Stewardship

By EDMUND SANDOVAL

 

It’s easy to forget you once had control. That you stopped making decisions for yourself. Part of that’s getting older, and I’ve gotten older—not much, but some. It’s what comes with settling down and making some sort of life and having children. And that’s something. We all know that. But then there’s the bad part of it, when you speak up just to realize that you haven’t got any say, that your words stay lodged in your mind, stuck in your throat. That they are altogether gone, like birds migrated for the winter and never come back. Worse than that, you wake up and find out that somebody else was forming your words for you all along. That was me for the longest of times. My best years that I lost when I was silent and tepid and living in the woods. I want to tell of how I got out of that forest. I want to tell about how I came to the clearing whole and intact and feeling good.

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Though he had a blade to cut it, Gund’s beard had grown a lot and long over the winter and on into the spring. The months had been not too cold as to need extra logwood, but it was cold nonetheless, and damp. Water came frazzling down sideways and down days and nights over. The plateau tops to the west were deep in snow, and the streams thick with bracing water, the edges crusty with ice.

Among the towering elm and frozen moss and lichen, he was in his element, and did not miss the close quarters of our dwelling, the close proximity of his kin, of ready food stored in the cold bowels of the root cellar.

Whenever Gund was in the weather, spherical ’cicles froze to his whiskers, his eyebrows, the oily hide-fur garments made from the skins he’d flensed from muskrat and coon and old deer that could no longer mate. He seemed never to feel the elements—neither cold nor heat, dry nor damp. The same as he felt towards most things—himself, even.

After he scraped the fat and membrane from the under-dermis and washed the raw skin, he dried it on the racks of nimble pine constructed by our boy. When they were clean, I sewed them into various array. Hunched over in the wicker light of the oil lantern. Pants and jacket and hat, as you like. Sewn neat with the bone needle, thread of woven flax. A blanket, a rug, though there was nary a space big enough for such large implements; they were myriad in pattern, and lumpy, yet warm and comforting when the wind yawed and howled and set the branches to rubbing.

I didn’t much mind the beard, especially once it lengthened out and became soft as the pelts I worked. Not that he was sensitive too often, but when he was, the burn of it wasn’t too bad. He never commented on it, said nothing when I washed it clean with the same unguents used for cleaning the animal furs, when I ran my fingers through it in the dull drapery of the early mornings when the kids nestled together and breathed slow as ice melting. It draped down to the juts of his collarbones, climbed near to the bottom of his eyes. I worried that, did he cut it, our girl would reject him as another man and not her poppy. He would be easy enough to forget. For her, for our son. We had no photos, nothing like that, not even a rude sketch.

 

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We had not seen him for sixteen days, though I had seen the smoke from his camp far out in the woods, like ash-flecked grease smudges in the sky. During his leave, he kept a fire going thick with dry tinder, and the smoke plumed heavy and dense, rose skyward, a billowing totem that announced his presence. His absence had seemed like minutes. The way time wanders when in new love. Or when freed from some burden. You become drunk with liberty, though it is fleeting, similar to how a day’s light will always run out, the flickering wick succumbing to the pool of wax, the flame juddering, doing its all to hang on, to stay alight. These were the only times he would speak to his children, who would glower close, wary but hopeful, as he spun his tales in his wood-chop voice, a loud thing but wobbly as warped glass, as fragile.

Whenever he returned, he parceled out gifts of earth collected in small leather satchels, its granular soil crystalline, green, like from some Martian land, or the pupae of insects kept warm against his skin, that would burst forth with colorful wings the following summer and would fly drunkenly and unsure in this, our strange land.

Why he wouldn’t leave us be, I do not know, and I wonder now, from time to time, what brought him back. For he would be gone for months at a time. Would come back with stories of the sights of the oceans big as continents, the undulating buttes and fickle prairies of the middle country, the rock pillars of the southwestern deserts.

While he was gone, when the children were bedded down, I would wonder where he’d gone off to, whether the stories he told were truthful, whether he’d traveled so far, if such a thing were possible. I thought he may’ve gone only a mile’s distance away. To be alone, to sit as he did when I’d first met him—how he’d sit on his own and how it seemed as though he were clambering, pawing over a land that would not quiet below his feet, within his mind. I thought, too, that he’d found some abandoned roadway or train rail and would follow it until he met some small town, some village, and once there, he’d bare his barren raiment for a pilfered set of factory clothes, clean clothes, cotton and denim, and would strip his beard off as though it were Velcroed on like a stage prop, and would enter the town as though it were common to him, and once within, would live a regular life, would see a woman, wide in the waist and red-haired and calm, accommodating, and would fold his arms across the stern of her abdomen, and she would call to the child she’d borne from his wriggling germ, and he would take it in his arms and swing it skyward and say such kindnesses as he kept from us. I never really knew. I did not follow him for long when he went.

