A young Alaskan
man leaves his village for Anchorage, where he becomes
A surprising source gives him a way to discover his early hidden life.
Set in Anchorage and Petersburg, Alaska. 320 pages.
Table of Contents
CHAPTER 1. The Flapping Thing 2
CHAPTER 2. The Lookout 16
CHAPTER 3. Waiting for the Tide 23
CHAPTER 4. Painter of Rugs 34
CHAPTER 5. Trip to the Port 43
CHAPTER 6. Working the Crowd at McDonald's 53
CHAPTER 7. Bingo with Miss Finersail 63
CHAPTER 8. Train Ride to Whittier 71
CHAPTER 9. Hustace Kemp 81
CHAPTER 10. Fists 87
CHAPTER 11. Floating 94
CHAPTER 12. Uho! 101
CHAPTER 13. The Shade 110
CHAPTER 14. Poems 122
CHAPTER 15. Brother Francis 130
CHAPTER 16. The Small X 138
CHAPTER 17. The Duffle Bag 146
CHAPTER 18. Night Stick 154
CHAPTER 19. Flunker 163
CHAPTER 20. The Man with the Wobbly Head 171
CHAPTER 21. Herring 184
CHAPTER 22. The Raiders 194
CHAPTER 23. Warm Are My Insides 202
CHAPTER 24. Breakfast with Minnie 209
CHAPTER 25. Festival 220
CHAPTER 26. The First Word Uncle Joseph Said to Me 227
CHAPTER 27. Night Watch 232
CHAPTER 28. Village Council Secretary 238
CHAPTER 29. One Duffle Bag and a City Cab Ride 243
CHAPTER 30. Anne in the Galley 249
CHAPTER 31. Morn! Forstaar du? 258
CHAPTER 32. The Yellow Package 267
CHAPTER 33. Pretending 274
CHAPTER 34. Call to Dunton Cove 279
CHAPTER 35. Slivers in my Feet 286
CHAPTER 36. The Dream Listener 291
CHAPTER 37. Visit 299
CHAPTER 38. The Vok 307
CHAPTER 39. Straps 314
CHAPTER 40. Third Birth 318
CHAPTER 1. The Flapping Thing
A Husky that was running loose ate the left side of Ferris's face after he
froze in the alleyway that night. The people took a collection and shipped
his body home to the village and his mom placed him on his side in the
church so his torn face would not show. We were sad and missed Ferris, but
I still wanted to leave.
"Aunt Nancy, please tell mom I'll be O.K."
"Aunt Nancy, tell her. I got to go. I don't want to be here. I want
Anchorage, where Henry is."
"Quiet! Sad time for Ferris's family; all you think about is running off
to Anchorage. You show respect for the dead."
"Aunt Patricia, will you help?"
"Oh, Charlie. This is not the time to beg like that. You sound like a
puppy dog, yapping, wanting to go out."
"You got to stand up for me. Mom keeps telling me Anchorage is no
good. Henry's there. He likes the city. I'll do what he says."
"Here comes the reader. He'll hear you. Show respect. You knew
Ferris since you were a little boy. You should feel bad that he died like that.
Don't you feel anything?"
"I want to go away, Aunt Patricia. Now that Ferris had this
"Accident? Henry says Ferris passed out from drinking too much.
Cops couldn't see him in the alley. Trouble. Bad place."
"You sound like mom. You and Aunt Nancy been there. You liked it,
you always said so."
"Not what you think. Quiet: your mom's here."
My mom moved like a ghost through the west entrance. Her eyes
were half-closed and shadows from candle light touched her face. She did
not look to the church front, at the Ikonostas, the image screen, and she kept
her eyes off the Holy Door in the image screen's center. The Sanctuary,
where the altar stood, was behind the image screen and we never entered
there, through the Holy Door. We did not have a Russian Orthodox priest
for the funeral; so, our village reader started the service, and he spoke
Dena'ina, and then English. The words were for the people, as Ferris's mom
wished, as the villagers wished. A few villagers stood on either side of the
railed Kliros and sang those songs; one song was sung in Russian, a song
that Ferris liked when he went Starring with us during Christmas. The
people stood, except Ferris's mom, who was weak, and sat with that old
woman who didn't walk so good. I never could remember the old woman's
name: Anne, or Annie or...never liked that old woman; I was glad she was
over on the women's side of the Body of the Church. She was too creepy.
