Arc and the Sediment

Arc and the Sediment: a Novel

Christine Allen-Yazzie
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Arc and the Sediment
    Book Description:

    Gretta Bitsilly, a gin-steeped mother of two and self-proclaimed expert at standing just outside the margins of ethnicity and peering in, has been all but eclipsed by the world that eludes her-as a wife, as a writer, as a skeptic in "the other land of Zion," Utah. Gretta has set off to Fort Defiance, Arizona, where she hopes to convince her Navajo husband, who has escaped not from his family but from alcoholism, to come home. Over a sputtering two-steps-forward, one-step-back desert journey, Gretta is diverted by chance, by seizures, an inconstant memory, and the disjointed character of her irresolute quest. She is fueled by a volatile mix of rage and curiosity and is rendered careless by ambivalence toward her marriage-she knows a welcome mat will not be waiting for her, "that white girl" who can't seem to get anything right. On route Gretta fi nds herself lost in the landscape, in strange company, or in her own convolution of language and inner space. With a dictionary and a laptop she attempts to write herself into a better existence-a hopeful existence-and to connect points of intellectual, physical, even spiritual reference. This tale, though dark and difficult, is infused with tart, twisted humor. Confused, disheveled, self-deprecating, and self-destructive, Gretta is also sharp and funny. Here, first-time novelist Christine Allen-Yazzie breaks apart her own narrative arc but with gritty reality seals it near-shut again, if in rearrangement, drawing us into Gretta's wrestling match with herself, her husband, her addiction, and the road. The Arc and the Sediment received an honorable mention from the James Jones First Novel Competition, and it won the Utah Arts Council Annual Writing Competiton Publishing Prize.

    eISBN: 978-0-87421-655-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[v])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vi]-[viii])
  3. The Plan
    (pp. 1-1)

    Tonight Gretta will arrive sometime about midnight in Fort Defiance, Arizona, to retrieve her husband in time for their ninth anniversary. Failing that, she’ll deliver to him his eagle-bone whistle. A three-legged Chihuahua will announce her arrival. Her little feet and broad shoulders will be admitted into a tidy if dilapidated single-wide where she is not especially welcome. If all goes as planned, Lance will follow her out of the trailer house and down the splintering stairs, and step into their pickup. The two of them will stop at a motel just outside the reservation, look at each other like...

  4. The Plan, Amended
    (pp. 2-8)

    There is something beautiful about a golden naked woman lying in the sand, which is why Gretta is stretched out here in the not-terribly-hot late-afternoon sun. But she is not a golden naked woman looking beautiful in the sand. Her face is swollen from drinking gin and is blazing vermilion like the redrock around her. Her sunglasses pressure her temples and the pajamas wadded up beside her smell like the janitorial closet of an old, canasta-addicted smoker. Her hair is tangled and salty, her doughy belly an aurora borealis of two long, nearly unendurable pregnancies. Peering through the window between...

  5. New Breasts = New Bras
    (pp. 9-10)

    Gretta wakes to sunburned skin, chilled flesh. The laptop is hibernating. The dictionary is stretched open; she puts it back in her pack. She stands up too quickly, waits for the blackness to subside. Finally she is hungry—fiercely hungry, fourth-month hungry if she were pregnant, which, thank god, she is not.

    She will finish her work, which will travel from brain cell to keyboard to hard drive to cell phone to satellite to her boss’s wireless-equipped gray-taupe cubicle, not excessively beyond her deadline. Not long after that she will find her way back to civilization, back to food, and...

  6. To Food
    (pp. 11-14)

    “You going to pay for that?” a woman asks. She’s wearing a park ranger hat and a stiff green T-shirt.

    Gretta apologizes profusely. Holding an open bag of corn nuts in one hand and an empty bag of M&Ms in the other, she insists she was about to pay. “I’m just so hungry,” she explains with food in her mouth, nodding toward a long and growing line at the cash register.

    Another woman peeks over the display.

