Here in this lobby, waiting for my name, I’m aware of my pale face. Over there sits a very black man, maybe four-hundred pounds, a tube to his nose from a little wheeled tank. Centuries ago, his cousin and my cousin sneaked from their village and kissed in an Appalachian cave, darkness but glimmering coal walls unmined.
Healthcare is free in America, should you carry a quantum of indigenous blood. It’s a federal promise, a guardian-ward guarantee that somehow survived when other treaties were killed by the hundreds.
There, an old guy with a face like cinnamon leather, a ballcap that says Vietnam Vet, a left foot missing. Maybe the cap tells the foot’s story; maybe diabetes does. His cousin and mine witnessed a wild man far up a mountain. Their story lived for generations.
My story is Grandma looked Cherokee but had four Irish children with Grandad. When child five was born brown, neighbors called him the milkman’s son.
Sometimes I feel this anxiety here, either woke or absurd, that I’m stealing resources from people browner than me. People Grandma’s color. Is that woke or absurd? The virus makes no such distinctions. We are all warm and damp in the lungs.
A TV above us plays public health videos made by Indians for Indians. A sandy-skin girl shows how to wash hands with unhurried grace: her thin fingers lace, clean the spaces between, then slide to her wrists, where a bracelet of silver and turquoise has fallen up one forearm, half out of frame.
My cousin did something to her cousin, terrible to imagine.
These are strange days, these hundreds of years. Things sweep in from distant lands and thrive on first contact. But if I look out that window there, nothing is in the air—no swarms of black flies, no yellow rain, no nothing. Just an ordinary blue sky in an early spring.
Josh Parish’s writing has appeared in or is forthcoming from Apple in the Dark, Abstract Magazine TV, Devil’s Lake, and other publications. He received an MFA in fiction writing from the University of Washington, where his collection of short stories, Hardest Weather in the World, won the David Guterson Award. He teaches English at Tulsa Community College and is a founder of the college’s literary journal, Tulsa Review.
STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/Memphis CVB