Ferris's casket was below the reader. The Body of the Church was small,
and Ferris rested in front of us.
"Mom. What happened to Ferris was a freaky accident. When I go to
Anchorage, I'll be fine. Besides, Henry's there."
A draft that came with my mom through the porch entrance wiggled
the candle flames, and, for a moment, that made Ferris's face look as though
it was under ripples in the creek. Ferris's mom had made him lie on his side
and when the ripples stopped I thought now he looked like he was taking a
nap on the grassy slopes. Ferris and I did that when we were young. That
was when our moms gathered wild celery and wild onions and picked
salmonberries. My mom, aunts, Uncle Joseph and the entire village listened
to the raspy reader rake the words of the dead over us; but, I didn't listen: I
watched Aunt Nancy and Aunt Patricia and my mom. The reader finished,
and we passed by Ferris and I saw him sleeping in the casket. Then, I said
my words to Ferris's mom.
"Was an accident that shouldn't have happened. Oh, and sad, too."
She ignored me. Her face was gray and drawn. After the funeral we
went to our house and Aunt Nancy served tea. I was angry because they
looked sad: I would never get the hell out of the village because Ferris died
drunk in an alleyway.
"He was so young and he shouldn't have gone there. His mom
thought he was in college," Aunt Nancy said. She was out of breath. She
was too heavy and on a salt-free diet that she hated.
"An accident," I said.
My mom threw bad eyes on me. "How come you want to do this?"
She wrung her hands, like she always done.
"I want to be there, and see the city. I want to be someone."
Aunt Patricia and Aunt Nancy looked at Uncle Joseph, who puffed on
his pipe by the stove. He looked at the rafters in the ceiling like he always
done when he remembered his journeys, taken when he was young. Uncle
Joseph said, "You can't stop him. He needs to migrate, like the birds when
the snow comes. He got to see. You got to let him go one day."
His pipe smoke looked like clouds that I would fly through on the
plane out of the village.
My two aunts and my
mom gave me money a
month later, when I moved to
Anchorage from the village. I wanted the bright lights in the city to shine on
my face. Get me a job. Have parties. I didn't tell my mom or my aunts
about the parties I wanted. Told them I'd live different. I would live like
they do on TV. I would live in the city and not be a hunter and fisherman no
Oh, my mom was mad. "You will end like Ferris. Don't go. You stay
here where it's good. Afraid you die there. That's a white man place. Here
is where you should stay." She was wringing her hands again.
The Saturday before I left, Fred came to our house and called me
outside. Fred was short. He had strong hands. He grew his first mustache
that summer and his teeth were straight and white.
"We're hiking the slope to the alder. There's a surprise I got. Want to
show you this before you leave."
"I don't want to walk all the way there."
"You'll like what's there. Besides, we can see real good. Ain't that
There was a moon, full summer, when the darkness isn't darkness, but
dusk. With the moon, the walk was like hiking a trail on an overcast day.
Fred and I dripped sweat, huffing through the steep part of the trail.
"What's the big deal?"
Fred crawled through a dark patch of branches and monk's hood and
disappeared. He scooted from there on his knees. He had a jug under his
"My old man's brew. Saw him hide it here so's my mom won't find
"We don't want to drink here."
"Let's go behind the school. No bears there."
Fred and I ran the trail to the school and sprawled on the back steps to
get our wind. My undershirt dripped with sweat from the run. Fred held the
gallon jug. Once the jug was full of apple cider. Fred's dad dumped sugar
and yeast there and she fermented away and then Fred's dad run her through
a dish rag to clear her. Then Fred's dad let her set quietly, hidden in the
alder. That's when Fred got it. The light from the moon shown through the
jug when Fred held her high. Through the jug the moon was fuzzy because
the brew had a cloud. Fred and me: we didn't care.
"Guess I take the first swig, huh. Since I'm leaving."
"Nope. Might be poison. So I'll chug first. You got to be in good
shape on the plane. Lucky asshole. You get to go. I got to stay here and
help my dad and mom."
Fred took a small gulp. He wiped his mouth on his jacket sleeve and
drew a wide grin on his face. My turn: I reached. "Hey. Gimmee..."
