Section 8: “Glean I on how…”
I think about how one may say something that isn’t so; and more, on all a man can do with thoughts like this – they’re so big. I think about how a long strange song is like a path on which a man can journey all over the world. The girl has put so many strange thoughts in my belly that there’s no peace in me. I turn this way and that on the hay, and now I need to take a piss.
I can’t piss by the white teepee, where Hob might smell me. I crawl out of the branch hut to stand up and cross the pigpen. I go out by the hole in the wall, and now I walk quietly in front of the hut where there’s a mound of branches and briar; it seems the girl and Hob have foraged a lot of firewood and put it here. Now I go around the edge of the stick mound and come by the edge of the dirt rise.
There in the sky above me the sky-beasts have all pulled back, one from another, and behind them is the moon. By its light I see the reeds standing all sharp and white, so I can see where the grass is tramped down all flat, like the path that the girl takes to the river to get water. Now I come down off the rise and onto a dry path free of mud that I can walk on.
My leg doesn’t hurt – it’s getting stronger. I look down at it. The leaf that the girl put below my knee is still there, held to my leg with mud. This is good. I walk on and going this way come to where the slow, dark river moves between the trees – I go there, too. I didn’t think to walk this far to piss, but it’s good for me to walk instead of lying in the pigpen.
Now I come alongside the river and through the trees, where I now see, a ways off in front of me, the river bridge I saw from the valley’s edge. It’s so big, and it’s all made of wood – now I understand why that there are so many stumps nearby. The bridge lies on top of a lot of river huts that beavers make, and the noise of the river becomes loud below it. On the other edge, across the river, I see a path go a ways off, all bright in the white light of the moon.
I have an urge. I have an urge to walk across the bridge, to leave by the moon-white path from the valley and never return. My mother didn’t raise me to do strange things like sit by huts with antler-headed men and girls that smell like flowers. I’m one of the nomadic people, and am made for walking. I want to rise up out of this lowland, where everything’s wet and rotten-smelling. A village by the river, where the shagfoal walk. There’s no good in it.
Yet I think now about a lot of things. If I walk all alone and don’t find anything to eat, I’ll go hungry, like before I came to the white teepee. I think of the girl, with the strip of ox-fur holding back her long bright hair, and the smell of flowers all around her and the many good things she says. I think about Hob’s son, whom I want to hear about, and now I look at the bridge and the white path across it, and hear the loud noise of the river, falling there in the dark.
I take a piss against a tree, and turn, and go back by the river’s edge, and through the reeds, up the dirt rise and around the white skin hut, arriving at the pigpen. I crawl in the branch hut and beneath the hay. I shut my eyes, so that all of the world goes from me.
Section 9: “Flowers.”
Flowers. Dawn. The girl says, “Come – Hob has gone off to a village down the river. Come on, sit up,” and so forth. She takes me by my ratty hair and pulls a little. “Come now,” she says. “I have food for you.” Now I open my eyes and sit up.
Ah, it’s good that I didn’t cross the bridge last night, and see no more of her. She’s sitting by me with the sunlight on her, her skin whiter than the strip of aurochs hide wrapped around her hair. She’s holding some bread in one hand and pears in the other.
The pears are so soft and good to eat; their juice runs down my chin. She smiles at this, and says she’s found something else for me, but not food. Now I look and see clothing by her. There are pants, a shirt, and shoes. “How did you come by those clothes?” I say, and as I’m saying this I spit a little piece of pear onto her hand. Now she lifts up her hand, sticks out her tongue, and licks it off, looking at me the whole time. A prickling comes in my penis.
“The clothes are Hob’s son’s,” she says, and says nothing more about it. She looks by the river, bright in the sun, and squints. I say, “How could Hob’s son leave and not take his clothes?”
She still looks at the river. She says, “He didn’t need clothes where he was going.”
Now she stands up and turns to me. She says, “Come on – put on those clothes so we can walk by the river’s edge.” I stand up and do as she says; I put the clothes on my legs, my belly and back, and on my feet. They feel strange.
