By Eric Cline
I was on a two-lane road, and I never like those. Freeway driving is nicer because the speeds are too high for people to stare at me.
A little blonde kid pointed from the back of some tiny copy of a classic Woody station wagon as it came toward me. His mother, who looked mortified (I’ll give her credit for that), yelled something at him. I couldn’t hear what it was, but he settled down in his seat and looked straight ahead – then back at me an instant later. His mother’s eyes met mine. I favored her with a forgiving smile, and she gave me a strained one that was all clenched teeth and stretched skin. Then they crept away in the opposite direction.
This was my first visit to California. My people left here about the time the redwoods were being fed through the sawmills. The redwoods are gone now, but at least my people remain.
“My people,” I said aloud. I guess I smiled, mirthlessly.
I saw a sign pointing to Landis Park, my destination. I also saw a black family in a sedan in a right turn lane as I continued straight: three kids and the parents, who all gave me a wide-eyed, frowning look at the same time. The parents were as bad as the kids, and I stared back at them, stone-faced.
Why do I bother? Aren’t I used to it by now?
No. Never will be, I guess.
Worst were the two scantily clad young women with lots of facial piercings. One was white with short, green-dyed hair. The other looked Pakistani or maybe Hispanic. The latter shrieked with delight when she saw me. They were in an open jeep with just a roll bar, so I could hear her. The white girl driving flicked her tongue at me; a stud glittered like a Christmas ornament as it was exposed to sunlight, then hidden, then exposed, then hidden…
The Pakistani girl shouted some filthy sexual come-on, and then made a motion with both hands, like she was holding something a foot long that was expanding to two feet.
When I was a teenager, I would have been flattered by such attention; as an adult I realized such stuff was an affront to my dignity.
By sheer force of will, I did not flip them the bird. Had I done so, I would of course have been participating in my own degradation. I simply looked pure poison at them, then fixed my eyes on the road. Their mocking laughter mercifully faded away.
My cell phone rang. I put it on speaker.
“Dr. Mark North,” I said.
“Dr. North, this is Jere Wilson. We’re at Landis Park. We have a dozen personnel from the California Department of Fish and Game, including me, and some state troopers who are trained and equipped for handling these situations. All we need now is Our Man From D.C. to share his wisdom with us. We’re waiting for you, Doc.” He chuckled.
“Jere, when you and I finally meet in person, you’re going to have to stop calling me Doc. It’s Mark.”
“Maybe after a beer. I’m sure we’ll be having some together. This infestation is going to take some time to resolve.”
I winced at the word “infestation,” but didn’t say anything. I hoped, by example, to make sure this combined State-Federal task force used “incident.” Stopping use of the term “infestation” was my way of being an activist in this matter.
“We won’t put in any more overtime than is necessary – to purchase a two-year-old Maserati,” I said, earning a snort from him. I decided not to press the “incident” terminology until we met face to face.
“You’ll earn your money,” Wilson said. “By the way, just to let you know, as head of the task force you’ll have to deal with a personnel problem the moment you step out of the car.”
“Oh, dear,” I said, lightly, lightly. “What is it?”
“Problem worker. Won’t take orders from me; says you’ll be his supervisor. Contractor, not a State of California employee.”
“Well, when I was at the beach recently, some big bully kicked sand in my face, and I vowed not to let that happen again,” I said. Wilson laughed. I had used that line for years. “Anyway, since he’s a contractor, I’ll just fire his ass if he gives me any guff.”
“It’s not that simple,” said Wilson. “He’s got skills we can use, and he knows it.” Pause. Confidential tone. “His name’s Carradine, get it?”
My blood ran cold.
“Carradine,” I said softly.
“José Carradine,” Wilson said. “Big son of a bitch, even for a grandee. He can wrestle those apes to the ground without a stun gun.”
Even for a grandee.
I had never met any José Carradine before. But Carradine is the most common name among our people, as is well known. What is less well known is that it is an Anglicized reworking of cara del diablo or “face of the devil,” one of the insults heaped on our ancestors by the Spanish rapist conquistadors who had created them.
I thought Jere Wilson knew my ancestry. I fancied anyone could tell from the timbre of my voice. I fancied wrong. My eyes stung, which angered me, because one must never be reduced to tears. I lamely thought, My picture is on the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service website.
Then again, “North” is not a common grandee name.
