By Joseph Scapellato
Featured Art: Pepita by Robert Henri
The small boy says to his big sister, “Why did we kill all the Indians?”
They’re in the basement playing a video game. Both of them are white.
“We didn’t kill them,” says his big sister, “our ancestors did.”
“Why did our ancestors kill all the Indians?”
“Okay, not really our ancestors because Dad’s family came in the 20s and Mom’s in the Sixties and the Indians were already totally dead by then, mostly.”
“Why did ancestors kill all the Indians?”
“But I guess you could say it was us, pretty much, because today we’re basically the same culture as the culture of the people who killed the Indians back then. And it’s ‘Native Americans,’ not ‘Indians.’ ‘Indians’ is ignorant.”
The small boy says to his angry stepmom, “Why did we kill all the Native Americans?”
They’re returning from the grocery store in hardly any traffic. Plastic bags stuffed with food rustle in the back seat.
“We didn’t kill all of them,” says his angry stepmom. “The ones that are still around have problems and are in poverty. Like the minorities.”
“Why did we kill most of the Native Americans?” says the small boy to his principal. His principal is black. They’re at recess on the playground. Other small boys and girls of many colors shout and run, arguing the rules of the games they make up.
“We didn’t just kill them,” says his principal, taking off her glasses to rub her eyebrows, which she does when she’s about to say something she expects her students to remember, “we erased them. We erased their histories and traditions and languages, their cultures. Did you know that there are tribes not around anymore that we don’t even know one thing about? We know more about some dinosaurs than we do about some tribes.”
“Why did we erase most of the Native Americans?” says the small boy to
the tall girl he likes. The tall girl he likes is white. They’re at a birthday party in the park. Both have bright balloons tied to their wrists.
“We didn’t,” says the tall girl he likes, “they did it to themselves by not being advanced enough in their civilization, if they were advanced enough in their civilization they wouldn’t have been erased.”
The small boy tugs at his balloon-string. He doesn’t want to disagree with the tall girl he likes, but he feels disagreement sticking together inside him. It’s heavy. He thinks he might be sick. He says, “If they were more advanced in their civilization, would they have erased us?”
The tall girl bops him on the top of the head with her balloon.
He waves his hands to defend himself. “What if it was a tie, would we have erased each other?”
The tall girl bops him in the face with her balloon. It hurts his nose. Smirking, she skips away to join a group of other tall girls who are laughing at a group of other small boys. The small boys squeeze each other’s balloons, trying to get as close as possible to popping them without actually popping them.
“We wouldn’t,” says the small boy to his big gray dog.
They’re sitting in weedy grass in the back yard. It’s quiet in the dark apartment building, over the rotten fences, and in the alley where the small boy is not supposed to go. He still feels sick. Disagreement hardens inside him.
The big gray dog chews on a broken branch. Knots clunk across its teeth.
The small boy touches the big gray dog’s chest like he’s taking an oath. He again pretends that the big gray dog’s every action contains a hidden message, one he can catch if he focuses hard or loosens up. He focuses hard. He loosens up. Before he can say for sure what he has or hasn’t caught, he falls asleep.
Joseph Scapellato earned his MFA in fiction at New Mexico State University and is the author of the novel The Made-Up Man and the story collection Big Lonesome. He is an Assistant Professor of English in the Creative Writing Program at Bucknell University and lives in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, with his wife, daughter, and dog.
Story originally published in NOR 16.