Ghost Dance Movements 1870-1890

Introduction
In the mid to late 1800s, a number of "new" religion/religious movements arose among the American Indians (often variations on older ones with newer, sometimes Christian aspects; also many drew inspiration and ideas from each other). Many of them were varying combinations of "revitalization" and "millenarian" movements.

Usually "brought" to the tribes by a prophet of some sort, the main features tended to be a return to the "old ways," plenty of land free from white encroachment, abundant food and resources, an expulsion or elimination of whites from the land (North America), and in many cases a return of the ancestors from the dead.

What is referred to as the "Ghost Dance" generally means the movement of the late 1880s. Before discussing that, one must first examine the Ghost Dance movement of 1870, which while separate, is undeniably linked.

Ghost Dance of 1870
While religious movements (and history, in general) do not function within a vacuum, without a usually complex web of causes and sources, one needs a starting place. And the starting place for the ghost Dance is a Paiute Indian named Wodziwob (ca. 1844-ca. 1873, possibly much later).

To give some context. The Indian Wars had begun. The Indian Removal Act had done its damage, not only taking a physical/mortal toll, but was harming tribal identity and structure, as well as spirituality. Indians were being pushed onto reservations (whether by trickery, coercion, or going "willingly" as a means of self-preservation) and what land there was being taken/sold/stolen as settlers and miners kept moving onto what was (supposed to be) Indian land. Further, for the plains Indians (those both indigenous to the area and those who had be "removed" or placed on reservations there), the great slaughters of the Bison were taking place.

As is often common with oppressed groups, particularly very spiritual ones, religious ideas of escape began to form. Wodziwob lived with his fellow Paiutes on the Walker River Reservation in what is currently western Nevada. He spread the story that he had visited the spirit world (a commonality in both Ghost Dance movements, as well as other similar ones). He told of a time when the ancestors would return from the dead and the Indians could return to their traditional way of life. One of the ways to attain this was participating in variations on traditional dances. He encouraged the "Round Dance" (participants dancing in a circle, chanting and singing) which was meant to help bring back the dead. He also supported a dance of mourning called the Cry Dance.

These sorts of ideas were "in the air" as well and influential on other movements. The dances and variations spread throughout California and the Northwest (variation is an important thing to bear in mind with the Ghost Dance movement). As with Wodziwob's story and predictions, features including visiting ancestors (whether via dream or some other "experience") to gain the knowledge being passed on, return to the older traditional ways, and dance as a means of accomplishing the goals. The return of the dead was often a part but not necessarily on the scale of the Ghost Dance. Others stressed the "end of the world" aspect.

Also of note is that Judeo-Christian ideas were beginning to filter into the Indians' spirituality (even more so later on) which is not surprising given the length of contact in the New World as well as the number of missionaries that actively sought conversion (which was achieved with varying degrees of willingness). Some groups even had somewhat similar notions of an afterlife and/or a supreme being. Apocalyptic end-time events show some good parallels. This should be expected as contact between different religious groups often leads to assimilation of ideas and concepts (despite many religions refusing to admit this to be the case).

Another Paiute who was important is Tavibo (sometimes Tävibo; ca. 1835-ca. 1870, perhaps ca. 1915). Also living near the Walker River Reservation, he was something of a disciple of Wodziwob and help spread the Ghost Dance religion. In fact he had his own epiphany where he had visions concerning the Indian people. He spent time alone in the mountains where he received sacred knowledge from the Great Spirit (intense meditation and asceticism—especially among those already religiously and mystically inclined—is a common aspect of those claiming visions and messages from the gods).

One of his visions concerned the white people being swallowed up by the earth. While a strong (and hopeful) message, few people converted. Another vision said that all the people would be killed in an earthquake, following which the Indians would return and live as they did in precontact times, the earth and land restored to them. A third one was that only those Indians who were believers would be resurrected (an objective viewing—some might say cynical—of this might suggest an attempt at gaining more converts). His ideas spread and were popular for a time among a few of the Indian nations. As is common with prophet-based movements, a lack of fulfilled predictions led to a decline in followers. But, possibly most importantly, Tavibo is believed to be the father of Wovoka—initiator of the later Ghost Dance.

