A story by William Eastlake
“Man is becoming and women are obsolete,”Coyotes Love Me said. “What evidence do you have?" Mary-Forge said. “Male apes have bonding groups that exclude females.”
“Men are not apes.”
“I knew a woman once,”Bull Who Looks Up said, “who—”
“I’m not following this.” Medicine Man said. “Where were we?”
“In school,” Mary-Forge said.
And so they were— the Little Red School House. A beehive-shaped hogan built by the Indians of pinion logs to compete with the factory-built Torrion State School that ignored Indians—the Torrion State School where they talked down to Indians up to Indians around the Indians but never with the Indians. Mary-Forge, a nearby rancher, was the teacher in the new little red hogan. Mary-Forge could not punch cattle twenty-four hours a day, so she decided to help the Indians—corrupt the Indians.
“It’s true, you know.” Medicine Man said, “freedom is a dangerous thing.”
“Yes,” Coyotes Love Me said, “I believe it was Marx who said—”
“Who was Marx?”
“A red white guv.”
“I refuse to explain anything to a bunch of Indians.”
“Indians,”Coyotes Love Me said, “are obsolete.”
They all thought about that. All of the Indians lounging on the sheepskin-strewn floor of the iglooshaped hogan called the Little Red School House with their dogs and babies and eaglets dwelt on being obsolete.
“Whatever that means,”Lucy Lucy said. “I guess it means the white people are want to shit on us.”
“I want to pursue that,”Mary-Forge said. “Women and children are obsolete?
“Indians are obsolete? I want to pursue that,”Mary-Forge said. Mary-Forge who wanted to pursue everything had orange hair. Instead of freckles she had a small jagged scar high on her right cheekbone. Mary-Forge who taught and wanted to pursue everything and particularly the Indians had a good want-to-toueh body and very orange hair. Her orange hair stood up in natural frizzle so she looked in a constant state of shock. A continuous surprise and excited amaze, a beholding wonderment as though each Indian were a new and original discovery alongside which she planted her orange flag.
“Orunpe hair without freckles,”Coyotes Love Me said, “is an unusual genetic phenomenon, an anomaly. ”
“Whatever that means,”Lucy Lucy said. “I guess it means the white people are want to—”
The huge and very tall smokestack that supplied power to California and a black spread of gloom to Indian Country was. as Lucy Lucy succinctly and not so tactfully and not so sweetly observed, going full steam today. I he Four Corners power plant was is so named because it is located where the states of Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico—every state but California—touch each other. California placed the smoke plant as far from California as the transmission lines would stretch. Ideally, the Californians wanted the smoke plant in Denmark, but then there were the Danes. That was a problem. In Indian Country there was nothing but Indians. There was no problem.
“Blow it up.” Mary-Forge said.
“The California legislature has taken the problem, the Indian complaint, under advisement. The governor has formed a committee
“Whatever that means,” Lucy Lucy said. “I just guess it means the white people will continue to—”
“We will blow it up,” Mary-Forge said.
Ah, but how? It is all well and good and a big emotional charge to go out and blow things up. to think about blowing up, dwell on blowing up, even plan on blowing up, but how do you do it? Actually do it? You begin by beginning. You ride over to the great smoke plant on horses. No smoke horses. Who invented the horse? You survey the scene, you case the joint, you talk to the plant’s public relations man. To find out how the smoke thing works? Where is its weakest link? Its exposed place? Its black Achilles’ heel?
“If you were going to blow this place up. how would you go about it?" More Turquoise asked the public relations man.
“I don’t know.”
“What’s a public relations man for?”
“I don’t know. Yes, I do.”
“Make up your mind.”
“I am supposed to sell the plant.”
“How much are you asking?”
“I sell it in a figurative sense.”
“Actually in terms of getting along with the Indians.”
“Did you ever see an Indian?” Bull Who Looks Up said.
“Not in terms of touching an Indian, no.”
“I want to touch them in a figurative sense. Are you Indians?”
“The girl there with the orange hair, is she an Indian?”
“In terms of a figurative sense, yes she is.” Bull Who Looks Up said.
“1 never saw an Indian before with orange hair.”
“Tomorrow we’re going to charge fifty cents to see her. You’re the last one to see her free.”
