roe: The moon. You will see the moon like never before from right here.
win: The moon, cousin?
roe: Yes the moon.
win: [Looking around.] And we gotta do that here? Is this even safe?
roe: Trust me, they are more afraid of us than we are of them.
win: Uh, I don’t know about that.
roe: Come on and rez up.
win: What does that even mean?
roe: You know.
win: [Beat.] Man you city Indians.
win: You come up to the city and you act like the moon is this new thing. Like you never seen it before. Like you gotta sit in a dirty alley and see a full moon to feel Indian again. [Beat.] You know you can see this kinda thing back home all the time.
roe: [She makes a scoffing sound, perhaps a snort.]
win: What is that supposed to mean?
roe: Nothing. This is what it’s like here. The sky is small here. You gotta plan how you can see things.
win: Mmm hmm.
roe: Oh Jesus, super Indian over here. So what, at home you what, pack a bundle and head out on the land and wait for the moon to rise over the trees then empty your menstrual cup in the snow and howl?
win: Eww! What is wrong with you?
roe: When’s the last time you even went outside for anything, let alone to see the stars? And going out for a smoke doesn’t count.
win: I see them all the time.
roe: On your way home from the smoke shack?
win: What’s wrong with that? Seeing the stars on my way home from my job? Is that really the worst thing I could do? Look up as I head home or look up when I go for a smoke?
roe: No, it’s not, but don’t treat it like you are somehow better than me or like this means less. I didn’t know the moon was reserved for the reserved. [She grins, waits for a response.]
win: Oh you are clever. Just hilarious.
roe: Look. I live here now. Three years now. That’s a long time in the city. City years are like double rez years. And yeah, it is different but it’s been good for me. It’s made me appreciate who I am in a way that home never could. [She looks up.] Once you lose the stars you learn to appreciate them.
roe: I know it’s different but can you just try to enjoy this?
win: It stinks. [She checks her phone.]
roe: It stinks everywhere here. You get used to it.
win: I don’t think I could ever get used to it.
roe: Sometimes you have to.
win: You have to?
[She looks to roe. Silence.]
So how long?
roe: Not long.
win: So we are here to see the moon.
roe: Not just any moon. A super moon.
win: Like a full moon?
roe: It’s a big moon. It looks big okay? It’s impressive.
win: Hold on. [She googles from her phone.] Okay so . . . I need a . . . [She looks around the ground for something to draw with. She finds an old can of spray paint and goes to a wall.] So it –
roe: You trying to get arrested?
win: Arrested? For this? Seriously? [Referring to the graffiti and general disrepair of the alley.] Look around you.
roe: I know, I know but shit if they see you doing that . . .
win: Come on. Rez up.
[Referring to her phone occasionally she begins to draw/paint, as she does the following.]
Okay the Earth is here. And the moon is here. The moon’s orbit is like this. So when it’s on this side of the Earth it is closer and therefore looks larger. There.
roe: Mystery solved. You really know how to suck the fun out of things, you know that?
win: So we stand here and wait for the moon to rise. Are we even gonna be able to see it from here?
roe: Oh yeah.
win: You do this a lot? Come here?
roe: Yep. Just about every month. The winter is the best. Snow makes things quieter. Smells less too.
win: And how’d you find this place?
roe: This old Indian guy who used to stop in the store. He came in once looking for a gift for his niece and we got to chatting. He’s from up north. James Bay area. He would come in and we would talk. He had these really sad eyes. Looked like he had a rough time, like he had been crying for a long time. Years maybe. We’d talk. Sometimes even have lunch on my break. He told me about this spot. Told me where to find it. Said he felt like there was something special here.
win: So how come he isn’t here?
roe: I don’t know. I haven’t seen him in a while . . . He just stopped coming in.
win: Maybe he went home.
