women are forced to amend their list of qualifications. Eventually, Indian men need only to have their own teeth to get snagged.”
“Samuel looked at Chief WalksAlong, at all the Tribal Cops, at Lester. He shifted the ball from his left hip to his right. He spun the ball in his hands, felt the leather against his fingertips, and closed his eyes.
“What the hell are you doing?” the Chief asked.
With his eyes still closed, Samuel drove to the basket, around his defenders, and pulled up for a short jumper. The ball rotated beautifully. Years later, Lester still swore that ball stopped in midair, just spun there like it was on a stick, like the ball wanted to make sure everyone noticed its beauty.
“That shot was vain,” Lester said.
“That shot was the best story I ever told.” Samuel said.”
“She kissed him like he was a warrior; she kissed him like she was a warrior.”
“Nothing as white as the white girl an Indian boy loves.”
“I want all kinds of strangers to love me. The Indian horses screamed.”
“The old Indian women dipped wooden spoons into stews and stirred and stirred. The stews made of random vegetables and commodity food, of failed dreams and predictable tears.”
“Sheriff Root: "Ask Me, I reckon it was niggers"
Deputy: "How you reckon that, Sheriff Root?"
Sheriff Root: "Kinda thing they do"
Deputy: "What, burn two hundred people to death, right down to the bone? They do that?"
Sheriff Root: "MARTIAN niggers”
“Who the hell do you think you girls are? Charlie's Angels?”
“And I also know that pain can seem like an endless ribbon. You pull it and you pull it. You keep gathering it toward you, and as it collects, you really can’t believe that there’s something else at the end of it. Something that isn’t just more pain. But there’s always something else at the end; something at least a little different. You never know what that thing will be, but it’s there.”
“I'm with her simply because I want to be. Because I need to be. Because she needs me, I think, and if I'm being honest, I need her just as much.”
“They became convinced that I thought I was better than them when the truth was that I just knew they would never like me if they knew who I really was and what I really wanted. Love me. They would never love me.”
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