Wallace sat in the camp tent. The tunnel disaster had set them back at least a week, and they were already behind. That fool of a drunken Irishman had contrived to blow himself to kingdom come, taking a dozen prime tunnelers with him.
“What’s the chink’s name again?”
“Feng something. We call him Royal Jelly on account of him being good with the blasting gelatin.”
“And you’re sure he knows what he’s doing? We can’t afford another mishap like happened with O’Meaers.”
“O’Meares was always drunk, Chief. Nerves. Chinamen don’t drink. And you know, they was the ones invented gunpowder.”
“Oh Clarenence. Not another one.”
“You always say that. But look here. See on the side? C &NW. Upright spout. Copperite finish. Chicago & Northwestern usually had angle spouts. This is one rare oiler.”
“Honestly, I don’t think I have room. Nobody has bought one for ages.”
“All it takes is one person who knows these things. They’ll come in and clean you out. This collection at this price is a once-in-a-lifetime find.”
“So you keep saying. Meanwhile, I have a whole section of my shop that smells like a garage floor. Go ahead, then. Put it with the others.”
My father always led us in silent prayer before we dropped our lines into the water.
“Remember, boys, you musn’t pray for God to help you catch fish,” he’d admonish, “for that is a misuse of Holy Supplication akin to praying for wealth or vainglory. Besides, the fish will laugh at you.”
Once I asked him what we should pray for. He only smiled, the green of his eyes matching the rushing freshet below us.
He touched my shoulder, turned and made his way down the rocks.
I guess to him an answer was unnecessary.
I never did find out.
“We gotta do it this way,” says Jess.
“With no marker or nothing?”
“We’ll know where she is.”
“It ain’t right.”
“I know it ain’t, but it’s got to be this way. You want CDC coming to put us into a quarantine camp for a year?”
“Why would they do that? We didn’t get it then. Odds are we never will.”
“They’ll say we’re carriers.”
“Carry to who, Jess? There ain’t hardly anyone left!”
“There’s still some who haven’t been exposed, maybe.”
“You’re just guessing now. You don’t know nothing for sure.”
“We can’t take chances.”
“It still ain’t right.”
Booker started small, and I mean real small.
Toothpicks and popsicle sticks and twigs.
He’d carve em up with that old Barlow he kept stropped so it’d shave a hair off a hair.
But them little carvings didn’t satisfy, so he moved on to planks, barrels, chairs.
He got it into his head that his wood needed to be living, so he got going on the trees in his yard.
Never mind an idiot knows a tree dies if you cut all the bark off.
Booker had other ideas.
Last I saw he was headed north to the big timber.
“I spent the battle drunk, myself. You see, that morning my orderly Vanya and I were playing chess beneath a tree. He sat just as you do now. It had been a heated game, but he had carried off a most risky gambit. I was going to have the devil to pay to find my way out of it. I can still see his gray eyes, laughing with triumph at his surprising tactic. His mouth smiled with a remark he was forming in his mind. This moment is, for me, forever frozen, trapped in the ice of what came next.”
The old man is always kind, though sometimes Tsou-Tahi does not understand him.
His lessons are stories, complicated stories that draw no distinction between the world of the spirits and the world of the living.
The animals speak, as do the trees, the river, the mountains, the sky.
Yatoyenh walks ahead.
For such a very old man, he is remarkably agile and quick.
Tsou-Tahi can hear him singing, picks up his sack and trots after. When he rounds a bend in the river, there sits the old man, high up on an enormous log fallen across both banks.