Wovoka
Having grown up on the same reservation (even if he wasn't Tavibo's son), Wovoka (ca. 1858-1932) was undoubtedly exposed to the various ideas of the Ghost Dance and similar movements. He had lost his father in his teens and lived and worked on a ranch with a white family by the name of Wilson (Wovoka's "white" name was Jack Wilson). And of course, he would have had further religious exposure there, in the form of Christianity.

He returned to his tribe later in life and when he was about thirty (1889), went through a "resurrection." On 1 January, while suffering from an illness (apparently scarlet fever) and during a solar eclipse, he had a vision (again note the psychological and physical circumstances as well as the way a mystical mindset might interpret them). Similar to the earlier Ghost Dance and other traditions, he had visited the land of the dead to bring back messages of hope, renewal, return of the dead, and expulsion of the white man. This time the Christian influences are much stronger. It has become a messianic movement to some extent and Jesus is mentioned explicitly (at times Wovoka suggesting that he was the messiah, himself). In his own words, he describes both the vision and the message for the Indians:

When the Sun died, I went up to Heaven and saw God and all the people who had died a long time ago. God told me to come back and tell my people they must be good and love one another, and not fight, or steal or lie. He gave me this dance to give to my people.

When you get home you must make a dance to continue five days. Dance four successive nights, and the last night keep us the dance until the morning of the fifth day, when all must bathe in the river and then disperse to their homes. You must all do in the same way.

I, Jack Wilson, love you all, and my heart is full of gladness for the gifts you have brought me. When you get home I shall give you a good cloud which will make you feel good. I give you a good spirit and give you all good paint. I want you to come again in three months, some from each tribe there.

There will be a good deal of snow this year and some rain. In the fall there will be such a rain as I have never given you before.

Grandfather says, when your friends die you must not cry. You must not hurt anybody or do harm to anyone. You must not fight. Do right always. It will give you satisfaction in life. This young man has a good father and mother.

Do not tell the white people about this. Jesus is now upon the earth. He appears like a cloud. The dead are still alive again. I do not know when they will be here; maybe this fall or in the spring. When the time comes there will be no more sickness and everyone will be young again.

Do not refuse to work for the whites and do not make any trouble with them until you leave them. When the earth shakes do not be afraid. It will not hurt you.

I want you to dance every six weeks. Make a feast at the dance and have food that everybody may eat. Then bathe in the water. That is all. You will receive good words again from me some time.

Do not tell lies.

While some of the more peaceful, moral aspects are arguably more universal, the mention of "God," heaven, and the direct use of "Jesus"—particularly his appearing like a cloud—suggest the influence of Christianity (one might argue that the ritual cleansing of the bathing might point to the notion of baptism).

Other facets of the message Wovoka spread were prayer, abstention of drinking alcohol, meditation (along with performing the ritual of the dance). An earthquake is also mentioned as in Tavibo's prophecies. He even asked that when the participants "return home, go to farming, and send all your children to school" (www.acusd.edu). Also important to note is that it is a peaceful message. A message of nonresistance and patience.

The religion became quite popular and not surprisingly so, as all the factors that gave the original Ghost Dance and its related movements their desirablity were even more significant to the Indians. More and more Indians had been herded onto reservation land—land that was continually shrinking (especially since the passage of the General Allotment Act, also know as the Dawes Act), the sacred Black Hills had been essentially stolen from them, the Indian Wars were wearing down their numbers and destroying their culture and traditions (things that were continued on the reservations), and the Bison and other game were being wiped out. The Indians needed something to latch onto, something spiritual to help them and give a meaning and purpose to their existence. And hope.

Its popularity was not only in the same regions as the earlier Ghost Dance, but became very popular among the various plains Indians, particularly the Lakota bands of the Sioux Nations. It was among them that the dance gained its notoriety.

