I Only Wanted To Do Something Good by Kaj Tanaka

Editor Matty Byloos, Fiction, January 22nd, 2015

"She empties the sky of stars and everything goes dark because of her."

harry byrne photography nailed magazine

Today is Sunday, and although it is my day off, I drive over to the Pine Ride High School dormitories to surprise John Yellow Bull. He turned eighteen last month and no one came to see him—not his dad, not anyone. They don’t have the budget to throw parties at the dorm. No one did anything for him, so I’ve decided to take him to Rapid City today. Maybe we will go see a movie—just something to get him off the reservation for a while. The dorms are miserable. I’ll buy him some shoes, or a basketball jersey or something—make it seem like it’s no big deal, even though I really don’t have that kind of money. I pass the barbed wire fence that surrounds the dorms and, as always, living here seems bad beyond my imagination. John has lived here since he started eighth grade, since his family sent him away.

I speak to the lady—and this should have been obvious from the start—but I’m not allowed to sign any of the boys out of the dorm. Even if I had their parents’ permission, the lady says. It’s for the best, I think. I could be anyone and they would go with me—they hate it here. I could be a rapist or some kind of drug person, and they would jump into my car. I realize that my entire plan was half-baked, and I am ashamed of myself.

But the lady knows me. She tells me that John and Duke and the other boys are in the gym playing basketball if I want to visit them, since I’m here anyway. But I have lost all of my drive to see them now.

The walls on the first floor are covered with elementary school crayon-type drawings of houses and families, but I try not to dwell on the sad irony of it all, because thinking about this stuff only makes me bitter. And to what end?

I knock on Sonya’s door upstairs, the cramped room she has been given—it doesn’t even have her name on it because there’s no point. When she leaves, it will just belong to some other waspy do-gooding AmeriCorps volunteer who will arrive with a passion for social justice and leave a year later, slightly more bitter. She looks surprised to see me. She appears to be in the middle of something. She runs her hand through her hair.

“I just woke up,” she says. “I was eating.” Sonya mumbles something about it being her day off, I push through the door and kiss her and she tastes of oatmeal. Sonya is completely out of her skin on the reservation. Everything about it overwhelms her.

There is nothing to do in her room today. We watch Internet TV, and I try to casually initiate some sex, but she does not feel like letting me. I get the sense I’ve come at a bad time, but she’s so polite. Someone knocks on her door. There’s been an accident in the girl’s dorm, and I get out of there before I am in the way, before I am asked to help. I say a quick goodbye and I get out. It’s my day off, and I don’t want to get sucked in. I don’t even know why I am here.

John and Duke and a few of the other boys are playing basketball in the gym and they stop to talk to me when I come in. They want to know what I am doing. I tell them about my plan to take John to Rapid City for his birthday.

“Eee man, bust us out,” says Duke. “Just say you’re our dad or something.” I laugh. I’m not that old, I say, and I mean, look at me.

“They don’t care,” says John. “Nobody cares. It’s just for their forms and that. Don’t matter.”

The idea of being a father, even a pretend father, makes me sick, and so I laugh. They try to get me to play basketball with them, but I am terrible at basketball and they make fun of me. Usually, I wouldn’t mind, but today, there is something dark moving in me, so I sit down on the bleachers. I consider going back to my trailer in Manderson, but there’s nothing for me there. I’d just be alone.

One of the younger boys, someone I don’t know, comes running in and tells us that one of the girls has just killed herself with a razorblade. They just found her, he says. He says that she “bled herself out”—those are his actual words—which seems both gruesome and remarkably precise, coming from such a small boy. Everyone forgets I am there and goes running off. She is a girl of some importance, and Duke is especially upset, and then I am alone in the gym.

Later, when I am back in my room, back in Manderson, and the slain carcass of night falls upon my trailer, I go to sleep because I don’t have anything else to do, because I am depressed. I dream of the dead girl, her forearms where I imagine she cut herself are open like doors, and the stars slip through her wrists one by one—her body swallows them up. She empties the sky of stars and everything goes dark because of her. And as I dream, the night is knocking on my window. And there it is again, waiting for me when I wake up in the darkness of morning, smiling at me with teeth.

+ + +

Header image courtesy of Harry Byrne. To view a photo essay of his photography, go here.

kaj tanaka fiction nailed magazineKaj Tanaka’s fiction has recently appeared or is forthcoming in PANK, Juked and Knee Jerk. His story “Dolly Parton” was one of Wigleaf’s top 50 (very) short fictions of 2014. Kaj is an assistant editor for Bull: Men’s Fiction.


Matty Byloos

Matty Byloos is Co-Publisher and a Contributing Editor for NAILED. He was born 7 days after his older twin brother, Kevin Byloos. He is the author of 2 books, including the novel in stories, ROPE ('14 SDP), and the collection of short stories, Don't Smell the Floss ('09 Write Bloody Books).