He was but in our backyard, though it stretched for miles.

 

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He had come up to me at the school. He didn’t look like much then. What he wore was like the other boys. Lee jeans, a flannel shirt, a brown canvas jacket. He smelled of cud and hay and the leavings of animals. He wore a thin mustache and sideburn chops and his hair combed to the side. The only different thing was the moccasins that he’d made himself and that he wore without socks. He was in the farm department. To learn agronomy, he said. I said, Don’t they have that cow with the clear rubber window cut into its side so you can watch its inner ruminations? He didn’t answer but said, What you studying? I told him what, and he made a face as though he had been given prunes and said, But what’s the utility in that? The utility. I shifted my book bag and the shiny black plastic case that housed my flute, and he looked at them. I said there was utility in learning more than cow digestion. He nodded, but it was not agreement, not anger either, just confusion, as though there could be no other thing. He turned and left off. There was no sound to his footsteps. They were long and rapid and delivered him fast across the dusty quad. I didn’t think anymore of him until I received a letter from him. It was tacked to the door of my apartment, and it said that we were an origin story mandated by the forces that rotated planets. With it too was a packet of seeds from wildflowers he’d collected from the verges that surrounded the town in endless waving leaf and grass blade.

 

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For years it was a glory. That kind of close I had with Gund. Gund with me. That kind of knowing. Every inch of skin. All the crepuscular folds of mind, the inner workings.

We would go in the woods with nothing but our canteens bloated full with stream water, the light clothes of summer on our frames. Every space where we planted foot was our own. Each frond, or deer curtailing the reed-grass fields, or insect lipping at a minute pond of morning dew—ours. Ours.

The first child was conceived in a crude house of vegetable earth. I know the moment when. In the roof, beyond Gund’s shoulder, was a jagged hole, diagonal-shaped, the angled pattern of an oak leaf, and past that little opening a star that wobbled in the night sky, lone companion to the mathematics of the inkling of life that held on inside of me.

 

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I birthed the children in the east pond. The summer morning, then night. Bugs were loud, and skimmed the water, landed in my hair. They didn’t bother me. Nor did the fish and tadpoles and small turtles that came to investigate the happenings that issued from me. The pond was clean, but it wasn’t any bathtub. It was theirs, not mine. Gund was not with me. Gund was on the shore, and he called out to me to apprise him of my progress and comfort. He tended the fire and prepared tinctures. Ran the cutting blade against the sandstone block. Kept an iron pot of water at a rolling boil. He did some kind of chanting to allay his anxiety. When I cried out, he’d strip down nude and swim out to me. Eel-like and fast, how he cut through the water. Treading beside me, he’d put his large hand on the small of my back and float me there, humming a melody I did not think resided within him.

As I floated there in the water with Gund, my mind whirled chaotically, became suffused with unctuous blots of  worry. Like, what was I doing out here in this pond, in this green water with its reptile stench, with this man? But, before I could peer too deeply into that hole, the baby came some on its own, then some more. It took forever in the end. I didn’t want to push so much out, because I wanted as much to push in. Because it hurt, and I was fond of my solitude.

 

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For days after the firstborn, Gund was in awe, and would not leave me, would not leave her, and tended us both, and did not eat, for fear that he would take something from the two of us if he were to sup. When the baby cried, I sang, tunes of my childhood, those I’d learned, music dreamed up before motor engines growled and voices traveled through wire, and it was a low voice that I used to soothe. Gund would always go quiet, and close his eyes, and set afar on the cold side of the fire where the smoke blew, and the smoke wrapped him up so that I could not see him, and when I called his name, he said nothing to respond, for his ears were clogged with his fingers.

 

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He said music made him see colors. Flute sound was red, drum was brown, singing the rainbow, and conversation the gray of clouds overcast. How wonderful, I said when he told me, but it was not a thing of joy for him. Instead, it was a constant distraction to his concentration. You want to see colors every time the wind blows through the eaves or that a bird calls or a body hums? he’d asked. So when we moved together, silence reigned, for even talking was at a trickle with him and thus with me.