Ghost Shirts and the "absurd craze"
One of the ways in which the Ghost Dance managed to become as popular and widespread as it was, was its ability to be adapted to the ideology, spiritual traditions, and other needs of the groups that embraced it (much like many religions, Christianity and its hundreds, if not thousands, of variations being the obvious parallel). For those of the plains—who'd lost their freedom to travel and hunt and live as they choose by being placed on reservations or chased if they refused or reacted against such measures, lost their most sacred place (the Black Hills or Paha Sapa), and who were watching their important means of sustenance (Bison) dwindle away in heaps of rotting corpses—these ideas of renewal and, especially, the disappearance of the white man, returning things to precontact days, was particularly potent. Some of whom felt it would be just vengeance on the whites who had done so much wrong to the Indian peoples.

Interested groups had sent out representatives to observe the ceremonies and listen to the message. The news they brought back to the reservations was inspiring. Converts were widespread and the dances common. Some groups were made up largely of women who were dancing in hope to see their slain loved ones return.

An interesting note is that the great chief Sitting Bull was skeptical of the whole thing, not believing that the dead could come back to life. He allowed it on the reservation due to the conviction and insistence of the believers. One concern was that soldiers were going around to other reservations to force a stop to the activities—not only was it a new religion and strange, it seemed to be "advocating" the destruction of the white race. He didn't want soldiers coming to his reservation—the government was already cracking down on Indian culture and religion, discouraging, and in some cases outright banning its practice (various Christian groups were "given" reservations to send their missionaries). Allowing it was the beginning of a chain of events that ended in disaster and massacre (not to blame Sitting Bull, as he was hardly responsible for the actions of other Indians, nor the actions of an army or policies of a government, but the dance led to the outcome, regardless).

One of the additions given the movement by the Lakotas was the concept of the "Ghost Shirt." It was explained to Sitting Bull that the Indian believers would have nothing to fear from the soldiers if they wore their sacred shirts, covered with magic and religious symbols—because they could not be penetrated by bullets. If this (to the soldiers and administrators) religio-populist movement wasn't worrisome enough, this idea of magical bulletproof clothing sounded dangerous. And with the trouble the army had already had with the Sioux Nations, it suggested insurrection and war (something that may have been on the minds of some of the adherents).

Despite some notable similarities to the Christian message and even explicit mention of Jesus and messiah (many believed that an Indian messiah would be coming in 1891), this dance that was rapidly spreading throughout the reservations was alarming to the army. James McLaughlin, agent at the Standing Rock Reservation, called it an "absurd craze" as well as "demoralizing, indecent, disgusting" (www.bgsu.edu). Further he condemned it, saying "a more pernicious system of religion could not have been offered to a people who stood on the threshold of civilization" (Brown). Aggravating things were the fears of settlers, who worried of an uprising. This was complicated by newspapers spreading wild stories of the movement (similar to the irresponsible and damaging exaggerations and lies "reported" in the days that led up to Sand Creek).

The official word was that the dance had to be terminated.

The Death of Sitting Bull
"Intelligence" claimed that Sitting Bull was behind the movement on the reservations (the army constantly worried that he would "break" the reservation again and foment an uprising). By then so many were participating in the dance that schools were empty and farms untended. As one agent from Pine Ridge Reservation informed Washington that "Indians are dancing in the snow and are wild and crazy" and that "we need protection and need it now. The leaders should be arrested and confined...and this should be done at once" (Brown).

Meanwhile, Chief Big Foot had taken his band of believers off his reservation to perform their rituals and avoid interference by soldiers and agents.

In a sad but interesting note, at Pine Ridge, where the numbers of soldiers was quickly increasing, a former agent was brought in for "recommendations." This Dr. Valentine McGillycuddy stated that

I should let the dance continue. The coming of the troops has frightened the Indians. If the Seventh-Day Adventists prepare their ascension robes for the second coming of the Savior, the United States Army is not put in motion to prevent them. Why should not the Indians have the same privilege? If troops remain, trouble is sure to come. (Brown)

Of course, no one followed his recommendations.

Since it was already assumed that Sitting Bull was at the head of this "trouble," soldiers and Indian police were sent to arrest him. During the arrest, an Indian loyal to Sitting Bull fired at one of the policemen, who accidentally shot Sitting Bull (another one shot him in the head at nearly the same time). Despite it being "accidental," there had been a general belief among the men that Sitting Bull would continue to be a problem even if they successfully brought him in. It was felt that death was preferable to capture and an attempt of rescue or aid would give justification/excuse for the killing.

