It’s 1927. Kay is Hopi who lost her family at a young age and was picked up by a German couple in Clarkdale, Arizona. Over the years, Kay helped plant the orchard and tend the animals. She felt at peace with the cycle of the ranch nourished by the Verde River. One morning a shot rang out. Kay stole George’s precious, gold plated pistol. Then, her new friend Sally dragged her to a film shooting of a Zane Grey Western where she is discovered and dressed as an Indian male on the set. When an Apache family comes to work at the farm, Kay must come to terms with her hybrid identity; her quiet childhood becomes a chapter of the past. Here is an excerpt from Chapter 3:
Sally took Kay down to the second floor of the boarding house to the communal bathroom and locked the door. She ran hot water in the porcelain tub and added soap flakes until the bubbles jiggled. She assessed Kay’s shabby dress and matted hair and told her she stank.
“I try to bathe every day. You really must,” she explained to Kay as she helped her take off her clothes and examined her. Kay blushed. Sally looked at her dispassionately as though she were a rag doll which had fallen into a mud puddle.
“I’ve got dresses in the costume closet. You soak and I’ll be back.”
Sally left her alone. Kay listened to the tub sprocket drip water into the mound of bubbles. The water was hot but felt good to her stiff arms and thighs from climbing the orchard ladder yesterday to prune the row of Persimmon trees. This morning, she hitched a ride on the back of a truck that contained two calves and a goat. The driver drove up the swaying road to Jerome. She leaned against the calves and rubbed the downy hair above their noses while the hot sun caused all to steam and she felt like an over-ripe persimmon, puckered and moldered.
Kay exhaled slowly and tried to submerge until her shoulders were covered. Though the tub was long, her heels went up over the end and exposed her callused feet. A half hour later Sally still had not returned and the water was cold. Kay stepped out of the stained tub and dried herself, and that was when Sally burst into the room with an armful of clothes and set them on a bench next to the vanity cabinet. Mrs. Weese taught her how to change without exposing herself. Nacktheit ist eine Sünde. Kay had alternated between three smocks and a nightgown, ever mindful to hide her body because nakedness was a sin. In her room at the wash basin, Kay sponge-cleaned her body daily, and at the yard pump, she washed her hair once a week. Sally threw away the bandages that functioned as a brassiere and gave her a soft, side-lacing bra and new cotton panties. Kay changed into the clothes Sally brought her. It looked like an old cowboy costume, and she wondered if Sally was playing a joke.
“Whatta’ya know—an Injun-Cowboy,” she said, mimicking her crude aunt.
Kay ignored the remark. She shook her head and said, “This looks ridiculous.”
Kay took off the vest and left on the blue chambray shirt and the gauchos, liking them more than her old dress. Sally nibbled on a slice of bread coated with butter and sugar, and she tore a piece off and gave it to Kay. She was hungry.
Sally lifted a handful of Kay’s hair that fell to her waist and tried to smooth her locks. Sally inspected the ends. “Have you ever had your hair cut? Mind if I cut it?”
Kay felt her eyes bulge. “To your length? Nein.”
“No, it wouldn’t look right at your ears. Let me trim up the ends a few inches. Your hair looks like the tail end of a horse.”
She thought of Marvin and envisioned him swinging his tail like the pendulum of a grandfather clock. She felt a pang of guilt for being away from the farm and hoped the old horse would have enough sense to stand in the shade under the Cottonwood trees. Kay thought again about being angry, but the luxuriousness of the bath and Sally’s sketchy hospitality brought out a giggle for which Sally took as consent. She located the black shears from the top drawer of a dresser. She babbled on about the upcoming day and patted her shoulder. Kay sat on the toilet seat and let her play with her hair. Kay tried to remember a time when Mrs. Weese had touched her affectionately or hugged her. She could not remember. Mrs. Weese had never been mean to her, but she had not doted, either. As Sally’s white hands snipped the black straw that was her hair, Kay thought about the farm animals who twisted their heads whenever she patted their flanks. They considered the gesture, their dumb eyes neither accepting or rejecting the touch. She wondered if this was how she appeared to Sally. Was Sally’s attention an act of pity or friendship? The light of the sun stabbed through the high window and illuminated the dingy bathroom. The water gurgled out of the tub.
Sally faced her with eyes eager with anticipation. “I–we, have to go to the Montana Hotel later. It’s Thursday, and tonight is the first Nickel-hopper dance.”
Kay did not understand. Sally’s black hair shined. She did a Charleston Step. “Dancing. Men will come and pay for a dance. We’ll make a nice pile of change, we will. You’ll see.”
The picture above of the Hopi man weaving a blanket is an example of old and rare Native American photos taken circa 1900, and I found them at Paul Ratner’s 2014 article in THE HUFFINGTON POST
I have a lot of research to share regarding Southwestern Indians, but I will do that in a separate post. Thanks for reading!