    “You have white stuff….” Park Ranger waves as a lap swimmer might toward one corner of her mouth.

    “Powdered donuts.” Gretta swallows too...

  7. Dear James
    (pp. 15-18)

    Something Gretta read last night bothers her, and it will not wait another mile. She’s back on the highway, some twenty miles past the Sinclair. She parks on the shoulder with engine running and returns to her laptop. She pushes M. Butterfly open and braces it with the lip of the laptop.

    Dancers help him put on the Butterfly wig.

    GALLIMARD: I have a vision. Of the Orient. That, deep within its almond eyes, there are still women. Women willing to sacrifice themselves for the love of a man. Even a man whose love is completely without worth.

    Still, it...

  8. You Got to Cut Its Throat
    (pp. 19-26)

    Either Gretta will arrive in Arizona and ask for Lance’s return or she will announce her need for a divorce.

    Either Lance will be living at his aunt’s trailer house or she will find him living with someone else.

    If he is at Aunt Angela’s, he will either agree or disagree with her request, whatever it be.

    Either Lance will change his mind or he will not.

    Either Gretta will change her mind or she will not.

    Either she will arrive stinking of gin or she will refrain. Either she will be out of cigarettes or she will tremble and...

  9. Hello, Please Help Me
    (pp. 27-28)

    “It’s me. You up?”

    “Good god, Gretta. What time is it?”

    “Late. Early.”

    “You having another one?”

    “She won’t leave me alone, Grandma. I’m scared.”

    “She’s not real, honey.”

    “My skin burns. I don’t feel right.”

    “Just breathe. Say it isn’t real.”


    “Out loud.”

    “She isn’t real. But she wants me to do something. If I knew what it was, maybe I could do it and she’d go away.”

    “If she isn’t real, there’s nothing for you to do. It’s that front globe, you heard the doctor.”

    Gretta inhales three seconds, exhales four. Inhales three—exhale two, three, four....

  10. How to Make the World a Better Place
    (pp. 29-34)

    Gretta dreamed of trains, of trying to teach the upper torso of a man to swim. Not the fading dream-abstraction but the memory that must have prompted it washes over her. When she was ten or eleven or so—she can’t remember exactly how old—her dad took her to the train yards. She’d gone to work with him more than a few times, but this time, they stood in front of an empty rail as he passed her a checklist. He pointed to an oncoming train and said, “Now, they’re going to go by really fast. You look at...

  11. Just So You’re All Right Now
    (pp. 35-37)

    There is a tapping from the crane; Gretta wills it to go away. There is still the tapping. Or it isn’t the crane, but the ground that taps. Gretta stirs under the bright light of day. She looks around. She is in the pickup; there is no crane. There are no tractors, no dirt roads, no construction sites. There is just the truck. There is just the tapping—the tapping at the window: a woman wearing a hat. Gretta rolls down the window a good eight inches before it sticks.

    “Are you all right?”

    “Oh, yeah. I guess I got...

  12. All That Matters
    (pp. 38-42)

    “What the hay is this, Gretta? Riots and bra burnings?”

    Gretta pulls into the Golden Granary parking lot. “It’s 134 words. More are coming.” She hits the spacebar on the laptop to keep it from hibernating.

    “Riots and bra burnings. Who’s having riots and bra burnings? And the Dilbert financial page? That’s not a source. That’s a mockery, is what it is. Did you get my message?”

    “Yes, I did.”

    “Have you thought about what I said—really thought about it?”

    “Yes, I have. Look, I didn’t want to say anything, but…it’s Lance. They think he’s dead.” She produces a...

  13. The Arc and the Sediment
    (pp. 43-47)

    Gretta is lost. She is surrounded not by redrock but by pine trees. She woke in her truck beneath a new-smelling, Christmas-colored quilt as the sun was beginning to set, then drove nearly twenty minutes down a shady canyon before her cell phone caught a signal. It’s Tuesday. Not Sunday—Tuesday. Night. Parked on a two-lane road, wearing a godawful pink sweatsuit of unknown origination, she turns the light on in the pickup and flattens out wadded-up receipts against the seat.

