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  Frank Manley: The Indian Way

I told him I was married to an Indian once, and he said he lived with one himself, but it was a man. They lived with his aunt in Tuba City. She had a trailer. He had a job at the Taco Bell--if you call that a job.

I said, How did you like it?

He said, It was all right. He didn't know. He hadn't thought about it one way or the other.

I told him I did, and I didn't like it.

He said, What? Marrying an Indian?

And I said, Yeah. She had a resentment.

He said, Against what?

And I said, Me! and started laughing.

He said, Hell, that ain't so funny. Lots of folks probably feel like that.

I said, Shit.

He said, Fuck you! and started to get up.

He was an ornery son of a bitch. Just had a fight with a plumber's helper about what makes more gas, beer or whiskey. I said, Sit down. I don't want to have to whip your ass. She was peculiar, that's what I mean. She didn't like white people. Marrying her was like marrying Martin Luther King as far as that was concerned. It wasn't just me. I didn't take it personal. I was real good to her. Good as she'd let me. Trouble is, she wouldn't let me much, you know what I mean.

She said, It's hard being an Indian.

I said, Hell, Lily, it's hard being a white man too. She said, It's a whole lot harder being an Indian. I said, That depends. She said, On what? I said, On if you're working or not.

I was laid off at the time. Drinking too much.

Hard times.

She said, That's how Indians live all the time.

I said, They got the government helping. That makes it different. She said, You do too. Unemployment. I said, Except when it runs out. She said, It ran out on Indians a long time ago. Besides, I didn't know what I was talking about. I wasn't an Indian.

She was right about that. I don't know what I'm talking about half the time. Most folks don't, that's my observation.

He said, How come you married her, then?

I told him I was drunk at the time. I was working for the government. Bureau of Indian Affairs. Traveled around with this crew they got, building things on reservations. Traveled ten states. I was in Arizona two weeks when I got drunk and ended up in the back seat of a car with an Indian woman ten years older than I was and married her before I knew what I was doing. Both of us were drunk when we did it, and not only that she was already married.

He said, Already married! He couldn't believe it. I said, Yeah. That's how they do. That's the Indian Way. Women marry two or three husbands.

He said, What! She wasn't divorced?

I said, No. There's a whole lot of difference between us and an Indian.

He didn't know that.

He said, What about men?

I said, No, just the women. The Indian Way is women marry two or three men. I stayed with her a couple of months, and I must have seen one or two of them.

He said, What--husbands?

I said, Yeah.

I didn't know for certain, of course. But I didn't tell him. Some of them might have been brothers or uncles. She wouldn't talk about it much.

He said, Sounds like they got it all over us in the marriage department.

Women do, I said. Not men. Might as well live inside of a whorehouse with only one whore as marry an Indian. I couldn't stand it. He said, Hell, I don't blame you for that. I couldn't either. I was paying for it, I said, and they were shaking the fruit off the tree.

He said, I wonder what they're thinking about when they do it.

I said, Same thing you are, most probably.

He said he never heard of anything like that in his life. Indians he knew weren't like that.

I said, You ever marry one?

He said, No. But it wasn't like that in Tuba City.

I said, That's Tuba City. Besides, they don't advertise in the papers.

Then he said, I know! She was a Mormon!

I said, No way, José. She was a member of the Native American Church.

You know what that means? Means you hate whites. That's their religion.

He said, Is that right? That made it kind of uncomfortable, didn't it? I said, That's right. It made it damn uncomfortable. That's what I been trying to tell you.

I was working at the Hopi Cultural Center. This was before I met Lily. I didn't know too much about Indians then. We were having to put in a kitchen. The one they had wouldn't pass the Health Inspection. Nothing worked--dirty as hell. You could get ptomaine poisoning just looking at it.

I said, What's wrong? Health Inspector came around one day, I asked him, What's wrong? What happened around here anyway? He said, They don't even have a word for it in their language.

I said, What?

He said, Maintenance. They don't even know what it means.

I could see that, I said. Hell, I ain't much on maintenance myself. That's how come I got this way, and started laughing. I said, What's the use? Throw it away if it's broke, don't fix it.