Fred stepped away and took two big ones and burped. I grabbed the
jug from his hand and took a deep smell of her. She carried a scent of apple
juice, but stronger. The fumes made my nose and lungs laugh and my head
swim. I took a small swallow and felt the brew slide down and settle in my
stomach. "This ain't no poison. It's good. What's your dad going to say?"
Fred took the jug and tipped her back and I saw his Adam's apple
climb down his throat. "If he finds she's missing I'll say maybe you took her
to Anchorage with you. Ha, ha, ha, ha."
Fred gave me a slap on the back as I poured more of her down and she
almost went in my lungs. I coughed. Fred was laughing. To get even I
waited for him to take a swig and I slammed him a good one on the back and
he sputtered like a five-horse Johnson. We were starting to feel pretty good.
"Bet you gonna get a piece of ass there in Anchorage, you lucky..."
"Yeah, I am. Henry's going to fix me with a woman right away I bet.
I'll get me women every night, that's for sure."
"Henry can do anything. He was the best hunter here. And I bet he's
the best hunter there."
I thought of the first time Henry brought me with him to hunt moose.
He told me not to speak and to watch the wind. He moved quietly, naturally,
and saw and smelled, and sensed the world. He was a part of this: he fit
perfectly. If the time came for an animal to provide food, Henry knew. He
could sense when the time was right. He knew where to go. Henry walked
just so through the woods; he belonged on the hunt. And he was in
Anchorage, waiting for me, and he would show me more tricks. I took
another pull and Fred looked at me with envy. I felt important and passed
the jug over. My head was light and the moon got big.
Fred chugged five gulps of her in a row; I yanked the jug away. I
chugged down maybe six in a row. We were both full of her and did our
burps. I started laughing and I did not know why. After awhile, I stopped.
"Not supposed to laugh with Ferris gone, but hell, can't help it."
Fred fell from the school steps. He hopped to his feet, shadow
boxing. "Don't say his name no more, see? That was his ghost that pushed
me." I laughed hard. I had to pee. I peed on the steps. Fred sneaked behind
and slammed me on the butt, making peeing hard. I turned around and
pushed him back and we both started laughing hard: our voices echoed
through the village. The jug rolled down the steps and I stumbled after her.
I stuck my thumb in the round glass handle to keep her from running away.
My mom looked like a brown bear at first, standing there with the
moon behind her. We were drunk and didn't know what we were doing,
laughing and hollering and slapping each other around. "You boys are a
disgrace. Your mother will take a willow to you, Fred. You go right home."
My mom took me by the ear. I felt a surge inside and I was afraid I
would hurt her. I pretended I was pressing down hard on a lid that lived
inside me to keep the black from coming: that's how I kept the red light from
going on and off. I did not hurt her at all: I kept the lid secure that night.
"You give me the jug," she said.
Boy, she was mad. She pulled hard on the gallon jug. My thumb
stuck tight in the small glass handle. "Let go," she said, and she yanked hard
and my thumb popped loose. She grabbed my ear. "You come home. I
want Uncle Joseph to see how you are."
She held tight; I thought my ear would tear. Fred fled around the
school building and I never saw him again after that.
"Look what he has done with himself," she said to Uncle Joseph.
Uncle Joseph took a puff on his pipe and looked into my eyes. I
braced against the kitchen door. My eyes would not focus on his red shirt.
His black suspenders took on the shape of small mink pelts hanging off his
shoulders. "Fred and I were saying goodby."
Uncle Joseph sat quietly. I felt sick and my mom knew I was going to
throw up. She held my head over the sink.
She worried, knowing I held problems underneath, deep inside of me.
She knew I couldn't remember what happened to me before I was nine years
old. She wanted to tell me stories about my father. She wanted me to know
what happened. They were horrible fairy tales. I said I wasn't there. My
mom got sad eyes and stopped talking. I was empty inside from before nine
years old and I felt cold and dizzy thinking hard about times that were not
there. My head hurt when I wanted to see myself before the age of nine.
The pain in my head frightened me. I stopped trying. My buddies, they had
their dads. I didn't: the single fact I could not escape was that I lived in the
village with my mom and my aunts and Uncle Joseph. Oh, I wanted to leave
so bad, so bad.
She was wringing her hands again. "If you end on Fourth Avenue,
you could get killed or die like Ferris did. How come you want to do this?"