    Apparently, she made it as far south as a Conoco in Monticello on Sunday night before she turned around....

  14. A Sore Cursing
    (pp. 48-54)

    “Yeah, hi. I’m just…I’m a little lost, and I was wondering—”

    “Who is it, hon?” calls a woman from inside.

    “A woman. Says she’s lost,” the man at the door shouts. He rubs a trim brown beard and spare moustache. He looks her up and down as a security guard might. She sees herself as she imagines he sees her: pink and puffy, corpse-pale, greasy, frazzled—the Easter bunny on meth.

    “Well, invite her in. It’s colder than a witch’s tit out there tonight.”

    He hesitates only a second more. Her tennis shoes, she notices, are relatively clean but...

  15. Hello, Kitty
    (pp. 55-67)

    The bathroom smells of kitty litter and hot dogs, but the hot water seems endless and the water pressure is great. Once Gretta’s hair is washed, she lies down in the bath. The shower rains down on her until cold water wakes her up. She dries off quickly, shivering, and wraps her hair in the towel. She curses the water that has somehow dampened one leg of her sweatpants.

    Darla’s room is decorated in Hello Kitty products—Hello Kitty bedspread, Hello Kitty posters, a ceramic imitation of Hello Kitty on a foldaway sewing desk. Above her bed is a picture...

  16. Fruit Sauce Should Always Be Served on the Side
    (pp. 68-74)

    The café is dirty. There are cloth napkins on the tables on this side of the room. They have red stains and the ashtrays haven’t been changed. Gretta speculates that it’s because this is a bar-café. Drunks care less about cleanliness.

    Not true. You’ve had quite a bit of gin, and I’m disgusted.

    “What time do you close?” she asked when she walked in.

    “Technically, about one. Maybe one-fifteen, one-thirty. But we’re not going to kick you out or anything,” said an old man swiveling on a barstool.

    “Don’t listen to Ben,” the bartender said, glaring at the old guy....

  17. The Curiously Multifaceted Nature of Victimization
    (pp. 75-80)

    “You’re pathetic.”

    “I’m not pathetic.”

    “You’re a real victim.”

    “I never said I was a victim.” Who is this person? And why did you let him in?

    The tequila man woke up less than a half-hour down the road, itching his feet as if to itch them off his legs. He was ornery but seemed hungry for conversation, asking her all kinds of questions. He seemed to be listening to her answers with some interest or she would have shut up. He nodded amiably, even threw in a few I-know-what-you-means. But now that he’s given up on his feet and...

  18. The Wavering Red Light
    (pp. 81-83)

    Gretta’s breasts and belly are blue in the light of the computer screen. The end of her cigarette, by contrast, lights up red. So very, very red.

    It is 1996. It could be anytime in fall. I know this because I’m sneezing. Lance’s pores are open. His eyelashes are long, his eyebrows wide and scattered. His forehead shines.

    When he’s being looked at, he can’t look. To look is to feel curious, to be interested, to lower himself.

    Eight bodies lie in the grass outside the lodge. The steam rising from their bodies can be seen through the inconstant light...

  19. An Unspeakable Shine
    (pp. 84-86)

    Thump, thump. That’s how innocuous it can sound when you take a life. Gretta pulls to the side of the road, though the decision to turn around and shine her brights on it is slower in coming.

    It’s furry and it yowls.

    She dresses finally, in the jeans and T-shirt wadded up on the floor. A smile and a horror emerge beyond the yowling when she envisions the tequila man searching through the near-moonless night, on acid, for his shirt, tossed on the highway.

    She gropes under and behind the seat for something useful. A camera phone won’t help. The...

  20. Entering the Third Dimension
    (pp. 87-97)

    Gretta tosses a Visa card on the counter, struggling to keep the fox from slipping out of her arms. “You can’t have dogs in here. It’s a policy.” The hotel clerk lifts his head and squints at her. He reminds Gretta of something. Something she doesn’t like, she’s not sure what. Maybe the last clerk.

