Victor drunkenly dances with a Lakota woman at a bar in Montana. He is dancing with “the one hundredth Indian woman in the one hundred dancing days since the white woman he loved had left him.” Victor loses sight of the woman, blacks out, and eventually wakes up in the backseat of a Grasshopper—a riding lawnmower—“heading back to Arlee.” Victor says that “all [he] wanted to do was dance.”
In the wake of a difficult breakup, the details of which are unknown at this point, Victor self-soothes through drinking, dancing, and flirting. He’s attempting to mitigate his recent loss and to prevent memories of it from assaulting him, hoping that company and stimulation will drown out the past.
Victor experiences a memory or vision of his former girlfriend; she stands by a river, and she is “so white his reservation eyes suffer.” She asks Victor if he has ever heard of Crazy Horse, and then she disappears. Victor, unable to sleep, watches the sun come up. He goes about his morning routine listlessly.
Again, a woman—this time, a white woman—prods Victor with the ideal of Crazy Horse. It is difficult for Victor to say whether he is experiencing a dream or a vision but, in his depressed state, it doesn’t much seem to matter.
Victor becomes lost in memory, and experiences another recollection of his ex; in his memory, they are in bed together, and she describes a party she attended a few nights ago. “I could really get addicted to cocaine,” she says, though confessing that she did not try any at the party.
In this memory we see Victor’s ex-girlfriend testing out hypothetical versions of herself; cocaine, a drug associated with wealth and white privilege, allures her, but something holds her back from trying it.
Victor, having returned to the present moment, sips his morning coffee, and tells himself that he’ll go running later that day. Instead, though, he turns on the television, and watches as a “pretty blond woman” delivers the local news. Suddenly overwhelmed by his hangover from the night before, he runs to the bathroom and throws up. He returns to the living room and continues drinking his black coffee. He remarks to himself that there is “nothing more hopeless than a sober Indian.”
Victor uses the television as a distraction from the relentless memories of his ex; however, he is still confronted with her likeness, and his misery exacerbates his hangover. Victor is afraid to abandon alcohol not only due to the temporary relief it provides, but also because of the “hopelessness” that accompanies the uncertainty of a life without alcohol.
Victor remembers being eight or nine years old and “fancydancing in the same outfit his father wore as a child. The feathers,” Victor says, “were genetic [and] the fringe was passed down like the curve of his face.” In the memory Victor looks out into the crowd at the powwow and sees his mother and his father; they wave. Victor notes that they are both drunk. After the dance, Victor eats fry bread and drinks Pepsi. His parents fall asleep together, drunk, beneath a picnic table.
Just as Victor felt a “genetic pain” at the time of his father’s death, he remembers a time when the inheritance his father gave him was a benign, even happy thing. The memory of community and witnessing his parents’ love at the powwow highlights his present loneliness, and his isolation now stands in stark contrast to the safety he felt in that moment long ago.
In another memory of his past, Victor recalls being drunk on a night out with his white ex-girlfriend. She urges him to stop drinking, but he insists on one more beer again and again. At home, Victor is unable to sleep, and he cries, twists in bed, gets up, and punches the walls. In the morning, he pretends to sleep while his girlfriend readies herself for work, wondering when she will leave “for good.”
Victor reflects on how alcohol contributed to the dissolution of his relationship. His alcohol abuse isolated him from his partner, and, though she loved him, caused her to imagine a version of her future free of the burden he represented.
In the present, Victor works odd jobs in order to make ends meet. On paydays, he stands in front of the beer cooler at the Trading Post, staring for hours at the bottles. Once, he remembers, he bought a case and “drove for miles with the bottles beside him on the seat,” tossing them one by one out the window where they shattered on the road.
Victor tempts himself with alcohol, knowing that he should commit to sobriety, but unable to fully make the leap. Victor becomes destructive in his ambivalence, watching the bottles shatter again and again, just as his life seemingly has.
After another sleepless night, Victor counts his spare change, and takes it to buy a bottle of wine from the Trading Post. As Victor is about to take a drink, a stranger approaches and advises him to let the wine breathe. Victor offers him the first drink; the stranger accepts, and tells Victor that it’s his birthday. Victor urges him to take another drink, and the stranger drinks “half the bottle with one swallow.” The stranger returns the bottle to Victor, but Victor insists he keep it. Victor walks home, hoping that “tomorrow he[’ll] be dancing.”
The stranger represents a sort of deus ex machina (“god from the machine,” or a miraculous savior who suddenly appears to fix things in the end)—Victor is about to surrender to his darker instincts, but the arrival of the stranger, and his consumption of Victor’s bottle of wine, save Victor from himself this time. Victor looks toward the familiarity and comforts of dancing as a rescue from the isolation and fear of suddenly being sober.