Wounded Knee
When the news of the "arrest"got to Big Foot and his group (it was December 1890), they attempted to return to Pine Ridge where they thought Chief Red Cloud might be able to protect them. Before they made it, they were surrounded by cavalry and made to halt. There they were informed that they would be taken to Wounded Knee Creek (there was a camp there). Though there were protestations, the soldiers led the band to the camp (Big Foot was of little help as he was ill with pneumonia and possibly dying).

There were approximately 350 Indians, about two-thirds of which were women and children. There were around 500 soldiers of the Seventh Cavalry which had taken part in the earlier Indian War campaigns, including Little Big Horn. Some have claimed the soldiers, who were heavily drinking the night before, spoke of getting revenge for Custer's death.

The next day (29 December), the captive Indians, under the watch of the soldiers and four Hotchkiss cannons capable of firing exploding shells up to two miles, were asked to disarm (most did without resistance). When the soldiers were not satisfied, they began searching them. One Indian ceremonially threw dirt into the air and spoke of the protection from bullets the Ghost Shirts would offer. Then, while attempting to disarm a deaf Indian who had concealed a rifle, it went off into the air. Almost immediately gunfire broke out. Rifles and cannon opened up into the gathered, captive (and nearly totally unarmed) crowd killing over 200, some of whom had made to escape and were ran down by the soldiers and killed (some as far as 2-3 miles, 3.2 to 4.8 km). There were about 50 survivors, some dying of their wounds later (the total death toll isn't certain as some bodies may have been removed before burial). Wovoka's dance and the Lakota's Ghost Shirts were impotent against the violence of the gunfire.

Only 25 soldiers were killed and 39 wounded (many by their own crossfire). The wounded were loaded onto wagons (left exposed to the bitter cold) and carted to an Episcopal Mission. A blizzard came on that made it impossible to dispose of the bodies. On 3 January 1891 (the year the Indian Messiah was supposed to appear), the soldiers returned and buried what they found in a mass grave. A picture of Big Foot's contorted, frozen body was taken and remains the strongest visual statement on the massacre.

After Wounded Knee
Wounded Knee essentially ended the Indian Wars and much of the resistance on the reservations (not all). It also largely ended the Ghost Dance movement. Converts drifted away from Wovoka and his message of peace and renewal. But the dance and its message did not go extinct. Ghost Dances have been periodically performed among various bands throughout the United States.

Hope springs eternal....


The dance itself. From www.bgsu.edu:

The actual dance was performed by all members joining hands to create a circle. In the center of the formation was a sacred tree, or symbol of a tree, decorated with religious offerings. Looking toward the sun, the dancers would do a shuffling, counter-clockwise side-step, chanting while they sang songs of resurrection. Gradually the tempo would be increased to a great beat of arousal. Some dances would continue for days until the participants "died," falling to the ground, rolling around and experiencing visions of a new land of hope and freedom from white people which was promised by the messiah. The dance often produced mass hypnosis in its transfixed participants, and thus, it became known as the Ghost Dance.

While the explanation of the name seems a bit off, the mention of the hypnotic qualities of repetitive, focused movements—particularly over a long time, often without nourishment and being physically taxing—is important as similar activity is known to cause " trances" and "visions," things reported to occur by some participants.

(Sources: Dee Brown Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: an Indian history of the American West 1970; Carl Waldman Biographical Dictionary of American Indian History to 1900 rev. ed. 2001, Atlas of the North American Indian rev. ed. 2000; www.dickshovel.com, www.britannica.com; www.pbs.org/weta/thewest/people/s_z/wovoka.htm, www.viewzone.com/wovoka.html; www.bgsu.edu/departments/acs/1890s/woundedknee/WKIntro.html; www.acusd.edu/~jerodj; www.thewinds.org/arc_features/newworld/weapons_of_destruction5.html)

He wants to stop thinking so he imagines her naked. He turns the steering wheel into the glide of his hand over her shoulder, fingertips over crushed velvet. Molds the residue of hydrocarbon into the scent of organic must of new life drifting from a spot inside her thigh, his palm over a forest of thin tendrils. Radio between stations, her breath in the sigh of tiny death. Tears in his eyes from the sting of ecstasy.

