Friday, February 19, 2010


NOTE: I don't know where this came from, nor where it's going. I do know it's happier on the outside.

"Parents don't understand," he said.

He picked up an apple-sized rock, threw it in the lake where the ripples spread on the still surface.

I had to agree. He's my best friend, after all. We sat on a log near the shoreline, throwing rocks, listening to the spelunks the rocks made, watching the ripples.

“What don't they understand?” I had to ask, finally.

He held a rock in his fist, stared at me. Laughed. He threw the rock into the water. “Everything.”

We sat in silence a few minutes longer. Everything, I thought. That's a lot to not understand. But I knew what it felt like – there were so many things I didn't understand: Where the water in the lake came from. Why the sun was warm and pleasant when the land was green, cold and unfeeling when the snow came. What the lights in the sky were. Why my hands weren't as skilled as my brothers' hands. Why my father resented me for my lack of skill and hated to see me staring in wonder at the night sky, the distant mountains, an unusual rock, a bird, a plant, a bit of food. That my brothers ate like wolves, gulping down the food they had then searching around for more I didn't understand either, but knew enough that it had better be the last bite of food I needed for the day that I was contemplating.

I didn't know why he, my best friend, liked me. We were, as far as I could tell, opposites. He was much like my brothers, though lived with a family of girls and – my father sneered at this – as a result was a daintier eater than most. He reveled in fits of physical skill: racing, throwing, tossing, hunting, scaling cliffs and fording rivers. He plunged into the cold waters of the lake and held his breath underwater until I was frantic on the shore, running about, he said, like a frightened rabbit until he came to the surface, gasping and laughing. Maybe we liked each other because no one else really did, or at least knew how to express it.

“I want to go through the pass in the mountains,” he said, tossing another rock. “I want to see what's beyond the snow, to see more of the world than this little valley.”

He went on gambades, took me with him. We left the village carrying only our coats and a few spears. He made me stay in the wilderness for days, in the snow, freezing rain, darkness, heat. He could drive me to do things my father had no hope of doing, and I didn't understand that, either. I went, though, because as we walked, he tolerated my slow pace, my mania for stopping to scrape away at the rocks on the cliff face to see the layers. He pondered with me the imprints of leaves we found in some of the rocks. We talked about the lights in the sky, the pinpoints, the great orb that blazed in shifting shapes in the darkness. We both stared agape as one of the lights suddenly streaked across the sky and went out. Then that amazing night when a river of light, hued as a rainbow, snaked and waved in the wind for hours that night, though no wind blew at our upturned faces.

He let me wander, never questioned what I was looking at and at least feigned enough interest to make me feel comfortable enough to gaze for a few minutes longer than I would ever dare if I were with my father or one of my brothers.

His father still did not trust the heating light, so new to the valley. My father accepted it grudgingly, fearing perhaps the fumes might stifle us in our sleep. “I don't know why my father fears it,” he said. “It helps so much. Food tastes better. The cold nights are shorter with the heating light nearby. He does not understand new things. I use my new spear, as the others showed us. He refuses.”

I had to laugh at that. “You nearly killed me with your new spear,” I said. “You couldn't have done that with one of your father's spears.”

He rolled his eyes. “You were nowhere near death,” he said. “But the hunting goes much easier with the new spears. My brothers, they still carry the old spears, but when we enter the forest to hunt when father stays home, they leave their spears in a place where I've hidden some of the new spears, and use them. We always have more success. Father says it's because we're finally paying attention to the lessons he gives us. We know it's because the new spears don't bounce off the game.”

“It certainly didn't bounce when it hit me.”

We both laughed. He roughed my hair – he was much larger than I; I couldn't stop him from doing it, though we were the same age and nearly as tall as each other.

We sat on the shoreline. He stared at the distant mountain pass, green and clouded.

“We'll go there,” he whispered.

I threw another rock.

He stood up. Grabbed my arm, firmly but not roughly. “We'll go there,” he said, looking me in the eye. “We'll leave tonight."

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