Don't Bother Win Blevins, He's Reading
I wear a tee shirt emblazoned: "Don't Bother Me, I'm reading." It's a heartfelt sentiment. Once, however, being interrupted worked out beautifully.
Goldie was what you might call our local bookseller. Here on the edge of the Navajo Reservation, Goldie's was the nearest book store, sixty-three miles away. (She sold the store recently.) Remoteness is the reason Meredith and I use online bookstores the way most people use their local library.
I was attached to Goldie's coffee, her breakfast, and herself. At seventy-five, gloriously white-haired and half-blind, she once looked at a male customer walking away and whispered to my wife, "One nice set of buns."
On this particular morning I was sipping Goldie's coffee and trying to quick-read Ernie Bulow's Navajo Taboos. I needed a funny taboo for a comic moment in the novel I was working on. Since someone had borrowed my copy, I was trying to get the taboo without buying another copy from Goldie.
Maybe that's why she sent me the reverend.
He looked about sixty, and well used. His face had been dried up, and his hair thinned, by every wind in the Four Corners. Winds around here are considerable. Sandstorms, too. Even on a Saturday morning he wore a black tie and a black suit, with rump and knees worn shiny.
"Reverend So and So," he said, giving me his hand. I didn't catch his name. "I preach the Gospel."
Though he didn't thump the table in rhythm with the last words, it felt like he did. His eyes and his lower lip, in a parched face, glistened with moisture. His whole body called out, I am avid.
I longed for my tee shirt. Goldie tossed me a warning glance: Be polite.
Sometimes she directed customers who might be interested in "a local author" to me. Usually, I was glad to meet these people, but Meredith would soon come back from Wal-Mart, and I needed that taboo. The publisher's deadline loomed. I simmered.
"It's hard around here. These Injuns. So many bad spirits around. It's hard."
I dared not ask.
"Bad spirits, they bring them in. All the time."
We have two small Ute reservations nearby, Navajos in every direction, and the ruins of Pueblo Indians at Mesa Verde and on every other mesa. The reverend probably felt like Custer at a ghostly Little Big Horn.
"Hard," he repeated, fixing me with that moist eye. "Hard, hard to do the work of the Lord."
I slipped the Bulow book into my lap, remembering my manners.
Goldie strode up, another customer in tow. She made introductions and paraded off, flinging a smile back at me. Ella, the newcomer, was about the reverend's age and degree of wear, but she looked friendly.
Now thoroughly interrupted, I leapt in and asked her about herself. She said with pride that she owned and drove her own eighteen-wheeler, making runs from New Mexico to Los Angeles. She was hoping to retire soon, and had bought seventeen acres outside of town.
I noticed that her tee shirt showed off good biceps. I wanted to grin at Ella and scowl at the reverend.
Suddenly, he turned the gleam of his attention on her. "Why so much land?"
"I need it. It's a sacred space. I use it to call in spirits."
"Spirits!" he exclaimed. He edged forward on his chair, ready for fight or flight.
Maliciously, I encouraged Ella. "How do you call them in?"
"Oh, I find the right place, and it has to be the right time. Then I sing and drum for them. My land, it's a sacred spot."
"They come," put in the reverend dubiously.
"Good spirits or bad spirits?" He held his breath.
"Good spirits," said Ella, with a tone that implied, Of course.
I eased my chair back. This was my chance to escape to reading.
"You sing to them?" said the reverend.
I stayed poised on that chair.
The reverend pressed on. "Drum?" This worried him, sounded "Injun."
"Music and rhythm bring the spirits. It's their natural language."
He nodded. "Good spirits."
"I wouldn't bring nothing else."
"What do you do with them?"
A holy light flamed in the reverend's eyes. "Sister Ella..."
I settled back in. A spiritual conclave was about to convene, and it sounded like more fun than any taboo. Maybe I could put the conclave into a novel.
I accepted the interruption of my reading.
But I'm wearing the tee shirt right now.
About Win Blevins
Win Blevins is the author of a dozen novels, several volumes of informal history, and Dictionary of the American West. Among his awards: In 2003 Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers named him Writer of the Year, and his most recent novel, So Wild a Dream, won the Spur award for Novel of the West in 2004.