Chapter Twenty Seven
Looking down at the waxy floor boards of their hut, Emma spread her arms and stepped gingerly along a single piece of cane. Then, pretending she was balancing on the limb of a tree, she closed her eyes and recalled her old life hidden high among fronds and flying creatures, before they’d settled at the foot of the mountain and built the homestead.
Thinking back, she could barely remember why she’d longed to leave it behind in the first place. Isn’t time funny? she thought. Hardships from long ago seem to fade, while warmer memories take deeper root.
She stumbled slightly after a few feet, her right foot slipping off its mark. Opening her eyes she sighed softly and slumped her shoulders. If she had been in a tree, she would have just fallen to her death. Though she was healthy, strong and capable, she knew that living a comfortable life on the homestead had taken away some of her agility and animal instinct.
Moving to the wall of the hut, Emma spun around and pressed her back against it. Then she closed her eyes and listened to the sounds outside.
Flappers cooed and squabbled in the pens and zappers buzzed in the midday heat. What she didn’t hear was what she was hoping to most— Adam’s footsteps coming up the path and the tapping of sticks on boulders as he checked the security alarms they’d set up along the edges of camp.
After years sharing a life together, she felt like she knew his every routine and movements. For example, each day he left her in the late morning after they’d shared a meal of sweet roots and flapper eggs. When he left he never let her know or told her when he would return, just picked a spear from his growing collection and marched off into the trees in search of game.
There was a time early on when they arrived at the mountain that they would hunt together, but after a while Emma preferred to stay close to the homestead. Caring for it was a lot of work and she took pleasure in seeing it expand and flourish around them.
Each day before it got too hot she fed the flappers a mixture of dead tree crawlers and bits of dried sweet root, gathering up any of the light green eggs that were laid during the night.
When that was done, she fixed any pens that were coming apart, cleaned out the rain basins and checked the traps (both on the ground and up in the trees). If any birds or ground animals were caught she would kill them and prepare them for eating, wrapping the skinned bodies in fronds and burying them under the floor of the hut to keep them cool and away from predators.
Sometimes she played with KoKo, the two of them chasing each other around the hut, one trying to steal a stick away from the other. Other times they napped away the hottest part of the day, curled up in the shade of the hut, waking just as the sun was setting.
That’s when Adam would usually return, his bare feet patting in slurred rhythm as he trudged tiredly onto the homestead after a long day out in the jungle.
She would listen, lying on her back in the darkening hut as he came closer. If she heard him drop something heavy on the black carving stone at the edge of their fire pit she would smile, for it meant he’d had a successful hunt. It also meant he would be in good spirits. Adam was always happiest when he felt accomplished (and had a full belly).
When she heard him moving about outside, Emma rarely ran out to meet him. She didn’t call to him either. Rather, she preferred Adam to come to her. Even if he whistled and called her name, she would wait. Perhaps it was silly—a childish game—but she loved to listen as he fussed outside, prepared the evening fire, cleaned his spears, and washed himself in the bathing trough.
She imagined his dirty tanned face coming clean as he pressed his wet hands to his cheeks and forehead, the water running down his neck and beading off his strong chest. She also, admittedly, wanted him to miss her enough to find her, and to rouse her when he did. And inevitably, when he was finished his rounds, the sound of his feet would begin to draw closer.
When she sensed him approaching the hut she would close her eyes and pretend to be sleeping before he had a chance to pass through the hanging vines that covered the entryway. When he entered he always whispered her name and crept closer until he leaned over her. Sometimes he tickled her ear or plucked at her eyelashes playfully to wake her, while other times he was tender, tickling the underside of her arm or blowing on her neck.
If he had grown tired he might lie next to her and wait until his presence was enough to cause her to stir. In those cases she would shift and turn her head, pretending to peer at him through bleary, sleep filled eyes. Then she would turn over fully to face him and he would whisper excitedly about his day, boasting about his hunting success and showing off any new wounds he may have endured— a gash along his palm from a blood viper perhaps, or, one time, a fat purple bruise that colored his lower back and down to the top of his buttocks.
