a tale of glamour, family values, and cannibalism
(please note: all the events described below are actual. Only the names have been changed to protect the somnolent. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely sentimental.)
a tale of glamour, family values, and cannibalism
(please note: all the events described below are actual. Only the names have been changed to protect the somnolent. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely sentimental.)
Eukan Severe was a dutiful son. He neither understood nor condoned the rebellious posturings of his sister, Dojy Resoft. She was sixteen, almost seventeen, two years older than himself. He hoped he might get to understand her better as he reached her age. They lived in a comfortable, fading split level house in an old suburb of the town of Monisantaca, at the north end of the lush Plinach valley, in the westernmost reaches of the Necsgreems province. The town is bisected by the Maslygdnow river fed by run-off from the snowy slopes of Bysbu Kleebrey volcano. The river is less than four emrafs wide at this point, but quite deep. Further south it widens, enriched by snow melt off the Blimclecledie range. There it joins the mighty Leinvojeeseph, usually called The Line. Along the banks of this mighty river the people of the plains cultivate and defend their dreulasis crops, the mildly narcotic tuberous staple they learned to grow from the Etatreh peoples. These are original inhabitants, who survive only in secluded enclaves, and still exert their influence despite campaigns to wipe them out, through neglect, if not through slaughter. The Line broadens over the plains, with many branches and cul-de-sacs, that make up the waterways that lace the urban sprawl of Slegeslona. Further south the river dives deep under a parched expanse of desert, to seep up again after many miles, forming the steamy bog the old people call Sgronts Respute. Then it gathers again to meander the Ildrew Libly rain forest, until it flows into the sea through the fertile delta on which Yinlaw Sted is built.
We present this brief topography only to give you a picture of the scale of the adventure that awaited Eukan as a result of his obsession, since age twelve, with building a boat in the manner of the Etatreh people, a small boat designed to travel this river. This, and the urging of his sister who feared for his life, started Eukan on an adventure well beyond his years. Dojy felt she had to defend her brother against their parents, whom she could tell were about to enter their first period of voracity. This is a common affliction that comes at least once to every married couple. At a certain point in their relationship they feel compelled to devour their oldest son. They can't control this, and many who have suffered by their successes explain to the commission that monitors this behaviour that there was no way they could stop themselves. This period in a marriage is called pünkscheit. Some who marry young and bear their first son at a young age put themselves in danger because the kid might have already reached the age of seventeen, or eighteen, and be physically powerful, and aware of what was happening, and try to dispose of his progenitors with his fists, elbows, knees, or with his Clenac Jectorp, a sacramental saber he inherits from his maternal grandfather when he passes his sixteenth birthday. Although there is an old statute on the books, criminalizing pünkscheit, this is never prosecuted with much vigor. Except for the one powerless commission, made up mostly of scientists, the community more or less ignores the practice. After all, the people reason, abortion is illegal. We can't make everything illegal. And they rationalize further that in this case the boy is absorbed back into the flesh of its parents, who often conceive another boy, and that boy is frequently an improvement; in fact, the school rosters and other such lists accounting for attendance, register a big R next to the name of a boy so disappeared, R for Reabsorbed.
Eukan was too young, Dojy told herself, to slush out what was going on, and because of his sweet nature, he wasn't inclined to oppose the will of their parents. Dojy had already overheard their parents engage in the reamorous conversations that precede pünkscheit. She knows all about it because her friend, Nonawi Erryd, who had lost her brother, Verri Hoxnepi, to their parents' voracity, told her about all the warning signs. Nonawi loved her brother, an older brother who taught her how to dance, and how to to do many drashy things, like stick a skewer through her neck, and she didn't want Dojy to suffer a similar loss. Parents were a problem, drooped and gruelly, and neither girl ever wanted to become one ever.
"So where did your brother go now?" insisted Yermyl Perset, Dojy's mother. "Where did you say?"
"I didn't say anything," Dojy replied curtly. "What makes you think I should know anything about where he goes?" She was cleaning her lateral action skates. She had just bought this new pair of Glasoud Rollers at Chamiel's, and she loved them more than anything. The feeling of sideways skating was pure drash.
"He's never around any more. He used to help me with the housework all the time." Her mother took the wine glasses out of the dishwasher, and held them up to the light. "You're the only one practically who talks to him any more. You'd think he didn't even know he had a mom and dad. And we love him, just as we did when he was a little baby. We love him from his sweet little feet, through his bellybutton, to the tip of his nose."
"Yeah, right." Another sure sign of pünkscheit Nonawi had told her was the conceptual reinfantilization of the boy, followed often by the demented logic that interpreted the devouring as a reabsorption and reformation of the kid's substance into something more compatible with the parents' original wishes. Sick. How could someone be sweeter, more compatible than Eukan? What about him could they ever want to change? This was even sicker, Dojy thought, than the post-partum dream some women have where they eat their babies back into their wombs. It was sick. In general, life was sick. All she wanted to do was side-skate down along the river and meet her friends. At least they were friends.
Her mother read her mind.
"Before you go out, young lady." Dojy retreated from putting on her skates because she knew what her mother was going to say. "You fold the rest of your laundry and put it away, and it wouldn't hurt for you to clean up your room a little. It looks like a twister hit."
"I like it the way it is."
"Like some kind of muck-artist's studio?"
Dojy put down her skates and squeezed past her mother to go into the laundry room. Sometimes obedience was the path of least resistance. Yermyl grabbed her by her shoulders and planted a kiss on her cheek. "Sorry if I'm short with you, sweety. I just worry about Eukan. Can't you just tell us where he goes? We' ve hardly seen him for three days."
Dojy recoiled. A kiss from her mother was too much affection. "No. I said I've got nothing to tell you. I don't know anything."
"Please. This isn't like him."
"I don't know where he is, and even if I did I would not tell you."
"Why, sweety. I'm his mom."
"Right. Pünkscheit, plain and simple."
"That...! Do you believe that old story?"
Of course, her mother was denying it. "It's not an old story, mom," Dojy sang.
Dojy wasn't lying. She actually didn't know where her brother was, but she did know he had gone into the mountains to escape and think things over, and she wasn't going to tell the progenitors that. He decided this was a good time to see if he could find the high valley where the last of the Tanoke trees grew. The disappearance of these trees is another sad story of exploitation of natural resources, and wasting of a valuable and beautiful species. At one time the whole northern range was sheltered in the grace of these unique trees. They grow up to a hundred and forty feet in height, and produce only two broad leaves at the very top, with a seedpod growing from a spike between them. The leaves are tough and resilient, at the same time they are light and buoyant. When sliced across their breadth they exude an opalescent juice that dries to an iridescent powder varying in hue from rose-pink to aquamarine. This powder at one time became a cosmetic rage in Monisantaca, and when it invaded the huge, sophisticated market of Slegeslona the demand became so great that greed encouraged the hurried and careless harvesting of these leaves. By the time the fad had passed, most of the trees were dead. When in the old times the Etatreh peoples harvested the leaves, to construct their sturdy boats, they always waited till the right time for the tree, when the seed pod was fully mature, and they cut the leaves at a precise moment, just before the tree was ready to launch its pod. A moment after the launch the leaves dropped to the ground useless and spent, retaining none of their valuable qualities, and the tree went through a period of dormancy, before it produced its new leaves. The Etatrehs knew there was the safe period, when it was right to take the leaves, without ruining the tree. They assigned one of themselves to watch each tree they were going to harvest, and with this care they almost never killed one; but if by some mistake they did, they performed a ritual of remorse, an incantation of regret. The tree was part of the whole envelope of their lives, and therefore part of their flesh.
Eukan knew these incantations, he knew the rituals, at least as he and his best friend, Ajyck Nach, learned them from the writings of Onatint Taurda, one of their idols. They'd also found on the informator the instructions for building the boat the Etatrehs made from these leaves. To stitch them properly he knew he'd have to find the nest of the now rare Sterub spider. It wasn't totally clear what he'd need from it, perhaps its web; but he did know he'd have to solicit its help. Ajyck and he had even practiced the protocols of solicitation, which they'd learned from swimming the informator.
The only thing he regretted on leaving for the mountains, was not telling Ajyck or his own sister. He wasn't used to doing things without at least their knowing about it; and Ajyck and himself planned and did almost everything together. But this he had to do alone. It was stressful enough to keep from getting his parents' permission; in fact, he knew it was against their wishes, because they had been getting weird about wanting to keep him close to them all the time. He had to do it alone, didn't want anyone else to have to take any of the blame.
The first day he made good time, leaving from the center of the city through a network of alleys he knew really well, so he wouldn't be noticed by anyone. He slogged through the Naanittor swamp so as to avoid most of the burbs where he might be spotted, and then he climbed away into the shadows on the sheerest Tenquin scarpement, so there would be almost no chance for anyone to see him at all. By the time he stopped to eat some dried fruit, and vegetable crackers, Monisantaca was behind him, and ahead of him were the steepening foothills of the Turb Scalranset mountain range. He climbed throughout the rest of the afternoon, then made camp in a small clearing near a brook, using survival skills he had learned from his father, to make a small lean-to, a comfortable bed of leaves, and to build a small fire on which he could roast a mess of golden faxberries, that were plentiful late in the summer. He had learned all this from his dad. As he settled his head onto a pillow of moss, his loneliness weighed down on him. He missed everyone, his sister, Ajyck, most of all his dad, and his mom. He shouldn't have done this. Rumors of pünkscheit were no excuse for disobedience, even if they were true. That they were intending to make him into a feast? Ridiculous. Not his mom. Not his dad. He would pay for this rebellion somehow, he knew that. His shoulders ached. He wished he was home. He was one blob of tired muscle and bone, and how his head thromped. What good was his life if he didn't live it correctly, honoring his parents? He turned to the side, so the tears could slip down his cheeks. He would go back. In the morning, he would do something. He had the feeling that people often get alone at night in the woods, and with good reason, that something out there was watching him. His sobs slowly softened into breathing, and his breath into dreams.
Yermyl Perset began to feel better about herself once she became a volunteer. The sense of purposelessness and the futility of life that had oppressed her for so long, slowly dissipated as she began to work in the community. It was a surprise. She had promised herself early on, when she was Dojy's age, never to become one of those pitiful do-gooders whose lives seemed so artificial, those docents and social chairladies. She wasn't yet even close to the blue-rinse stage, but she surprised herself with the gobs of energy she could grab from doing service in the community. This was about being out there, testing new skills, redeploying old ones, meeting new people. Informator sales out of her home brought in good money, but never did this for her, never made her feel like a part of Monisantaca. This was the start of a whole new phase of her life, that really polished her attitude towards everything, even towards Sitund Monfahf, her dear husband. For a long time she had in her depression indulged in self-pity about the dulness of their long marriage, the sexual apathy, the tedious, predictable arguments, the futurelessness; but now, suddenly, they were rediscovering each other, and exploring previously untapped aspects of each other's sensuality, and she was finding new joy in eroticizing parts of him she'd never noticed before, like the nob just below the back of his wrist, and a shadow that in certain light spread under the center of his lower lip. She wanted to squeeze his chin with her knees, oh, and his ears, which she had not ever enjoyed before, she wanted to fold them both out, if only his head could flatten that way, and hide each of her nipples in one of the little flappy sweeties. There was an upwelling of feeling for her children as well, who for so long had felt like nothing more than additional chores for herself. Dojy was a bit of a problem, at a rebellious age, but still a sweetheart down deep. And Eukan, her son, she could just eat him up. This wasn't some weird idea, like that dreary pünkscheit superstition people still proported. Her intentions were totally affectionate. He was a wonderful boy, and Sitund thought so too. They often lay together in the afterglow in bed, thinking about him, softly muttering, Eukan Severe...Eukan Severe; and their mouths would water, their palates throb, their eyes tear. He was their first son, their only son. How could they put it? He was so...so appetizing.
