I got to Flagstaff before noon. It was 108 even at 7,000 feet. I would wait to cross the desert after dark and went into Macy’s for coffee. I looked for a place to plug in my phone charger. He showed me the outlet and then sat down right across from me at the little table.
“My name is Sun Bear. That’s two words,” he said.
“Are you a writer?” I asked. Hanging out in a Flagstaff coffeehouse, I thought, well, maybe. He was chunky. Long braid, red plaid shirt.
“I’m a storyteller. I tell the stories of my people.” He drew in my opened notebook. “There’s the body, the mind, the soul. Here you are in the center. Overlapping circles. The directions are North, East, South and West.”
“Oh, my husband is Navajo, he says they’re East, South, West and North.”
“I’m Hopi and Akimel, and I’m a sun dancer. In the story, the woman came with the two parts of the pipe and asked the man to join them.”
“Are you a Pipe Carrier?”
“Yes. I’m a Pipe Carrier, and an elder, but I don’t brag.” He puffed out his chest and tapped it, to illustrate. “I don’t brag. I don’t tell people.”
“My husband says, ‘What makes us humans think we’re the most important living beings on the planet?’ He says the planet is going to shake us off, like fleas, in order to survive.”
Sun Bear looked at me intently, focused his eyes, and spoke with deliberateness: “We don’t even belong here, we came from the stars. We’re star people.” His teeth were bad, broken and stained and his jeans were dirty from sleeping in the street.
Something tickled my left shoulder—a black thread dangling from my halter top. I went to pull at it. He darted out a dirt-blackened nail to brush the thing away.
Really? How odd. Early that morning, before I’d left the house in Albuquerque to drive west, I’d tackled a large web in the sunroom. I was afraid it was a black widow web, but then I saw it was orb-shaped.
I’d gotten it to climb onto a dust pan and carried it to the garden and watched it shimmy down into the brush below. It looked just like this one.
I called Frank and told him the whole story of what happened.
He said, “That guy was talking to you about spiritual stuff to hit on you.”
I laughed. “I think he’d have to clean up quite a bit to hit on me.”
I hesitated, then I asked, “What about the spider?” It had appeared just where he’d touched my shoulder. What I really wanted to know was, had he put some kind of bad energy on me?
Frank said, “The spider was protecting you.”
“Oh, right,” I said. “I guess it’s good then that I saved it this morning.”
When I got to Kingman it was 9 p.m and still hot as hell. Last gas for a long stretch. Beyond the gas pumps a cheerful carnival of neon signs dotted the lone drag in the late summer dusk. An old codger in a baseball cap pulled up alongside me in a dented Ford pick- up. He said, “Cold cherries for sale, ice-cold cherries. I need gas to get home to the wife, 30 miles outside Needles.” I pictured the wife in some lonely trailer out in the starred desert along a dark road.
I gave him $5. I felt good about it. I didn’t trust the cherries so I handed the bag to the girl cashier inside, who thanked me. When I came out a guy sitting in a car on the other side of the pump, watching, said, “That guy has been circling around here for the last six hours panhandling.”
I said, “Everybody’s got to make a living.”
I headed out across the night. At some dark deserted pullover the big rigs idled, lighting up the way to the ladies rest room. Like beasts lying in wait. I figured well nobody would try anything since they’d all see it. I’m safe enough.
Photographs © 2019 Diane Joy Schmidt