“Well, I’ll take care of the personnel issue,” I said. I wanted him to hear the frost seeping into my voice. “That’s what I’m paid for. Is there anything else?”
“Nothing, buddy. Forewarned is forearmed.” He had taken my suddenly changed tone of voice as tension at having to deal with a grandee.
I sighed. I didn’t know California…and already I didn’t like what I did know.
Up ahead was a yellow, diamond-shaped road sign. The silhouetted figure on it was the standard: a humanoid with upraised arms, clawed hands, one bent leg kicked up high and one huge foot touching the ground. Little dashes stuck out from the outlined figure, like porcupine bristles, to indicate a hairy body. Below the sign, on the same wooden pole, a smaller yellow rectangle read CAUTION: NATIVE HOMINID PRESENCE.
That prancing, threatening silhouette was as official as the stick figure in the wheelchair for “handicapped.” You could download the icon from any number of government sites. A grandee activist group based in Seattle had asked me to put my name on a petition to have it changed to something more dignified. I had refused because, as I told them, I wanted to make changes from within without kicking up a fuss over minor stuff.
The campground within K. M. Landis State Park was closed, of course. A barricade sign said: Heavy Native Hominid Presence. Park closed until containment achieved. We apologize for the –
Those activists in Seattle didn’t understand the power of working in the system. As recently as 1977, those signs would have said “Bigfoot outbreak.” But the first generation of mixed race grandees to become high-ranking civil servants had effected a change to the more dignified “native hominids.” So what if the icons hadn’t changed yet?
True, “piegrande” was still used as an official term for the handful of purebloods in the wild, but the Spanish pie grande, although literally meaning “big foot,” was a foreign term, so it is softer, less offensive. We never changed the names of Wyoming’s Grand Teton Mountain, even though the French-Canadian explorers had merely been saying, “Big Tit.”
The lone state trooper manning the barricade leaned against his patrol car. He pushed off and ambled up to me as I rolled down the window. He was a very brown man with “Lopez” stenciled on his chest. “The park is closed…” he said, then did a double take. His right hand dropped noticeably closer to his sidearm. “…Sir.”
“I’m a veterinarian with Fish and Wildlife. Here’s my badge.” I opened my wallet and showed my gold field inspector’s badge and my government I.D. He took it, frowned at it, and gave me a narrow-eyed look. What was he suspicious of? Didn’t this clown know the government issued badges to people in non-police capacities? That badge was what I used to get into private game parks to inspect them for TB and Foot-and-Mouth, and this guy was looking at me like I was trying to pass off a novelty shop gag on him.
Or maybe he wasn’t.
He handed me back the badge.
“A government worker in a Cadillac?” he said.
“I’m a tall guy. I had to get permission to rent something large I could fit into.” I always have to fill out an extra form to rent a larger car. And even so, I have to be very careful of the pedals; I have to bend my knees and touch them with the balls of my feet.
He snorted. “Go on through, I guess.” He guessed. I drove through the narrow lane left by the roadblock. My window was still open and I thought I heard him mutter, “Takes one to catch one.”
I thought about sticking my head out to give him a glance just to let him know I had heard, but I wasn’t one hundred percent sure he’d said it, so I didn’t. I always tried to make my parents proud, and they had always stressed three things:
Don’t make a fool of yourself.
Don’t gibber like a full-blooded homo sapiens americansis.
Don’t give them a reason to call you Bigfoot.
The center of operations was easy to spot. I counted three cop cars, four unstylish sedans (government-owned vehicles from the motor pool) and two prominent caged vans, all clustered in the otherwise empty main parking lot near a bunch of trees. The people I saw standing there were all looking toward the greenery beyond, where the real show would be. I added my car to the cluster. Two men and a woman with California Fish and Game ID tags looked at me as I got out.
I was dressed pretty much like them, in jeans and a plaid, short-sleeved shirt. This was not a place for office attire. But, of course, they weren’t gawking at the clothes, except perhaps for my old size 26 tennis shoes: no brand, specialty made in shops in our community in Seattle.
“Dr. Mark North, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” I said crisply. “Where’s the action?”
They took me to Jere Wilson, who was looking out onto a picnic ground beyond the tree line. A bit of low sitcom humor then played out in real life. His back was turned to me – of course! – and as I said, “Jere?” he turned around and said, “Dr. North, I presume?” It was a lame joke he might have prepared, but he clearly hadn’t prepared himself for anything else. He was maybe 50, with a jowly bare face and salt-and-pepper hair. Caucasian, homo sapiens sapiens, like about seven billion other people on the planet. His gaze snapped up a foot higher than he had been expecting to look. His smile was replaced by something closer to fear, as he saw I was a grandee, one of the half homo sapiens sapiens, half homo sapiens americansis population, like less than two million people on Earth, almost all in the U.S. and Canada.