I thought his ail was something more. An item of his history he would not share. Sullen parents prone to violent outbursts followed by feigned affections, the soft touch that ensues harm to one who cannot protect himself. Or some prolonged time of hardship. Sometimes I thought also that he was caught in a fib that had grown to be a part of himself, as real as anything else. A lie that gained truth in the constant telling. It must have been something he’d erased. Covered with loose soil, then tamped down and graded smooth. And if it was a bad thing he’d done, he’d buried it so deep that he could not recall having done it. Because trailing him in the wood I’d seen a smile melt across his face when the wind whooshed through the pine tops, when an owl hooted midday, as though in a nightmare, its only reason for wakefulness when the sun glared full. And had I not heard him murmur a hymn when he stacked rocks for the retention wall that held fast the wild turkeys whose wings we’d clipped? Was that a thing I had imagined?

More than anything, this was a sadness for me. Music was what I gave up to be with him; all my songs became internal and unheard, like water coursing down cavern walls deep within the earth, lost in the carbon-black.

So I was always glad, was always pleased when he was gone. For I could sing. To myself. My children.

They were timid at first and did not want to open their mouths, did not want to work their throats, their lungs, to make sounds beyond a simple ask, a permission, but I goaded them, I howled and made with my lips the chirrups of birds, the clicks and whirs of insects, the torrent boom of their father’s voice, and in time, they tried themselves, hooted and hollered, rolled their tongues and attempted to whistle, their spit flying and the only emission a rasp of squealing air, and then cataracts of joy, spangles of happiness, as they tried again, again.

I showed them all my granddad had shown me when I was young. How to construct flutes from dead lake reeds, to drill small holes with a sharp stone edge in order to achieve the musical scales. How to derive a variety of notes from grass when the blade was held flat against a wetted lip and blown tight. Like their mother, they had rhythm, and they came upon their own songs, and all I did was tap my foot in time as their worlds enlarged.

We contrived small drums. The leather stretched taut and set over dried gourds from the garden. I sewed a crude bellows and affixed with gut string the reed flutes the children had constructed, and in time, we had a pipe whose screeches were otherworldly but were still a song.

I wanted them to have a story that they could add to the curling scrollwork on which their lives were to be written. This memory had to be put there, for when Gund’s smoke could no longer be seen, we had to create our own. Thus, I told them stories of my own, created new ones. I held them near and let them wander, gave to them independence, finite as it may have been. We tried our own wandering. Set off into the woods beyond our clearing. Far enough that we lost the scent of our home, as all lived-in places are their own bodies, with their own tics and peculiarities. Made ourselves lost in the thickness of nature, tasted its humid breath and stinging vine, its impersonal being and steady languor. I told them the truth of how we came to be there. We stayed out late into the night and practiced hunger and practiced cold. Practiced fear. Watched the night sky change and saw storms come rattling in, the clouds like a projector screen and the film a scroll of white and purple-green lightning flashes and the cooling rain puddling among us, cleansing us. I watched their faces then, youthful and unlined, and felt strongly the tether that twined us together. We made promises. We laughed. We stoked a yard fire and burned all that we created and promised not to tell of our joy, promised, too, not to forget the songs we sang but did not name.

 

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With his fire smoke still some distance away, I made cakes of groundnuts and thick suet, put them on the iron cook slab. I told the children to dress, and they did. I had their satchels, and they bulged with toys of wood whose shapes brought to mind animals that populated lands of fancy, small knives of soft metal, stories composed with straw quill on vellum paper, ink of boiled walnut shell.

We ate fast and did not taste the food. We chased the hot mush down with the ladle of cold water passed round the rough table, and it sloshed on the mud of the floor and down the fronts of our clothing. Hurry now, I told them. And when they complained, I told them, Hush, eat up, and worried at the crackling of the wood in the stove, as it sounded close to a foot stepping on a twig and breaking it.

