Then we went to this huge Army surplus store in KC. I had never been before. OMGGGG it was amazing. I could have bought everything, but I kept myself to this splendid hoodie that is like the greatest hoodie ever, and then a cast iron little cauldron thing that I am going to cook everything in. I had a little mini cast iron skillet, too, but my sister quite accurately pointed out that I already have a mini cast iron skillet and I don't need another one. But we totally spent more than two hours just browsing through everything. (There were boots! And one-man tents! And duffels! And enameled cookware! And knives! And basically all of the things I love!)
Then I went to a NaNo write-in that was very productive. Then I bought ice cream. Then I played Peggle.
Seriously, great day.
The stairwell seemed darker than usual. There was just one window, way up at the top, that was ever left unshuttered. The stairs up on the fifth and sixth floor were usually fairly well-lit during the day, but the closer to the ground floor one descended, the darker and gloomier the stairwell got. But it seemed so dark today, even though it was a lovely sunny day outside, that Louis was afraid he might trip over something unseen and fall, and wouldn't that be ironic. They'd haul him to the clinic, and who would be there but Anna, the absolute last person he wanted to see.
On the landing between the second and third floors, he ran into Sarah. The little girl's face brightened when she saw him, and she held out her dolly. The dolly had once belonged to Louis; then it had been a boy, wearing a little denim smock. His name had been Mr. Nick Bottom. Then Louis had outgrown the dolly, and it had been given to someone else. Now it was Sarah's, and now it was a girl. She still wore the denim smock – a little more threadbare now, with a bright yellow patch on the bottom – but had a bright fuzz ball of yellow hair on the top of her head, tied with a ribbon.
Sarah held the dolly out for him to inspect, or greet, or hug. Louis didn't know. Normally he would stop and try to figure it out, try to “talk” to her, but he was already late.
“Ugh!” Sarah grunted as Louis passed. Ugh made up about one-third of her vocabulary. There were also eee! and heh? Sarah would never have instruction at the library, would never apprentice a trade, would never do much of anything. She could fetch water, maybe even do the laundry, but that would be about it.
It made Louis so sad, but what was there to do about it?
“Ugh!” she repeated, tugging on his arm.
“I'm busy, Sarah.” She couldn't hear him and didn't know what he was saying, but it was hard to talk to someone without actually talking. “Busy.” He took the pocket watch out of his pocket and showed it to her. Sarah looked at it without much interest, then back up at his face. She shrugged. “Bu-sy,” Louis said again, exaggerating the syllables, but it didn't increase her understanding one bit. There were a few words she seemed to understand based on the shape they made when spoken, but this clearly wasn't one of them.
Sarah held out the dolly for him again. Louis wondered if she had given it a name. But how could she without knowing what names were? What words were?
Louis patted her shoulder, feeling like the biggest jerk in the world. Then he pushed past her, continued down the stairs, opened the lobby door, stormed through the lobby and right past old Miss Taylor without even saying hello, pushed through the front door, and let it slam behind him just as hard as he could.
Loose-Skin Sky-Fluffy-Hair is looking at me. His body does not move, not his arms or legs or fingers. His head does not move. His eyes do not move. He looks and looks and looks. I do not know why he is looking. Loose-Skin Sky-Fluffy-Hair knows what I look like, and I am not doing anything right now or even before now. I am only breaking open small-small-small-hard-meats with my rock. So I do not know why he is looking at me.
There are two piles on the big big flat rock on the ground. One pile of the hard outsides of the small-small-small-hard-meats, the parts I cannot eat. And one pile of the hard-meats. The piles grow big big, and Sister reaches out and steals a hard-meat and eats it, but I see it, and she knows that I see it. “I am happy,” she says as she makes that sound.
But I am not happy. I am thinking about Loose-Skin Sky-Fluffy-Hair. I am afraid to look up, because every time I do I just see his wet-dirt eyes looking back. But as I do not look up long long, I grow afraid afraid. What if he is moving toward me? What if his face is angry?
Then I think, what if I look up and he is not there at all? What if I cannot see him?
I bring down my rock but I hit my finger instead of the small-small-small-hard-meat. It hurts, it hurts! There is bad-wet on my finger and on my rock. Sister says, “No no no!” But I have already hit my finger, I cannot make it no.
I look up. Loose-Skin Sky-Fluffy-Hair is looking at me.
We never stay at one place more than two or three days. We were at soft-needles-under-trees for three days. Bright-Bright-Bright woke up and flew through the sky and went back to sleep in the ground three times.
One two three, I have three fingers and two fingers on my hand. Or I have four fingers and one finger. Or two fingers and three fingers, it is different whether I start with small-small-thin-finger or short-fat-finger. Five on one hand and five on the other, ten fingers. Sister has ten fingers. Father has nine fingers, the small-small-thin-finger on one side is not there. There is just a bumpy place and the skin is very smooth. When I hold Father's hand I like to move my small-small-thin finger against that smooth skin.
I wonder why Father does not have that finger. Did someone eat it?
