Sun Dancing
Janet Shell Anderson

Nothing ever hurt so much.

Every step, every breath, like dying. He won't stop. Twenty-nine years old, thin, tall, his waist-long hair loose, head crowned with a wreath of sage, Thomas Whirlwind Horse dances.

The Sun, the Light of the World, I hear him coming.

The Lakota voices rise in the still air; the singers chant, drums sound. They sing from the heart. Hour after hour. Bright and terrible and beautiful, the sun streams down on Eagle Nest Butte, on the sun dancers, on the wide Lakota land. A coin of moon, pale in the sunlight, rises over the east; redtail hawks tilt above the prairie, lift, eye the dancers on the top of the butte.

Thomas has fasted, prayed, gathered all his nerve and now, in the powdery dust, like his father, like his grandfather, like his people when it was forbidden, he dances. Every step an act of will, every breath hard to take, he dances, a sacrifice for his family, people. His mother, father, friends, family watch. He sees Mary Jane West, his lover. Sweat runs down his face, blood down his body. He does this for her too, even though she's waisechu, white.

Mary Jane is trying not to vomit. She didn't think it would be like this. So violent. Repulsive. Every step Thomas takes moves him further away from her. She thought his being Oglala wouldn't matter. It didn't matter in graduate school in Lincoln, Nebraska, where he was a top student, got a Ph.D. in English, was accepted to teach at Northern Arizona. It didn't matter that he was exotic, an Oglala man from the Pine Ridge in South Dakota. She bragged about him to her friends. He was so good looking, so slick. She loved he was so different. It was going to be great with him; people noticed them. She liked that.

Now she sees the blood running down his chest, the wooden skewer driven deep into his flesh just below his heart, the leather thong tied from the skewer to the cottonwood tree in the center of the dancing ground. She sees the sweat, the lines drawn in his face, sees him lean back, pull all his weight on the skewer as he dances, tear it out of his body.

It's hideous. She bends down, vomits.

Finally it's over. It's dark. The stars are out; the wind shivers across the top of the butte. Thomas is exhausted. His Mom comes to him, his Dad. Carefully, they touch him, hold him a little. He's shaking with fatigue.

"Where's my girl?" he asks in his soft Lakota voice. Mom and Dad look down, not wanting to say.

She's gone.

Nothing ever hurt so much.

Currently nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the Micro Prize, Janet has been published by Vestal Review, Pindeldyboz, The Grey Sparrow Press, The Scruffy Dog Review, LITSNACK, Convergence, Gemini Magazine and others. Janet is an attorney and writes about life among the Oglala Lakota near "Wambli" on the Pine Ridge. This is Wounded Knee Country, beautiful and terrible.