This One Time, 93

This one time I was dragging the next roller forward, having already cinched and pegged to keep the god from slipping backward. My “helper” was astride the god. Six or seven birds had also perched wherever they could, taking the free ride. I was singing, but mostly to drown out the drunken yowling of my companion. Even the birds were quiet. Mostly in shock at the noises we were making.

I passed a sea-gray tortoise that was keeping up with out procession. It was the size of the largest stone I could carry in my arms. The tortoise was heading to the last stand of shade before the sun-greeting slope that was our destination. It would race ahead as we moved throughout the day, and probably turn back around and head back to the fish pool this evening, when dusk fell.

I dropped the roller and picked up one of the birds that was hitching a ride. It was too sun-sedated to react at all. I set it on the back of the tortoise and it flapped twice for balance, then settled down. Neither it nor the tortoise seemed to care. A couple of the other birds on the god edged away from me. My companion ignored me, continuing his ululating howl.

I picked up the roller and my song where I had dropped them and continued forward. I set the roller down at the front, stomping it down under the god’s heels. My helper rolled off the god and trotted upslope to the ropes and the cinching post. I moved down to the god’s head and dug my bare feet into the soil. I raised my voice as the signal and shoved. The god and the birds lurched forward as I shoved. Ahead, my helper took up the slack in the ropes and held the cinch tight. I kept a steady push going, singing loudly to concentrate my strength.

The sun had noticeably moved in the sky at my back by the time the next roller came free. I called ahead and my helper called back. He tied the cinch fast while I uprooted the pegs, carried them ahead, and drove them deep into the soil behind the ends of the hindmost rollers.

Sweat ran off of my arms and back in streams. I retied my hair-cords and found the gourds we had carried up this morning. I took a drink from both of them, water first, and noted that they were both mostly empty. I unwrapped the saltfish and nibbled, and took another drink from the beer. My helper was already back astride the god, slumped forward and most likely asleep. One of the birds pecked at his hair and he took no notice.

Ahead of us the angry sky was the same color as the sea. The evening rain would soften the ground and weaken the ropes. I had to decide whether to try for one more push. I rubbed the soil from my hands and stretched and felt the muscles in my arms and legs and back to see what they thought.

“Again,” came a voice from my face-down companion. One of the birds squawked, possibly in agreement. Ahead, the tortoise-rider had nearly made it to shade.

“It’s not like you would ride the god all the way back down the hill when the ropes break,” I replied.

“Again,” he repeated.

“I will throw you into the surf,” I replied.

“You had better,” he replied. “My skin is on fire.”

I groaned and turned it into the start of a storm-greeting song, calling the rain and daring it to bring hail and lightning. I dragged the free roller forward and threw it sideways under the cinch-ropes.

“You are a filthy demon,” said my companion. He got up and bounded ahead to the post to free the rope-ends and start hauling and bracing. “An ugly one!” he shouted back. “With the rotten split open head of a pig! Complete with maggots!”

He was well on his way to making a decent poet.

Thunder rowed in from the distant surf, oared by the lightning. The first huge drops of rain began to fall like drops of fat from a roasting boar. The sun glared in from the west and lit up the clouds with fire, painting the storm with pinks and golds and huge brilliant flowers in the hair of the clouds.

I sang to drown them all out and shoved for all I was worth, letting the rain cool the fire in my back and arms and legs. The god inched forward. Ahead, my helper dutifully sang back and kept the ropes taut. I shoved and I sang. After forever, when the sky was as dark as night and I could no longer hear myself over the storm, the roller came free.

I hammered in the pegs as the hail I had called started to come down, and raced ahead. I guided my way to the cinching-post by keeping a hand on the ropes. They felt sound enough. I made sure the ropes were tied in a way that they could still be untied when they dried out later. Then I went back and put the free roller in place. With luck, the drying ropes would pull the god forward on their own. Or maybe they would just snap. I trusted the pegs to hold, but tomorrow I would bring new ropes, just in case.

I didn’t notice when the birds had left, but they were gone.

My companion was seated by the cinching-post. I hauled him to his feet and threw him over my shoulders like a pig to take to market. He howled and wriggled and cursed, but I had his wrists locked in one hand and his ankles in the other. I ran as hard as I could for the beach and moments later, when I was in the water up to my thighs, I hefted him overhead and threw him out to sea. He screamed with laughter and I heard him splash when he hit.

When he came back up, I heard him shout, “I will sing the lightning down onto your head! You will split like a struck tree and your innards will fall down around your feet like a rope of wilted flowers!”

I laughed and dragged him out of the water. “I’d better carry you over my head for protection, then!”

We ran back upslope to get the gourds and the pack of soggy food. I draped the carrying straps around my chest and heaved him up onto my back for him to ride. “Sing for the lightning all you like now, war-poet! You will feel it first!” I told him.

And I ran all the way back to the village with him on my back, just in case.


April 3, 2011 · by xalieri · Posted in This One Time  


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