“You presume correct,” I said. I affected not to notice his horror. No doubt he was mentally running through his José Carradine remarks carefully to see if he had offended. I smiled without flashing any teeth; I have cultivated a habit of keeping my lips shut so as not to flaunt my fang teeth.
I stuck out my palm. He jabbed his hand toward me with plain discomfort. His hand disappeared in mine when we shook. My handshake is almost limp-wristed, by design.
I looked beyond him to what was playing out on the picnic grounds. “Looks like I arrived in time for some fireworks.”
“Yes,” he said, obviously relieved that I was giving him a pass, through my every word and deed. “One of them – the native hominids – one of the native hominids is not leaving the bathrooms. It – he – ran in there when we were searching the perimeter this morning.” He gestured towards the standalone MEN/WOMEN facilities on the horizon.
It was one of those public park wasp and hornet nests that also doubled as a toilet. Standing a head taller than the other three was a scowling grandee holding a net. He caught sight of me across the grounds and broke into a surprised grin. I did not grin back.
“Is that José Carradine?”
“Yeah. He wants the boys,” Wilson gestured at the three men with him, “to shoo it out while he grabs it. It took two darts already and still hasn’t conked out.”
“The whole situation looks a bit dangerous,” I said. “The hominid could burst out of there and knock someone over. Getting stepped on by a…being who weighs maybe 500 pounds is no joke. I’d better go over there and officially take charge.”
“We need your experience,” Wilson said. I think he was eager to have something to be flattering about. “You know your business. We’re just park rangers and animal taggers. Anyway, it’s been a hell of a day. We lost a female this morning when we put three darts in her and she just collapsed and died.”
“Died?” I said sharply.
He winced. “Yeah. She was part of a family that tried to get away. There was a little one with her. You know they’re never violent unless they’re trapped – or they’re protecting their young. No one realized the first dart had actually hit her, and then two guys fired at once. The child got away. Then Dr. Jenner, our vet, ordered a halt to the operation, said we couldn’t afford to lose any more.”
“Damn right!” I said. There are fewer than 2,000 full-blooded native hominids (the original piegrandes, as opposed to us mere half-breed grandees) estimated to be living in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. The number had been twice that 30 years earlier, but the suburbs and freeways kept expanding. “Where’s this Dr. Jenner? I’d like to thank him for having some common sense.”
“That would be me,” a soft voice said. Now it was my turn to be embarrassed. A petite woman around 40 in overalls and long, dark hair sidled up. She smiled. “Nora Jenner, veterinary medical officer with California Fish and Game, at your service.”
I glanced at Jere Wilson. There was a distinct hint of Schadenfreude in his countenance.
Jenner continued, “And you must be Dr. North. You look just like your picture on the federal website.” She glanced toward Wilson, who started turning beet red. Yup, feller, they got this fancy thing called the in-ter-net nowdayz.
She rested a hand on my arm. I barely felt the feather touch. She said, “Oh, sweetie, it was just awful.” When people I have just met call me “sweetie,” it’s never going to be a neutral encounter – they’ll be all true southern warmth or faux southern syrup. “That poor little thing, I saw her dash away. I hope she finds her way back to her tribe.”
“Well, let’s hope so,” I said. Her whole demeanor made me feel like a kid trying to impress the teacher – the young female teacher. “I’d better get up there and see, uh, what I can do.”
“I know you can bring that poor hominid fellow out alive, sweetie,” she said. She patted my arm again. “Good luck. We’ll catch up on the history of the mission later.”
“Yep, we’ve got to do that,” I said and, for no damn reason I can think of, saluted her. She giggled. Jere Wilson – and a couple of other guys – gave me deliberately bland looks.
Overly rude because of what I am? I can deal with it. Overly solicitous? I…don’t know what to do. Grandees are objectified as sexual beings in the crudest ways. But sometimes people just find you interesting. I’ve always found it hard to tell, especially with women.
I walked across the grounds to the restrooms. José Carradine was growling at his crew. “Hold the net up! That’s up, goddammit!” Then he turned to me. “Well, well, I guess you’re Dr. North!” His accent was pure forest.
