Eskimo Face

An Anasazi Story by Jeff Posey.

Note: This is a sketch made in preparation for the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). My working title is “Anasazi Runner.” Synopsis: Modern-day Native American boy abandoned at birth and raised by white parents is inspired when he visits Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, and becomes, in his mind, an Anasazi runner who completes the world’s first sub-two-hour marathon.

# # #

The first time I noticed Sean O’Brien as anything other than a curiosity was when he outran his sixth-grade classmates in a one-mile run by nearly a quarter mile.

“That boy’s fast,” I told Wilson, the football coach. “Might want to keep your eye on him.”

“You’re not the first to tell me that. I’ve seen him. He runs as strange as he looks.” Wilson leaned back in his chair and thumped his big feet onto his desk.

He had a point. The boy didn’t run or look like anybody I’d ever seen except in pictures. His face had an Eskimo look, or Mongolian, or something. Maybe even Guatamalan, old Mayan or Aztec blood. Not the kind of kid you’d expect from the O’Briens, both of them so white they seemed to suck the color out of everything around them. It was common knowledge they’d adopted the boy right out of the womb of a woman killed in a fiery car crash outside of Dallas.

“Does it matter how he runs or what he looks like if he can help you win football games?” I asked.

“Hell no,” said Wilson. “Not to me, anyway. But you know how white-bread this place is.”

“He could pass for Mexican. We got Mexicans.” Not quite true, I knew. Other towns had Mexicans. We didn’t. Or blacks either. Ever since that ridiculousness of the Fifties when we had two mayors in a row associated with Ku Klux Klan activity, one of them convicted for chaining an old black gentleman to a pickup truck and dragging him until his dead body literally fell apart. That tarnished this little town and the progressive whites drifted away with the minority groups.

“Other towns got Mexicans,” said Wilson. “You know good and well we don’t.” He seemed annoyed with me, like I was pushing him to do something he didn’t want to do.

“You’d better decide pretty quick. You know Angus will be in here to sign him up for JV before school’s out.”

Wilson had a sour look on his face. “I know. But it’ll cause problems. You know the families around here. They won’t say or do anything in public, but I’ll never hear the end of it in private.”

Turns out Sean O’Brien didn’t become Wilson’s problem after all. He became mine. The last day of school, Angus O’Brien dragged Sean to my history classroom that served as the running coach’s office (I still don’t know why I let Wilson draft me into that job) and said the boy wanted to sign up for cross-country, not football. Angus had been drinking, I could smell it on him, and his nose had gone as red as it does in winter.

“The boy’s not man enough for football,” he said.

I looked at Sean, a slender, small boy. He seemed to try and hide in the pencil-thin shadow that ran along the edge of the chalk board.

“I’d be proud to have you on my running team,” I said, my eyes on the boy’s. If I looked at Angus, I’d want to smack him. The boy blinked as if his eyes stung, but he held my gaze.

Wilson was ecstatic. “You said yourself he’s fast, so cross-country makes a lot more sense than football. That’s why I made you head track coach, so you could sniff out and take advantage of situations just like this.” Then he cackled and slapped me too hard on the back.

I didn’t think about it much over the summer break. I enjoyed being away in my Colorado mountains, but I could’ve predicted something would go screwy. Wilson started a new football training class at the same time as cross-country, and all the football players dropped out. After that first week, it was just me and Sean.

“So,” I said, looking at the boy. “What do you want to do? We can’t do any meets with just one runner. You want to just forget about it? Or you want to train for something?”

He looked down and rubbed his shoes together. “I want to run a marathon,” he said in such a small voice I could barely hear him.

“Look up at me and speak so’s I can hear you. You sayin’ you want to do a marathon?”

That Eskimo face looked up at me and nodded.

I stretched and stood up. I’d never trained anyone for a marathon before. This kid had some speed, but that’s not what gets you through a marathon. You’ve got to have that fear or anger or something that pushes you beyond what any right-minded human would do. Did he have that? Something about the boy made me figure I wanted to find out. Might’ve been because I didn’t think his parents treated him right, and I thought I could do something for him. That’s always a red flag for teachers, but I blew right past it and said, “Okay, my boy. We’ll train you up for a marathon. Get here an hour early tomorrow.”

He was waiting for me when I pulled into the school parking lot the next morning, and I figured I’d done it now, ruined every morning for the rest of the school year. But that boy sure liked to run. Yes he did. And he seemed to blossom with me pushing him, so I didn’t mind. In fact, getting him to a marathon became sort of an obsession with me. I even had the gall to think he’d do well. Turns out I had no idea, no idea at all.

# # #

Give me an opinion of the voice I’m using in this piece. I’ve never written first-person fiction before. Is it smooth and believable? Is anything tripping you up?


Filed under #FridayFlash, Anasazi, Chaco Canyon, NaNoWriMo, Pagosa Springs

10 responses to “Eskimo Face

  1. I liked the voice in this. First person seemed to work well for this piece. I’d vote for you to continue as is.

  2. Deanna Schrayer

    I like it Jeff, like it a lot. This is your first piece in first person? I find that hard to believe – you pull it off well. I can easily picture this man, a thoughtful person who can’t stand prejudice, but doesn’t want to rock the boat either.
    Love your description of the parents: “they seemed to suck the color out of everything around them.”
    Can’t wait to read the novel! 🙂

  3. First person worked fine for me.
    I too wondered about the time period, after the mention of “modern day” in the intro and the KKK mayors.

  4. The only thing that tripped me up was that you state, “the progressive whites drifted away with the minority groups” and yet I picture both coaches as relatively progressive whites. They don’t seem to harbor the same prejudices as the rest of the town but are quite concerned with what everyone else will think.

  5. It worked fine for me. I didn’t see any problems with it. Dragging the black man to death may set this story in time and place for many of your readers, since that was such a horrific crime. I don’t know if that is a problem or not. Just an observation.

  6. I find few authors that do first person well enough, and few stories that benefit from it. So many stories could have been written in third without any loss. When done well, first is great. I agree with Deirdre, it requires more care.

    This story reads smooth. The inner thoughts come across well placing me in the character’s mind. For a longer story, more character oriented sensory descriptions would improve effectiveness. Definitely keep at it.

    A couple examples that I think use first person very effectively: Odd Thomas by Koontz and The Thirteenth Tale by Setterfield. I find the second a good study; Setterfield uses both 1st and 3rd very effectively that becomes part of the storytelling.

  7. It read smoothly to me and I was engrossed in the story. The only thing I wondered was the time period. How many years had passed since the KKK mayors?
    Your notes at the top were the first time I’d read how you were going to put this together. I can’t wait to read it!

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  9. This worked very well in first person perspective. I didn’t see any point where your character was showing stuff that he didn’t see or hear or speculate, which is a difficulty in first person.

    Liked it very much.

  10. The first person read smoothly for me, and I like first person, do it quite a lot.

    You have to be careful to be very consistently in your character’s voice with first person, and also to only show the stuff your character can see and hear. That last bit can be problematic for presenting the plot, but isn’t insurmountable.

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