NATIVE(X) hosted a short story contest in collaboration with Single Red Female, a Native-owned management, marketing, and promotions agency. Dyani Brown, the owner of Single Red Female, and I reviewed all entries and chose Dana Lone Hill’s “Four Colored Flags” as the winner. Dana won a NATIVE(X) tote and a framed copy of “Four Colored Flags”.
Four Colored Flags
I ran the day after I turned 18. I ran from my adopted home as if it were on fire. I ran with a backpack filled with a couple of changes of clothes, a comb, some hotel soaps and a jar of Carmex. I ran straight for about two miles, then ducked off the main road and started walking. I cut through some country roads until I hit pavement again. Then I started hitchhiking. I was tired and thirsty but I wasn’t going to stop until I got to where I was going. A trucker picked me up and said he was passing through the reservation I wanted to be let off at. He wasn’t a pervert, thank god. I dealt with enough of those in my life. He was almost as bad, he was Jesus-y and tried to preach. Whatever. I had enough of that in my life too.
Finally, he let me off on the reservation. A small dusty town, no grass in the lawns, and dogs without leashes. I head for a cafe and go inside. I order a glass of water and a turkey sandwich. Now what? I thought.
I guess I will never find my mom until I ask. The only memory I have of her is faint. I remember being taken away. I remember visiting her in jail as the white social worker told me and my sister to tell her bye. I was 6 and my sister was 5. They said we would never see her again. I remember we all started crying. My mom hit the social worker and that was that. Cops came in wrestled her down, took her away.
I got up enough nerve and asked the waitress if she knew her. She looked at me for a long time and nodded. She went in the back and came back with the cook. He was older, greasy, and a permanent wrinkle in his brow, deeper than his other wrinkles. I explained to him who I was. He nodded. Looked at me for a long time and told me to wait, he would be off work soon. Everyone keeps looking at me funny. Must be my piercing and the magenta streaks in my hair. I was still in a rebellious stage. I ran from my adoptive family because even after 11 foster homes, this family didn’t know me. I knew somewhere, here on this reservation where I was born, someone has to know me.
I finished my sandwich and tepid water. The cook comes out and tells me it was on the house. I thank him and we go outside into his old Ford pick-up truck. It starts on the second turn of the key. He looks at my legs and tells me I need new jeans. I laugh, I put the holes in these jeans myself. He still looks at the road and remarks calmly, “you must be lost.” I know he’s talking about my piercing, tattoos, dyed hair. I stop smiling, say nothing but look out the window. I wonder how far she lives. He reaches in his shirt pocket and hands me a cigarette. “I don’t smoke” I say. He grunts, so I take it anyway and stick it behind my ear.
Finally we pull off the road and travel on a dirt road for about a mile. He pulls up to a small ramshackle trailer with a skinny dog. The dog sniffs at me as we get out. I’m nervous. Is she here? I ask. I had dreamed of this moment forever. Now I didn’t know what I was going to say to her. He waves me over with his hand and points with his lips to the hill. She is up there. Go, I will be right behind you. Something about his eyes. I know he’s not lying. I start walking, mindful of cactus hidden in the weeds. I’m scared of snakes hiding in the weeds, too. I finally get to the top and look up. I see four colored flags. Blue, red, yellow, white.
And a headstone.
This was my mom. I stand there as hot tears fall. This wasn’t how this is supposed to be. Under her name it said Loving Mother. She was. I remember her smell, like Jovan Wild Musk. I used to smell that perfume in Walmart and close my eyes and remember her laugh. I see broken cigarettes at her headstone amongst the faded plastic flowers. I take the cigarette from behind my ear, break it and lay it down.
I’m home mom. And I start sobbing.
Suddenly I notice he is behind me. Granddaughter, don’t cry. She knew you would come home. You are home now. Let’s go unpack your stuff.
I get up and we walk home.
-Dana Lone Hill, Oglala Lakota