So now she gave six hours a week at the community stew house, where they served three hundred or more a day from a healthy pot of cartnoct riblets and dreulasis roots. This made her see how many people were down and hurting, people low on luck; and at the steam table she made a new friend, Thyka Abset, who dished out the millet and onions. She and Thyka volunteered together at the Monisantaca Shoe Riser, which was an expanding monument to the history of footwear, that put her in contact with a different kind of people, more artistic, interested in artistic preservation. This Shoe Riser, or the Grand Heap of Shoes, was unique to Monisantaca, a monument to the kind of pedestrian citizenship first encouraged by Sorb Imulrée, their greatest mayor. He was instrumental in setting aside space in the center of town for the Nealsty Burkick marketplace, now called the Kick. He had them build the stalls of the market around what was to become this Grand Heap, where everyone, whether a citizen of Monisantaca or not, was free to sign and leave his or her worn shoes. During the forty years the Kick has been a successful marketplace, the monument has been rising, its shape now like a huge hat, a knit fantasy with a brim. The lowest layer of The Heap was mostly brown or black, showing sensible shoes, since the accumulation was begun in times of conservative taste and frugality. It rose from there through a permissive period, expansive and relaxed, lacy networks of stiletto heels, and transparent pumps, then striations of garish colors, dulling into striations of mild pastels, followed by alternating stripes of white and red, until finally at the top the colorful sneakers of the recent era looked from a distance like a merry tweed. Around the base of the heap, making up the brim, all the discarded sandals, zories, and clogs gathered, to lend a surprising texture, like a conglomerated paper or bumpy weaving.
She and Thyka received the shoes there for two hours every third day, and handed out receipts to people who wanted them for souvenirs. She also got to participate in the shaping of the monument, particularly now that young volunteers were so rare. She often climbed the heap herself, up the heavy mesh that held it in shape, and placed the new contributions exactly where she wanted them. At first it was a struggle for her, but then as she got into better shape, she was more nimble and climbed like a fire-monkey. She loved having control over the placement of new contributions, and loved to linger up there at the top, from where she could see all of greater Monisantaca, almost all the way down the Line to Slegeslona, stretching between the Turb Scalranset, and the Blimclecledie mountain ranges, and she could see Bysbu volcano standing alone to the Northeast, if it wasn't covered in clouds. She could even see Sitund's office window, and liked to imagine she saw him looking at her from it, and would always wave to him before she descended.
This embarrassed Dojy deep into her afternoons, that sometimes her mother was climbing on The Heap when she and her friends were Kicking. If she just glimpsed her mother up there she got really embarrassed, afraid one of her friends might say, "Hey, Dojy, there's your mom climbing up." It was such a total gruel. She had to hide, try to steer her friends the other way, even cover their eyes if they tried to look at The Heap. That was deep snore anyway, so dumb. Who wanted to be reminded of all the stupid shoes? What was so great about walking, anyway? Footwear reaching to the sky? Muckworks galore. Learn to skate some laterals!
Anyway, this was the day that her friend Lenoci Mindak would be out for the first time, with her brand new ultimate body puncture. She was due at The Brick for an exposé session, to show it to all the brideys hanging out at The Trough. Lenoci was so lucky to have parents who'd write a permission for her to do it. Maybe it was because she didn't have a brother at all. And she had a rich uncle who worshipped her and was willing to pay for the whole thing. It was so double ultimate, so totally drashy. Dojy ached to have this herself. She could feel it like a squeezing on her spine. She could taste it in the whole middle of her body. They said it really hurt, but she had no doubt she could stand the pain, if she knew the result would be absolute drash. She always enjoyed the right kind of pain, anyway. She knew there was no way she could afford this, though. Faking the permission would not be a problem; but always money was the big obstacle.
Only one person in the whole world really knew how to do this puncture, and he was willing to do it only for a lot of money. This was Dr. Deppster Johnjon, who lived right here in Monisantaca. He had given up a successful career in abdominal surgery to develop and focus on this puncture, which he told his friends allowed him to transcend the pedestrian world of surgery, into the racier realms of art. He was sick of being around the sick people, who only wanted to get better. Better was an illusion, he explained. He wanted healthy people around him, to do something grand and cosmetic, make them feel the joy of openness. His puncture was a total opening of the whole abdomen, from sternum to pelvis. The invention that put his genius on the map was the Deppster Johnjon full body grommet. He separated the internal organs to either side of the spine, so other people could see through the center of your body, really see daylight, or any kind of illumination, for instance, if it was night and you were at a party. Needless to say, it's a complicated and controversial procedure. Dr. Johnjon performs this with almost missionary zeal, right in the face of the commission that has him under investigation. For the people who want it, it does a lot of good, he explains. Those who get it are changed profoundly, and those who don't are not affected. They remain the same. Dojy didn't care about any of the arguments, she just wanted herself to be opened up. She was ready for the change in her life. But she would never have the money to do this. Out front you had to pay for the grommet itself, which was a spinal casing and organ frame, recommended in gold, though a solid silver economy model was also available. Deppster Johnjon's great invention protected the spine. It had to remain straight. Curving it one way or another could cripple a puncture wannabe (though that might be drashy too, so empty and perverse.) The good young doctor designed this elegant casing for each individual's backbone, and the oval framework against which slimy organs, like liver, spleen, intestines, and whatever else you've got, rested comfortably. The opening came out to look like an oval bisected vertically. It was a phi, looked like a phi. Of all the letters of all the alphabets she knew, she wanted to be the phi. It could be so extra spanish, so drippy. The way all her brideys would look right through her. It would be the emptiest, drashier than grosbeaks. Dojy wanted to do this so bad. She had the guts. She had the backbone.
When she saw her displaying at The Trough, Dojy was very happy for Lenoci, but couldn't hold back her envy. Tons of brideys and their drones had come from everywhere to see her. Even Eukan's gawks peered through the windows, so she finally had to raise herself up onto the ledge above the booth, to give everyone a good opportunity to look through her. It was so empty. It was the end of drash.
"Dojy, high," Lenoci greeted Dojy who pushed through the crowd, holding a stormberry fragratto. "I got those phroa warmworms you sent. They really helped. I've even got some left over, if you want them back."
"No, Lenoci. They're yours to keep. Use them up." She'd forgotten she'd sent them. One thing she really knew how to do was to get those warmworms; it was a talent she never even had to cultivate. She just often found that she was there, and there were the phroa warmworms. She supplied them for some of her friends, but only the most nickelish and flaunted, those she knew could handle them. She never sold them. That would be a whole other step, and in the wrong direction, she knew, in her young life. Selling warmworms, deep dangerous gruelmove.
"How does it feel," Dojy asked, as she slid into the booth, closer to Lenoci. "What's it like?" Dojy looked through Lenoci, to the shiny gold flecks of the formica wallboard. The spine was cased in gold from number four dorsal to number three lumbar, with an embossing of vines and apes climbing the whole length. "Well? What's it like, Lenoci?"
The punctured girl slid off the ledge, to sit down next to Dojy. "It's so ultimate, Dojy. It's totally vacant."
"Does it hurt?"
"Still, just a little, but it's like sugar, like sweet pain."
"Oooh," Dojy moaned. "I know what you mean. I'm so jealous." The two friends kissed on the lips.
"You know my brother ran away?" Dojy said.
"Eukan. My brother. I was getting afraid for him with mom and dad. They were starting to reamorize, and they were coming at him with those words."
"Words? I don't understand what you're talking about." Lenoci had to strain her neck to see Dojy, because her body was wider now, and difficult to turn in the booth. Dojy liked that, thought it was really empty, to be almost two-dimensional. She could understand why Lenoci had some difficulty grasping what she said. In her new shape, she had a lot to figure out. Her friend switched to the other side of the booth, proudly fielding the gasps and exclamations of people gathered for a look-through.
"Pünkscheit words," Dojy said.
"You believe in that stuff? Pünkscheit and stuff? I don't..." As Lenoci leaned towards Dojy she grimaced. "Oooh... It still aches me a little, but it's everything so vast," she moaned. "I'll get used to it." She took a sip from Dojy's fragratto.
"Yeah, I believe in it. You just don't have a brother, so you don't have to deal. Ask Nonawi. She lost hers, and her parents are schoolteachers."
Lenoci's attention was elsewhere, partly distracted by the pain, and also because her boyfriend, Negger, was at the door. He never liked to come all the way into The Trough, because he was older. Most of the other kids didn't understand it, how she could go with someone so old, but Dojy did. Negger was really well displayed for an older drone, and young ones were such a snore, anyway.
"Hello, Dojy," he greeted her, smiling briefly, but ignoring all the other kids. "Lenoci, you have to come with me. I will get my motorcycle out of the shop. You will drive the car."
That was beyond drashy, Dojy thought. Lenoci didn't even have a license.
Lenoci stood up and kissed Negger in front of everyone. All over The Trough, even looking in through the windows, brideys and gawks craned their necks, to see what they could see through her -- Negger's leather pants, his silver buckle. Everyone gasped in unison as he grabbed her spinal case, tipped her horizontal, her small breasts swinging out of her tube-top, and he carried her out like a valise, while she waved at everyone, spreading big thrills with her beauty-queen smile.
That was the grandest drash, Dojy thought. Possibilities were endless with such a supreme puncture. She wanted one so bad. It was beyond the beyond.
By the time he woke up the fog was so thick, Eukan could hardly see where he was. He folded his silver blankets and looked for a trail, or any landscape feature, even a tree, but everywhere he looked in every direction everything looked the same, white upon white. He stood trembling in his quandariness. Tears filled his eyes. Why had he tried this at all? Dojy had convinced him, but he didn't need to listen to her. That was a lesson, if he ever got out of here. Even if he decided to go home, he would never find his way in the midst of all this cottony white. White was stupid. White was the color of fear. This was what he deserved for rebelling against his family, and a family he actually loved. A huggy mom who was a good mom, and a dad who was always there to teach him something. His dad would have taught him something right now, would have helped him get out of here. He called out, "Hello! Anybody. Dad!", but he knew the cry was futile. His voice flattened back against his face, going nowhere. This whiteness was as if overnight the whole world had been erased, and turned to cold. Was it a world? What kind of a place was this? Not a sound in it, except his own hiccups that had begun to at least reassure him that he himself was present.
Then suddenly he felt a whump, and another whump, so hard it felt like the ground trembled. Two whumps. His hiccups were history. All was silent again. He stared into the whiteness at the place where he thought the whump had hit. A friendly smell, like garlic roasting, came from there. In the middle of the smell he thought he saw a light, not exactly a light, however, but as if some of the fog had condensed and brightened. It was so cold. He draped a silver blanket over his shoulders. The light disappeared. He took a step towards where it had been, and it appeared again. Then it was gone again, until he stepped towards it again. That was it, like a follow-me from a storybook. He knew what he was supposed to do. The whiteness was fear, and the light was hope. He was supposed to follow the light, and so he did, up a hill, across a long flatness, and up again. The glow kept itself just in front of him, disappearing when he stopped and moving faster if he ran to overtake it.
