by Joe Taylor
“Hairy,” he says. “Me,” he adds, thumping a fist into his heavy brow. His knuckles carom off that density like some moose antlers I’ve seen. In fact, he nearly knocks us off the boulder we’re standing on with his combination of expelled air, bad breath, and that densely thumped brow.
We’re his two mates. The name he just uttered, Hairy, we decide with sidewise winks, must be how he prefers to be addressed when he’s not facing off one or other of the four-legged animals—not to mention the sinfully slithering ones. We regain our foothold on the boulder and smile tentatively, for it’s rare that he bothers to bestow anything with a name. Usually one of us performs that chore, and usually the one who does so is Lilith. That’s me. C’est moi. From just where did I pull that little ditty-filled phrase, I ask you? From what vulgar patch of arcane linguisms did I pull it, I mean. Talking seems to be my job, hunting seems to be Hairy’s, and Eve’s is . . . we’re just not sure.
It’s early summer, and my raven-haired and breastful mate, she who named herself Eve, stirs impatiently with Hairy’s talking, for from our perch on the rock she’s espied a blackberry patch. She wants action. She nods at me, and the two of us tug Hairy off the boulder, down toward the patch.
“Wait. Bring spear,” Eve commands, pointing to a sharpened branch that Hairy’s been lugging for several months left atop the boulder. I blurt out a laugh, and Eve blushes. Spear is the name that I gave that sharpened stick—oh, how long ago? However long, it was after watching our mate who’s just named himself Hairy dangle said spear over a yellow flower. “Daisy!” Eve and I had proclaimed simultaneously, presenting our four palms for fear he was going to jab the lovely poor flower into the dirt. He didn’t. Instead he pulled out another long thing and let go a yellow stream, circling the flower as if marking his territory, like the animals we’ve watched. From thence onward, both Eve and I have made another spear connection, one more pertinent to Hairy’s middling anatomy, which he still likes to dangle over vegetation, flowering or not:
“Your turn with spear,” one of us will say.
“Is not. Went last night.”
“Couldn’t have, you didn’t look bored enough this morning.”
And we always laugh at Hairy’s expense, for truth be known he’s a pitiful toss in the grass. But of late, Eve’s been volunteering. I can’t figure her out; it’s not like she’ll get a larger portion of wild boar or rabbit by moaning and grinding, because we all pretty much feed equally. Well, after Hairy’s finished his gobbling, we do. I’ve even tried to come up with the right word to describe Eve’s recent inexplicable actions: “Hor-munes. Pew-burtie. Mini-paws. Low-go.” Just this morning I changed the last to “Lo-co.” They all give a certain ring, but none quite fits, so I guess I’ll just relax my word-search. The right word will come up. It always has. C’est la vie. See what I mean?
But food’s important now. That and self-defense, so Harry climbs back up and lifts the longer spear off the boulder, nearly poking out my right eye as he clambers down and slings it over his shoulder. He’s as careless with one spear as with the other.
We spend the next four days near the blackberry patch that Eve spotted. Each morning, Eve and I trap a furry animal, which we intermix with blackberries, giggling at our purple fingers. Umm, now here’s a strange fact: blackberry was Hairy’s name for what we’re eating. No wonder he names things so rarely. Purpleberry, Eve and I had insisted, trying to correct his vision. He . . . well, he just passed a load of gas, so we gave up arguing. Blackberry, blackberry, blackberry. Okay, okay, okay.
The weather’s been getting hotter, and the berries take an odor on the morning of the fourth day. For that matter, so do we. But what’s happened to the berries, whatever it may be, has a pleasant effect, since it’s made Hairy less peripatetic and more attentive to the two of us. Almost fun in the grass, if you will.
“Hank,” Eve and I coo, rubbing Hairy’s chest and nicknaming him on the late afternoon of the fourth day. He gives such a goofy grin that we think he’s going to bite us, and we shy away, but he lopes forward to paw our breasts like a kitten suckling a momma saber-tooth, so we’re all cuddling now. For once Hairy’s breath smells sweet, like the berries.
“Fur meant?” Eve asks, giving a sniff to Hairy’s lips.
“Fermentation!” I exclaim.
We both lick Hairy’s mouth until he drops his one spear as the sun sets, while the other more pertinent one stands tall all on its own—after a fashion, just like the rising moon. It’s so . . . rumbling? romanesque? roving? rotund? –ROMANTIC, Eve shouts.
Well, with that word she may be carrying matters too far.
By mid-morning on this now fifth day, the berries are gone. And though the fruit doesn’t show signs of reappearing, we hang around until early afternoon, for the damned things seemed to have purpled overnight, so why shouldn’t more pop up overday? It’s worth a gamble.
“We’d better go,” Hairy/Hank says at last, giving a stretch.
So we’re back at it, the peripatetic bit, I think. Eve’s even more upset, I realize upon looking at her glazed eyes. She’s become weirdly attached to the furs we skinned off three small animals we caught and ate, so she totes them next to her cheek. I turn up my nose, for they don’t smell nearly as sweet as the berries. Peripatate, peripatate, I chant to myself as we stumble through insects and thorns.
