Willy stared out at the road ahead while Mayo drove and Winona snored fitfully in the back seat behind him. The two-lane stretched endlessly eastward, and spun away behind them like a long-assed piece of flying concrete, while Willy’s red Ford hummed across the great American Desert, rose up through Arizona Canyons and into what used to be Apache Territory, “Want me to drive awhile?” he asked.
Mayo shook his head and grunted, “I like the heat.”
“Winona says that, too, but goes to sleep when we hit the low desert.”
“Doesn’t she come from somewhere around here?”
“You’re a born tracker,” Willy said.
“You’ve just been at it longer,” Mayo laughed.
“With my face I don’t have to practice much.”
“It comes natural?”
“So they tell me.”
“You think Winona and I could pass?”
“Winona would never do that. She’s a proud Apache. Keeps a tomahawk in her purse.”
“It’s a good way to get a seat on the bus.”
“Winona always gets a seat on the bus.”
“I like her,” Mayo said.
“That’s because you’re getting to know her.”
“You can always tell what she’s thinking.”
“She speaks with her eyes.”
“Is that why she lowers her head when she gives out with those strong Apache opinions?”
“You’re sharp…but you need more training.”
“Think Apaches can teach me something?”
“If you stay open to learning…it will come.”
“I try,” Mayo said.
“You have to try harder…much harder.”
“I get bored,” the kid admitted.
“Those opinions should only be revealed when alone.”
Mayo nodded his agreement. He knew Willy was being patient with him but still hadn’t figured out why. He had gotten him the money for his fine, given him the assistant job, and made sure he took his Anger Management Classes. The old man had put his neck out for him in the last few months, and was expecting him to go to college along with it. (The trouble with college was that it took too long and he wasn’t sure about hanging out with a lot of white kids smoking pot and getting excited over football games.) He didn’t think Indians belonged in college, but every time he tried to explain that to the Chief he just laughed and advised him to, “Avoid football and listen to everything. And if he didn’t understand, he should, “Listen even harder. Nothing is what it seems,” he’d say this until Mayo finally asked him what he meant by it? For a long time the Chief stared into that empty space between people, and just when Mayo thought he wasn’t going to get an answer, Willy said, “At first, everything seems to be something, but in the end it all fades to nothing. It takes a lot of thinking to learn something that simple.”
Mayo stared blankly back at him, and the old man said, “You live in Prosser, don’t you?” The kid nodded and began to feel sorry he’d asked. “It’s important to know where you are in the forest,” Willy told him; “Learn about the place you live and how it survives, and whether it’s really there.”
“I don’t know how Prosser survives, but I think it’s there,” Mayo answered.
“You’re not sure because you don’t see. You’re blind. I’m trying to give you sight but you don’t want to see.”
“How does Prosser survive?”
Willy stared at the boy for a long time, and then said, “More than half the people in Prosser are old and need medical assistance…that’s how Prosser survives.”
“Really?” Mayo said, moving over into the right lane to roll down the other side of the hill. “But how can the town survive on old people that need-“
“Caretakers for the old people make up the rest of the town,” Willy said abruptly. Doctors, Nurses, Pharmacists, Medical Technicians, Medical Assistants, office workers, waiters, waitresses, bakers and cooks, carpenters and plumbers, City workers-“
“Super markets and old age homes,” Mayo chimed in.
“Exactly,” Willy said. “Prosser survives on the millions of dollars our federal government sends in to take care of the old people. It’s the only industry in Prosser. What they call Medicare and Social Security keeps it rolling, and Prosser uses every penny they send. If it wasn’t for that money Prosser wouldn’t last a week,” Willy said, staring out at the running road ahead.
They reached the bottom of the hill, started up the next one, and Mayo asked, “I see where the money comes from but what’s that got to do with, “Nothing is what it seems?”
“Everything,” the old Chief said; “Nothing is what it seems because every two years the people of Prosser go to the polls on Election Day and overwhelmingly elect some guy who wants to take away their Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Every election they do the same thing. They even vote in more than one of those politicians at the same time. Representatives, Senators, Governors-”
“Nothing is what it seems,” Mayo said with a nod.
