Esau Shatwell Ironsi followed the directions Kedar gave him to get to the Ironsi family’s office. He could not find it. The building at the address had only one door, and that door had a sign over it that said, “Sam and Ella’s.” Look for the yellow Ironsi sign, Kedar told him. He saw no yellow Ironsi sign. Maybe Kedar gave him the wrong address. He rode up and down the roads in that part of town looking at all the doors, and he never saw the yellow Ironsi sign.
Esau entered the building with the address, the place called Sam and Ella’s. The inside smelled of beer and cooked corn and strange Delta spices. Sam and Ella’s looked to be a bar, and he didn’t see the yellow Ironsi sign anywhere within it. The tables and chairs filled the room with a bar taking up a third of the wall on the right next to an entrance to kitchen. Lit only by light coming through the small windows at the top of each wall, the sun illuminated some areas brightly and left dense shadows elsewhere.
To the left sat several men and women around a group of tables. No one sat in the rest of the room. Esau had come upon a gathering of some sort. The people around the tables dressed similarly to one another, all wearing work clothes of pale cotton except for one man who wore a bright green shirt.
The door loudly slammed shut behind him, and everyone in the group turned and looked at him.
Esau turned to leave. Then he heard someone shout out, “Hey, so, Ironsi cub.” One person, an older man, stood up and walked his way.
The boys in the mountains told stories about the sapiens bars. Those bars havened predatory men and women who waited for strangers to happen upon them. The tales his older cousins told him included guns and blood and robbery in ample quantity. Usually, the sapiens in the bar attempted to assault an innocent Neanderthal. That Neanderthal prevailed through superior cleverness and strength.
“You be the Ironsi boy, now so?” the man asked. “Esau, so it be? Peace.”
Esau looked at the man suspiciously. “Where’s the Ironsi office?” Esau asked. Esau glanced to the left and right to guard against an ambush from another direction.
“Brindle Joe,” the man said. Brindle Joe held out his powerful calloused hand. He grew a long thick beard and long dark hair. He had arms as thick as a Neanderthal. “The Ironsi, their office be under here. Downstairs. You ought go out and left, around the building. It’s down the ramp and behind. Come and sit among with us, young one.”
Esau considered the hand Brindle Joe held out and accepted the handshake. H had never touched a sapiens before. Brindle Joe’s grasped firmly. Surprisingly. He thought all sapiens to be weak.
Esau walked back a step, then another.
All the eyes around the tables still focused on him. Those folks seemed relaxed. He saw no one gathering weapons or preparing to jump up and rush him.
“We’re traders, young one,” Brindle Joe said. “Different corps but traders we all be. Friendly. Oddballs. Mostly be riverlings. We’re the oddball navy, we be. We own boats, not flyers like the Ironsi. But flyers be a close compare to a boat, so. Yes, yagize be a near compare to riverlings. Yagize be. We all cargo as from far and sell our goods. I’d like it if you would sit near with us.”
Another man pulled a chair up for Esau to sit. Many glasses, with varying amounts of beer, filled the tables, and he could smell the sting of the alcohol through all the other odors. The mountain families prohibited alcohol because Neanderthals had a tendency to wake up in a pool of their own urine whenever they drink.
Esau leaned toward the door and stared at the beers.
Brindle Joe saw Esau glancing nervously around at the drinks. “Sam pours frizzies. Not yagize Coca-Cola, but not so differing. Want some?”
Esau shook his head, no.
The strange faces in the group introduced themselves in that weird custom of the Delta. Each one gave three names, their personal, maternal, and paternal names. Sparrow Leroy Noxolo. Bruce Griffiths Su. Colum Fountain Curio. Zuzu Wolf Saar.
“What be your maternal name?” one asked.
“Shatwell,” Esau answered.
“Ah…, you relationed to Pat Shatwell Wouters, so?”
“She’s my mother.”
“Migone,” another said. “Oh, misfortune. Such’s why you came to here, so? To see her?”
“Where does Kev Roux Dignac live?” Esau said, too abruptly.
“Kev!” a few of the people responded in unison.
“He stays at his mother’s when inside town. You know Genius Roux Eng’s house?”
Esau shook his head, no.
