Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield
Opal has been working as a mail truck driver for USPS for years, and every time she gets into her truck, she looks at her face in the mirror. As she drives, she thinks about the time when she adopted the Red Feather boys. They were shopping for clothes, and Orvil broke out into a wild dance, arms flailing, in front of the mirror. It looked to Opal like he was powwow dancing, but he couldn’t have been. On her mail route, Opal pays attention to where she steps. She is superstitious about stepping on cracks on the sidewalk as she drops off mail. She also watches out for unlucky spoons and numbers so that she can have some sense of control over the bad things in life. All the bad things that happened—on Alcatraz, at Ronald’s house, in foster care after that—put a heavy weight on her, but she keeps busy and stays distracted. She puts on her earphones and listens to Motown.
Yesterday, Orvil texted her to say he found spider legs in a bump on his own leg. The same thing happened to Opal when she was Orvil’s own age. Her mom never let them kill spiders because of their power to carry miles of web in their bodies, web that was both a home and a trap. Orvil didn’t bring it up at dinner, and Opal wonders why. She doesn’t mind snooping on the boys—one time, she looked at Orvil’s phone when he was asleep and found a video of him powwow dancing. He had learned how to dance somewhere. He was wearing the regalia her first love, Lucas, had given her. One day when they were young, Lucas just left for Los Angeles without telling her why, only to return two decades later to give her the regalia, tell her he was about to die, and say sorry. Opal had first found the spider legs in her body soon after she began menstruating. Jacquie was pregnant and they had decided to keep the baby. One night, Ronald, the uncle they were staying with, approached their bed in the middle of the night. Opal hit him over the head with the bat and, not knowing if he was alive or dead, fled with Jacquie. She only learned years later that she hadn’t killed Ronald, when Lucas encouraged her to go back to the house to see. Opal is large now—technically overweight, but large because she has chosen to get bigger instead of contracting over the years of life.
Octavio showed up at his grandmother Josefina’s house both hot and cold, with a deep ache in his bones. She says it could be the flu, or maybe he has been cursed. She tells him that her father cursed her when she was younger, when she got pregnant and the baby’s father left her. Her mother put her on a bus to Oakland and she was sick for over a year. Octavio lies in bed with a fever, thinking about the night his father died. His older brother, Junior, and his uncle Sixto had stolen drugs from someone’s basement, and one night, bullets came flying through their house. They missed Octavio, his mother, and Junior, but his father was hit when he jumped in front of Octavio. After that, Octavio started spending more time with his cousins Manny and Daniel. Their dad had lost his job and was drinking heavily. One day, they were in the basement when they heard their dad assaulting their mom upstairs. Manny went upstairs and grabbed his dad, pulling him down to the ground. They broke the glass table in the living room upon landing; Manny’s dad was all cut up and knocked out. It seemed like he might have been dead. Manny and Octavio put him in the car and drove off, as Daniel and his mother cried watching them leave. They left him on the ground, still passed out, near a hospital. One day, he came back, and the family kicked him straight back out. Around that time, Manny and Octavio stole their first car. They picked up a black Lexus and drove from uptown to East Oakland, not saying a word to each other the whole way. Smoking the cigarettes they found in the car, they found a thrill in briefly experiencing another person’s life.
One day, when Octavio was in Manny and Daniel’s basement, Josefina called and told him that his Uncle Sixto has crashed the car and killed Octavio’s mother and brother. Octavio came running home; when Fina confirmed it was true, he collapsed. After their funerals, he moved in with Fina. He heard mourning doves often in Fina’s backyard, which made him feel even sadder. One day, he took his BB gun and shot one of the doves in the backyard. Soon after that, he bought a bottle of liquor and went to Sixto’s house even, though Fina had told him to let things be. When they sat down together, Sixto told Octavio a story about the time he stole a little skull from Josefina’s altar and she told him he had inherited some darkness from the family and he needed to keep it to himself. Then Sixto took Octavio to his basement and lit up a dried plant, beginning a ceremony with the smoke.
When Octavio’s fever breaks, he and Josefina get in a car and drive out of the city to a field with orchards. Fina parks the car and gets on the hood of the car, trapping a badger with a fishing line. She yells at Octavio to rip off some of its fur. Octavio obeys; as they get back in the car, she explains that they need to make him a medicine box. Fina tells him a legend about the badger who named the sun and then hid underground. Some of us, she tells him, hide inside like the badger, thinking that there is something wrong. Octavio tells Fina that he went to see Sixto and that he wants to kill him. Fina says that everyone makes mistakes and that Sixto is lost. We don’t know what it’s all about, she says. Octavio thinks that this is both wrong and right, and he stays quiet.
When Daniel shows everyone the 3D-printed gun, they laugh harder and are more excited than they have been since Manny died. To Daniel, Manny is still in limbo. He thinks that Manny wouldn’t like that Octavio started coming over so much after his death to check on them. Daniel blames Octavio somewhat for running his mouth at that party, but he also knows it was Manny’s fault for beating up that kid on the front lawn. Now, when he shows the guys the gun he printed, he points the barrel at them. They put their hands up, scared, and he feels in control for the first time in a long time. Octavio takes the gun, and that makes it even scarier. After the guys leave, Daniel writes Manny an email to his old Gmail account. He apologizes about the gun, but he tells him they have needed the money ever since their mother lost her job. He also tells him about the online community he’s gotten into where he is learning to code. He doesn’t feel like going out in the real world much anymore. He tells Manny that he regrets not speaking to him much when he was alive. He is worried about Octavio’s plans for the guns he has printed, but he needs the money for rent.