He followed on a steep climb, no trail that he could see underfoot, huge boulders, big as his house, that he had to climb around or over. "Wait a few seconds," he pleaded with the light. "I'm small. I can't go this fast." The light pulsed rapidly, impatiently, as it waited for the boy. "Where are you taking me?" he asked, and the light flew ahead. "Wait a second," Eukan told himself. "It's not taking me anywhere, I'm just following. Who told me to follow? Nobody. Why am I doing this?" Still nothing to see but fog, and a fine drizzle that soaked through his clothes. He had to keep moving, to keep from shivering so much. That was why he moved, to forget how cold he was. He would never figure out how to get back ever again, wherever back was. It could be just a big circle he was moving in, like a joke played on him by this whatever it was. Who was laughing anywhere? Maybe nothing was there at all, this just a figment. Then this fear grabbed hold, sank into his spirit. This wasn't real, this was a dream, and he was trapped inside, and he was tired, and he would never wake up. This was hell, maybe, his own special hell, for disobedience. He couldn't breathe. He had died, and this was hell. What had he done? What wrong had he done?
No one here to explain, no one to argue with. He had no choice but to follow this light, just to keep going. Grandpa Hitchfred Alcock said, every time the old man took him on a hike, "Just put one foot in front of the other, one in front of the other. Then you'll get there." That's what he did. Forget everything else. One foot, then the other foot, then the one foot, then the other. He stopped thinking about what lay ahead beyond the next step, and then the next one, just put himself forward following the light, whatever that was. He felt foolish, so tired.
He didn't notice at what point the fog started to thin, then he felt an arm of the sun slant onto his shoulders from around the curve of the cliff. Could this have been the sun he was following all along? Maybe yes, maybe not. And this was his first thought in a while about the tanoke tree, and how would he ever find the elusive sterub spider? He grabbed a few gasps of breath. How high he was, and what a narrow ledge. His back pressed against the wall of cliff that leaned over him and looked down at the thickness of fog below, that seemed seemed too solid, enough to tempt him to step out. He worked his way along this narrowing ledge into the full belly of the sun, its heat like a warm bath, steaming the moisture out of his clothes. There, not three feet away, was the double-leafed top of a tanoke tree, a huge one, its two enormous green leaves, dimly spotted with pink and violet, spread as if in welcome, the spore pod thrust from the center, ready to launch.
He could see that other trees in the tight little valley had already launched their pods, and dropped their leaves; and in the distance one launched right there in front of him, like a rocket thrust skyward, a sound like the tolling of a bell, the pod flying deep into the valley, leaves dropping. The exhilaration he felt at this sight was almost too much for his young body to sustain. He had to stop trembling. Then he felt another kind of fear, that he could be too late, that he'd better get to work on a tree before the pod launched, and that maybe he really didn't know enough about this to do it right. Maybe he was too young and too small. He took out his special heat knife, held its blunt blade in the sunlight till it was too hot to touch, then launched himself off the ledge, onto the leaf, and he slid down to where it joined the top of the tree. His flesh was green in the reflected light. He looked out into the valley, now totally free of fog; a whole valley of tanoke trees. Who from Monisantaca had ever seen something like this? Who but the Etatreh peoples? He leaned back against the pod and started to cut. This could go any second. He felt the giddiness of someone finally getting to do what he always wanted to do. Within the leaf, he was cutting, and he was giggling. The cut went so slowly. He had to be careful and patient, to cut without gashing. He paused to heat the blade again. Soon there would be the sterub spider to think about. Where would he ever find one? But forget it for now. Now he was cutting. He wished Ajyck was there to see him. He was Eukan Severe at the top of his tanoke tree, and he was cutting leaf.
From his office window Sitund Monfahf could see the whole of the Nealsty Burkick marketplace, with the Bysbu volcano behind it in the clouds. He looked directly at the Monisantaca Shoe Riser, The Heap, where he occasionally saw his wife scrambling like a tiny monkey in the distance. How could that monument, which seemed so silly in its conception, be so moving? Sometimes he would sit at his desk and daydream, just looking at it, and he would feel all these emotions well up, tears in his eyes. Even before Yermyl Perset volunteered to work on it, he had all these feelings. What was it? Just some shoes heaped up into the shape of a hat. But it hit him, it always swept something off the shelves of his heart. And now this was even moreso, now that he was having all these feelings for his wife, his family. He was so emotional and high that he had to pull the shade during meetings, for fear of suddenly breaking out in sobs.
It was a high, however. What kind of high? A contact high between himself and Yermyl. It's a holding hands on the bus high. Like a high-school crush high. A getting home before the kids high jumping into bed high sucking and licking high. A no one so beautiful no one so sexy as you high no one so hot and willing as you high. And it was a food high, for Sitund a cooking high. A run to the store for the raspberry vinegar high. A French Purple Garlic high, none other will do high. If he had it to do over again, he would work in that profession, making tasty stuff in his own kitchen; rather than what he did -- working in product development for the manufacturers of plastic fasteners and films. Everything that was happening to him now, all this renewal of passion for Yermyl, revisiting the elevations of their lust, feeling their subtle hearts open to each other again, holding each other every possible minute, sighing into each other, all this made him want to cook the greatest meal of all time. He wanted his whole family to be there, though Dojy these days was somewhat hopeless, seemed never to eat anything any more, had an attitude you couldn't split with a stagnir maul. But Eukan was a different story. He and Yermyl had such a passion for their son, feelings rich and deep. Their only son. He was so almost perfect. They owed him the best that life had to offer, and would give everything to help him grow in spirit, and fulfil his emotional and material potentials. Even if they would have to form something new of him, something great. Unlike his sister, he would not be a problem. Eukan would be happy to participate in a big way in this celebration, be part of the feast.
Sitund had put in his order months ago at the fowl butcher for a special fat yonoletenus goose, and he had been nurturing and feeding it, a living goose. The prospect of a mouthful of the sweet, nutty texture of the yonoletenus meat made his mouth water. This was a rare treat at the table, because there were so few of these birds available at any time. They were difficult to raise, since they needed to graze on wooly milfrion grass. Each setting goose hatched only three or four goslings, and the gander or the goose herself quickly ate them as they pecked out of the shell. This was difficult to prevent because the goose would not sit on the eggs if there were the slightest hint of human meddling. You had to hope that the parents' hunger had abated by the second gosling or so, and then you could rush in and rescue whoever was left. For this reason they were expensive, but it was worth it. Nothing could beat the fragrance and savoriness of yonoletenus meat, when it was nicely prepared. So delectable. That meant roasting it when lacopani berries were deep pink and ripe. Sitund fed these berries to the big gentle bird for three weeks before slaughter, till he could feel the bird full of juice. After hanging the carcass for thirty-six hours to let it season, he blew under the skin with a straw to separate the skin from the flesh, so the fat could drain better and the skin crisped on roasting. He liked to stuff it with treepflak and roast it on a bed of its own feathers, which gave it a light pungency. For a sauce he prepared a puree of arazazipp beans that have been floated for several days in lacopani brandy. He would steam some vegetables, and make a nice dessert of frozen lamar-spleam. It was for his Yermyl Perset he wanted to do this, because cooking for someone was a sign of love, but also Dojy, and especially Eukan their son.
"What a beautiful town we live in," he thought, as he gazed out his office window. "And the Shoe Heap, what a mysterious and beautiful monument to everything. And what a great family I have. My heart is so full."
"Don't think you've looked at these yet," his secretary, Lohly Uhrent stepped into the office and placed some papers on his desk. She paused to smile at him. He didn't seem to notice. Over the last few weeks, his smile for her wasn't what it had been. This was frustrating. They had lingered, until a month or so ago, on the cusp of an affair. She hadn't pushed it because this was strange for her, counter to her convictions. She had left her last job to escape the sexual advances of her boss. She would have battled it then, but she didn't like the job anyway, so she just quit. She had once vowed never to have an affair with a boss, nor with a married man, but she found Sitund to be nice, gentle, self-effacing, also a man with some power. She couldn't fool herself, she was attracted to him; so she decided to forego her convictions just this once. He was attracted to her as well, and that was why she let herself be so forward. "I think you should look this over," she said, leaning over his desk to air her cleavage.
"Okay," he said, back still to her. He took some binoculars from a drawer and peered through them out the window, then waved at something out there in the distance.
She had found it to be fun. The anticipation of this flirtation got her out of her apartment and down to work happily on these mornings. It usually came equally from himself. What could be preoccupying him now that was more important? She started to toy with him, just as a little test. "I've brought some talc, scented with hyacinth," she said, and then decided to become bolder, just to see if he was listening. "I'd be glad to powder your baubles."
"Good," his back still to her.
"And I brought a little petal-sneaker for your peezel."
"Okay. Okay," he waved his arm, back still towards her. "Leave them on the table."
She lifted her skirt, provocatively. "Shall I get undressed now?"
"Sure, yes, then just leave it on the desk, and I'll grab it when I go out."
"And if I come around there to kiss the little tickle-tail?"
"Don't worry about it."
He hadn't turned to look at her once. He raised the binoculars again to look where? at that stupid heap? Lohly dropped her skirts. This was exasperating. She knew from talking to the woman she'd replaced that he'd had affairs with other women in the department, and he was somewhat recommended. What was different about herself now? Something wrong? She had recently broken up a long-term relationship that was stifling her, and although her mind told her no to this, it still seemed like a decent alternative to just nothing -- a light involvement with an attractive male, who was in no position to make demands on her. Except he was her boss, and that could turn into complications; but, so what? He didn't seem the type to take advantage. It would be a light dalliance. She was on her way out of this kind of work anyway, studying fashion design at night. She needed to nourish her artistic bent, to get out of this general secretarial drudgery. She didn't want to be a boss, but she didn't want to be bossed any more, either. A little dalliance was very attractive. Lust lite.
"You know, I think I finally understand it," he said, turning towards her at last.
"What do you understand, sir?" The "sir" she pronounced with an irony close to bitterness.
"My emotionality recently, so strong. Like why I'm so moved when I look at The Heap there. It's because it looks like a hat. Doesn't that sound stupid? It's made totally of shoes, but it looks like a hat. It suggests everything human by that. Between the hat and the shoes, is the human being. Every human being between hat and shoes. That's what makes it so moving."
"Yes, sir," said Lohly, backing towards the door. She saw tears in his eyes. "Yes, sir. Hat and shoes."
"It makes me so happy to have this figured out. I would look at that heap, and feel these deep emotions. I never understood what the power of that monument was before. It's everything. Human beings. A monument to all the peoples. And the way it exists across all the generations. It's people now, people historically. Imagine the genius of Sorb Imulrée, to make this possible for our generations, into the future. I'm so happy to understand this now."
He was finally smiling at her, though it wasn't a smile for her, but something else. "Yes. Thank you. Glad you're happy." She backed out the door. Well, it wasn't what she had hoped. This was craziness but she had to keep reminding herself that at least it was a job.
