Life on a Cool Plastic Ice Floe

Ice Floe cover

© 1978 Karyn Follis Cheatham
Remaindered print editions - $10.00



from Chapter 3

...Sam's voice was continually in Danny's head that night: "It's the courts--an excuse to split up the family..." Danny punched the pillow with his fist. His family surely was split--Mary in Detroit, himself here at Platt Road and all the pressure to go into another foster home.

"Just until June," the counselor kept telling him. "A home situation is more comfortable than here. Just until June."

Danny hadn't believed that. He knew there would be some excuse why he would have to stay longer than June. He had heard that kind of talk before: "Just until we get things straight with your grandparents," the social worker had said when he and Mary were placed with the Harpers after their mother's death. Two weeks had passed and no word had come from their grandparents. Danny felt certain that no one was trying to "get things straight," and he started trying to get to the Soo. Mary had wanted to go with him, but the weather was harsh, and it was snowing north of Lansing. He made her say behind.

Danny's head ached as he thought about it. He should have taken her then. Maybe they would both be home now. They had let him stay once he got there. If only he had taken Mary with him!

"There are Indian groups out west that have lawyers--college folks. They've been working a while on all kinds of problems." Those were the reasons Sam had given for his sudden departure from Michigan. He had finished two years of college before their mother died. Then he had dropped out of school and gone to the Soo to help his grandparents gain Mary's custody. When all attempts failed, he left for New Mexico. "I'll be able to find out something, some way to get Mary home."

Now Sam was back. He hadn't said anything about getting Mary home. He had talked about the Youth Council and their newspaper, Americans Before Columbus, and what the problems were in the Southwest, but he said nothing about plans for Mary.

"Tahome anee," Sam had said. Sure! Be strong! Strong! Two more weeks.

Those last two weeks rolled by with deadly monotony. Danny completed an entire course and a half of algebra, and the science instructor was pleased with his work. That left only English. His tutor told him he would have to go to summer school if he was going to be ready for the ninth grade.

Danny played a lot of basketball those last few days. He liked to make his muscles stretch and move. When he was on the court, either alone or with other boys, he could forget about Platt Road. All the boys played hard and seemed to vent their anxieties in the excitement of the game. There was rough team play where elbows jabbed on ribs and the wooden floor scraped knees and fingers. And there were quiet times when the ball rang its hollow sound onto Danny's ears as he bounced it, the heavy thump as it hit the backboard. . .

It was 12:35, June second. Danny was leaving Platt Road at one o'clock. He stared at the INDIAN POWER button his brother had given him as he cleared his locker. He hadn't worn it yet, and now he tucked it out of sight in his jacket pocket. He didn't want to hear the comments the guys would make--especially that new guy. Danny had nearly got into a fight with the surly sixteen-year-old who had begun badgering him four days earlier. He had joined Danny in the gym and had started making bad comments about Indian people, and how he had heard that Danny's brother was on television because he had scalped somebody. It had been difficult for Danny to control his rage. He had stalked away in icy silence.

"Hey, grease head, can't you talk? Wooden Indian can't talk!"

When the boy rifled the basketball into Danny's back, Danny reacted with explosive anger that crashed him, shoulder first, into the boy's stomach. Lou and Tom, two counselors, arrived at that minute and pulled them apart. Lou pressed Danny against the wall and held him there while he cooled off.

"Four more days, man," the man cautioned. "Don't blow it. You've gone through five months with no trouble. Let's keep it straight."

And Danny had measured the time with calculated actions that kept him away from the loudmouthed boy. Danny became deaf to the taunts and remembered the words his grandfather would say when the white kids would ride around in the summer an pick fights with the Indians: "Don't lower yourself, Danny. I ain't raisin' you up to be a brawler."

"So the red man's going home, huh?" the new boy snorted when Danny walked through the game room with his things. "Good riddance!"

Danny toyed with the idea of walking over and planting his knuckles deep in the kid's eye socket, but he just gritted his teeth and walked on. He had better things to do than punch out some bad-talking white boy. Danny was going home.