Kaj Tanaka

Calvin and I are at Wayne Bordeaux's trailer, he teaches Lakota language at the school where we work. We are sitting on his couch watching the Broncos while his wife breastfeeds their new baby. They have named him Jerome, but that's just his white man's name Wayne tells us, for the paperwork.

"I'm hoping for something with wolf or buffalo in it," says Wayne. "I'm Tatanka Wangi—Ghost Buffalo, but anything with 'buffalo' would be good."

The medicine man shows up around eight, and he sends Wayne and Calvin and me out to find a dog for the soup. He gives me and Calvin the stink eye because we aren't supposed to be there. This is deep Indian stuff, what is about to happen, and white people aren't usually allowed. But Wayne reassures us that we can stay—it's a ceremony for his son, he tells us, so it's his call. We put on our coats.

"Should be a puppy actually," Wayne says when we get out of the trailer. "Dog meat's too tough." Calvin visibly recoils at this, because he's a dog person.

"It's not that bad," Wayne says to Calvin. "Dog's a sacred animal, remember? Dogs used to help us when we was nomads, before we had horses. But white people always gotta get so shocked about it for some reason, like we're killing Lassie or something." I laugh to reassure Calvin, but I can tell he doesn't like it.

A feral dog had a litter a few weeks ago down by the river, and so we head that way. It's late spring, and the sun is still setting. There is a lot of traffic on the highway tonight because of basketball or something and we watch the headlights cut across the trash-covered fields and lawns. In someone's backyard, there are three children jumping on a trampoline in the twilight. They yell something at us as we pass, but we pretend not to notice.

At the river, Wayne takes out his flashlight, and we see the brown and gray bitch a few yards downstream by the water. She has the face of Lobster and short greasy hair. When we get to where she is crouched, she finally gets on her feet and backs away. It is clear from the way she moves that she is sick with something. Underneath where she was, we see six pups, one is inexplicably dead, but the rest are alive and squirming. Wayne grabs two and hands them to me. I hold them still.

"Two should be enough," he says, but then he reconsiders and grabs one more. They are very small. I don't look at Calvin.

"Let me show you how it's done," Wayne tells us. Then he takes the puppy's head in one hand and gives it a little twist. There's hardly a sound, but the puppy goes limp. Then he says something in Lakota to the dead puppy, and he hands it to me.

Later, while we are cooking the soup over a fire in Wayne's backyard, Wayne will use some nylon rope to tie the medicine man to a chair in the living room of his trailer, he will turn off the TV and the lights, he will shutter all of the windows, and Wayne will lock the medicine man in the house alone, because that is how the ceremony is done. And the five of us will wait in backyard—the baby wrapped in blankets against the cool night. And from inside the house, the medicine man will bring the spirit world down on Wayne's trailer, and the spirits of the dead will descend upon us. They will free the medicine man from the ropes, they will unlock the doors of the trailer, and then they will give Wayne's son a Lakota name.

Kaj Tanaka is a recent graduate of the MFA program at the University of Arkansas. He has stories in or coming from Monkeybicycle, Knee Jerk, PANK and others.

Detail of photo on main page courtesy of paukerman.

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