Some politically-correct folks believe that saying (or thinking) things like “He talks forest” is rude, but it’s actually more polite than saying, “He talks like a backwoods animal who’s never worn a pair of shoes and doesn’t have any refined manners and has no real trace of homo sapiens sapiens and is basically pure homo sapiens americansis. ”
Yes, a lot more polite.
“When they tole me some Dr. North was gonna show up, I said, ‘Nah, that can be a grandee name, but it mostly ain’t. He’ll be some skinny fella only about six feet tall, North’ll be. But here you is!” His men, all contract workers and all homo sapiens sapiens, looked on warily.
He had a grin on his face, but not a friendly one. When I looked at him, I saw something similar to what I saw when I looked in the mirror. He was around seven feet tall, a hair taller than me. His eyes were brown, like mine, ringed by satisfyingly human whites, not that awful, animalistic black sheen of the wild purebloods. His skin was olive, like mine (I’ll admit), but no more so than an Italian or Greek. His nose was respectably human, but didn’t quite have the ridge one really wants in a human nose (mine was better-shaped). His nostrils were those vertical slits none of us can do anything about, and when he grinned his fang teeth became far too prominent He had a full gray-and-reddish-brown beard.
A beard is permissible in polite mixed-race society, although I pride myself on being clean-shaven. Carradine, on the other hand, had allowed his secondary hair to grow wild. There was a light spray of fuzz along his neck that ran down into his collar. The trail forked down his arms and out of his shirt sleeves at the elbows. It marched all the way down to his knuckles. All it took was a simple application of depilatory cream three times a week to get rid of that unsightliness, as I could have told him. Any mixed kid from my undergrad study group in Seattle would have been asked by the others to leave if they’d shown up at the campus library looking like that. He was maybe in his 60s, old enough to be my father.
On his left forearm, I noted a faded “USMC” tattoo. That, at least, made me proud. My people’s night vision made us the best wartime snipers before technology lost us that edge; our military exploits had been the first openings we had to gain respect in society.
“You thought about that a lot did you?” I said.
He laughed with a barbarous yawp that exposed a world of long, yellow teeth. “Don’t require much thinking, do it, G?”
“My name isn’t G. Look here, Mister Carradine, I understand there is a native hominid trapped in that facility and we are going to get it out.”
His expression softened to weariness.
“Yeah, it’s the last one left in the park, most likely. They came onto the grounds to feed from the dumpsters – and the damn fools what think it’s cute to throw food at ’em! May as well be throwing grenades at ’em.”
I sighed and nodded. The survival of full-blooded piegrandes in the wild depended on them being shy of humans. If they didn’t stay away from civilization, they’d be shot, or run over by a truck, or drink from a stray bottle of sweet-smelling antifreeze, or this, or that or the other thing.
“See those two assholes over there?” Carradine pointed across the grounds to where two younger State animal health techs, a woman and a man, leaned against a car talking to each other. “They went batshit, shooting darts at anything that moved. One dart went right past Wilson’s head. I saw it. But he was too ball-less to pull them in and make them stop panicking. This female Cousin, she got hit a bunch of times. They kilt her.” His voice got husky. His eyes clouded. “She’s lying in one of the vans out there right now. Her little one scampered away. Ran like the wind. Don’t know if this one in here was a daddy, a brother, or any close kin at all, but he’s in there now, bobbing and weaving amongst the shitters. I told them others that if they didn’t stay away I’d rip ’em apart, the big fuckin’ mess they made of it. Don, Jerry and Lonny here,” he serially gestured to the three men who assisted him, “they know their asses from a hole in the ground. I can trust them.”
“Did…Dr. Jenner and Mr. Wilson also mess it up? Is that why you made them stay back there?”
“At the kiddie’s table,” one of Carradine’s guys (Lonny?) said, punctuated with a sneer.
“Wilson thinks just standing around talking is the same thing as giving orders. I did two tours in Vietnam, so I know better.” He was in his 60s, then. “And little miss Nora,” he loaded the words with scorn, “well she grabbed the dart gun out of one of those punks’ hands when she saw he didn’t know what he was doing, I’ll give her credit for that.” I nodded. Anyone who thought a hypodermic dart gun was some kind of toy had never volunteered to take the metal tip of its projectile into their spine or eyeball. “But I still don’t need her around,” he frowned.
He shook his head in disgust, squinting.
