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(This is a poem I wrote for Mrs. Goldstein's English class about that old Indian pot I found--actually, it's only the first verse.)
Speak to me, oh, pot of mystery,
Speak of savage ghosts and such,
Burning reeds and flaming torches.
Sing the songs of Hohokam--
(Man! Was I embarrassed when I had to read it to the class.)
I found it in the bottom of a sandy wash that Saturday morning. It was all dirty and cruddy-looking lying in the sun, and when I picked it up, it felt so hot I almost dropped it.
B. J. Dalton and I were south of the river driving our quads next to the mountains, doing some hunting, you know, rabbits and stuff. Only two weeks had passed in September, and B. J. was already sick of school--B. J.'s what everybody calls him except his sis ... and me when I'm fooling with him. Then it's Buford Jackson. Can you believe it? Laying a tag on a guy like "Buford Jackson Dalton?" How could anybody look at a little baby all dressed in those tiny clothes, lying in a crib, and name him "Buford Jackson Dalton"? That's crazy!
Anyway, I'd already spent half the morning trying to talk him into not becoming a "high school dropout" and all that bull crap, but he had a pat answer for everything I'd say. In a while I motioned for him to stop in the shade of this scrubby mesquite tree so we could cool off a bit. It's still really hot in Phoenix in September, you know.
"Okay, Buford Jackson," as the engines came to a sputtering halt, "how are you going to stand not seeing Lacy give oral reports in English class? Huh? You tell me that!" We'd parked, sitting highon the bank of that deep wash I told you about. It was too steep to negotiate, so we had decided to laze around a bit, then climb down and explore. B. J. was taking a bead on a rotten barrel cactus fifty feet or so away. When I mentioned Lacy's name, he stopped, planted the stock of his old twenty-two pump in the dirt like the wimpy ROTC guys do after marching around the flagpole at school. He looked off into space, thinking--and I knew who he was thinking about--then he let out this big sigh.
"If Lacy Richards walks up to me," he said all serious like, "and says, 'B. J. Dalton, honey ... '" then he changed his voice to sound like she might sound, "'would you please not drop out of high school? It would break my pretty little ol' heart,'" and he reached out as if to squeeze an invisible chin soft like she might do. "Well, I just might reconsider." Like a flash, he shouldered his rifle, drew another quick bead, and fired again.
Lacy Richards is about the best looking girl in the whole state of Arizona, maybe even the world, and every guy in the entire school has this thing for her. "You know, she just friggin' might," I said.
We'd driven nearly three miles up toward the big peak called Butterfly in the Estrellas that lie south of the valley. Every time we'd stopped, B. J. had ripped away with his twenty-two and had already zinged nearly two boxes of ammo, but we hadn't had any real luck.
The truth of the matter is, everything was dry as the American history lectures in old man Newmann's class, and that's dry, I'll tell you. Besides, with the noise of our quads and his constant and indiscriminate firing, I knew there wasn't much chance of us even seeing any game, so I felt I had to come up with a new strategy.
"I think we ought to walk a bit if we're going to get some good shots. Don't you?"
At first he didn't want to. B. J.'s lazy like that, but I finally convinced him that we had to be a little quieter.
Anyway, you know how guys are. When you get out hunting, you mostly want to shoot at anything. It feels really good to have a rifle kick your shoulder or a pistol fight your hand, to hear that loud noise and get a good whiff of gunpowder while you watch the dust fly far away. Then when you kill something, you can stand around laughing and cussing and slapping each other on the backs like you did something big. Part of me says it's crazy, but another part says it's fun and important, and I really wanted to get some good shots.
Sometimes I wish I'd lived back in the olden days so it could have been for real. When I'm carrying that Colt pistol of Pop's and wearing his leather holster, I can always picture myself as a Ranger or an Indian fighter. But I can't hit much with it unless what I'm shooting at is slap-dab in front of me.
All of a sudden this long-eared jackrabbit shot from the bushes in the bottom of the wash disappearing around the next bend. That's all it took. "Let's go!" B. J. yelled as he slid on his butt down the side and to the sandy bottom below.
This desert wash sat a good ten feet deep, stretched as wide as a country road, and was feathered with paloverde trees and mesquite bushes along its edges. I don't know how B. J felt, but I remember feeling like I was a scout hunting wild renegades, the same way I used to play when I was a little kid. B. J. was walking all crouchy-like, stalking the long-eared jack and probably feeling the same way I felt, only we didn't tell each other because you don't pretend like that when you're sixteen. You want to act like it's really important.
We'd followed this dry wash toward the foot of the big peak, shooting and whispering and cussing and stuff, killing maybe a hundred savages or more, when I saw this thing lying right there in the sand in front of us. I turned it over with the toe of my boot, reached down, and picked up an old clay pot ... you know, an old Indian pot about the size of your everyday coffee pot.