[A few beats.]
win: Well you have some interesting hobbies, cousin.
roe: Come on, have a seat.
roe: Here. [She points to the ground.]
win: Ew. No.
win: It’s gross. No.
roe: [She grumbles.] Jesus. Fine. Hold on. [She looks around, goes to a near by garbage can, pulls out a newspaper and tosses it on the ground.] Sit on his face.
win: Holy heck. No. I’d rather sit on the ground. I don’t know where he’s been. [She points to the politician on the front page.] And that is a bullshit paper. Have you read some of the comments on their website? That’s a paper for racists. Racists read that paper. Racists.
roe: Oh just sit down.
win: [She fusses with the newspaper on the ground for too long, looks around. Finds two milk crates. Fusses with them. Dusts her hands off. Picks up newspapers and sets them on top of the crates. Fusses some more. And finally sits.] And now we wait.
roe: We wait. [She smiles. She sits on a crate.]
win: We wait.
[We hear the street.]
roe: The other day there was this Indian woman in the store. She was the spitting image of Aunty Dana. I thought it was her for a second. Little and brown, cat shirt, yarn poking out of her purse, wearing transition lenses. Just cute you know. And so I was really helping her. Ignoring everyone else in the store. Helping her more than I help anyone else. And when she gets up to the counter to pay for her stuff I ask her if she has a status card and she says, ‘No, not on me,’ and so I tell her she can use mine. And she smiles and I go to get my card from my wallet and –
win: Doesn’t anyone notice when you do stuff like that?
roe: No. God no. Most of the people don’t even know how to deal with tax exemption on the computer. There is like clearly a button. Idiots.
win: They just don’t know. Lots of people don’t.
roe: No. Trust me. Idiots. You haven’t met them.
win: Well you gotta teach them.
roe: I ain’t gotta do shit.
win: Then they’ll never know how to deal with a status card. You have to teach them.
roe: Why is that my job? To teach them?
win: Because no one else will. You know that. Why would they? They’d have to see us then.
roe: Are we talking about the same thing here?
win: We are. We have to be the teachers. We do.
roe: Here we go.
win: Not ‘here we go’.
roe: Here we go.
win: Okay fine. We don’t have to. Then who explains? Then no one learns anything and we just disappear.
roe: I’m not going anywhere. And fucking do your own work. It’s not like I came out of the womb with my history written down in a manual. I had to go looking.
win: I know that.
roe: It’s not like it doesn’t exist. There is stuff out there. It’s not even hard to find. You just have to do the work. Read an effing book. Quit asking me to tell you everything in fucking Coles Notes format. I’m tired of trying to find a metaphor that adequately encompasses what went down here. Imagine someone walked into your house and said it was theirs, and then they took your kids away and blah, blah, blah. There isn’t a simple way of explaining this. It takes work. It takes undoing. In your own brain. Decolonize yourself.
win: Well no one is getting on a boat and going home so I guess we had better find a way to explain their history to them.
roe: I just wish they would try.
win: I think some of them do.
roe: I think most of them try their best to forget how they are here. Why they are here. What’s been built on our backs. Like a few weeks ago there was this powwow right beside work. And I just got a pit in my stomach when I saw them setting up. You know? That feeling when you know you are gonna have to deal with it. The ‘here we go’ feeling, the ‘get ready for it’ feeling. And so everybody at work starts bitching and whining about how everyone coming in wants to sit on the patio so they can watch the dancers. One of the guys working the patio actually said to me, ‘Hey, wagon burner, you should go do a rain dance so we can close the patio and we can all go home early.’ Right to my face. Right to my face with a powwow happening. He was genuinely confused when I got pissed off. I just can’t wait for them to catch up any more.
win: [She starts to laugh.] Wagon burner. Jesus. That’s funny. Wagon Burner. What is this, a John Wayne movie?
roe: I gotta look at that guy almost every day. And he’s the boss’s son so what can I do? Tell on him? Not if I wanna keep my job. I just feel so angry all the time. Or at least like I’m ready to be angry all the time. Like it is always right there at the door waiting to jump out, almost wanting to jump out.
win: I think we all feel like that. Ready to fight. Maybe it’s the Mohawk in us. The warrior. Maybe we carry that with us.
