Inktober 20/10/2019: Tread

If you push a bison-hide canopy upwards with a stick, you can displace the rain so your tent doesn’t collapse. There’s no doing that with eyelids when they start to pull downwards. Just blink the driving rain out and let your brow get dragged into an expression of determination to show that you’re still the man and the protector of this family.

A family of them. Yes, I paid a fortune for this one. I’m glad you like it. Damn near a hundred thousand years old, but would have looked much like modern humans, I’m told. Tanzania. Footprints preserved in old mud flats. They were walking together.

They’re walking, because running was never an option. His boy is five years old and wants to make his father proud so he still walks, even though his knees are starting to buckle with each step and his eyes are slits under waterlogged lashes. His wife doesn’t complain and he’s damned if he’ll do so first, when their third child is in her belly. Neither of them can run any great distance so the only course is to walk a long, long way.

This thing’s been a long, long way, don’t you know. In time as well as place. The rain exposes it, and then the rain washes it away unless they pull it out of the earth. Even so, I had to bribe the curator a mouthwatering sum to look the other way. I thought that crotchety old sod was going to demand my firstborn at one point.

He is so proud of his firstborn, and he wants to tell him that. The boy stumbles and falls into the mud, and when he looks up there is shame in his eyes. The man tries to say that he should not be ashamed, but no words come. He passes the bundle of sticks and hides, their shelter for tonight, to his wife. He squats and pulls his son onto his back.

As he does so, the boy whispers in his ear: “Will they chase us, Papa?”

“Probably not as far as this. We have nothing for them.” But they might head this way anyway, or they might chase out of spite. There’s always doubt.

Old Fyfe-Pemberley has been trying to sow doubt, you know. Says it’s a hoax. Monstrous liar, that fellow. Angry because I one-upped him after he got hold of those early pots and axes and whatnot. Everyone knows I was there in Tanzania. I had to pay a king’s ransom to the chap who smuggled it out of the country, and thank God he made it. Might have got him into some trouble, but you know… it’s all a calculated risk.

It’s a calculated risk. The wife he loves is too tired to speak now; his sleeping son is a dead weight. He fears the loss of both wife and baby if they go further, and decides they must stop for the night. He is still afraid that if the men come, they will all die, and every trace of his family will be gone forever.

Every other trace of this family is gone forever! Makes you think, doesn’t it. Once they were real people, with names. Now, this is all we have. But it makes a damn fine coffee table, all the same, and most importantly, Fyfe-Pemberley is livid. Shall we go to lunch?

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