Monday, April 10, 2006

Storytime again


She’d been here for it seemed like a thousand years, but it really was only six months. Even so, her teddy bear scrubs looked as worn as she felt. The laundromat washers had faded the colors like the sun up here faded her hair. She brushed a loose strand back as a stout Navajo lady wearing a Tuba City Warriors sweatshirt, turquoise sweatpants and a frayed red gingham apron came over.

“You want another cup of coffee?”

“Sure, Willie. Thanks.”

Aline took a sip of hot, weak coffee and sighed. Being a PA in Tsaile was a good job. She was getting great experience. And she loved working with the young children – skinny little boys and girls bouncing all around the clinic turning big-eyed and stoic when they had to get their shots.

But there was no time she had a moment, could believe she would have a moment, of feeling at home. Tsaile was a long way from Phoenix, and the distance wasn’t in miles.

And there were six months more to go on her contract.


Wilhelmina Yazzie brought the pot back to the hotplate and set it down, leaned back on the counter behind her. Her friend and the café owner, Emmie Tsosie, was looking over at Tommy Begay and shaking her head.

In Navajo, Emmie said, “Tommy! If you get any skinnier you’ll look like a dried up cholla. Now go on and eat those eggs!”

“Old woman, if you could cook an egg right I wouldn’t be getting so skinny.”

“Tommy, if you could keep a wife right you wouldn’t need to come here to fuss about those eggs.”

Tommy grunted and switched back to English. Let that white girl listen in. “Now, Emmie, women lined up to marry me. Just because some of ‘em got an itch and left don’t mean there’s anything wrong with me. Ain’t that right, Willie?”

Willie smiled and shook her head. “Tommy, why don’t you go bother your cousin Lester? Aren’t you gonna help him with his sheep today?”

Tommy snorted as he leaned on the ancient jukebox, fishing in his pocket for a quarter.


Aline Greenbaum was lost in little dust-devil thoughts as Tommy shuffled by. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the early morning sun snag on his cowboy pearl button cuff – old man parchment skin, cheap flannel shirt and a glowing jewel – and she wondered what Emmie said that put an edge on Tommy’s teasing. She spoke a little Navajo, enough for clinic work, but not enough for more. Working the overnight shift made her feel even more separate and lost than normal.

“Miz Greenbomb, you want some more coffee?”

Aline started. “No, Willie. I’m fine. I’ll just pay up.”

As she dug through her purse to leave a tip, she saw Willie was still standing there, looking at her with an indefinable, curious look on her face.


“I just…well, I wondered about your name. How would people get a name like green bomb? Diné names mean things, but why would white folks name their people for bombs?”

Aline giggled.

“It’s Green-baum, not green bomb – B-A-U-M. That’s Yiddish for green tree. Guess my ancestors liked trees.”

Willie smiled a conspiratorial smile at her. “Well, I didn’t know white folks had names like Diné…Miz Green Tree!”


Tommy punched in D-31 just to get on Emmie’s nerves. Willie knew he’d do that before he’d leave. He’d done it every now and then, when Emmie fussed at him for not eating. Emmie hated that song.

As she fixed a fresh pot of coffee, Willie thought it interesting, that white girl having a green tree for a name.


Aline left four dollar bills and change on the counter. She waved at Emmie, who waved back. As she turned for the door, Tammy Wynette’s voice cut through the air.
“Our little boy is four years old and quite a little man
So we spell out the words we don't want him to understand…”

She heard that song once or twice since she’d come to work in Tsaile – sometimes when Tommy Begay came to the café, he’d play it before he left.

The screen door rattled shut behind her.

It was odd how a song about divorce, on this particular morning, mixed with the sunlight and the dust on her pickup and the smile on Willie’s face, could make Aline feel, finally, just a little bit at home.

Of course, the song "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" and the lyrics are copyright of their respective owners, I think Bobby Braddock/Curley Putman. They also wrote the brilliant "He Stopped Loving Her Today." Tried to find a Web site for them but just couldn't.


Willie Baronet said...

Wow, very cool. Despite the awkwardness at seeing my name being used for a woman. :-) And He Stopped Loving Her Today is genius! I have a country streak in me.

Love the idea man and the lacy window too! xoxo

MB said...

lost in little dust-devil thoughts
Great line.

I enjoyed this... particularly the deft little closure.

Reminds me, of course, a little of Toni Hillerman territory.

Lori Witzel said...

Thanks, everyone, glad y'all enjoyed -- group hug!!!


I saw Black Crow's posts about the mountains near where she lives, and it made me think of the San Francisco peaks in Flagstaff AZ where I went to college. Started missing the mountains, and the general Yá'át'ééh-ness (Navajo for Shalom) of things there.

Rikki said...

Is it by coincidence that so many bloggin names appear in your story? That would make for an interesting assignment :)
I love it, you have the art :)

Lori Witzel said...

Rikki, cool idea about bloggin names comprising story characters! And thanks for the luv.

Although Willie Baronet is indeed a mighty farce, er, force in creative blogging, the character of Wilhelmina Yazzie sprang from another place in my consciousness -- names I've seen of Navajo folks.

The way I wrote this?
The song title triggered an image of a skinny old-man-in-pearl-button-shirt wrist reaching to punch in a song in an ancient jukebox. And then I "saw" the cafe, and all three Navajo folks...had to "eavesdrop" on what they were saying...and then I "noticed" the young woman sitting in a booth with a cup of, visual imaginings leading to wordsmithing.