 

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Is it bad to know people?, I asked him. What need for others, he said, when we have ourselves? You know me, you know yourself—you ought if you don’t, at least. He sat there and gnawed at a dried bulb of moly root. But I miss people sometimes, I said. Like Mama and Pap and my sister, my friends. He shrugged, and it was like he said Go, and I stood, and then he spoke: I like it when you’re here. He wouldn’t look at me; he was looking at the dirt, the matted grass from where his legs had rested before he pulled them under him. I didn’t say anything more. I sat next to him and smelled his vegetal smell and watched as he picked at the dirt-browned calluses that lined his palms. We weren’t up to anything. We were in a break, the middle of summer, and the gray cumuli of rain and thunder were a stone’s throw off and barreling up through the valley. Everything was electric on our skin, and when the rain came we stayed and let it soak through, cleansing and hot as water from a boiler, and the lightning crackled, and the thunder was like how feet ran up and down the sturdy wooden stairs of my parents’ catalog house. I placed my hand on the top of his thigh and felt the heavy muscle. He did not move. Perhaps that was the first betrayal. I left it there and did not wonder more.

Later I thought: It probably wasn’t any star. Probably it was an airplane, a TV satellite. Probably it didn’t have a jot to do with infinity or magic or wonder. It was just Gund and me, just like a million do every day forever.

 

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I have not always had wisdom, and I do not even know if you can call what I have now wisdom. It is just knowledge that has been laid up through experience, an earned thing, like a merit badge. How I wish I could reach back to myself. And not even to change anything, but just to ask: Why? Why do this? I deserved to be asked as no one else did. But I was unreachable. Just gone, like skin sloughing endlessly away.

If I had been questioned, what would I have said? What reasons would I have given? Love? Fun? The usual rebellion bloated on naïveté? Would those answers have been good enough? Were they just smokescreen and weak evasions? Should I be forced into an amends for that time? For my lack of defiance—that it came nigh too late when it did, as though it were some fitful child coming round to an order, a plea? Was it that I was happy? That I was tired of town life, of people, of everything but Gund and his vision, foolish as it may have been? Do I yearn, now, for those days of quiet, of barrenness, of willful expulsion? Maybe, maybe, I think, maybe when I am in bed, near asleep, the window ajar and the multitude of sounds of the outside combining into a single brittle voice. I think I hear it, and I think that it is calling to me, a rhythmic beckoning, and I am nearly spurred to motion, to leave, but then I recall the hardship, the badness, I recall my children, I recall myself.

 

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We used to go out together. Running. The dawn, then the afternoon, then night. To sleep, we’d sit with our backs together, like hands pressed together praying, so we would not fall, and kept warm while the night, the stars, the wilderness swirled around us in darkening medley. It was fun. It was fun, it was fun.

 

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What you want?, he’d say to me. Yell at me. Walk forty miles to the post office? Beg on the street for stamp money? Give me them words, he’d say, and he tried for my letter, the envelope I sealed with elm sap. Come on, he said. Give. I’ll go. Just take me three days, how I cover ground, no matter, I won’t eat, he said. I was crying and he was yelling. Give it here, okay? I withdrew my protection of it. So few, the lines and scribbles: Hello, I am fine. I am happy. He looked at, read it aloud, mocking me, sneering. He crumpled the brittle paper. Pitched it into the fire, and the paper took flame as a dry leaf does, the borders catching light and curling in, smoldering before rising to flame.

 

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When he’d return from the vast, he would lay with me. He told of the new things he’d seen, and he lifted the one child, then the next, and they would murmur in sleep, and struggle fruitless against his strength. He would hold them close while I watched and thought of things and words I’d known, like how stewardship was just another word for custody, another word for owning, keeping something trampled and tame.

I felt like a field that should have been let to rest fallow for a season instead of tilled and resown.

Do you hear me, Merda?, he said. I had stopped listening. He was at the pail and putting it in the fire. You make any soap when I was gone?, he said. He wanted to get clean before he lay with me. I said, No. I said we used but sand, and he put the pail down and came to me, and he was like the earth, its mountains and abysses and caves the color of pitch; he was cold and without life, and I did not open to him but the one way.

 

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Me and the children had talks. The three of us bundled in and underneath our bed stuff. Conversations. Q and A’s. The cook oven glowing orange with heat, the fire throwing off sparks, short tiny meteors that embered red, then fizzled dead on the dirt-pack floor of the living space.

They were so curious of everything. While they talked and when they listened.

Of the earth and its meaning, its seeming lack of.

Where was it they come from?, they asked. What was outside the forest? Was there anything? There isn’t anything out there, is there, Mama? Is there?

