This week from the Winter 2020 issue, we’re featuring ‘A Parable of Things That Crawl and Fly’ by Graham Robert Scott and Wallace Cleaves. Be sure to read the entire story after picking up your very own copy of Issue 25 from the Pulp Literature bookstore!
A Parable of Things That Crawl and Fly
by Graham Robert Scott and Wallace Cleaves
Every hour, every minute, I hear the throaty, chuckling call of a raven. Sometimes He makes a showing. On the afternoon our unexpected visitors arrived, He appeared and gave me a disapproving look with one eye. I read the look as You should be working, Helen. I gave Him side-eye: Even the turtles rest, Raven. I’d been on break for two minutes.
Far beyond Raven, past rows of unnaturally aligned palm trees, a plume of dust appeared on the road, the signature of a distant oncoming car foregrounded against foothills of umber and sienna. Neither Gabe nor I said anything about the approaching vehicle, though cars rarely came this way. Instead, Gabe tilted his spotted, bristly head toward me, slid a toothpick from one side of the mouth to the other, and flashed me a grin so I’d know a joke was coming.
“Met this guy, oh, would have been eleven years ago.” Gabe’s voice, a rich, dark timbre from a lifetime of smoking, has always reminded me of cracked leather. Thanks to a lifetime of field work, his skin did, too. “I was nursing a railway lager in this desert bar called Mama Jane’s—one of those places with pickups out front and semis clumped like Tetris blocks out back—and this dude drags himself onto the stool beside me. Bone tired. Eyes deep-seated. Hollow. Complexion, hair, facial structure of a full-blooded indigenous man. Which may have, I admit, prompted an involuntary snort on my part.”
I said nothing at this. I’m not always nice to reconstitines either. It’s not their fault, of course. Not anyone’s fault, really. Once folks realized they could swap out of their children’s DNA any trace of the white folks who had raped their way into the family tree, anyone who wasn’t an asshole thought that made good sense. But like other customs born of good intentions, the reconstitine practice got a bit carried away. Some faces have social capital. In time, families who had been white for generations, with no tribal affiliations or knowledge of Native cultures, were having kids who looked pre-Columbian. If it came down to splitting hairs, my problem wasn’t so much with the kids; my problem was with what they represented. But on my face, in the tone of my voice, it came out a lot like I didn’t like them, and I had long ago stopped apologizing for it.
“Of course, he heard me,” Gabe said, “so I felt obligated to apologize—”
“—and when he was cool about the whole thing, I felt maybe I owed him a conversation.”
The car came to a stop in the middle of the road for no apparent reason. I wondered whether someone was fiddling with directions, having an argument, necking in the backseat, taking a nap. Dust in the car’s wake settled onto tree branches, created plumes of spinning motes in waning sunlight.
“Turns out, my new friend was tired on account of a sick kid. Which, of course, meant now I had to ask about his boy. And that’s how I learned that, when he and his wife—also reconstituted—named their son, they wanted to use authentic Native American naming practices.”
“Oh, God,” I said.
“You know, those descriptive names. Drinks from Bottle. Eats with Ketchup. Fills a Diaper.”
Gabe knows this sort of thing makes me mutter. I’m only an eighth Tongva, but I’m a documented member of the tribe. Focused my whole life studying our culture. Three books. A career of public lectures and one film documentary. Thirty peer-reviewed articles. In the back room of the house, eleven cryocasks with minds bequeathed to my one-woman institute by passing elders. When I wasn’t listening to Gabe or the Raven, I listened to the minds, almost eleven hours a day. Tried to provoke memories with auditory, visual, olfactory cues. Tried to find evidence of what we used to be while it still existed. For decades, I’d been driven by the sense that I owed that to the relatives who once lived and thrived here. But even with the caskets and the minds in them, the work was hard. Memories deteriorated. Became closed off, inaccessible, harder to provoke. Turned out it was easier to summon up the faces of the past than to conjure their stories.
In the distance, the car started up again.
“This didn’t really happen, Gabe,” I said.
He gave me a look, daring me to contradict his tale. Then he continued. “Guess what they named their first son.”
Ugh. “Stands with DNA?”
He paused and waited, casual as the sun stretching its rays.
“They named their first son Only Child,” I clarified.
His grin revealed teeth. Right. Reconstitine couples sometimes needed pointers on birth control.
“Fine, I’ll bite. What did they name their second son?”
“Oh, hell,” Gabe said. “Neither was. Third time around, they said fuck it and named her Sarah.”
As the car hummed into the driveway of our farm and slid to a stop on a blanket of leaves, Raven—who had not moved this entire time—let out a throaty warble.
Gabe ignored the bird or didn’t hear Him. Instead, he gestured at the car. “Speaking of reconstitines.”
Graham Robert Scott is an English professor at Texas Women’s University, where he teaches writing and the occasional speculative fiction literature class. His stories have appeared in Nature, Barrelhouse, and X-R-A-Y Literary Mag. He has been collaborating with Wallace Cleaves on academic and creative projects for decades, and they are already at work on a new story.
Wallace Cleaves is Associate Professor of Teaching and Associate Director in the University Writing Program at the University of California at Riverside. He also teaches courses in medieval, Renaissance, and Native American literature. He is a member of the Tongva (also known as Gabrieleno) Native American community.