“I would like you to show us.” Mary-Forge said, “how this electrical generating plant works.”
“It’s not an electrical generating plant, it’s a smoke generating plant,” the public relations man said. “Oh. I suppose it generates some electricity, but mostly it generates smoke.”
“And you do a damn good job.”Mary-Forge said.
“Thank you,” the public relations man said.
“Where do you sell the smoke?”
“That’s not my end of the business.”
“What is your end of the business?”
“Public relations.” the public relations man said.
“And you do a damn good job.” Mary-Forge said.
“Thank you. I try to be honest.”
The public relations man’s plastic office in the Four Corners Power Building overlooked a plastic lawn beneath a plastic sky—that is, there was a plastic patio outside the plastic window that recreated Indian Country as it was before white men came.
The public relations man wore a blue plastic hat above a red plastic tie. Between was a wide, you’llnever-know-dear-how-much-I-love-you-so-pleasedon’t-take-my-sunshine-away, cherubic face.
“What are you doing here?” the public relations man said.
“We just thought we’d come and have a looksee.”
“No, you came to blow the place up. Why can’t you be honest?” the public relations man said. “I never met a man yet who didn’t want to blow this place up. I’ve thought about it myself.” And the public relations man looked out over the blue plastic sky from beneath his blue plastic cowboy hat.
“Even the company that built it.”he said, “would like to blow it up, but no one has figured out a wav to do it.”
“No, it’s insured. The insurance company would rebuild it.”
“Blow up the insurance company.”
“No, they’re insured too.”
“Drop the insurance.”
“There’s a law against that.”
“Cut the power line.”
“There’s not much power that goes over the power line.”
“Where does the power go?”
“Smoke.” the public relations man said.
“I never met an honest white man before,”Coyotes Love Me said.
“I want to warn you Indians.” the public relations man said, “that honesty is the last weapon ot a desperate man.”
“Are the whites that desperate? That they will even use honesty?”
“Then this means war.”
“Yes, it does,” the public relations man said.
“Wasn’t honesty outlawed by the Geneva Convention or the Red Cross or something?”
“No. They forgot about honesty.”
“Jesus, you are desperate. Bull Who Looks Cp said. “Poison gas we could put up with, but an honest white man—what do you do? There’s no book on that.”
“We’ve got you by the balls,”the public relations man said.
“It’s not fair.”
“War is never fair.”the white man said.
“But there is decency? Some kind of humanity?”
“No, no, no, no. Not anymore.”the white, man said. “Try blowing up the President.
“Not the President of the United States, we couldn’t do that.”
“I’ll say you couldn’t. He doesn’t exist. We invented him,”the public relations man said. You don’t think we’d trust a man in the White House, do you?”
“Are you crazy, sir?”
“No. no.” he said, looking out at the no sky the no sun beneath the heavenly firmament of smoke. “No. But the people, the people that allow smoke, are they—?”
“You’re making a speech,”Mary-Forge said. “Come on. show us the plant. We’ll get something out of this.”
“You’re crying,”Mary-Forge said to the public relations man.
“It must be the smoke?”
“No, the office is air-conditioned. We bring the air in from Canada.”
“Then you’re crying.”
“I guess so.” the public relations man said.
“Buck up.”Mary-Forge said, “someone has to generate electricity.”
“Why?” the public relations man said.
The public relations man showed Mary-Forge and the Indians all through the smoke plant. He particularly showed them where the smoke was purified before it went out the smokestack.
“Then where does the smoke out there come from?”
“Smoke? They’ve formed a committee to solve that problem,”the public relations man said.
“Buck up,” Mary-Forge said, “someone has to make progress.”
“Why?” the public relations man said.
“Because,”When Someone Dies He Is Remembered said, “the country must go forward.”
“Yes,” More Turquoise said, “what would a white woman do without an electric shaver to shave her legs?”
“Do white women use an electric shaver to shave their legs?” Rabbit Stockings said.
“If they feel like it.”
“Then ‘ without electricity white women would have to use an axe to shave their legs, then by mistake they might shave off their balls.”
“Do white women have balls?”
“If they feel like it.”
“I have noticed,” the public relations man said, examining a steel bottle of Canadian air, I have noticed that you Indians get along very nicely without air. I mean without electricity.”