Red light. Foot down. Tires chirp. Cold hard gray afternoon.

It should rain on a day like this. Why does it threaten and never start?

"You don't..." he says. Realizes what he's thinking is getting out into the world. Says anyway, "You never..."

"What?" His passenger, his friend, his colleague, his lover.

"I was going to say something stupid."

Come.

"Are you okay?" she manages. This is a trial. This is talk that is work.

"Are you?"

Green light. Forward.

"I'm sorry."

"For what?"

He remembers, now, the radio. Fumbles. Stations burst into and out of reality. A whole world keeps running as if nothing of import ever happens to anyone. And then the switch. Off. Silence except for the engine rumble and the tire hiss against street, now wet as if on command.

It has to be late afternoon when people die. It has to rain. There has to be gloom.

"I'm sorry it had to be you. Wait. Not like that. I'm just sorry."

"Me too," he says, not thinking.

Tries to go back to a thought train, strong and engaging. This makes one time. The one time the thought of sex doesn't overpower the stream of real time. Real life can't be overcome. It wasn't supposed to mean anything.

"You know what he said to me?" It doesn't mean anything. Why must it be relived?

"He was supposed to be okay. The nurses told me he was doing better. That's why I stopped for some coffee before I came. Seriously. He was supposed to be okay today."

"He could actually talk. Did you know that? They took out the breathing tube and he could whisper. I was holding his hand."

"If I had known I would have been there."

Red light. Stop. Headlamps click on. Lights in his eyes, yellow white pools, glimmering raindrops on the windshield. Wipers flap from side to side leaving moonish streaks across his eyes.

His eyes.

"He was looking right at me. Eyes opened wide like he was finally awake. I could see he was trying to talk. He squeezed my hand: I could barely tell. I leaned in close."

"Jack, I'm so sorry I wasn't there."

"He said, 'My mind is full...'" Why must this be relived?

Now his nose stung and his eyes blurred and his chest moved inward on its own as if to expel life itself from his heart.

Her hand on his shoulder. Green light.

"Jack..."

It wasn't supposed to be this hard. Green light. Car horn. Life moves as if you aren't here.

He manages, "Beautiful things," and realizes it doesn't fit.

Cars slide around him. This is trivial. Angry drivers waving gestures. Road rage. This is nothing. This meaningless stream of life happens whether or not people die.

Grief pulling him away from earth. Puts the car in park there at the intersection.

"He said his mind was full of beautiful things."

And now there's nothing but blackness and arms. Buries his head against her neck unable to speak, unable to think, questioning each breath.

There in the intersection, these two people.






She does not believe in ghosts which is why what he's holding scares her.

"What is this?" It came from the table beside the sofa. The one with the lamp. The flowerless one she just dusted moments ago. She's still holding the cloth and the spray.

She sees him walk toward it. Lift it. A large white bloom. Gorgeous and terrifying.

"I don't know." She says, "Where did you get it from?" because it has to be a trick. He's learned something.

"It should be in water if you want it to live," he says.

"I'll get a vase." She puts down the spray and dust cloth. Opens the cabinet. This is nice. He'll surprise her with the others. She should get a vase big enough. She takes down the big green one she saved from last time he bought her flowers. Months ago. No. Years. Anniversary. Last year? No. Before.

"I think this is an orchid," he says from behind her as she fills the vase. "Ho. One little flower's going to drown in there."

She says, "Oh." Empties the big one and takes out a bud vase that seems as cold as it is small.

When she turns he slides in the flower stem. Looks at her, confused.

He says, "It's nice. When did you get it?" Because they were both just in the TV room drinking coffee and reading the Sunday paper. Because there was no flower there when they put back their coffee cups and started their house cleaning chores. Because there was no flower there one moment earlier when she wiped the whitish haze from the end table and turned to clean the coffee table.

She shrugs. She knows him when he's confused like this. He'll either start a long stream of questions or give up. She hopes he gives up. Moves past him. Get out of that TV room. Something's wrong in there. Puts the vase with the flower on the dining room table.

"Wait," he says, following. "Where'd you get it from?"