“It was pretty plain she wanted him to do some missionary work,” Lonny (I guess it was Lonny) said. All four of them, even Carradine, gave that a horse laugh.
My heart sank. I was hoping Dr. Jenner, a fellow veterinarian, was simply a kind-hearted person, not one of those detestable “grandee-grabbers” who wanted us for our…anatomical differences. When I was a teenager, it seemed like paradise. As an adult commuting to work on a public bus I had complete strangers (men as well as women) putting their hands on my body and making crude propositions, like I had no right to privacy. It was a nightmare. I was going to have to give Dr. Nora Jenner the frosty treatment.
A screech that startled even Carradine and me (even though we were both capable of making the same sound) issued from the toilets. It was followed a split second later by a metallic thump, then another.
“Poor goddamn Cousin is getting restless.” Carradine sighed. “Those PCP darts probably didn’t do anything but make him puke a bit.”
“Yeah,” I said. The chemistry of purebloods was so variable (to the small extent that it was known) that even phenylcyclohexyl piperidine wasn’t guaranteed to put them out.
“Well,” Carradine said, “since they’s two of us what can strong-arm him, you wanna go in there together? And the boys stay out here?” He nodded to his crew. “Then we can see what shape he’s in, decide what to do next.”
“Okay, I’ll agree to that. If we’re just doing a visual inspection, do we need arms?” I gestured to one of his guys and the stun gun on his belt.
“I don’t use the stunner myself and my boys have orders from me not to use them unless they’re being charged at. I’ve seen too many Cousins die from the shock. They can’t figure out what’s going on. Guess they must think they’re being boiled alive. C’mon, you’re a big guy. You can push our Cousin away if he charges you. And if you get scared,” he grinned toward his buddies, “you can always hide behind me!” They laughed.
Their mirth was cut short by another screech from inside.
I had Carradine figured out. He was the sort of grandee who liked to look cool in front of a bunch of homo sapiens sapiens hangers-on. Such arrangements were pretty common. I went to a very integrated high school in Seattle, and a lot of grandee boys (and girls) had their own cliques of pals who thought they were the coolest thing on Earth.
“Well,” Carradine said, “let’s go on in.”
“Let’s,” I said quickly, not wanting to cede control to this foresty character.
We ducked into the building. The pureblood inside must have bumbled in by accident. It was that airport design, without a door. The corrugated concrete walls angled enough to block outdoors from indoors. It split into men’s on the right and women’s on the left, and I was pleased for reasons I couldn’t quite articulate that the male pureblood had run into the men’s room.
There was a faint splashing sound from in there, like waves gently lapping against a dock.
Carradine entered just a breath ahead of me. There, across 10 feet of stained concrete, we saw the pureblood, in his hairy nakedness. That sound? He had his face mushed up against a urinal, and was drinking out of it.
“No…” I groaned. Carradine shot me a radioactive glance. The pureblood turned toward us and moved into a defensive crouch, but did not approach.
Yes, there he stood: a creature that I was surely a distant cousin of, no more than 500 years removed. He was a bit taller than both of us and was covered in medium length, surprisingly fine, reddish-brown hair. Instead of large, round human eyes with plenty of white visible, like we grandees had, this full-blooded piegrande had dark, tiny, black eyes. There was no bump of a nose at all, just two black slits of nostril, dilating rhythmically with his panicked breathing. He bared his teeth – sharper than mine – in a mouth supported by no real chin. His ears were elfin, not round like ours. He had a long, hairless scar slashing down his chest from God knew what ordeal in the wild. Of course, unlike those you might see in a zoo, he wasn’t wearing a diaper, so his genitals dangled obscenely down halfway to his knees. I shivered. No matter how many of these creatures I dealt with, I never got over the stress of being close to them.
I noted, to one side on the floor, two blood-encrusted, dull metal darts he had clawed out of himself. The designers of those darts knew a piegrande had the finger joint articulation to remove a dart. They were designed to inject the drug immediately, so the darts had no PCP left in them; it was all in his bloodstream.
I could see the influence of the PCP in the way he couldn’t quite hold the combative stance. He moved in an unsure lurch from side to side, not with the fluidity he was capable of. He still had some of the ferocity they showed when cornered. He raised his clawed hands to us and slashed the air: the gesture of challenge.
“Brah-awk!” he screeched.
I bared my teeth and raised my hands, fingers curled, to chest level. A glance told me Carradine had done the same thing.
