“When I reached eight years of age my father gave me a horse and his old camping kit.” Uncle Esau, Xavi’s father, said to my father, Kev. Nearly pure Neanderthal, Uncle Esau’s face grew no hair. His arms and his legs and chest, however, grew hair abundantly. And he sweated abundantly. I stared at his arms. The hair there formed wet clumps.
“Then my father pointed to a pass across the wide valley and told me what to do next. ‘Esau, my son, that’s your waypoint. Find the boys there and follow them, give your mind to them. Learn how to take charge of livestock,’”
Uncle Esau looked past the walls of the room to the mountains in his imagination. “Have I ever told you? It’s joy singing with relatives near the fire, roasting rabbit.”
“No, you never told me that. I don’t understand,” Kev replied. “Joy? Roasting a rabbit?”
Uncle Esau continued. “We’d crack the ice off the pond’s top and submerge ourselves up until when our skins turned bright red.”
“That doesn’t make sense. Why would do that?”
“The freezing rain crusted our hair with ice.”
“Why? Again, why would you do that?”
“You know you’re alive.”
Kev looked at Uncle Esau’s face. “Are you taunting me? Are you? Are you testing to see how gullible I am? I’m certain I’m alive. I don’t have to submerse myself in freezing water or cook small animals or collect ice in my hair to know that,” Kev said. “Why do that?”
Uncle Esau sighed. “Once we fell asleep during a heavy snow. I woke up in the midst of snow-covered boulders. I thought so until one moved. Then my mind drew that e’ne of those shapes was a sleeping cuz.”
“I ask again, why?” Kev said with his brows drawn tight by perplexity. “For truth, why?”
They taught us that sapiens and Neanderthals minds worked differently. By “they,” I mean the school. But specifically, Thomas Tedesse Aquila taught us that. Each year we had our mandatory philosophy class and for our ninth year we had Thomas Tedesse Aquila as a teacher in a class called Sapiens Ethics. Not ethics. Not even human ethics. The class contrasted how sapiens societies worked compared to the Neanderthal one in the mountains.
“The import distinction as from sapiens and the archaics,” Thomas Tedesse Aquila announced, “is the bonding of male to male. How they social as with each.” The way I understood him, the sapiens males get along with other males outside their close family groups while Neanderthals, and other archaic, males don’t. Sapiens can form larger social groups such as towns, cities, and nations. The archaics, their social cohesion falls apart even in a family once it gets too large. Archaic men don’t get along with anyone more distantly related to them than their second cousin. Thomas Tedesse Aquila taught us that.
“You know how arky men are,” I told Xavi. She and I had both passed puberty by that time, so we must have been fifteen years old. “They have congenital misanthropy encoded in their genes and hold no fondness for humanity beyond their own family.” I finished that sentence with proud satisfaction in my eloquence. That pride quickly dissipated.
“What!” Xavi exploded with wide-eyed anger. “What!” Then she said some un-Xavi-like words. “Where do those shit-words come from? They are lies. The shit-folk in Aoustin say that. Why in Heaven and Terra, why?”
I forgot she had not been in Aoustin for our ninth year. She did not know that Thomas Tedesse Aquila taught me that. I wanted to retreat and unsay what I had just said. Instead, I tried to explain.
“School…. Such’s what they say.” I tried to explain. “Arky men, they bond only as with family. The women, they are glue in the arkies society between families.”
“Arky? Arky? You know what that means, do you, so? Archaic. Archaic. I’m no archaic. My family is no archaics. That’s much hubris, thinking sapiens are more human than Neanderthals. Or Denisovans. Or Khyberans.”
“My wrong, so,” I apologized. I had upset Xavi. “My wrong. That’s what we call everyone who is not sapiens. So now…, what do you yond them, then?”
“Them? Them? You mean me? What do I call myself? Human. That’s what I call myself. Human. You know what so my family yond sapiens, do you, now? Tall skinnies. They call me a half-skinny. I so tell them to stop that when I hear any folk say such. I’m sapiens, in part. Don’t forget. And I’m no sapiens. Don’t forget that, as well. Arky. Tall skinny. Stop such words.”
“How about the flories, then?” I asked.
“The flories, they’re different. They’re archaic, much.”
Confused, I sought out Kev.
“Are Neanderthals as different as they say at school?” I asked.
“Why do you ask me?” Kev replied.
“You’ve spent time in the Mountains. You’ve been around them.”
“Yes, truth. Good reason.” Kev remained quiet for a minute and thought about his words. “You are right. At least, that’s how the Ironsi are. I didn’t spend much time with any other folk there.
“The Ironsi are as a football team,” Kev explained. “Once you realize that, they make sense, the Ironsi. The men in the family, they’re the players. The player run up and down the pitch and chase the ball all day and no one else is allowed on the pitch. Change the ball to sheep and cows, and that’s Ironsi men. The Ironsi women are the managers, the coaches, and the trainers of the team. The women deal with the world. The women, they’re the good capitalists, the organizers. They get things done.