The folks around the tables threw a bewildering flood of directions at him. Right past Second Road. You know Second Road? How about Gravel Road? Easy it be. Go from here out on Broadway. Right as at Three Tree Road. Go no further, such Very Good Road. The house, it’s such one name as after Miss Genius. Named as after the boat, so.
Esau digested the information best he could and nodded.
He wanted to leave. But he knew not how. What are the customs here? If he had been at home with his relatives, he’d just turn and walk away without a word. But he had seen enough Earth movies to know that’s not how sapiens did things.
“Farewell,” Esau said and gave a small wave. Fulfilling his obligation for politeness, he backed out the door.
Esau followed the steep incline next to the building to the lower part, behind the restaurant. There, a group of entrances lined up along that back wall. He found the door with the yellow Ironsi sign.
His mother answered the door.
Pat Shatwell Wouters looked at Esau and frowned. “What are you doing here?” she asked with irritation. She had grown older, more severe. He remembered her more youthful and stronger.
“Hi, Mom, the Big Ma sent me.” He had rehearsed a more tender greeting, but, met with coldness, he retreated to business.
“What for?” she snapped.
“We…, the family…, we need you to do your… we need your help. To sell stuff.”
“That’s the best you can do, boy? You never visit me for years and come down here as the Big Ma’s messenger?”
“We…, I need you to do your job.”
“I don’t have a job. Anything else?”
“I have things to do,” His mother said as she closed the door.
Esau returned to his motorcycle and rode out of town into the countryside. As he rushed down the run-down dirt and gravel roads, he increased his speed until he barely kept control of his motorcycle. The motorcycle bounced under him, barely contained, like an untrained horse. He enjoyed tweaking death. It made him feel alive. But being in that room with all those eyes looking at him, that was torturous. He felt like a rabbit caught between a band of predators and an unscalable rock wall.
The Big Ma had spoken clearly. If Esau’s mother did not do her job, he would have to. The unbearable heat enclosed around him. He grimaced when he thought of those people in the bar. His duty to the family mandated that he engage with folks like that and convince them to buy Ironsi goods.
Esau traveled Very Good Road, which, in actuality, was not a very good road. He turned onto Three Tree Road and ran up and down its length several times before he saw the house with the sign. The sign did not say, “Miss Genius,” but instead, “Genius R. E.”
Esau pulled up in front of the house with a chuh, chuh, chuh, chuh…, chuh…, shhhhhhhhhh from his motorcycle.
Magritte answered the door. No, Magritte said, Kev is on the river with his father. He should be back in a couple of weeks. Yes, Kev does study the Terrans for fun, although she thought her brother weird as for that. What? Did Magritte want to ride with him on his motorcycle?
“Let me put my shoes on,” Magritte said as she disappeared inside the house.
Magritte walked with Esau as he pushed the motorcycle to the top of a nearby hill. They both got on. The bike rolled down the incline and quickly got underway. Still new to motorcycle ownership, he struggled when Magritte’s shifted back and forth. Magritte, being new to motorcycle ridership, excitedly bounced around on the seat behind him.
Esau and Magritte headed to the country roads, and the two of them gradually became steadier on the motorcycle. He learned how to compensate for Magritte, and she figured out the machine lurched precariously every time she shifted her weight.
“I don’t want you riding as with such boy,” Grandma Roux told Magritte a week later. “He’s two years younger than you.”
“How so? Kev’s nearto thirty and Tennessee be only twenty-two and you so happied they will marry. Why is she okay as with him?”
“That’s dissimilar. Kev’s an adult. He works along with your father on the boat.”
“Esau’s family says so he’s an adult,” Magritte protested. “His family sent him as for help his mother run the Ironsi corp in Aoustin. The Ironsi, so. The biggest family in the mountains, now. How’s such? They have flying machines, how about such.”
“He’s fourteen. Such’s no adult. The Ironsi may have sent him, but a toddler would do less harm as with their business than such Shatwell woman. And stay off such motorcycle. Do not ride such his thing.”
Esau anticipated the next arrival of the flying machine from the mountains and disappeared for a couple of days to avoid any nagging from his cousin. He found a secluded spot in the woods, erected a tarp to shade himself from the sun, and cooked wiry rabbits over a fire by himself.
