Written by IllaRouge
Not many folks went walking around White Eagle at night. There wasn't necessarily anything dangerous. It just seemed that when the sun went down, the rabbits returned to their warrens. Not everyone on the reservation was a rabbit; plenty of bison, some snakes, even a dog or two, but mostly rabbits. Regardless, it was quiet at night, and this was much of the reason Margo, full-fledged jackrabbit and Ponca, chose these times to go for runs. Earbuds in, she set off from the dilapidated porch of her grandma's house, where she and several generations and siblings slept under one roof. She ducked her head down beneath the windchime missing a few chimes to keep anyone from waking up.
She knelt near the road to tie up her new shoes, the first new shoes, custom-made for her more rabbit-like feet, she had owned besides ones provided by her university. She stood up and wiggled her toes. She had received her advance from Pittsburgh to buy gear and find housing. These shoes were hers. She bought them with her own money. It felt strange to do such a thing; she didn't know what to make of wealth. Shaking her head, she set off into a jog. She didn't want to think about these things right now.
Her feet met the pavement, the pebbles and bits of shattered asphalt that she kicked up keeping pace until they rolled to a wobbly stop. In her ears, various tracks from video games she'd never played complemented her exercise. Her family had some games, but they were somewhat limited, always a bit outdated, but she always liked the music. Her free time was often spent looking for new tracks to add to her playlist, and even if she was conscious of the elements and narrative associated with a particular theme, she enjoyed imagining new stories, cobbling together something new without being bogged down by the source material of the game.
As the tracks played and the miles of road disappeared under her feet, she saw a rabbit, like herself, achieving much of the same untested success she saw herself in, saw this someone going forth, being selected early by a winning team, pushing forward, practicing, making friends, becoming jovial, blocking shots, winning games, losing games. But this all seemed distant. She didn't see herself in this role. She didn't see herself getting on a plane in the morning and entering pre-season training. She didn't see Howlerween coming so close and the season starting proper. She focused on the music.
After a few miles, she slowed to a panting halt. She pushed herself harder than normal, and she wasn't registering the reason. She stood against a cement pillar, and she realized she was next to a parking lot of the abandoned casino her tribe had attempted running so many years ago. She knew she was where she was because she was supposed to know, would have no way of not knowing, not because there were any street lights, because there weren't. She set her phone down, not having purchased one of those holders for one's arm, and unscrewed the bottle of water she was also carrying. Would she have to buy the fancy things to make running easier? She hoped not as she drank.
"Out here again, huh?"
The words, muffled behind the music, were enough to make Margo pull her buds out. She turned to see a mouse smoking a cigarette near another cement pillar.
"Out here for the last time in a while," she called back. She stepped farther away from the road and toward the mouse. She greeted her friend in Ponca. "Late for you, innit, Lori?"
The mouse, far shorter than the towering rabbit, grinned. "I learned from the best. It's quiet out here at night."
"Sure is." Margo took a short sip, leaving enough for the run back.
"You leave tomorrow, right?"
"Technically today, but yeah, once the sun comes up."
"Kinda exciting, innit? How's Paula?" Margo's grandma.
"Good. Kinda think she's dreading another one of us leaving. She threw a party to say bye."
"Yeah. First Beatrice, now you." Margo frowned at the mentioning of her sister. "Everyone's making it big in the Warriors, huh?"
The year before, Margo's sister had been drafted into the Furry Australian Football League. Beatrice had largely been off the reservation for many years, pursuing a degree abroad and then choosing to stay on another continent. Margo hadn't spoken much on the matter. Both of the sisters in their respective sports were rough around the edges, both admitted to needing to grow in order to reach the level they wanted, but Margo saw the leaving as something different.
"Yeah, everyone's making it big."
Though she knew it wasn't good for her running, she sat down for a break with Lori. The hard ground dug into her butt, and yet there was a communal feeling of sorts in that Lori also braved the unrefined surface.
The two looked at each other for a time. For a long time, they looked at each other in this way, never really saying much, at times only speaking in particular looks, trailings of the eye, sometimes lower, sometimes higher. It was a way they conversed, because to say the specifics of conversations like this would betray something. There was a liminality to whatever it was they felt. Tonight, however, they were locked on each other's eyes. Lori raised the cigarette and took a long drag, blowing the smoke sideways, the wisps dancing around her, a touch of fragrance reaching Margo's nose. The mouse liked to lace her cigarettes with different things, sometimes cloves or lavender, sometimes crushed up Skitters or cake flour. Tonight, it was sage.