“Brawk!” Carradine barked at him. It was a short, sharp noise: not frightened – don’t try to bully me.
The piegrande looked startled. He was amazed Carradine could respond in kind.
This was a well-known phenomenon. They don’t seem able to distinguish us half-bloods from homo sapiens sapiens, at least not easily. In my community, that fact is (quietly) thought of with pride. It’s proof that we are human.
“Bruk-bruk!” I growled in quick succession. At the same time, my hands bobbed up and down. We fight together. Back down.
The piegrande faked a lunge toward us and we braced for it. Then he uttered a sound that almost came out as a yawn: “Yah-yak.” The tone and the body language said, I don’t attack, but I stand my ground.
I hated seeing my Cousin’s pain. The fur on his chest ruffled and folded as his lungs expanded and contracted in quick, unhealthy rhythms. The black eyes, moist and a bit filmy, blinked in desperate confusion. Despite the sympathy I felt, I could not let him see my concern through any body language. It would be taken as weakness, and he would charge.
José bumped the knuckles of his left hand against those of my right. “Slow, slow,” he said softly, and it took me a moment to realize he had spoken English. I grunted.
José looked off into a space a few feet away from our Cousin. I looked down at my Cousin’s feet. He stared at the space between us.
José started to hum.
He hummed the slow, rhythmic hum that started HIGH And Moved Gently low, and it started HIGH And Moved Gently low, and I joined in HIGH And Proceeded to low. And our Cousin joined in HIGH And The Hum Ended low. His breathing became wonderfully more regular with no more frantic panting, and we hummed HIGH And Finished low and our eyes all met in the center of the triangle between us and we did a HIGH Together And We Did a low together and we did a HIGH Together And We Did a low together and our dear Cousin sank to the floor with his back to the wall and his knees bunched up and we all did a HIGH Together And We Finished low together and he drew his knees up to his chest and we hummed a HIGH That Slid Down To Finish low and his penis and testes stuck out innocently from below where his ankles touched his stomach because he trusted us and did not have to brace himself against a blow to that area. We did one soft High and let the hum fade away to a low.
His breathing slowed. His mouth, the fur wet and matted after he had drunk from the place where he wanted to drink, was slightly open, and his tongue flickered gently. His dark eyes, which were inky and deep and beautiful, looked at us, pleading. We slid down to the floor and slowly crawled over to him. He tensed a little bit as we got closer, but José put out his hand and slowly reached out to touch our Cousin’s left arm and stroke it. I crawled over, too. We didn’t crowd him, but we both placed a comforting hand on him as we sat to either side. Gently we petted him, and slowly his head slumped down to his chest and he closed his eyes. His legs unbent and flattened to the stained concrete.
“Give him a few more minutes, then go get the others,” José whispered. “The tranq’s kicking in. We’ll have to wait till he’s under. We’ll need to manacle him and then get him out of here.”
“Good,” I said, also in a whisper. “We need to get him to an observation facility. There’s a chance two darts could kill him unless he’s watched and treated. I know the native hominids specialist at the Sacramento Zoo. They’ve got the facilities. I’ll make some calls and have him transported there.”
“Jane Southey?” he said. “I know her. Good gal. Really wants to preserve us.”
“Preserve our Cousins, right,” I said. He gave me an even look, but said nothing for a moment. Then: “When they tole me a guy named North was coming from D.C. to take charge, I wondered if you was one of them Seattle Norths. And when I saw you was, I figured you’d give me some shit for being forest.”
“Not at all,” I said.
“But you knew how to speak to our Cousin, so I guess you’re all right. You done that much.”
“It doesn’t happen often. It just comes to me. I did it once before in Portland, when a small female somehow got into a playground in a grade school in the middle of downtown. I ended up carrying her out in my arms. I was an emotional wreck for weeks after that.”
He smiled kindly, still petting the hominid. “Why, Mark? Ain’t nothin’ wrong with talking with your Cousins.”
I continued petting the hominid in longer, lighter strokes. His breathing was very gentle now. His eyes were shut, and his nostrils fluttered as he snored lightly.
“It’s not talking,” I said. “You know they have no language. Their frontal lobes are an animal’s. Decades of analysis have proven they cannot communicate any abstract concept beyond immediate emotional need, and there is no noise they make that has a fixed meaning.”
He frowned, but sadly, without heat. “Analysis,” he said, shaking his head. “He talked to us and we talked to him. Even a sape-sape watching us could have seen that.”
