The Shanty

Desolate. Aged. Flimsy and fragile, the small shanty was nothing more than an eyesore. The surrounding emptiness that held it so gently made him wonder if it were ever pretty, once. Could that sea of yellow and gold have given it a lift in color? Could that broad expanse of emptiness have been encouraging once?

Johnny sucked in nicotine and stared at the ground underfoot. Gravel, some roadside litter. Their car was still humming nearby, the bass of Ludacris beating out a tune that seemed to be absorbed by the emptiness.

"This is kinda scary," Kansas said, squinting underneath the hem of his Stetson. Rubbing his thin chest, he puffed out his cheeks. "Sorta...sorta gives you the idea that...like...everything shrivels and dies at some points."

"That's so profound, man." Rolling his eyes, Johnny turns from the shanty, slowly heading for the car. He is relieved for the working AC, and for the fact that their combined CD collection has a seemingly limitless choice factor.

"Isn't it?" Kansas follows, kicking at loose gravel. They both eye a car that shoots past them, its passengers unreadable. Beyond that is a stretch of nothingness that echoes silence, making him feel cold despite the thick heat. He pulls at his t-shirt, pulling it away from sticky skin. "I'm full of profound things, man. I'm utterly profound. My foundations were built on profound!"

Johnny decides he's going to focus out Kansas' ability to fill himself with bullshit and set his attention on their goal. They both climb into the car and Kansas is hitting the seventy MPH mark in just seconds. Johnny's too tired to marvel over the car's capabilities and leans back in his seat, wiping at his nose. He stared out the window, eyeing the dead nothingness and thinking of his family in Rapid City. He wonders if they think of him—wonders if they feel anything more than what they already do.

Kansas sings along with Luda, reminding Johnny that he'd had enough. He reached out to depress the eject button, interrupting Kansas' yowl. He replaced the CD with that of the Gorillaz recent album, and Kansas sighs.

Looking back out, Johnny thought of that shanty. He wondered about the family that had built it, that had lived in it. What were they thinking, putting that place up in the middle of no where? Was the land magically so different back then? Was it cozy? Was it uncomfortable?

He wished that he'd taken a picture of it, but he and Kansas hadn't a camera, and he wasn't a person that liked taking pictures all the time. He wanted to store that shanty into the back of his mind, pull it out occasionally to look at it once more.

Somehow, somewhat, that shanty reflected the conflicts of his life now. He just had to think about what it was that made it similar to him.

Kansas shot him a sideways glance. "We cool?"

"Yeah. Frosty," Johnny drawled. He had to shoot Kansas an annoyed look. "What?"

"Nothin'. I'm just asking. You're all...faraway."

"I'm not," Johnny muttered, shifting in his seat. His baggy jeans were bunched uncomfortably around his hips, so he pulled them down, then plucked at his shirt. "Shit, leave me alone."

Kansas sighed, head tossing side to side to ease the cricks in his neck. "All you Indians are the same, man. Moody as fuck."

"Get over it."

"Let's be happy today!" Kansas then declared. As if waving a wand, he tapped Johnny's head, then shifted the air above his head. "I wish happiness upon you, little mortal. Peace, bum."

Johnny waved his arm away with a scowl, shifting lower in his seat. He wiped the corners of his mouth, then angrily threw his right braid over his shoulder.

"Get over it," he repeated on a low growl. He thought of the shanty, wondering what the insides looked like. He wished he'd investigated.

Kansas liked his fairy routine. He blessed the dashboard, the middle console, the cupholders with his wand, wishing happiness onto everything he could touch.

Johnny ignored him, fingers entwining and settling over his stomach. He watched nothingness eventually give away to scenic green and rolling hills, and wondered how anybody could want to live outside of South Dakota. Plain, but full of dips and bumps that kept things from being too flat.

He shifted to pull out the funeral announcement from his messenger bag. Opening it, he frowned at the old picture of his auntie. Her oversized glasses, her chubby face, her hair that was teased within an inch of its life atop of her forehead.

"You ever been to Montana?" he asked Kansas.

"Nope. This white boy lived in RC all his life," came the reply.

Johnny grumbled. "I've been there, like, once."

"We got a map?"

"No."

"We'll get there," Kansas declares, no worry in his tone. He drummed his hands atop of the steering wheel, then asked, "You close to her?"

"...Kinda. I mean...just a little. I knew who she was..."