"Yes," said Sitund, big smile on his face. "Yessss!" He sank down into his chair. "What is it about this day?" He relaxed into the satisfaction philosophers must feel when they arrive after long months of puzzlement at the answer to one big question. He lifted the binoculars again. Yermyl was on The Heap, waving at him. She looked so appealing, balanced on top of that hat full of shoes. Balanced as if on all of humanity, man and womankind. He waved at her, though he doubted she could see him. He stood and went to the window, and kissed the place where he could see her tiny body on the glass.
Dojy sat on the low wall that surrounded The Heap, and dangled her feet in the shallow moat that circled it. Her mom had finally left, but not without first embarrassing her by coming over and fussing with her hair, some gruelly mother thing. She wished this progenetrice were more sensitive to what that looked like to her friends. She wasn't her mother's little girl any more. Something like that made her crave the body puncture more than ever. She never wanted to be like her mother ever. Lenoci's parents must have been a great pair of progs, but what did they think now that the puncture was totally on the screen, not just an idea? That's why Lenoci was drashy beyond commitment, to have gone through with it. However, Dojy Resoft might as well forget about it. Not even ten years of the best summer jobs would let her afford the puncture. Not even if she sold her sex, like Ornash Sento; or like Gme Yran made porn flicks; or if she fed pictures of her body onto the world wide informator distriblastor, all of which alternatives disgusted her; but even if she did those things she would never make enough money in years for such a puncture. She had to do something else, something not so pricey, like ear removal, facial scrape, nose inversion, elbow locking, none of which had reached Monisantaca yet, which was so provincial, from Dojy's perspective. That was why kids here were spun in their own circles by Lenoci's drash. It would have been totally dry in Slegeslona.
She could find something to do that would cause her brideys to spin, something within her own price range, no problem. She and Nonawi Erryd had skiffed some ideas off the informator, from this drashy nesting called Xupset Fron, which specialized in the widest of drash, busting all the moods. This was simple, but she could feel a whole world of drash supreme arising from it, no problem. This was permanent body tinting, derived from the practices of the ancient Etatreh peoples, whom she admired out of time. It would be going forward by going back. A big advantage was that this wasn't just a single revelation, like the body puncture, but you went through a whole sequence of transformations, like a golden yellow the first week, then royal blue, then green like eyes get, and a plump violet, and all kinds of other shades. And with a special wax technique you could make designs, which was beyond drashy, when you thought about everyone's tattoos. It would definitely jostle the progs, blow them off their snore stools. And her own brideys would pirouette around her, in and out of the Brick. Another great thing about it was that she could do it herself, there was no operation involved, and maybe Nonawi could help. Then once she reached the deep teal she wanted to be forever, then she would bathe in the fixative, and that's the color you are for the rest of your life. No problem. It's real. It's a commitment. It's a "this is me" kind of a thing. She was going to do it. She had enough money now for the starter kit, that let you practice on a foot or a hand, and by the time she'd played with that and learned, she'd have enough saved for at least the whole body primer tint.
"How's the wallow, Dojy?" Nonawi kicked some water onto her from the moat, then leaned over and brushed foreheads with her best friend.
"What?" Dojy was deep in her contemplation of the tinting.
"Nothing? Your brother? How is he?"
"Do you have another brother, that I don't know about?"
"I was thinking about something else. He's gone."
"O no," Nonawi said. "I'm so sorry. Dojy, that's horrible."
"No. Not that way. He's still somewhere." She waved towards the mountains. "Out there."
Nonawi looked in the direction she was waving. "I don't see him."
"Come on, None. He went to the mountains."
"Is he alright there?"
"I don't know. I guess so. He's real resourceful. I wasn't even thinking about him. I was thinking about something else." Jody wasn't ready to tell Nonawi yet. She wanted to try the sample before she fielded any opinions.
"So aren't they looking for him? Do the police know?"
"My progs can't tell the police. They're so obvious into their pünkscheit. It's disgusting. The police would know right away what it was, and they'd throw Eukan into a protection unit somewhere."
"At least he'd be safe. That's better than being a meal for his progs. Why don't you tell the police?"
"Yeah, like they'd listen to me!"
Nonawi sat down next to Dojy, and dangled her feet in the water. They splashed at each other. Dojy imagined what it would look like if she had blue feet splashing. Ultimate. Beyond the beyond.
"When your brother gets back, I'm going to hug him till he squeaks."
"Eukan doesn't squeak," Dojy said, then they looked at each other and laughed and laughed.
With the evening chill, Eukan found the only way to reheat the blade was to hold it under his armpit, or once the sun had set, to fold it into his groin. Cutting the leaf was a longer job than anything he had read ever told him, and it made him sorry that he hadn't let Ajyck come with him. They could have taken turns. Every muscle in his body ached. He had no choice but to work through the night, through the pain, because he knew his tree was soon to launch its spore pod, and that would be it. "Don't launch yet, not yet. Please let me take your leaves first." Maybe it was crazy to talk to the tree, but this was his tree, and talking to it comforted him. The Etatrehs talked to theirs.
He wasn't aware how long the night went on, but he kept working, and then it started to get light again, and just as the first bar of the sun flashed through a crease in the mountains he heard a sigh, and felt something release, and he hugged the trunk of the tree as both leaves wafted down. They floated as if they weighed no more than feathers. "You only float," he said to them, gripping the trunk with his arms and knees. "But I know how heavy you really are."
When he was half-way shinnied down the trunk he felt a convulsion, and then a wave, like a gulp that rolled up past his belly pressed against the tree, and he looked up to see the pod launch, take off into the wide skyline, and then he lost his grip altogether, and as he fell he thought he was done for, that was it for him; but almost as if it were waiting just for this to happen one of the leaves received him, and it was like falling into the mouth of a dream, and the leaf rolled with him inside, so this was no worse than falling out of bed, onto the carpet, not even waking up. And within this leaf, exhausted as he was, he fell asleep without hesitation.
He woke up several hours later, thinking about his mother, and how hungry he was. He would give anything for a taste of her land-prawn soup, and a ring-neck sandwich. He wiped tears from his cheeks. "Dad," he said. "What can I do now?" He just wanted to talk with his father a little, just a nice discussion like they sometimes had.
"Dad, soon I have to find a sterub trundle spider. I've never seen one, except the small stuffed one at the natural history store in The Brick. A real one can be huge, the size of a giant church bell, the size of a school van. I don't even know if they're extinct. How do I find one, dad?" Talking to a phantom of his dad only made him miserable. He crawled out of the leaf and stretched. He had to start his next chore, which was to connect the two leaves. He had read how to do it many times, but this was for real. He muscled the leaves around so that nobs that were called the "buttons" on one edge of one leaf, lined up with the pores, or "buttonholes" on the other. It was not so easy to get them to join, or button up, as the books had made it seem. It took him late into the afternoon to get it done, and then to loosen the fan-like membranes that served as a rudder and propellor. It was nearly complete, but he was too tired to admire it himself. He fell asleep again as the sun went down, knowing that when he woke up this time he would have to find the sterub, and that would be it.
It was another dawn when he awoke to thunder. Dark clouds tumbled over the mountains. He didn't want the boat to fill with water. Sometimes they spoiled, he'd read, when that happened before the trundle spider did its work. He began the long incantation that was supposed to summon this recalcitrant creature, a creature that was so huge, and yet ate nothing but the aphids off of dew-thistles. He sang this in a language he didn't understand himself, except for this peculiar translation of one of the quatrains:
O, spider, your day for me is here,
The rest was in the language of the Etatreh people. He chanted the whole incantation once, then chanted this again. He pressed himself against the trunk of a tree when the rainshower started. Was he supposed to go on chanting in the rain? Was he supposed to combine the chant with some kind of search? It seemed like empty hocus pocus, suddenly. Cutting leaf was one thing. It was an activity, at least. He was doing something. But this was unfamiliar magic. He kept the incantation going anyway, without listening to himself, as the shower ceased. "O, spider,..." he went on. Suddenly, from around the exact place where he had been sitting before the rain started, something began to move. Then what sounded like an enormous yawn came out of the earth there as a huge thing heaved itself up from the exact tuffet where he had been. Then a sigh came out, and he saw what was its identifying feature, its one human eye. It stared right at Eukan, and blinked. Another high-pitched sigh came out of it. "Yes, yes, yes!" Eukan filled with joy as the enormous thing turned and trundled over to his buttoned leaves, wheezing like an old bachelor who gets out of bed just before dawn, to light the stove under the coffee pot.
She walked in the front door, glanced into the kitchen, and realized she'd better stay away. If a bomb had hit the kitchen, it couldn't have done more damage. As she was hanging her jacket in the hall closet a thud turned her to see a white cloud blow from the kitchen door. A bag of flour had probably hit the floor. When Sitund cooked he always bought it in forty-three pound bags. She didn't know how he did it. If she tried she couldn't scatter ingredients around the room, and throughout the house, as widely as he did. And he did this so lovingly. The noride nuts were displayed clear across the living-room carpet, as if he didn't want anyone to miss them. She picked up a line of tiny, pricey thwyneg trowlap apples Sitund had laid down all the way from the kitchen to the bathroom, as if he needed this trace to find his way back from one to the other. She tasted one. It was like biting into a baby's eye, and it was sweet. As she stepped onto what looked like the field of battle, Sitund in his "Kiss Me I'm A Kitchen Slave" apron reached out for her and scattered the trobet beans across all the counters.
"Sweetheart, are you cooking or redecorating?" She swept some beans aside on the counter to lay down the tub of butter she'd retrieved from off the toilet tank.
"Shut up," he said. "I'm right in the middle of this." They kissed, and he sighed, feigning a melt to the floor. "I can't take it. You'll have to leave, or else I wont ever live to cook again."
"O, my goodness. The melodrama of my man in the kitchen."
"Shut up." He turned back to his mixing bowl. "I have to concentrate on this. I decided to do my yonoletenus this way I never did it before. I always laid it on a bed of feathers. This time I'm making a crust, chopping the feathers and sticking them to a coating of ground noride nuts in a puree of trobet beans. The apples are for stuffing. If I get this just right when I crack it the feathers will separate from the crust, which I can halve into two tasty bowls for vegetables and stuffing. Edible bowls is a great idea." His grin, when he looked at her, made him look really stupid, she thought, but lovable . "So I have to mix it all now, and let it ripen in the refrigerator for three days."
"Then I can't touch you? I can't even kiss you right now? I can't grab your..."
"Shut up. No, I don't mean shut up, shut up. I just need quiet, to concentrate on this. The mixture reaches this critical consistency, and then you drizzle in the buttermilk as soon as the batter starts to dimple. So I have to..."
"After that you'll grab me, and tear off all my clothes, and ravage me across the carpet, through the spilled nuts and beans, and your fingers and your lips will..."
"Shut up...shut up, please!"
Yermyl loved to see him so intense, and so domesticated. "We'll wait and see," she said.
"You wont be disappointed," sang her husband.
Yermyl turned to see Dojy listening in the doorway, but she headed back upstairs, as soon as her mother looked her way. How much had she heard, Yermyl wondered? And what difference did it make? She wasn't about to change things to protect her daughter. It finally had happened that after all this apathy, humdrum family life, tired old marriage, they were ready again to mush each other up every second. It was so rejuvenating. She wasn't going to change this, not even if it confused and embarrassed the kids. She was determined to keep it going, this husband and wife, transported by resurgence of passion. And they couldn't neglect their kids, not so much Dojy, who had this nasty teenage reaction to whatever they did, and they just had to put up with it, to wait her out; but Eukan, who was at that tender age, that stage of developmental succulence. They had to tend to him as carefully as Sitund watched the consistency of his batter.
