As part of my requirements for my English Literature degree, I took many creative writing courses. In one of the classes, we were asked to read “Reservation Blues” by Sherman Alexie. Until this class I had never read the book but I was familiar with the highly entertaining movie “Smoke Signals,” also written by Sherman Alexie. As part of one assignment, we were asked to write a short story that took place in the world created in “Reservation Blues.”
I chose to write a Prequel of sorts that I called “Sparks in the Wind.” I did my best to write the story in the same thread and style that Alexie uses – lyrical, mystical and honest. My story touches upon alcoholism and loss – but also the magical way a story can create another world for us to escape to, where we feel safe and can process the uncertainty around us.
SPARKS IN THE WIND
It has been said that when Thomas Builds-the-Fire was born, a star fell from the sky and landed in the fireplace of his parent’s home on the Spokane Indian Reservation. The sparks created a rush of wind that blew through the house, rattling the windows and singeing the bottom of the cotton kitchen curtains. Thomas’ father, Samuel, stamped and hollered at the windy sparks, swinging at them with his meaty arms and dousing them in alcohol. But this only made the sparks grow larger and more furious, strong enough to push through his mother Susan’s embrace and steal Thomas’ first breath.
They say this is what made Thomas weak and that a secret illness in his unborn days gave him the gift of stories. Stories that would linger and burn his tongue until his only relief came from uttering the words to any nearby ear. But before he could form words, he would cry. Some say the fire wind’s touch is what caused Susan’s cancer, its furor multiplied by Samuel’s burning liquor. It burned her blood. It got a taste for her soul. It remembered her for later.
Thomas did not grow to the height of the other children. He could run and swim and eat at the table, but he was slower, heavier and shorter. His back was like an old man’s spine, tired and crooked. His mother would hold him on her lap and tell him tales of the faraway mountains, because their evening outline was too far for him to see. On those nights, Susan’s smell lingered in her hair, falling all around Thomas like the most beautiful dark waterfall that would capture him and float him home safe.
But Samuel was a tower to Thomas; his walls were impenetrable and his eyes too high to meet. When he was drunk (and he was drunk often), Samuel was a shadow along the walls of the house, lurking and throwing secret glances, snickering at Thomas and Susan who huddled around the safe light of the table side lamp. Susan would whisper songs of comfort, songs that told Thomas of things he had never even dreamed. She covered his eyes and rocked him back and forth, her steady motion taking Thomas away to the wind, who promised Susan to take him to the crossroads and beyond. Samuel’s hands were curled from the shape of the Coors Light can. His pockets had holes from money falling, falling, falling away. The empty echoes in their kitchen cupboards would go on for years.
When Thomas was ten years old, Susan died. She closed her eyes and let out one last breath that carried all her pain away. The force of that breath was so strong that it sent Thomas’ hair flailing into the air. And that one breath told a thousand stories that he had never heard before. Like a story about how one day, she spent the entire morning and afternoon watching the passing clouds. The warmth of the sun had melted into her and would leave its imprint on her skin for days after, but she would not look away. She saw the outlines of a thousand warriors, their hair flowing in the wind, riding horses that spit fire. The warriors looked her in the eye and called out her name. They rode for years, on many different horses, until darkness fell and they were gone.
When his wife died, the last of Samuel’s sobriety died with her. It reached out and grabbed hold of her last breath, waving at Thomas as it hitched a free ride into extinction. “Good luck!” Samuel’s sobriety shouted, lackadaisically propping up on its elbow. “Cause you’re gonna need it!”
If Thomas had thought he was hungry before, he was not. True hunger was when his stomach growled louder than the neighbor’s crazy dog, clawing at his insides until surely he would bleed and the blood would keep him going a little longer. If Thomas thought he was cold before, he was not. A true chill could bury into his very bones and hold them still, so that he could not shiver to warm-up or raise the blanket over his head. If Thomas thought his father was drunk before, he was not. When he drank, Samuel could find a whole new place within himself, a place where he could go to that was numb and without memory. Sometimes this place had the power to transport his body to another land, and he would wake up in an entirely different spot than he crashed on. Sometimes Samuel would run from the shadow on the wall, the one that took such pleasure in the fear of his wife and tiny child. But he would run out of breath and only find it again in the bottom of the beer can.
At moments like these, Thomas told himself stories. Like his father, Thomas could also transport himself to different places, but he didn’t need a stream of liquor as his magic carpet ride. His whispered words would float into the chilled air of the little basement that he called his room. Climbing higher and higher, they would escape through the cracks in the wall and soar away, until finally snuggling into the ears of the sleeping neighbors. The slumbering neighbors would scratch at their ear and rustle in their sleep, but that story was burrowing deeper and deeper into their unconscious dreams. When they awake the next morning, the story is just a distant memory that they spend all day grasping to remember.
When Thomas was finally old enough to meet his father’s gaze, his father was long, long gone. The tower had crumbled and only ruins remained, haunted by spirits of the past. Thomas was a visitor, looking upon the ruins with wide eyes. Seeing things he had never seen before. People spoke of Samuel in whispers, about how the man was gone and an empty body remained. So Thomas turned these whispers into a story. It was a story about a hundred years of rage that became a man. This man walked the warm earth and breathed air and took a wife. His wife conceived a son, who was surrounded by his father’s rage while in the womb, like molten lava. It burned the woman’s throat and made her dream endlessly. When she finally gave birth, fire lit through the air. And the man-who-raged burned and floated away, like sparks in the wind.