Joshua Curtis dark wings unfurled. A bar of shadow filled
one end of the room, angling against unearthly currents.
Joshua himself couldn’t see the wings. The journalist from
Rolling Stone couldn’t see them. Only Siwa, from her
corner in the Hyatt VIP room, saw the gold-daubed feathers
rising from the musician’s back.
injustice of it bruised her heart: this white man was
adorned with such wings all unknowing, while Federal law
allowed eagle feathers only to those who could prove on
paper how Indian they were.
acoustic guitar balanced on Joshua’s lap; with every brush
of his fingers against the strings, Siwa sensed his thought
swelling like a blister: Please, God, help me just a
little longer. All the while deflecting comments about
groupies, about MTV airplay, about last month’s pot bust.
“Maybe you want to ask questions about Bears
Eat Monkey?” he asked the journalist. “You know, the
album we’re doing this interview to support?” He kept his
temper when asked about the lead singer’s drug use, offering
little further than a pinched frown.
“Come on,” he said, the line between his brows
deepening. “These guys are like my brothers. We catch each
other if we slip. I don’t see Brian slipping any time
soon. This means too much. But seeing anybody slip brings
in the readership, right? Nothing succeeds like
schadenfreude.” A sidelong look at Siwa, an amused
twitch of those brows, and the frown disappeared.
journalist followed his glance.
my bodyguard,” Joshua said, grinning. “She’s a psychic, and
she’ll kick your ass with her mind powers.”
Some sort of AA bodyguard is more like it, Siwa caught
from the journalist. Maybe I could pump her for info
thought of ten different responses at once. The
journalist would build his own conclusions and plane them to
whatever slant he’d chosen prior to the interview. Not her
wings, unseen to everyone in the room save her, those were
her concern. They’d been her concern since Joshua called
her eight months ago.
Through the cacophony of a telenovela and her daughter
Socorro washing dishes, Siwa almost missed the ring.
Vinyl siding, she thought. I’ll tell them I live in
a seed pot. “Hello?”
this . . .” The pause of an Anglo trying to figure out her
name. “. . . Ms. Santiago?”
rolled her eyes ceilingward. “May I help you?”
is Joshua Curtis.”
she know Joshua Curtis? She focused: trying to pick up
anything she could over the connection.
“You’re a busy man, Mr. Curtis.” It popped out of her.
Sight unseen sometimes took her like that. A whirl of
activity, of lights— the presence of a greater focus than
hers upon him. “What can I do for you?” It’d be find my
girlfriend (no) find my mom (no) find my money (no) talk to
my dead grampy (no) am I psychic too? (Maybe?)
not real busy at the present. We’re taking some down time
here in Albuquerque—”
I started thinking about this—issue.”
Anglo, rich. “Mr. Curtis—if you don’t mind my
asking—who are you?”
A burst of chagrin through the line, alum on her
tongue. “Um. This is really—”
“Embarrassing, yes. No one knows you’re calling
“No, they don’t.”
“It’s about the why, not the what,
isn’t it?” She was beginning to groove with the back and
forth, getting more and more of him with every exchange.
“I was hoping I could that find out from you.”
“It’d be bad—” something flashed “—for
“Just another stick they could beat me with.
Hey, you do know who I am, don’t you?”
Bring out the brochure. Damnit. “It’s
an art. Not a science. You can’t measure the results in a
why scientists and the hyper‑rational don’t approve of us.”
“The hyper‑rational. Hey, I like that. Can you
prove it? That you’re psychic?”
It didn’t take paranormal ability to predict the
turns the conversation was about to take, and for once she
decided not to dance. If she could lick the phone, she
would, if she could somehow get his breath through the
receiver, if she could push the phone into her ear, her
vagina, her eyes, it would be easier. She closed her
eyes and let everything within her drop.
“You’re wearing boxers. No, shorts. You’re not
wearing any shoes and you haven’t changed your socks since
yesterday morning and what would your mother say but she’s
dead and you’re worried about other people dying.” She took
a breath, still submerged. “You want me to go on?”
A little click in his throat. He got the words
out, doing a fair job of impersonating cool. “Please do.
“You didn’t shave yesterday. Your hair is in a
long ponytail tied with a broken shoelace because you
couldn’t find an elastic—” Input hit her in a current of
physical sensation. That long hair. Her fingers caught in
a silky skein, blond strands across her eyes, her lips.
She opened her eyes, pulled her finger out of
her ear. The red of the chili ristras in her kitchen
shocked her to full consciousness. Waves of nausea lapped
at her. She crouched down in the middle of the kitchen, the
soles of her feet flat on the tile.
“I have clients tomorrow,” she said. She rode
the billow of sickness, taking big, whole-body breaths. “But
we can meet for lunch. Las Mañanitas. Open‑air dining.”
When the conversation was over, Siwa crawled to
the trashcan by the door and vomited. A hell of a headache
was coming. Served her right, for losing her temper and
Fortified some time later with orange juice and
ibuprofen, Siwa went to the computer and pulled a search.
One hand to her mouth in queasy amusement and wonder, she
clicked through pages of references to Joshua Curtis. To the
band he played in, Sugar Skull. To the two albums released,
Day of the Dead and Buffalo Child. To the fan
sites on Yahoo; the bootlegged videos on YouTube.
The pictures told her he was white and wealthy
and did not eat enough. She could use that, perhaps, a
little cheat on the cold reading. Oh, Señor Curtis,
she’d say. You’ve got something weighing you down. I
see responsibility . . . I see a lot of people depend on you.
him first on neutral ground, and then in her own territory.
No velvet‑draped rooms for her, no patchouli. No Carlos
Casteneda either, and no pastel plains Indian dream
catchers. Her office was a porch converted into a sunroom,
done in clean, unassuming neutrals. Siwa was still paying
the bank for the improvement loan.
She did not do a booming business. Enough to
cover the yellow pages advertising, enough to add to
Socorro’s college fund here and there. Surfing through
Google, though, she felt as if all the quarters had started
spraying out of the slot.