Anyway, they still had the motel. People could stay there if they wanted. Eat there, too, if they had the kitchen. Won a prize for looking like an Indian village. No grass. Dirty looking, sand colored buildings. Desolate as hell. But it didn't look Indian to me. Most Indian villages I ever saw were made out of trash and piles of rock. Take Old Walpi, Moenkopi. They don't look like that motel. But what the hell? Nobody stayed there anyway but Germans, mostly. What do they know? The motel was open. They had the rooms. They just didn't have the kitchen. Had to eat at the Nova-Ki Restaurant on Second Mesa, next to the Secakuku Supermarket, below Shongopovi. That's the only restaurant they had for hundreds of miles.

Authentic Hopi food. Blue corn pancakes, atole for breakfast. Nok qui vi. Sheep stew with hominy in it. I don't mean hominy grits. I mean lumps as big as your thumb. I thought it was fat the first time I saw it. That or else some kind of grub. Indians eat that kind of shit. Nok qui vi ain't so bad if you don't have to look at it. Same thing with fry bread. Fry it in sheep fat. Indian taco--that's like a pizza. Put it on fry bread. Germans won't eat that kind of shit. Hell, I don't blame them. I wouldn't either, and I'm a real American. They finally had to hire a cook to cook something different. He was cooking when I was there. Little old Mexican from down by Nogales, between that and Agua Prieta. There wasn't a whole lot of difference between what he cooked and the Indians. It tasted pretty much the same except you knew what the Mexican's was. That's the main difference. With Indian cooking you never knew. It wasn't like eating regular food. Anyway, I finished work and went to my room. I was staying at the motel. I had a little drink or two. Checked out a bat I saw hanging on the roof outside my door. Then I got in the truck and drove on down to the Nova-Ki Restaurant to get me some dinner. After that, I was going back and watch some TV.

One channel--that's all they got. One little pissant channel. I asked the man at the desk how come, and he said, That's all there is. I said, Why don't you get you some more?"

He said, I can't. There ain't no more.

I said, What the hell you talking about?

He said, That's it. That's all there is.

He meant in the world. First, Second, Third Mesa. Hopi Reservation world. They get one channel--that's all there is. I said, Let me tell you something, Chief. I've been all over, and they got TV. They got two or three hundred channels out there. Get you a dish.

He said, You're a white man. Tell me something. You know how it works?

I said, What--the TV? Just turn it on.

He said, No, what makes it do it?

I said, I don't know. Waves in the air. That and electricity.

He said, What's electricity?

I said, You know--kind of like lightning except it's in wires. The wires pick up the waves in the air, and that makes the TV. He said, Is that right?

I could see the son of a bitch didn't believe me. He said, You know what we think it is. He meant the old, traditional Hopi.

I said, No, Chief. I was dying to hear.

They thought it was spirits. The old Kachinas--the voices of the ancestor spirits--come back to life. Some whole other kind of world buried under a mountain near Flagstaff.

I said, Is that right?

He said, Yeah.

I said, Listen, Chief. Turn on the light, it comes on--right? Turn on the TV, that's all there is to it. You don't have to know what it is. He said, What about the messages?

I said, What messages?

He said, The messages on TV.

He meant spirit messages.

I didn't even argue with him. They got their ways, we got ours. One thing I learned from living with Lily is you don't want to argue with them. Let them be or kill them, one. But don't ever try to argue with them.

Anyway, I got in the truck and drove on down to the Nova-Ki Restaurant to get me some dinner. It was raining--raining like hell. It don't usually rain in the desert. That's what made it sort of peculiar. I thought to myself, This is peculiar, raining like this in the dark of the desert. Miles and miles of rain in the dark.

I was going past Shungopovi. I could see the lights of the houses far off on my right, crowded on the edge of the mesa, and after that nothing except the dark and the rain falling through it. I was just going down the side of the cliff, dropping off the edge of the mesa, following the road, trying to see where I was going, when all of a sudden I saw something in the glare of the headlights--some kind of animal. I was just about on it. I hit the brakes, and they grabbed and locked, and I started skidding. The tires were squealing. I tried not to hit it, but I couldn't help it. I kept on skidding across the road and got it stopped right at the guard rail. I got out and looked. Four hundred feet straight down. I almost had a heart attack. I went back to check, see what I hit. I thought it had to be a goat. That or a sheep. I turned it over with my foot, and it was a frog! God damn bull frog! I couldn't believe it. There I was out in the desert, no water for hundreds of miles, slick rock and sand, raining like hell, and what do I hit? A God damn bull frog!

