He stood in an empty horse stall at the Cow Palace. His large fancydance costume allowed no sitting on the floor of a recently vacated horse stall. Emmett's feet were planted wide for illusory stability. The Cow Palace arena behind him teemed with people, animals and noise, none good for Emmett's current preoccupation.
He was, as others called it, drinking the hair of the dog. An Indian in full, multifeathered and beaded costume is, if he's Emmett, required to stand and get drunk before he dances for one hell of a lot of cowboys. Emmett wasn't the only Indian hired to put on a show here, but he was the only one who always got drunk before he danced.
Emmett mostly hid from Sunny. He thought she knew many things he did, but hoped she didn't know he was a near-nightly drunk. Sunny was new in Emmett's life and amazingly like her name.
Her short yellow hair fanned out like little petals on a sunflower. She often used her beaming and attractive smile. Her wide blue eyes seemed like a place the sun shone and rested in. Her mood would fit anybody with a name like Sunny.
Emmett was the opposite. Handsome, like many Kiowa before him, he had dark skin and dark hair and now-hooded dark eyes. Because he didn't know how to be a real Kiowa, he was a moody and often drunk one.
He'd never learned to dance at powwows or other Indian gatherings, as most do.
At a young age, much younger than Sunny, Emmett thought about how an abandoned and lost Indian could make enough change to stay lost, but eat better. He figured he only had to find a pretty good costume and learn a pretty good dance.
Emmett learned every step and dip and spin his older friend Tank could teach him. He used to practice those steps even after Tank left, dancing alone behind some farmer's barn. When Tank came back, they and their few friends hit the road.
Soon, they traveled by Greyhound instead of hitching, and they were still together.
They danced to recorded powwow music at resorts and museums and other odd places.
They were all at the Cow Palace tonight. Somewhere. Plus the biggest crowd Emmett had ever danced for.
There were thousands of people out there, sitting in tiers around a huge dirt arena. They were mostly there for a big rodeo. Emmett and his friends were part of an intermission.
There were just too many of them. If Emmett was honest about it, he'd say he was scared of them. If he was honest, he'd have to say he was often scared. If he was honest about it, he'd say he felt too scared during most of his remembered life. It was not a good idea to be honest.
Sunny made some difference now, more every week. She laughed so much, he sometimes laughed too.
She loved so much for so little reason, he thought he might, sometime, love too.
Did he love her? Ah, no. That wouldn't work. It couldn't happen.
She'd followed him and his friends to gigs for a few months now. Why? She could even make Emmett feel happy, sometimes. Why? It wouldn't work. It just couldn't happen.
Then Sunny was right there, standing directly in front of him.
She had a way of doing that, not always welcome; the way mornings happened, not always welcome.
Emmett stepped back and hid the bottle behind him.
"Hiya, Em," she said. "Tank's looking for you. They're going to run some buffalo out ahead of you guys and a few cowboys are already rounding them up. Tank told me to go find you."
She smiled and she laughed.
"I knew you'd be hiding somewhere, getting ready," she said. "I can't wait to see you dance again. I think the Cow Palace is a perfect place. Everybody's really nice. You're going to do great and the crowd will be blown away. I can't wait. I'll be up there." She pointed above her head.
"Oh," she said, turning back. "I love how you look now. I love how you look all the time. I'd better hurry before I miss the best seat in the house. And...hey. Em? I love you." She nearly whispered that part.
"Just... just..." She stopped and looked down.
Emmett looked up and only saw cavernous dark. He looked at Sunny again.
He told her, "I'll go to the gate. If you see Tank tell him you found me."
He had to smile then, just a hint. "Thanks, Sunny." She ran off.
Frown back in place, Emmett dumped the empty bottle in the next stall and went to do another fake drunk wardance. He couldn't be a real Kiowa, but he could fake it. He could ignore his fear of a bunch of screaming and unpredictable people. He could ignore his somehow-knowledge that those buffalo were too old to run anywhere. He could hide a lot, and he did it now with his best inscrutable Indian act.
With his friends, Emmett ran to follow shedding buffalo into a spotlight as blinding as white lightning.
He squinted and ignored it as much as he could, which was hardly at all.
The recorded music began and he stepped and dipped and spun as required, just like Tank taught him.
Tank drove a real tank in the war and never really got out of it. He was just a little bit crazy now.
The music was very loud, and the crowd was louder, stomping and shouting about something. It couldn't be the powwow drum, booming loud from amplifiers in the high ceiling. This crowd seemed not to hear the beat of the thing. How could they miss such a sound? Were they all a little bit crazy?
Emmett stopped dancing before the music died.
He knew Sunny was up there somewhere and he yelled to them all, because of her.
"I don't know this dance!" he shouted. "I don't know this music! I don't know why I'm doing this! Who the fuck do you people think I am? I don't know who I am!"
Tank and the others faltered a moment, hearing Emmett, but they danced on. Each one needed money. They were sure they had to dance to get it or they would maybe die tomorrow, if not sooner.
"I'm gonna tell you this once!" Emmett screamed to be heard. "I'm gonna find out who the hell I am, and I'm gonna take one of you with me! She's the one gonna take me home, and my home'll take her in for doin it! Dammit! Hell with this!"
The music stopped on cue. Tank and the others raced away, waving to the politely applauding crowd as expected of them.
Emmett stood alone. He still wasn't silent. He let out a war whoop he didn't know he had in him. He was declaring war on his own ignorance, war on those who never saw it, war on fear, war on the past, war on nearly everything he knew.
It was a ferocious cry, a fearless cry.
It was a war cry.
Sunny heard it. That was all she heard, but it was all she needed to hear.
She smiled and laughed and clapped so hard her hands hurt.
The entire crowd erupted in a roar of its own, and Emmett finally ran too.
But this time he ran honestly, and he ran quickly.
This time Emmett ran as fast as he could, racing to his new, unfolding future.