Vigil for Life

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I just came here to thank you. You did good today. –Mabel, Reservation Dogs

This is always how I imagined it, I realized, remembering how the main character of Reservation Dogs, Elora, drifted through the hallway in a stupor.

Don’t imagine all that’ll happen if you leave, I repeated to myself, episode four on a loop in the background of my mind. Imagine the people in a room like that if you do.

I pictured the slow-motion panning of frybread slapped between palms, morphing into my auntie’s kitchen; in that ceramic tiling, a farm full of tiny cows dotted countertop landscapes. In place of Elora, my cousins shuffled, their plaited hair bounding off their shoulders, framing pursed lips and tight faces.

In that episode, Mabel’s vigil quietly brewed along edges of cedar and throat-song. In the haze of a twenty-four-hour hold, though, what would a vigil for life look like, instead?

Where Mabel was banded on all sides, the foot of my hospital bed was emptied of song, laughter, smoke. A few rooms down, a man grunted and screamed through the pain of a broken bone jutting back into place. I’m not sure who decided to wheel me into a room labeled Cardiac Care, but it still felt right. A butterfly-clip IV blushed blue into my arm and I watched as nursing assistants slipped off each bracelet and necklace, labeling them in a gallon-sized bag, hauling them away.

You remember how holds work, right?

I nodded, my eyes tracing cracks in the wall. If I squinted, they shifted into a bear cub, its muzzle prodding my face, toddling over to keep me warm.

Don’t even try, the other assistant warned. She hasn’t spoken in hours.

The assistant shuffled, angry at what she called sitting, that it was a waste of time. I tried shrinking to the size of that bear cub in the cracks. Again, I pictured that episode, tried imagining the center flame of singing voices. Somewhere, I wondered, my mother must know by now, could be barreling down the highway any second, right?

Instead, my partner’s brother appeared, a shadow in the door, his fingers curled around my cellphone. His eyes widened at seeing me in the ER while he was on shift, donned in a security uniform. He took a step forward, hesitating before pulling away.

Do you want to explain the policy yourself, that she gets one call? The nurse asked, unsure of what she missed. His shadow, stiffened and stoic, shook once.

Technically this isn’t even allowed, his shadow shifted toward me again. Just make sure it’s quick, okay? The square of light passed from their palms to mine. The nurse nodded at my phone before gesturing at her own. We called your partner too, just like you asked, she said, her eyes kind, voice low. He answered so fast it didn’t have time to ring. Not even once. 

I looked back for the shadow of his brother ghosting the doorway, but he was gone. Still, in the absence of smoke and song, their vigil for life was enough to pull me back.

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

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