Adam embellished his adventures and Emma enjoyed their drama, and sometimes they’d lie for hours just talking of nothing in particular but the details of their day apart, or the adventures they’d shared over the years. With no concept or care of time, or need to consider its tyrannical momentum, they might drift off and sleep, waking during the peak of night to start a cooking fire, eat supper, and enjoy the warmth together.
Of all the time they spent together, this was Emma’s favorite. The jungle was wonderfully still at night, alert and alive as always, but peaceful as well, as though an unspoken truce stayed all the natural dangers of world until the start of a new day.
Emma opened her eyes. She was back in the present, her back pressed against the wall of the hut, her bare chest moist with midday heat. She wiped away the wetness with the back of her tanned hand and the spot felt cool for a moment. Reaching up, she untied her hair, letting it unfurl down her shoulders and fall over her small breasts, the ends nipping at the top of her hip bones.
As was usual these days, her feelings concerning Adam were confusing her. Sometimes he made her so mad she couldn’t stand to look at him. And yet, when he was away, she couldn’t stop thinking about him, worrying for his safety and looking forward to his return.
He had become important to her in ways she couldn’t comprehend, let alone explain to him. He now seemed much more than a childhood companion, but what exactly she couldn’t say.
And then there was his love of killing. Lately it had been worrying her greatly. What had started as the need to hunt for food and security had turned into something all too pleasurable for him, gleeful in a way she found uncomfortably sinister. He seemed to enjoy killing for its own sake, the incident with the slider being the most recent example of his making sport of it.
Once, when they were working quietly on the homestead—Emma weaving a basket for gathering fruit while Adam carved another long spear with deadly points at each end—she’d tried asking him why he enjoyed killing things so much. The words had slipped almost unconsciously from her mouth as though her lips had read her mind aloud.
Adam stopped carving and let the end of his spear droop towards the ground while he gave the question a moment’s thought. Then he replied, “I don’t know,” in a low and taciturn grumble and went back to working on the weapon.
She had been slightly taken aback by his response at first, for it seemed as though her question was unworthy of consideration. But she decided not to press him further, satisfied that his answer came from a place of truth. Because, of all the things in life to consider, why was a concept that was completely foreign to them.
Why did anything happen as it did? Why did the sun disappear over the horizon at the end of the day? Why did sliders kill and why did the great mountain rise up from the center of the jungle?
Everywhere, the moon was full of whys that defied answers. Why did thinking about Adam make her stomach jump sometimes and why had he taken to staring at her, glassy-eyed like a flying buzzer caught in place by the sight of a flickering flame? This boy who she had considered such a nuisance when they were children?
Indeed, life on the moon was full of whys and the only answer that seemed fitting to most was, “I don’t know.”
The unknowing of things made Emma miss Pin all the more. He had known things, had answers, and even when she could tell he was making something up, or talking in circles to avoid her questions, his assuredness had a way of putting her mind at ease. As the years moved on, even surrounded by all the beauty and splendor of nature, her mind was rarely at ease anymore.
Emma’s thoughts were racing. She needed to clear her head.
She rose, deciding she couldn’t just wait around for Adam to return anymore. Suddenly, she longed to be somewhere more secluded where the emotions and history of the homestead wouldn’t influence her feelings about everything. And there was only one place she knew of to visit if she wanted to feel like stepping into another world.
She whistled for KoKo as she made for the exit, but the animal didn’t emerge from its sleeping basket. The battle with the slider had worn it out, poor thing, so Emma crept silently through the exit, careful not to wake her up.
Though the day was coming to a close, it was still incredibly hot and the fading light stung Emma’s eyes as she stepped out of the hut and into their camp.
She ran her gaze across the homestead, hoping to catch sight of Adam. Perhaps he was there and she just hadn’t heard him. But no— the only greeting she received was from a flapper that rushed to the edge of their pen, honking and hopping to receive a meal.
Emma ignored its calls, instead grabbing her spear from the side of the hut. Then, tying it over her shoulders and swinging it onto her back, she jogged past the perimeter, away from the homestead, and towards her favorite place to be alone.