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The Funeral by Darlene P. Campos | Word Riot
Short Stories

June 15, 2013      

The Funeral by Darlene P. Campos

Listen to a reading of “The Funeral” by Darlene P. Campos.

On my second day of my sophomore year, two salesmen from Edison Electricity rang the doorbell at 6 in the morning. Ate answered and told the men we weren’t interested. They kept begging him to switch to their company, so Ate told them we were the only Amish family on the rez and he slammed the door in their faces.
     “Ate, can you drive me to school? One of my bikes tires popped,” I said to him when he got back to the breakfast table.
     “Sorry son,” he said. “I gotta hustle, I’m fixing a floor today at work.”
     “I’ll take you, Nimo,” Ina said. “Finish your scrambled eggs.”
     “I don’t like eggs, they come out of the chicken’s butt,” I said.
     “Nimo, I don’t like you ‘cause you came outta Ina,” Ate said and Ina pulled his ponytail. I took in a small mouthful of my eggs and washed it all down with my chocolate milk. Ate got up to get more coffee and then the phone rang.
     “For the Creator’s sake, I hope it ain’t salesmen again,” he said and picked up. Instead of heckling the person on the phone like he always did, he didn’t say a word.
     “What’s going on, honey?” Ina asked. Ate thanked the person for calling and hung up. He put his hand over his face for a minute before he spoke.
     “It was about your ina, Josie,” he said. “She died in her sleep.”

According to government stats, life expectancy for a Lakota woman on Pine Ridge rez is about 50. My unci Sequoia was 63, so she beat the average age. She was born in 1939 near the Wounded Knee massacre site. She married my tunkasila and chief of Pine Ridge, John David Red Cloud, when she was 23 and had Ina soon after. Tunkasila John David was an EMT and Unci Sequoia would make and sell jewelry, but they would both use most of their money on booze. Ina once told me Unci used to drink ten beers a day, but she quit after I was born. It didn’t seem like it helped her much. A heart attack got her while she slept.
     “I’m sorry about your granny,” John David Gutierrez told me at school during lunch. He’s named after my tunkasila. “If you need to stay home, I’ll pick up your homework.”
     “I’ll be okay,” I said. “We’re burying her at the cemetery across the street anyway.” Even though I loved Red Cloud High School, I hated seeing Red Cloud Cemetery every day. Chief Red Cloud, my great great tunkasila, is buried there, and tourists love taking pictures next to his grave like he’s a landmark.
     “Do you think you’ll ever be chief?” John David asked me.
     “Me? Lead the rez?” I said with a laugh. “I can barely lead myself to school on time.” But I didn’t know for sure. Ever since my tunkasila John David died of kidney failure in 1989, no one had stepped in his place. Everyone still missed him.
     When I got home from school, there were about thirty people standing in front of my house with baskets of food. I opened the door and they all came in, set their food down, and gave me words of respect. Mrs. Yellow Fire, my neighbor since I was a newborn, handed me a plate of her famous extra fudge brownies.
     “You tell your parents I came by, okay?” she said. I nodded and she patted me on the back. Her husband, Eddie Yellow Fire, died of drug abuse in 2000. Since Ate is a craftsman on the side, he built Eddie’s coffin so Mrs. Yellow Fire wouldn’t have to buy one.
     My parents came home from work late, so they were relieved to see dinner on the table. They had each taken an overtime shift to pay for the funeral. Ina took a bite of one of Mrs. Yellow Fire’s brownies, but didn’t finish it. She wrapped it in a napkin and told me and Ate goodnight, even though it was a little after 8pm. I sat on the couch with Ate, watching reruns of Roseanne, and eating a bowl of Mrs. Lone Horse’s fruit salad.
     “If you don’t wanna go to school tomorrow, you don’t have to,” Ate told me during a commercial. “Ina ain’t going to work for a while and I’m taking some time off too.”
     “Why? I thought you hated Unci,” I said.
     “She hated me,” he said. “She was one of the worst people I ever knew, but hell, Nimo, she gave birth to the woman I love. I can’t hate her, not even if I tried to.”

The next morning, I went to Principal Eagle Bull’s office and gave her a note from my parents. She didn’t even read it – she just told me I could come back whenever I was done grieving. I said I’d stay for the rest of the day, but I would be out Thursday and Friday.
     “So when’s the funeral, Thunderclap?” Principal Eagle Bull asked.
     “This Saturday at noon,” I said. “At the tribal office.”
     “Thank you, Thunderclap,” she said. “I’ll make an announcement this afternoon.”
     At lunch, I found John David at the vending machine. A bag of chips he bought got stuck, so he was kicking the machine with his right foot. I reached in my pocket, found spare change, and got him another bag, but they were barbecue chips.
     “Gross,” he said and handed the bag to me. “Hey, wait a sec, I thought you weren’t coming to school today.”
     “I wasn’t, but I can’t stand being home,” I said and munched on some barbecue chips. “Everyone keeps coming over, dropping food off, and crying.”
     “Yeah, my grandpa on my dad’s side croaked when I was six,” John David said. “Almost all of my family from Costa Rica came to Brooklyn and man, were they annoying. I faked a fever so I could stay in another room.”
     Principal Eagle Bull made the announcement about Unci’s funeral right when I was in my history class. So, Ms. Plenty Wounds said I could go home. I tried to tell her I didn’t want to, but she was already making a speech to the class about how great my unci was, especially because she was the wife of the last chief. I went to my locker, grabbed all my stuff, and headed to my bike outside of the school. Before going home, I pedaled to Red Cloud Cemetery and stopped at my great great tunkasila’s headstone. People were gathered around it, posing by it and smiling for their cameras.

