Six Sunrises
Brian Reynolds

In shirtsleeves, Six rests on the front steps of his mother’s house at three o’clock in the morning with just the quarter-moon for company. He cups the cig inside his palm from force of habit. The smoke presses between his lips in a pale ribbon, his offering to the damp night air. He gives it freely; the earth accepts it stoically.

It’s warm and peaceful leaning back against the nailed-shut porch. It’s nearly summer, but no one’s pried the nails out from the doorframe yet. When his dad got sick, time stopped for the house as well as for the family. Winter wind still tries to sneak into the crannies of the family home—even after the snow has finally disappeared from the reservation and the ice has broken on the river. It’s still December on this porch and the doctor is still saying the word “cancer” in English, one word drawn out over months of agonizing quiet. One word can take a long time to digest.

Six smiles. He knows about words. Thirty years ago, when he first went to school and told the teacher that his name was William Six Sunrises, the teacher said it was too long for the forms and he was only allowed one last name. He became William Six, whatever that meant. And his friends thought it was so hilarious they began calling him Six. He began liking the name as well. Now, no one knows either of his real names, except of course his parents. And now just his mother, now that his father is dead.

The leather oxfords and the baggy wool trousers that the mission loaned him for the funeral—because pall bearers don’t wear jeans, the priest said—itch and rub in every place they touch his skin.

Six takes a final drag on the cigarette. He can feel the drug calm him, feel the magic smoke talking to his throat and even whispering in his chest. He can feel its comfort. In a way, the smoke is like a parent. It’s the way he sees himself with his own son. Comforting. William Six Sunrises, Junior. That’s a fine name for a boy, he thinks. Times have changed on the reserve. Six coughs twice and brings up dark mucous from deep inside himself.

Six looks at the moon and then at his very last, for all time, cigarette before he crushes it under the heel of his white man’s oxford.

“Five, six, Pick up sticks...” He chants it as he kneels in the soft grass beside the stoop, picking up his father’s cancer sticks and other litter left over from the fall. “About time for spring,” he says.

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