IN HIS MIND, Kyle Bear
Soldier turned the brown brick high rise complex into South Dakota buttes. He’d
gone back home a thousand times in the twelve months since he’d moved to
Minneapolis, but only one of those trips had been physical. In July, when he’d
been desperate for South Dakota skies and Lakota Sioux renewal, he’d gone home
for the Sun Dance. It was September now, almost time for school to start, and
his daily run was a good time to take himself back mentally, over the tops of
the tall buildings, beyond the trees and back home.
The city was a good place to
find employment. There was plenty of excitement, all kinds of amusement and
crowds of people—more people in a few square miles than could be found, living
or dead, in the whole expanse of his home state. Most of the time he could live
with that. There was a lot of asphalt, tons of concrete, but there were a good
number of parks, as well, and ten miles outside the city, a guy could find
peace beside a lake or a stretch of open field.
But there wasn’t a butte in sight, and
there were too many shade trees to suit Kyle. Pine trees were fine, but those
big leafy shade trees made it hard to see out, hard to breathe. And winter,
which would be coming on soon, might not have been quite as mean as it was in
South Dakota, but day after day, month after month, it was one hell of a lot of
gray and white.
There was a community of his people
here—a community within a community—and Kyle had come to the Twin Cities to be
part of it. Not only were there Lakota people from North and South Dakota, but
there were East River Sioux—the Dakota people—and there were Minnesota
Chippewa, who preferred to be called by their own name, which was Ojibwa. In
lesser numbers there were Native Americans from other parts of the country, all
come to the city to find a new life. Sometimes, as in Kyle’s case, they
actually found work. And, like Kyle, they all got homesick. They yearned for
the land that had given their ancestors sustenance, places where few manmade
structures rose above the ground floor. Their roots were on Indian
reservations, places generally known as "God’s country.”
And God’s country it was—God’s and what
was left of the creatures He’d designated to be the land’s native inhabitants.
Jobs were scarce in God’s country. There was little money there, and the food
on the hoof was, for the most part, claimed by somebody other than God these
"How’s it goin’, Kyle?”
He turned and slowed down to offer Tony
Plentykill a handshake. "Good.”
Tony, a man half a head shorter than
Kyle, was wearing a new shirt. He’d forgotten to take the little round
inspector’s sticker off the pocket, so Kyle did it for him. "Where you headed?”
"Feed.” Tony jerked his chin to
indicate the direction. "Over to the church. Then there’s a doings over at the
school gym. Two drums,” he said, wielding an imaginary drumbeater in one hand.
"Better get something to eat so you can really sing one.” He cupped the other
hand behind his ear and grimaced, as though he were getting into a song.
"I’ll be there. The kids have been
bugging me to put on the bear face again. That’s what I’m supposed to look like
when I dance.”
Tony gave a little yelp, punched Kyle’s
arm, and tapped one tennis shoe against the pavement. For a minute Kyle thought
the man was going to start grass dancing right there on the street.
He laughed and returned Tony’s punch.
"I can feel that drumbeat already. I’ll be there.”
CYNTHIA BOYER had learned her civic and
social responsibilities at her mother’s knee. Those who were privileged had
their obligations. Of late, Cynthia hadn’t felt very privileged, but she
thrived on responsibility, and it was about all that made sense anymore.
As a new
teacher at All Nations Elementary School in Minneapolis, she had decided to
focus her attention on the needs of her students’ neighborhood, to serve as
she’d always served, twice a month, with her hands as well as her checkbook. It
was the "hands” part that always drove her mother’s eyebrow into an arch of
displeasure, but it was Cynthia’s way of going Mother one better.
mother didn’t understand why she’d taken a teaching position, either, but then,
Mother hadn’t been childless, had never experienced a frigidly civilized,
no-fault divorce, and had undoubtedly never felt hollow inside. Cynthia didn’t
need a salary, but she desperately needed meaningful work. When school-board
member Karen Grasso had mentioned the vacancy at All Nations, Cynthia knew she
had found that work. Karen had been her friend forever, and she knew Cynthia
better than anyone did.
hadn’t met her students yet. She’d been interviewed by the school principal,
two parents, and someone from the central administration. They’d all asked her
how she felt about working in the neighborhood. The Phillips neighborhood was a
part of Minneapolis she had only driven through, and not often, but now she
would be driving to it every day. Did that scare her? she’d been asked.
Not at all, she’d answered. They’d smiled and nodded and offered her the job.
on the evening before her first staff meeting of her first day as a teacher at
All Nations, Cynthia had come to St. Jude’s church basement as one of the
volunteers who would help serve a free meal to the needy as part of the Loaves
and Fishes program.