    Saveloy, she imagines herself saying. That’s a ready-cooked, highly seasoned dry sausage to you. Pig’s brains! She wonders why he assumes the bloody mass in her arms is alive. Only his head is visible outside the T-shirt, and a pale delicate tongue hangs comically to...

  21. Forward, Anywhere
    (pp. 98-101)

    They say if you die in your dreams, you die in real life. Gretta wakes from a dream that she was murdered by Ronald McDonald. She remembers thinking in the dream, This must be Armageddon. Rain, deserts. Weird landscapes. Nuclear mushrooms. Ronald, who was deceiving a small crowd with cheap tricks, could make himself as tall as King Kong or as short as eleven feet so as to fit, hunched over, through the threshold of her apartment building. Her focus became clear; she moved, the whole of her, in one direction: forward, anywhere. In the end, he got her with...

  22. What Becomes of Virginia Dare
    (pp. 102-102)

    These competing visions of the world are not so much her own as they are flat, colored stones along a riverbank, which she casts into a tributary of the Colorado River, watching them skip across the surface four, maybe five or six times.

    Nineteen calls from Jackie and seven from her mother on her Recent Calls list. No Messages. The silence is the part that scares her most. The silence keeps her from returning the phone calls....

  23. In the Vat Lies the Fruit
    (pp. 103-112)

    Perhaps for resolve—dissolve/separate/melt/deliberate/decide/ reduce—the dictionary is fixed on no particular order.

    Gretta got out of the truck. She has followed an arrow drawn on a paper plate that was stuck to a fence at the side of the road. It pointed to a fairly smooth gravel trail. She found at the end of the road not a family picnic, not a rancher’s yard sale, but another, smaller trail, another sign, engraved in wood: Anasazi Ruins.

    From the road all she could see was sagebrush, juniper, rust-colored buttes in the distance. But a little over fifteen minutes south and...

  24. Second Place Is Pretty Good, Considering
    (pp. 113-114)

    The sight of the truck is as comforting as it is disconcerting. Gretta rips the paper plate off the fence, wads it up, and throws it through the window into the backseat. She pees at the side of the truck, curses the drip-dry method of dripping wet until less wet. She should have prepared herself with a wipe before urinating. In the console, she finds both the wipes and two pints of Gilbey’s. She wipes belatedly with a baby wipe, considers the fact that now would be a good time to quit drinking gin and drink lots of water. For...

  25. A Little Reluctance Goes a Long Way
    (pp. 115-120)

    Gretta is smoking a cigarette and browsing the dictionary on the tailgate when an old white Corolla pulls over. It is the second car she has seen since a sprinkling of rain cleared up, leaving its scent. She gets up to see who it is. The passenger door of the car opens. A man gets out. The trunk is popped open and the man gets a duffel bag out of it. The man leans back into the car for a moment then shuts the door. The Corolla drives off. “Fuck you too, motherfucker!” the man shouts after the car. The...

  26. I Want Some Cookies
    (pp. 121-122)


    Gretta wakes up with the sun in one ear and a rumbling in the other. Despite the protestations of his stomach, the tequila man is still asleep.


    Gretta sits up. “Hey,” she says to the elderly couple standing beside the truck. She stands up in the bed and scratches her arms.

    “You kids okay?”

    It takes Gretta a minute to think about what the man is asking. She sees parked ahead of her a Wilderness trailer plastered with We’re Spending Our Children’s Inheritance bumper stickers.

    The tequila man stretches. “Good morning,” he says.

    “Got troubles?” asks the old...

  27. Who’s Your Butterfly?
    (pp. 123-127)

    The truck is getting hot and smells of smashed fox foot. Gretta is too sauced to care about that. She feels free in such close vicinity to ruin. She wants desperately to call her kids, hear their voices. “Night-night, Mom,” Braden might say. Or, “Who dis?” And Tulip: “I hate you and I always will.” Oh, come on, has she ever said that?

