Sunny in the Rain

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When I think of the jingle dancer, Sunny, I think of the sharp electricity of ozone and summer storms of Pinedale, New Mexico. I don’t think of the jingles clicking together or the way her turquoise silk flared outward with each spin. I don’t think of her carefully knotted braids heavy with intricate beadwork, or how the songs erupted from her as she danced. I don’t think of the places that beckoned her forward as she sang back memories people have forgotten. I think of outrunning storms, summer heat, and laughter so sharp it could spring across valleys.

She was just Sunny, one of those cousins who hovered just beyond my peripherals. When I arrived, fresh from North Carolina, I was suddenly faced with a slew of strangers who recognized me. We visited you once, don’t you remember? An aunt would say. I wiped your ass when you were this big another would laugh, sizing me up with an imaginary line of memories. We’re all family here, another would lecture, batting me unprompted. Act like it. These aren’t cousins, they’re your brothers and sisters. In the span of a three-day, cross-country move, my siblings jumped suddenly from a single sister to an entire crowd of cousins.

Even still, Sunny only entered the fray months later, as summer locked its dry heat over the rez. I was fourteen then, signing up for a summer job that the Chapter House used to rope in students from all over. Our mothers had arranged it all the moment we locked eyes in the parking lot. Look out for each other, it’s just you two here, they fussed. Give her rides and watch her, please, Sunny?

She was everything I wasn’t in those days; slender, tall, and athletic, with plaits of hair rippling down the side. Her laughter was always my sharpest memory of her and how it echoed out brightly from her quiet voice. We would work hunched down to the earth together, the sky and our hands darkening as we worked in the sand. Our arms were perpetually slick with sweat and Banana Boat sunscreen as we talked about everything: the move, our other cousins, and moving so far from what I used to know.

We didn’t notice the darkening, hazy sky until lightning struck. She saw the way I locked up as the sky split open and they told us to keep working. Don’t listen to them, she said. Next one, run. Just drop everything and run, she said, but we never got the chance. The sky broke open in rain hammering down so fast it smeared the mountains. We shot back across the field in screams, stopping only when we made it to the Chapter. We were speechless and shivering as we soaked the tiles, gasping for breath. When our eyes met, we burst into laughter.

That’s how I prefer to think of Sunny now, as a Jingle Dancer twirling in the rain, laughing straight into the belly of thunderstorms.

Brianna G. Reed is a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts.

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