Octavio brings Daniel the money for the guns, and he leaves three thousand dollars in an envelope on the table. With the other two thousand, he buys a drone and virtual reality goggles to watch what happens with his guns and Octavio’s plan at the powwow. When Daniel’s mother sees the money, she breaks down. They hug each other, crying, and tell each other they are sorry.
Paul and Blue got married in a peyote ceremony. She also got her Indian name in that ceremony; before that, she only had her white name from her adopted parents. Blue knows her birth mother’s name and not much else: Jacquie Red Feather. She grew up over the hills from Oakland, in a rich white suburb. When her adopted mother told her she was Native on her eighteenth birthday, she didn’t know what to do. Eventually, she got a job as a youth-services coordinator with her tribe in Oklahoma, and she moved out there. She began a relationship with her boss, Paul. When Paul’s father died, he turned violently abusive. She applied for a job as an events coordinator for the powwow back in Oakland. One day, Blue told Paul she’d get a ride home from work with Geraldine, a counselor from work. After work, she runs into Geraldine, who starts driving her to the bus station with her drunk brother Hector passed out in the back seat. Hector wakes up and tries to take over the wheel from Geraldine, and they crash in the parking lot near the bus station. Paul calls just as they crash and somehow knows where they are. Blue runs to the bus station and locks herself in a toilet stall, ignoring Paul’s calls. An old woman comes into the stall next to hear. Paul steps in a few moments later, and the old woman says she is the only one in there. He steps out. Blue asks the old woman for help, and she stays in the bathroom with her, waiting until the half hour until the bus to Oakland is scheduled. Together, they walk through the station. Paul has gone. With the old lady behind her, Blue boards the bus.
Thomas’s story began before him with his parents, who met over the fire at a peyote ceremony. He was born with an arrhythmic heartbeat, and eventually, that rhythm got translated into a talent for drumming. He was invited to drum at the Big Oakland powwow with a group called Southern Moon. The drumming felt triumphant to him when he first listened, but he had difficulty finding his voice for the singing. Thomas walks like his dad did, with a limp turned into a defiant, rolling gait. He began drinking in his twenties without much thought. His father was an alcoholic, and alcohol keeps Thomas from scratching the eczema on his face overnight. Sometimes, he can drink enough to reach an agreeable state the next day, when everything feels in its place. One night, however, he drinks too much. The next day, at his janitor job at the Indian Center, his supervisor asks him to remove a bat they found in one of the rooms. When he catches the bat, however, Thomas, still drunk, panics and crushes it in his hands. He is fired. He gets on the train and thinks about his dad, who didn’t often take them to Indian powwows when he was younger because his mom became an evangelical Christian when he was younger. He arrives at the coliseum for the powwow and waits to begin drumming. The song will be his prayer.
Part III illustrates Orange’s refusal to assign blame or define antagonists clearly. In this section, readers hear directly from Octavio for the first time, where previously he was known only through other character’s eyes. In previous depictions, Octavio is emotional, volatile, and dangerous; he is the central conman behind the plot to rob the powwow. His narrative voice, however, is sensitive and vulnerable in the face of extreme personal tragedy. By voicing him directly, Orange deftly sidesteps any attempt by readers to assign blame to Octavio or cast him as the "bad guy." Similarly, readers learn of the loss and hardship at the root of Daniel’s involvement with the plot. After his brother Manny is killed, Daniel and his mother struggle to make rent. The money from the guns Daniel manufactures is badly needed. Thus the central conflict at the heart of There There is not between the victims and the perpetrators of the crimes at the powwow: instead, as Octavio and Daniel demonstrate, the conflict lies in characters’ battle with themselves and the oppressive forces that restrict them.
In a sad twist, the man at the heart of the plot to rob the powwow is perhaps one of the characters most in tune with his traditions. Octavio speaks with deep respect for his grandmother, Josefina, who imparts spiritual knowledge and guidance to him and his entire family. When he is sick, Josefina takes him to rip fur off of a live badger to start a medicine box. In this scene, as well as in the scene where Octavio confronts his uncle Sixto, Orange’s writing borders on magical realism. Readers might be skeptical, for example, of Octavio’s ability to rip a small patch of fur of a living badger, but these scenes demonstrate the current, living traditions that Native people practice—even Urban Indians like Orange’s characters. Indigeneity is not by any means a relic of the past. White America has not succeeded in its attempts to bury its traditions or assimilate them. Nor will they be silenced, Orange seems to suggest, by an act of violence from within the community.
Blue’s section depicts how the struggle for authenticity can lead further into traumatic territory. Blue grew up in a white adopted family; she moved to Oklahoma to take up residence with her native tribe and try to find out information about her family. She does not succeed, however, and instead finds fresh sorrow in a violently abusive husband. She is forced to escape without learning any more about her roots, and she returns to Oakland. With her story, Orange demonstrates how the quest for authenticity can sometimes be a false promise. Her story also challenges the notion of home: she goes to Oklahoma in search of family, but, as it turns out, her true home is back in Oakland.
Part III also continues the direct foreshadowing of the violence at the powwow. Octavio’s section in particular seems to drive home the inevitability of violence. At first, his father is shot while at home, due to his uncle and brother’s involvement in drug crime. Next, his uncle crashes his car, killing Octavio’s mother and brother. Octavio narrates these events one after another in a matter-of-fact tone, unflinchingly describing his emotional pain as his entire life unravels. It seems only natural that Octavio would continue this violent cycle. In addition, Fina and Sixto caution Octavio that all this violence has its origins in a dark, multigenerational pain inside each of them. Octavio inherits that legacy and, tragically, is unable to escape it.