With charcoal cinders I drew them the things from my past: The umber-painted El Camino my father used to drive and its double-barreled exhaust pipes, me setting in the bed of it, the heat of the Midwest summer rising off the matte metal and scalding my legs and bare shoulders while he drove, his elbow hung out the cranked-down window; the simple ranch house I grew up in; cities visited on summer vacations, the buildings composed of thick, sparkling glass, their skies dotted, punctuated, with airplanes gliding smoothly through the cold, crystallized air, wide metal wings cutting and moving forward, engines spewing and churning, those white, vaporous contrails; television and movie screens big as the sky, where folks took on lives of make-believe; the people of every shape and design and color, cut at random from the fabric of a ceaseless humanity.

They would not believe it was true. That it was a real thing, if not touchable, yet seeable. Nu-uh, they both said. You’re pulling our legs. They giggled and said: Mama’s telling fibs!

So I took them up into the high hills, high above all creation, and we waited till an airplane crossed the fading blue, as our world crashed into evening, the silent transformation of time barely broken by the churn of engines miles above everything. They looked in awe as the metal carriages moved smoothly over the sky, glinting just so, the drifting contrails going from sturdy white to vaporous fog and gone, and the sky the only thing remaining.

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He made maps. As though this place were not known. Like you couldn’t find it on the Rand McNally. If anything, his were more artful, more fancy and imaginative. Like those charted by New World explorers. He used a resin ink refined on an open flame, and the soft vellum I made for him. Landmarks were given names hugger-mugger: Horse Tooth Rock, Crow’s Perch, Dirty Root Lake. The places he’d found he marked with his initials, as though he had some claim to them. The places he hadn’t been, the places that weren’t known, were identified by swaths of white and empty, as though waiting patiently for the gods to populate them with life.

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What I did not tell them was how close their grandmama and grandpap were. Mere days by foot, hours by vehicle, and shorter still if they could sprout wings and fly, carried by the gliding winds—that they’d get to their house by a knowledge inborn, led by feeling and memory that circulated like blood through vein. I wanted to say how they’d like them, love them, and want to be close to them. To climb up on Grandpap’s piano bench and ply the wooden keys painted glossy white and black. How easy they were to talk to and be with, and how nice their smell, and their home that I had lived in for so many years: the wooden floors and doors and plaster walls and ceiling, the cast-iron oven, the fireplace and stone mantel inlaid with vine and flower carved by steady hand and tool; and how the light came in through the many windows; how, when they were open to let in the air, you could inhale deep the smell of grass and wheat and soy and corn as it blossomed and grew, as it was threshed and cut, and finally foraged over by the clouding starlings on their migratory flights.

I wanted to tell them of the footpaths that ran through the small wood at the end of the property—how it would be theirs once I was gone, once my mama and pap were gone, that they may already be gone, returned to the ground just like all things returned.

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He was not afraid to threaten. Like any who believe in rights of ownership. Like fathers. Like husbands. Like Gund. Such lies and untruths. It was not foolish to fear him, for he was like a shadow cast by the tree canopy or the birds that flew through the sky, like the motes that populated radiant columns of sunlight, floating millions upon millions but unable to be gathered and heaped, unable to be touched. He was part of nature, wild, and unknown. This is what he claimed, what he said. But I said, too, and am I not the same as you? And so we were weary of each other, and hateful, but kept by the endless land, by the years we had spent, our children, ourselves, our knowledge of skin and mind and all. So the riddle became: Why stay? Why stay when there were no doors, no locks to hem us in?

 

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And I realized this: Gund did not love them, saw them only as an extension necessary for what end he did not know, could not fathom. The succession of his bloodline into future years? When they soiled themselves, he would not move to comfort them. Sometimes he left out, to run the hills, as though cleansing himself of them through sweat spilled. So, it was me who taught them speech, the ability to divine words from air, music, the ability to think for themselves, to decide which path was best for them to take, the use of their muscles that would grow lean and strong, learned them of the woods, its endless bounty and equal unmercifulness.

They came to cleave to me, like vinery around a tree, and it was my only want to succor them.

Now and then, Gund became jealous, and he would divine to be their friend, calling them not son, not daughter, just saying, Pass me that awl, there, or Make sure the cut is sure and your grip strong, and do not spill too much of the blood. And this would last for days, and they were happy and I hopeful that the tide would stay at ebb, the water far from shore, not drowning out the bud and thin shoots of love that were struggling to take hold and bloom.

Of course, the water came seeping back. Strangling all so hungry for air. The peace would be shattered. The high wail of a child’s sobs. My daughter picking herself up from a swath of muddy ground; my son’s face smeared with the red sting of a hand swung hard; some little mistake he’d perceived and punished them for.