It was mostly brown with some red lines painted on it, and there were figures molded into its sides. You could tell it was really old because it looked old, all covered with crusty dirt, and it even felt old. It had a top and a handle, and it was pretty heavy.
"Whoa, B. J., would you look at this?"
"What's that, Bo?" He fired three quick shots at imaginary enemies in the trees and bushes along the edge of the wash.
"This pot, this Indian pot! Would you believe it? I haven't ever found anything like this before. I wonder where it came from." I always keep my eye out for potsherds when I'm hunting or working in the field. I've found a couple of arrowheads and some spear points and stuff. I guess the entire Salt River Valley around Phoenix was covered with Indians hundreds, maybe thousands, of years ago. While working on my research paper, I read that's why they named it after that fiery mythological bird.
When I picked up the Indian pot, it was so hot I almost dropped it. We found some good, thick shade and plopped into the sand. I set the pot between my legs and tried to pull off the top, but it was cemented tightly.
"Wonder what's in it? I can't get this lid off."
"Who cares? Go set it up on that rock. I'll blow the top off for you."
"I swear, B. J.! You're stupid sometimes! First, you want to quit school and never see Lacy Richards again, and now you want to shoot a valuable artifact. I can't believe you."
"What do you mean valuable?" He was taking out his tin for a pinch.
"We studied about this in anthropology last year in old man Baroldy's class. This is a true-life artifact. It may be worth a hundred dollars or more!"
"Yeah?" he said with little enthusiasm. "Well, I get half; let me see it." I didn't want to. B. J. took it and looked it over carefully and all, but he couldn't get the lid off either. I was afraid he was going to drop it, or worse yet, take it and toss it away, shoulder his rifle and blow it to bits. He's really crazy like that most of the time. You never know what Buford Jackson Dalton is going to do 'til he does it.
"It may be worth something, but I bet you can't get any hundred bucks out of it. Maybe Leroy'll give you five or ten dollars. Who'd want it anyway?"
Leroy's an old boy who runs the second hand store in town. He's kind of a dreamer like my old man. That's what Grandma says. Still, he's a decent guy, and I like him. He likes to swap old junk and antiques and stuff, and he has lots of Indian things shelved around in his store.
We sat there resting and trying to figure out how it got in the wash and wondering if it had floated out of the mountains in a flash flood or something. You see, the big peak and most of the Estrellas sit on an Indian Reservation. But it hadn't rained in like a hundred years or more. Finally, when we put our minds to it, we thought we had it figured out.
If you looked closely, you could tell right off that somebody else had been walking out there in the bottom of that wash. You could make out two sets of boot prints in the sand.
"I think these tracks have something to do with it. They're not our tracks."
"Looks like four sets." B. J. took on the pose of an army scout.
"Maybe, B. J., but that means they didn't come back this way. It could be only two sets--like us--two going and two coming."
"And you could be right, Mr. Smart Man." B. J. began to be unserious again. "If I was as smart as you, then I wouldn't want to quit school." He fired three or four more shots up the wash into some trees.
"Ah, shut up," I said. I picked up the pot and headed up the wash. "Let's follow these tracks a ways and see if we can find where they go."
It was around eleven o'clock or so, and we had the whole Saturday to kill there across the river. If I'd gone out for the football team like I'd started to do, I'd have been practicing because we'd lost the night before, and Coach Futch would have been running my butt off. If Mace had bailed the forty acres of alfalfa the first of the week like he'd said, I'd have been bucking bales. But this was one of those rare Saturdays where I had nothing to do but loaf, unless you talked to my mom, and I know she'd have had a different story.
Anyway, since there wasn't anything better to do, there we were following these unknown tracks toward the reservation. I was walking slowly ... pretending I was following a horse-stealing gang. B. J. was a cavalry scout or something, but we never let on to each other. While B. J. was taking shots at dozens of wild savages, I was looking for the scoundrels who stole my herd of horses and burned my ranch. I hadn't forgotten about the pot either. I was carrying a precious treasure in my arms, a gift for an Apache chief who would give me his beautiful daughter in return, and, of course, she looked just like Lacy Richards.
In a while we found where the tracks climbed out of the wash and headed south. It was too difficult to follow them in the rocks, and besides, it appeared they were trailing up into the rugged mountains.
"Let's stop." B. J. coughed. "I'm getting tired as heck." The September air hung hot and dry, and we hadn't taken any water with us. I felt the same as B. J. The old sun was cooking my brains. I needed an ice-cold soda and, at the moment, I didn't care if he dropped out of school or not.
The truth of the matter is, we were both ready to give up the tracking business and head for home. About that time, B. J. pulled up and stopped by the thin shade of a ragged paloverde.
"I need to rest!" he moaned. He sat and began digging a cholla spine from the side of his leather boot. "I think I'll drive into town tonight and visit Miss Lacy."
"Yeah, I bet you do," I said. "Talk is cheap. How could anybody with a name like Buford Jackson make time with the best looking lady in the world?"
