We're Not Indians

by Robert Maynor

The only Indians I ever knew personally were R.J. Driggers and his daughter, Miranda, a trailer-park Pocahontas who I was hopelessly in love with. Even now, years later, and her nothing more than ashes, I still can't get her out of my head.

"You didn't love her, Todd," people tell me. "You hardly knew her. You just want her now because you can't have her, because she's dead."

Those people are probably right, and the truth is, it don't much matter whether I loved her or not anyhow; it never did. But that don't keep me from thinking about her every night as I try and find some way to fall asleep.

* * *

R.J. owned a convenience store that my Momma called the Flying Donkey because on the sign it had one of those little Mexican mules with a sombrero in its mouth, jack-kicking at a speech bubble reading High Prices. The store sat on the side of a sun-rotted road called Highway Seventy-Six that stretched like a scar from my house all the way to Holly Hill. The only time I ever stopped in there was on the way to the Santee River for a bottle of blue Mad Dog 20/20. R.J. sold beer and cigarettes to anyone over the age of sixteen because he was an Indian and, as he said, didn't have to answer to the law.

He lived with Miranda a mile or two behind the store, off of Crane Pond Road, in a mobile-home park they called the Wassamassaw Indian Reserve. No grass grew there and the ground was loamy and dry. Miranda kept their yard swept clean with a Willow branch.

"They call themselves Injuns honey, but they're really just Brass Ankles," Meemaw told me. "Just remember: 'Not all niggers is Driggers, but all Driggers is niggers.'" People around here spit that term, Brass Ankle, like it's a piece of old chewing tobacco they had stuck between their teeth, but my Momma always told me that that word ain't a slur but a people—a real Lowcountry Indian.

When I was a little boy and we would go over to Meemaw's house, Momma would say that Meemaw liked to talk ugly about other people, and that I shouldn't listen to her. But then Momma and Daddy died and left me to live there with her and The Old Man, so I had no choice but to listen to them. They were the only people I ever knew that would think up rhymes for the word nigger.

* * *

The first time I ever actually spoke to Miranda was there at the store over the summer while she was working in the fireworks stand. Twice a year, around New Year's and the Fourth of July, R.J. opened up that little dry-rotted shack, and rather than hire someone to tend it, had Miranda do it instead. I never bought fireworks myself. I never could determine any use for them. But when I saw her in there that day with that pile of black hair and those big pink lips with a cigarette hanging out of them like a movie star, I suddenly got a real hankering for a Roman candle.

"Hey," I said.

"Can I help you?" She was looking down at a magazine and wearing a necklace strung with fake pearls.

"I don't know, can you?"

She looked up at me and her eyes were almost gold, like the head of a shotgun shell. I smiled but she ignored me and put her cigarette out in a can of Mountain Lightning. "You wanna buy a firecracker, or not?"

"Oh...yeah," I said, reaching for my wallet. "Sure, give me one of them Roman candles." She gave it to me and I gave her a dollar and drove away.

* * *

After thinking on it for a little while, I decided I wanted to take Miranda out on a date, so I came home from school and asked Meemaw to give me a little bit of money.

"A date? Lordy now, who with?"

"Miranda Driggers," I said.

"Oh." She pulled her lips tight and the wrinkles in the corners of her jowls shook a little bit like a dog's do before they bark. "Well, I think I'll have to ask your grandfather," she said. "I don't know if we have money to be loaning right now."

When The Old Man got home, I was sitting on the couch, eating potato chips and looking at a history book I should've been studying. He sat down in the recliner next to me and turned on the news and cracked open a Miller Highlife and slurped the foam from the top. He had this bushy white mustache that he kept curled up on the ends like a confederate soldier, and when he looked at me I could see little droplets of beer sticking to it.

"Your grandmamma told me you're trying to poke a Brass Ankle," he said, scooting the footrest closer to him. "That true?"


"I said your grandmamma told me you're trying to poke a Brass Ankle. Is that true?"

"No sir, nothing like that. I was just wanting a little bit of money to go on a date."

"Date? Hell boy, that's even worse. You want to poke the little girl, that's one thing, but dating her, well, that's something else."

"What's wrong with dating her?"

He took a sip from his beer. "People might talk."

"About what?"

"About you being a nigger lover, that's what. You don't want nobody thinking that now, do you?" He stared in my eyes until I thought my heart was gonna jump up out of my neck and run off. He always had that effect on me. So I shook my head real sharply and screwed my eyes up to try and make myself look real convincing. "Good," he said. "Neither do I."