    The only time she feels brave enough to call, she has had enough to drink that Tulip would pick it up in an instant and tell her she’ll tell her dad—or at least Jackie. Instead, Gretta...

  28. In Drills and Bursts
    (pp. 128-133)

    “You having another one of them damned things?”

    “No. I just called to say hi. Just…I miss you.”

    “You never did tell me the end of that story. Don’t hang up on me again, you little shit. I can’t stand it—it makes me worry. Your mother and dad are worried to death as it is, so I didn’t even mention you called.”

    “What story?”

    “Last time you called me. Let’s see—a woman drives up to an evangelist’s house and demands proof of something or other, and instead they give her a jar of apricots...

  29. Rubber Hatchets
    (pp. 134-135)

    After Gretta maxes out a credit card on the starter, she has, by her estimation, three good cards left. She spends the remainder of one on a big clay salad bowl for her mother, on a white-shell necklace for her grandma and a turquoise bracelet for Jackie, and for the kids she buys T-shirts, rubber animals, turquoise-and-onyx rings, a Bugs Bunny lunch box for Tulip, an Incredible Hulk lunch box for Braden. She fills the lunch boxes with retro candy—Boston Baked Beans, Astro Pops, Charleston Chews, Lemonheads. In a wave of mean-spiritedness that she hopes is directed toward Lance,...

  30. I’m Saying If
    (pp. 136-137)

    Gretta pulls into Golden Granary between two jeeps covered in sandy red mud. Just hang up. A driver sits in the jeep to her left. He looks at her, winks. She waves a pinky finger from her cell phone, thinking the man must be desperate. Just hang up, Gretta.

    “I’m not sure what you’re asking, ma’am.”

    “I’m saying if I accidentally drank more alcohol than I thought I drank, what would happen if I took my Dilantin? I mean, I think I have an idea, but I want to be sure.”

    “Are you saying you drank alcoholic beverages while taking...

  31. I’m Saying When
    (pp. 138-141)

    Gretta rubs eyeliner from under her eyes and combs her hair back with her fingers. With a baby wipe, she cleans her hands and armpits. “PTA, remember that,” her grandma has said. “A good pussy-tits-andarmpits bath is an important part of being on the road.”

    She puts Vaseline on her lips, and still she is not ready to go into the hostel. She has a history with this place that is less than pleasant. An incidental backdrop. It is not the youth hostel, she realizes, but more of her fucked-up vitae. Lacking in life experience, Gretta is not.

    I fucked...

  32. Do You Want to Save Changes?
    (pp. 142-152)

    “Utah is the dirtiest place I’ve ever been,” says Peter, passing Gretta’s bottle of magic sand to Stefan.

    “It is,” says Stefan. “Don’t you think?” he asks Gretta. He pours some of the terracotta-colored sand into his palm, watches it drift aside with a breeze, then caps the bottle and gives it back to Gretta. An old man wearing biking gear comes out of the hostel; he nods at the three of them as he walks past. It seems he has no bike. Youth hostel, Gretta notes with relief, does not necessarily mean hostel of youth.

    “My babysitter hates me,”...

  33. As a Matter of Spite
    (pp. 153-155)

    When Gretta sees the sign (Repent, Sinners! The End Grows NEAR and GOD Shall Have His Vengence!) nailed to a post in front of a trailer house just outside of Taylor’s Creek, she knows exactly what her grandmother spoke of. The white wooden board with painted red letters is uncomfortably familiar. She pulls over and checks behind her seat—an empty jar smelling of apricots. She could check for new photos on her phone, but decides knowledge might, at this point, hurt rather than help. She drives on slowly, her window half rolled down.

    The town is eerily quiet, with...

  34. Keeping It Out
    (pp. 156-161)

    “There is a contrast in the sky that can’t be explained by her presence in a foreign nation. The sun is lit up crimson in the east, the clouds are brass-gold-green in the west, they move so fast. She has never seen such fast-moving clouds.”