"Dojy," she called from the bottom of the stairwell. She usually had to call at least three times to get a response. She took a couple of steps up. "Dooooojyy." No response yet. "Dojy, come down here a minute, please."
The door to Dojy's room cracked slightly, "What?" she whined.
"Come down here just a minute."
"Right now? I'm busy, mom."
"Right now, Dojy. When I say so. I'm your mother."
"Big and bushy, my female prog," she mumbled, as she patted her foot dry after the third soak.
"I'm coming, mother," she shouted. "Bush face," she mumbled.
Yermyl was about to head upstairs and grab her, just as her daughter came bouncing down in her bra and bikini underpants.
"Is that the way you dress to come downstairs, young lady?"
"Duh, no mom. Of course not. I made a mistake."
"You know your father's home."
"O, he's cooking. And what's he going to see, anyway? My pubelets?"
"You should be more respectful, Dojy. And when you come downstairs you should always try to look decent. You never know who's here."
"I do look decent, mom. Beyond decent. That's why you notice. You're jealous, mom, of my beautiful body." As soon as she said that she wished she hadn't. She didn't know why she couldn't help being so cruel. Maybe it was the pünkscheit that made her weird too.
Her mother smiled. She'd heard worse from her daughter. This would all pass, she hoped. "I'm your mother, honey. You should show me a little respect, at least."
"Oh, mom, sorry." Dojy lowered her eyes to look at her feet. She wished she was anywhere else. She wished she could grab hold of Shonirra Drof, her own older drone, and point his penis at her mother. That was a cruel thought too. She wished she could go away. She couldn't, though, not while her brother was at risk.
Yermyl followed her daughter's eyes down to her feet. One of them was yellow, up to the shin. "It's gone far enough already, Dojy. You have to tell us where your brother is hiding."
"He's not hiding."
"Then where is he? You know, and you're not telling us."
"Am I my brother's keeper," she sang, sarcastically.
Yermyl sighed with exasperation. When she discussed her Dojy problems with Thyka Abset, her friend at the Shoe Riser and community table, they always came to the same conclusion, that it was a stage that had to be tolerated, and that Dojy would get over this; but in the meanwhile, this was hard to get through day by day. "Why are you being so uncooperative? This is important." Yermyl looked down and clenched her teeth in anticipation of her daughter's response.
"So important that you want to eat him, anyway," Dojy said, as she rubbed her hands together to warm them up. "That's all you want to do." She folded her arms across her chest, feeling a little chilled in her scant clothes.
"You don't really believe that. You don't know what you're talking about."
"Pünkscheit!" Dojy blew the word at her mother like an artillery round.
"I'm almost ready, sweetheart." Sitund leaned his head out the kitchen door, his face covered in a mask of powdered ingredients. "Hi, pretty kitten," he said to his daughter.
"Meow," she replied, maybe a little too sarcastically. She didn't want to feel this way about the progs, but they were different now. In their happiness between themselves the pünkscheit was fine, but for the kids, especially for Eukan, it was a disaster. "If you're so worried about Eukan, why don't you get the police to search for him?" she asked her mother.
Her mother sucked in a breath, and held it. She covered her reddening face with her hands. "It's a family matter," she gasped. "It has nothing to do with the police."
The way of all progs, thought Dojy. "I'm cold. I'm going back upstairs."
"What happened to your foot?" her mother asked.
"That one. It's yellow."
"O," said Dojy, starting to climb the stairs. "I've got a yellow foot now."
The trundle spider stopped working each time Eukan attempted to look at what it was doing, so the youth had to feign sleep to keep the work going, till he eventually actually slept. The trundle worked through the night, and once it was done, a few minutes past dawn, it shook Eukan awake. He looked over, and couldn't believe it. A finished boat! "It's beautiful, thank you, spider," he said. "It's so beautiful," he shouted to the spider again, to the forest, to the mountains, to the sky.
The spider then raised up on all its legs, and in one leap it landed on top of Eukan, and pressed him into the ground. "I'm not really a spider," he thought he heard the spider grumble, in a voice that was like big rocks rolling over each other. He lay there under it for a long time, pressed into the dirt. It wasn't heavy, but like a dream of weight pushing him down in the earth. He stayed there till he realized the spider, or whatever, wasn't going to move again, and he would have to crawl out from under. He did this with some difficulty, and slowly, because the creature, whatever it was, let out little cries of pain. Why would these slow movements hurt it? He creeped even more slowly. He was the one being crushed, who should be crying in pain. Finally he fought his way out, freed his body and stood up. When he looked back he saw what had originally been there, a large tuffet. Not a spider at all.
The boat was so beautiful, wide in the beam, and deep, symmetrical at bow and stern. The spider, or whatever it was, had sealed the central seam perfectly, and its narrow keel was penetrated at intervals, for when he wanted to bolt a wider keel onto it, for his journey into the rougher deeps. The gunwales were a hardened extrusion of the trundle's "silk", that stretched and curved the sides of the boat, widening some pores through which he could later thrust the oars. There was a convenient notch at the stern, to which he could attach a biological motor should he find a propellor plant. And he had to fashion a rudder, and fix that in place, too. Now that it was over with, everything seemed to have been so easy. He forgot about the terror he'd felt getting there, the thoughts that he might be lost forever, and the dangers of cutting the leaf. That's all he'd really done, he thought, was cut the leaves, and then button them together. Whatever it was, what he'd known as sterub trundle spider, had done the rest. Now he had this wonderful boat, thanks to those Etatreh peoples who first developed the way to make this, and originally trained the spider to do this work. All Eukan had left to do was to get the boat safely into the water.
By his estimation, the river was about two hundred and fifty feet away. He had hoped the spider would have stuck around long enough to help him launch his craft. He loved calling something his "craft". How could he move so much weight by himself? He was just fifteen years old, and of an average size, and he knew the limits of his own strength. If his dad were here to help him, he would think nothing of it. Even Dojy could be a help, though she'd complain all the time. And Ajyck, of course. But this was his own problem, and so far he had worked it out alone, and now had to finish alone. The pünkscheit progs, as Dojy called them, were his own problem, even though his sister worried about it a lot. He had to face it himself. No one else he knew, not even Ajyck, expressed interest in building this boat. This was his project, win or lose; his to solve, his to surrender. He rubbed his hands together the way he saw his father do when he was about to get down to work. He saw a corridor clear to the river, if he moved some branches, and trimmed a little. And he could roll it probably on some of the logs fallen hereabouts, but would have to trim and debark them, too, to make them smooth for rolling. He went down the bank to the river, which was just a large brook at this point. It seemed deep enough to float his "craft". Wait till he showed it to Ajyck and the rest of his gawks. He started working, and felt an elation he had never felt before. A great energy of joy embraced him, and he popped a boner as he worked, and couldn't explain it, and was glad he didn't have to. All day he labored at clearing the track, and trimming rollers. There was no way this wouldn't work. None of his gawks had ever done something like this. "Thank you, Etatreh people," he stopped to say occasionally, then dipped into the brook and splashed the sweat off himself, and ate the little clickfish he caught sucking on his fingers. Exposure to air cooked and crisped them instantly.
To expand the barbecue pit Sitund had to work during the day, when his neighbor wasn't home. He lined it with stones taken off the wall that separated his yard from the yard of Borter Lalvud, with whom he'd had his differences. The neighbor claimed this fence was one hundred percent on his side of the line. Sitund said it split the line. The original barbeque pit was big enough for a yonoletenus goose, but not for whatever else they were going to roast on the spit at this coming family celebration. So he extended it in each direction, a shallow pit, lined with flat stones, that he would soon cover with charcoal. At one end it was a little deeper, where he would bury the goose in its tasty jacket, but the rest was exactly the right depth, over which a spit could turn slowly, something special on it, fat rendering onto the glowing coals in pops of blue flame.
He had to shop for charcoal, paper plates, salad fixings, beer and assorted soft drinks and wanted to get that done this afternoon, have it over with, so he wouldn't have to make a last minute run. In the house Dojy moved around her window, half dressed or half naked, depending on how you looked at her. Eukan still hadn't showed up from wherever. The picnic was for him mostly; in fact, without him it would be an empty ritual. Not to worry, however. He was confident his son would be back in time. However he wasn't so confident his wife would get back with the van in time for him to go shopping. He needed the van because their old picnic table was rotted out, and he was going to buy a new one for the occasion. If Yermyl got back, he could get all this done. Part of her sweetness was that she was so vague, and it didn't really register with her that he might need the van, even though he'd told her. She seemed oblivious to the fact that stores closed, days ended, someone had a deadline, and even that someone might really want to see her. None of this really got through.
Five forty, and he finally heard the van pull up, the door slam, and there in the entryway was his Yermyl. Ohhh! He forgot everything. He melted. They fused. All their embraces were so intense these days, full of meaning.
"You got back just in time. I hope I can still get everything done."
"I said I'd be back. What did you expect?"
"Nothing, sweetheart. I just don't want to let the family down. We're soon going to celebrate. I want everything to be perfect." He took the van keys from her hand.
"Everyone trusts you. Don't worry. You're our pillar of strength." She looked into the kitchen, and the living room. "Is he upstairs?"
"No. Not home yet."
"The celebration will be stupid without him. It won't be a picnic."
"He'll be here. Don't worry. I dug a new pit. I'm going to get a new picnic table. He'll be here. Just have faith. Our son is a satisfier." He and his wife melted into each other again. "Yum," he said. "I'd better get going."
Eukan had actually returned, and was in the house. He had climbed through a basement window and had slipped undetected up to his sister's room, and was helping her tint her foot green, as he told her, in excited bursts, the story of his boat, his trip down the river.
"... like the boat did most of it by itself ... a pair of propellor plants for a small biomotor ... didn't even have to stimulate it ... a rudder but it steered itself ... awesome fast boat ... should have seen Ajyck and those gawks ... I built it ... glides so smooth ... a cloud on the wind ... you have to see it, Dojy..."
"Okay. I'll come see it, but first you've got to hold the foot really still, Euk, or else you're no help." She was applying the special wax in a star design, to practice this masking, so a yellow star would shine through. She wanted to get really good at this, so when she did the final teal she could make an elaborate something all over her body. What could it be? A big dragon, maybe? Something drashy beyond drash. Maybe a dramatic tortoise on skates. She would do something to make the empty emptier.
"It went so easy on the top of the shallowest rapids ... spin around and around but never even wobbled ... I love my boat ... I love my boat..."
"Hold it like this." She twisted her foot. "And don't let it move."
Eukan gripped her foot. She was his sister, and he loved her a lot; but sometimes he couldn't figure out why she did what she did. "And it's like my boat steered by itself all the way down here. It came right down here. I didn't have to do anything."
"Well bugbug, Eukan. The river only goes one way, from there to here. Besides, you've got to get away from here soon. A good thing you've got that boat."
"Dojy, why are you making your foot green?"
"Dojy," they heard their mother call, as she started up the stairs. Eukan dived into the closet. "Dojy!" Her mother threw open the door. "Why don't you ever answer me?" She looked around the room.
"I answer you."
