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A Different Blue(12)
Author: Amy Harmon

“You . . . don't know what your name is . . . and you don't know when you were born?” Wilson's eyes were wide, almost disbelieving.

“Makes writing the personal history a little challenging, doesn't it?” I sneered, angry all over again.

Wilson seemed completely stunned, and I felt a surge of power that I had taken him off his high horse.

“Yes . . . I guess it does,” he whispered.

I pushed past him and headed for the door. When I was halfway down the hall, I tossed a look back over my shoulder. Wilson stood in the doorway to his classroom, his hands shoved into his pockets, watching me walk away.

Chapter Four

I didn't go to school until I was approximately ten years old. Jimmy Echohawk didn't stay in one place long enough for school to be an option. I had no birth certificate, no immunization record, no permanent address. And he was afraid, though I hadn't known that then.

He had done his best for me, in the only way he knew how. When I was still small, he fashioned several toys from the scraps of wood he had left over from his projects. Some of my very earliest memories were watching him work. It fascinated me, the way the wood would wrinkle and curl as he would chisel away. He always seemed to know what the end result would be, as if he could see what lay beneath the layers of bark, as if the wood was guiding him, guiding his hands in smooth strokes. And when he did stop, he would sit beside me, staring at the unfinished sculpture, gazing for long periods of time, as if the work were continuing in his head, in a place I was no longer privy to observe. He made a living selling his carvings and sculptures to tourist shops and even a few upscale galleries featuring local artists and southwestern art. He had cultivated a relationship with several shop owners throughout the West, and we would travel between shops, eking out a meager existence from the money he made. It wasn't much. But I was never hungry, I was never cold, and I don't remember ever being really unhappy.

I didn't know any different, so I wasn't especially lonely, and I had been brought up in silence, so I felt no need to fill it the few times I was left alone. There were times when Jimmy would leave for several hours, as if he needed respite from the restraints parenthood had placed upon him. But he always came back. Until the day he didn't.

We lived mostly in the warmer climates – Arizona, Nevada, Southern Utah and parts of California. It just made life easier. But that day was so hot. Jimmy had left early in the morning with a few words that he would be back later on. He had left on foot, leaving the truck to bake beside the trailer. We had a dog he called Icas, which is the Pawnee word for turtle. Icas was slow and blind and slept most of the time, so the name was fitting. Icas got to go with Jimmy that morning, which I was hurt and bothered by. Usually we were both left behind, although Icas had seemed reluctant to go, and Jimmy had to whistle for him twice. I tried to stay busy, as busy as a ten or eleven-year-old girl can without video games or cable or a soul to talk to or play with. I had my own projects, and Jimmy was generous with his tools.

I spent the morning sanding a small branch I had fashioned into the curving, sinuous likeness of a snake. Jimmy had told me it was good enough that he thought he could sell it. That was a first for me, and I worked diligently in the shade of the ragged canopy that stretched ten feet from the camper door, providing blessed shade in the 110 degree heat. We were camped at the base of Mount Charleston, just to the west of Las Vegas. Jimmy had wanted more Mountain Mahogany, a scrubby evergreen tree that looked nothing like the rich dark wood most people associated with mahogany. Wood from the Mountain Mahogany was reddish-brown in color and hard, like most of the wood Jimmy worked with when he was sculpting.

The day dragged on. I was used to being alone, but I was afraid that day. Night came and Jimmy didn't return. I opened some re fried beans, heated them up on the little stove in the camper, and spread them on some tortillas we had made the day before. I made myself eat because it was something to do, but I found myself crying and swallowing my food in great gulps because my nose was clogged and I couldn't breath and chew at the same time.

There had been one other time when Jimmy stayed away all night. He had come home acting strange and stumbling around. He had fallen into his bed and had slept the day away. I had thought he was sick and had put a cold rag on his head, only to have him push me away, telling me he was fine, just drunk. I didn't know what drunk meant. I asked him when he finally woke up. He was embarrassed, and he apologized, telling me that alcohol made men mean and women cheap.

I thought about what he said for a long time.

“Can it make women mean too?” I asked Jimmy out of the blue.

“Huh?” he had grunted, not understanding.

“Alcohol. You said it makes men mean and women cheap. Can it make women mean too?” I didn't know what cheap meant, but I knew what it meant to be mean and wondered if alcohol had been part of my mom's problem.

“Sure. Mean and cheap both.” Jimmy nodded.

I was comforted by that thought. I had assumed that my mom had left me and Jimmy because I had done something wrong. Maybe I had cried too much or wanted things she couldn't give me. But maybe she drank alcohol and it made her mean. If alcohol made her mean, then maybe it wasn't me after all.

I fell asleep that night, but I slept fitfully listening even as I drifted off, trying not to cry, telling myself it was alcohol again, although I didn't believe it. I awoke the next morning, the heat seeping into the camp trailer pulling me from dreams where I wasn't alone. I shot up, shoving my feet into my flip-flops and stumbling out into the blinding sunshine. I ran around our camp site, looking for any indication that Jimmy had returned while I'd slept.

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