by Michael Riley (Cody, WY)
She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door. Pulling her grandmother’s shawl tighter around her shoulders, she scooted forward, ready to rise from the dumpy sofa to go in and tell them about seeing her son.
The Big Book says, "Abandon yourself to God as you understand God,” she reminded herself. “Admit your faults to Him and to your fellows. Clear away the wreckage of your past. Give freely of what you find and join us.”
The meeting wouldn’t start for a few minutes yet. Through the doorway, she could hear men laugh as they set up the tables. She smelled the brewing coffee. From the little green plastic radio by the wall, a wordsmith woman was talking on Montana Public Radio about “city slicker.” What it meant. How it came to be.
Her arms were itching now, and she knew she needed something, wanted just a little touch. Just to stop the shakes.
The outside door opened, and Henry Limberhand stepped inside, snow whirling around him on an icy wind. He shook the snow off his shoulders, stamped his feet and took off his wool hat.
“Hoka hey, Marilyn,” Henry said, smiling.
She nodded at him and looked down at The Big Book. He is like a stupid horse, she thought. The way he shakes and stomps. She glanced up at him and down again, reaching to touch The Big Book and turn it slightly with two fingers, her hand shaking.
I know he is kind – always has been, even when he was so bad - but the way he smiles with that gap in his front teeth … he’s like that cartoon dog – Goofy. His name should be Goofy Big Horse.
She almost laughed out loud at him.
“What does that mean?” she said, “ ‘Hoka hey’ ? You’re so stupid. You say it all the time and you don’t even know what it means.”
Holding two Styrofoam cups of steaming coffee, Calvin Falls Down appeared at the doorway.
“Marilyn wants to know what ‘Hoka hey’ means,” Henry said.
“It’s a good day to die,” Calvin said. “Heeeyyyy!”
“Ha!” Marilyn laughed, “Hollywood.” Now there is another dumb-head. Lost his father’s grocery store. Best business on the whole Rez, and he gambled it away. Fat Man Big Belly, that’s who Calvin is.
“Really, that’s what Crazy Horse said to his warriors at the Little Big Horn – ‘Hoka hey! It’s a good day to die!'”
“If everything’s in order,” Henry said, taking the coffee from Calvin and crossing the foyer to hold one out to her.
She took the cup, but her hand was shaking, and the coffee was jiggling over the rim, burning her hand, and before she could think, Henry set his down on the table, took hers in both hands and set it down too. He untied his silk neckerchief, pulled it off and took her hand.
“If you’ve done all you should,” he said, wiping her hand with his neckerchief. “It’s like, ‘Welcome to the soul’.”
“Sorry, Marilyn,” Calvin said. “I filled the cups too full.”
“Like you fill your belly,” Henry said, giving Marilyn his Goofy smile.
“I saw my boy today,” Marilyn said. “He was in the back seat of the car in front of me.”
Both men stared at her. Calvin reached to turn the radio down. The wordsmith woman was talking about how John Steinbeck described a man who slicked his hair with oil.
“I saw him at the big stoplight on Main. He was looking right at me through the back window.”
“It’s been over a year, Marilyn,” Henry said.
“But I think he knows I sold him,” she said. “And I think he recognized me. I was wearing Grandmother’s shawl. It’s all I have left.”
“We all have wounds,” Calvin said, “and we need to forgive ourselves for them to heal.”
The muscle of her face gave way then, and her shoulders dropped, her back bending over, and she began to cry.
“Hoka hey,” Henry said. “A Holy Man said it means ‘Hold fast. There is more’.”
From our judge, Caroline Patterson: "I choose "Hoka Hey" for its compelling story of recovery and loss in the context of a reservation AA meeting.