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Fiction: Eating Crow by Neal Barrett, Jr.

“They’re dogs.”

“Dogs?”

“Look at them on the TV, sir. They’re dogs.”

“That’s impossible. They can’t be dogs. Beings from the stars are not dogs.”

“No offense, Mr. President. They’re fricking dogs.”

“I’ll ask you to watch your language, Jim.”

“Bob.”

“What?”

“Bob, sir. I’m Bob. Your Secretary of State.”

“Of course you are. Now what in blazes is going on here, Bob? And what are you doing about it? We simply can’t have dogs, hovering over the White House. Have you talked to them? Can’t they hover somewhere else?”

“I’ve talked to one, sir.”

“One.”

“The one out there, sir. On the lawn.”

“Jesus, Bob. That’s a dog.”

“Yes, sir.”

“He hasn’t done anything, has he? On the lawn, I mean. If people see that… Jim, what do they want? Women? That’s what they want on SCI-FI Channel. Scantily clad women.”

“Bob, sir. No, sir, the one I talked to, he wants to eat a crow.”

“That’s disgusting. Even for a dog. Okay, he wants a crow, give him a crow.”

“I gave him a crow, He doesn’t want a crow, he wants a Crow. A Native American, sir.”

“Good Lord! Well, he can’t have one. You know what Bill O’Reilly would do with that?”

“I told him, Mr. President. He says we better do it. He says we maybe noticed that’s a pretty big ship. He says he’ll toast a couple of states, see if you change your mind.”

“What kind of states?”

“New York, Connecticut. Eastern Seaboard, Maine to Florida, down through the Keys.”

“One Crow, Bob. That’s it. And no women.”

“Right, sir. That’s a good decision, sir.”

“I’m the decisioner, Bob. That what’s I do.” 

*** 

“Holy Eagle crap, what are you supposed to be?”

“You are Retching Bison, Jr., a person of the Injun persuasion? I am J’haan of the Tz?n folk. On your planet I am known as Dog.”

“You’re kidding. That’s a dog suit, right? A hell of a good suit but a frickingsuit. Man, how do you get your legs to bend like that? That is terrific. Really. So what are you selling, dude? Whatever it is, we don’t want any. And we don’t say Injun, pal. We say Absaroka. Crow, to you. Suppose you take your shaggy ass right off the reservation, before you get a traditional arrow up the kazoo.”

“Sorry, I cannot go now, Absaroka guy. Bob, who is secretary of the states, is to pick me up when I am done. We are staying at the hotel place in Billings of Montana. He will return in two of your Earthly hours. I should be done by then.”

“Be done what?”

“I fear that is of a confidential nature. Tell me, please. I must be correctly in this. How do I know you are a Crow? How do I know you are a Native of America or not? What if that is a merely a native suit? Where is your feather? Where are your mocs and the beach cloth to cover your ding?”

“Dong. And we don’t do feathers. Not with a three-piece and a tie. J’haan, is it? I had a dog named Duke, and another named Spot. Duke’s likely dead. Spot ran off. Look, you going to hang around here, sit, stay. I can’t stand to see you bouncing around on two legs. I think I’m at the fricking circus.”

“A circus is an event of peanuts and merry-making. I know that. We have learned much from your motioning picture and television shows. There is little to do in the spaces-in-between but peek into planetary fun on the orbs we pass by. I have watched the antics of the Lucy and the See-Es-Eyes. Peepee Herman and his band. The battle of the Leons and the Giants.

“Passing your world is where I came upon the topic that brings me here now. Much has puzzled my head. I will not deign to mention my anger at learning what ‘pet’ means. The Tz?n folk will not be forgetting this. Now, however, answer these things if you will: What is ‘Dog Gone?’ A dog is not here, a dog is gone? Gone where? Are dog days different than person days? How does that work? Is there a time differential among my kinsmen here? Why is there such great interest in dog-eared, dogface, dog fight? dog house, dog leg, dogging it, dogie, dog’s life, put on the dog? Put what on the dog, and why? Why is there a dog in the manger? I know about mangers, and what is the dog doing there in the first place? I do not understand why it is best to let sleeping dogs lie. Lying is pointless when one is not in the conscious state. And besides, how do you know if one is doing a fibbing in his sleep? You have no powers of the sensory kind, we are certain of that. 

“These and other things are of great concern to me. But what has brought me here, Retching Bison, Jr., is this business about Dogs and Crows. I can see you are of the humans. Not of the shade, say, of Bob, secretary of the states, but human nevertheless. Why, then, does history and stuff remind us that the Crow is the white man’s dog? White men, such as the Bob, can surely tell you are not of a dogly nature at all. Why, then, do we of the Tz?n come across this statement in countless bad motion-movie shows? Why do the jonwaines say this over and over again? It is, of course, an honor to be a dog, but not so much, I think, in such a case as this.”

