HHD 05-06: “Dark.” / “Bright.”

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Section 5: “Dark.”

Dark. Many little thoughts. Cold. My leg burns and oh. Oh, I. Darkness. Nothing. My leg hurts, oh. Oh, Mother. I won’t live another ten years. Dark. Dark, my belly hurts and it’s cold. Mother and I walk beneath the trees; we walk strangely and lean on each other because she only has one leg and I only have one leg; our stumps are all bloody. Dark. Dark, cold, and nothing in my belly. Flowers. Dark.

Section 6: “Bright.”

Light. I smell… light, through my eyelids. I smell flowers and… open. I open my eyes and… flowers, and I look up at…

She looks at me. The girl that smells like flowers. She sits on her knees by me, as I lay with my back on the grass in a thicket of trees. There’s a grey bowl in her hands, like the one she held the river water in. Her long, blonde hair prickles my belly, and we look at each other like this, and I can’t think of anything to say

“Eat this,” she says, and I say nothing – I just look. Now she puts the bowl to my mouth, so that liquid from it flows warmly onto my chin, onto my tongue, and it’s milk, and the milk is so good. I drink, and at the same time look at her above the bowl’s edge. “How,” she says, “did you come here?” Her speech is strange, with words in a different order, but I can understand what she says. My mouth’s full of milk, so I can’t talk to her, but I swallow the milk and it’s gone, and she takes the bowl from my mouth. “How did you come here?” she says again.

I talk a lot now, and it all runs together. I talk about my mother’s foot and my people going away. I talk about the bird with the maggots and the settlers who threw the stone at me and tore my leg. At this, the girl smiles and says that she got the infection out of my leg, and now I feel that my leg doesn’t hurt, and I look down at it.

There’s no scab. Below my knee the shit and dirt is all washed away, and where my leg’s torn there’s a leaf, all soft and warm. I look from my leg to her and say, “Why, how is this now?” and so forth. She says she found me here at daybreak and saw that my leg was hurt. She pulled me back into the thicket of trees to hide me, and she fixed my leg while I was unconscious.

She says all this, and now she has more for me to eat. From out of her clothes she takes a stick of jerky, which she now puts in my hand. I put the jerky in my mouth – it’s hard to chew, but it tastes good. “Tell me more about coming here,” she says.

I have jerky in my mouth, so she makes me repeat myself a lot so she can understand what I’m saying. I talk about walking, and the pigs that became logs, and the shagfoal. She nods to show that she’s heard of them. [i.e., the shagfoals] I tell her how I came upon the valley and saw the big hill-building which I went around the other side of and then came here by that route.

She says, “Did the men in the building see you?” I say, “No,” and she says, “That’s good.” “How is it good?”, I say. “Oh,” she says now, “they’re rough men who’ve come from the river-village. If they saw you, it’s likely that they’d throw a stone at you.” I look at my leg and figure she’s right.

Now I look beside her, across the reeds where the hut stands on the dirt rise, with the river aways off, behind the hut. In the river there are shapes moving which I see are beavers busy making river-huts for themselves. “How is it that you smell like flowers?” I say.

“There’s a way to do it,” she says, “to take the flowers’ smell and make perfume out of it that you can put on your skin and hair.” Now she looks away from me, toward the river. Her speech becomes quieter.

“Hob wants me to smell like flowers,” she says, “so he can know where I’ve gone when he can’t see me.” She doesn’t say anything more, and looks into the distance. Now she tears up a little grass and puts it in her mouth. “I don’t know of Hob,” I say, and pull at the jerky with my teeth. She doesn’t look at me yet, but lifts her hand and points with her finger at the hut. “That hut is Hob’s,” she says.

“I’ve seen Hob,” I say. “He’s a black-faced man with antlers on his head.”

She now turns quickly to look at me. “How did you see Hob?” she says, giving me a funny look. I tell her how I saw her go for river water, which Hob set on the fire-pit, from which a whiteness came. I tell her of how I saw Hob put the whiteness on her face, after which I saw no more.

She lies back slowly, on the grass, her arm lying across her eyes to keep the light out of them. “That white is perfume,” she says, “to make me smell like flowers.” I remember that I saw how the antler-headed man put flowers in the water, which became white – she said it right.

We lie on the grass. In the sky above us, the sky-beasts are now running after the sun, not the other way around. They catch up to him and eat him – the sun is no more and the light goes from the sky. The old river is grey now, and the reeds are likewise grey. I say, “How did you find food for me and make my leg better?” Now she sits up a little as she lies there, resting on one arm and looking at me. Her bright hair falls into her eyes, where she pushes it back.