Suddenly, we crouch at three roars coming from ahead. “Peripatate, peripatate,” I chant softly. Eve shakes her head as if she’s disowned that word for its betters: run, sprint, jump, flee, skedaddle. I’m just about with her, but then the roars move away.
A week later, and it’s I who both discover and name fire, and not a moment too soon, for we’ve peripatated into cooler, elevated country. This scenery change came about because of Eve, who’s always searching the sky as if something or someone important were hiding up there, peeping from behind a cloud, readying to shout out survival directions or point a slippery finger toward hidden sustenance. For some long time, say twenty broken nails and forty dead animals, Eve’s been clamoring to clamber these mountains that seem to touch the clouds. She wants to check matters out, she tells us. Check, clamor, clamber, canter, I chant quietly, enjoying the air pulsing at the back of my mouth. Mountain, Eve sighs. Who can tell just what she feels pulsing.
So while I’m chanting and roaming about to gather sticks for the fire, Eve and Hank—he’s taken a liking to that name—keep going at it with Hank’s more personal spear. This I presume anyway, upon returning with an armload of sticks and spotting the silly grin on Hank’s face. While he’s asleep, no less. I mean, the grin’s there while he’s snoring. Clamber, canter, coitus. Give me words over action any day. Chant, cantor, call, copulate.
Studying the smile on Hank’s sleeping face and the silly grin on Eve’s awake face, I muse: Post coitus, omne animal sunt felix? Something in that phrase doesn’t ring true. I don’t worry, though, for the correct words will come. They always have.
“God,” Eve intones, sitting up and catching the last blue of the day in her eyes, even as I toss down the sticks, my expelled huff indicating that maybe Eve can affix the sticks over what’s left of the hearth fire instead of cavorting and theosophizing. But she continues to stare at the sky while rubbing a dead animal’s skin against her stomach.
“God,” she pronounces again, adding an improbably long sigh.
“Is dead,” I countermand. When I kick the sticks at her, she grudgingly works at restarting our small fire, which has nearly died.
Okay, I admit it: I was the one who came up with the concept of God, during a wrathful daylong thunderstorm some time back. It was an effort to calm Eve and Hairy as lightning struck hither, thither, and yon. I also admit that I now consider that concept one of my more grievous blunders, especially as I watch Eve tilt her head at three colliding clouds turning the evening roseate. And the damned fire is still dying. I give up and arrange sticks over it to coax it back to life. Stick, stick, stick, I chant as Hairy slumbers and Eve dances with herself to coo like a pigeon. It, it, it, I think. Stick it? I try out a snarl toward Eve as she coos.
Four weeks later, Eve’s begun to throw up every morning, as surely as the sun rises. The vitriolic smell’s enough to send me out with Hank, peripatating. Which is what we’re doing now. I consider, studying the way he lunges with his spear at some imagined animal.
“You want to try?” he asks, holding out the spear to me.
I shake my head. “Like to watch,” I reply, wanting to keep him guessing about my abilities. I consider my abbreviated answer: it seems that for the last few weeks in this cool weather my language has been deteriorating. Not that this Indo-European crap has yet offered much in the way of exotic vocabulary.
Finally, once the sun stops being really angry, the two of us lug back a small deer. Something on four legs has been following us, not a baby deer or we’d eat it for a snack, not even tell Eve. Snack, that’s a nice word. I’m surprised Eve didn’t beat me to it, with the amount she’s been chowing down lately.
The way that this thing following us shakes its rear end is spastic but harmless, so we let it enter our camp. We’ll never be able to finish this deer before it rots, anyway. Let the tail-wagger clean up the remains so we don’t have to haul them off to a proto-city dump. City, I think. I’m not so sure I like the sound of the word.
As we drag the deer into our makeshift camp we find that Eve has placed all three smelly rabbit skins over her stomach, and is holding up a fourth, which still has a skull attached. She’s staring into its eyes and bouncing it in her palms, delivering coos into its drying nostrils. Hank and I glance at one another, as if to say, This is getting entirely too weird. Will she be trying that with the deer carcass next?
Hank, as usual, drops off to sleep after we eat. A hind shank of the deer, and guess who ate the most? Ol’ Sleepyhead. “A Shank for Hank,” I burble, though Eve remains mute, because she came in a close second in the bone-chomping category. Instead of replying to my silly rhyme, she stares at the moon. So hell, I go hoist the rest of the deer up into the crook of a tree, then toss bones to the tail-wagger. Behind, I hear Hank’s epiglottis fall against the back of his throat to stir the most terrible racket. Epiglottis, that’s not a bad word; I’ll keep it. The tail-wagger is rubbing against my leg as I secure the deer meat; this affords a lot more empathy and aid than Eve has given me lately. Evidently, she didn’t do a great deal of anything while Hank and I were hunting all damned day—other than bouncing that skull atop her ever-growing stomach and making wretched cooing noises at the three—four!—rotting rabbit skins. The tail-wagger and I walk back to find Eve still at it, though she’s at least sitting up. The tail-wagger keeps his distance from Eve. Can’t blame you there, Bud, I almost say.