“I cannot answer all of your questions, which would bore me to tears, but I will, indeed, tell you the meaning of that one. Many years ago, whenAxxaashe, the sun, and Bilitaachiia, the moon, looked down upon my people with love instead of great disdain, the Absaroka fought the nations of the Nez Perce, the Arapaho, and the devil Sioux. We were proud, and blessed by Father Trout and Mother Pigeon. Man, Baacheé, and Woman, Bia, made love by the sweet waters, the Bilé, of the Yellowstone River. We fought our enemies with passion and honor.

“Then, we made a big mistake: We fought beside the white man. We chased the great Seated Bull north when he led his people to Canada after the great battle of Greasy Grass. From then on, we were scorned by other nations. Hated in all the camps by the rivers, on the plains and in the mountains. And thus, we became known as the white man’s dogs. I assure you, there was no honor in this, nothing but shame and sorrow…”

“I thank you, Retching Bison, Jr. That is a great deal more than I really wanted to know, but I clearly see your point. Now, though we have become companions, though certainly not friends, a disgusting thought if I ever there was one, I feel I must tell you why I have come. One of the phrases I frequently run across on our in-between voyages is eating crow. I have never thought about the meaning of these words, and don’t give a rhatt’s rear, if you really want to know. I only know that since the Crow and the Tz?n folk appear to have much in common through myth and TV, I find I wish to satisfy my hunger by eating Crow. I would be grateful if you would concede to my needs, and not make a big thing about this, which would greatly embarrass us both.”

“I wish I could be of a more giving nature, but I fear this cannot be. Surely you must know the act of being eaten is both a painful and final thing, J’haan. That is, unless you believe the Pawnee god Suki-Pastaka’coli, who tells us we pass from the tract of digestion directly to the Big Whorehouse in the Sky. I am not a Pawnee person, though there’s nothing wrong with that.”

“What I believe, Retching Bison, Jr., is that you are stalling, hoping to catch me off guard as I prepare to render you senseless with a Car-oddie chop I learned from the great Chowlin master himself.”

“I feel I can save you some humuliation, J’haan, by informing you I am a skilled student of the ancient Burmese art of bando boxing, a deadly form of combat based upon the motion of creatures from the animal world. Rendered senseless, as you say, is a most pleasant feeling, compared to a single blow from a bando dude.”

“We are getting nowhere with this banter, Retching Bison, Jr. Let us take a fighting stance, and see who comes out as London Broil or some other fancy cut, and who does not.”

“In all fairness, J’haan, there is one thing I feel I must tell you. In all your learned discourse about this strange link between your folk and mine, you have somehow failed to note that history and the moving picture point out that while eating crow is a familiar term—one that seems to strike your fancy as a gourmand treat—it is no more common than the fact that theCrow eat dog, and have, for centuries past. No offense, but it is quite a tasty dish, properly boiled to reduce the somewhat doggy odor that is common to your kind, cooked or not.” 

“This is true? You are certain of this? You are not simply making this up to throw me off my feed?”

“No, J’haan, it is fact. Please know that your hunger has started my juices flowing as well. But, as you have been reasonably honest with me I feel I can do no less with you.”

“Then, Retching Bison, Jr., we have reached a near impossible dilemma. It is much like that insidious horror, algebra: One factor cancels out the other, and we are left with nothing. It would be unnatural for either of us to partake of the other. Yet, my stomach is as dark and empty as the spaces-in-between the stars. My being cries out for sustenance, vittles, fast food, slow food, food of any sort. Grub, chow, groceries, grits. This untimely revelation of yours has left us without any lunch.”

“Oh con-trair, mon dog. I am thinking it has not… 

***  

“If you’re finished with that leg, you might pass it over here, J’haan. I am stuffed, but that looks mighty good.”

“A bit stringy, friend of the Tz?n, but a little ketchup helps. I’ll have another bite of that heart, if you will, then I think a little nap.”

“Excellent idea, friend of the Absaroka. And I must say, I find it somewhat amazing that your folk and mine have non foolish prejudices where food is concerned.”

“Indeed. Innards or outards, it’s all the same to me. But do answer me this, old fellow. Though I know little of Earthly customs, I find it amazing your hotels do not appear to mind a fire in their rooms.”

“Actually, they do.”

“Ah, I see.”

“If you’d like, I will share this last bit of lung with you. It’s quite good.”

“As they say among my people, organs are where it’s at.”

“I can see that this is so. From now on, you will be known far and wide in the Crow Nation as Liver Eatin’ Jahaan-Tz?n!”

“Indeed, Junior, I would be proud to bear this title.”

—For Terry Bison

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