Months later, when Kev married Momma, Magritte showed up with Esau on her arm. He had his long hair pulled back in a ponytail and wore a borrowed dress shirt. The borrowed shirt became soaked in sweat. “Such man excelled at sweating,” Mom said. “He had no talent for money but sweating….” Magritte and Esau sat on the front row between Magritte’s momma and Aunt Sharon. After Esau left, the pew looked as if someone had poured water on it. The cushion where he sat was damp.
Granpatta Dignac got a call on the radio while his boat, Miss Genius, pushed upriver south of Neck. “I have your boy,” Johnny Gale Nguyen told him. “He’s with me in Black Dall. He’s hurt.”
Granpatta Dignac had seen Kev, his only son, three hours earlier sleeping in the crew cabin.
“Kev!” Granpatta Dignac shouted.
A sleepy Kev poked his head out from below, “Yes? What’s needed?”
“Someone said such you be in Black Dall. Confirmed as with me, he errored.”
Kev looked back at his father, confused.
Granpatta Dignac returned to the radio. “Johnny, I just woke out Kev, and he is near to me, now. Whoever you have, it’s no Kev.”
“No, David. It’s such Esau boy. He’s hurt.”
“What so is an Esau boy?”
“Such boy your daughter rides with. The arky, not Kev. He broke both legs. He scraped bad. He bawls and complains much-much loud. He unhappies much.”
Mom, Aunt Magritte, and Grandma Roux convinced the militia to carry them to rescue Esau and bring him back to Aoustin. Off they went, in a guncar that escorted an ambulance. The guncar had a driver in the front. A gunner stuck her head out of a hole in the back. The gunner bounced in a harness that kept her from harm while gripping a loaded and ready tapper. “The tapper,” the head of the militia said, “such be enough to scare all out the Black Dall way who hosts malicious intent.”
At Johnny Gale Nguyen’s compound, Magritte jumped from the vehicle before it stopped and rushed in. “Oh Esau,’ Magritte implored, “Are you okay?”
Esau could not focus on her face. His head pivoted unsteadily. “No. Of course, not. I feel like shit, I think, now. I should. Yes. No. I hurt, but it is so interesting. Yes. Pain, it… fascinates… it’s fascinating. My mind has never gripped how fascinating pain is before. It’s interesting. That’s how interesting it is.”
“He’s full of roller, girl,” Johnny Gale Nguyen said. “I gave him all I had. I notion such he not even knows what his name be.”
Magritte sobbed and exclaimed, “What happened?”
Mom came in the door. Her eyes went straight to the sight of Esau’s legs and the fact that they pointed in unnatural directions below his knees. “Ooooooo….” She winced.
Esau looked down at his legs. “Broke them. Goddamn bike.”
“How, Esau, honey?” Magritte asked.
“Wrecked. Goddamn bike.”
Grandma Roux walked in. She didn’t notice Esau’s legs. She saw the bright red patches on the palm of his hand and his arm. The gravel had scraped away the skin when he hit the road and left the muscle underneath visible. “Shit, boy,” Grandma Roux said. “How on this side of hell and Nashville did you do such?”
“Such, such, such. So, so, so,” Esau said, giggling. “Yagize talk funny.”
“He took a spill. The boy broke both his legs,” Johnny Gale Nguyen said. “The Boogers came along and took his money and the wrecked motorcycle. Those ass-borers would not, even, to help. He could have died. I saw him, such be a good circumstance for him.”
“Goddamn Boogers,” Esau said.
“I cleaned where he scraped the skin off from. Even as with all that roller inside, such yells he made.”
Sharon walked in and looked at Esau. “Ooooo…, he’s so needful of the hospital,” she said. “He be a mess.”
“Goddamn mess.” Esau giggled and rolled his head to and fro.
“We’ll have you back in Aoustin soon, dear,” Magritte assured Esau.
For the first half-hour of the trip back to Aoustin, Esau sat bemused and sleepy. The roller began to wear off as they got closer to Aoustin and, as Mom described it, “Esau worked up into an attitude of agitation and perturbation.”
Esau alternated between angry expletives and mournful crying. “Never, I’ll be not the same,” he bemoaned. “I can’t ride and can’t camp in the hills. Goddamn Boogers. I promise. I promise you all now. I will find them all and poke their eyes out with a dull, muddy stick.”