Las Mañanitas was a nineteenth‑century
stagecoach stop renovated into a restaurant. Lion-colored
adobe, soft and stark as skin against the bright September
sky. Siwa chose her seat on the patio twenty minutes before
the agreed-on time. The smell of piñon smoke, cooking maza,
and automobile exhaust vied with each other. Linda
Ronstadt’s "Canciones de mi Padre" trilled from a CD
plugged into an outdoor extension.
Between a breath and the next, shadows inclined;
light rattled against the surface of the cottonwood leaves,
like the glitter of a flock of birds shifting course.
Joshua Curtis came sloping in through the adobe
archway. Hands shoved into the pockets of a suede jacket, a
knit cap on his head, blond horse‑tail streaming down his
back, he looked like an off‑duty mechanic, or a baby biker.
She saw the little crease between his brows as he took in
the rough walkway to the patio, the blue painted door to the
storage room, the press of customers.
Was he looking for a renaissance fair gypsy, all
paisley scarves? She’d done that in her day. Was he
looking for a clairvoyant Frida Kahlo, bedecked in braids
and snakes? Taking pity on him—he wasn’t the psychic, after
all—she stood up. The motion and her lilac suit caught his
eye. He shambled over to her like a good‑natured gangly
hound, hand out to shake.
Siwa tried not to grit her teeth against that
intimacy. Vulgar, sexual, male, with a dogged work ethic.
She felt a little tired, thinking of the bright hardness she
would have to marshal. Go on and get to it, she told
He topped her by a foot and she felt better once
he took his seat. “You wouldn’t have called me if you
didn’t truly believe there was a problem. I mean, who the
hell calls a psychic?”
“Looks like I did,” he said. Uncertain, for all
of his testosterone. Sneaking little sipping looks at her.
“Tell me why, and tell me what you want me to
do, and we’ll see how we go from there.”
“Mind if I smoke?”
Siwa pulled a hardpack of Marlboros out of her
purse and spun them across the table to him. “There’s your
A small jet of surprise from him. She let
herself smile. “I read it in an interview last night. I
did a little research on you, so you could start in the
“We get to the hard stuff right off the bat,
huh?” His fingernails were a little on the long side, all
the better to slice through the plastic on the pack and pull
out a cigarette.
“You wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“You get that from an interview too?”
“Nope.” She settled back, inspecting him. He
tried to return her stare, but gave it up after some seconds
with the first plume of smoke. In that exhale she caught
the scent of pain, bewilderment.
“But I feel you have a lot to say,” she went
on. Standard script. Theatrically she closed her eyes,
lifted her palm, as if to feel the energies emanating from
him. “A lot you want to say that you haven’t told anyone.
Not friends, not girls, not family . . . .”
“Well, duh,” he said.
She had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep
from snickering—it gave her that appropriate aesthetic
expression. “So much anger! So much confusion
for one so blessed . . . .”
Now she did open her eyes, ignoring the
expression of skepticism on his face, and tapped the table
next to his right hand. Broad, long‑fingered, a silver ring
with a yin‑yang symbol etched on it. “There’s a lot of
power here. You’re holding the reins of a lightning
horse.” She met his gaze. “Do you feel you’re getting
“I’m six foot one, but I’m getting taller every
second from you pulling my leg.”
“You called me, Mr. Curtis.”
He grinned. Wash of amusement tinged with a
little shame. “I should shut up and listen, huh?” He put
the cigarette in the ashtray and turned both palms up on the
glass‑top table. “So look at my life line, love line,
whatever it is, and do some of that voodoo you did on the
“What do you think was I doing just now, Mr.
“Jesus, I dunno—it wasn’t what happened last
night.” He gave Siwa a sidelong look. “You know the saying
‘you can’t bullshit a bullshitter?’ You weren’t conning me
last night, but you tried just now.”
“So, you can just fly in here and tell me my
He caught her hand, quick as a hawk on a mouse.
“Why did you say that?”
Impression, sensation: of soaring. The world so
small, wind ruffling through her feathers as she looked
down, carrying a message to Heaven . . . .
The hairs on her arms were standing up.
“Jesus, I’m sorry,” she heard him saying, as if
through a high
“Don’t let go,” she said; except he had broken
contact, and the exaltation of flight ceased.
The waitress brought them coffee. Siwa knew
there was no way she could eat, and Joshua seemed to have no
inclination for food, only one beer after another, which he
drank like water.
“Is it dreams?” Dizziness eradicated grammar.
“No,” he said, and lit another cigarette.
“Is it drugs?”
“I don’t think so. I don’t get fucked up the
way I used to. Definitely not before a show. No way.”
His expression softened. “Yeah. I’ll be up
there—it’s the greatest feeling in the world, man; you’re
plugged into this immense weather system of sound, like a
fucking sonic chariot of the gods, and it’s all you—and out
there, thousands of people who’re grooving on what you do
and giving it back. It’s better than sex.” He
smiled. “Lasts a lot longer, anyway. Then these
don’t know what to call’em—started.”
Gazing out on the sea of faces, Joshua loved the
crowd. He lived for it. He had never told anyone, but
there had been times when, walking out on the stage, the
roar of the fans hit him and tears sprang to his eyes.
How’d he, a punk kid from Durango, gotten to this? Did he
In the middle of all of it, the worry and the
worship, Joshua found himself pulled up out of his body. He
felt himself playing, still saw the tits of the redhead in
the front—at the same time he soared above the crowd, with
all his fingers caressing the air, body rocking with the
thermals. At first he suspected a flashback. Christ knew
he’d ingested enough pharmaceuticals in his day. Yet it
happened every show, blowing away all anxiety while he held
his guitar. Even as he worried and wondered about it, he
sought it—sprang upward with his whole soul.
Once he stopped playing, his body trapped him
“I feel like a junkie, man,” he said, on his
fifth beer. “As much as I want to play, that flying—it’s
purer than any shit I ever did. It’s like being two Joshuas.
One of them is making music that shakes the earth. The
other—there I am, on the breath of God.”
Red-faced, he fell quiet after that last
admission. Siwa let him be silent, not wanting to wreck the
ripples dancing out from him, as concrete to her as rings in
water from a dropped stone.
“So there’re two answers,” he said, grinding out his
cigarette. “One, I’m crazy. I don’t like that
answer. Two, I’m—possessed, or something.”