I thought at first it fell from the sky. Then I saw the Sacred Spring. The headlights were on it. The truck was kind of turned around backwards, pointing uphill. And there it was on the side of the cliff. Steps up to it carved in the rock. They call it the Sacred Spring, but it's more like a seep on the side of the mesa. They walled it up to catch the water and made a couple of pools at the bottom. Used to get their water there in the old days, before they drilled a well at Shungopovi. Dirty, scummy looking place. I wouldn't drink it. Smelled bad. Green stuff all over the top of the water. A couple of trees. They call them trees. Looked more like bushes.

That's where it lived. That's where it came from. It started raining, and the frog didn't know. It probably never rained there before in its life, and it thought the whole world was turning to water and took off down the road.

Big ass frog! I picked it up. Not a mark on it. It might have been stuffed, it was so perfect. I'm from Biloxi, Mississippi, and we eat a lot of frog down there. I was getting homesick just looking at it, so I picked it up and threw it in the back of the truck and drove on down to the Nova-Ki Restaurant. I figured I'd get them to cook it for dinner. I was real hungry.

I parked the truck and went around and got the frog and took it in. I had a hold of it by the hind legs. I held it up and showed it to them and said, Here it is! Cook it up for me!

They said, What?

I said, This, and shook it at them. I said, This is a perfect frog. Not a mark on it. I don't think I actually hit it. I think I must have scared it to death.

The Mexican cook just looked at me. You know how they do. You never know what a Mexican's thinking.

I said, Go on. Rustle it up. I'll be right here, having some of this here salad bar.

The Mexican put in a salad bar when he started working there. That's the only thing he did that was different.

I got me a dish full of lettuce and cheese, tomatoes and jalapeños and such. Then I said, Get me Coke-Cola.

They can't sell drinks on the Reservation, but you can get a Coke-Cola. I put a little whiskey in mine. I had a pint of good rye whiskey in a paper sack under the table, so I poured me a drink. I ate the salad and drank about half the Coke-Cola when all of a sudden here come some Indians stomping in, shaking the rain off and saying how it's raining like shit, and so on and so forth. Three men and a woman. They came in and sat down a little ways back at another table. Every now and then they'd check me out and say something real low so I couldn't hear them. I figured they were talking about me, but I let it go. They were drinking whiskey out of sack, same as I was, and one of them got up and came over and asked me what the hell I thought I was doing there. I looked up at him. I said, Waiting on my frog.

That pissed him off. I figure anything I said would have probably pissed him off. That's how Indians do, they get drinking. He said, Get up, you God damn son of a bitch. I'm going to beat the shit out of you.

I said, What for?

He said, Smart assing me. You ain't even supposed to be here.

I said, How come?

He said, No bahanas.

I didn't even know what he was talking about. I said, Chief, that sounds Indian to me. I don't talk the Indian language. He said, It means whites. No bahanas means no whites. You ain't supposed to be in here.

I said, How come?

He said, Reservation policy.

I knew he was lying. Ever since they closed down the kitchen at the Hopi Cultural Center, it was the only place to eat for hundreds of miles--all the way back to Tuba City. It was usually full of German bahanas any time of the day or night.

I said, How about you?

He said, What?

I said, You look white to me.

He said, Bullshit! and started laughing.

He thought I was kidding, which of course in a way I was. I knew he wasn't white. He was a God damn Indian. But he wasn't a nigger, that's what I meant. He just about had a fit, laughing and carrying on like you do when it ain't funny, but you're real drunk.

He went over and told the others, but they didn't laugh. Then he came back over to me and said that really pissed him off. I figured he was drunk enough to be trouble, so I laid low. I told him I was from Mississippi, and I didn't know about Arizona. It's probably different out here, I said. But where I come from, there's a big difference between an Indian and a nigger. The way I look at it, I said, is you're Indian, and I'm white, and I don't give a shit one way or the other. How about you and me having a drink?

I showed him the paper sack full of whiskey, and that quieted him down a little. Indians are all right except when they're drinking. Then they're dangerous as hell.

Same as everybody else, I reckon.

They came over and had a drink, and we were talking about this and that when all of a sudden they started going on again about how I shouldn't even be in there. No bahanas and all that shit.