"Oh, yeah," he looked up, jiggling those dark eyebrows. "You'll see ... when I make my move."
We kidded like that for a while. Then things kind of settled down as we relaxed there in the shallow shade. For a long time neither of us said anything, only lay there chewing on a couple of stems of dry grass and spitting and looking up at the sky so light blue and drained, it was almost white. I figured he knew what I was thinking, and I knew what he was thinking, and both had something to do with Lacy Richards.
I also remember thinking I was glad B. J. was my best friend, and wondering what he'd do if he really dropped out of school, and what he'd do if Lacy Richards asked him not to, and what I'd do if she asked me anything.
Pretty soon we got to talking about life and death and school and football and Sonny's new four-wheel-drive and Lacy Richards. It seemed like Lacy was always on B. J.'s mind and mine too, but not like she was on his back then. Now I don't know; I'm not saying. B. J.'s made some dumb choices, and besides, guys should be smart enough not to let girls come between them. For a while I thought he was too dumb to know that. Now we'll just have to see.
"B. J., remember when you and me and Pop used to load those watermelons in the back of that old green pickup and sell 'um up on the highway?"
"Yeah," he said through his hat that was covering his face as he stretched out there on the ground.
"Boy, I wish I had an ice cold one now, don't you?"
"I wish I had Lacy Richards lying right here." B. J. rolled over and hooked his arm around a head-sized rock next to him.
"Come on, B. J. That little rich girl's not your type. Guys like you and me gotta settle for girls like Horse Pritchard."
"You gotta settle for Horse. I'm going after 'The Lady,'" and he stretched the "Theee" way out.
"As ugly as you are! You don't stand a chance, Buford." I knew it was a lie because B. J. is a really handsome guy. And besides, we were just shooting the bull like best friends do.
Then everything got quiet again. This big black raven about ten miles high was soaring on the currents easy like, just as if God or somebody had him on a string moving him around the way you'd do a marionette.
"B. J., if you could be any age forever, what would you choose?"
He lay there thinking and thinking for the longest time.
"I don't know, maybe twenty-five or so." I knew he was thinking of Lacy while he relaxed and covered his face with his hat.
Naw, I thought. That's too old. Things get too heavy when you get old. I was getting into this serious reverie. "I think nine or ten would be best. That's it for me. Ten. Things were better then." We shot the bull like that for a long time, but mostly we were thinking and getting into each other's head some the way good friends do.
From where we lay at the foot of the big peak, you could look down toward Phoenix then out across the Salt River Valley for a thousand miles, so it seemed. You could look up toward Four Peaks, the Bradshaw Mountains, and east to the Superstitions; that was, unless you looked down there at the big city. Then you could see the giant buildings like little matchboxes sticking above the brown muck up and down Central Avenue. Sometimes it gets that way when it's hot and the weather's dry and all. I remember that day the old stuff hung thick and heavy, looking like the pot smoke in the restroom next to the two hundred building at school where all the freaks hang out.
If you looked north, you could see acres and acres of new houses being built all over the sections of land that used to be some of the best farm land in the world, and it made me feel closed in.
But it's not that way yet over west where we live. You could follow River Road all the way to its end. You could lie there and think about it, about the green cotton and alfalfa and maize spreading way north of the river, and it played cool in your mind, like the thought of that ice-cold watermelon, and you wished you were ten. But when you looked again, it was hot as sin with mirages distorting everything the farther north your eyes moved, and you knew you'd only been daydreaming.
Ol' B. J. and I probably could have lain there chewing and looking and thinking some 'til the sun went down, but we were a good distance from our quads and several miles from home. I dusted myself off, got my hat and threw a handful of dried desert grass at B. J.'s head.
"Come on, Buford Jackson, let's head home. You've already shot all our shells, got no game, and Lacy is a waitin'."
When I picked up the pot, it seemed strange because even though it had been sitting in the shade, it was as hot as it had been when I first found it lying in the sun. I started to say something to B. J. about it, but when I looked again, his hat had slid from his face, and he lay sound asleep.
I remember thinking how cool he really was with his thick dark hair and those high Hollywood leading-man cheekbones. At the time I figured if he worked at it, he'd probably wind up with Lacy as his girlfriend. He never had trouble meeting girls when we cruised Phoenix. In fact, he mostly could get more than his share to dance with him and hang around him. But it made me mad just a little to think of it because Lacy was different.
"Get up, you dummy!" I gave him a good push with my foot. "Come on, wake up!"
Well, that's how I found the pot. It seemed as if my entire life turned upside down after that, except for the part with Lacy. I know deep inside the pot had nothing to do with it all, but I tried to blame it just the same.
That's the way with most people--they've got to blame something or somebody. Still, I figure that if we hadn't found the pot, at least we wouldn't have followed those tracks, and if we hadn't followed those tracks, then we probably wouldn't have been exactly where we were when Buford Jackson did this dumb, stupid thing.