“And you like that answer better?” Siwa asked.
“Being possessed is more interesting than being
crazy. I've been crazy before.”
“So why a psychic? Why not a doctor?”
“Hell, why not a priest? Am I gonna start
spitting pea soup?”
Siwa tried to put as much soulful concern into
her face as possible. “Do you think that’s a possibility?”
Scare him a little more than he already is.
“What do you think?” Beneath the cocky tone,
“I think you could benefit from a real reading.”
Siwa glanced at her watch. One of her more exasperating
clients was scheduled at noon, a trophy wife of a local
developer, who viewed psychic readings as a spiritual form
of colonic. “Mysterious forces are surrounding you—“ she
could say this without a trace of irony “—and unless you
find out what’s going on, I foresee something negative
Cynicism fought distress within Joshua, although
he kept his features schooled. “That something else you
read in my aura?”
She bit her tongue. “You and I both know this
is really happening. No matter what others say. This is
actual; this is real, and you need to find out what it is
and what it means for your life.”
“You don’t fool around, do you?”
“Only fools fool around.” Oh, he liked that,
she felt. “And you would be a fool to ignore this.”
I feel as if I’ve gone a few rounds with
Oscar de la Hoya, Siwa thought.
She sprawled in her patio chair in her
housedress and coat, a beer in her hand. High over Sandia
Crest storm clouds gathered, a bruise on the limpid
twilight. A storm was blowing in from the Gulf. Two
hundred miles westward, in the Four Corners country, there
had been no rain for weeks. At their last conversation,
Siwa’s grandmother told her how yet another family had left
the First Mesa due to drought. Perhaps the katsinam were
angry, her grandmother said.
The spirits that visited the Hopi people every
year between January and July were friends, teachers,
counselors, who interceded between human people and the
spirit world. Siwa’s grandmother could list hundreds of
them, and new ones appeared as the decades wore on. Whites
who studied the Hopi (and some Hopi said that everyone
should have a pet Bahana) seemed very interested in
quantifying the katsinam. Siwa’s grandmother, depending on
her mood, either chuckled over that or grunted in
irritation. Maybe Jesus would qualify as a katsina too,
she’d say, with a mischievous glance, but he hadn’t shown up
in a while.
Deep within the blue, lightning flickered.
Thunder rumbled far away, and a puff of cool air stirred the
hem of Siwa’s dress. To be able to soar so high, what would
that be like? To be able to dance in the heart of a
Usually in her clients there was some
prevarication that oozed off of them like the tang of
road‑kill skunk. With almost every truth divined, the
clients compelled Siwa to create falsehood. Was Mrs.
Clarendon’s husband cheating? Yes, because she
belittled him at every turn; toxicity billowed off of her in
flares of acrid green—but she didn’t pay to hear that. Was Mr.
Jimenez’s dead child trying to contact him? No—what haunted
him was the cocoon of guilt at keeping her away from her
mother’s side of the family, who were not of the same
It was a rare customer who wanted to hear the
Curtis, she suspected, was one.
“Okay,” he said, sitting down, brushing at his
jeans. “What do I do? Do you whip out the tarot cards,
Siwa smiled her third‑kindest smile. “Actually,
Mr. Curtis, I need to run your credit card.”
“You take cash?”
Siwa allowed herself an inward purr at the sight
of the fat leather wallet on its chain. Don’t get
greedy. “It’s a hundred for today’s session.”
Joshua pulled out the bills with no hesitation,
twenties, tens, a few wrinkled fives. The month’s electric
bill, plus a little left over.
“I don’t know if I can solve this,” Siwa said.
“I don’t know if I want to solve it,” he said.
“You mean, make it go away? No....” He flung himself up
out of the chair and ranged around the room, thumbs hooked
through his belt loops. Today he wore a t‑shirt that read,
as best as she could tell, I’m the tokin’ white guy.
A turquoise necklace looked out of place against the
Very young. Very good‑looking. For an Anglo.
If she were ten years younger—
Stop it, woman; he’s just a job.
Siwa let his essence drift to her like pollen on
the breeze. He laid a finger on one blade of the Venetian
blinds, bent it, peeked out. Dust motes formed paisleys in
the air when he moved.
“Sit down. I want to tell you something. Right
away, so you can lay this fear to rest: this—experience,
vision, whatever you want to call it—it’s not going to
affect your musical ability.”
He sagged back into the chair. “Well, that’s one,” he
said after a moment. “But.”
“If you get rid of it, that won’t affect your
musical ability either.”
Fear and tension spouted up—and flowed away from
him so vividly Siwa imagined she heard the gurgle of water
swirling down the drain. Her smile became real. “If you
like, I can do a traditional reading. This situation has
already become a little unorthodox, as you may have
“And a traditional reading is what?”
“The cards, reading your palm—”
“Got a crystal ball?”
“Yes, I have one of those.” Siwa liked the
crystal ball because its lucent depths soothed her eyesight,
helped her focus. Placing her hands over the client’s as
they both cupped the glass was the sole act that mattered.
“I don’t want to know my fortune,” he
said. “I don’t believe in that stuff. I don’t get the good
without the bad, right? I make my own future, right?”
Siwa knew her nod could be read as any answer he
cared to receive. He was worried about something beyond his
hallucination: she picked up the path and followed it
Exasperation. Concern. Weary plodding love.
She glimpsed a male Anglo face, dancing brown eyes, thick
dark hair from beard to crown circling his head in a spiky
corona. Hurt like a bruise—hurt like a burn, the tissue
dead and dying at the surface.
“His name’s Brian,” she said. “You think your
Denial shot across like a steel gate. “He’s not
dying. He just needs some time. Shit, even Keith Richards
got off smack, and he’s in the South Pacific falling out of
coconut trees. That’s what I hate, man. Everyone always
writes us off. Bunch of vultures. You know, it’s never
Joshua Curtis, musician, it’s ‘Josh’—I fucking hate
‘Josh’—Curtis, guitar hero and cocksman
extraordinaire—Jesus! And every single piece it’s Brian
Silver, junkie. Like that’s gonna be on his fucking
The shock at what he’d just said flashed out on
She knew she was treading on shale with her next question.
