My book, Spider Woman's Loom was published in 2014 by Foreverland Press. Spider Woman’s Loom was a finalist for the Southwest Writers Award and a semi-finalist for the Dana Award. Additionally, I am the recipient of several Norman Mailer Scholarships and Arizona Commission on the Arts Creative Writing fellowships.I have written for NPR affiliate, KJZZ, and my fiction and creative non-fiction have appeared in Hippocampus Magazine, Kindred, Praxis Journal of Gender and Cultural Critiques, and Terrain.org. I earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University, Los Angeles.
Shi’yazhi sits shot-gun in Vic’s truck idling at a light, the first they’ve seen since driving from the reservation to the outskirts of Farmington. She stares at the steep hill set back from the main road where adlaaniis have spilled from My Place Saloon to sit and drink in the company of white crosses the Christians hammer into the bleak soil every Sunday for those Navajos lost to alcohol poisoning or exposure. Her old auntie says these Diné are the ones who have forgotten the songs the haatali sing for healing and sand paintings created to bless and connect all to the Holy Ones. Once more, the women who drink beside them no longer put their trust in weaving, in the warp and weft of the loom to ease the teeth of anxiety, a sense that the world is spinning faster than ever before, ready to fling each of them to the dirt and glass, cut their knees, knock their teeth loose as when they were children and lost their grip on the merry-go-round in the town park. Drink left no room for the old ways that had always restored the people to hozho, beauty and harmony. Yet, Shi’yazhi believes some remnant of that knowledge must remain as the adlaaniis choose to drink outdoors in the borderlands between town and Diné Bikéyah, the space between addiction and faith.
When the signal changes, she and Vic continue toward town and their first date at the Red Dragon, the hostess leading them through the bar to the main dining room where Shi’yazhi notes standard bamboo tapestries adorned with silver fish, orchids, and farmers harvesting rice. She’s heard about the forty foot paper dragon suspended from the ceiling and the Szechuan fare, too spicy for some. But what makes the restaurant truly distinctive is the pond constructed within the floor and filled with koi. Vic had called ahead to reserve one of the tables in the center of the room where the pond circles and the orange and white fish, easily the length of Shi’yazhi’s arm, skim through fake grass.
The sound of filtering water reminds her of monsoon season in Phoenix where the sudden wash of rain is much stronger than in Farmington. In late July and August she’d often heard the low moan of wind and palm fronds thrashing against the roof during breaks between shows at Club Cabaret. But no need to think of that now—she is making a fresh start here, shrugging off her coat, smoothing out the folds of a chambray blouse hugging along the swell of her hips.
She likes how Vic gazes at her when she tosses her hair from her shoulders, like tilting a glass of water toward an object, studying its minute features, as though truly seeing it for the first time. Her cousin, Alberta did a good job weaving in the extensions she’d purchased from John Smiley, a young Navajo who’d enlisted in the marines and was happy to trade his hair for cash. For the first time since returning home, Shi’yazhi has a sense of being connected, of shedding old skin for new.
They decline the wine list the waitress offers settling on iced tea and ordering cashew chicken and Szechuan beef to share. Collecting their menus, the waitress smiles, a smear of red lipstick marring otherwise Chiclet-white teeth. Because of this, Shi’yazhi holds her tongue, does not ask why the woman has affixed chopsticks, utensils after all, to her blond hair. She sips her iced tea watching Vic tear across three packets of sugar, his mechanic’s nails dingy despite scrubbing with a brush and Murphy’s Oil Soap. Still, she doesn’t mind— being with a man who makes his living using his hands is a welcome change.
In Phoenix, her ex had been one for manicures and pedicures, sitting next to her in his own massage chair while a Vietnamese girl pushed back his cuticles and buffed the nails. Before long it was wax treatments for his brows and the hair growing from the tops of his shoulders, Brad the type to recommend she pluck a sexy arch in her brows, undergo professional extraction for an occasional rash of pimples. But time to let that go—here was Vic mixing the sugar in his glass of tea, the spoon clattering against ice cubes. When he drinks, she watches his Adam’s apple bob once before he sets the beading glass on its napkin. She glances away as though caught peeking through a keyhole at naked flesh, the thought of gliding her fingertips along his clean-shaven throat perceived. She focuses on the koi winding round the tables, swarming for crumbs the diners sweep from their hands to the pond below.
“So,” Vic says. He fidgets with a fork tapping the tines on the porcelain belly of Buddha holding a shaker of salt and pepper in each hand. “This is a nice touch.
A whole yin-yang thing,” she says.
“Pure kitsch,” Vic chuckles.
The sound is genuine, not at all forced and she likes how the lines around his eyes crinkle when he smiles. His face is weathered from riding his motorcycle through sun and wind, traveling to Sweet Canyon to teach high school kids the fundamentals of auto-shop then wending his way through Cortez, Durango, Telluride and on to his place high in the mountains of Ouray at week’s end. It doesn’t surprise her how far he travels for his job. In her own life, she’s traveled a farther set of distances for much less.