"Then why we going if you don't even know her?"

"Because she's family, man! Family!"

"So? You don't even know her. It's like...going to some stranger's house for a barbeque just for the food. I mean, fuck it if you don't even know half the turds that are there....it's like all those people that attend funerals just for the fucking food."

"Yeah," Johnny answers, not really wanting to get into it.

"She related to your mom or dad?"

"I think to my dad. Good ole dad."

"...She looks like your mom."

"No, I'm pretty sure she's off my dad's side. She's got that squint going on."

"...I think she's just fat."

Johnny shoved the announcement into Kansas' face, and the car swerves. He pulls it back into the proper lane, an incoming car having to jerk dangerously onto the gravel to avoid impact. Kansas curses and pales at the near miss, but Johnny laughs. He whoops loudly at the near-death encounter, and throws up his arms as he experiences the thrill of cheating death.

"That was fucked up!" Kansas squeaks, shooting him a furious look. "You could have gotten us killed! You asshole!"

Johnny relaxed, once more resuming his previous position, hands over his stomach. "Aw, don't cry, man. We didn't. We're still here. We're still alive. Alive and ready for the next piece of frybread that comes along. Drizzled with honey...thick and fluffy...golden on the edges and white near the middle."

Kansas is still sweating over the near-death incident. He refuses to acknowledge Johnny, and holds the steering wheel tightly. Johnny is satisfied with his silence, and barks out a chuckle before leaning his head back to rest his eyes.

Nearly four hours later, the pair of them are looking for a place to eat. Kansas had just filled the car with gas, and Johnny really had to shit. But he wasn't going to do it in a gas station. Both of them are satisfied with a restaurant that promises two-inch thick burgers and golden fries, and as they leave the car, Johnny looks for the sign that would tell him he wasn't welcome.

He catches his reflection in the glass pane, and notices that one braid's more tighter than the other. He wishes he could fix that, but now wasn't the time. His shirt is wrinkly at the bottom, and his pants, baggy and comfortable, make him look skinnier than he was. He could only brush out the chip crumbs and pretend to think that he'd meant to look this way on purpose.

They walk in, and a teenager behind the counter greets them cheerfully. Her makeup looks like she has two black eyes. Kansas greets her in the same tone, and she directs them to a booth near the back end of the restaurant. People stare at them as they walk by.

Johnny leaves once she sets the menus down, and he goes to accomplish his business in the stark cleanliness of the bathroom. It's scented with lavender, with really sparkling clean counters. He debates on flushing or not after he's done just to disrupt that cleanliness. But he flushes anyway because it's customary habit, and as he's washing his hands, the spritzer on the wall releases a steady stream of lavender scented scent.

He looks at his reflection once more in the mirror and frowns at the loose braid. He reaches up to fix it but some trucker's coming in, and he leaves it alone. He leaves the bathroom and heads back to the table Kansas' is sitting at. He glowers at the stained Stetson that he's wearing, and sneaks a glance around himself. How freakin' cliche...a cowboy poser and an Indian, chummy-chummy and sitting together. Traveling together for a funeral.

Sneering, Johnny slides into the booth and reaches for the menu. He feels warped, today. And it's all because of that shanty. It pops back into his mind as he debates a sandwich and a burger, and argues their differences.

He should have walked into that shanty. Examined its contents.

"The soup of the day sounds good!" Kansas decides, tossing the menu aside. He lifts his arms up, and casually wipes his hands down the fluff underneath there.

Johnny is grossed out, and hopes he washes his hands before eating. But knowing that hippie, Kansas will forget he did it and will eat his food with funk-smelling fingers.

He shudders with revulsion.

"Followed with a turkey BLT. And fries. And...we got money, right?"

Johnny bobs his head. He has money.

He wonders if that shanty has a stove in it. And wonders what it was powered by. He wished he listened to his grandmother more closely when she was relating tales of her childhood. He thinks of the picture in the funeral announcement and wonders how his auntie had lived her childhood back in the day. Was she a hippie? An AIM activist? Did she protest the war with everyone else, or was she too involved with the injustices done to the American Indian? Or was she too stoned to care?

"I was thinking," Kansas says, rubbing his chin. Johnny's upper lip curls with disgust as he shifts his eyes from the menu, peering at the white boy. Those fingers had just wiped over fluffy hair and 'pit smells. And the guy was rubbing them over his mouth? His face? Johnny tried not to gag. "I mean, if we keep on driving like we are, we should be there, in, like four hours."

