Part I, Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield–Edwin Black

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Last Reviewed on January 27, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1313

Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield

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Opal Viola is doing homework with her sister Jacquie when her mother comes home and announces that they are moving to Alcatraz. Moving around has become commonplace, but Opal thinks their little yellow house is better than where they were before, when her mother came home with swollen lips. Jacquie’s last name is Red Feather, and Opal Viola’s is Bear Shield, and Opal Viola doesn’t understand as a child why her last name is so different than everyone else’s at school.

After they leave the house and are on the bus, Opal Viola asks why they are headed to Alcatraz. Her mother tells her that they are going to meet with all of her relatives, Indians of All Tribes. Together, they hope to see the fulfillment of a prophecy written by Crazy Horse about how the Red Nation will rise again.

A speedboat takes them to the island, where they enjoy warm stew for dinner and laugh around a fire. They all sleep in the cells of the prison. 

Jacquie begins running around with the other teenagers on the island while all of the adults are involved in official meetings. Opal Viola begins to feel like they are going to stay at Alcatraz for good.

Eventually she is sent to find out what her older sister is up to and decides to take her teddy bear Two Shoes with her. She and Two Shoes spot her sister at a distance, laughing with friends. 

Two Shoes begins to talk to her about his own troubles, telling her that they both got their names from “pig-brained men.” While Columbus attached the name Indians to her people, Teddy Roosevelt was responsible for the teddy bear. While hunting, Roosevelt found a scraggly bear and refused to shoot it. The story ended up in newspapers, and then someone began making scraggly little stuffed bears, “Teddy’s bear,” which became the “teddy bear.” While people hailed Roosevelt as a great nature lover for the story, the lesser known ending is that he slit the old bear’s throat. Two Shoes tells Opal Viola that people have tried to kill both of their ancestors, but the traditional story makes it seem like one grand adventure through a great and empty forest. He tells her that “they slit all our throats.” Opal Viola hides Two Shoes behind some rocks and leaves to find Jacquie.

Jacquie is too nice when Opal Viola finds her—and too loud. She takes long drinks from a bottle of liquor and introduces Jacquie to Harvey. Opal Viola walks away from the loud group and talks to Rocky instead. He isn’t happy to be on Alcatraz, telling her that things were better when they had school, good food, and television. Just because things are different doesn’t mean they are better, he points out.

The older kids find a boat and decide to go for a ride. After a while, they dock, and Opal Viola realizes that most of the kids are drunk. Suddenly she hears Jacquie screaming. Opal Viola heads toward the screaming and notices that Rocky looks so much like Harvey that they must be brothers. Opal Viola finds Jacquie, who tells her, “I told him not to. Then he did. I told him to stop.”

After that night, the sisters do nothing except find out when meals will be served. They have no house to return to and no hope left that the government will have mercy on them. Slowly the people begin to leave Alcatraz, and the supplies diminish. On one of the last days she spends on the island, Opal Viola’s mother takes her to the lighthouse and tells her that it’s important that she always tell her stories. After a long pause, her mother confesses that she has cancer. Opal Viola goes to find Two Shoes, but the shine has left his eyes, so she leaves him on the island.

They head back to the mainland and go to live with their mother’s adopted brother Ronald. Their mother thinks he’s “the real deal,” a medicine man. The girls try to convince her to seek treatment from a doctor, too, but she refuses, saying that she “could only go the way she’d been going.” Eventually she retreats to Ronald’s couch and becomes smaller and smaller.

After their mother dies, Jacquie and Opal Viola are heading home from school one day when Jacquie asks where they are going and what they are doing. Opal Viola doesn’t have answers, and then Jacquie tells her that she’s pregnant from that night with Harvey. Jacquie wants to “get rid of it,” but Opal Viola tells her that their mother believed in their stories. Jacquie tells her that this isn’t a story; it’s real. Opal Viola tells her that they can’t just give up, and they walk forward, holding hands.

Edwin Black

Edwin Black is severely constipated and has spent six days trying to find relief. He’s also addicted to the internet and has looked into residential internet rehab facilities. He has spent the last four years accomplishing nothing except gaining about a hundred pounds.

Once, Edwin seemed to be on his way toward a career in writing. He holds a master’s degree in comparative literature with a focus in Native American literature, yet his proud graduation photo remained his profile picture on Facebook for four years because nothing more exciting followed. 

Edwin lives with his mother, who is white and dates a man named Bill, who is “not an asshole.” Edwin tries to stay out of their way when Bill comes over, which is nearly every night. One of the ways he entertains himself while hiding from his mother and Bill is performing one internet search after another; lately he’s become focused on brain research.

His mother has installed a mirror on the front of the fridge, and Edwin is convinced that it’s a visual reminder of how much weight he’s gained before he grabs more food. He sees his swollen face and spits his Pepsi in the sink. 

Edwin has also been using his mother’s Facebook profile to try to locate his biological father. His mother had told him that his father’s name was Harvey, he lived in Phoenix, and he was a “Native American Indian,” which Edwin describes as a term which “you only hear from white people who’ve never known a real Native person.” Posing as his mother (and with her permission), Edwin has sent out messages to likely candidates about the “special night” they had shared years before and asking if these men named Harvey remember her.

He finally receives a response. After a few messages, Harvey and Edwin exchange pictures and both think they look alike. Harvey tells Edwin that they are Cheyenne. Edwin quickly leaves the conversation, a bit overwhelmed by the answer to a question he has held for so many years. 

Edwin’s mother comes home, and he fairly blows up at her, complaining about his weight and the mirror on the fridge. He says he’s going to get so fat that they will have to get a crane to get him out of his house. His mother reminds him of the long labor she endured to deliver him and gives his neck a playful tickle. She asks him about the employment opportunities he’s been working on and then tells him about a position she’s seen with availability: a paid internship at the Indian Center. Edwin tells her to send him the information.

Edwin returns to his room, determined to push his body to do something challenging. He decides on a sit-up, and a “wet smelly lump of relief” explodes into his sweatpants.

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Part I, Tony Loneman–Dene Oxendene

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Part II, Bill Davis–Jacquie Red Feather