She always said that. When I was getting on the plane she said that to
me. "How come you want to do this?"
Henry met me at the
airport in Anchorage.
Henry was my second cousin;
but, I almost did not know him: two years ago since I last seen him. And he
looked old with his front teeth gone. Small white circles edged his irises;
maybe those bad clouds went in his eyes because they were not dark brown,
as they were when we hunted together. No longer was Henry strong, like a
hunter. He smiled and laughed and back-slapped and he gave me a swig of
whisky and then asked me how much money I got. That was my first
whisky swig. Never had no whisky before, but I had drank home brew, in
I showed him my money and he quick looked around, made sure no
one saw and said, "Hold on to that. We're going to party down by the creek
in your honor, ol' buddy."
I've never forgotten that. "In your honor, ol' buddy."
Henry signalled a Yellow Cab. He said to the cab driver, "Take us
down to Fourth. This is an emergency." He laughed about that. "This is an
emergency," he said again, and laughed. He thought he was one of those
guys on TV and he thought he should repeat his words one more time. "This
is an emergency," and then he took a gulp and passed the whisky bottle to
"Hey, I'm short on money. I spent money on the cab getting out to the
airport to meet you. And since this is an emergency, you give the driver
fifteen bucks. Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha. Oh, no sweat, man. My buddies in the
Malamute owe me. Pay you back soon's we get in there."
The cab driver took the fifteen bucks and Henry gave me a giant swig,
for a reward. I'd drunk home brew in the village three or four times, but this
burned and made my face feel warm. Anchorage was full of bright lights
and the Malamute Bar was the brightest and smokiest place I ever been.
I don't know what happened after that. Oh, for a while I was meeting
Henry's friends. They were glad to see me. Their faces were smiling and
they had their arms around me and I met Nora and Everett and I forgot the
rest of the names.
"Hey, Charlie. First time to the city, huh?"
"Charlie. New guys gotta spring for a drink, you know."
"How 'bout it, Charlie. One round, get us goin'. We'll show you the
ropes, you know."
I thought I better be friends with them. I bought drinks. Nora was a
busy drinker and she liked to challenge me to chug-a-lug.
"Let's you and me go to the bar and chug another one."
"I don't feel so hot."
"Come on, Charlie. Be a man."
After I chugged a few vodka and orange juices I noticed my tongue
started to get puffy, and my words didn't work no more. My eyes got fuzzy;
I fell on the floor and Nora was standing above me in her jeans and she was
smiling. Henry and Nora pulled me off the floor and my head wouldn't stay
still and the room moved around.
I got cold under a
tarp and there was this
creek running by outside. My
stomach was bad and my lower lip kept shaking and my hands were
nervous. I threw up. I didn't see Henry at first. Then later I saw him next to
me with his girl friend, Nora. He was watching me throw up.
"You go by the stump and get the apple wine. Always keep wine
under the stump for the mornings. Malt liquor and beer is way too hard to
get to stay down in the mornings, but apple wine goes down easy."
I went to the stump and dug around back there for five minutes. My
hand felt the neck of the bottle. I had to reach way down in a hole by the
stump, clear, almost, to my shoulder. There the bottle of apple wine was:
right there, in my hand. The apple wine had a pale orange label with a
picture of a fence and a deer. The deer was looking at me, and the sun was
going down past the fence. I didn't feel like drinking this morning.
"You better take a few gulps. Won't hurt you none," Henry said.
"Make you feel like a man. Apple wine. Easy to get down in the mornings."
I took a gulp. My body was waiting for this, and my stomach reached
out and took the wine and settled down and was happy and in a few minutes
my mind took off. My lip stopped quivering and my hands got calm and the
light outside was warm on my face and the cool wind did not bite, and here I
was in Anchorage having a fine time with Henry and his girl friend. This
was what I dreamed about. Not sleeping under a tarp by a creek below
downtown Anchorage, but the feeling I had. I felt alive. I felt complete for
the first time in my life. I could do what I wanted. More than hunt and fish.
In two weeks the
money my aunts and my mom
gave me disappeared. I
slept at the Brother Francis Shelter and ate free meals at Bean's Cafe and
helped at the Salvation Army. Henry showed me how to do this. Then one
day Henry left Nora and I. That was summertime last time I seen him. Nora
came to me and she had an odd look. "Henry died," she said.
