Darlene P. Campos
AND WE SLEPT IN A WIGWAM
Getting kicked out of my house wasn’t a surprise. It happened to my ancestors, my parents, and to me several times. I lost count pretty quick. The landlord left minutes before Javier came back from his latest job search. He saw me standing in the middle of the street with everything I could carry from our former place.
“Kicked out again,” I said when he pulled the truck up to me.
“But we asked the landlord for two more weeks,” he said.
“It’s been two weeks,” I reminded him. Javier helped me into the truck. He gave me a kiss on my cheek and we went to grab some food.
We split a Navajo taco from Joe and Aggie’s Café. Our stomachs were still grumbling when we were back in the truck, but we learned to deal with it by making out.
“Maybe we should go to my mom’s,” Javier suggested. I told him no way. We had been at his mom’s several times in the last year and she was bound to figure something out.
Mrs. Bluehorse was a sweet woman who lived doors down from my childhood home. My mom was killed in a hate crime when I was four. When I was 15, my dad died of brain cancer and since there wasn’t anyone in my family with extra room, the Bluehorses took me in. Even though Javier and I were neighbors for years, we never spoke to each other until I moved into his house. At first, we were just friends. One evening, I went to Javier’s football game and instead of hanging out with his buddies after the game, he took me to an isolated spot in the field and kissed me. On that night, I noticed how cute he was.
“Emmy, we can’t sleep in the truck again. I don’t want another fine for exposure.”
“That was your fault; you’re the one who had your big butt against the window.”
“Leave me and my butt alone,” Javier frowned. I reached one arm over and hugged him while we were at a red light. I was glad there weren’t any landlords who could take him away from me.
At sunset, we had no idea where we would park for the night. There were several cops circulating Holbrook. Javier had indecent exposure on his record. I had soliciting on mine since I tried to sell some of our things in a parking lot. We stole bread and milk from the grocery store a few days before, but we hadn’t been caught, yet.
“We gotta go to my mom’s, Emmy,” Javier said.
“She’s probably got someone staying there, I don’t want us to be a burden.”
“Mama would never turn us away. We shoulda gone there a long time ago.”
“Why don’t we try the Wigwam Motel?” I said. Javier sighed and slowly turned our truck around and went to West Hopi Drive. We had $100 in cash left, which we needed to stretch for a while. But I already had a plan to help us out.
“My husband and I are visiting Holbrook for the weekend,” I told the receptionist. “We’re from the Navajo Nation. It’s our wedding night. It’s a Navajo tradition to sleep in a wigwam on your honeymoon, but all of the ones on our reservation were taken.”
“What a shame,” the receptionist said. “We got one wigwam left and since it’s your honeymoon, I’ll give you a discount. Payment is due at checkout time.”
“Thank you sir, you’re very kind,” I said. He handed over our keys and we went to our wigwam at the end of the row.
“Wedding night?” Javier shouted when we were inside. “We’ve been married for six years! And we’re Navajos, we don’t have wigwams! I still dunno how we’re gonna be here anyway, this place costs 30 bucks a night!” I didn’t know either. If we ran off without paying, that could put us in jail. But at least we’d have somewhere to stay.
Javier took a hot shower and I lounged on the bed, figuring out how we’d pay for the room until we got back on our feet. Javier and I weren’t a Navajo version of Bonnie and Clyde – we were only people who stumbled upon hard times. We used to own a souvenir shop in Seligman, right on Route 66, next to the Snow Cap Drive-In. It was doing great for the first two years until another shop opened. I admit it was better than ours. Soon after, we became nomads like our ancestors.
“So did you come up with a plan?” Javier asked when he stepped out of the bathroom. He waved his long hair around, getting several drops on my face.
“Nothing legal,” I said as I dried my cheeks with a pillow. “Have you ever thought about exotic dancing?”
“Nah,” he said. “I got achy knees.” He began shaking his hips, shoulders, and butt. He was a horrible dancer, but I would still put a dollar in his underwear.
Javier climbed in next to me and watched a rerun of The Honeymooners. He let out his big laugh over and over while I came up with more ideas.
“We need someone to rob us,” I finally said. “That way we can skip out paying for the room without getting arrested.”
“Yeah, but we don’t have anything to steal,” Javier said. He was right. The only things of value we had were our wedding rings and they weren’t even worth much.
A little after 10, neither of us could sleep. Our stomachs were performing a symphony and this time, our making out trick wasn’t working.
“Wanna split a plate again?” he asked as he placed final kisses on my lips.
“Yeah,” I said. “I’m too hungry to keep doing this.”
So we went to an all-night diner up the street from the motel. We ordered waters and an appetizer plate of fried mozzarella sticks. Javier let me have the last one. He always let me have the last of anything.
“Emmy, I can’t pay the bill,” Javier said. “I forgot my wallet at the wigwam.”
“I’ll be right back,” I said. I snuck away to the bathroom and placed my wallet inside a toilet tank. The only thing I kept was my license, which I hid in my shoe.
“Honey, aren’t you gonna pay the bill?” I said when I returned to our table.
