Enzo took the wheel when he was up and drove all morning, saying he’d never seen such empty spaces. When the map told them they were near the Wildrose Reservation, he pulled over at the sight of a hitch-hiking man with long black hair and a deadpan face who ambled to the car and climbed in, reeking of alcohol. “I want to talk to Indians. The real Americans,” Enzo said.
The man didn’t reply, but as they approached a crossroad with no signs, trees, buildings or anything that distinguished it, the man gripped the doorknob and said, “I’ll get out here.”
Enzo pulled over. “Is this the reservation?” The man released the doorknob. “OK, you keep going. You go talk to Strong Hawk. Very, very wise man.” Then he ducked out of the car and walked backward, bobbing at them before turning down the crossroad.
Enzo said, “I heard Indians are alcoholics. I hope we find a sober one.”
“Do you realize how many stereotypes you have? You also say the Indians are an oppressed proletariat ready to rise up.”
Enzo said, “That’s social science, not a personal stereotype.”
“Not everyone is Italian, you know. Or even European.”
At an intersection where a small sign indicated Wildrose Reservation, Enzo turned onto a two-lane road of bumpy, cracked asphalt. Along both sides lay rusting cars, some with flat tires, others at such odd angles Sylvie couldn’t figure how they’d ended up that way. She’d been right in wanting to leave the States, she thought. This place proved its violent nature, its enduring abasement of those most vulnerable.
Enzo observed, “Don’t they have mechanics out here?”
“Please stop it,” she said.
They drove through barren snow-dusted plains dotted with naked trees until reaching a row of angled parking spaces. Unpainted clapboard buildings—two tourist shops and the post office—comprised the town. Enzo kept the engine running to stay warm while Sylvie entered the larger store called, with little imagination and a nod to tourists, “The Trading Post.” Tables were laden with necklaces and bracelets of Venetian glass beads, an array of turkey feathers dyed in gaudy colors, silver jewelry and Wildrose souvenir key chains and ashtrays. She visited the other store and found shelves of books and spinning metal racks of postcards presided over by a white man in a plaid shirt and bolo tie sitting on a stool behind a counter. She picked up two postcards and a few books about Lakota history and took them to the counter. Through the window she saw Enzo standing by the car smoking.
“That’s a good book, but here’s some better ones.”
The owner-proprietor-cashier walked her to the bookcases and pulled out one on the Lakota and Cheyenne. Sylvie wondered how he was allowed to operate a storeon the reservation.
“Have you heard of Strong Hawk?” she asked.
“Of course,” he answered. “James Strong Hawk.”
“How can I find him?”
“Funny, that guy’s becoming famous. Stay on this road, go ‘round the first curve, cross the bridge, then go about ten miles to another big curve. There’s a sign in front of his house with his name on it.”
She carried her purchases to the car. “Why didn’t you come inside?”
Enzo shrugged. “Wanted a smoke.”
They followed the directions until there at a curve where the road turned sharply left stood two small houses, a modular house and another house pieced together with found objects like an art installation—wooden crates, car windows, sheets of corrugated metal, tree trunks holding up the roof, even a pair of antlers. A sign between the houses read, “Strong Hawk’s Paradise.”
Originally from the Chicago suburbs, Deborah Clark Vance has lived throughout the US and in Italy. While raising her children, she earned a living by teaching piano lessons, selling her original artwork, editing a health journal, translating Italian, writing freelance articles and textbook chapters, working on a children’s educational TV series, teaching in a day treatment program for adults with mental and emotional illnesses, creating garden designs and teaching as a college adjunct. After completing a Ph.D. in Communication and Culture at Howard University, she taught and served as Chair of the Department of Communication & Cinema at McDaniel College in Maryland. Although she also contributed articles and chapters to academic publications, those only earned her a modicum of prestige rather than income. She’s keenly interested in the natural world as well as in social justice, spirituality and women’s issues. “Sylvie Denied” is her debut novel.