John drove three hours through the desolate western landscape in his white 1967 Ford pickup truck. He was determined to make it to Dandelion Café by four p.m. A broken air conditioner and forecasts of dust storms and lightning were not going to stop him. The open, lonely road reminded John of the times he and his grandfather would travel by horseback for days on end. John’s grandfather bought him his first pair of riding boots, taught him how to load and shoot a gun in less than two minutes, and how to differentiate a rattlesnake from others of its kind. He never said goodbye to his grandfather, but today he was going make the old man proud.
The gravel highway gave way to a small dirt road that led to the café. The truck’s mammoth tires aroused the ground and sparked clouds of dust that blew into John’s open window. Dandelion Café was no more than a dilapidated adobe shack. Intricate artwork and symbols of animals were painted in black along the walls. John’s grandfather had taught him about the others who inhibited their land. As he pulled into the café, he remembered the old man’s last words, “Never trust them… you’ll get hurt.” John brought the Ford to a sudden halt, adjusted his grandfather’s cowboy hat that he wore, and violently slammed the car door behind him. An older woman of dark skin greeted him at the café’s entrance.
“Hello. Welcome. You must be John. I’m glad to finally meet you,” Moth said as she opened her arms to embrace the man standing before her.
John retracted his last step, “Yes, John. Eh… nice meeting you, ma’am.” He was taken aback by the scar that ran down the left side of her face.
“Come, sit. Let us discuss what you have come here for. I hope the trip wasn’t too long.”
They sat at a square wooden table by the window. The café was empty except for themselves and two other patrons. “Can I interest you in some herbal tea, Mr. John – good for the mind and soul,” she said extending her hand out to touch his.
“Coffee… black will be fine,” John said, moving his calloused hand quickly to the edge of the table. “So… the knife and hatchet. You have them with you?”
John diverted his eyes to the scuffs on his boots every time his eyes met Moth’s scar. Copious wrinkles matched the line of her scar and her black hair was divided into separate braids that fell well below her shoulders. Her red and brown dress touched the floor and was decorated in sporadic linear patterns. She looked just like John had imagined, just like his grandfather had described in the stories he told John when he was younger.
Moth removed a linen package from a quilted bag. With caution, her slender fingers held the package as if it were a newborn; she placed it gently on the table. “These belonged to my husband. He passed away two summers ago… I think its finally time for me to give these away. My husband would have wanted this, for someone else to benefit from them as much as he did.” Her tone was softer than before – her voice barely audible.
John could barely keep his hands to himself. He wanted to reach out and touch the smooth metal of the hatchet. Instead, he played with the utensils placed on the napkin beside him. His fingers found a dull cutting knife first. He picked it up and began scraping the wooden surface.
“Mr. John, the price you are willing to pay is extremely generous. Why… why are my husband’s tools of such use to you?” Moth asked. Her black eyes watched his hands carefully, as hers remained atop the knife and hatchet.
“Well… you see, I’ve spent a great amount of time looking for that knife and that hatchet… I lost all hope for sometime, but then…there they were on the Internet of all places, and I wasn’t going to let anybody else get them. Let me ask you, Moth, what did your husband use those tools for?”
“To hunt our food, for protection… sometimes he carved artwork, like you are doing now,” she replied with a sly grin.
“Protection… really, because I thought we needed protection from your people,” he said, gesturing to himself. The two other patrons glared at John. Moth’s black eyes met theirs and they returned to their business.
“Mr. John, is there something I don’t understand? I want this to be a fair exchange.”
“Right… right. Well, I am willing to pay that amount because I have a collection of some sorts. One that my grandfather began and passed onto me.”
“A collection. That’s a respectable hobby… a collection of what exactly?”
His grandfather collected, by force, articles belonging to Indians. His collection, which he kept in a small chest, included garments, dream catchers, moccasins, an arrow, and two locks of black hair. These items served as a tally for the number of Indians John’s grandfather killed. John knew his grandfather would laugh had he known the means John used to find this particular hatchet and knife.
“Oh just a few things here and there. But, I would love to have a knife set owned by an actual Indian. I would like to honor my grandfather’s unnatural death.”
“We are Native American, Mr. John, Native Americans,” Moth replied calmly. “And I, too, would like to honor my husband… but I do not think I can sell these items to you.”
John dug the dinner knife deep into the table. “We have an agreement. I drove three hours to come here and I’m not leaving without that knife and hatchet.”
“I’m sorry but my husband would not have wanted this and you must respect that.”
“No. We have an agreement and you keep your end of the bargain. Here’s the money,” he said throwing a wad of cash toward her. “Now, give me what I deserve.”
John remembered the day his grandfather was killed. He was only twenty. He was gathering cattle with his old man when they came. He rode away, thinking his grandfather was behind him. He managed to get far enough to hide, but not far enough so that his sight was obscured.
“Give it to me…. I won’t…. I won’t disappoint him again.” John was now standing. He moved closer to her. “Your savage people killed my grandfather…with those,” he said pointing toward the hatchet and knife. “Now, just give them to me…please. I need to have the last thing that touched his skin.”
Images of his grandfather flooded his mind. The long-sleeved white shirts he wore every day, even in summer’s brutal heat. The overgrown brows that covered his dark eyes. He always smelled of cigarettes, and his cologne was a musty mixture of sweat and earth.
Moth stood up and motioned toward the two men sitting behind John. They encircled him, confining him to nothing more than a foot of space.
“I thought your people were smarter than this, Mr. John. Did you think I really wanted to sell the last possessions of my late husband? And on the Internet? We knew you wouldn’t resist.”
“Who’s we? Who do you think you are… I’m leaving with that knife and hatchet… as far as I’m concerned your husband deserves to be dead.”
“Don’t think you can get away this time…. I’m sorry it had to come to this, Mr. John” Moth said, her hand reaching for the table, “Please, don’t be scared.”