“But I left –”
“Follow my lead,” I told him.
“Where’s your wallet, babe?”
“I can’t find my wallet, honey,” Javier said in a louder voice.
“I can’t find mine either! We’ve been robbed!” I shouted.
“If we get arrested for this stunt, I’ll kill you,” he whispered.
“No you won’t, I’ll kill you first,” I whispered back.
Within minutes, the manager was at our table. He called the police for us and when they came, all they did was file a case number and wish us good luck.
“Okay, we got off easy tonight, but we can’t keep living like this,”
Javier said when we were back at our wigwam. “What if the motel doesn’t care about us getting robbed? Then what do we do? Rob the motel so we can pay them with their own money?” I wasn’t sure how to answer him, so I hugged his soft body.
Javier dozed off a little after two in the morning. No matter how much I tried, I just couldn’t fall asleep. I thought about my wallet inside the toilet tank of the diner. Then I thought about how the grocery store hadn’t noticed the missing milk and bread either. Around 4am, Javier woke up. He said he had a nightmare, which was unusual for him. I caressed his hair, asking him what happened in his dream.
“The receptionist knew we faked getting robbed and I took off in the truck but never got caught by the cops,” Javier said.
“How is that a nightmare?”
“I left you behind,” he said.
“You dummy, how could you leave your own wife behind?”
“You’re really short. Sometimes I don’t even notice when you’re next to me.”
“Maybe because you’re really chubby,” I said. Javier winked at me and I gently shoved him. He took hold of me and then covered our bodies with the blankets.
The sun was drooping in the sky when we woke up. I snuggled with Javier for a few minutes and then went to take a shower. When I re-emerged in a towel, I saw the receptionist standing in the center of the room.
“Did you hear what happened last night?” the receptionist asked.
“Cardinals won 27 to 24!” Javier cheered. I let out a sigh of relief.
“Some nutcase broke into the cars,” the receptionist said. “And last night at the diner up the street, a couple was pickpocketed.”
“That was us,” I told him. I was so nervous, I almost dropped my towel.
“It’s a damn shame. The cops shut the motel down to investigate. I can’t charge anyone for the night and I don’t want to if everyone staying here just got robbed.” Javier shook hands with the receptionist and soon had him out the door.
“Emmy, did you go around breaking into the cars?” he asked.
“No, did you?” I said.
“No, I guess we got lucky again,” Javier said. We looked at each other and before I could blink, we were packing up our things in a frenzy. By 8:30 in the morning, we were out of the wigwam.
“What if they took my corn nuts?” Javier said as we ran to the truck.
“What if they took our stuff?” I said. We had leftover souvenirs from our shop, clothes, housewares, and blankets woven by Mrs. Bluehorse.
“Nobody would steal any of that crap,” Javier shook his head. “Now corn nuts – that’s something I’d steal if I were a thief.”
When we got to the truck, we found everything intact. We were relieved and bummed because it was a cruel reminder that we had nothing worth taking. We climbed inside and took off towards the Navajo Nation at full speed. Halfway to the reservation, Javier stopped to get gas and snacks and I stayed in the truck with mist in my eyes. He came back with a bag of dried fruit for me. I chewed on the sweet bits and hid my red eyes from him for the rest of the trip.
“What’s wrong, baby?” Javier asked when we were in the Bluehorse driveway.
“I can’t go in there,” I told him with sniffles in between. “I came here when I was a girl, I shouldn’t come here as a woman, it’s too embarrassing.”
“It’ll be like old times. Before your dad died, you were my dorky neighbor. If you hadn’t moved in with us, I would’ve never known you.”
“Are you sure your parents will be okay with me living here again?”
“They wanted you here the second they found out you were an orphan,” he said. He dried my tears with his palm and carried me out of the truck. Javier rang the doorbell and Mrs. Bluehorse appeared with her hair half-braided and welcomed us inside with her famous smile. She was short and plump in her body and face, just like my mom was.
“You should’ve told me you were coming, I would’ve put more food in the oven,” she said. Mrs. Bluehorse hugged us tightly and took us to the kitchen.
“So how’s everything?” she asked. “Am I gonna be a grandma soon?”
“We’re broke, Mama,” Javier said. I glared at him, but he didn’t hold back.
“Broke? But you got that nice souvenir shop in Seligman!”
“It closed,” I confessed to her.
“We’ve been working odd jobs since then. Things have gotten pretty bad and we slept in a wigwam last night.”
Mrs. Bluehorse didn’t know we were living in Holbrook. She thought I meant we spent the night in an actual wigwam. Her eyes opened wide and then she dropped backwards onto the floor. Mr. Bluehorse walked in from the backyard with a grass cutter in his hand, confused by everything that was going on.
“Jennifer, why are you pretending to be a rug?” Mr. Bluehorse asked.
“I’m okay now, Paul,” Mrs. Bluehorse panted. I helped her up and rubbed the sweat from her forehead with my hand.
“Paul, the kids told me that they’s broke and they had to sleep in a wigwam last night,” Mrs. Bluehorse said. Javier stared at me from across the room. I wanted to clarify what I meant, but then I thought we would seem like liars about our financial situation, which was the last thing I wanted us to be in front of the Bluehorses.