“If—If!—Brian did die: what would the
He leaned forward, fingers steepled, pressed
against his lips. Turbulence, devotion. Anger summoned to
push down fear.
During their tour last year, Brian had started
getting drug sick. Every show became a question mark.
Could Brian pull off another two‑hour gig? Get away from
the needle long enough? Methadone treatment, sure. Bupe,
even better; although if Brian was in buprenorphine
treatment, they had to keep him away from the booze. It’d
work for a while and then he’d be back on.
God don’t let him fuck up. Please God let him be able to
prayers were always at the back of Joshua’s mind as he
played, while he attacked the changes on "Jailhouse Tattoo,"
worked the headbangers over with the riff on "Blow My Mind
Blues." Brian and his bullthroat bellow made the
music—Carlos might play killer bass, and Tag might have the
deftest touch on drums since Neil Peart, but Brian made the
connection between the music and the humanity.
Always in interviews the three of them backed
Brian up. He’s cool, man, they’d say, and distract the
journalist from Guitar World or Kerrang with
stories of their own outrages.
They never said anything about the frustration
Brian might have caused them. No word about the missed
appointments. The thousands of dollars down the toilet from
delayed recording sessions. They made excuses for him and
lied and stonewalled and never, ever considered getting rid
of him. Other bands had done that with their members. The
guitarist who was an alcoholic and behaved like an asshole
got driven to the bus station. The bassist who got slapped
with statutory rape because a groupie lied about her age—out
the door, buddy.
Joshua sighed. “He comes in late, smelling like
a fucking homeless person and he’s got film on his teeth and
he’s not well enough to lay down a track in the studio—and
do we show any kind of self‑preservation and boot his ass
out? We do not. We’re not that hard, man.” He shook his
head. “We’re not that hard.”
Brian shoots up in his feet and won’t wear
flip‑flops. Brian shoots up in his hands and has to wears
gloves in public. They have a five‑month tour scheduled
starting in November, the first one they’d been able to do
in a couple of years. Start out sunny, Laredo on November
2nd, Corpus Christi, New Iberia, Mobile, and down the coast
of Florida. All over the country through the dreary months
of winter (“Christmas in Omaha, can you dig it?”), winding
up in Texas again doing the spring break circuit. “And I
know he’s gonna hose it up. We’ve got some crappy gigs, and
it’s a crappy time of year. All I want to do is play. I
want Christmas in Omaha, long as I’m playing. It’s the
only thing I don’t screw up.”
Would Brian get in the way of the music? And
what would Joshua be capable of if that happened? The fear
had an acrid, offal taste.
“We’re playing a club this weekend. Just a
practice—we’re billed as The Amazing Steves. Why don’t you
come see us? I mean, so you can be there.”
“When it happens?”
“Right. Maybe I grow eight arms. Maybe I’ve
got demons crawling out of my asshole. It isn’t something
I’m scared of or that I want to stop. I just want to know
Keep on like this, Siwa thought, and
it’ll be another hundred.
“If he dies, the band dies,” he said after a
while. “And if the band dies, I don’t know what will happen
young man at the club’s entrance stamped Siwa’s hand. She
blocked out his boredom and borderline hostility, but once
inside she wanted to flee home and take a hot bath with her
sleep mask on and plugs in her ears.
The name The Amazing Steves had fooled
no‑one, she guessed; the current of people knocked her into
the wall. They all seemed to be showing too much pale,
pimply skin—the men too hairy and the women like sullen
raccoons. In slacks and a blouse she was overdressed, as
usual, for the Bahana world.
Smoke veiled her in grime. Grit and cigarette butts and
bottle caps mashed beneath her feet. With clenched teeth
she won her way to the unfamiliar country at the end of the
room where the stage reared up. It seemed to her all black
boxes and flimsy microphone stalks. Swatches of tape
anchored fat wires to the stage floor. At the back a drum
kit, like a piece in an art gallery, glowed beneath a
spotlight. Two electric guitars leaned against their
She considered dropping down a little to see if
she could sense anything, but so many people surrounded her,
so many musicians before Joshua had been on that stage that
it would be futile.
At the concession area she ordered ice water
with lime and then found a seat at the edge of the floor,
giving her what she hoped would be a clear line of sight.
It demanded total diligence to block out the waves of
sensation from all of the psyches gathered into such a small
space. Watching more and more people jostle their way into
the club, she relaxed her jaw repeatedly—and when the band
appeared, the crowd’s passion crested and spilled over her
So much want! So much hunger! For a moment,
from her vantage point by the rail, she saw them no longer
as humans, only as an swarming nest of gaping mouths. They
cheered all through Brian’s little speech—Siwa caught
“thought we could fool ya” and “glad we didn’t” but either
the sound technician had been asleep on the job or the
amplification was too much for her acoustic‑accustomed ears.
She saw the drummer raise his sticks with a spin
and bring them down.
The sound blared out, ugly, inexorable as the
sun. A racketing cheer rose at the initial assault of those
chords. Was this music? It rang her very fillings. No
escape from it. She fought the impulse to clap her hands
over her ears. God, Joshua was going to pay her for this.
The bass player was a chunky boy wearing a wife
beater and a ball cap; the drummer was barely visible past
the cymbals. Brian himself could not stay back from the
edge of the stage. He wooed the crowd as he bellowed into
his mike, leaning over the surging crowd, touching as many
hands as he could reach.
And for the first time, she witnessed Joshua in
his element. Shirtless, he looked all bones and sinew; but
the necklace had found its place against his pale skin. He
thrashed his head just as violently as the headbanging kids
in front of him, blond hair a froth.
How can he do that and play at the same time? Siwa
wondered. She found herself hoping her client had a good
chiropractor. When he bounced up to his microphone to wail
his part in what Siwa assumed was the chorus, his grin
suffused his whole face. Men and women yearned toward him.