"That's cool," Johnny mutters.

"It's not that long of a drive! But we might have some trouble finding it, if you don't know your way around...man...there's white people there, right?"

"There should be. They're all over America..."

Kansas ignores Johnny's sarcasm. "I mean, I don't want to show up, and be the only pale dude there. They might, like, decide to satisfy the gods with the sacrifice of one measly white dude. I don't want to be a sacrifice. I'm not worthy! I'm just...man, I'm just me."

Johnny decides that Kansas would make an unworthy sacrifice to any god. He stares at the print before him, but he's also wondering what in the world that family grew to keep their stomachs full. There was just emptiness all around it! What did they grow? What did they hunt? Where'd they get their water? He didn't see a well anywhere...but then again, it was probably removed.

Kansas exhales heavily, studying the back print of Johnny's menu. He's anxious about attending the funeral because he doesn't know anyone. And he knows how indifferent Indians are about white people—while indifference is better than straight out mean and unruly, it's the fact that he'll be ignored and dissed that gets him hesitant. He'll get some looks, some gripes—he knows that they'll be mad-dogging him and muttering things. He has to hope that there are some white people there.

He gets the feeling that Johnny feels this way vice versa everyday. Rapid City wasn't known for its cordial attitude toward Indians. He tried to adapt Johnny's attitude—that sulky, distanced expression, the way he'd keep to himself when in public. The way he looked at anyone that tried to talk to him with that expression of smug apathy.

But Kansas isn't like Johnny—he's insecure in his own skin, so he makes up for it by trying harder. He tries to make up for Johnny's sulkiness with his bright cheer. He shifts in his seat, and accidentally kicks Johnny under the table.

When Johnny lowers the menu to shoot him one of those dark glares, Kansas says, "I kinda wish that when I grow up, I turn into this samurai. Samurais are cool. I mean, they're total ronin. They do whatever they want, 'cept if they have obligations to their masters. Sorta like...kick ass on daily basis, but with permission, sorta."

Johnny snorts. He tosses the menu aside. Kansas was obsessed with manga. Johnny outgrew cartoons a long time ago. Sometimes, he wonders if Kansas says these things just to throw him off. It's like Kansas was born just to be his complete opposite, yet they somehow mesh to get along. It's strange that way. Johnny has to think about that in depth, but he's troubled by making a decision between a regular hamburger, or risking it all for the breakfast steak plate.

"Samurai?" he asks. "Why not a cowboy?"

"Man, I'm going for total originality!" Kansas complains, throwing off his Stetson. His dirty blond hair is matted, shaped into the impression his hat left. He has earrings in each ear, and almost delicate features. He's teased a lot for being a fag, and Johnny's included because they're best friends. "Whoever heard of a samurai in Rapid City?"

"So original," Johnny scoffs. But he thinks about it. "I'd rather be...hmm. A dinosaur. A dinosaur being that rises from the plains, that's more majestic than the white buffalo woman. I'd be loaded with this grand power to make things that I don't like to disappear. And then when I eat people that piss me off, I'll spit out their bones in front of their families as a warning. And then I'd run into cities and totally decimate them, and their surrounding surburbias and make everything back to the way it was...except with tv."

Kansas stares at him, trying to figure out the meaning of the story. But he has to agree with him. "Yeah. Especially Spike. MXC."

"Oh, definitely. I like seeing people get hurt. It just makes things funnier."

Kansas got Johnny a shirt that reads, It's all fun and games until someone gets hurt. Then it's hilarious. It totally fits Johnny. Johnny's the type that'll laugh at broken bones and dead people in car accidents. He wonders if some wires are loose in that brain of his, but he doesn't dare question it aloud.

He wasn't afraid of Johnny. He was just afraid of losing Johnny's interest.

He shrugs, and pulls at his shirt. The restaurant has the heat going, and he's starting to sweat. Their waiter comes back finally, and they order. To pass the time, Kansas challenges Johnny to some Twenty Questions, and Johnny makes fun of everything he says. They eat and they leave the place, Johnny explaining why he thinks the war in Iraq is a starting point for Bush's reasoning to take over the world.

They drive all the way to Montana—stopping every so often to fill up on gas and load up on food. Car trips are a litany of conversation that's already been detailed and warm soda that prompts belching games. When they get to the Little Big Horn reservation, Johnny's already lost, and Kansas forgot to get a map.