roe: Maybe it’s because ten years ago, fuck, five years ago it was all different. No one knew anything and now we have all these white folks lining up to be allies. And they look at me with their eyes all big and full of tears and ask me to absolve their ancestors of something and I am sick of explaining it doesn’t work that way. You don’t get to cry on me.
win: Some people wanna help, is that so bad?
roe: No. Not really. If we know what that means. I just feel apprehensive. Uneasy with all this sudden ‘understanding’.
win: Maybe you are just used to things being so bad it’s hard to feel like they are getting better.
roe: Are they? Getting better? Because we have an acronym for missing and murdered women? I didn’t even know it was a thing. Like I knew it was a thing. I knew we were being killed, I knew this, but somehow I didn’t, you know? It’s like the schools. We grew up fifteen minutes away from one, drove by it more times than I could count and I didn’t know what that building was. I didn’t know that our family went there. Because they did so well at hiding it in plain sight from us, they did such a good job of colonizing us that we couldn’t see it. I just keep thinking there will be a new headline that explains to me some other atrocity I didn’t really know about, or I knew about but I couldn’t see. And it will fucking cut right through me. Again.
win: You carry too much. You can’t hold all that.
roe: I’d rather hold it. Try to see it.
win: [She lights a smoke. Exhales.] How’s that working out for you?
[They look at each other. Beat. They laugh.]
roe: I’m just frustrated.
win: Oh yeah?
roe: Shut up. You know what I mean.
win: Yeah I do. I just wonder what frustration gets you.
roe: It makes me fucking care.
win: Why don’t you just say what you mean?
roe: Oh come on, we’re just shooting the shit.
win: Oh come on?
roe: It’s different for you. I don’t blame you. You live there.
win: You don’t blame me?
roe: I know you know. In some ways. The shitty cellphone signals that drain your battery, you gotta drive half an hour to get groceries, cheap smokes, cheap gas, everybody knows all your business, you’ll be able to own a house by the time you’re thirty, but you’ll never own the land –
win: And you think that is the difference? That is what makes here so different from there?
roe: No, I don’t think that is the only thing. I think the apathy is the thing. No one votes or even cares or pays attention to what is happening in the outside world.
win: For someone who hasn’t been back in years, you certainly think you know a lot about us.
roe: I don’t have to go back to know what it’s like.
win: And now you’re all into foreign politics. Voting for their government. Taking part in their systems?
roe: Yeah I voted. I wasn’t gonna let that guy in! Fucking dead- eyed soulless zombie. And I wish you would think about voting. Have you even thought about what would have happened if that guy got in?
win: You vote down home? For band council.
roe: Do you?
win: I don’t believe in that system.
roe: So you are, what, all traditional now? You Longhouse?
win: Of course not.
roe: Then what are you?
win: What am I? I am your cousin. I was there when you fell out of that treehouse and broke your arm. I was your human shield on the way to the bus stop every day between kindergarten and grade 12 because you were terrified of the dogs. I taught you to inhale a cigarette and how to forge your mom’s signature. I was there when your dad left and you cried and cried. I was there. I was. So why don’t you ease up and stop shitting all over a place you don’t understand any more.
win: Whoa? [Beat.] What, you think you’re the only one who can get pissed off? Who is frustrated every goddamn day? I see it I know it. You’re the one who left so stop acting like that is someone else’s fault.
roe: Thanks for teaching me to smoke. It’s been really helpful.
win: You are such a shit.
[A silence. win lights a smoke.]
win: You ever think of coming back?
roe: For what?
win: For anything.
roe: I don’t know. I feel more myself here than I ever did there.
win: They wish you would. At least to visit.
roe: I know. I might.
win: You might?
roe: I try.
win: You try? I don’t get it.
win: You have family there.
roe: Not really.
win: Well screw you too.
roe: You know what I mean.