How long has it been since she was on a real date? The first time with Brad didn’t count. She’d fallen in with him on the Salt River outside of Phoenix where she and new friends had gone with inner tubes to float the spring melt, Brad introducing himself then fastening his tube to hers. Later, when the sun tracked its zenith and she squinted against the brash light, he’d plucked off his sunglasses passing them to her without a word, the ease between them amplified when they step-splashed to the bank, flopped together on his towel in a shady cove. When he brought a joint to her lips, she sipped smoke, feeling it curl loosely in her lungs, digging her toes into the hot sand, finding herself humming and laughing then kissing and clutching at him as though they’d been lovers for years.
The waitress interrupts her reverie, setting out hot and cold plates in their turn, smiling as beatifically as Buddha above their food, the lipstick beginning to fade. She was right to recommend the cashews and chicken as a welcome contrast to the beef swimming in Hoisin and chili paste and Shi’yazhi is glad she refrained from making a snide remark about the chopsticks. She savors each bite, warming to the evening, watching the koi snag bread rolls a child tears apart, their sleek bodies plunging toward the bottom then re-surfacing, thrusting, ever hunting.
Soon, a ripple of a different kind draws Shi’yazhi’s attention from the fish, the hostess leading an unlikely pair along the same route she and Vic have traveled. The man is white with the stiff gait of the old and a large belly protruding over his belt while the girl, 19 at most and not much older than Shi’yazhi when she left the reservation, teeters behind on crimson heels. The girl in fact is Navajo too with deep-set eyes and hair permed to a frizz. The hostess seats them at a table across from Shi’yazhi and Vic, just a lick of pond separating them. Shi’yazhi watches the man wave away the menus, take a clip of cash from his pocket and place it on the table’s edge causing the waitress to scurry for the Seagrams & 7 he barks out, a ginger-ale for the girl, and pu-pu for two. Bored, his companion looks past him to study the koi.
Shi’yazhi picks at the second helping of beef Vic has scooped to her plate, the Szechuan spices too hard on her stomach, the man snatching up the girl’s hand souring her too, reminding her of the men at Club Cabaret who’d tried to draw her closer, stretch the Lycra costume, believing they owned a piece of her flesh— too many hands like his corded with veins and specked with liver spots. She wads her napkin to the plate, signals for another iced tea, combs a hand through her extensions, lifting them from her shoulders and smoothing them down her back trying not to think about Brad.
That long weekend in Las Vegas, mostly business for him, an opportunity to connect with old associates to discuss the potential for a new club in Phoenix, something more than managing Club Cabaret where he’d arranged a job for her after a few times on the river. Slots blanging away at Ute Mountain Casino were familiar enough but by their last night the sheer number of machines and crush of sound overwhelmed. There too the grime attached to money, the faint whiff of it everywhere, mostly from gamblers losing track of time, wandering the labyrinths of Sin City and forgetting to change their clothes. The scent of cigarette smoke within the dens of the old strip and residue of dead celebrities’ smiles in the framed photos weighed on her too and in each place a platinum blond gyrated while lights flicked over her skin like dozens of knives carving its measure of flesh.
Brad wanted the same atmosphere in Phoenix because it was boom-times, money for the taking and everything for sale whether land, construction, entertainment, titillation, curtains parting, a private show fueling the illusion of having it all. There was meth to keep up, ‘ludes to slow down, bring on sleep, the old story of the biligaana west re-played beyond the Four Sacred Mountains of her homeland, a frenzy of action and splintered façades.
Now, Shi’yazhi observes the old man ordering another drink at the bar while the waitress delivers their pu-pu. The girl selects a stick of teriyaki, holds it over the Sterno watching it spit then flare. She raises the stick of meat and fans it toward the paper lantern hanging above their table, her mouth contorting into a grin watching it catch. The biligaana rushes over, snatches up his napkin, smothers the fire then twists the girl’s arm, causing her to yelp, forcing her to let the spit go. While massaging her wrist, she smiles ghoulishly at the shreds of paper before her blackened to ash. After the old man signals the waitress, she wraps their meal to go.
Shi’yazhi thinks to slip from the booth, stretch across the way and lead the girl to the other end of the pond where they might discover an eddy filled with calmer koi. There, she’d convince the girl to turn away, not make the same mistakes or believe in lies as she once had. Brad and his notions of a club called Skin, straight forward as the name implied and featuring exotic girls like Shi’yazhi clear of tattoos, the spotlight slanting along clean lines, providing men with variety, different hues of skin, bodies taut and muscled as these koi. But the old man is gripping the girl’s elbow, pulling her from the edge of the pond, steering her before him while his eyes rove her rear.
“Fuck,” Vic exhales. He reaches past the Buddha shakers and clasps Shi’yazhi’s hand.
She squeezes back, glad she hasn’t witnessed alone.
Silent on the ride back to the reservation, they hold on, past the drunks at My Place Saloon, night pouring around them like velvet. She thinks of Diné Bikeyah, the land of her people once covered by an ancient sea. She has traced seashells there, an algae fan, fossils left behind in sandstone from receding tides, the remains of an enduring evolution.~Lorie Adair