Gradually the noise took shape for her: blocks
of chugging melody folded themselves; electric geometries
invaded her respiration. The intricacy of the guitar solos
took her by surprise. No headbanging there, only sober
After the third song, Joshua’s naked torso
gleamed with sweat. Droplets caught the light like sparks
every time he flung back his hair. The area behind him,
even in the spotlight, darkened, thickened. Siwa squinted,
thinking it was the smoke. If she rubbed her eyes, it would
ruin her make‑up, so she blinked, shook her head. All that
blond hair, whipping back and forth—it was a wonder he
didn’t blind himself.
A pause came in the scald of notes. The
relentless drum and bass ruled the crowd’s pulse. Joshua’s
whole body marked time, side to side on the balls of his
feet like a dancer. At Brian’s beckon, he stepped to the
fore and split the air with sound.
In a blossoming burst of air and darkness and
illumination, a pair of giant wings unfurled from Joshua’s
back. Topaz light broke behind the massive feathered
silhouette. The primaries extended in a seeking
caress—brushing the stage floor as he leaned back, eyes
closed, lost in creation.
Siwa dropped her drink. Heedless of the ice and
lime and glass shards she fought her way out of the confines
of chair and table, eyes focused entirely on this
impossibility. Her temples pulsed with the beat. I’m
hallucinating. Somebody put a roofie in my drink. My
eardrums broke, and I’m having a brain bleed.
Too small to bull her way through the crowd on
the floor, she had to squeeze her way past teenage girls and
thrashing young men. Two helpful hulking boys caught her as
she slipped on God‑knew‑what, and they guided her to the
front, guarding her between and before them. Right next to
a dreamy‑eyed Latina girl who stared up at Joshua as if she
would eat him alive. Like the other women Siwa found
herself reaching out to touch—but not Joshua, not the man
Those wings. She saw every fragile feather, the
silky vanes, the gleaming shafts, as exquisite as if drawn
in ink. They stretched overhead, immense. Soft blades with
which to flense the air. Soaring.
After the set, Siwa stayed rooted to the floor
until Joshua fought his way to her.
Bouncers were trying to herd him towards one of
the side doors, imposing their bodies between Joshua and the
more aggressive fans. “Later; he’ll see you later, okay?
Stay for the next set, okay, girls?”
“Don’t worry about them,” Joshua said. He
pushed his hair back behind his ears. “Are you all right?
Did you see anything?” He was breathing as if he’d run
halfway up First Mesa; his hair hung rat‑tailed with sweat
about his face. When he took her hand his expectancy
Incomprehensible, Siwa thought. That a person
like this could house such glory within him— The energy of
the crowd left her feeling infected. Her psyche wanted to
expel the toxins that had pooled for the last forty‑five
minutes. With no courtesy whatsoever she snatched her hand
out of his grasp.
“Okay, let’s talk somewhere else,” he said,
He showed her to "the band room," where the
close air held the odors of sweat and pot, and half-stapled
posters drooped from the walls. One corner boasted a tiny
dorm fridge; along the left‑hand wall an understuffed couch
languished. A brick substituted for the couch’s missing
Cross-legged on the couch sat Brian. Joshua
flinched, but to Siwa, Brian looked as peaceful as a yogi
contemplating his navel.
On the scarred coffee table lay a belt. Next to
it, a round-bowled spoon. A candle. A bottle of lemon
juice. A dainty syringe and a snack-sized plastic bag.
Siwa realized his anticipation, beyond thirst at the well’s
Brian looked up at the two of them with a smile,
beatific but for the knowing cat’s claw line at the corner
of his mouth. “Don’t start, brother,” he said. “I’m not
touching. Just looking.”
“Promise me?” Joshua said. Brian held up his
hands. Efficient as a nurse, Joshua peeled off the gloves,
examined each hand palm-down. Scars wormed across the backs
and down the pale inside of each arm.
Siwa made an involuntary sound of dismay. Both
men looked at her, Joshua stony, Brian still possessed of
that ghost’s smile.
“It’s all right, miss,” he said. His hand
squeezed Joshua’s. “My bro here looks out for me. Don’tcha?”
Siwa felt the effort it took Joshua to lighten
his voice. “Just get your works put away, ASAP. The only
busts I’m interested in tonight come in a D cup.” His gaze
turned to Siwa. “Can we step outside a minute?”
Brian struggled to his feet and swept her a
gallant bow. In the small space he nearly crashed into
her. “Mademoiselle, it grieves me to intrude so rudely on
your privacy. Pray tell your paramour were he to wax wroth
with me, I find his choice estimable and enviable.”
“That’s why you write the lyrics, man.”
Joshua’s grin was hollow. He took Brian’s hand and folded
it around the gloves. “Be good for me, huh?”
No moon showed; the cloud cover was black as
“I saw something,” she said, to disturb that graveyard
dread that drained the joy she’d seen overflowing him.
“Joshua. . . . I want you to think about this,
now. Or, don’t think about it—feel it. What does the
concept, the image of eagle mean to you?”
Siwa haltingly described for him what she’d
seen: the wings unfolding from his naked back, like a
griffin’s, an angel’s, a katsina’s. The vision still shook
her. She did not meet his eyes.
“You’re saying I had bird wings growing out of
“Okay, eagle wings.”
“That is what I saw when you were on stage. You
picked up the guitar, you played, and the wings—” She
swallowed, resisted the urge to pace. “The wings came out
of you like a goddamn Christmas picture. You looked like
you were about to yell, 'peace on earth.'”
Had any of her clients manifested visually
before? The closest she’d gotten was an unnerving case of a
girl with skinwriting, which she immediately turned over to
the Catholic church—at the relief of the girl’s mother. Siwa wanted no part of that one.
“And what do you see for Brian?”
“He’s not my client.”
“Jesus, that’s cold . . . . What if I paid for him
Siwa shook her head. “It doesn’t take a
psychic. You know it as well as I do. You’re the one
taking care of him.”
“Well, shit. What do these wings mean, that I’m
an angel? Brian’s guardian angel?” He turned his gaze to
the starless sky. “Come on, God! How about helping out
your angel down here?” He looked at Siwa with a face come
from generations of unemployment offices, buckled linoleum,
duct tape home improvements; bitter against the grindings of
an indifferent cosmos. “God doesn’t make angels out of
people like me.”