I refused to meet his eyes. I focused on the petting. “Only as much as dogs can. A dog’s emotions are conveyed the same way. Expressing emotion is not communicating.”
Carradine sighed. “What is, then?”
The piegrande snored.
I cleared my throat. “Listen, Carradine,” I said, “don’t get the wrong idea about me. I’m proud of myself and my community.”
Fire sparkled in Carradine’s eyes, but he glanced at the piegrande and kept petting it. “And what is your community? Seattle?” He spoke the word like a curse.
“Why not?” I said, also continuing to pet the creature. “We’ve built a good thing there. Our ethnic group mixes well with the rest of the population. We’ve got city council members, doctors, dentists, lawyers there, and the respect of others in our community. We value education with religious intensity. And as for religion, we’ve got grandee ministers whose congregations include sape-sapes, not just grandees. That’s saying something. Where else do you find that? Where did you come from, anyway? Some village in Oregon or California where you kept only among your own kind until you went into the service? That’s the most common story I hear from you forest types, and it’s not a good one, buddy. ”
The mask of uncouth, foresty indifference, which I recognized as a mask, settled back over his features. He said, with surprising softness, “A hundred years ago, some busybody missionaries took some grandees out of the woods near Seattle, where they’d just been minding their own business working in the lumber camps. They knocked some education into ’em with a strap, and now we got an elite that thinks his shit don’t stink.” He pronounced it ay-leet. “You Seattle shitheads think you’re better than the rest of us?”
I did that thing that conveys condescending disgust in sape-sapes: I smiled, open-mouthed, shook my head from side to side and rolled my eyes. For some reason, it doesn’t come naturally to grandees; one has to practice it.
“We’re not better than you,” I said. “We’re trying to create something for our whole…tribe, I guess. We’re trying to become the founding generation, the grandparents that never were.” The culture I was describing was now more than three generations old, so I wasn’t part of the first generation by any means, but I felt I was getting to the heart of the matter.
“Being human means having history. What history do they have?” I nodded down at the creature. “They don’t have any language, any buildings, any art, nothing but the crudest tools. They barely interacted with the Indians who covered the rest of the continent. They’re all body, no brain. And whose DNA gave us the brains we have, that give us memory, the ability to plan into the future, to do math and science and write poetry? A bunch of drunken, horny Spanish conquistadors and French trappers, that’s who. They shot entire tribes so they could rape a few small, young females. Rapists.
“And when the half-breed babies were born, what did they do? Enslaved them or cast them out, insulted them, called them pie grande or cara del diablo. Diablo this, diablo that – good Catholics, those rapists. They’re nothing to be proud of, either. I hate everything they stood for. I don’t know why you and the other forest types still do things like pass down Spanish names. In my community, we don’t even have Spanish or French classes in any high school where we control the school boards – it’s Latin, Greek or German. I’m not married, but if I had a son, I would never name him José. Fucking never. The fathers of our race were rapists. The mothers of our race were animals. All we’ve got is what we’ve built. In Seattle.”
I expected a fight to erupt between us, right there on the floor, fists flying over the body of the snoring creature lying between us. But he looked down at the visage of the piegrande, smiled softly at it, and it was as if he had forgotten my existence.
He got up, slowly. Involuntarily, I braced myself for a rain of blows, but he just stretched, and I heard arthritic joints pop. The piegrande never stirred. Looking down at me wearily he said, “Keep him quiet here, will ya? I’m gonna go get the boys.” As he walked out of the restroom, he muttered, “Mighty glad you don’t think you’re better than me.”
I delivered the animal safely to the Sacramento Zoo. It survived, and I later got an email saying it had been successfully reintroduced into the wild.
I felt pleased, you understand, that I had done my duty as a veterinarian.
It’s nearly impossible to find knowledgeable people about this topic, however, you sound like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks
Being a member of a minority, you captured the isolation, the analysis that goes into every confrontation that is with the majority group. Despite North’s pedigree and education, he is still treated with suspicion and fear. Living this every day, I can say that was an excellent display of empathy.
The nature of your world is perfect. At no point does anything break the illusion, or make me look twice at it. Everyone is believable and every word is necessary, no fluff.
I love both the non-violent confrontation with the Cousin and the not-argument after it. Thank you for sharing such a excellent piece.
Nice story, had me hooked to the end. Nice twist on an old theme.