“Javi, Emmy, what the hell were you doing in a wigwam when you coulda come over here?” Mr. Bluehorse said. “And we’re Navajos, we don’t have wigwams.”
“Mama, Dad, it’s really not what you’re thinking,” Javier answered.
“No need to explain, Javi, you and Emmy are welcome in this house. I ain’t letting you kids sleep on dirt,” Mrs. Bluehorse said. “Paul, go get some more food from the store, they must be starving to death.”
“Maybe Emmy is, but Javi’s still as chubby as me,” Mr. Bluehorse said.
“Paulie, go already,” Mrs. Bluehorse said. She pushed her husband towards the door and then ran back into the kitchen.
Before dinner, Javier and I sat outside on the porch, figuring out when we could move. Temporary jobs helped us in the past for a while, but we wanted permanency.
“Maybe we can find jobs here,” I said. On reservations, unemployment is high, higher than most places. The possibility of both of us finding jobs was slim.
“Sure,” Javier nodded. “There’s an adult club being built around here. If I get my knees together, I can start dancing.” He got up from his chair and did the worst dance I’ve ever seen in my life, but I slipped an imaginary dollar in his underwear.
“If your parents were still here,” Javier said when he sat back down next to me. “They wouldn’t believe how beautiful you grew up to be. Has anyone ever told you that you’re beautiful?” He said those same lines to me on my 16th birthday. He didn’t have any money to buy me a gift, so he asked me to be his girlfriend instead.
“Yeah,” I said. “My parents did. And you too.” Javier winked at my answer and kissed my forehead.
When dinner was served, Mrs. Bluehorse’s hair was still half-braided. Mr. Bluehorse still had grass bits on his shirt from doing the yard work.
“Javi, your mom told me your shop went under,” Mr. Bluehorse said.
“How’s that possible? It was a great shop. You are too old to be this irresponsible with money. You got Emmy to take care of and soon, you’ll have a kid.”
“Dad, these things happen,” Javier shrugged.
“Paulie, don’t be so rough on the kids,” Mrs. Bluehorse said and patted her husband’s shoulders. She left the room for a few minutes and returned with chocolate cake for dessert, just like on my very first night in Bluehorse house.
“If you want seconds, you let me know,” she said to me. “You’re my daughter and I make sure my kids are well fed. How do you think Javi got so chubby?”
“Mama!” Javier said. She hugged him and called him her baby. Then she turned around and did the same to me. Mr. Bluehorse got up from his chair, brushed the grass bits off his shirt, and hugged me as well.
Javier and I took the old sofa bed in the living room for the night. Since the Bluehorses were known for opening their house to anyone in need, tons of people had slept on that thing and the coils were poking out. I turned to my left side and found my nose an inch away from a sharp coil tip so I leapt over, landing on top of Javier.
“Emmy, for God’s sake, my parents are in the next room,” he gasped.
“I’m not trying to do anything, you bozo,” I whispered.
“So I was looking in the classifieds,” Javier said in my ear.
“There’s a couple of teller jobs open at a bank here on the rez.”
“That’s a horrible job, we don’t know how to handle money,” I said.
“This will be over before you know it,” Javier assured me. “We’ve been kinda successful. Actually, I take it back, we haven’t been successful at all.”
“We’ve stayed together for this long,” I said. “That’s one thing to be proud of.” Javier shook his head at my response. I cuddled with him until we dozed off.
The next morning, we went to the bank to apply for the teller jobs. The manager said she’d give us a call, which we took as ‘get lost.’ During the drive home, Javier held my hand and kissed it whenever we hit a red light.
“Do you think we’ll ever have our own home again?” I asked him.
“Yeah, but not for a long time,” he said. “My folks don’t mind us staying with them. But Mama and Dad do want a grandkid. I guess we owe them a favor.”
“Then let’s make one,” I said and squeezed his arm.
“What if I get another fine for exposure?” he said with a chuckle.
“We only got 80 bucks left; I don’t wanna give it to the cops.”
“Yeah, but it’d be worth it,” I said.
“Anything’s worth it if it’s with you.”
Javier pulled the truck over and made room in the backseat. I flung myself over to him, hugging his large body and gazing into his face. Even if all our money was gone within the next hour, I knew I wouldn’t mind sleeping in an actual wigwam with him.
Darlene P. Campos is an undergraduate at the University of Houston’s Creative Writing Program. Her work has been selected for publication by A Celebration of Young Poets, The Four-Cornered Universe, The Collegiate Scholar, The Aletheia, Linguistic Erosion, Prism Review, Houston & Nomadic Voices, The Writing Disorder, and Red Fez. She has been invited to hold readings of her short fiction by Avant Garden and Bacchus, both located in Houston’s midtown district. She currently works as a writer for The Daily Cougar newspaper and Kesta Happening DC magazine and is a fiction judge for Yeah Write Review.
Photo credit: Brian Kelly on Flickr
Read more from Cleaver Magazine’s Issue #1.