"You should answer right away." She looked down at Dojy's foot, and wrinkled her nose. "You'll clean up your room, and help me straighten up downstairs. Picnic's tomorrow. Big barbecue, sweetheart." She pointed at the foot. "Looks like a disease."
"A barbecue, huh?"
"If your brother ever gets back. It'll be pointless without him."
"Brother, yum yum," she said, sarcastically. "Sadder if he comes. Is he a missing person yet?"
"After tomorrow we'll worry about that, if he doesn't show up. Now we have sheets and tablecloth to iron. Pillowcases."
She reached out to open the closet where Eukan was hiding. Dojy pushed her hand away, and stepped in front of the door.
"What are you doing? That's my closet."
"While you're living in this house, young lady, and not paying rent..."
"What do you want? It's my closet."
"I was just going to grab some of your old sneakers and take them to the heap."
"The stupid heap. I'll bring them down later, okay. Stay out of my closet."
Yermyl almost shoved her aside, anyway. An object lesson. She was still nothing but a kid, as long as she was a dependent. Her closet. Really. What did she keep in there? Some time she'd come up when Dojy wasn't home and go through the mess herself, but she'd let it pass for now. The joys of motherhood, indeed. Try it some time with teenagers. "So come down and help me out with the ironing."
"I don't do ironing." Dojy said that to be nasty. She didn't like herself this way, but her mother sometimes was so clueless and bossy.
"Okay, but you help me with the wash." Yermyl was grateful for any small victory.
Dojy lifted her green foot, as if to flaunt it. Her mother wrinkled her nose. "I don't know why you do these things to yourself," Yermyl said.
"I want a foot of a different color," Dojy said, self-righteously, and then she laughed at herself.
"Well, you've sure got one now." Her mother laughed, too. Sometimes she almost seemed to understand. She'd been a bridey herself at one time, though they didn't call themselves that, back in the old times.
Eukan slipped out of the closet, as soon as he heard his mother go back downstairs.
"It's time you better leave," Dojy whispered. "You heard what she was saying. You've got to get away from here.
Eukan rubbed his hands down his cheeks. "Not yet. I can't yet. I have to figure everything out, first."
"What do you have to figure out? You heard her say barbecue. Do I have to convince you again that pünkscheit is coming?"
"No. Yes. I can't think about it." Eukan laughed.
"It's not a joke."
"I don't think it's a joke. It just doesn't seem real. It seems so stupid. Mom and dad can't be that stupid."
"How long's it been since we've had a barbecue? Pure and simple pünkscheit is what they're into. Nonawi's family did him in midwinter, and they had a big boil. Yuk, boiled meat. Turned Verri into like a lobster. They feasted on him like a couple of cannibals. And they're schooteachers. It sounds too silly to talk about, but it's real, and it's horrible."
"You'd like barbecued brother better, anyway. Right?" Dojy screwed up her face in exasperation. Even though he knew this was happening, Eukan couldn't take it seriously while he was in his own home. He'd always felt secure here. "At least I got to build my boat."
"Eukan, look straight at this. It's not about building a boat. It's not a hobby. It's keeping you alive so I can have a brother. You can't be just some meal for the progs. I don't want to have to look at them and say, `There's my brother, in their bellies.'"
"You shouldn't call them progs."
"You better leave now." She stomped her yellow foot for emphasis.
"I'm already gone, Dojy. But first I've got to get some of my things organized, figure out what I want to take, tell all my gawks goodbye. I can't just leave, like leave. In a couple of days I'll be ready."
He was gruelly, far beyond exasperation. "And in the meanwhile you're going to stay in the house?"
"I guess so."
"Sleep here? In your own room? Don't do it."
"Yes. I will." Her objection made him more stubborn.
"They'll find you for sure. Then you'll be toast, I mean worse than burnt. Eukan, you are such a gruel."
"Why do you use those weird words? Prog? Gruel?"
"You call them your gawks. What kind of word is that?"
"That's what they are. What's a gruel?"
No one had to convince Ajyck to stay with the boat. It was love, immediately, first sight. He would have been there even if Eukan hadn't asked him. He was so in awe of his friend who had built this, had made the trek into the mountains, and brought this back. Eukan was definitely the most elevated of all the gawks in Monisantaca, in their circle or in any other. Ajyck saw the boat and knew immediately that this was where he was going to stay forever. Live in this boat. Home in this boat. Heaven in this boat. He packed everything of his own he could take away from Ronyalmy's house. She was his foster mother, and she was okay, but she was getting older and would be relieved he was gone anyway. She'd do better with another kid, a girl, which she preferred. He and Eukan could leave Monisantaca altogether, leave all the parents, and all the circles of gawks, and all the schoolteachers and coaches and his music tutor, whom he loved; but so what! He'd take his trombone. It would be so great to practice as they floated down the river. Eukan would have his mandolin. It was a little scary, but they were both ready to leave, Eukan to escape the pünkscheit, Ajyck just to leave and find out what his own life was going to be. Mandolin trombone duets all the way to Slegeslona and beyond.
As soon as he woke up, and washed his face in the river, and ate a few of the biscuits Ronyalmy had packed for him, he took his trombone out of its case, put a mute in the bell, and sat down on the stool she had let him take from the house. It gave him a little twinge to think of how nice his foster mom was, and how these biscuits were the taste of his final separation from her. He played a few long blue notes in honor of Ronyalmy, of Monisantaca, of all his gawks, though not Eukan who was on his side of the blues, but of all the teachers, of his kayaking coach, of everything he was soon going to leave behind.
It was those long muted trombone notes that Eukan was shocked to hear as he approached the boat in the morning. He saw the tarp stretched over the stern, and couldn't believe Ajyck had let this happen. Someone was in the boat. When he looked over the gunwale he was even more disturbed to see it was Ajyck himself. He had trusted his friend just to guard it; but here he was taking up all the space, his stuff piled up like junk under the tarp in the stern.
"Ajyck! What's going on? What's all this stuff doing here?"
"It's all what we'll need."
"It's my boat, Ajyck. I made this boat." Something had been violated, he felt. When he brought it down the river it had been so pristinely his and now someone had filled this most private secret sacred space with alien stuff. "This is my boat, Ajyck."
"It's just...If we leave, I thought...We can use all this..."
"When did I say you could come with me?"
"We always talk about it, how we were leaving together, how we were going to go, what we were going to eat. Now why are you being stupid? I thought this time..."
"It's my boat. Who asked you to stuff it up like this? I don't know where I'll end up. I'm the one who has to get out of here. It'll be dangerous, and weird. You don't know how weird it's already been."
"So? That's even more why I have to come. You can't do this without me."
"I can. I already built my boat. I already got this far."
"This far is only where you started from."
"So what? It wasn't easy. I did it myself. You didn't even see what I had to do."
"You could have done it better if I was there."
Eukan clenched his fists. "What could be better than this boat? You can't come. What makes you think you can come?"
"I'm coming. I already left."
"You can't come."
"I'm coming. I said goodby to Ronyalmy already. She gave me this stool."
"Yak yak yak yak yak," mocked Dojy, looking down from over the gunwale. Nonawi peeked her head over too. Eukan saw them, and puffed a short gust of chagrin at being nudged out of the argument. Ajyck sat back down with his trombone, and blew some spit out the spitvalve.
"Wow, look at this," said Nonawi, jumping into the boat. "It's so big."
"My brother, Eukan, built this," Dojy said, proudly, as she followed her friend into the boat. "By himself, alone."
"And all this good stuff you've got to take with you," Nonawi said, looking at Ajyck's possessions piled neatly under the tarp.
"It's just stuff," Eukan said, grumpily. "I don't need any stuff."
Nonawi stepped closer to him, and put a hand on his head. She was several inches taller than he. "What do you mean? I see a sleeping bag, a shovel, what must be a tent. There's a box of food. You'll need everything when you go." She looked at Dojy, then pulled Eukan against her body. "I told you I just wanted to squeeze him," she said to Dojy.
"Fumm nopf fing nywhff," said Eukan, as she held his face pressed into her breasts.
"What?" Nonawi pushed him away, to arm's length. "What did you say, sweety?"
"I'm not going to go anywhere."
Ajyck, who was softly imitating the sounds of their conversation on his trombone, blew a dramatic low note at this last statement.
"Eukan!" Dojy was alarmed. "When did you decide this now? You can't not go. That's crazy. Tell him, Nonawi."
"That's crazy," she said.
"Tell him more."
"Your whole life is in danger." She tried to hold him again, but he pushed away. "Your whole future." Nonawi wiped some tears from her eyes.
The boy grouched around, looking at Ajyck who continued calmly playing notes. Eukan brushed the slide of the trombone with his knee, and made an aggressive grunt.
"Tell him more. Tell him what happened to your brother," Dojy insisted.
"I can't tell that. I don't ever want to think about it again."
Ajyck played a long c sharp, and Eukan flicked the bell of his trombone with the back of his hand. "I wont go anywhere. I don't care. I live here."
"You can't live here, and live, Eukan."
"I don't care."
"Tell him, Nonawi."
Nonawi sank to her haunches, back pressed against the side of the boat. "Okay. I'm going to tell you about this. It's a horrible story, and I never tried to tell anyone before. If I even think about it I'm crazy for weeks. But I have to help you. Eukan. I don't want Dojy to lose her brother like I lost mine. This is what happened to my brother. Do you remember Verri Hoxnepi? My big brother? You don't, do you?"
"No." Eukan mumbled.
"You know what happened to him, don't you?"
Eukan covered his mouth with his hand. "Only what Dojy told me."
"I told him what I knew." Dojy shrugged.
Nonawi lowered her eyes, and pulled in a deep breath. "I don't think I can."
"Please tell him," Dojy said.
Eukan moved closer to her, and Ajyck blew air through his horn. "Tell me what happened to him. Please," Eukan said, softly, as Ajyck started to climb the B minor scale.
"He was my big brother," Nonawi began. "And I was only twelve, and I didn't know about the pünkscheit, the way Dojy does; otherwise, I would have helped him." She paused and sighed.
"Now you've got little Ralck Agelb, and he's a cute little drone, very handsome, I'm told," Dojy tried to reassure Nonawi.
"I don't...I can't even look at him; I mean, I should. He's my little brother; but it's like I know why he's here and I miss Verri Hoxnepi so much. I don't even want to see any Ralck, even if he's perfect kid. I can't..."
She stopped again to still her sobs, and they listened to Ajyck slowly step down the b minor again. Then she went on. "Late that night I woke up. I thought it was because the ticking of the clock my mom had just put in our room was so loud, and I looked at the clock, then I saw my mom and dad kissing by Verri's bed. They kept kissing forever, and then when they finally separated I saw Verri lying on the bed, on top of his blankets, all naked. Right then I knew something was wrong, but I didn't dare make a noise. I remember the time. The clock said it was three thirty-three when they picked my brother up, his whole body. I don't know if he was dead yet, or what, but they carried him out of the room. I waited a moment, and then I followed them. As they carried him down the stairs they were singing a song, like "Where Have All The Flowers Gone". I hate that song. I followed and they hauled him into the kitchen, where there was a huge pot boiling, like I'd never seen a pot that big before, and it took up the whole surface of the stove, all the burners. They laid my brother out on the counter, and his arm and leg slipped off and he almost flopped to the floor, but they caught him. I couldn't see if he was breathing or anything. I hope he wasn't. I hope he was dead already, and couldn't hear my dad sharpen the carving knife, swiiip swiip swiip, and then I hope he couldn't feel anything when my dad cut through his belly. The guts slopped into a bucket my mother was holding." Nonawi paused to wipe some tears from her eyes. "Do you want to hear the rest of this?" she asked Eukan. Eukan grinned meekly, and shrugged.