“Now,” he said. “Is this cultural? Or are their brains wired differently than ours? I don’t know. There weren’t Neanderthals within living memory on Earth, so we don’t know if prehistoric Neanderthal societies organized in the same way our Neanderthals do. No. We only have our mountain folk. That’s not a big enough sample to make conclusions. They’re folk. That’s all. Be mindful of that.”
“It was no one thing such got Pat Shatwell Wouters banished,” Mom told me, holding up a single finger as emphasis. “The cumulative effect of her presence wore down the Ironsi, now. No one straw such broke the camel’s back. Their camels had a whole cord of lumber dumped on them each day, they did. It got so bad such the matriarch, the Big Ma, sent Pat Shatwell Wouters away, far away, so she could no longer infect the foundations of the Ironsi’s souls.
“Yes, now,” Mom continued. “Pat had to be gone. Pat Shatwell Wouters made herself the Ironsi’s curse and the Ironsi sent that curse to us, to Aoustin. Nothing more far away from the mountains and the Ironsi family than Aoustin. Aoustin and its heat be a hell for Neanderthal, or a purgatory, at least so. The Big Ma told her, so now, manage the family business in Aoustin. ‘And Pat,’ the Big Ma said, ‘Leave before when tomorrow becomes today.’
“Pat Shatwell Wouters remarked such she couldn’t get such family of hers ready to leave so quickly. ‘My husband be like a child,’ she explained to the Grand Ma. ‘He has no ability, no wit. My husband and youngs, idiots all.’”
Mom frowned. “Here’s so much so the worst part,” Mom continued. “The matriarch told to Pat such she must leave behind her two little babies, so. Her youngs. She had to leave behind her own youngs, now. And she did such.” Mom stood up and looked out the window. “She agreed. She agreed and left her youngs. I don’t believe such, still. I couldn’t leave my youngs. I wouldn’t.”
“It happies me to hear that you wouldn’t leave your youngs,” I commented.
Mom shook her head, no. “Don’t taunt such.” She leaned back in her chair out looked into the kitchen.
“Manage the family business, they told her,” Mom said. “Pat came to Aoustin and sold the Ironsi goods, it became badly for the Ironsi. At first, agreements held and the Ironsi goods continue to sell as they had before she came. But then, Pat Shatwell Wouters accused her buyers of cheating her. One by one, the traders of Aoustin refused her business. She no longer could find anyone to buy the Ironsi goods in bulk. The drought was hardly over. Still a scarcity of livestock and Pat could not sell the meat for a profit. Migone, she couldn’t sell heaters to Eskimos. She had to sell the Ironsi goods piece by piece in the market. And she had no patience for the market. She found out the price all else merchants charged and sold for a half or a third. It cost the Ironsi more to bring the goods down in their flying machines than they took back to the mountains.
“They no longer sent her money to live on. If Pat Shatwell Wouters sold the Ironsi’s goods as a profit, the Grand Ma wrote, the Ironsi would pay her again. Now so, if I made money selling goods as a profit, such be what I do. Not Pat Shatwell Wouters. She remained true to her core principles.
“Pat stayed with the one who brought her to the dance,” Mom said. “she stuck with resentment.”
The evil ones in this world, they don’t see themselves such. The evil think themselves the victim. They cry how so life grinds them underfoot. but they stomp others underneath their boots.
“My husband lets me die as from hunger,” Pat Shatwell Wouters complained to all who would listen. “Such a family doesn’t feed me. I’ll do nothing more for them.”
“Then they sent such naive Esau to shepherd his mother,” Mom said. “Just fourteen, he was. She’s a wolf. There’s no shepherding a wolf.”
Esau Shatwell Ironsi sat still after the engines of the flying machine stopped. Strange lush trees crowded around on all sides. The engines no longer moved the air and the oppressive heat became unescapable.
The machine stood in the middle of a small field not far from the sapiens’ town. Esau heard his cousin Kedar unlatching doors below his seat.
“You should help me,” Kedar shouted from below.
While pulling goods from the cargo hold of the flying machine, even the smallest effort caused Esau to sweat profusely.
“Your face is red, cuz,” Kedar said. “Stop. Let’s get the tall skinnies to do this. They’re here.”
First one truck, then another, then several trucks pulled up next to the flying machine in that clearing.
Esau stood off to one side, dejected. He would soon be left in that tropical hell.
Strange people, these Aoustin folk were. Both men and women, they only wore loose shirts and short pants. They spoke with a strange dialect.
In the mountains with his cousins, Esau and his kin worked together. If Esau needed assistance with a task, a cousin helped. When speaking with one another, they spoke truthfully.
These tall skinnies, they crowded in and sought advantage over one another and Kedar as they bought the Ironsi’s goods.
He heard one man say he couldn’t afford to pay one hundred thousand for an ingot of iron, only to agree to the price of one hundred seventy-five one minute later.
Kedar arranged for a merchant with a wedge-like chin to give Esau a ride to town. “The walk would kill him,” Kedar told the merchant. The merchant nodded in agreement.
