Excerpt from “Burn” from Morgan Talty’s “Night of the Living Rez”. The article contains explicit language.
It was winter, and I walked the night sidewalk along the banks of the hard snow. I came from Love’s apartment outside the reservation. Love — this white guy with a big mouth and closed eyes when he smiles — sold pot. He was utter bullshit, too. I asked for a gram and after he weighed it and handed it to me in a plastic bag, I reached into my pants and jacket pockets and searched for cash among cigarette wrappers and pocket knives. but he did not receive it. Trust me when I acted out and kept saying, “Damn, I must have fallen on a walk here.” He shook his head, took the weed out of his bag and put it back in the mason jar. “You’re not a motherfucker,” he said, so I said. I fell, you’ll feel stupid He shrugged his shoulders and said sorry.
Q&A: About Morgan Talty’s book “Night of the Living Rez”
At the bridge to the reservation, the river was still frozen and the ice glistened pale under the full moon. The sidewalk on the bridge hadn’t been shoveled since it snowed him last November. I walked to Overtown to get some pot or took the bus and walked in the footsteps of the boots everyone made going to where we squeegees were. Everything we needed was in rez, except for the pot, so it was nowhere to be found. Well, aside from Best Buy and Bed Bath & Beyond, the natives who bought 4K Ultra DVDs and stark white doilies wouldn’t take the bus like me and my girlfriend Fellis go to the methadone clinic every day. That was another thing rez didn’t have: a methadone clinic. However, according to Rez’s documentation, I chose to take methadone and was therefore ineligible to participate in native spiritual practices.
Natives cursing natives.
The roads in Lez were quiet, the trees bent under the weight of the snow, and a moan could be heard as we drove past the frozen swamp. I stopped walking. There was nothing, so I continued on the glittering road until I heard it again.
“Who is that?” I cried. The groans came again. It was a man somewhere in the swamp. I approached and asked. There was a low, breathtaking sound. I followed it with cold ears.
The swamp was hard frozen and snowy, so I slid across the ice looking for the source of the noise. Moonlight illuminated the swamp through the bare branches of a tree, and a lone man lay on the ground between tree stumps and hard snow. He was trying to get up, but he kept going backwards. He had just done 1000 crunches and it was so painful that he could only do one more.
It was Ferris.
“Ferris?” I said, standing over him.
He tried to get up, but something pulled him back. “Fuck,” Ferris said. “Help me.” He moaned and trembled.
He didn’t say how to help him, so I had to crouch down to get a better look.
“Hurry up,” he said.
“Ferris, I can’t help if I don’t know what’s going on with you.”
“My hair,” he said.
I saw it with the flame of a lighter. “Holy,” I said, laughing. Instead of a taut braid, Ferris’ hair was untied and frozen in the snow.
“Get out, Dee,” he said. “Dee, let me out”
At first I tried to pull my hair out of the snow and scrape it off. But his hair wouldn’t untie, so Ferris screamed when I tugged.
“Put your head up,” I said. I opened the pocketknife and Ferris opened his mouth with the click of the blade.
“Wait, wait,” he said. “Don’t cut it.”
“What do you want me to do? Tell the ice to let go?” Ferris spit. “Go to my house and get some boiling water.”
I closed my pocketknife. “Ferris, the water will be cold by the time I get back here.”
he was quiet The ice cracked and echoed somewhere in the swamp, as if something was walking around and between us. No one but us.
“I have to cut it,” I said. “If you don’t let it out, you can’t get out”
Ferris asked me if I had a cigarette. “Shit, shit winter, oh my god.”
“It’s not fun, Dee.”
“Look,” I said. “Can I cut my braids too?” Ferris took a deep breath, coughed and gagged. “No,” he said. “Just cut. I have to go home. I’m fed up.”
I opened my pocketknife again, grabbed his hair, and cut it. When I got through the last section of his hair, Ferris rolled away from where he was stuck.He stroked his head like he was awake.
I helped him to his feet and slid across the ice on his way out of the swamp. Ferris was dry and methadone this morning and said he missed the bus to the clinic. Before he got sick because he didn’t have methadone. When he decided to go see Love that afternoon to get some pot, he had some liquor left over.In the snow, he quickly dozed off. When he woke up, his hair was frozen in the snow.
I took him to his mother Beth’s house, where he still lives.
“I never expected to scalp a fellow tribe member,” I said. “Stop,” he said. He fumbled in his pocket for the house key.
“Didn’t you ask? I didn’t go to Rab’s.” He unlocked the door.
“I’ll go for you,” I said. “Cash, please.” Ferris looked at me.
“Twenty minutes,” I said. “While you warm your rather bald head, I go back and forth there.”
He gave me $30. Yesterday he said he had no money.
“Twenty bags,” Ferris said. “And stop by the gym to get some tall boys and a bag of potato chips. Anything but Humpty Dumpty Chips.”
In the driveway of Ferris’ house, I imagined Love’s face as he handed over the money. What do I tell you? how about that gram?
“Dee!” Ferris yelled. “One more thing.
“We’re damned anyway,” I said. “But I think I’ll get your hair.” I continued, head first or pot first? A pot makes the most sense. It would seem strange that I would have to set my hair and ice like a wet mop on the gym counter while reaching into my pocket for Ferris’ money. will say, “We don’t take them anymore.” I looked him straight into his flabby face and said, “I didn’t get my hair changed, this idiot,” and slammed the tall boy and tip $10 bill on the counter. I went to Rab’s when the change was jingling in my pocket and he said, “Get that hair out of here. It’s dripping onto my floor.” In the hallway, I re-measured the same nug that Love had weighed for me earlier.
No, I grab Ferris’ hair from the swamp on my way home. Ferris on an unmade bed, me on a torn beanbag in the corner, with a tall boy, the smoke from the pot clouding the room gray. burn it.
excerpt from Night of the Living Lesbian By Morgan Talty. Reprinted with permission from Tin House. Copyright (c) 2022 by Morgan Talty. story magazine.
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