“I’m all alone except for Hob,” she says. “There hasn’t been anyone for me to talk with or walk with in a long time. Hob’s old, with darkness in his thoughts – he’s having a bad time, and doesn’t talk a lot. I found milk for you and helped your leg so that you could tell me of the many things you’ve seen in the world, so I’d have good things to think about when I’m alone with Hob.”

The skin on her face is soft, with just a little scratch-mark on her cheek. A butterfly flies all around her hair, and now it sits on the strip of white fur wrapped around her head. “How did you come to be with Hob,” I say, “if he’s dark and no fun?”

She sighs and says, “I come from a distant settlement, and have been made to work for Hob. Hob has authority over many settlers, for he is a…”

Here she says something I don’t understand. I say, “How’s that?” She replies, “It’s like a wise man, but stranger.”

“Hob no longer has a son to work for him on his big projects,” she says now, “which is how I was made to come and work for him, and cook his food, and gather wood, and so forth.” She frowns when she says this. The mooing of an aurochs comes from a high distance, and the reeds around the hut are grey and move like smoke in the wind. “Where is Hob now?” I say.

“Before sunrise he walked off,” she says, “to journey to the settlers downriver there. He has many things to do, after which he’s coming back here.”

This frightens me. I think of his black face, his sticks like the horns of an animal, and say, “It’d be good for me to journey on, so that he doesn’t find me.” I try to stand up now, but there isn’t much strength in me.

She frowns even more and says, “Your leg hasn’t had time to grow strong, and you haven’t eaten enough.” She’s right. She says, “You can hide where Hob won’t find you – so only I’ll know where you are. Behind the hut,” she says, “there’s a dirt-walled pigpen. Hob doesn’t have a pig anymore – the pen’s empty, so you can hide in it.” I realize this is the building I saw by the light of the fire.

“You can rest there,” she says, “while your leg’s getting better, and I’ll find food for you. If Hob notices the missing food, why, I’ll tell him that the food was taken by a rat.”

This is something stranger than I can understand. I think about it this way and that, but I can’t understand it correctly. “How is it,” I say now, “that I change into a rat?”

She smiles at this, and says, “You don’t change into a rat. I’m just going to be saying that to Hob.” I look at her. I still don’t understand what she’s saying, and seeing this makes her smile more. “Why,” she says now, “don’t you understand that you can say something that isn’t so?”

This is an idea that I’ve never heard of – that you can say something that isn’t so. It’s a bigger thought than I can hold in my mind all at once. I look at her with my mouth hanging open. I shake my head and make the sign for “no”.

Her smile becomes wider at this, and she says, “It’s good for me to find someone like you, that thinks and speaks strangely. Come on – you don’t have time to think about this. Come across the reeds and by the white teepee so you can hide in the building there.”

She stands and takes my hand – her hand is little now, and warm. “Come now,” she says, and pulls, and this way she helps me stand. I don’t have any strength, and she puts her arm around my back to help me walk. It smells like I’m walking bent over with my face in flowers.

We come down slowly from the thicket of trees, and now we walk through the reeds, where there’s a dry path between the water and the mud. The path goes by the dirt rise where the white teepee stands, and now we walk up the rise, her arm around my back, and come by the hut. We’ve only walked a little way, but the strength has gone from me; my legs are shaking.

Seen close up, the hut is bigger than I thought, though it’s made for only one man and one girl. For the first time I understand how it is with Hob, being the boss over many people. Times are so good for him. I hope that times will become this good for me. The girl pulls my hand, and we walk like this around the hut until we come to the pigpen.

The dirt walls of the pen come up to my neck; the wall has an entryway with a wooden door. The dirt floor of the pigpen is covered with hay, thick and warm, and in the corner stands a little hut made of branches. I can’t smell much of a pig odor here, because the flower scent is stronger. She opens the door and we go into the pigpen.

“Hob doesn’t look in here,” she says, “now that the pig’s no longer here.” She says, “If you hide in the hay, I’ll go do work for Hob, after which I’ll come back at night with food for you.” Now she puts in my hand another stick of jerky to eat until she comes back, then opens the door to go out. I want her to stay with me longer. I try to think of something to say to her so she won’t leave so fast.

I say, “Why do you say Hob doesn’t have a son anymore? Did his son go the way of the pig, in whose pen I am now sit?”

At this she looks down; a dark look comes over her face. “Hob’s son doesn’t come here anymore,” she says, and then says, “I’m going now.” She leaves and shuts the door behind her. She walks around the hut so I can’t see her anymore, but I smell her, like flowers falling off trees.

I crawl into the little branch-hut now and dig underneath the hay. I put the jerky in my mouth to chew; my belly feels good. My walk from the thicket of trees has made me weak, and now I lie with my cheek to the prickling grass, and suck on the meat, and close my eyes.

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