Now I open them. Everything’s dark. Something’s in my mouth. Why, it’s the jerky stick. The end of it has become soft, like shit, and the taste of meat is thick on my tongue. Something’s prickling my cheek, And I don’t know where I am, but then I remember flowers, and the girl, and the hut, and the pigpen that stands by it, and I remember the way I came here.
There across from the pigpen stands the white teepee – from there I hear a man saying many things and a girl speaking back to him. I realize that Hob’s come back here from his business with the settlers.
Now everything gets quiet. I sit in the hay, chewing on the jerky – some time goes by like this.
I hear the noise of the door opening, and I smell flowers, and that’s so good. The girl comes into the pigpen and comes across to the little hut where I’m sitting. I start to say a lot of things to her, but she puts her hand to my mouth, and signs for me to be quiet. Now she whispers like the sound the wind makes in the reeds.
She says very quietly, “I’ve come with food for you.” Out of her clothes she takes cooked meat and a food that I don’t recognize that’s hard on the outside but soft on the inside. I take this from her to eat, and say, “How is this hard and soft?”
She hisses, as if to say I’m louder than I need to be. She says, “That food is made in the fire from seeds of wheat that grows nearby, with a little water mixed in.” I eat it, and it’s good, and the cooked meat’s good in my mouth. It tastes like ox. She sits silently on her knees by me. My mouth’s empty now, and I can’t think of anything to say to her except about Hob’s son, and how it is that he’s not here anymore.
She looks at me, and the bats fly in circles through the sky above the pigpen. A quiet time goes by, and then in the dark she says, “Ah, it’s a long story, and there’s no good in it.” Now she’s so quiet, I think she’s not going to say anything else, but I’m wrong.
She says, “Hob was here with his son by the river for a long time, where the settlers come so Hob can counsel them and do many things for them. In return for this, the settlers bring skins and food and many things for Hob, as is his due.”
“Of all Hob’s tasks,” she says, “there’s one project that’s bigger than the others.” She says, “There are many villages across the world, from sea to sea, and all of them have antler-headed men like Hob. The antler-headed men all come together in one place, to talk and to counsel one another, after which they all talk about a big project that they’ve thought of together.” I shift position in the grass – I’m enjoying listening.
She says, “The antler-headed men’s plan is to make a path, bigger than any path that’s ever been made, which goes from the sea in the south to the forest in the north. The path is to run by the hills and the high places, and by the edge of valleys.”
This is a longer distance than I can imagine, because I’ve never seen the sea – I’ve only heard of it. “Why would it be good to make this big path?” I say to her, as she sits in the dark and plays with her hair. She says, “The path would be there for many people’s travels, so that people from one village could journey to another village far away and take stones and hides with them and trade them for clothes and things from the other villages. This way, all villages will have things they haven’t thought of before, and good times will come to everyone that lives along this path.”
“Why, if a path like this is made,” she says, “even more good times will come by the village here than will come to other villages, because the river bridge is here – travelers have no way to go other than to come by here, and many good things will come here with them.”
I turn onto my belly now, with the hay prickling my penis. I lie with my ass and legs in the little branch-hut and my head and arms outside of it. I turn my head to look into the sky, where the sky-beasts have all shut their eyes because I don’t see any lights. I think about the path that the girl’s been talking about, but I can’t really picture it fully. I say to the girl, “How can a path be made without a lot of people walking by it? But how can people walk along this path if they don’t know the way?”
Now her talk becomes strange and hard to understand. “There’s a way that a man can know of the path even if the path is so long that it goes all around the world, and the way of it is this,” she says. “In all of their many villages, there are antler-headed men that make a strange and long description that tells of many things. It tells of the village where the antler-headed man is, and tells of the hills and routes nearby, so that people who come from other places can find a way to him. Now all the many descriptions by the many antler-headed men are set in a line, to make one big description even bigger than them, that tells of the way from the southern coast to the northern forest.”
“Why, how is this?” I say. “If a description is that long, a man can’t understand it all at once!” “Ah,” she says now, “this is where the strange part comes. The antler- headed men make their long description in such a way that a man can hear it but twice and then know it forever. The saying of it is made with noises that are like each other, that is, in a form of speaking that is unlike any other, so you can remember it better.”
Here she says no more, but sits up and takes a breath. Now she softly makes a noise that has words in it, yet it’s better than anything I’ve ever heard before, except from birds and it’s like this:
“Oh, how may I find a mate,” the traveling boy said,
By shadowed tree, up valley’s end, near earthworm’s hill and all,
“And lie with her before I find me either old or dead.”
By shadowed tree, up valley’s end,
By earthworm’s hill and river’s bend,
And there they lie, the two of them, beneath the grass and all.
It gives me chills just to hear her. Now she’s quiet and says no more, but I can still hear her song, because it goes around and around, like a bird with a broken wing, inside me. By shadowed tree, up valley’s end…
Now there’s a loud noise coming from the white teepee, across from the pigpen here – it’s Hob. He yells, “Where’s that girl? Is that girl making noise behind my hut?” and so forth. The girl jumps up and says quietly, “I’m going to go a ways away so that Hob doesn’t find me – and find you, too, while he’s at it.” She starts to walk off through the hay, the smell of flowers all around her like clothes. “Hold on,” I whisper, because I’m afraid that Hob may hear. I say, “You didn’t talk about Hob’s son or how he went away like I wanted to know.”
“It’s a long story,” she says, “longer than can be told all at once. At dawn Hob is going off – when that happens I’ll come back here and tell you more, and about Hob’s son.” Now she bends down and licks my cheek.
She stands up, and turns, and she leaves quick as a deer, through the entry, around the pigpen, off into the darkness — I can’t see her anymore. Her flower-smell is taken by the wind, as if the wind wants no one else to smell it, only him. Beneath my belly, I have an erection, against which the hay prickles sharply. Her spit becomes cold on my cheek.
Whispers come from the white teepee: the man to the girl and the girl back to the man, and now all is quiet. Her flower-smell has all gone away, so I can smell more of the pig that used to be here. I smell a rotten tree with its stump full of stagnant water, and I smell the slow river, moving far away. Now I turn so I’m facing up, with my back to the hay, looking up to the sky. There’s nothing in the sky but darkness.