"Did you watch the rest of it?" Ajyck asked, putting down his horn.
"I saw all of it," Nonawi said.
Dojy sank to her haunches, and held her hair wrapped around her face.
"Then you should tell it," Ajyck said.
Nonawi looked at Ajyck as if he was a hostile stranger, then she continued. "It was so messy, so much stuff inside my brother, and blood, and dad kept cutting and mom kept cleaning up, except when they stopped to kiss again. They kissed plenty, and I watched it all. They had him down to a carcass, with the skin still on. He seemed so small just as a carcass. "That's good enough," mom said, and they stepped back from the job they did, leaned against each other, and held hands. "Thank you Verri Hoxnepi," they said. "You are a good son." Then they folded my brother up, and dropped him into the boiling pot. I remember the first rays of morning stabbing me through the kitchen window, through the steam that rose from the water that had splashed to the floor, and I remember his hair, a long braid of hair he had, hanging over the rim of the pot."
"He was so empty," Dojy sobbed. "He was drash beyond drash beyond the beyond." She was crying.
"Yes, he was, Dojy. He really was, wasn't he? You should have known him, Eukan. So what I did was when my progs went outside, and they were doing that morning sun thing they still do, I went down to the pot, and cut off Verri's braid, and took it back to bed with me, and wrapped myself all around it, thinking maybe I could bring my brother back with just my own little body. That braid is all I have left of him. Still I sometimes comb it out and braid it again. It's all I have." She paused and looked around. No one was looking at her. Dojy had pulled Eukan down to herself, and was trying to hug him. Ajyck sat on his stool, his trombone at his feet, his fingers tapping on the bell. "That's about it," Nonawi said. "I never told this before. It's weird to tell it. It feels different."
"Did you ever eat any?" Ajyck asked.
She screwed up her face at him again as if he were some kind of alien antagonist, but she answered. "I couldn't have. Progs don't offer that meat to the sister, but I could never, anyway. Who could? Oh, yes, about a week after they sogged him I came home early for lunch. Both progs were still at school, teaching. I went into the garage, and there was Verri Hoxnepi's head propped on a rotating plant stand my mom had once used for winter narcissus. This had almost become his skull. It was streaked with black, and the cheeks sagged ready to fall off, lips shrunk back against the gums, teeth all yellowed and gross. It didn't even look like Verri, but who else would it be? Anyway, I pulled up a chair and sat down there, spinning the top of the plant stand slowly, and just looking at Verri Hoxnepi. I sat there for hours, till I heard my mom's car. I didn't say a word to him, because I knew he couldn't ever answer me again. Before I left him in the garage I kissed him goodby, his yellow teeth."
"You kissed, kissed it?" Dojy wrinkled up her face.
"That was my brother. What would you do? That was the last I saw my brother."
"You didn't even have to look at all that. You could have walked away," Ajyck shouted. While everyone was listening to Nonawi, he had untied the boat at the bow so it flagged out into the river, and then he had pulled out his antique bayonet from his stash and had run balanced along the gunwale and stood on the stern with the bayonet raised ready to cut the boat totally loose. "Since when is there a law somewhere that you have to watch? It was your choice. This place is too crazy, and anyone else gets crazy too. You could have turned your back, gone somewhere else. We should burn the whole place down. You're not a grown-up. You didn't have to watch that nasty stuff."
Dojy had bunched herself up into a ball of sobs, rocking in the middle of the boat.
"What are you doing, Ajyck?" Eukan suddenly roused himself from the tragic revery. "Don't cut it. Don't cut that."
"We're all gonna go. We can't stay here. We're all going." Ajyck lifted the bayonet above his head.
"Ajyck, drop that thing. This is my boat. If you cut that rope, it's mutiny. And you're not my friend after that."
"We're not...we can't be...we're leaving." He brought the bayonet down in a broad slash against the rope, but the edge was too dull, and the bayonet sprang back up, almost tossing Ajyck into the water. He knelt down then and sawed across the rope, trying to sever it thread by thread.
Eukan picked up Ajyck's trombone, and held it over the water. "If you cut any more, I'm dropping this into the river. Say goodby to your happy bone."
At first Dojy thought, after hearing the story, it wouldn't be so bad to leave right then. Everything about Monisantaca seemed calamity and horror. Then she remembered she hadn't finished her body tinting, and she didn't want to leave anywhere till she proved to herself she would do it, till she finished enough to display herself for all of her brideys.
When she spotted Lenoci and Negger strolling along the wharf she immediately coiled up the bow rope and called out to them. "Catch this, Lenoci, Negger. We're drifting." Negger immediately released Lenoci, and grabbed the rope when Dojy threw it, pulled the bow into the wharf, and tied it off. The dispute between Eukan and Ajyck ended when they both saw Lenoci. Neither of them had ever had the thought that anyone could be so thoroughly punctured.
"Is that your friend?" Eukan asked, waving the trombone at her. Nonawi, then Dojy, climbed out of the boat. Ajyck grabbed his trombone.
"Why did she do that to herself?" Ajyck asked, as the two girls ran over to greet their friends.
Dojy turned back and looked at her brother and his friend. They suddenly looked very young to her in that big boat. "Gruel number one," she said, pointing at her brother. "And gruel number two." She turned back to her friends and they all walked away.
Everything he had once called home was suddenly strange to Eukan, his room and all his stuff, as if nothing could be his any more, nothing belonged to him any more, not even the precious baffler coat his father had given him on his fourteenth birthday, not even the Tighovnoj trilogy that he had wanted so badly to read again. The Kerpar Yespo suction sandals, that would be so useful in a boat, seemed to belong on other feet than his. The heavy sweater he'd inherited from his sister, that even shed water, seemed an artifact from someone else's life. Suddenly everything from his past had been drained of himself, all because he was deciding to go against his parents' wishes, to save his own life. Maybe it was the wrong thing to do, maybe he should stick around to see what this pünkscheit was all about. How could it be so bad? He had always loved his parents, not like some of the gawks he knew, who would throw up when you mentioned a mom and a dad. But Nonawi's story of her brother's head turning on a plant stand hung in his mind. Winter narcissus? He didn't even know what that looked like. Life is bizarre; at least, that's what he was finding out. He couldn't imagine his mom and dad barbecuing his body, or anything like that. If it wasn't for Dojy he would probably stick around, even if it was true, and they seemed compelled to make him into meals. How weird that sounded. He was their one son. He was only young. How could they do this? He couldn't go against their wishes now, when he'd always been so obedient. What was life worth if he had to abandon his mom and his dad? Go against the will of his father, disappoint his mother? So many other boys had faced their fate, why shouldn't he? Some had even survived. He wanted to live the rest of his life. His mom and dad loved each other. They loved him too. He was sure of that. Abraham loved Jacob. He was sure of that too. All this stuff, he thought, as he packed his duffle. All this stuff doesn't belong to the person who will carry it away. Without the parents none of it would even be here, and neither would I. He looked in the mirror. "Who are you?" he asked, but he got no reply, nothing to encourage him to do this, nor to discourage him from doing that.
Very early in the morning Sitund emptied the last of twelve bags of charcoal into the freshly dug pit, and sprayed it all with charcoal starter. Yermyl, who was watching from the doorway, crossed the yard to take his hand. It felt so sweet to lean against each other, in the warmth and security of a renewing relationship.
"We'll light it now," Sitund said. "And keep it burning through tomorrow so we're sure all the bitter fumes are seared out of the fresh dug roots, and it'll seal the ground underneath, and then everything will be ready for the goose, and for whatever else attends our barbecue."
They both looked up at the window of Eukan's room. "Did you see that?" Yermyl asked, agitated.
"What? That?" he pointed at the window.
"Yes." They'd both seen a shadow cross the shade pulled down over Eukan's window. "He's home."
They turned to each other and embraced, kissing deeply. "He's home," they said in unison, as they leaned back from each other.
"I hope you got some crispy puffducks," Yermyl said. "I want Dojy to enjoy this too, and she's always been able to eat a roasted puffduck, even now though she's such a fussy thing."
"Good idea. I'll go get some." Sitund looked up to Eukan's window again. His heart swelled with yearning for his son. "Everything'll be perfect for him."
"He will be perfect, by and by. Perfection will be our son," cooed Yermyl.
Sitund and Yermyl would create perfection. That was their goal as ultimate parents.
That afternoon, Sitund added more charcoal and raked the coals across the pit in order to get an even glow throughout. It was pleasing to see the glow vary as a light breeze played across. This was all was according to his design. As he looked up at the border of his yard, he saw his son dragging a duffel along the fence, trying to hide behind the sparse shrubbery. Sitund ran around to confront his boy at the gate.
"Eukan, where have you been?" asked Sitund, in a pleasant tone.
"I've been to the mountains," said Eukan, staring at the ground.
"Alone, my son? To the mountains?"
"Alone, sir. I was alone as I went there," Eukan said, and then he mumbled, "And now I am alone as well."
Sitund gripped the boy's thin arm with his big hand, and pulled him into the yard, towards the barbecue pit. "My son, you are still a child. You must not do something like that without permission, without our supervision and advice."
"I am sorry sir; I had no choice." Eukan felt his father's grip. The pain was a revelation, pressing down to the bone. As his father dragged him closer to the pit, he began to feel the heat. "What have you done here, sir? For whom are you burning these coals?"
"This is our barbecue pit, my son." The coals sparked and reddened, as if a wind had crossed the pit, and a wave of heat engulfed them.
"FATHER," the boy shouted, so loud that he startled Sitund who lost his grip on the arm. Eukan sprang back. His son had never addressed him so formally before, had called him dad and pop and sir, but never "father", and never so loud. Sitund felt in this a tone of condemnation, and felt a vague wave of guilt, a premonition of remorse, but he brushed it off and reached out to grab the boy again.
Eukan jumped back from him again. "Father, what will we roast in this barbecue pit?"
"We will..." His father lunged at him again, and missed. His voice faltered. "...mmmorrow we will see ... nnnnot today."
"Eukan," Dojy shouted, as she stepped from the kitchen door, then she bounded into the yard, wearing nothing but her bikini underpants. Sitund gazed at his daughter, and was amazed. She had finished the teal tint on her legs, and had figured a design of orange flowers on a pale green vine, starting from her ankles, and opening onto her thighs. She found she had a talent for this, and it was going faster even than she had hoped it would. In her mind she had a picture of the animals she wanted up her back, and across her breasts. She would need help for that.
"You should cover yourself, daughter," said Sitund, staring at her. "What have you done to your legs?"
"My legs?" she said, happy to see that she'd distracted her father long enough for Eukan to run back to the gate, grab his duffel, and disappear. "I don't understand. What about my legs?"
"Your legs have that peculiar color on them."
"Well, father. That is my color from now on."
Her father noticed suddenly that Eukan was gone, and he looked to the gate, and took a few steps as if to go out himself. Then he gave up. "Oh,well. He'll be back," Sitund said.
"I'm afraid he will," Dojy said, and she looked into her father's face, into his eyes, and for the first time saw the sadness and confusion there.