"I thought you did," she says, hoping it's some kind of game he'll fess up to.

A wry smile. "What's up?"

"Nothing."

"Should I look around some more?" he says. "This an egg hunt?"

"Nope."

That look of confusion again. Now worry.

He says, "I forgot your birthday..." then looks at the ceiling, calculating. It's almost worth keeping him in this state. but now she's past it. Flowers just appear. They do. It happens. Why question random beauty?

"Nope," she says.

"What am I missing?"

"Nothing."

"Then, what gives?"

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"Okay, if you're going to get mad at me, at least I have a right to know why."

She's mad because it wasn't him. She's mad because this life belongs to her and nobody has the right to play with it. She's mad because of what exists and what doesn't. There's a line. Never cross.

He puts his arms around her when she starts crying. He pulls her tight when she starts shaking.

He keeps saying, "What's wrong? What did I do?"

And she keeps saying, "I didn't put that flower there."

And nothing changes.






They have a friend who's big on this stuff. When she finds out about the flower she won't stop.

It's, "You've got to see a medium," and, "I know this guy who talks to dead people."

They shut her down. Invite her over a little less. Meet her for coffee only when one of them says, "We really should see Deanna. She's getting a complex."

Then Jack finds a picture of her as a couple. Orchid in her hair. Where did it come from? Who took it? She remembers being there with the flower, but never a photo. They weren't together long enough.

On the way to the medium Jack says, "When were you going to tell me?"

She says, "I didn't know it was going to be him in the hospital."

"But then you did."

She says, "I didn't know what to say," remembering exactly the way the floor fell from under her when she heard his name again after five years. Too soon, actually. Five years is nothing. She wishes it was ten. Twenty. She remembers the affair vividly and wishes it was faded so she could keep it from him. He'll read her face. It's over.

He purses his lips. Sets his jaw. Now something angry is going to come. She can feel it.

"Remind me why we're doing this?" he says.

"Because you want Deanna to shut up about ghosts."

"How serious was it? How come you never told me?"

"It was a relationship."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Why are you getting angry? I don't want you to be angry."

"I don't want me to be angry either," he says, "But you keep pulling shit like this."

"I keep pulling--what? What the hell do you want?" she hears herself say. Knows the answer. Maybe she can talk him out of it.

"How about a little truth?"

She takes a breath. Maybe this was always going to happen. Maybe it was unavoidable. But it was supposed to happen thirty years from now, when they were both old and mellow and all of it was so gray and faded it would hardly be recognizable as something at issue. She'll take one last shot.

"We agreed - no talking about anything that happened before we met. You're not supposed to bring it up."

"Yeah. Fine."

"Well that's bullshit. It's not fine."

Jack says, "I held the man's hand when he died," and the words are a sharp and deliberate as the reality behind it.

She remembered his hands.

Jack's eyes, now red and glassy. "When were you going to say something?"

Never. She was never going to say anything. And she wouldn't have if the picture hadn't appeared. Where the hell did it come from?

"This is ridiculous. It was a summer fling. He was between deployments."

"You came with me to the hospital. What would have happened if he had got better?"

"Nothing," she said, meaning everything. Something. It was complicated. Difficult. It was never supposed to blow up. It couldn't.

"Did you tell him you would wait for him?"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Don't give me that crap. Did you tell him you would wait for him to come back from Iraq? Simple question. Simple answer. One word."

There are lines that should never be crossed. Reality and dreams. War and peace. Prior loves. Truth or dare.

She could say anything and it wouldn't matter. Anything. It's not supposed to matter but she knows it will.

"Yes." It does.

He pounds his hands against the steering wheel. Curses. Pulls the car over to the side of the road and gets out, hand on the back of his head he paces circles in the dirt, cursing.

She gets out. She wants to touch him. If she can get to him, maybe he'll slow down. Cool off. Pull his thoughts back into his head.

"I'm sorry," she says.

"For what?" he glares at her. Says, "What the hell are you doing with me? What kind of jerk to you take me for?"

"It wasn't like that," she says. How can she make him see? What it was, was temporary. They both knew it. It was a fantasy. Something warm and wet for two lonely people who met, created a private legend, and went on with their lives with some great memories in the bank. And then he was there and injured and she wanted to hold him, caress him, nurse him back to health.