[ win is silent.]
roe: I can’t go back there. I know what they think. I know what they see. They can’t see me without seeing it.
win: Well no one blames you.
roe: Yeah. I find that hard to believe.
win: You blame you. Just because you were in the car doesn’t mean you died too.
roe: You’re right. And here, in the city, I can be alive.
win: Well. I guess this was for nothing then.
win: [She is silent.]
roe: This visit? Your big trip to the city as family ambassador to try and make me go back?
roe: What, you didn’t think I knew? You are so fucking obvious. Come on. We haven’t spoken . . . since . . . hmm . . . let me think. When was that? When was that –
win: Jesus. I’m not the enemy here. What is your problem?
roe: Because I went and because I am the one who left so no one has to try. No one has to care. I left so it’s my fault so no one has to call or visit. So if I don’t go home, if I don’t call then I am the dick. I am the inconsiderate asshole who gave up, who doesn’t care, but it’s a two-way street. It takes three years for the family ambassador to grace me with an appearance.
win: Is this not trying? Sorry but you are just one person. We can’t all come running, we have lives too no matter how fucking small they may look to you. Why don’t you just go to another rally to feel like you’re a part of something?
roe: It’d be more than you’ve ever done. At least I try.
win: ’Cause you have a medicine wheel button on your backpack? You hold hands with hippies who say they understand us? I see your Facebook pics. Way to go to a rally. Shit, you are trying so hard. Here, why don’t you go and make a picket sign with a clever slogan that changes the world. [She tosses the can of spray paint at her.]
roe: When did you get so mean?
win: When did you turn so soft?
roe: Soft? This is soft? You have no idea what I live every day.
win: You’re right I have no idea. How could I? You can’t even fucking call home to even tell us if you are still alive!
roe: This is how you get me to go home? By being an asshole? Hey did you think that maybe it wasn’t the accident?
win: Did I ever think that it wasn’t the accident?
roe: Why I don’t come home.
win: Oh really, then why? Please enlighten me.
roe: Because here I get to be me in a bigger way than I could ever there and how could I not like that? And it is such a goddamn mess down there.
win: And it isn’t here? Look at this place. Look how you live? You live in a basement with no windows. You can barely afford to eat.
roe: Well at least I can drink the water.
win: Oh fuck off, we haven’t had to boil in years.
roe: [She laughs.] Can you hear yourself?
win: Nah. I don’t buy it. ‘You are more yourself?’ No. You’re afraid. And you know what? I get it.
roe: No. No you don’t. You don’t get it. You can’t. You could never. They are dead and I watched it happen and I am supposed to keep living. You weren’t there.
win: And there, there it is!
roe: There what is?
win: You are right I wasn’t there. You’d prefer it if I was. You’d prefer if it was me instead of Christine or Seth or Ray Anne in that car.
roe: No! Don’t say shit like that. I didn’t – I don’t want that.
win: You guys didn’t even want me to come. You never did. I hate bush parties and you all knew that. I was terrible at them. Sat alone somewhere doing my best to not get hit on by some creep, probably related to us, while you guys partied. That night, when you told me there wasn’t room in the car, I knew there was. I knew. And I knew that you guys had finally gotten sick of dragging me around. But I didn’t care. I got so sick of pretending.
roe: I . . . I . . . didn’t want you to come. I didn’t. I am glad we lied to you. I’m glad you are here now.
win: I am here and so are you. They died and I learned to live without them but I didn’t think I was gonna have to live without you, too. We just want you to visit. It would mean a lot to Grandma.
roe: Three of her other grandkids are gone because of me. I can’t forget that and neither can she.
win: Three. Not four. Don’t take another one away from her. Don’t do that to her. She raised you. You owe her.
roe: Hey cousin, how come Indians always die in cars? Is it like the new diabetes or something?
win: That’s not funny.
roe: It kind of is. Those roads. I know them like the back of my hand. The curves, the bumps, the potholes that come up after the rain. I know them. You know I see them sometimes.
win: The roads?
roe: The cousins.
win: You do? Where?