Siwa had never dug so hard in such uncomfortable
surroundings on behalf of a client. Even in Albuquerque,
where almost all the shades of lovely brown were
represented, her appearance at the University of New Mexico
library provoked a few stares. It was her short stature,
she knew; her severe features (primitive, she
remembered one woman thinking, how exotic!), which
made Anglos tell her to smile.
She knew what the eagle meant to her people but
not to Joshua’s. Thus she went to the Funk and Wagnall’s
Standard Dictionary of Folklore. She brought home books on
British Isles mythology, European mythology, a couple of
The golden eagle, aquila chrysaetos, had
been the emblem for the armies of countless European
nations. The favorite of father gods and a guise of
magicians and tricksters. Birds were the favorite
spirit‑forms of the Celtic bards. Shamans of ancient Europe
of Asia wore cloaks of feathers . . . .
Yet Joshua had never defined himself in terms of
his background, had he? The most he’d said was a punk
kid from Durango. He never said whether he was
Scots‑Irish or Swiss‑Slavic or whatever endless combinations
existed in this country. What muddle of spiritual tradition
was visiting him? Was he possessed by a sixth century
Scandinavian sorcerer? Channeling a manifestation of Celtic
Siwa wanted to thump her head on the desk in
A huge poster from the Metropolitan Museum of
Art depicting an Aztec calendar glowered in Socorro’s
bedroom. Some days Siwa’s daughter identified as Mexican;
other days she declared herself Pan‑Indian. On the opposite
wall, by her desk, a smaller image of Leonard Peltier
watched over her mournfully.
No knobs were allowed on Socorro’s door. In
defiance, she left her door open at all times, no matter
whether she was dressing or sleeping. Siwa spoke mostly
English, so Socorro spoke whatever Spanish she’d picked up
from her father and her friends. Rarely did she ask her
mother for anything. So when Siwa heard her voice, she
responded at once.
“Hey, mija. ¿Que tal?”
Socorro looked up from her book and answered her
in a burst of Spanish.
“You’re a smart girl, but I’m your mother, which
makes me wiser than you,” she replied in Hopi.
Defeated, Socorro switched to English. “Mom, am
I going to spend Christmas with Great-Grandma?”
Siwa crossed the room and sat on the edge of her
daughter’s bed. “Halloween with your dad—"
“Dia de los Muertos, Mom—”
“Thanksgiving with my dad—”
“Ugh.” Pure adolescent revulsion. “Subjugation
and Appropriation of Indigenous Peoples Day.”
“I thought that was Columbus Day.” That won a
wry smile. “You may not want to spend Christmas with
Great-Grandma,” Siwa went on. “No computer. No electricity,
even. It’ll be very tough.”
“That’s where you grew up.”
Siwa nodded. Grew up with her grandmother as
parent, her mother in prison and her father landscaping for
industrial parks in Phoenix.
“So I should be able to do it. Easy is
“Don’t say gringos.”
Socorro heaved a ten‑pound sigh. “Fine. Maybe
Great-Grandma will let me bring my kachinas home this time.”
“They’re safer where they are. Can you imagine
how you’d feel if someone broke in and stole them?”
“I’d kill them.” Siwa caught the image of a
blue‑jeaned burglar breaking the glass of Socorro’s window;
Socorro herself stabbing him with a screwdriver, like
something out of a Lifetime Movie. The burglar white, of
“My bloodthirsty child,” she said and stroked
the back of one
knuckle across her daughter’s cheek.
Socorro smiled indulgently. “Mom, can I ask a
favor? Can I spend Dia de los Muertos with
“For someone who’s so fascinated by her
heritage, I should think you’d want to be with your dad as
well. You’re more Latina than Hopi, after all.”
“Don’t you get it? It’s about place.”
“Right. Yeah, I’m part Latina. But Latinas are
kinda like Anglos. Transplanted. Believing in stuff
dragged—” she waved a dismissive hand “—thousands of miles
from another country.” She looked at her mother from eyes
that, Siwa thought with a shiver, saw farther than she
herself ever had. “I have to be where my feet are, Mom.”
Siwa had heard Arizona described as alien, as a
moonscape. Every time she heard that, she shook her head.
The fragrance of sage, juniper, asphalt blew into the car.
No headaches now, no matter how far down her consciousness
dove. During the five‑hour drive in the rental car she
hurtled deeper into stillness, with every mile Albuquerque’s
protective carapace peeling away from her and her daughter.
Good fortune that Socorro understood. When she
wasn’t reading, she watched the October landscape enfold the
two of them.
The drive from Polacca up the flank of the Mesa,
at over a mile, was longer than the walk from Sichomovi to
Walpi. Not good news for many of the tourists. The parking
areas along the paved road up the Mesa held Yukons, Denalis,
Tahoes, and a few RVs. Such large vehicles were not
permitted to park on the Mesa. In her two‑door rental Siwa
rolled past small clots of tourists—fat whites from east of
the hundredth meridian, who complained when it rained, who
dressed in fifty‑dollar tanktops and two‑hundred dollar
sandals. Some of them stared at her and her daughter, their
boiled‑ham faces set as if against a bad taste.
The parking lot by the new convenience store was
half‑full: only some with local plates. Dwellings that
looked as if they had calved from the yellow rock shouldered
for space alongside prefab steel buildings. Antennas and
satellite dishes sprouted from the rooftops. Dogs trotted
around, looking busy. When Siwa slammed her door, none of
them paid her the slightest attention.
Socorro shouldered her backpack. “Mom,” she
murmured. “I know what I want to do for a living.”
“I’m scared now,” Siwa said.
“Tour guide. I’ll take groups of Navajo and
Zuni retirees on a bus and we’ll go to the suburbs in Fort
Worth and spend our time looking in people’s windows.”
As they walked through Sichomovi, they saw
leathery white people clustered around doorways to homes
that displayed signs: Hopi Pottery for Sale. Authentic
Kachinas for Sale. Tourists watched—at a respectful
distance, Siwa had to give them that—as a woman maneuvered
smoldering patties of sheep dung from a firing pit.
Someone’s grandchild screeched “Eeew, is that poop?”