I said to him: Never again. And he said naught and left out fast. He trampled through the garden, knocked over the stacked firewood, howled ugly as a bird being set upon the cut block. Later, I saw him trailing up to the tree line, hustling fast like a coyote, a coward, what he was. His indignation would not hold us.

Like the semi-feral, he would come hitching back, mossy with sorrow and desolate, and come in quiet, and sit at the edge of the large shared mattress of duff and feather and fur, and tell us the stories of the things he had seen. These stories were composed of us, how we were a wandering herd of caribou, or stars vanished from the sky, waters separated, littoral, in desperate want of coming together but being unable to by virtue of their chemistries.

The stories convinced us for a while. It could be true that we’d just been a family lost and searching for each other in a snowstorm, our hands out and groping, our voices swallowed in the howling wind, just paces away from touch, paces that, because of the white and wind, were a distance that may as well have been infinite.

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Gund once said that there are no straight lines in nature. Because how else could things run into each other and mingle and make all that is out there before us? None of us is on separate courses, he said. Neither you, neither me.

Might be true—otherwise, how to explain our union?

 

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Winters, the snow geese headed south, their bodies stark white against the onyx night, their wild song echoed loud over the trees, the valley, us, and we wondered up at them, after them, their song discernible long after they’d gone, and we wished after them, to tail after them, the ground black and endless beneath us, the temperature changing, the ground and geography.

 

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The pillar of gray had been weaving and waving in the gentle winds for weeks steady. I measured it the way Gund had taught me. By fixing my hands and watching the move of branch and flight of the gliding birds way up high, how long it took them to float from one vast region of sky to the next and back again. I measured it and took my time doing it. He was about three days of ceaseless walking to the north. Probably in rude proximity to the camp he and I’d made next to the scrub pine, the yawning mouth of sandstone the virgin spring filtered out of. But not directly on it. Because he would’ve wanted to blend into the environs. To approximate the smell of sweet pine and stony dirt. To evade the prowling animals he’d sought to destroy in order to ease our hunger, to come upon them slow like the falling of night. He hunted by dropping out of trees onto the animals’ backs. Knife in hand, he’d whisper a prayer before plunging the blade. Before being bucked to the ground and giving chase as the mortal wound gave fake zest to the beast and let it run for hundreds of yards, as though it could outrun the death that was already within.            As the smoke rose, I began to move, to gather, to make real the practiced thing.

 

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I said, That smoke’s your dad, and now it is time to wave goodbye to him, so wave goodbye, and they did, but there wasn’t much love to it. Maybe because it was just smoke. Maybe because they didn’t like Gund any more than he liked them. Or because they did not realize that we would not return. Perhaps they hungered for that which broke out smooth and unremitting over the crest of the horizon they saw from so afar.

We left out, as we’d done so many times, foraging for edible things whose season was but the length of a day, for agate geodes we thought might rest in the shallow caves, and the arrow tips of sharpened obsidian buried in the shallow ground by the first settlers; or just venturing out for simple fun, for camp and hunt and play.

I left the door ajar. Let nature retake the house; let it return to the soil and earth. I did not think Gund would care. He would be happy to let it fall into disrepair and ruin.

In our leaving I paused, the misshapen shadow of fear falling over me, a wisp of cloud blotting the sun, just shortly, but the dark was deep and trembling. What would he do when he came back to the place? He would know we were gone long before he arrived. The absence of our scents, the vibrant colors that hung in our children’s voices. I worried that he would seek our trail, would follow us silent as wind, and would pilfer them from me as we slept in the night, hefting them over his broad shoulders and stealing fast in the dark quarry of the wood, with me to do nothing but seek them out with my calls, as he put meters fast between us. But just as fast as the dread came over me, it passed. My girl called to me, and I looked to her, saw her standing in the knobby clearing I’d helped to make, and my boy already in the trees, trying his best to wait for us. Go on, I called, and started toward them.

The children scampered ahead. Graceful as deer, as juvenile foxes. How easily they navigated the rude ground, layered with the detritus of ancient trees long fallen, littered with leaves molten in their deterioration, and the smooth, slick granite that jutted bald, bouldering upon itself to form the large hills and small mountains they canvassed as light as wind.

As they ran, they dreamed, infected with the stories I’d told them, the music we’d shared, the promise of more, the present, the now that we did not know or yet have but soon would.

Edmund Sandoval writes and lives in Portland, Oregon.
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Megan DoStewardship

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