roe: Wherever it’s busy. The street during rush hour downtown, the subway, the mall when I’m on my lunch. I wish I could forget they’re dead long enough to really think it’s them. To really give over, you know? I’d like to forget for a few seconds.
win: I saw them once. All three of them in a dream. Right after it happened. [Silence.]
roe: You never told me that.
win: I wasn’t sure you’d wanna hear it.
roe: Of course I wanna. I want to now.
win: In my dream I woke up on the couch in grandma’s house. That old grey one. I sat up and looked around for grandma and I couldn’t see her anywhere but I could hear the clock ticking. That damn loud clock she has. Tick, tick, tick. And I could smell something baking. Weird to smell in dreams but I could. It was cookies or bread or something, something in the oven. I walked into the kitchen and they were there, the cousins. They stood at the height chart against the wall measuring each other to see who had grown the tallest since they last checked. I don’t know why they would. We all stopped growing a long time ago, but they stood there, Seth kept going up on his toes and Christine kept yelling at him to quit cheating, Ray Anne just kept giggling kinda nervous the way she always did. And they noticed me. All of them at the same time. And for a second they stood looking at me and then like a silent agreement between them they grabbed me and pushed me against the wall. They were laughing and they were trying to hold me against the wall to measure me. They kept pushing me and it got really rough and I tried to get them to let me go but they wouldn’t. I got scared and I didn’t know what to do so I yelled, ‘You are dead! Leave me alone! You guys are dead.’ And they stopped and backed away. Then they started laughing even harder than before. And it got really deep sounding, not like their voices at all. I covered my ears and closed my eyes and went to scream but I couldn’t. I opened my eyes and they were gone. I was still in the kitchen and I could still smell the cookies or whatever and hear the clock, I could see you and me, but they were gone. I turned and looked at the height chart and their lines weren’t there any more. I walked back into the living room and you were there with Grandma. You guys were picking lint off of the carpet in the front room, you both looked at me and smiled and I woke up.
roe: [Beat.] Wow. What do you think that means?
win: I don’t know. I don’t think it really matters. She still has it you know.
roe: Has what?
win: That damn loud clock.
roe: I’m not surprised.
win: And she still has your grad picture hanging right beside it.
roe: [Genuine surprise.] Yeah?
win: I graduated with honours and yet you still get top billing somehow.
roe: Sucker. [Beat.] Does she still pick lint off the carpet like that? On her hands and knees?
win: Her knees are too bad now. Must bug her. My dad got her a new vacuum but she says it makes her hearing aid ring.
[An ambulance or fire truck siren, they wait. roe picks up the spray paint and begins to measure her height. She motions for win to come and do the same. She does.]
roe: Well, I may have top billing beside the clock but you will always be taller.
win: At least I have that.
roe: Remember that time when Ray Anne was just little and she got stuck in the toilet? No one even helped her, everyone just went looking for their cameras.
win: Oh god. I love those pictures.
[They both laugh.]
roe: I miss them so much.
win: Every day.
roe: I don’t want to die in a car.
win: You won’t.
roe: You can’t promise that.
win: Well you can’t walk through life thinking you’re gonna die every time you get in a car.
roe: [She motions to her surroundings.] Public transit, cousin.
win: And this is all you want for the rest of your life?
roe: For now, yes. Hey, you got a smoke?
win: Thought you quit.
[win pulls out her pack and gives roe a cigarette. roe rips it in half and empties the tobacco out. She motions for win in to come. She gives her half the tobacco and walks near the height chart drawing and looks at her cousin and places it down. win does the same.]
roe: It ain’t ceremonial but it’ll have to do.
win: It does.
[They take a moment looking at the height chart. The street sounds in the background grow. It is a streetcar or the sounds of someone shuffling. win wraps her arm around roe. roe responds. They stand watching the moonrise.]
win: At least there’s still this.
roe: And we are still here.
win: We are.
An abridged version of this play was featured in the print edition of Granta 141: Canada.
Photograph © Dani Pujalte / Millenium Images