    She gets out of the truck. Her narrative appears in her mind letter by letter, as if on a concave screen. The inevitability of letter-to-word-to-sentence, of setting-to-climax-to-resolution, seduces and suffocates, for the setting has set, and any one of the many possible climaxes couldn’t possibly render finality. The narrative persists regardless.

    “She looks for herself...

  35. Words for Later
    (pp. 162-170)

    She wakes to noise. There is the blue and the black, and the fluorescent lights between. The noise recedes and the darkness returns, a cavern. The woman is central. She is mostly buried, though traces of her have been unearthed. It is Gretta’s duty to pay homage to her corpse. She is horrified. She doesn’t want to look. She is pushed, by what, she doesn’t know—compelled to touch the dust she is becoming. She reaches out, but her body shakes, and the hand draws back. The granules and chips and hair of grayness melt her eyes. There is no...

  36. And Also It Goes Back to Th at Whistle
    (pp. 171-177)

    She feels around under the seat—they didn’t confiscate her gin. Her camera is there. Her suitcase is in the back. She checks the glovebox—her books are there. But the dictionary—she is desperate for grounding—maybe the officer took it. Maybe it fell out. Maybe you were dragged out of the truck. The dictionary is gone—it isn’t in the truck. Not anymore.

    Her step is unruly. No twitching. She tries to carry herself as if nothing is the matter. Stop biting your lip. The trailer house is so small and dark, she can’t quite see—that, and...

  37. They’ll Eat My Irises
    (pp. 178-184)

    “Ruthless: Having no ruth: MERCILESS, CRUEL.” Gretta reads aloud from WordsforLater. Her voice is mostly lost over the wind crossing through the windows, so she strains to read louder.

    Rutilant: To glow reddish: having a reddish glow. That one’s nice, isn’t it? No?” She had the small victory of being defended for a good couple of hours before images of the rumored lovebirds started whittling away at her again.

    “Ruttish: Inclined to rut: LUSTFUL. Rutty: Full of ruts.”

    “Please stop,” says Lance.

    She opens Dispatches to a page she had dogeared. “Page forty-nine, wouldn’t you know? ‘Straight history, auto-revised history,...

  38. Or What
    (pp. 185-188)

    Lance walks briskly from the store to the pickup, his hands prone as if to hold footballs, and gets in. “They said you already had your prescription sent to Moab. And to Monticello. And to Cortez.”

    Gretta tries to gather her thoughts. She remembers calling and sitting in the parking lot in Moab—Para Español, marqué uno—maybe calling Monticello, but she didn’t pick anything up.

    “Did you hear me? First you had a refill sent to Moab, then you had it sent to Monticello, then you called from Cortez—”

    You couldn’t have made it to Cortez, could you...

  39. The Image Lasts All the Way Across
    (pp. 189-193)

    She wakes up to Lance pulling off on an exit and into a small town. She thinks he’s going to stop for fast food, but he passes McDonald’s, KFC, Four Corners Burgers and Shakes. He keeps driving—turning off in the wrong direction: south.

    “Where are we going?” she asks Lance.

    “Get some sleep.”

    They drive along barren roads until curiosity turns to anxiety and then to panic. But (questions, questions) she is afraid to ask why they have come this way. Finally he pulls onto a dirt road and parks next to a wood-shingled white house.

    He looks at...

  40. Afterword: Gretta’s Alternative Twelve Steps to Sobriety
    (pp. 194-195)

    1. I conceded that I had long entertained the power of alcohol to console myself of the fact that life is by nature unmanageable.

    2. Came to believe that this power of alcohol was not enough to restore me to sanity, or, alternatively, to suspend my concern about my sanity, or my doubt in that rhetorical category, sanity.

    3. Made a decision to turn my will into knowledge as I felt compelled to pursue it, since I understood that I understand little and have an insatiable need to understand all.

    4. Made a searching (if fearful and incomplete) inventory of...

  41. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 196-196)