"This is so retarded," Johnny mutters. "I don't even know where these people live. Why are we here, again?"

"Some chick died, and you wanna pay your respects?"

"...Oh yeah....man, I didn't even know her."

Kansas tries not to react with impatience and frustration. "Well, now what?"

"Let's go back home..."

"I did NOT drive all the way out here just to drive all the way back home! We are going to sight-see, start a fight, or at least get invited into one of these way cool dinghies for something to ?"

Johnny shrugs, but he's already sinking low in his seat. He eyes the neighborhood with some indifference. He tries picturing the shanty out here in the Little Big Horn reservation, and can't do it. It just doesn't fit.

Besides that, there's the feeling that he just doesn't belong here. People look at them curiously, already knowing that they were strangers. Already probably knowing what they were here for. He contemplates asking for directions, but that would just leave a bad impression. They were relatives of the woman, and they didn't know where she lived? What the hell?

So he kept his lips shut and eyed the scenery—what was there—with a mean scowl. He made to look like he knew what he was doing and where he was going, but Kansas was ruining the entire effect by driving aimlessly through the streets.

Anxiously, he shifted in his seat. "Dude, let's stop somewhere. Figure out a place to stay."

"Where?" Kansas is impatient, and he's mad that Johnny has no idea where to go. Its embarrassing, because people are watching them. Taking note of them. And when they finally attend the funeral tomorrow, they'll know that they're both incompetents that have no sense of direction or purpose and will make fun of them.

"There's a hotel back in Hardin."

"It's probably full. Did she know a lot of people?"

"I don't know!"

"Don't be yelling, man, chill. We'll check it out."

"I don't want people thinking we're together, either. Get two beds."

"Why do I have to do it? Why don't you go in and do it?"

"Because! I don't want to look like a dork!"

"So I have to...?"

"You're white. You're allowed."

"Fuck you."

Fuming, Kansas speeds all the way back to Hardin, and finds the hotel Johnny mentioned. He pulls in, and it's obvious he's pissed because his shoulders are rigid and he walks off without making any faces or yelling for help. Johnny just hides in the passenger side seat and tries not to acknowledge anybody looking their way.

Kansas takes his time, but only to be a dick. He hopes all the people in Hardin comes along and stares at Johnny, and acknowledges to themselves that Johnny's a really uncool guy. He hopes the word makes it's way into the reservation and everyone there finds out that Johnny's actually really insecure and dim, rather than the presentable young adult that he is.

While Kansas was getting his revenge, Johnny sulked and stared out the window. He was missing Rapid City already. Being out here, far from home, was making him anxious. He made car trips before—it wasn't as if this was his first trip out of town, but...just being here, knowing nobody and getting no where was something wholly uncomfortable for him.

By the time Kansas came back, taking his time about it, Johnny felt that he was doing this on purpose. He didn't look at the guy when he crawled back into the car, and swung the vehicle around back, where their room was.

That night, Johnny sucked at a Marlboro Light and wondered about the shanty some more. It just stayed in his mind—that emptiness, that worn wood, that surrounding of yellow and gold nothingness. What was so important about it? What made it so...so impressionable? He should have taken a picture of it, but then he remembered that he didn't take pictures. He could have drawn it, but he wasn't an artist. He figured he'd buy a disposable camera here and then, when they head back to Rapid City, he'd get Kansas to stop there again.

He stared out at Hardin's meager contents and wondered about people's lives, here. He could see a few shacks here and there that resembled the shanty. Standing desolate...in the middle of no where...uncomfortable and fragile.

He could hear Kansas flipping through the channels in the room. Since that afternoon, both were testy with each other. Kansas was ignoring him, and Johnny was cool with that. It gave him some space to work with. He could think all he wanted without having to share his thoughts with some nosy poser. He rolled his eyes skyward and wondered about his auntie. Why did she want to be buried here? Why didn't she want to come back home? Or was her man too lazy to arrange such things and just set it all aside in favor of finding his next snag?

Whichever, they were here. They were going to attend her funeral, learn a few things from those that really knew her, and head on back to Rapid City, where they were going to live their boring lives and do their boring thing.

He thought of the shanty once more. Damn it...why was it still there?

He flicked his cigarette away and walked back into the room to argue with Kansas over the meaning of Jerry Springer.