“Drink of water often,” Kedar said. “Often. Limit how much you move, most specially during the first months. You’ll slide in for heat stroke if you’re not mindful. Hook the tall skinnies for work. They’re weak, they are. But tall skinnies deal with the heat well. Much better than we do. I’ll think of you, cuz, as you make on.”
Esau rode to town and jostled about in the back of the merchant’s truck. The hot humid air crushed him like a thick layer of wool. The trees grew thick to the very edge of the road. He caught a glimpse of the flying machine as it rose. Kedar waved goodbye from the pilot’s seat before the machine leaned away from him and quickly disappeared.
Esau felt as if the door of a boiler room had slammed shut and the walls crowded on top of him and only a small window showing purple sky opened above. The massive mammoth-like clouds, not the gray misty clouds of home, hung like bright white mountains.
Esau had a quick hope for release from his exile in Aoustin. He could soon climb aboard the flying machine for home in a week if his mother took up her job and managed the Ironsi business as she should.
“Your waypoint one is to push your mother to her role, her duty,” the Big Ma told him. “Waypoint two, find a man named Kev Dignac.”
Esau drank more water and spilled too much of his limited supply of sweet mountain water across his shirt when the truck hit a bump. The steam-driven truck sped down the rutted road much faster than a horse-drawn truck. The ruts in the road threw him side to side and his vertebrae slammed together as he landed after being tossed up by the wheels hitting some sort of imperfection in the road. Clouds of steam mixed with the gray dust and pillowed behind.
He thought about the order of his tasks. First waypoint. Find Kev Dignac. Then work out an agreement with his mother. A deep hole in the road caught one wheel and caused a violent jar. He changed his mind. First waypoint is to buy a horse. Then find Kev Dignac. Then deal with his mother.
“Where from I get a horse,” he asked the landlord of the bento where he stayed.
“Why so you want a horse?” the landlord asked.
“What kind of question is that? How do you use horses, here in Aoustin? I get on the horse’s back and let it take me places,” he answered.
“No. Don’t buy a horse,” the landlord informed him. “Not for such. The Aoustin folk, so, don’t like horse shit. Not at all. They oppose it as for philosophical reasons. The utility of the one not impinging on the hygiene of the many, as it was. Now, you’ll be fined when so you have charge of a horse who shits on streets and, I know well, horses don’t cooperate on such. You can’t train a horse where to shit and where not to shit.”
“That I know,” Esau grumbled.
“Yeh, no. Horses aren’t indulged in the towns. Get you a car. Or, if you yearn for some manner like a horse, get a motorcycle, by stead.”
Esau bought a motorcycle, one of those steam-powered chuggers that Wang Corp builds.
Steel bands held together the boiler made from wooden staves. The big rubber tires smelled of sulfur in the heat.
“They told me that cycle could move-fast once going,” Esau said. “Be wareful, they said. The gearing, they said, gave it low torque. My mind heard the move-fast and that made the cycle more appealing. I didn’t know torque or what it meant. I wish I had. When they showed me how to ride the thing, well, they showed me going downhill. Damn thing will start that way.”
Once he took possession of the motorcycle, he learned in full the concept of torque. Torque meant that even when starting in the lowest gear the vehicle barely creeped along. It took some while before it reached its full potential in speed. The time from zero to hundred was not measured in seconds, but in minutes. That is, unless one started the motorcycle like the salesman did, going down a steep hill.
Never having rode a bicycle or motorcycle before, Esau spent his first two weeks in Aoustin mastering the difficult task of getting his vehicle from a standstill without falling over. He became skilled at shifting quickly through the ten levels of gears and worked out how to get it rolling by pushing and running beside the cycle before jumping on once it got momentum. At the top gear and full throttle, the only limit to his speed was the quality of the road and the traffic in his way. Uncle Esau blurred by fast on the farm roads surrounding the town. “Such Esau looked as if a refugee from a late Twentieth Century biker gang,” Mom told me. “Such long curly red hair flew back and the fur on his arms and legs fluttered. A hirsute hoodlum, he was. Impressive, he was. The first hipwut, he was.”
Esau rode north of town and explored roads he had not seen when the Ironsi flying machine next arrived in Aoustin. Kedar looked for Esau. Kedar waited in the shade of the front porch of the bento Esau lived and tried to stay as cool as possible.
Esau parked his motorcycle behind the bento and walked into the back door and took the stairs to his room.
Kedar waited four more hours before hunger drove him to go inside the restaurant across the street. He ate and watched the door for Esau’s return.
Esau got hungry himself. Kedar saw Esau emerge from the bento and walk to the same restaurant Kedar sat in.
“Cuz!” Esau shouted excitedly when he saw Kedar. “What? What are you doing here?”
“Where. Have. You. Been,” Kedar muttered.
“You left me here, remember? I’m still here. I didn’t go anywhere.”
“No. Where were you when I landed?” Kedar said. “Your mom? Did you convince her to take up her work again?”
“That…. I haven’t talked to Mom yet. I haven’t found her.”
“You mother lives in our office.”
“Yes, that’s right. Where’s that?”