From the pigpen we go by the hut, where the mound of firewood is, taller than me. We come off the rise and by the reeds to the river’s edge, where I came to take a piss before. We walk by the river there. I say to her, “You were telling me about the antler-headed men and the big path-song, but you didn’t say what this has to do with Hob’s son or how he went away.”
She says, “If you sit with me beneath the trees by the river’s edge, I’ll tell you everything there.” And now we find a tree and sit here on the grass; she sits with her foot hanging down and her toes in the water, which makes bright ripples.
Now she talks about the antler-headed men, and of their song-path. “The song-path is a creation stranger and bigger than anything ever made in the world before, bigger than the circle of standing stones that people have made on a big field, far in the east. She says, “To create this song-path, the antler-headed men need a power and a strangeness of thought that they haven’t had before. A power that comes from the other world, beneath the earth, where the spirits walk.
“Hob and his stick-headed kind take this power from the spirit world,” the girl says, “and the spirits, likewise, take their due from the antler-headed men.” Now she is quiet. “How do the spirits take their due?” I say.
She explains how the spirits take that which the antler-headed men want more than anything else in the world, whatever that may be. This thing is put to the axe by the antler-headed men – killed – and is then taken by the spirits down to the other world. As is due for this, the spirits give power to the antler-headed man, and strangeness in his thoughts, so that he may create the song-path correctly
“And with Hob,” I say, “what’s this thing that he wants more than anything in the world, which the spirits make him put to the axe?” Now she takes her foot from the river, white and cold, with little beads of water standing out on it. “It’s his son,” she says. “It’s his son.”
Across the water a bunch of ducks rise up loudly and fly aways above the marsh and the river, towards the valley’s end. A caterpillar falls on my foot – the furry kind. I pick it up between my fingers now and pull, so that I tear it to pieces, and I play with it for a long time like this, and lick it from my hand. The girl turns away from the river now to look at me. “Do the nomadic people put their sons to the axe?” she asks.
“No,” I say. “Nor do beasts and birds, unless they’re crazy. I’ve never heard anything as frightening or strange as this before. Why, I can’t think of anything worse than putting children to the axe.” I go on like this, and say, “Did Hob have no love for his son, that he could do this to him?”
“That isn’t it,” says the girl. “That isn’t it at all. Hob loves and wants his son more than a man does his mate. More than the fire does the dry tree. He doesn’t want to kill his son.”
I say, “But Hob can say ‘no’ to this, and say he’s not going to kill his son, because his in charge of a lot of people.”
“People want the path,” she says. “People want skins and meats, and the good times that the path will bring. The settlers have gotten food and clothing and so forth for Hob for a long time, and now they want him to make a path for them, as is their due. If he doesn’t kill his son and make the path right, he won’t be in charge of them anymore. If he doesn’t do right by them, why, they are likely to make him and his son go away from here. Cast them out, and make them forage, which might be the death of them.”
“What did Hob’s son think about this?” I say. She shrugs, to show she doesn’t know. She says, “It doesn’t matter what Hob’s son thinks about it – there’s no good in it for him. If he runs away from the village he won’t have anything to eat, and won’t survive very long. If he doesn’t run, Hob will kill him. Hob’s son may do one thing or the other, but neither one nor the other is good for him.”
She puts up her arms to stretch her back. Her little breasts push their shape against her shirt. Now she stands up and says to me, “Come on, so we can walk farther along the river’s edge.” She puts out her hand to pull me up so that I’m standing. Her hand is sweaty.
We walk by the river now and say nothing; we walk through a hill of dead leaves that comes up to our knees, and by walking through them scatter them everywhere. We walk underneath the trees, where we see the bridge in the distance. The bridge looks bigger in the sunlight than it did at night – I tell the girl this. She stops, and turns to look at me.
She says, “How did you see the bridge at night?” and I reply by telling her about how I came here to take a piss, after which I went back to the pigpen. She looks at me as if she’s thinking about this, and then smiles. “Come on,” she says, “so we can stand on the river bridge.”