They said, It's dangerous! This is a dangerous place for you, bahana, you little son of a bitch--grinning and laughing so I didn't know if they meant it or not.

I said I was just passing through. I wasn't fixing to make it a habit.

I wanted my dinner, then I was going.

And just about that time they brought it out.

It was on a platter, just like a pot roast. New potatoes on one side, carrots on the other. The frog was kind of laying on top. They cooked the whole God damn thing, head and all. It looked to me like they roasted it. That or else they parboiled it. I couldn't tell. It was all white and laying on its back like a baby. It looked just like a parboiled baby, it was so white, with its little arms and legs sticking out, hanging off the sides of the platter. It had a tomato in its mouth. One of those little cherry tomatoes. That's how come I thought it was baked.

The cook set it down, and the Indians got up and looked at it, and one of them said, What's that? Like he never saw a frog before. The woman with them didn't say a word. She just stood up and looked at it and turned around and went across the room to the window and stared out at the dark.

I said, What's the hell's matter with her?

One of them said, I don't know.

The woman didn't even turn around. She looked out the window at all that rain and said, Frog Woman! Oh my God! Her voice was shaking like she was crying.

One of the men said, What do we do?

Another one said, Nothing. They already killed it. Killed it and cooked it. God damn! What's going to happen? And so on and so forth. You'd have thought it was the Baby Jesus, the way they were carrying on.

I said, Forget it. It's just a frog. Look here. I stuck a fork in it, and they all started yelling at once. They had this crazy look on their face.

I poked around some more and said, Look here. They gutted it. That got them going again, but I didn't pay them any attention. I was glad they gutted it. I was afraid they might have forgot.

I kept poking it with a fork and said, Look. They filled it with something.

That got their attention. It was real quiet, and they said, What?

I poked it some more and said, I don't know. Frog dressing.

They said, What's that?

I said, Like turkey, only it's frog.

That's when I figured out that they baked it.

The woman didn't say a word. She stared at the rain outside the window. Then she went and crossed the room and sat in one of the booths as far away as she could get.

I said to them, What's the matter with you, anyway? You're supposed to be Indians. I thought you ate anything.

They said, No. Not frogs.

I said, What's the matter with frogs?

They said, Nothing. They just quit eating them, that's all.

I said, When?

They said, A long time ago. A hundred years ago or more. That's when they put them on reservations. The reason they quit eating frog is they didn't have to anymore. The government fed them. But they said, No. It was when the Fifth World was created, and the people came up through a hole in the ground and started wandering around, looking for a place to stay. They started off somewhere in the East. They said it was green. The whole place was green and covered with water. I said, Sounds like Mississippi to me. I was just joking, but it wasn't a joke to them. They were real serious about it. It was like their religion.

They said, That country was full of frogs. The frogs made it fertile.

That's why it was green. Green with frogs.

I said, Is that right?

Then they ended up in the desert. Frogs were scarce. They were too sacred to eat in the desert. They needed the smelt. They needed the water to make the corn grow. They prayed to Frog Woman to send them the rain.

They were talking Indian talk by then, and the woman was crying. I said, What's the matter now? And one of them said, She had an abortion. Two or three of them. Seeing that frog makes her feel guilty. Besides that, she doesn't know what's going to happen.

I said, Like what?

They said, The rain. It might never quit. It might just keep on raining forever. Or else it might quit, and everything'll dry up and blow away. Who knows? Frog Woman's gone. Frog Woman's dead and gone. How's the corn going to grow now? Who's going to put the seed in the woman? Where's the smelt going to come from? It might be the end of the world.

And so and so forth.

I thought, Shit, it already is. But I let it go. I wasn't about to argue with them. A frog's a frog where I come from. But it made me uneasy. I looked out the window, and it was still blowing. The rain was still ratcheting the window. The roof was still rattling. I never saw it rain like that before.

The world's coming to an end, I thought. So what? That ain't so bad.

There're worse things can happen.

They already did.

Just about that time the cook stuck his head out, and the Indians got him and showed him the frog and asked him what the hell he thought he was doing. But he wouldn't say. He just looked uneasy. One of them asked him how he'd like to eat it. And he said he wouldn't. He was a Catholic. It's against their religion to eat things like that. Frog's from the devil. Got the devil's sperm in its mouth, the print of the devil's hand on its back, and so on and so forth. I didn't pay him any attention.