Together, Eve and I and Tail-Wagger sit and listen. Eve does stop bouncing the dead animal with the smelly skull long enough for me to reminisce about old times when we’d giggle about Hairy and his spear. “Reminisce,” I say aloud.
“What?” Eve asks.
“Nothing.” But I think, Reminisce? I’m not old enough to be doing that. Too many lazy syllables.
Hank’s sleeping away in the firelight. His cave-like nostrils remind me of something, what I can’t say. He’s snorting, and his shoulders twitch as if caught in a swarm of bees. There may actually be a night variety swarming in his nose and mouth, from the sound emitting. I laugh, elbow Eve, and point to Hank’s nostrils. When she looks, I lift my buttocks and point to my rear end in imitative—well, it’s not really magic, but maybe the beginning of some representative art form. Let’s go cave-painting?
“Rrrrrr-urr,” I say, trying to come up with the right word. “Mustard . . . mus . . . moo . . . rrrrr-rrr.” Finally, I let one rip from my buttocks to resonate with Hank’s nostrils. “Moosic!” I shout, but something’s off about that sound.
Eve scrunches her face. She’s offended. Meanwhile, Hank’s keeping at it—mouth, rear-end, nostrils, any and every orifice he possesses creating fractious sounds. Even his ears and eyes pop and crack.
“Rrrrrr-urr,” I give a snicker and bounce on my butt, managing only a minimum of gas this time. Eve shakes her head violently and scoots toward Hank as if to protect his nostrils. “What, Eve? Do you think I’m going to take a dump on his nose?” I ask.
Eve makes a quivery motion with her hands, as if invoking the rising moon to stroll down for a chat. The stinking skull remains alert in her lap, its rotting eyes staring at me. “Home,” Eve says, pointing to Hank and his nostrils. She cups her breasts and looks at them as if they’d been non-existent before and just now grown, like overnight melons or like the purpleberries in that forgotten patch. Well, her breasts surely have gotten bigger. Will they furr-meant like the berries?
As I roll my eyes, I catch sight of tail-wagger, just inside the firelight. The night has turned crisp, “football weather” as my cousins over in North America would say. How long’s it been since I’ve seen them? Well, I’ve never seen them, truth be known, but I have immense faith they exist. Football. Is that another word I’m going to regret inventing, like God?
Eve’s making the strangest faces at Hank, even though he’s asleep. And she’s still bouncing that damned dead animal in her lap. What’s gotten into her, with all this over-eating, upchucking, cooing, and goo-gooing? I watch her bounce the skull in rhythm with Hank’s snores. The screech of an owl killing a rat comes as relief. I shut my eyes, feeling the familiar tug of Nodland. Well, even if that old fart God is roll-a-stone-over-me and five-week-smelly-dead, dropped of apoplexy in some distant verdant garden, fair’s fair: I should thank him for creating sleep. All I did was name it. Wait, why’d I say him? Well, hell’s bells, of course. What woman would ever grow the hubris to predicate godhead of herself? I hear Eve cooing and see her bouncing the rabbit skull, and I have to wonder. Morning intrudes way too soon. Damned if Eve hasn’t even beat the sunrise today with her retching. I awake to its acrid smell and give a twisted grimace. The bitch is throwing up right next to my arm like I’m the camp dump!
“Rrrrrr-urr!” I shout. Tail-wagger barks, and Hank gives a shake to his head. Eve stays steady at it. Putrid warm slime splashes my cheek and I stand to give Eve a good shove.
“What’d you do that for? She can’t help it,” Hank yells. Somehow, he and Eve are now standing together, holding one another in morning lambency. He bends to fetch the smelly furry skull, then gives it to Eve, who clutches it to one of her newfound melon appendages.
“My man, Ad-dam,” Eve simpers, rubbing her paw over—over some hairy part I can’t see. Well, at least she’s gotten the “damn” part right.
Damn! Of a sudden it’s clear to me. Not rrrrrr-urr, but R & R. Yes! Language and its wondrous possibilities are returning. It’s as if Hank and his pumping slimy spear, Eve and her furry skull, her big belly and bounteous breasts, and that putrid rabbit skull, have all awoken me from a long, tiresome academic slumber. Solitude, meditation call. I stomp the ground and turn about: “I can’t take it anymore! Do you two understand? Do you? R & R! That’s what I need! R & R!” I bend to grab Hank’s wooden spear. Tail-wagger shakes maniacally; he’s ready to go.
“R & R? What’s that mean?” both Eve and Ad-damn ask.
But they’re talking to my backside, because I’m out of there, peripatating, heading toward North America. And guess what? Tail-Wagger, a transcendentalist’s best friend, is following right along. “Rrrrrr-urr,” the two of us agree.
Joe Taylor’s comic novel in rhyming quatrains, Pineapple, was recently published by Sagging Meniscus Press. He is the director of Livingston Press.