On the following morning, when the queer pale tints of dawn raised their green veils from the western horizon, and in all the tallest mediroome trees the crubeliwlis birds awoke to sound their yawning songs, Sitund and Yermyl stole from their beds and crept through the hallway to their son's bedroom. Sitund concealed behind his back a net knotted of the strongest sisal hemp, reinforced with a finely drawn steel filament. Yermyl also held the net with two small fingers of her left hand. She turned the doorknob slowly to Eukan's room, and pushed. The hinges squeaked slightly as the door slowly swung, and a body stirred in its bed, under the thin blanket. They paused, and listened to their son's breath, as it deepened again. "Nice respiration," Sitund whispered, as they turned to kiss lightly on the lips. "Regular and deep," said Yermyl, and then they entered the room, and stopped at the foot of the bed. They paused again to listen, and to synchronise their breathing with their son's. Yermyl carefully rolled back the blanket. Eukan was wearing the pajamas she had bought him last November, and already he was outgrowing them. She went back to the foot of the bed and took up the net again, and with the father to the left, the mother to the right, as it has always been done within the collective memory of Monisantaca, they drew the net over the whole length of their son's body, and lifted his feet to tuck it under, and they wrapped it around the rest of his body, and lastly under the pillow in which his face was buried. They allowed him his pillow. They could do that.
"Our son sleeps soundly," said the mother. "It is perfect."
"He sleeps four dreams of tomorrow, and three of yesterday," said the father. He'd heard that said before, though he didn't know what it meant.
They pulled the net so it gathered tightly around the body of their son, but when he turned they saw they had made a serious mistake, for in the night their son and daughter had switched beds, and where they expected to see the face of Eukan Severe staring from the net, they actually saw the smiling face of Dojy Resoft, their daughter.
Sitund Monfahf rubbed his unshaven chin in confusion, and Yermyl Perset folded and unfolded her hands, as if trying to wash them in the air.
"Father, mother, what are you doing to me?" Dojy asked.
"Father? Mother?" Eukan bolted upright from a deep sleep he had finally entered after lying awake in his sister's bed for most of the night. The unfamiliar room startled him at first, but then he remembered everything, and quickly dressed, and slung a bag over his shoulder, and went out the door. He paused at a distance from the door to his room and saw his family in there, struggling to get Dojy out of the net. "Goodby for now. Goodby," he said. His eyes brimmed with tears, as he rushed down the stairs to the street.
As soon as his father caught a glimpse of Eukan, he turned to pursue.
"Before you go anywhere, get me out of this dungy net," Dojy insisted.
"Why is your belly that color?" Yermyl asked.
"And your back too?" Sitund pointed.
"I told you. Because this is the color that I am from now till forever," she said, as she leapt free.
Her progs turned and rushed out of the room to pursue their escaping son.
Eukan ran towards the center of town as streetlights shut off in the morning from block to block. As he trotted down the street towards The Kick, past the streetpickers scavenging cans and bottles in the morning, past streetwashers hosing down the grime, past delivery trucks tossing bundles of newspapers, he saw Ajyck in the square, talking with Ryga Yesbu, another of his gawks, and then Theki Dracanire joined him, and from behind the famous Shoe Riser, Tocst Nengl appeared. Almost all his gawks were there. He shouldn't stop, he thought. He should untie his boat and be on his way. But here was Ajyck. Was Ajyck coming with him, or not?
"Eukan, yeah, Eukan," they all said, batting their fists and the backs of their wrists together in their salute.
"What's going on, so early?" Eukan asked.
"We're waiting for Bybob Lawrek," Ajyck said.
"He's bringing the juice," said Tocst.
"What juice?" Eukan asked.
Just then Bybob came running around the corner, pushing a wheelbarrow in front of himself, containing several jugs full of something. What? It smelled like lamp oil to Eukan.
"Okay, quick, let's get this done," Ajyck said.
"Get what done?" Eukan asked.
"Someone has to do it," Ajyck said. Eukan watched them take a jug in each hand, and run over to throw it onto the Shoe Riser. They quickly soaked the whole base and splashed it against the sides, then stepped back, all but Ajyck who lifted a box of long matches in the air. "Count down," he said. Shopkeepers had started to unlock their gates, oblivious to what the boys were doing.
"Eight and a half," Eukan's gawks all shouted. "Seven and a half ... six and a half..." Eukan couldn't resist counting with them. "Three and a half ... two and a half ... one and a half ..." Ajyck struck one of the matches, then lit all the others "Ignition ... one half ..." Ajyck ran around the base of the heap, tossing lit matches as he ran. "... minus one half."
Ajyck reached Eukan, and grabbed his arm. "Come on. You've got to get going." He looked up the street. "I think I see your dad coming." Flames crept slowly through the shoe heap as they ran out of the Kick. Eukan saw his father a long way up the street. The other gawks disappeared in different directions, while Eukan and Ajyck ran to the wharf. Ajyck stopped by the pile of his stuff he had removed from the boat.
"Get in. I'll push you off."
"What is this?" Eukan asked.
"It's my stuff. You said you don't want me to come, so I'm..."
Eukan started to toss Ajyck's gear back into the boat. He'd had other things on his mind, so he hadn't thought about this, but he knew deep down he didn't want to go without Ajyck.
"You're stealing my stuff," Ajyck said.
"Shut up, and get your stuff in the boat," Eukan shoved him.
Black smoke rose behind them.
"Eukan, Eukan Severe," his father shouted, running down the wharf.
He and Ajyck tossed the rest of everything into the boat, and Eukan untied the bow, and they both jumped in as Sitund got closer. Behind his head flames from the Kick started to lick the rising sun.
"Eukan Severe! What do you think you're doing?" Sitund dove head first and grabbed the rope at the stern. "Who gave you permission to do this?"
"We are your parents," Yermyl cried plaintively, as she arrived just behind her husband.
Eukan pulled a leather sheath from his duffel, and raised it above his head. It was the Clenac Jectorp, given him by his grandfather just before he died. "I unsheathe thee now," Eukan declared, his voice cracking with adolescence for the last time. He pulled the saber from the sheath, and jumped to point of the stern and with one swing nicked his father's hand as he cut through the thick rope.
"Ahhh, my son," cried his father.
All the sirens of Monisantaca were wailing, and Ajyck pulled out his trombone to join them with one long sliding note. Dojy arrived at the wharf, followed by many of her brideys, and all of their gawks lined up at the riverside now to wish Eukan and Ajyck safe travel.
"We love you, Eukan Severe, brother mine." Dojy shouted as she followed the boat. She tossed a neatly wrapped bundle that bounced off the side, and into the water. "Get them," she shouted. "My gift, just for you." Ajyck laid his belly across the gunwale and with an oar flipped the packet into the air so Eukan could grab it, then he tore open the packet. His heart seemed to turn over as he showed the contents to Ajyck. It was warmworms, phroa warmworms. This was the first time his sister had ever let him have any. He jumped up and down, and waved, and blew kisses at her. Dojy and all her brideys followed them as far as they could, skating laterally along the riverwalk, blowing kisses across the water.
As they drifted down the river the young men leaned against the starboard side of the little boat, and watched Monisantaca retreat from them. Black smoke rose from the smoldering Shoe Riser monument and, as if in sympathy, Bysbu volcano behind the town sent up puffs of its own, white steam clean as a dream.
"Why did you do that? Why did you burn it?" Eukan asked Ajyck, as they both looked back, their eyes wet with tears.
"I told you, someone had to do it," said Ajyck. "Now it will burn forever."
"Forever is a long time," said Eukan Severe.
"Not if you live only once," Ajyck Nach responded, then he slapped the wall of the boat. "What do we call this boat? I want to call it, "Rylinma Noorem", so beautiful and delicious and so sexy. And you built it. And we're on it."
"It's called The Etatreh," Eukan said.
"You're so serious, so serious about everything. We should give it a sexy woman's name. Mau Ruthnam, for instance. Something to keep us going."
"Well. I was almost cooked into a barbecue boy," Eukan grinned. "I think that's serious. This boat comes from an ancient source; it's like... It's sacred."
Ajyck shook his head, stroked his chin. "Well... Okay, Eukan. Serious it is. This is great. The Etatreh it is!" With unparalleled agility he jumped up and balanced on the gunwales as he danced around the boat several times. "This feels so great," he cried, and then he turned to the town that was almost retreated out of sight. "Listen, you sons of bitches," he boomed, raising his trombone above his head.
And thus began the blockbuster lives of Eukan Severe and Ajyck Nach, chilling and audacious, brazen, dynamic, sometimes relentlessly funny, thrilling must-see lives of sheer dynamite and devilishly good fun, lives that had it all, that made them legends in their own time. And thus we know them today from their many features and all their sequels.
(in order of appearance)
AGNES : Andrew Warhola
Eukan Severe : Keanu Reeves
Dojy Resoft : Jody Foster
Monisantaca : Santa Monica
Necsgreems : Screen Gems
Maslygdnow : Sam Goldwyn
emrafs : frames
Bysbu Kleebrey : Busby Berkeley
Plinach : Chaplin
Blimclecledie : Cecil B. DeMille
Leinvojeeseph : Joseph E. Levine
dreulasis : residuals
Etatreh : Theater
Slegeslona : Los Angeles
Sgronts Respute : Preston Sturges
Ildrew Libly : Billy Wilder
Yinlaw Sted : Walt Disney
Clenac Jectorp : cancel project
Nonawi Erryd : Winona Ryder
Verri Hoxnepi : River Phoenix
Glasoud : Douglas
Chamiel's : Michael's
Tanoke : Keaton
Ajyck Nach : Jacky Chan
Onatint Taurda : Antonin Artaud
Naanittor : Tarantino
Tenquin : Quentin
Sterub : Buster
Turb Scalranset : Burt Lancaster
Yermyl Perset : Meryl Streep
Sitund Monfahf : Dustin Hoffman
cartnoct : contract
Thyka Abset : Kathy Bates
Sorb Imulrče : Lumičre Bros.
Nealsty Burkick : Stanley Kubrick
Lenoci Mindak : Nicole Kidman
Dr. Deppster Johnjon : Dr. Deppster Johnjon
phroa : Oprah
Negger : Negger
Hitchfred Alcock : Alfred Hitchcock
stagnir : ratings
yonoletenus : Looney Tunes
milfrion : film noir
treepflak : Peter Falk
arazazipp : paparazzi
lacopani : Al Pacino
lamar-spleam : Marla Maples
Lohly Uhrent : Holly Hunter
progs : progenitors
Ornash Sento : Sharon Stone
Gme Yran : Meg Ryan
Xupset Fron : upfront sex
noride : DeNiro
thwyneg trowlap : Gwyneth Paltrow
trobet : Robert
Shonirra Drof : Harrison Ford
Borter Lalvud : Robert Duvall
Ronyalmy : Myrna Loy
Ralck Algelb : Clark Gable
Tighovnoj : Jon Voight
Kerpar Yespo : Parker Posey
mediroome : Demi Moore
crubeliwlis : Bruce Willis
Ryga Yesbu : Gary Busey
Theki Dracanire : Keith Carradine
Tocst Nengl : Scott Glenn
Bybob Lawrek : Bobby Walker
Rylinma Noorem : Marilyn Monroe
Mau Ruthnam : Uma Thurman