I said, What did you do to it--bake it?

He said, Yeah. He parboiled it first to get the skin off. That was the worst. He had to use pliers.

I said, You cooked it in the skin? I couldn't believe it.

He said, Parboiling, he did.

I said, You ever cook a frog before?

He said, No. Not exactly.

I said, Well, I can't eat that.

The Indians said they didn't blame me. They wouldn't eat it on a bet. The cook was getting pissed off by then. Mexicans pride themselves on their cooking. I don't know why, but that's a fact. The cook said, Who brought it in here? Answer me that. It ain't on the menu. You asked me to cook it.

Not like that, I said.

He said, How did you want it cooked?

I said, Fried. Cut off the legs and fry them like chicken.

He said, What about the rest of it?

I said, Throw it away.

That got one of the Indians tickled.

You throw away a chicken? he said.

I said, Yeah, after I eat it.

That got him real tickled again.

That's right, he said. That's how we do. That's the Indian Way. That's the Indian Way of eating a chicken. He started laughing and couldn't stop, it was so funny. He kept on saying it over and over. The cook wasn't paying him any attention. He looked at me and said, What you want to do with it, then, you aren't going to eat it? The woman said, Eat it! Oh, my God!

One of them said, Hang it up on the wall!

The cook picked it up and carried it off, and I paid him for it and got him to fix me an Indian taco and refried beans and ate that and drank some more Coke-Cola, and after a while the Indians started asking me what I was doing there again, and I'd tell them, and they'd nod their heads like, that's right, they just remembered, and after a while they'd forget what it was and start asking me all over again.

That's how they do, I thought to myself. That's the Indian Way. Not eating frogs and drinking too much and getting drunk and asking me what I was doing there over and over. That's the Indian Way. There's one way for us. The White Way. And there's another Way for them. The Indian Way. And they're entirely different. That frog proved that. They used to eat buzzards and snakes in the old days. Whatever they had to. That was the Indian Way back then. It was all natural. Then they put them on reservations, gave them a lot of government handouts, and they forgot how to do for themselves. That's how come they're like that now. They forgot the old Indian ways and never did learn the new. In the old days, hell, they'd have eaten that frog skin and all without even cooking it. Just heat it on rocks. That's how they're supposed to do. But they aren't real Indians. Not any more. They aren't red, and they aren't black, and they aren't white, and they aren't Mexicans, and they aren't even Indians anymore, either.

Take that Indian woman I married. She was white when she was drunk. She acted just like a regular white woman in bed. But the next morning, when she woke up, she didn't know what she was anymore. That's how come she had a resentment. If she was a real Indian, she wouldn't have married me in the first place.

The Indian Way is not getting drunk and loving your husbands and eating frogs and whatever else you can catch. That's how Indians are supposed to do. They're close to nature. Living with whites made them all different. That's what's wrong with Indians.

I told her--I said, Hell, Lily, you'd be a whole lot better off being a nigger. I'd rather live with a nigger anytime of the day or night than live with an unhappy Indian like you.

And she agreed. She said it was the Indian Way.

I said, What Way? Indians ain't got a Way.

And she agreed.

She said, That's right. We lost the Way.

I said, Damn right! You used to have a Way, and you lost it. But she didn't care. She was drunk at the time. What did she care? They lost their Way, but it didn't matter. That's how come I knew I was right. If they had a Way, they wouldn't get drunk. If they had a Way, they would have cared about losing the Way. But they didn't care, so it didn't matter. All she knew how to do was get drunk. Then she was white, when she was drinking. Then she woke up, she was something else entirely different. But she didn't know what it was any more. She lost the Way.

I might have lost the Way myself.

Lily left me, I was drinking. I hadn't worked in a year and a half. She couldn't stand it. Hell, I couldn't stand it myself. I told her, I don't blame you, Lily. I'd divorce me too if I knew how to do it. I mean outside of killing myself. And you know what she said? She said, You already done it. That's why I'm leaving.

I thought about that, and you know what I thought? I thought, Hell, she might be right.

I lost the Way.

I ain't an Indian, but that's how I feel.

I lost the Way.

It's like I couldn't figure it out, and then all of a sudden I did.

All Indians ain't Indians, maybe.

Maybe some of them are white.

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Copyright © 1999 Frank Manley. All rights reserved.