Siwa wanted to smack him. Wasn’t too many decades ago
your ancestors were combing the prairies for poop to burn
At the town limits loomed the sign that notified
tourists about the ban on any sort of media—cameras, camera
phones, camcorders. Past the sign extended the projection
of rock on which the thousand‑year‑old village of Walpi
perched. As a tourist attraction, its dilapidation was
permitted, to the point where the jumble of rock houses
reminded travel writers of nothing so much as a stone
version of the shantytowns of South Africa. No
electricity. No running water.
After Siwa convinced the handsome Hopi teenager
by the sign that she and Socorro were related to Esther
Sekaquaptewa, and did not need the tour’s custody, they
walked out on the tendon of rock that connected Walpi to the
rest of First Mesa. Sun drenched the rock point, the
streets of stone. Socorro tentatively waved to one
septagenarian sweeping dirt from her front step. The breeze
picked it up and blew it back, and the woman swept on, with
such calmness and economy of movement that Siwa knew she
would outlast the wind.
She took Socorro’s backpack, and gave her a
nudge. “Go wander, sweetheart,” she said. “But wander
respectfully, okay? I’ve got to talk to Great-Grandma.”
“No. You know how to act. If anyone asks you
who you are, tell them who you belong to.”
Everywhere Siwa looked, the village ascended.
Limestone dwellings piled on top of each other to an
unrealized zenith. Railingless stairs climbed to second
stories, to rooftops. From kivas, ladders pointed upward
like the inquisitive antennae of mimbres insects.
Presence pressed close around her. She walked
as warily as possible, trying to barrier herself against it,
as she must every time she visited Walpi.
Her grandmother’s house faced south-east.
Uneven window jambs gave it a squint; the ancient vigas
thrusting out from the walls lent it pugnacity. An array of
plastic buckets stood by the doorstep. When Siwa knocked,
the door swung open.
It was a little dark, a little dusty in the
house. Sunlight poked through the gaps in the blinds and
under the door where the weather stripping had pulled away.
From the battery‑powered radio turned to KUYI, reggae played
“So, Miz Santiago.” Sarcasm weighted her
grandmother’s voice. “You still calling yourself that these
days? Or did you change your name again?”
“No, Grandma, it’s still Santiago.”
The broad figure stumped out of the shadows. “I
never understood what was wrong with good old Sekaquaptewa.”
“Grandma, the Anglos can’t pronounce it. If
they can’t pronounce it, they ignore you. They couldn’t
pronounce Piestawa, so they say Jessica Lynch.”
Her grandmother grunted, which meant she did not
disagree. She waddled into her kitchen and rooted around
in the cabinets and drawers like an absent‑minded badger,
snuffling to herself and shooting out her lower plate from
time to time. There was a sore spot on her gums, Siwa knew,
one that burned and itched like an ant sting.
“Grandma, go ahead and take ‘em out.”
Her grandmother eased out her teeth and set them
on the table, not without darting a crabbed look at Siwa.
“I told you not to do that around me.”
“I know, Grandma. I’m sorry.”
“You been eating? Look at you. I’ve got some
lamb stew. I’ve got some watermelon pickle. Lois
Gashweseoma got me some Wonderbread. You want a sandwich?”
Not eating would give offense. “How about some
Siwa ate and listened to her grandmother talk
about the corn crop, the Tribal Council, Lois Gashweseoma’s
daughter who had run off to Phoenix and gotten pregnant.
“That’s not why you came to see me,” her
grandmother said at last, with a comfortable sigh.
“You see where I get it from?” Siwa reached
across the table and patted her hand. “You could be pulling
in the tourists too.”
Her grandmother snorted. “I hear your mother
ran off chasing the money just like you. And got mixed up
with a non‑Hopi, just like you.”
Siwa could not fight the comfort these old
arguments gave her grandmother. “Grandma. Will you please
tell me about eagles?”
The old woman shook her head. “Questions. If
you hadn’t left, you’d know this. This is what I remember.
It’s what I know, not what other folks know. I don’t know
what they know, and I never asked.”
“I know some of it. I know eagles are important
to us. Every year our eagles are killed—sent home—on the
last day of Niman. But I need to hear it from you,
“I’m not going to tell you the stories, because
it’s the wrong time of year for that, but I can tell you a
Eagles. A person holds or wears an eagle
feather, that person has the attention of the spirit world.
Esther thought that’s the way it was with a lot of people,
not just the Hopi, but she wouldn’t talk about that—she
didn’t know; she wasn’t one of them. Siwa’d have to go ask
someone else about that. Maybe an anthropologist. That’s
what prayer sticks were made of, eagle feathers. Cedar, or
cottonwood—Esther’s father always used yarn from cottonwood
cotton—and eagle feathers. Because eagles are the ones who
“FedEx,” her grandmother said and chuckled.
Please God don’t let him fuck up. Please God
let him be able to sing. Joshua’s voice came to her as
if he’d whispered it in her ear.
“If someone prayed hard enough, could he become
The old woman’s face clenched in thought.
"That’s a good
“I have a client. A white man.”
“Most of yours are white. Does he live here?”
Siwa nodded. “Born in Four Corners country.
He’s haunted by an eagle spirit, I think. I’ve seen it. I
don’t know if it comes to him—or if he makes it.” She stole
a look at her grandmother, who was dabbing peanut butter on
the rest of the crackers.
“Well, now that’s an interesting idea.” The
crackers piled up. “Maybe when he dies he’ll become a
The old woman shrugged. “Or he could be an
angel. You like that better?”
“It’s not his tradition. He’s white.” She felt
like Socorro. “He’s not invited.”
“You’re talking as if you had no grandparents to
teach you.” Esther Sekaquaptewa enfolded Siwa’s hand within
her own. Ninety years’ worth of callouses, and a grip like
rock. She drew her granddaughter to the door and pulled it
Over First Mesa clouds striped the evening,
bands of turquoise and shell above the luminous horizon. If
Siwa kicked the pail at her feet it would tumble six hundred
feet down the puma‑colored cliff, strewn with boulders like
a litter of bones.
“Look around, Siwa. Do you think Jesus lives
here? I don’t. This is the world Masauwu guards, handsome
Masauwu wearing his bloody animal hides. Your white man was
born here. In Masauwu’s world. That’s who he talks to,
that’s who talks to him.”
