As Us

A Space for Writers of the World

Cynthia Sylvester – Fiction

Stairway to Heaven 

They said you were born on the day the president was shot, but I’m here to set the record straight – Herbie Shorty was born in the summer when the sunflowers were twelve feet tall and the blooms as big around as dinner plates used by Queen Elizabeth.  Herbie Shorty was suppose to be the next great leader of our band of the Diné who had moved to the east side of Blue Bead Mountain, who had dared to cross the great river and lay claim to land just this side of the Camino Real and that side of the Santa Fe Railroad.  The trains still hum tunes about him as they wander back and forth across the Dinetah.

Herbie Shorty, who defied his own name and grew to be six-foot-two, died of AIDS in 1983 at BCMC hospital.  He died without anyone, but me and the male nursing student who’d fallen in love with him, knowing that he was our leader.  But we did record some of his visions.

The last one he told us was as he laid with tubes coming out of his lungs and arms, his skin a pile of bruises, his eyes little pinpricks of light in the grey room.  I rubbed the top of his head and felt the indentation there.  He said that was where he had been hit over the head with a beer bottle in 1978, a Budweiser long neck, but I knew it was the hole the Ancient Ones have, the ones that can still talk without speaking, the ones that can fly.

“You know little Cuz,” he said, struggling to keep his eyes open, “I can see faces in the stars now.”  He stared up into the squares of the asbestos tile ceiling, “I think I see Uncle Edward.  You don’t know him, but he’s always full of jokes.  Oh Jeez, there’s your parents dancing – don’t they ever get sick of that song.  Oh, oh, there’s my favorite Auntie, she’s making fry bread.  Can you smell it?  And I think someone told me that up beyond Jupiter, that’s where our grandparents live now.  They have a huge hogan and about five thousand children.  Yeah, there’s our grandmother, she’s riding a white horse.  Damn, she looks good.  There’s Shicheii, he has a new Ford truck he’s learning how to drive.”

Herbie turned away from the asbestos tile stars and looked at me, “Guess where I’m going to live little Cuz.”

The nurse closed his eyes and my tears dropped onto the white sheet as I said, “Behind Uranus.”

“No, behind Uranus.  Look for me there.”

And we did, the male nursing student and I, every Tuesday night at the university observatory.  We’d ask the assistant to point us in the direction of Uranus and then giggle softly.

But we aren’t Ancient Ones.  We can’t see faces in the night sky.

I can’t find the huge hogan behind Jupiter with five thousand and one children.

But as we walked back to the car and the wind picked up, we were like stray dogs who live in back alleys, our ears perked up, and we know you saw us as we drove away with “Stairway to Heaven” playing on the one good speaker of my Ford Falcon.

Contributor’s Notes:

Cynthia Sylvester Head ShotCynthia Sylvester Diné from Albuquerque, NM is Kiyaa’nni (Towering House Clan) born for the Bilagaana (White Clan.)  She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 1990 with a Bachelor’s degree in Physical Therapy.  She works and writes in Albuquerque and was the 2011 bosque Discovery, awarded the 2012 Native Writer Award at the Taos Writer’s Conference.  Her stories We Wander and Wild Horses were published in, bosque (the magazine).  Her stories have been “favorites” at DimeStories in Albuquerque.  Cynthia is currently working on a collection of short stories.

2 comments on “Cynthia Sylvester – Fiction

  1. Pingback: Making Connections | A Writer's March

  2. Martha Somerville
    June 12, 2016

    That is such a beautiful and beautifully-written story..!

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