Tuesday, November 2, 2021

The Wandering (Part 10)


I spend the morning banking our fire, securing our leafgrass lean-to, and burying our possessions inside our hut for when we return. In the hole I dug goes our cooking pot, carefully wrapped in leaves, our two cups, and the bowl I use for fetching water. I mark the spot with an upright stick.

Next I roll our sleeping mats up and place them at the far end of the lean-to, where they will rest until next year. I remove the broken bits of leaves and seeds that have accumulated in our hut over time, sweeping them out of the lean-to and back into their home in the forest. Our space is fresh, open, and I admire the hard packed earth, free of debris.

To my upper leg, I secure my gutting knife, and to my back I bundle a full water skein, my sliver of washing stone, and three woven grass-skirts I have made to trade at this years gathering. I stack dried meats, berries and fermented cheeses together with the hard traveling bread in my warmest robe. This I tie into a second bundle, place it into a basket, and heft onto my back. The basket will come in handy for gathering herbs, fruit, and the sweet dew-soaked leaves later on our walk, but for now I'll carry it.

Ignose is standing outside. Her face is red and purple and one of her eyes is swollen shut. She's chopped off the parts of her hair from where Cinna mangled her braids, and there are welts and bruises on her arms and torso. Roan is comfortably resting in a sling against her breasts, bare in the sun so he can nurse while we walk—and her bundles are on her back.

“I am ready.” I tell her, and I follow her bent form through the paths to our village.

We walk through the quiet, still village. The long huts have been dismantled, the fire pits hang smokeless in the heat, and even the fields are covered with broken branches and brush to keep them weed free. We walk.

At first I scout the broken reeds and bent grasses for signs of my moon-sisters passing. Their feet have left indentations and impressions in the earth, and these we follow. If we are careful the moon-sisters will not see us until we arrive at the caves. This is the game Ignose and I play, to lesson the beatings.

I side-eye Ignose. Sweat beads her face, but her eyes gleam like two small embers. I purpose in my heart: the first trade I will make is for some salve for her hurts.

Ignose does not speak, and my voice feels drowned in a sea-swell. I study the forest as we walk. The path weaves sun-bright, and the trees are speckled with sheen of dew. All around me the bugs fill the silence, their song as regular as the washing of the tide we have left to our backs.

At half-light, we stop. Ignose heaves down her burdens, unwinding Roan. He is fussy after being worn so long. She collapses into the grass beside the path while I lay out our meal. Roan kicks and whines, missing his mother and rolls, stretching the sleep from his limbs. The woven wrap has dug into his legs and after he ends his complaints, he tumbles gleefully around us as we munch on cheese, meat and fruit.

I study Ignose as she eats. Her eyes rest on her own knees, and I keep having to hand her bits or she just sits and stares into space. Roan picks that moment to babble, and her eyes flick to him, pooling with tears.

My heart hurts too. I rewrap the food, and move behind Ignose to kneed at her back.

“Thank you, Solamae,” She says, her hand briefly brushing mine as I work down her spine. “That feels great.”

We both turn to look at Roan, who is crawling after a raie. I take two steps and cup it in my hands for him, letting him inspect the filaments and see the wings. He babbles again, as I rise to shoulder my packs. Ignose lets out a heavy sigh.

“We can do it,” I say. “Only a few more hours and we can stop and make camp. I'll make a fire tonight, and if we make it to the stream, fresh fish!!”

Ignose pushes herself up, but she makes no move towards Roan.

“Come on,” I say, as she stares at me. Her hand rests on her face, on the swelling and the bruises.

“Tell me,” She says, “Am I disfigured?”

I blink in surprise. Disfigured? She removes her hand, and once more the puffy confines of her face are revealed. She blinks her one good eye at me, before attempting to smooth her hair.

“Cinna beat me,” She says. Her voice is flat, and her arms hang limply at her sides.

“Cinna beat me for wanting to hold my own daughter,” Ignose continues. Her eyes flick to Roan, meandering in the grass, intent on more bugs.

“We need to walk,” I say, holding out my hand to her. Ignose ignores me, her eyes still on her son. Her swollen face is blank. But behind the void she wears as a mask, I fear she is breaking, breaking, right before my eyes.

Ignose has always been my rock. The lapse I feel is as wide as the ocean. I am a beetle, I think—and somehow the thought settles me. Purpose is in those words. I am a beetle.

Ignose laughs, shattering my thoughts. She reties her bundles, this time to her front, and Roan to her back, giving him a piece of dried meat to suck on. She's still chuckling as we head out, although what she finds funny I cannot tell. I feel that asking her would expose a grievous flaw within me.

So instead, I keep thinking, clinging to what brings me peace—the rhythm of the sea, the arms of Ignose, the sweet kisses of Roan.

I am a beetle. I whisper, and let the measure of my steps drum out the words. I am a beetle. And Ignose is a...?

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