"What happened? Get run over?"
"Dunno. Everett, he heard about Henry from Officer Marrington last
night. Henry died at the Native Hospital." Nora was crying. I did not know
what to do, except drink more when I heard about Henry. I stayed down by
the creek and Nora became my girl friend. Nora. Nora got drinks free and I
did it to her lots of times. I learned how to bum dollars and earn a few bucks
sweeping at the Malamute or at Bean's Cafe or at the Brother Francis Shelter
or at the Salvation Army. I kept a bottle of apple wine hidden under the
stump for the mornings, like Henry said.
Drinking went bad for me. Started to take lots of wine in the
mornings to get me well. Started falling down. Got beat up twice in one
night for I don't know what. Got thrown in jail twelve times during the first
winter I was there. I got separated from Nora at night. Officer Marrington
always got me. Guess I was on his beat. I rested in the alleyway, you
know? I went there to get off my feet and sleep and have a few more swigs.
I pulled the collar tight around my neck: keep the cold out, that way. And
there he'd be, standing above me, shaking his head.
"Well, well. Charlie Marenkovich is feeling tired tonight, huh?"
"I'm, O.K." I always said that. I always told Officer Marrington I was
Marrington, a looming shadow, did a slow shake of his head. "Think
a jail cell is where you're going tonight." He said that every time.
Marrington stooped down, wrapped his arms around me, moved me
from the alley. He and another cop deposited me in the back of the police
van. Marrington was gentle, at first. I felt like a baby lifted by his dad. I
seen Marrington lots of times in winter. Lots of times. Later he got tired of
seeing me in the alley and he was not gentle, but, he probably saved my life.
Would've froze to death like Ferris done that time. The last time, he was
rough and angry and threw me in the back of the van. He cursed, said bad
names, that night. The names he said do not come back: I was too drunk;
but what happened I can speak of.
"I'm bringing you someplace else. Don't want you around any more."
He drove me to the Native Hospital. Made me go in there. I knew about the
Native Hospital, where Henry died. Maybe Marrington was the one that
brought Henry here to die. Maybe I was going to die.
With my lip shaking and my hands blue from the cold, I sat in a
wooden chair. There was a long hallway I looked down, and a nurse was
walking away from me. I could hear her footsteps echo. Marrington talked
at the counter. He moved a pencil around, signing papers. He took his
police hat off, plunked it on the counter. First time I seen Marrington
without his police hat. His back was to me. Guess he figured I was too
drunk to run away, like I did once on him. I saw the back of his head, black,
oily hair, white ears sticking out that looked like two field mice. He turned.
His white face crinkled around his flat eyes: an angry, angry face. He
looked at my eyes and watched my lip quivering and my hands shaking.
Jail was better. This Native Hospital, where Henry died, frightened
me. "How come you brung me here this time?" I hurt inside that he would
do this to me and my voice echoed in the hallway.
Marrington squatted, moved his face close. He pointed his finger.
His white face was like mashed potatoes when he puffed his cheeks full of
air. He was mad at me. I could tell he didn't want to wrap his arms around
me no more, and take me from the alleyway and save me like a dad would
do. He wanted to get rid of me. Throw me away. He shook his finger and
his voice was angry. "Stay off my beat. See you around and I'll make your
life miserable. You'll wish you were dead."
Didn't see him for a long time after that. I became afraid of
Marrington. The folks at the hospital made me go to AA. That didn't work
at first. I kept going back to the stump above the tarp by the creek in the
mornings to get that special feeling.
One morning a
flapping thing went after my
face, but I couldn't get my
hands free to fight. I started kicking at the flapping thing and screaming, but
my legs was tied down. I thought I heard my mom talking to me but I knew
she was done with me: the flapping thing wanted to fool me to thinking my
mom was there; I was too smart for that. My arm felt a dull pain from a cold
jab and I went to sleep.
About the Author:
ARNE L. BUE, a lifelong Alaskan, lives with his wife, Shirley, in Anchorage, Alaska. He is the author of BAXTER BOG INTERLUDE and BANTO CARBON AND THE PREHISTORIC PROBOSCIS.
eBook version Copyright 2009 by ARNE L. BUE
Page Updated August 12, 2010 © 2009 Baxter Bog Cards & Collectibles, Homer, Alaska