* * *

The second time I met Miranda was the first time in her memory. We were at a party that some friends of mine were having on the sandbar off of Wampee Cut. My cousin, Jackie, and I had gone out the evening before and hung a bunch of limb-lines down the river baited with small bream. When we got back to the sandbar that night, we had caught six or eight blue cats over twelve pounds, and I was standing on the bow with two of the biggest ones hooked over my fists, my chest poked out and bloody. I was about half-tight off of a pint of Wild Turkey 101.

I saw her standing on the back side of the bank in a bathing suit and her pearls as we came up, holding a cane-pole in one hand and a double-deuce can of Budweiser in the other.

"Hey," I said, walking up to her. "Hey, you remember me?"

"No," she said, giggling to one of her friends. "Should I?"

"I bought a Roman candle off of you a few weeks back."

"Ha. You and a hundred other people. I'm supposed to remember every white boy that buys firecrackers from me?"

"It was just the one," I said. "A Roman candle."

"Sorry." She stuck the cane pole in-between her legs and pulled a pack of Camels out of her bathing suit top and found a cigarette and lit it up and the tip of it flushed brightly in the dusk. "But what's your name, anyway?"

"Todd," I said.

"Nice to meet you, Todd," she said, sticking out her hand, "I'm Miranda."

"My momma used to smoke Camels," I said as I shook her hand.

"Oh yeah? What are you? Some kind of Momma's boy?"

"No, I ain't."

"Well, what happened then, she quit?"

"No," I said. "She died." Miranda looked down at the ground and made an oval in the sand with her foot. She blew a puff of smoke out of her mouth and the wind caught it and carried it downstream. "She wore pearls like that, too. You remind me of her a little bit."

"I remind you of a white woman?"

"No," I said. "You remind me of my Momma."

* * *

Later that night, after she was good and drunk, Miranda sang a Hank Williams song and danced in a little circle around the fire with her arms out by her side. When she finished, she laid down next to me on the coarse yellow sand and I ran my hand up and down the side of her thigh. Her skin felt leathery and the little prickles of hair tickled the back of my hand and gave me a hard-on.

"You know," she finally said, "I ain't got my Momma neither."

I looked up, like out of a trance. "How'd she die?"

"She didn't. But sometimes I wish she had." Her voice was deep and smooth from the Budweiser.

"You shouldn't talk like that," I said.

"Why? It's true. I wish she would've died rather than just hauled up and left like she done."

"That ain't fair."

"What, to wish your mother was dead instead of shacked up in Iowa with a Pontiac salesman named Sam? To wish she hadn't left you to tend to a trailer that looks like the asshole of the universe? To wish she would call me on my birthday? To wish for some peace of mind? Well then, I guess I'm unfair."

I rubbed my eyes and pulled the bottle of 101 out of my pocket and took a swig. "Your Momma was an Indian too, wasn't she?" I asked.

Miranda laughed, throwing her head back so that the sweat on her neck glistened in the firelight. "We ain't Indians," she said. "Ain't you heard?" She took the bottle out of my hand and poured it down her throat. "We're Brass Ankles."

* * *

That night, before we went to sleep, Miranda and I snuck off into the woods and kissed for twenty minutes beneath the sound of mosquitoes buzzing like drums. Her mouth tasted like smoke.

* * *

Sometime between that party and New Year's Eve, when the fireworks stand at R.J's caught fire and Miranda was burnt alive, and the rockets inside all went off and exploded over the sign with the flying donkey; and before The Old Man heard about it and made some comment about thinking R.J. was an Injun, not a Jew, and us getting into a fist-fight that I still only halfway regret, I took Miranda on a date to the Dock Restaurant beside the lake, off of Beaver Creek Road.

I'd saved up some money collecting empty beer cans and selling them to the recycling plant, so I went by the store and asked after her, and that next Friday bought her a shrimp dinner and asked her to be my girlfriend.

"Todd," she said, putting her elbow on the table and running her hand through her hair. "Why did you have to do that?"

"What?" I said.

"Ruin everything. Why did you have to go and ruin everything?" She pulled a Camel out of her purse and lit it up.

"How did I?"

"We could have had a lot of fun together. We had a good thing going. But I can't be your girlfriend."

I sat there staring at her across the table as she sucked on the end of the cigarette. "Why?" I said.

"Why?" She rolled her eyes. "Ask your granddaddy why."

"What's he got to do with it?"

"Everything. He has everything to do with it."

"But, I love you."

"Honey, you hardly know me." She took a drag from her cigarette. "And I promise you, I ain't nothing to love."

I looked down at my feet and rocked back in forth in my chair. "I don't understand."

"Yes," she said. "You do." Then she stuck the end of her cigarette in a paper cup of tartar sauce and it hissed, and smoke rose up from the table like a prayer.

BIO: Robert Maynor is from the Lowcountry of South Carolina. He has worked as a commercial plumber, dishwasher, cook, landscaper, and musician. He is twenty-two years old.