On Thursday morning during breakfast, a salesman from Super Sonic Hearing Aids rang the doorbell and told Ate that 75% of the Lakota people suffer from severe hearing loss.
     “What? Sorry, I can’t hear you!” Ate said and slammed the door shut. Ate’s new temporary job was answering the phone and the door. He seemed relieved that it was a salesman and not another person’s famous recipe.
     “We got news for you, Nimo,” Ina told me as I poured syrup over my stack of pancakes. “Unci put you in her will.”
     “That’s right, son, a whole five dollars,” Ate said, but Ina didn’t like his joke, so she pulled on his ponytail a little harder than usual.
     “You’re getting $2,000 for college,” Ina went on. “And her old car. But, there’s one thing you gotta do before you can get everything. She chose you to write her eulogy.”
     “Aw Ina, I can’t do that,” I said. “I don’t even know how to write a check.”
     “That ain’t true,” Ina said. “Remember when you was in 7th grade and you wrote a short story and won 50 bucks?” Ever since that contest, she would go around telling people “My son is an award winning writer.” Sometimes I hoped her prediction would come true.
     In the afternoon, I helped Ate rake leaves on the lawn. After we were done, I sat with him on the porch, and he told me about the first time he met Unci. He said it was in the summer of 1983 and it was his first date with Ina.
     “I had a bag of nuts with me and I started munching on them in the kitchen while I waited for Ina to get ready. And your unci said to me, you touch my daughter and I’ll take your nuts. So I said, Mrs. Red Cloud, you can have these, I got another bag in my car.” He said after that joke, Unci hated him. Before Ate, Ina was engaged to Eric White Feather, a lawyer who now lives in Rapid City. One night, Eric took Ina to a party and he had too much to drink. He sliced part of Ina’s neck with a broken beer bottle. But Unci still wanted Ina to marry him and she would bring it up whenever she came over to our house. There were times when I felt she would’ve loved me more if I was Eric’s son instead.
     “You see, Nimo,” Ate said. “Your unci wasn’t nice to me at all, but there are two types of people in the world. There are people who are messed up, but they got a good heart. There are people who ain’t messed up, but they ain’t got a good heart. She was the first type.”
     John David and his ina, Miss Running Bear, came over for dinner. They brought roast chicken, garlic bread, and macaroni and cheese. It was enough food to last for a couple of days and our refrigerator was already packed. Most people on Pine Ridge are poor and my family used to be too. There were times when I’d take a bath with cold water because we couldn’t pay the gas and times when I wouldn’t take a bath at all because we couldn’t pay the water. Yet whenever someone died, food was everywhere, even at the funeral itself. Back when we didn’t have much to eat, we would wait for somebody to die.
     “You get to make the speech?” John David said when we were sitting on the porch after dinner. “That’s awesome.”
     “No it’s not, I don’t even know what I’m gonna say,” I said. “I don’t know why she picked me, she should’ve picked my ina or even my ate. What if I screw everything up?”
     “Geez Nimo, it’s not like she’s gonna come out of her coffin and strangle you if your speech sucks,” John David said and I laughed. I knew he was right.

