After only two hours of sleep, Jackson is woken up with a kick to the ribs by a police officer named Officer Williams. Jackson knows Williams and thinks he is a “good cop” with a sweet tooth. Officer Williams has given Jackson hundreds of candy bars over the years, and Jackson wonders if he knows that he’s diabetic. Officer Williams calls Jackson a dumbass because he’s passed out on the railroad tracks. Jackson is scared at this realization and embarrassed in front of the dockworkers. He realizes he’s lucky that he wasn’t hit; then, he pukes all the alcohol from the night before.
Jackson repeatedly calls Officer Williams a “good cop,” which is ironic given that his character is introduced by kicking Jackson and calling him a dumbass. Williams believes he is helping Jackson when he gives him the candy bars, but his efforts are in fact not helpful because Jackson is diabetic. It’s clear that Williams doesn’t really know Jackson despite the many years he’s been picking him up off the streets.
Officer Williams remarks that Jackson has never acted so stupidly, and Jackson explains that his grief over his grandmother’s death has driven him to this low. Sympathetic, Officer Williams asks when she died and is surprised to hear that it was back in 1972. He asks Jackson why he’s only decided to kill himself now, and Jackson replies that “he’s been killing himself ever since she died.” Officer Williams pities Jackson and asks who beat him up. Jackson tells him that it was “Mr. Grief,” who “always wins.”
Jackson reveals the effects that grief and loss have had on his life. He sees his grandmother’s death as the beginning of his long path of self-destruction. His grief is literally killing him. He personifies grief as “Mr. Grief” and says that’s who beat him up and wounded his face. This personification shows that grief is painful, aggressive, and unrelenting.
Officer Williams puts Jackson in the back of his police cruiser to take him to the detox center. Jackson jokes that he doesn’t want to go because it’s “full of drunk Indians.” They both laugh at his joke, but Officer Williams is stunned that Indians laugh so much even in the face of their struggles. Jackson replies that “the two funniest tribes I’ve been around are Indians and Jews, so I guess that says something about the inherent humor of genocide.” Again, they both laugh at Jackson’s dark joke.
The fact that the detox center is full of other alcoholic American Indians like Jackson reinforces how the cycle that traps him has likewise trapped many in his community Jackson’s dark joke about genocide shows that grief is a connecting factor between communities that have suffered immense loss worldwide.
Officer Williams asks Jackson why someone smart like him is on the streets. Jackson replies that he’ll tell the story of why he’s homeless in exchange for $1,000. Officer Williams says he’d agree if Jackson could guarantee that he’d straighten up his life. Jackson reiterates that Officer Williams is a “good cop,” second only to his grandfather, who was a tribal cop. Jackson explains that his grandfather cared for people rather than arresting them, the same way that Officer Williams does.
Williams can’t understand, or refuses to acknowledge, the systematic oppression that keeps smart people like Jackson on the streets. He believes Jackson’s personal choices are to blame for his circumstances. Jackson keeps the story of why he’s homeless a secret from Williams, who is one of the “hungry white folks” Jackson mentions having to keep this a secret from in the very beginning of the short story. Again, Jackson calls Williams a good cop despite all the evidence that shows otherwise.
Jackson and Officer Williams drive past the city’s missions, where homeless men and women stare up at the grey morning sky. Jackson describes it as “the morning after the night of the living dead.” He asks Officer Williams if he ever gets scared on the job, and Williams says that he doesn’t get scared because he won’t let himself think about fear. He admits that sometimes fear takes over when situations get really bad. Jackson explains that his grandfather was killed on the job, and that his was one of only three murders on his reservation in the last hundred years.
Grief surrounds Jackson both in the past and present. The homeless people outside of the mission are the “living dead” who like Jackson suffer hardships day in and day out without any clear path or support to escape their difficult situations. Then Jackson mentions his grandfather only to tell the story of his death.
Jackson explains that his grandfather was killed by his brother while responding to a domestic violence call between him and his girlfriend. The brother spent the rest of his life in jail and wrote letters in an attempt to understand why he killed Jackson’s grandfather, but he never figured it out. Officer Williams asks Jackson if he can remember his grandfather, but Jackson doesn’t remember much besides the funeral where his grandmother had to be dragged away from the grave. Officer Williams doesn’t know what to say, and Jackson says that he doesn’t either.
Another one of Jackson’s few memories of his grandparents is defined by grief and loss. His grandfather was killed responding to a domestic violence call, which points to the social problems that can destroy the communities living on under-resourced reservations. These atrocities that American Indians have had to endure leave both Jackson and Officer Williams speechless.
At the detox center Jackson won’t go inside because they’ll keep him a day, and he’ll miss the deadline to buy back his grandmother’s powwow regalia. Officer Williams says that the right way to go about getting the stolen regalia back is to file a police report. But Jackson believes that would be unfair to the pawnbroker, who didn’t know the regalia was stolen. Williams takes a long look at Jackson before offering him $30. He explains that he’s giving it to him because he believes in what Jackson believes and hopes that he’ll somehow turn the $30 into $1,000.
Jackson has cycled in and out of the detox center many times before and knows that it won’t’ help him. Officer Williams fails to recognize that his efforts to help Jackson aren’t sufficient, and despite his what may be his good intentions, he is unwilling to do more to help Jackson. It’s also worth considering why Jackson won’t call the police to get his stolen regalia back. He says it’s out of concern for the pawnbroker, who may not be able to afford the $1,000 loss, which shows that Jackson’s suffering has given him deep empathy for others—an empathy that, unfortunately, most other people don’t have for him.
Jackson tells Officer Williams that he believes in magic, but Williams knows that he’ll more likely use the money to buy alcohol. Jackson asks why he gave him the money then, and Williams responds that it’s because there aren’t any atheist police officers. Jackson insists that there are, even if Williams isn’t one of them. Williams lets Jackson out of the car, and Jackson walks off back toward the water with his $30.
Officer Williams recognizes that Jackson is caught up in a vicious cycle that keeps him poor, but he only fuels that cycle by giving him money that he knows won’t really help him. Williams gives Jackson the money because he wants to alleviate his own guilt and feel like he is doing the moral thing, which is implied in his statement that there are no atheist police officers.