“I’ve asked them “Why they do that? Vote against their own interests…their own town…themselves? Why they leave it up to others to keep those things for them?”
“What do they say?”
“Never really got an answer. When they try to explain they freeze up and sort of get hypnotized. They cash the checks, but don’t really understand where they come from or why. Nothing is what it seems.” Willy muttered.
“Sometimes it’s hard to understand White People,” Mayo said. “I have that same problem with going to college.”
“Another good point. You’re getting better at this already beginning to see things and connect them. That’s a good sign.”
“By the way, where we going?”
“To Winona’s sister’s house on the Apache Reservation, but we’ll have to leave when we get there.”
“Apache grudges run deep and long. Winona’s sister…I forgot her name…doesn’t like anyone from the Tupai Tribe…especially me. So we’ll leave and check out some of those big Indian casinos we passed on the way through Phoenix…see how they do things in the big time.”
“And that’s because the Tupai Board wants to build another casino out on the highway in Prosser.”
“You definitely have promise along these lines.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
There was that “Sir” again, the same one that had popped up at the Board Meeting the other day. And it came in that same respectful tone and inflection, like monsoon lightening…there for a moment, and then gone. Willy wondered why it was happening and started to ask but was interrupted when Mayo said, “Did you notice those Ravens outside Prosser where we stopped for gas?” Willy grunted. “Say anything?” Willy shook his head; “They’re crazy.”
“Some people call me crazy too,” Willy said; “But calling a bird crazy is different. It’s hard to tell if a bird is crazy or just pretending. Lots of them act crazy to keep the Hawks away.”
“I’ll bet they’re against the new casino.”
“These days only the Audubon Society pays attention to the Ravens. They’re proud birds and seem to have trouble with organizations trying to help them.”
“Just tell them ‘It’s over” and to go back into the forest where they belong,’” Winona said from the backseat.
Willy peeked behind him, and said, “I did, but that didn’t work either. They’re stubborn.”
“Then you just didn’t say it loud enough.”
“That’s a good point…I don’t like to yell.”
“Where the hell are we anyway?”
“In the canyons on Route 60,” Mayo told her.
“Is it too late to stop in Miami?” she asked.
“What’s in Miami?” Willy asked.
“Had a dream, and it said, “Get off in Miami.”
“You’re too young to be having dreams like that.”
“We could use some gas,” Mayo said.
“I’ll buy the Smoothies,” Winona piped.
“I only like lemon,” Mayo said, easing the old truck over the top of the hill.
“You’re becoming a real Indian,” Winona said.
“You like lemon too?” the kid asked.
“Rest is crap,” she said. “I even like pits in my lemon Smoothies. That makes it even realer.”
“Tell him where to go when we get there,” Willy said.
“Start with those antique stores on Sullivan Street.”
“That’s all they’ve got in Miami,” Willy said.
“I told them that in my dream.”
“In dreams like that it depends on whose listening.”
“I can’t even remember who was talking,” she said.
“That’s a bad sign,” Willy added.
“They’re the only dreams I get since I married you.”
“You should talk to a Medicine Man,” Willy said.
“Have you ever noticed how he always has an answer?”
“That’s why they made him Chief and call him, “Sir.”
“Those are all good points,” Willy muttered.
Mayo eased the pickup off the main road and headed for an old temporary structure on the edge of the town with a paint-peeling sign over the door that read, PACO’S TACOS. A dented yellow VW was parked in the shade on the north side of the building and Mayo pulled in next to it.
“Doesn’t look like a Smoothie place,” Willy said.
“I’m going to look for antiques along Sullivan Street,” Winona announced, climbing out of the back.
“Don’t you want a Smoothie?” Mayo asked.
“You can’t get a Smoothie in a taco place. It’s against the law,” Winona snapped, and started walking.
“She makes good points,” Willy said, opening the door to Paco’s Tacos, where the sudden temperature drop slapped them across the face.
Paco’s might have been a metal storage unit at one time, dimly lit, with rows of dark booths along its walls and a few tables and chairs in its center. A large TV blared a game show in the corner and a dark-haired White Man with a ponytail stood behind the counter wearing a denim shirt and a plastic black and white polka-dot tie.