Sometimes I do this inside my head. I think of one thing and then another thing and before I know it I am thinking of something over over over there instead of over over over here.
After three days we leave soft-needles-under-trees. We move by the water, quiet and flat. We meet a big-big-head-horns and a big-head-horns, though it does not have head-horns that day, it is not big-big yet. Sister and I climb into a tree, and we watch as Father and the others go all around the big-big-head-horns, they make angry sounds, loud sounds. They jump on big-big-head-horns and big-head-horns and they bite and chew and eat.
Father saves some dead meat for me and for Sister. Always we eat dead meat like the others, but I do not want to eat dead meat now. I do not like the way it smells, and I do not like the way it feels. And I do not like the way it tastes.
Bright-Bright-Bright goes to sleep. Bright-Bright wakes up. The others go to sleep, also. We are at small-water-flat-rocks. Father watches as Sister and I get many sticks, big sticks and small sticks. We make them into a pile. It is big big. We put the big-big-head-horns dead meat on sticks, and I push the ends of the sticks into the dirt so that the dead meat hangs over the big big pile of sticks.
The small bright inside the sticks does not wake up. Why does it not wake up? I poke the sticks, I put more sticks on top. I say “yes,” I say “go,” but it stays asleep. I say “run fast fast now!” in my loud loud voice, but even that does not wake up the small bright.
Sister holds her stomach and makes sounds. Father's eyes grow small. The small bright will not wake up.
We eat the dead meat.
When Bright-Bright-Bright wakes up the next day, Father and the others go across the water to the other side to look for animals to eat. Sister and I collect small-small-small-hard-meats from the trees. Some are on the ground, we find those first. More are in the trees. We climb and find them. Some we leave on the trees because they are still growing. The small-small-long-tails will eat them later, they need to eat, also. But some we pull off the tree and hold them in our mouths until our mouths are full, then we climb down and add the hard-meats to the pile on the big-big flat rock.
I use my rock to break all the hard-meats open. Father sees that Loose-Skin Sky-Fluffy-Hair is looking at me and he makes angry with his mouth, he pushes Loose-Skin Sky-Fluffy-Hair.
Sister and I take all the small-small-small-hard-meats and climb back up the trees. I do not want to be on the ground with the others. My skin is covered in small small bumps and the back of my neck tickles like air is blowing on it. We eat eat eat, and my stomach is full. I pat my hand on it. It makes a nice sound. My mouth is dry, but there is no water in the tree, and I do not want to climb back down to the small-water.
When Sister's eyes grow small and she wants to sleep, I hold her hand. I say “no.” I touch the tree limb we are sitting on. Sister moves her head back and forth. I know that this also means “no,” the same as a sound.
I do not know how to say “Loose-Skin Sky-Fluffy-Hair.” I do not know how to say “afraid.” There are not sounds for these things. So I look at Sister, I make my face like making-afraid, and I say “look,” “look,” “look.”
“No, no,” Sister says. She puts her hand over my eyes. She does not like me looking.
I point to the pile of the sleeping ones, down by the small-water. I look at Sister. “Look,” “look,” “look.” I pat the tree limb. Sister listens, Sister watches, but I do not think she knows what I mean, not yet. I close my eyes, I place my face against the tree limb. I pat the limb. And then I think of the sound the others make when they are sleeping in a pile. It is a sound like scraping a rock against another rock, or like Quick-Bright-Bright in wet-dirt sky when he runs from place to place. I make this sound with my eyes closed, and Sister makes a happy sound, she knows! She knows!
And now we have a sound that means “sleep.”
I say, “sleep,” and I pat the tree limb. Sister says, “no,” and she touches the top of her head. This means Father, because he touches the tops of our heads to make sure we are safe.
But Father is sleeping, also. He cannot watch us all of the time. He cannot keep us safe all of the time. I do not want to sleep on the ground, not if Loose-Skin Sky-Fluffy-Hair is there. Because I do not know why he was looking at me. I do not know.
My mouth is sad, and my eyes make wet. I move down the limb, I will climb back down and sleep with Father. But Sister says, “yes.” She moves her head up and down. She puts her hand on my cheek, soft soft. We sleep in the tree. We keep each other safe.
The others catch small-small-shiny-swimmings in the small-water. They eat them, click click click. Sister and I dig up dirt-things to eat.
I am washing off dirt-things in the water. I hear a small-small-flying making sounds and I look up to see. I see Loose-Skin Sky-Fluffy-Hair in the middle of the small-water, he is sitting on a flat rock. He has a small-small-shiny-swimming in his mouth. He is chewing slow slow.
He is looking at me.
Taller-Than-Father Eight-Fingers is sitting on the same flat rock, also. He has a small-small-shiny-swimming in his hand. It is flopping around, it wants to go back in the small-water.
Taller-Than-Father Eight-Fingers is looking at me, also.
I look around for Father. He does not see. He is not watching. He has his head down in the small-water, he is drinking.
Now two are watching me. One, two.