Tasting the Airship

Nestor Pal Brainard teased Xavi ruthlessly.

“He says no-good words,” she told me about Nestor. “He yonds me Wah-vee-woo-won-see.”

“What be a wah-vee-woo-see?” I asked.

“No. Wah-vee-woo-won-see. He sneers my name. Every bit such he speaks.”

Nestor did just that in front of me. “Peace, Wah-vee-woo-won-see,” he said just before he slapped the graphite-stick Xavi carried from her hand. Or he tried to hit the graphite-stick from her hand. The top half broke off and flew across the ground. Xavi held what remained, with the strip of cotton that had covered the missing part dangling from her hand. Tears pooled in her eyes.

I shook with rage as he laughed and walked away. A feral growl started softly within me, then quickly rose in pitch and volume. As the roar burst into a scream, I ran with fury and tackled him. I punched him hard. I learned that it hurt my hands when I hit someone, especially when I made contact with a bone.

He flipped me on my back, held my shoulders down with his knees, and beat my face. I could not get him off, and I screamed in complete helplessness. He walloped me in the nose, and I felt a stinging burst of pain. He finally got bored and slid off, leaving me sobbing on the ground.

Xavi assisted me up and held my arm as she walked me home. My nose bled copiously. I wailed in sorrow each time I touched the front of my shirt to find the torrent of blood hadn’t ceased. My five-year-old self worried about bleeding to death, and I bemoaned my demise at such an early age. I asked Xavi to speak at my funeral.

Momma and I sat in the kitchen, and she daubed my swollen face with a wet rag. A furious Uncle Esau burst into the room.

“What the hell!” he shouted. “Look what he did to you!”

I gave Uncle Esau a tearful recounting of the events that led to my face being beaten.

“No more,” he said. “This stops now.”

Uncle Esau went to Nestor Pal Brainard’s house and confronted Nestor’s father, John Wayne Brainard. John Wayne Brainard told Uncle Esau that I had attacked first, and I should have gotten a worse beating.

That was not the reaction that Uncle Esau was expecting or wanting. He grabbed John Wayne Brainard by both sides of the shirt, hoisted him high over his head, and slammed him into the wall. John Wayne Brainard’s feet dangled.

“Your son will never never never talk to my daughter again,” Uncle Esau yelled at John Wayne Brainard. “If he comes close to her, I will come back and break you.” With that, Uncle Esau loosed his hold on the man and let him drop to the ground

The militia came to Xavi’s house and took Uncle Esau away.

Our cousin, Justin Aigrefeuille Dignac, ran the militia. Folks called him General, even though we didn’t have generals in Aoustin. He was only a colonel.

Justin entered the room they had locked Uncle Esau in. Esau had sprawled out on the bench in the room with his eyes closed. When Justin came in, he sat up.

“Peace, Justin.”

“Esau,” Justin said. “You can’t break folk here.”

“Truth,” Uncle Esau acknowledged. “Truth, that. But that boy can’t speak to my daughter such. And he beat my nephew. Think. Xavi and Pierrot are family, Justin. That Nestor boy can’t get away with this.”

“For now, he will. He defended from Pierrot’s attack, he did. But, such Nestor, he’s destined for exile to the Unlaw, he be. He be not-good. Not at all. Allow him time, he be in trouble. Worry not, I’ll send him away when I can. No mercy.” Justin sat at the end of the bench, next to Esau. “But here in Aoustin, we proscribe attacking folk, even folk like John Wayne Brainard. I have desired to do many such whiles, so much so. He needs a good beating. It would do he and me, both, good.”

Justin put his hand on Uncle Esau’s knee. “Hear me. Hurt Brainard, and I will exile you. I will. I have no election but to send you to the Unlaw. I must. Family or no.”

Justin stood and walked to the door and opened it.

“Go,” Justin told Uncle Esau. “The Dignacs and Dignac relations will cease assaulting Brainards, large or small.”

#

Kedar tracked down Uncle Esau in the cold store.

“Feels good here,” Kedar said. “I’d never leave.”

“I’d never leave this building if I could,” Uncle Esau said.

“It took six years, cuz. You finally convince the Big Ma that we don’t need you here. That Sharon, she’s good for us. She makes us a decent profit. Come home.”

“Truth?” Uncle Esau asked.

“You can come home. And by the way, I don’t blame you for beating up a tall skinny. That sounds fun. I wish I had.”

“I didn’t beat him up. I scared him.”

“Shame,” Kedar said. “Your run-in with the law convinced Big Ma to let you come home.”

“I would have done threatened someone years ago if I had known that.”

“Truth.”

#

“Great news!” Uncle Esau said to Xavi and me as he passed us to go into the house. Xavi and I sat on Xavi’s front steps.

We heard Magritte’s loud voice through the window a minute later. “My family’s here. I don’t know anyone there. Please, no. It’s cold.”

 “You can put on more clothes to get warm,” Uncle Esau shouted. “I can’t do much else to get cool. I have to leave.”

“Honey, I love you,” Magritte cried out. “Please.”

Xavi looked at me, then looked at the door her father had only just passed through.

“What do you know… what the mountains are like?” Xavi whispered.

“Cold,” I said quietly. I had seen maps of Terra Beata in Kev’s library. “Part of Terra Beata points out from the sun. It be cold. The part pointing in at the sun be hot. Aoustin be close to the hot, but not too hot. Mountain Station be close to the cold, not too cold.”

“Not too cold? Perhaps, maybe, I’d like that,” Xavi said.  “It can be too hot in Aoustin.”

#

North of town, across the bayou, the Ironsi tamped down a large grassy area to give them a place to land their flying machines. My family rode through the woods, crossed the bridge over North Creek, and emerge into the opening. I saw the flying machine. Those things look flimsy at a distance. When seen close, they still look flimsy.

I rushed over to it. I had never stood that close to one of the Ironsi flying machines before.

I walked around the flyer as Xavi’s family stowed as much as they could in the cargo box. Aunt Sharon already had most of the cargo full of goods, leaving little room for luggage.

I caressed the frame of the flying machine and admired the musical note made when I plucked its wires. The Ironsi varnished the wood to a high sheen, and the darker grain contrasted with the yellow wood. The beautiful wood looked like I could eat it, I thought. I glance around to see if anyone looked my way, then I bent over and licked one of the wooden supports.

“What in the hell are you doing?” The Ironsi who piloted the machine looked down, wide-eyed, at me from the cockpit.

I scurried away to join the circle of relatives. The pilot glared at me.

Mom and Aunt Magritte hugged and cried. Kev hugged his sister, Aunt Magritte, and shook Uncle Esau’s hand, then hugged him. Grandma Roux gave Aunt Magritte advice. I pulled a pretty brown and red pebble I had found in a creek from my pocket and gave it to Xavi. Aunt Magritte kissed my head.

Soon, the pilot of the machine waved us back. The engines howled into life. As the motors gained power, I felt the vibrations deep inside. The sound became so painful I covered my ears. That contraption writhed and wagged as the rotors pulled and tugged. When the four engines began to draw the machine upward, the air blasted us back with a cloud of sand and debris. I held my eyes closed tight as sand and grass battered my face. When I dared to open them again, the machine already flew low across the trees and sped north, away from the sun.

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