“Any seat in the house,” he said, waving at the empty room. They took a table near the counter and he bounced over with a couple of menus.
“Can I get you something to drink?”
“Water will do fine for me,” Willy said.
“You have Smoothies?” Mayo asked. The man shook his head with a strained look, so Mayo piped, “Lemonade?”
“Best in Arizona,” the man said, and headed back to get their drinks.
“Something tells me to get the tacos,” Willy said.
“You’re starting to sound like “you know who.”
“I’ll get beef…you get chicken an we’ll split it.”
“Can’t beat that,” Mayo said, and the man was back with their drinks in tall frosted glasses.
“Did I hear you say you wanted a taco split?”
Willy nodded, and asked, “Is it always this busy?”
“Dinner’s busy. The ball game’s coming in from LA tonight,” he said. “It’ll be mobbed ‘cause the third beer’s on the House starting at five.”
“Are you Paco?” Willy asked.
The man laughed, and said, “Paco’s my partner. I run the place and he makes the tacos, burritos and chalupas. That is, whenever he shows up. It’s Special’s Night so I hope he gets here,” he said, heading for the back.
Willy leaned over and said, “I need you to do something for me.” Mayo shrugged his acceptance and Willy whispered, “When I nudge your leg, you say, “Bring another one of those home and she’ll kill you.”
“Bring another one of those home and she’ll-”
“When I nudge,” Willy repeated, and they sat back and sipped their drinks and waited for the tacos.
It wasn’t long before the polka-dot tie came rushing to the table mumbling, “Careful, these plates are hot.”
“Look’s good,” Willy said.
“Paco’s is famous in Arizona.”
“I never heard of it,” Mayo shrugged.
“What’s your name?” Willy asked.
“Roger the Dodger. I’m an LA fan.”
“Catchy,” Willy said, biting into the crunchy taco. “Thing is, you need Mexican decorations to go with these great tacos, Roger. Not things like that,” he added, pointing up at an Indian rug on the wall behind Mayo.
“Funny, that’s what Paco keeps saying. He even bought one of those big sombreros to hang up…lots of gold and silver. I put it in the back…on top of a cabinet.”
“Surprise him! Put it up!” Willy said.
“Where?” Roger asked. “There’s not much-“
“Up there,” Willy said, pointing at the gray and black rug again.
“That rug’s Indian,” Roger said, a bit surprised. “Aren’t you guys…Indians?”
“I am,” Willy said. “He’s not sure.”
“Only thing I am sure of is that a Mexican Restaurant needs a Mexican hat on the wall,” Mayo said.
“Paco says that same thing.”
“Sounds like he knows what he’s talking about.”
“I’ll go get it…clean it up a bit,” Roger said.
Mayo bit into his beef taco, and asked, “Lemonade?”
Willy took a gulp, and said, “Best in Arizona.”
“Do you have any idea what you’re doing?”
“Not really,” Willy shrugged.
“Then why are you doing it?”
“It’s Winona’s rug. The one she saw in her dream.”
Mayo stared at the old Chief in an odd way, making Willy smile, and when he turned Roger was back holding an enormous black sombrero with rows of gold and silver stitching that ran in a circular design through its huge peak and wide brim. The hat flashed in the overhead lights and Roger spun it in the air, and yelled, “Yaaaaahoooo,” and his call bounced off the metal walls.
Willy applauded, and said, “Put it up!”
The nervous man with the bow tie handed Willy the sparkling hat and climbed up into the booth to take down the black and gray rug. Hesitantly, he exchanged it with Willy for the gleaming Mexican sombrero and centered the huge hat on the wall where the Indian rug had been. The gold and silver threads caught the overhead lighting and reflected across the metal room like a thousand sparklers. Willy smiled at the incredible success of it, handed Mayo the old gray rug, and went back to help Roger the Dodger step down out of the booth.
The three of them stared up at the shimmering hat on the wall, and Roger gulped, “It’s perfect!”
“You’ve got a real Mexican Restaurant now,” Willy mused, taking the rug back from Mayo and sitting down to finish his tacos.
Mayo smiled at the move, and waited for Willy’s nudge.