We walk the whole length of the path, and the river bridge gets bigger as we get closer to it; it’s so big that I can’t imagine how many trees had to fall to make it. Here by the edge of the bridge, there’s a ramp of old, black logs that comes up to it to make the bridge crossing higher than the river’s edge. The girl lies down on her belly on the ramp up to the bridge, her nose pushed up to the black logs to look between them. Her skirt shows off her shapely ass – it makes me think about lifting it up and looking at her, but ah, it doesn’t happen. “Come here,” she says, “and look between the logs.”
I lie down by her on the bridge and look where she tells me to, through the black logs into the darkness beneath them. For a little while I don’t see anything, only darkness, but now I can see better, and I see a thin, white shape lying still in the dark. I can’t tell if it’s a man or a woman, but I can tell it’s become nothing but bones and dried-up skin. Its clothes have holes all over, yet there’s no hair on the skull, as if the hair was torn from it. Their eye-sockets look like they’re staring at us, and set in its jaw are its teeth, smiling at me.
“It’s a woman,” the girl says. The woman was put here alive, so that her spirit will stay by the bridge and make the bridge good, so that it doesn’t fall or catch on fire.” Now the girl stands up and says no more and walks up the ramp, onto the bridge; I follow behind her. As she walks she sings another song, strange and like a bird’s, but it’s not the song about the shadowed trees and the valley’s end and so forth. She sings this quicker, and it sounds good, like this:
Lies she there beneath the wood,
And bone is she, and bone is she
Lies she there my woman good,
And by the river go we.
We walk across the bridge, stepping from log to log slowly so we’re not slipping on the slime that grows on them, and we come to the middle of the bridge, where one edge is the same distance away as the other. The old wind is strong now, and the river is so loud beneath us that we can’t hear what each other are saying. The girl says something I can’t hear, and I say, “How’s that?” and “Speak up!” and so on. Now above the noise of the river she shouts, “Look now! Look to the other edge!” and points with her finger.
There across the water I see many settlers out hunting. They have spears in their hands and they drag a deer behind them. I’m afraid, because I remember that the girl said they might throw a stone at me – they’re so rough. I tell her this now, and make to run off the bridge, but she says, “Hold on.” She says, “They know me – they won’t hurt you while I’m here. Look,” she says, “those men are making a sign at us. Make a sign at them,” she says, “and sign that all’s well.”
The men, far away, lift their hands – I do the same. The girl doesn’t move. She says, “It’s good that they see you with me.” “How’s it good?” I say, and she replies, “Since the men see that I know you, they’re not going to throw stones at you anymore.” Way off on the other edge the men walk around some trees, so we can’t see them anymore. “Come on now,” says the girl, “let’s get back to the white teepee before Hob gets back from the village downriver where he went.”
Walking back, we walk slowly on the wet wood. We come down the ramp from the bridge, and I think about the skeleton woman lying in the darkness below our feet – about all she thinks about in her thin and empty head.
Taking a long route through the trees at the river’s edge and across the reeds, we come to the pigpen. I can tell by where the sun’s at in the sky that it’s noon. My shadow has become little and frightened – it’s hiding beneath my feet.
Leaning on the dirt wall, the girl says she’s going now to do work for Hob. She scratches at her neck like she has an itch, and says, “I can’t come to the pigpen tonight, because Hob wants me for a lot of things. I’ll come see you in the morning.” She says, “I have some bread that I made, so you won’t get hungry in the meantime.”
I reply, “Yes,” and, “You’re right,” and so forth, yet there’s a darkness in my voice so that she will understand that I don’t like it that she’ll be away for a long time. Ah. It’s like she doesn’t hear the darkness in my voice. She turns away from me to walk to the entryway and the gate, where she stops and turns back to me. She smiles at me now.
She says, “Those clothes look good on you. You look better with them.” Now she goes through the entryway and shuts the gate and goes away to where I can’t see her, but as I shut my eyes, I can still see her smile in my mind.