These things were random and without purpose. Chance meeting. What a surprise running into you -- what luck -- finding a twenty on the sidewalk. Each occurrence, an opportunity.

Good or bad. Truth or dare.

"You betrayed him. This is why we have a problem."

"What are you talking about?"

"Don't give me that. You betrayed him with me. You feel guilty, that's why you never... The asshole I am, thinking I'm doing something good because you get me to volunteer at the VA with the little free time I have and then this happens. Talking to him while he's on life support. I was supposed to be helping and instead -- I was the one there when he died. You planned it. Why have I been so blind?"

"No. I didn't. I couldn't have..."

He cuts her off, "And all the time he was thinking of you. Do you know what these guys go through over there? How they hang on to things to get them through? And I'm living with you and sleeping with you. What does that make me?"

She gets back in the car and waits. While he paces she sees the setting sun, a brilliant balloon balanced on the horizon's razor. It reminds her of summertime at her parent's house. Sipping ice tea and swatting at mosquitoes, listening to her elders gossip. Planning her birthday party with her mother. Her first kiss, stolen under the veranda.

Things have to go on. They will.






He's not planning to say goodbye. He's filled the trunk of his car. Drops his key on the television. Opens the door and locks it, plans to close it behind himself for the last time but then she's there in front of him, running into him. Coincidence. Bad timing. Fortune. Chance keeps happening.

Looking into his eyes she says, "Jack -- I'm dying inside. But I'm not going to apologize anymore. You don't -- you promised -- nothing before we met..."

"I can't get past it," he says.

"It's bad luck," she says. "It's just life. How can you give it up when you don't even know what it means? Don't you want to stay and find out?"

She touches his hand. Hooks a pinkie around his. He imagines her naked. Walks backward through the opened front door.

As she kisses him he feels something under his foot. Reaches down and picks up a letter that came through the mail slot. Hand written. He doesn't recognize the return address.

Opening it he reads, "Thank you."

She says, "What is it?" as he realizes what he's holding.

"It's from his family. They're thanking us for being with him when he passed."

"See, it can be a good thing. You were there."

They embrace, and as she presses her head against his chest a glimmer of sunlight catches his eye. Light from the window glances from his house key hanging on the ring in the kitchen.

In their bedroom his side of the closet is open as he left it, and though he clearly remembers taking them down and stuffing them in his car, his shirts are hanging where they usually are.

And the idea haunts him that he imagined all of it. That something so real could have been a daydream. That everything he learned in school, everything he professed to believe was based on a foundation of mud and gravel. No matter what promises were made, it could all change in a moment.

So sitting on their bed becomes lying on the bed. And lying becomes unbuttoning, touching becomes kissing.

She pushes away slightly, looks into his eyes and makes him remember what he saw when they first met. How much hope there was in her smile. Perhaps a future in it for them both.

She asks, "What are you thinking?" as she has hundreds of times before.

He leans backward onto his pillow and wonders what he thinks. Wonders about thinking and being. How what is real is what is thought, and what blessings came from the imaginary part of both of them. He closes his eyes. Imagines orchids and sunsets. Imagines that all the goodness in his life was absolutely true somewhere, and right there.

He says, "My mind is full of beautiful things."

And when he opens his eyes, everything is new.

Ghost dance.

A religious dance of the North American Indians, participated in by both sexes, and looked upon as a rite of invocation the purpose of which is, through trance and vision, to bring the dancer into communion with the unseen world and the spirits of departed friends. The dance is the chief rite of the "Ghost dance," or "Messiah" religion, which originated about 1890 in the doctrines of the Piute Wovoka, the "Indian Messiah," who taught that the time was drawing near when the whole Indian race, the dead with the living, should be reunited to live a life of millennial happiness upon a regenerated earth. The religion inculcates peace, righteousness, and work, and holds that in good time, without warlike intervention, the oppressive white rule will be removed by the higher powers. The religion spread through a majority of the western tribes of the United States, only in the case of the Sioux, owing to local causes, leading to an outbreak.

 

© Webster 1913.

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