“Not much you can do with this,” Willy said, showing Roger the rug in his lap. “I’ll take it off your hands if you throw in the tacos and lemonade.”
Mayo felt the nudge under the table and said, “Bring another one of those home and she’ll kill you.”
Willy nodded at Mayo’s fine delivery, and said, “Hey, he wouldn’t have changed things if we hadn’t shown up.”
“Plus the tacos?” Roger said. “How much you got?”
“Oh, ’bout forty bucks,” Willy said, pulling a couple of twenties and a fiver out of his pocket.
“That ought to do it,” Roger announced, and took the forty-five dollars out of Willy’s hand.
Willy stared down at his empty hand and said, “We’ll try to come back for the game tonight…if you can manage a couple of beers on the house.
“Third one is on the house,” Roger reminded him, beginning to clear the table at the same time.
“Nice meeting you, and give our best to Paco.”
“What’s your name?”
“I’m Willy…he’s Mayo.”
“Maybe he’s Irish.”
“Anything’s possible these days,” Willy said.
“Y’all come back now…an have a good one.”
They were back in the heat again and it had gotten even hotter. Willy opened the truck and let the air circulate through the cab, threw the rug in the back seat, and started the motor.
“What do we do now?” Mayo asked.
“Hit the Antique stores on Sullivan Street,” Willy said, pulling the truck out into the late afternoon traffic and stopping to let Mayo out when they hit the top of Sullivan Street. “Check that one first, I’ll get the next one,” Willy said, and Mayo headed toward the glittering neon sign with old furniture in the window and boxes of hardcover novels stacked out in front. Willy pulled into a nearby parking space and headed for the next store on the hill. He cruised the aisles and the stalls filled with old political buttons, fifties lamps, heavy wooden dressers and sixties dyed blouses, circled the back and headed through more of the same on the other side before he was at the entrance again.
He glanced up the street but it was empty, and when he opened the truck she was sitting in the front seat staring out at the purple Caddy parked in front of them and running her hand gently across the Indian rug he’d just bought.
“Where did you find it?” she asked
“Paco’s Tacos,” he said.
She glanced down at the rug. “Two Gray Hills,” she said; “Navajo.”
“Tightest weave there is,” he mumbled.
“You caught my dream,” she said. “I didn’t know.” They stared out the window at the thickening traffic heading for Route 60. “You never told me,” she said. He didn’t answer, and she asked, “Did it cost much?”
“Forty-five dollars, including lunch,” he said, “but I would have paid a lot more.”
“It’s worth hundreds,” she said.
“It’s one of the Begay sister’s rugs.”
“Then it could be worth a thousand, or more. How did you know it was there?” she asked.
“I recognized it when we walked in.”
“I had no idea you were a Dream Catcher,” she said.
“I fell in love with your dreams a long time ago.”
“I was mean to you back then so I knew it had to be something like that. I should have known better.”
“You were young and feeling new things.”
“Yes…and you made me laugh about them.”
“I caught your dreams and knew you. I had no choice.” Winona started crying and used the end of the rug to dry her face. “You were the only one for me and I accepted that,” Willy said.
“So did I and I’m glad you found me,” she mumbled.
“Yes,” Willy said, almost to himself. “And I still catch your dreams.”
“I’m glad you found the rug. I’ll clean it and-“
“Do whatever you want with it.”
“I’ll tell Nadia that you’re a Dream Catcher.”
“My sister. She’ll be nice to you after I tell her.”
“I’d rather you just kept it our secret,” he said; “Your sister has no dreams…and too many of us are like that these days. I only catch dreams…not make them.”
“You will Willy…you will.”
The truck’s door swung open and Mayo said, “There you are, and you bought a rug.” Winona held it up for him to see, “Pretty nice.” Winona finished drying her eyes, and Mayo asked, “Want me to drive?”
“Winona knows the way,” Willy said from the back.
“Did Mayo help you get the rug, Willy?”
Mayo smiled at being caught, and said, “Not really.”
“It’s that way with Dream Catchers,” she said. “They know exactly where they are, where they’re going, and what they want.”
Mayo got in, started the old truck, and pulled out into the traffic heading east into Apache Country.