I lie on the hay by the branch-hut and take my pants off so I can look at my knee. The leaf that the girl put on my leg has gotten drier, as has the mud that’s holding it to my leg. I take the leaf between my fingers and lift it way up from my leg; below the leaf there’s soft skin growing, and the injury on my leg is all but gone.
Now I put the pants back on. She says I look better in them, and I think she’s right, yet the feel of clothes is strange to me. From the front of the white teepee I hear the girl go this way and now that, doing things I can’t see, yet the smell of flowers is everywhere. With a hand inside my pants, I scratch the soft skin growing below my knee, which itches. I chew on the bread while many thoughts come to me.
I think that since my leg is healed I can journey on. If I stay much longer in the pigpen, why, Hob can’t help but find me; it’s better that I go away from here. But now I think that I might forage little if I go all alone, and I’d be hungry. I think about the girl now, about how little her feet are, and the thinness of her ankles and legs below her skirt. I think about her hair, all bright and wrapped around with white aurochs hide. I want to pull this wrap from her so that her bright hair falls down about her arms, and now I realize that to go away from her is to see her no more.
In my belly my thoughts are all vexed, and they start to hit and bite one another like cats. There’s no peace in me. I hear a noise by the hut, like a man speaking to a girl, and I realize Hob’s come back. I don’t like Hob at all – all my thoughts agree on this. They become quiet in my belly, where they lie and all think darkly about Hob.
I chew on the soft, grey bread, and the sun goes down in the sky. My shadow, no longer afraid, rests his long black head against the pen, and puts his ear by the aurochs skin, as if to better hear what’s being said there.
Across the river, I can see that the sun is hurt as it sets in the west. I think the sky-beasts have caught and torn at him, because his blood has fallen on them, so that the whole sky has become bloody. I try hard to hear the sun’s cry of pain, but he’s too far off to make noise.
I don’t move for so long that my bones start to hurt, so I crawl out of the branch-hut now to stand. I walk forwards and back to make my leg better, and look out across the wall of the pigpen and, likewise, across the world.
I see Hob a ways off, and I stoop behind the wall so he doesn’t see me. I peek out above the top of the wall now. He crosses the reeds to the thicket of trees opposite the river. The edge of the world behind him has all become blood and smoke. Hob stands with the light behind him so that he becomes all black, like a shadow. The antlers around his head are like thin black hands, scratching at the sky to catch all his thoughts so they don’t fly away.
He bends over, then stands up to walk, and then bends over again. I figure he’s foraging wood, because now I see branches underneath his arm. Maybe they’re for the mound of branches that stands before the aurochs hut. He walks like one who’s putting actions to his thoughts and thought to his actions, which is something my mother used to say all the time, but not about me. He bends down here and then there, gathering more and more branches under his arm.
He turns around now, so that one edge of his frightening face is all lit up, and the sun’s blood is wet on his antlers. I think that Hob is not of the earth, as I and my nomadic kind are, born of the earth and living by the earth and put to the earth and all that. He is of fire. The fire’s charcoal is around his eyes. The fire’s blood is on his horns.
It looks like he’s coming back here through the reeds, so I bend down behind the wall and crawl on all fours like a pig to the little branch-hut, but I don’t go in. I pull the straw above me to get warm, and look to the sky, where the sun-blood has dried up and become all black, like with my knee.
There is a path, off out in the dark, which is made of strange songs. It goes from one edge of the world to the other, and many sons have been sacrificed to make it. Perhaps their bones are set beneath the path, as the bones of women are set beneath bridges. A path of bones, all around the world, so that the bones make a ceiling for the world below us, where the shagfoal tread through the dark, with little Urks sitting on their backs to scratch the boy-meat off the bones that hang above them.
This world has become so big and dark all around me, and the pigpen wall looks far away. I hunger for the girl, for her to lie here by me, like my mother but better-smelling. This world makes me little, so that I’m so frightened I can’t move or do anything. I shut my eyes, and the sky goes away, and the world goes away, but the night does not – it stays here by me. There’s no way to stop the night.