Kopp ran the kitchen. The church paid her to see that all the serving spoons
found their way back into the right drawers, that the health-department codes
were followed, and that the teams of volunteers who came from all over the Twin
Cities were able to put a meal together on schedule.
come through the line, but they don’t pick up the trays,” Linda instructed. The
kitchen crew had already done most of their work, but they popped their heads
through the serving window to lend an ear while the serving team gathered around
the long spread of steaming pans and stacks of trays.
are handed to the guests after we fill them. If there’s enough left for
seconds, we have to use clean trays. They can’t bring dirty trays back up for
refills. Plastic gloves are required for volunteers.” She pointed toward the
dispenser box, and there was at least one disgruntled groan. "These are all
health-department regulations, you know.”
course,” the woman standing next to Cynthia mumbled, and she took it upon
herself to pull out several of the disposable gloves and distribute them. She
had introduced herself rather brusquely as Marge Gross. "Aprons are, too. Do
you have aprons?”
aprons, too, were disposable. Cynthia felt as though she were preparing to
operate on the green beans. She’d done a lot of volunteer work, but this was
her first Loaves and Fishes experience, and she got the feeling everyone around
her was gearing up for a race. She wondered who had the starter’s gun and where
the starting block was. At the very least, she wanted to be in the right
they come,” someone called from the back of the huge parish basement.
do peaches,” Marge said as she edged Cynthia away from the beans. Peaches were
fine, she thought absently as she watched the crowd pour in. They came in all
shapes, sizes, genders, and colors, but there was a preponderance of Native
Americans, and many of them were children. Undoubtedly some of them were those
she would spend the next nine months teaching about the visual arts.
sound of voices rolled over the serving table. Apparently the people were
hungry, for the line moved quickly, with each person’s eyes following the
progress of a tray from hand to hand on the servers’ side of the table. Hungry
people, Cynthia thought as she strained the juice from a spoonful of canned
peaches and plopped them into a corner compartment of a tray. But they didn’t
look particularly miserable or downtrodden. Mothers were trying to keep their
kids in line; friends were chatting, and youngsters were jostling for position.
They looked like people attending a potluck supper.
wasn’t potluck. This was charity, and these were poor people, and Cynthia was
performing a service.
who faced her across the table looked the part. His bulbous red nose and puffy
eyes branded him as readily as his tattered trench coat, which struck Cynthia
as odd apparel for such a warm evening. He scanned the table. "Spaghetti, huh?”
haven’t tried it, but I’m sure it’s tasty,” Cynthia said as she dished up more
isn’t, I know how to really heat things up.”
remark almost slid past Cynthia, but she stiffened when he slipped his hand
inside his coat. It happened so quickly that she didn’t have time to get her
vocal cords working and warn people to hit the deck.
hot sauce. A sly twinkle nearly displaced the weariness in the man’s face when
he showed it to her.
I...” Cynthia managed a wan smile as the tension eased from
her shoulders. "I guess that would do it.”
hold up the line,” Marge warned.
sauce disappeared as the man eyed Cynthia, placing a grubby finger to his lips
as a signal that he’d shared a secret with her.
Kopp slid behind Cynthia and touched her shoulder. "We need another
beverage-cart handler. George can handle this end of the table,” she said,
gesturing to the man who was handling trays and utensils.
was reassigned to a heavy-duty kitchen cart containing insulated carafes,
pitchers, milk cartons, cups, and condiments. She poured as fast as she could,
but the requests came faster. Her hands sweated inside the plastic gloves, and
hair stuck to her forehead. Two coffees. Five lemonades. Three milks. Four of
each. She didn’t have enough hands.
wants more lemonade.”
glanced down at a bright-eyed girl who’d just lost her two front teeth. Her
pigtails were banded in bows of red yarn, and she offered up a cup and the
smile of one who’d been specially chosen for an errand. Cynthia refilled the
cup and watched the child carry it toward the end of the table. She expected
the child to deliver the glass to the small boy whose chin was barely table
level but, instead, she handed it to one of the men.
thanked the girl, then flashed Cynthia a winning smile before turning back to
his conversation with two older men and a teenage boy. The dark-eyed smile
stunned her just as effectively as the man in line had, but the shock waves
went much deeper. Kyle whoever-he-was was, in a word, a knockout.
could not have been her own, Cynthia told herself. It must have been something
she’d read recently. There was a blob of sweat in the middle of his blue
T-shirt, and he wore a brow band. He’d obviously been running. He was ajock, for heaven’s sake. Not her type at all.
able-bodied as all get-out. Why did he expect to be waited on, and why wasn’t
he out working to pay for his supper?
mental "harrumph,” Cynthia pulled her thoughts away from the man and
continued to fill beverage requests without risking another glance toward the
end of his table. But soon the little girl was back.
coffee’s very hot,” Cynthia cautioned as she handed a cup of milk to another
small customer. "I don’t want you to burn yourself.”
carry it. I always get coffee.”
yourself, I hope.”
want some, I do.” The child waited a few seconds before patiently repeating
herself. "Kyle wants coffee.”
filled the cup and looked his way again. He was studying her, waiting. She
smiled pointedly for the helpful child. Not for the man. Did he think he was
patronizing a restaurant here? The little girl carried the cup away carefully,
and Cynthia went back to her work.
forgot. Kyle wants sugar.”
glanced up from the stream of milk she was pouring for another child. It was
the same obliging little girl, same large chocolate-drop eyes. Handsome is as
handsome does, Cynthia thought, and Kyle’s behavior surely let him out.
mom’s in line for us.” The little girl cocked her head to one side. "You new?”
didn’t know, but I’m—”
"I mean new.A new volunteer. I haven’t seen you here.”