“Yes,”More Turquoise said, “but have you noticed we are a very primitive people? A very primitive people indeed.”
“Would anyone,” the public relations man said, “like a shot of Canadian air?”
They went into the room now where the coal was turned into dust before it was spat into the furnace.
“We scrape this coal,” the public relations man said, “off the top of Indian Country, the Fruitland and the Mesa Verde formations. The company figures there’s enough coal overlaying Navaho Country to last the Southern California people a hundred years.”
“What will they do when the hundred years end?”
“We don’t know.”
“They could always grind up us Navahos that are left into dust.” Bull Who Looks Up said, “and squirt us into the furnace.”
“Oddly enough,”the public relations man said, “California Electric and Gas had the Rand Corporation do a study on that. They found there would be a public outcry.”
“Why public outcry?” Coyotes Love Me said. “Why all of a sudden?”
“People are funny.”
“This is all in a hundred years.”
“People won’t become that funny in a hundred years.”
“People could get on to Indians in a hundred years.”
“They’re on to Indians already, Bull Who Looks Up said, “that’s the problem.”
“Can I say something?" Mary-Porge said.
“Speak, oh orange-headed white teacher of the red man, oh speak.” Nice Hands said.
“We came here to blow this place up, and you sit around talking like a bunch of Indians.”
“We can always blow it up in the morning.”Bull Who Looks Up said. “Let’s have a shot of Canadian air.”
They were all still in the vast cathedral-high room that made jet plane sounds when the coal was being crunched up to be made into smoke. In the next room were the electric generators that hardly made any noise at all. They only made a gentle hum and huddled in a corner as though apologizing for being there. The public relations man opened the door and they could all see the generators sleeping in a row. One big one which called itself Made in Japan made an abrupt Oriental snoring noise as though having a bad dream. The other generators just slept quietly, occasionally talking in their sleep with small click noises as their breaker points snapped on, but they refused to start up until the Japanese generator stopped snoring. The Made by Volkswagen generator was going great guns, but it was small and high-strung. It even ran when it was turned oil.
“It’s a persistent son of a bitch.” the public relations man mused. “We had a German once who understood it. He used to beat it every night. But we’ve got them licked now.” he added abstractedly, as though talking about a different world.
“The people who cut the transmission lines.” “Who?”
“They call themselves the Committee to Save What’s Left. They see all that smoke, they have spotters in the mountains. They see all that smoke and cut the transmission lines. That’s fooling them. There’s nothing in the lines. Just this smoke here.” “Just smoke.”
“We expect to have all the generators on stream in a couple of years.”
“Even the Made in America ones?”
“You could always get the German back.”
The public relations man was talking absently, as though thinking about something else. Now he said definitely, “You know, we’re not a bunch of clowns here. There are always start-up problems in a big plant like this. Soon we will get the bugs out and we can get cracking.”
“What are the bugs?”
“People like yourself who try to shut us down. We feel you out, try to get to know your tricks. We figure it’s best not to start up and then get blown up.”
“That’s bad public relations.”
“Meanwhile, what do people in California do for electricity?”
“They make do. You Indians haven’t had electricity for two thousand years.”
“Did we have electricity before that?”
“You must have had something.” the public relations man said.
“Why can’t we.” Marv-Forge said the teacher in the teacher said—"why can’t we stick to a conversation that makes sense?”
“You mean like the woman who cut her balls off with the electric razor?”
“No.” Marv-Forge said.
“Yes.” Mary-Forge said, “if this plant only makes smoke, what does California do for electricity?”
“You mean California brings their electricity from Japan?”
“You mean the Japanese make better electricity than we do?”
“Cheaper,”the public relations man said.
Outside, and moving away beneath the canopy of smoke and on their myriad colored horses and within an air, an ambience, an almost sentience and smell that was at once tactile and palpable of defeat, the Indians went back and through their scraped and ravaged land without sound.
Lucy Lucy drove her piebald alongside MarvForge’s bay beneath the black cloud, beneath the darkness of dark—unremitting and dark— the darkness of dark.
“This today mean the white people going to keep to shit on us?”
“Yes.” Mary-Forge said, “yes.” And the Indians remembered and Mary-Forge dreamed of how it was before the white man came. □