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  • The Bones
  • Chris Gavaler (bio)

The Bones

The Maxfields took their first Indian girl the May Henry turned ten. Henry’s aunt, who lived in Carlisle and lauded the government for providing a civilizing environment for the offspring of an incorrigible race, told Henry’s mother it was cheap summer housework. The monthly seven dollars, what a white girl earned in a week, was wage enough considering the moral and practical benefits afforded the pupil. The first girl was called Mary, though once when she walked Henry to the ice cream wagon and back, she said her name was something else, something Henry couldn’t pronounce then or remember now. The second, a sulky, big-boned creature, he spied licking her thumbs from the sugar jar. Then her black eyes were always on him. The third spring came Lucy Hummingbird, whom Henry sometimes still dreamt about, the olive smell of her, the splay of her fingers when she tussled his hair. She giggled whispery things while he watched her scour the dishes his family had just eaten from.

Ivy was the fourth. Her hair was not as long or as perfect a black as Lucy’s, but she was pretty, her pupils green-ringed. A promising sign, his mother said, a mixed-blood. Henry asked her the first day, breathless after watching his father hoist her trunk over the top step to her attic room, “Did your people name you Ivy ’cause that’s your plant spirit that watches after you?”

The boards above them creaked with his father’s weight.

“It’s short for Iva,” said Ivy.

It was odd her last name being Miller, same as Henry’s cousin’s family, but there was logic there too, her living in Carlisle like them, learning white ways. Someone had named her that, Henry figured, to fit her in better, because her real name was too wildsounding, or dangerous, Miss Ivy Geronimo maybe.

They sat, chair tops touching, in the basement of the First Episcopal Church the first Sunday, then with his parents between them during the sermon afterward. Ivy they placed at the aisle end of the [End Page 103] pew for the congregation to admire. It was only a block’s walk, but Mrs. Maxfield stopped five times and introduced their new Indian girl, a Cherokee would you believe, to anyone willing to watch her curtsy. She wasn’t as much of a curiosity as their past girls. The Carlisle Outing Program had placed a second Indian student in Moorestown that summer, another seventeen-year-old over with the Heatons. That, Henry figured later, was the root of the problem.

He lingered on the landing again as Ivy continued up to change from her Sunday dress before starting on lunch. His mother’s voice rose through the porch windows, still talking to neighbors about the Heatons, a perfectly respectable family, but whose girl, the neighbors agreed, was not as lucky as the Maxfields’ girl.

“My cousin,” said Henry, “he lives in Carlisle, you know. I’ve been there. His name is Billy Miller, just like you. Some coincidence, huh? How’d you get a name like that?”

Ivy stopped and looked down the attic banister past him. “From my papa.”

“But how’d he get it?”

“From his.”

Her hem brushed the base of the railing before the attic door clicked.

Ivy worked as hard as she was told to, but, the Maxfields discovered, she did not keep accurate accounts of her earnings, even though the Indian School had issued her a little black calendar book for precisely that purpose. Mr. Maxfield attributed the negligence to a racial deficiency, though none of their past girls had shared it. Henry volunteered to help with the addition. His teacher always gave him high marks in arithmetic.

“I know how to count,” said Ivy.

Henry wanted to know about her tribe. Lucy’s uncles had killed General Custer at Little Big Horn. He sat on the threshold, propping the door for her, for the breeze, while Ivy scrubbed herself into the opposite corner of the kitchen.

“Hotels,” she said. “My papa runs a hotel.”

“An Indian hotel?”

Her lips curved, and...


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pp. 103-113
Launched on MUSE
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