The day before Unci’s funeral, I rode my bike to her house up in Wounded Knee. It took me about two hours to get there because people kept stopping me on the road to talk about Unci, like I had forgotten all about her.
     I had a key to Unci’s house. She gave it to me for my 12th birthday. When I asked her about it, she told me, “Hoksila, one day I’m gonna croak and someone needs to get my corpse out before it stinks up my house.”
     Everything inside looked the same. There were cups on the kitchen counter with coffee residue on the bottom. I guessed they were from her last day on earth. I walked to the living room and saw the large portrait of my grandparents on their wedding day in 1962. Tunkasila had his war bonnet on and Unci was next to him in a traditional Lakota dress. I loved that picture of them because it was proof they had been happy with each other.
     Before I left, I went to Unci’s bedroom. As much as I visited her house when I was little, she never let me go to her room. Even when I got older, she told me I could go in her room when I turned 35. So I swung the door open and saw a mattress on the floor. There was a picture next to it turned face down and I assumed it was of Tunkasila or Ina. But it was a picture of me when I was a newborn.
     As I pedaled back home, Ate and Ina drove past me. They stopped the car, waiting for me to catch up. When I got to them, they asked if I had started working on the eulogy yet. I told them I was still thinking about it.
     “Nimo, the funeral’s tomorrow, you gotta say something,” Ate said.
     “Load your bike on the rack, we’ll drive you home,” Ina said. I put my bike up and got in the backseat of the car. My parents were upset that I hadn’t written anything down and I agreed with them. Unci wasn’t a huge part of my life, but she was the only grandparent I had in my life. Not being able to talk about her made me look like a total jerk.
     In the night, I sat on the porch with a notepad, scribbling notes about Unci. Everything I wrote was either not important or not nice. Hi everyone, my name is Geronimo Thunderclap and my unci was a severe alcoholic who didn’t have a bed. Please leave all food with my parents. If you brought anything sweet, please give it to me. Thanks for stopping by!
     “Son, you’re still up?” Ate said when he stepped out on the porch with a glass of water in his hand. “It’s one in the morning.”
     “I’m trying to come up with something decent,” I said. “Is Ina still awake?”
     “No, she knocked right out but she kept kicking me, so I’m up now. You ready for your big moment tomorrow?”
     “I got nothing,” I admitted. “I’ll go up there and say whatever. I wish Unci had told me she picked me before she died.”
     “Son, you can’t prepare for things like this,” Ate said. “This afternoon, me and Ina went to the funeral home and the people there were talking at 50 miles an hour. Ina threw her hands up and told them, ‘forget it, I’ll bury her in my backyard.’”
     “Hey Ate,” I said. “When your time comes, where do you wanna be buried?”
     “Aw Nimo,” Ate sighed. “When I die, just do me one favor – miss me.”

The tribal office was packed with people by the time I got there with my parents. John David was by the entrance with Miss Running Bear and they both waved at us through the large crowd. There was a painted banner over the door that said “Rest in Peace, Mrs. Sequoia Red Cloud.” I couldn’t look at it for too long because I knew Ate’s and Ina’s names would be on that banner someday. I made my way inside and found a podium set up for me. Since so many people showed up, some had to watch the funeral from outside through the windows. My parents, John David, and Miss Running Bear sat in the front row. My leksi and tunwinla, Gray Mountain and Rosa, were in the second row with my cousin Lucille. I don’t know exactly how many people did come to Unci’s funeral, but I’d guess at least 500. After everyone settled down, I took my place at the podium.
     “Uh, hi,” I said into the microphone. “I’m Geronimo Jay Thunderclap, which all of you already know. I’m Sequoia Red Cloud’s only grandkid. She was married to Chief John David Red Cloud, which all of you know too and I don’t know why I’m still talking.”
     “Nimo, you’re doing great,” Ina whispered to me. “I love you.”
     “My unci was a private person. She didn’t even like the mailman because he knew where she lived,” I went on and to my surprise, everyone laughed a little. “But she accepted everybody. When my buddy John David Gutierrez came out, she told him, ‘JD, if you want a cute guy to hook up with, I got phone numbers.’ Of course, my unci wasn’t all good. She was a drunk and talked about everyone behind their backs. But there are two types of people in the world. There are people who are messed up, but they got a good heart. There are people who ain’t messed up, but they ain’t got a good heart. Unci was the first type.”
     I looked up and saw tears squeezing out of Ina’s eyes. I got down from the podium and walked to Unci’s open coffin. Sometimes when she’d watch me when I was little, she’d fall asleep in her rocking chair with her hair dangling on her left side. The only difference now was she wasn’t in her rocking chair.

I biked to school early on Monday morning. I stopped by Red Cloud Cemetery and said hello to my dead Red Cloud ancestors. When I visited Rosebud rez the previous summer, Ate’s home rez, he showed me the Thunderclap family plots at Blue Water Creek Cemetery. My tunkasila Frank Thunderclap had a fatal heart attack in 1978. Before him, my unci Lucille Thunderclap overdosed on sleeping pills in 1968. Lakota people usually have big families and I do too – most of mine just happens to be dead.
     I finally walked over to Unci’s fresh grave. The dirt was still moist and all the flowers were blossoming. She had a wooden marker with SEQUOIA RED CLOUD 1939-2002 carved into it. Ate made it for her until her concrete tombstone was ready.
     “Hey Unci,” I said. “I hope tunkasila is keeping you company. I brought something for you.” I reached into my pocket and put my key to her house underneath the marker. Then I got back on my bike, said goodbye to all the Red Clouds, and went to find John David at the front of the school.

authorphoto-DCAbout the author:

Darlene P. Campos is an MFA candidate at UT-El Paso’s Creative Writing Program. In 2013, she won the Glass Mountain magazine contest for prose and was awarded the Sylvan N. Karchmer Fiction Prize. Her work appears or is forthcoming in A Celebration of Young Poets, Glass Mountain, Prism Review, Crunchable, Cleaver, The Aletheia, Bay Laurel, Red Fez, Bartleby Snopes, Elohi Gadugi, The Writing Disorder, Houston and Nomadic Voices, Alfie Dog, Connotation Press, RiverBabble, and many others. She is a writer for Kesta Happening DC newspaper and a fiction judge for Yeah Write Review. She is from Guayaquil, Ecuador but has lived in Houston all her life. Her website is now available at

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