Margo smiled. "You'll get in trouble if someone smells that." Only certain people could burn sage in their tribe.
"I won't tell if you won't."
This was their code, the phrase they shared back and forth between each other when there was some manner of doubt that emerged. It could be about looks, words, physicality, any number of things, but as soon as that phrase was spoken, both relaxed.
Lori scooted closer to her friend. Margo slouched a little as she readjusted her position against the pillar, and one of her ears lowered and rested atop the mouse's head. They stayed that way for a while, staring at the orange glow of the refineries just outside of the borders of the reservation.
"Mind if I come visit sometimes?" Lori asked.
"You're always welcome, sister."
The mouse smiled. "Think things will be different in Pennsylvania?"
"How couldn't they be? It rains a lot there. Pittsburgh is a big city. They got so many trees--"
"What I mean is, are you going to be different?"
Margo paused to think about the question, loaded with their too many words they never spoke. "I don't know. Maybe. I mean, I'm not going to be a different person really."
"Just you might act different."
"Just I might act different." Margo chuckled. "But not really at the same time. I'm still Ponca. I'm still lapine. I carry who I am wherever I go."
"Yeah, but you still gotta carry your kin too, right?"
The rabbit turned to look at her friend, Lori's face just a little obscured from the direction she faced. Margo raised her arm up and put it over Lori's shoulder. The mouse squeaked through tight lips, and as Margo pulled her in closer, she rested gently on the tall rabbit's chest.
"I always carry my kin."
Lori nuzzled Margo's shoulder. They stayed there until the muted blue of sunrise crept upon the darkness before the sun itself. The two rose up. Margo walked with Lori to the mouse's family's house, before jogging back home herself.
Margo untied her sneakers and clapped them together to get the light coat of dust off of them. The sound was enough to alert someone. The front door opened, and an elder rabbit poked her head out. "Bit of a long run, innit, child?"
The younger rabbit laughed. "Yeah. Just appreciating the sights before I left."
Her grandmother, Paula, walked out on the porch. She tugged at a worn-down beach chair, despite there being no beaches in Oklahoma, and sat. Margo set her shoes aside. She stood against the wall of the house and slid down until she sat next to her grandma.
"Easier to catch the sights if there's any damn light to see it in the first place," Paula said.
Margo patted her grandma's forearm. "Suppose so, but I like night."
"Always have, you have. That and rainstorms. Ponca like rain, but you might as well have been born a fish way you go out when it pours."
The bluntness her grandmother held made Margo laugh. The rabbits grinned at each other.
"You going to be like your sister and fly off?"
The question stung. "Well, I need to go where my team is, but I'll be back as much as I can."
Paula nodded. "Better be. How am I gonna make your Grandpa Alex yell if he don't see you fancydancing?"
For the Ponca, dancing is a way to engage in the culture, and fancydancing is what they're best known for, a version of dancing with wide, sweeping motions, elaborate garb, and what can best be described as controlled chaos. Traditionally, only men are permitted to do this type of dance.
"He still gets mad about that?"
"Granddaughter, you know he does. Have to keep up the traditions." Paula sighed. "I'm still not sure how I feel about it, but I prefer to see my grandchildren happy than turn my nose up at something like that."
Margo stretched out as she leaned against the house in her seated position. "Same with basketball?"
"See, that's where Natives are best. It's a stereotype, but it's true."
"You think? I'm still pretty rough. I need a lot of practice before I could see the starting line in the FBA."
"FBA be damned. Let's see any of those fancypants furs come to White Eagle and play on our court." She leaned down, as if to whisper, though she never lowered her voice. "The Ponca know how to work with the cracks in the earth. No polished floors, no expensive shoes, just falling in love with what you got. Bring any of them rich kids back here, see how they do against the first five Ponca you pick off the street."
They laughed in unison. Paula went on with a few words in Ponca.
Margo quipped, "I promise, Grandma, I won't turn into a rich kid. I know where I'm from," pausing to look at the approaching dawn, "and I know what that means."
Paula put a hand on Margo's shoulder. All at once, the younger rabbit felt an enormous weight as she considered her path. She furrowed her brow and kept staring off of the porch.
"Small girl," Paula's nickname for her, "you do what you need, and you carry us with you, yeah?"
Taking a deep breath, Margo turned back to view her elder.
"I'll carry all of you, and you all will carry me."