Yes.” Cynthia smiled, rejecting the inclination to ask whether she came often.
"Where do you go to school?”
Nations,” the girl said, standing steadfast when an older girl tried to edge
her away from the beverage cart. "The almost new school.”
older girl’s request for lemonade registered with Cynthia, and she set about
filling a cup. "I’m going to be a teacher there this year.”
The little girl watched the lemonade change hands. "What grade?”
yeah. The last guy quit after somebody sort of doctored up the coffee in his
thermos bottle. Can I have the sugar?”
about some lemonade? Then I’ll just move over that way.” She shook a cup loose
from the stack as she pushed the cart between the row of chairs. It was time
she put an end to this go-fetch routine.
can I...” She thought better of saying "do for you?” and
said, instead, ". . . offer you gentlemen? Someone needed sugar?”
did,” the little girl insisted. "C’mon, Kyle. My mom’s up to the front. I’ll
let you cut in line.”
turned and offered the child a smile. "No, that’s okay.”
He was a
guest, Cynthia reminded herself when he lifted his dark eyes to meet hers. She
couldn’t quite remember why she’d taken up the cool pitcher in one hand and a
paper cup in the other. "You should get something to eat,” she said to the
would be good.” He snatched at the tip of one perky pigtail. "Then we’ll see if
Lee Ann leaves me anything.” The little girl giggled and whipped her pigtails
with a quick shake of her head. "Go on up there and help your mother, Lee Ann.
Hurry up, now.”
gangly young man shoved his empty cup Cynthia’s way. "Coffee,” he ordered, and
when she took the cup, he scowled at her hand. His glasses were held together
with adhesive tape at both temples, and he seemed to need to squint to focus.
"Do you have a hole in your gloves?”
examined her left palm, then turned her hand over, searching as she might for a
run in her stocking. "I don’t think so.”
man peered into her eyes, sober as a judge. "How’d you get your hands in them,
named Kyle was laughing along with the rest of the annoying men at his table.
Lee Ann had skipped off to join her mother, and Cynthia smiled tightly. She had
fallen headfirst for that one. Bristling a little, she moved her beverage cart
along and continued to do her job. She knew Kyle was watching her, and so she
deliberately ignored him. She had enough to do.
was hot, and the crowd kept her pouring in more ways than one. The only way to
keep the sweat from dripping off her brow and into the lemonade was to wipe it
with her sleeve. Her hands felt so clammy she wished she did have holes
in her gloves.
toddler appeared at her elbow with two chocolate cookies. "Milk would be good
with those,” Cynthia said.
child put one of the cookies on the corner of her cart, then tipped his head
back and waited for a sign of acceptance. Cynthia thanked him, and he shoved
the second cookie into his mouth and disappeared under the table.
you going to eat your cookie?” Kyle asked as he approached the cart, cup in
hand. "The kids are up there clamoring for the last of them, and that little
guy gave you one to eat. That’s his gift.”
glanced at Kyle, then at the cookie. No one was clamoring for anything to drink
at the moment. She had the feeling this was some sort of test, just like the
glove joke. She picked up the cookie with plastic-covered fingers and opened
her mouth to take a bite.
"’Course,I didn’t get any.”
glanced up. "No dinner at all?”
was clearing out now, and he was right. Cookies were the item most in demand at
the serving table. The rest was being cleared away. Spontaneously she offered
him the bit of food she held. He put his hand around hers, steadied the cookie
and took a bite. "Thanks.”
all right. I had supper before I came.”
He took a swallow of coffee, then shrugged dejectedly. "Guess I’ll have to go
looking somewhere else.”
must be something left,” she said quickly. "I think there’s milk. Green beans,
like the kids. I hate green beans just naked like that.”
her a boyish smile, and she thought, Picky, but said, "Naked?”
them better in something. Like soup, or a hot dish.”
"picky” wasn’t the right word. "But one cookie isn’t enough.”
time I’ll get in line right away.” He backed away smiling. "Thanks for sharing
a bite with me. Better than nothing, right?”
supper for me?” He obviously enjoyed the look of shock that registered on her
face. "Just kidding. See you around.” And he left without giving her a backward
looked awfully good in those running shorts.
supper for him?