Woman Who Walks On Stones
This Is a story that I came by thus: As a truck driver. I am solicited daily by those some of those least fortunate in America. One day recently I was approached by an old man on a Navajo reservation for cash in order to make it back home to his village on his reservation. Unwilling to take money for nothing, he offered a story in return. The following story, told by his 15 year old grandson is as follows; or at least as close as a white man’s memory can provide for.
He appeared, as his kind often do, suddenly and quietly. He came two months to the day after Woman Who Walks On Stones moved into a tiny shotgun house in a poor San Jose neighborhood. Despite almost daily letters from home, a Navajo reservation in New Mexico, she had decided she would rather watch people, other than her own, destroy their lives and their families through alcoholism and drug addiction. Woman Who Walks On Stones took her time as she studied the cat which had come so like a ghost to sit in the shade of her front porch. He was big. Not fat, but big in the way only old tomcats can get big. The cat did not return her scrutiny, but appeared rather to be absorbed by the world beyond her peeling picket fence.
Missing his left ear and the eye on the other side of his misshapen head, the cat’s fur was patchy, like a moth eaten fur coat long forgotten in some even more forgotten place. A three inch stub served as a tail. Rangy and starved looking, the cat seemed to be assembled from several different cats, like the coat of many colors the woman had worn as a child that her mother had sewn from every scrap of fabric she could lay her hands on. Like the coat, the cat seemed unacceptable but comfortable. The woman had heard of the cat in over heard snatches of conversation. Small neighborhood, small talk, right? She had seen the children of the neighborhood throwing rocks at the cat from a distance, but she had seen worse on the reservation. But this was the first time she had seen the big cat up close. Everyone called the cat Nasty.
“Nasty is wrong for you. I think I’ll call you Stem Chxo. That’s Navajo for ugly. Well, unacceptable, maybe unwanted. Lots of words in my language for unacceptable” She said this last bitterly, and her voice sounded far away to herself.
The cat didn’t look at her. Woman Who Walks On Stones closed her eyes and thought of the spirit animals her people sometimes still told stories of. When she was little she would sneak into the mesas with offerings to some of her favorite spirit animals. She didn’t think that this cat was a spirit animal, or that there were really any spirit animals at all, but she thought maybe it would be a better world if there were. “ You know, I think maybe there are enough uglies and unwanteds in the world. The almighty made you cat, so I will call you Mosi, that’s our word for cat.” Did she imagine it? or did the great head incline ever so slightly as if to say “ It shall be so.”
Remembering the stories made her think of the reservation she had lived on. The village was somehow a more forsaken place than the desert surrounding it. Actually, the village was more like a feature of the desert; the houses and outbuildings blasted, leached of all color, moisture and hope. It was as if whatever had made the desert had made the village too. A place for the desert people to hide in, like the rocks that hide the rats, snakes and lizards. Mandi, her white name, and the cat sat on her porch until the sun got low.
Sometimes Mandi thought of the things that drove her from land she once felt she was once a part of, sometimes she would talk to the cat about life on the Rez, as she called it. The cat never met her gaze, but he seemed to be listening to her as he looked out into some middle distance. Mandi wondered what the cat was thinking. Mandi fed the cat of course. When Mandi went inside, she held the door open and called to the cat, “You are welcome inside Mosi.” If the cat understood, he gave no sign. For the next few weeks Mandi and the cat sat outside on the porch, partly to avoid the stifling summer heat, partly because neither of them had anywhere else to go.
Each day Mandi would tell the cat stories while the cat sat in the same place looking out on the small world that was Mandi’s weedy front yard and the street beyond. While the cat seemed indifferent to the gangs of children, derelicts, and just crazy people, Mandi knew he was watching carefully. Watching for something. Twice a week Mandi made the walk five blocks to the supermarket for food, medicine, whatever was needed that she could afford. Although Mandi could never be sure of the cat’s presence when she returned from the store, he never missed a day on her porch. Woman Who Walks On Stones knew that these things did not make Mosi her cat, but she wondered if they made him her friend. Without knowing why, she hoped so.
One day Mandi was reading another letter from home, this one from her sister. Really, no one wrote her but her sister, but her sister wrote often. The noises of her world, children playing, a man arguing loudly down the block, the freeway just close enough to provide a constant rhythm of tires rolling on pavement mixed with the low hum of a thousand cars punctuated by the occasional blatting of motorcycle, and a dozen tv’s and radios all combined into a background which Mandi Walks On Stones found comforting in its familiarity and consistency. Except for the wind, the reservation had been so quiet that she often thought it had made her a little mad. In a way it was like the cat; it provided companionship without distraction. Sitting there, at ease in the anonymity of her shabby porch while she and the cat shared the city’s essence seemed to make the two of them one. Perhaps she wished to add something of her own to this urban symphony. Join in the song the way she had when ceremony demanded music on the reservation. Maybe she wanted to share something more of herself with the cat. Either way, Mandi began reading the letter aloud.
“Dear Mandi” she began, casting a sideways look at the cat. “Everybody here must be missing you like me, because day before yesterday old Ahmik came down from Albuquerque asking about you. He says he’s been having dreams about you, and that you must leave that place you are living in right now”. Looking at the cat again Mandi was startled to see it gazing at her intensely. Dragging her own gaze away she continued reading. “Old Beaver says that some dead naaldlooshii is looking for you and wants you dead”. “What a bunch of diigis!” Casting a look at the cat as she said it , Mandi said “that’s bullsh…” She meant to tell the cat what it meant in her language, but the cat had moved to within inches of her without making the slightest sound, and it had grown to an impossible size.
The Butcher Shop