Was it possible that Joshua wasn’t informed by a
European framework? The soil, the water, the grain, the
meat—though impure from pollution and hormonal tinkering and
genetic hybridization, it was still the stuff of this place,
still the flesh of the earth building his flesh, the blood
of the continent pumping into his veins.
Her grandmother chuckled. “How do you like that
So here was Siwa, watching over a white man who
somehow had claimed the attention of her land’s spirits, if
her grandmother was right. The unfairness of it left her
without footing. She had been irked at Joshua from the
moment he asked her to attend the interview at the end of
the Sugar Skull tour, and even more irritated when he said
he’d pay for her time.
Siwa stood up—the journalist flinched. Joshua’s
wings vanished like vapor in sunlight. “I think we’re going
to call it a day,” she said.
The man spluttered a bit, insisting they’d only
had an hour. Let Joshua say whether he was finished.
Groupie bitch, he was thinking.
A handshake from Joshua disseminated some of his
anger. “Hey, just think—you’ve got the next part of your
piece already written: ‘The second time we meet, Joshua
Curtis is daring me to strap on skates and knock elbows with
the Doomsdames roller derby team.’”
“I’ll do it if you do,” the interviewer shot
That earned him a staccato laugh. “I’ll set it
up, man. I’ll have my guy call you, okay?”
“Don’t worry,” Siwa said, indulging herself.
“Mr. Curtis’s pet psychic won’t be there.” She ignored the
glance Joshua threw her and nodded politely to the
journalist. Long practice kept her smile in place.
Joshua deflated once the door closed. He knelt
by the edge of the bed and set the guitar in its case.
“I think this’ll be the last time you’ll need
me,” Siwa said.
No audible response. She tried to ignore the
hurt and exhaustion simmering from him. “That’ll be—”
“Yeah, I know. A hundred.” Snap snap went the
clasps on the case. His face was turned away from her. She
set her lips together. Damn the man. Yet as a
professional, she should tell him. “I consulted someone
about those wings.”
Now he looked around, his hope so clean and
shapely, like an unpainted water jar, that her anger leached
started to speak, hands lifted—and stopped. How could she
tell him this?
“Every time those wings come up, that means
you’re talking to God.”
“To God?” As if she’d switched to Spanish, or
“The Supreme Being. The Creator. Powers That
Be. Indian beliefs specify that the eagle carries
prayers.” She tsked at his expression. “You pray
with your guitar.”
He sat back on his heels, and Siwa felt the
astonishment filling his hope. “So it’s not—”
“No. It’s nothing bad. Basically you’re
running around like a spiritual mailbox with the red flag
“You said ‘Indian beliefs.’ I’m not Native
American. Not a drop.”
Siwa bit her lip. She thought about answers she
might offer him. “You were born here. Looks like the
spirits of this place are the ones paying attention to you.”
“And what do you think about that?” he
The anger returned despite her shock at his
response. What kind of answer could she give this white
“I am terribly jealous of you,” was what came
out of her mouth. She sat limply on the edge of the bed,
next to him.
Joshua took her hand. He placed it snug against
his own, palm to palm, weaving his fingers through hers.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
An intimate gesture for anyone. For Siwa it was
like being given the siphon to an endless aquifer of
energy. She gasped with it; her arms broke out in
gooseflesh; her nipples hardened painfully.
“It’s all right.” Blind acknowledgment. They
did not release each other.
“Would it help if I took you to bed?”
She had to laugh. “When did that ever help
“Can I take you to bed anyway?”
“I’m too old—”
She knew he was going to kiss her before he did
it, but the
touch of his mouth on hers was still a sweet shock to her
body. A kiss that asked permission in a deferential caress
lower lip. She surprised both of them by opening like a
blossom on the vine, giving him liberty to slake her thirst,
and he rose up between her knees and guided her hand to his
Joshua wasn’t the best lover she’d ever slept
with. But gentle, and greedy in a sweet, passionate way
that kindled her own lust. Too lean, though she cherished
the beautiful bones lying close beneath the layers of skin
and muscle. As with many blond men, his body hair was more
ginger than gold. She liked to play with it, tugging,
ruffling. She liked the way the stubble on his jaws and
throat pricked her lips when she kissed his neck, ran her
tongue over his adam’s apple while he labored above her—his
body bright with sweat, tasting of salt and lemons.
Afterwards he sat on the edge of the bed and
played for her,
slow songs that she liked much better than Sugar Skull’s
tortured densities. Gillian Welch’s “Whiskey Girl,” the
Stones’ “Wild Horses,” Alison Krauss’ “Restless.”
Feather by feather the wings appeared. They
bloomed out of the empty air, as if shadow had condensed
above his shoulders. The wings spread until they seemed to
fill the room, longer than Joshua was tall. “You’re flying
right now,” she whispered.
Siwa felt no reservation at his touch now; she
discerned him to the marrow of his bones, beginning and end,
both his bright soul and the dark caul of fate that
enveloped him. She did not tell his future when he reached
for her, his hair falling down like a curtain, veiling them
in silk and gold.
Joshua never came to her little house for sex.
If he’d suggested it, Siwa would’ve refused him. When he
was in town that
early summer, she was content to visit him at the Hyatt,
where the air conditioner never failed, where someone else
washed the sheets. Unless he wanted Socorro to call him
Daddy, there was no need for him to enter her home.
“So why did I get wings and not some rabbi in
Flagstaff?” he asked during one of her visits. She was
still giddy from her orgasm, and did not answer him
He nuzzled her ear. “I mean, you’d think
somebody like that would get more tools to talk to God.”
“When was the last time Brian did it?” She
herself up on one elbow. The air-conditioning billowed
across her skin, half delicious, half painful.
“When was the last time he fixed? . . .Corpus.
Other than that I
really haven’t seen him rollin’ hard since before the
Amazing Steves gig.”
She fit her hand over his side, appreciating how
her fingers slipped in the shallow between each rib. Brown
on cream as if painted with a yucca brush. “Maybe you just
need it more than some rabbi in Flagstaff.”