August is a very exciting month! I’m writing, editing, reading, and celebrating my birthday.
Assumably. Technically, it’s the day I was assigned. You can skip the astrology and numerology because the date on that sheet of paper is just a what someone put down. It’s barely even an educated guess.
I’ve said it before, but let me say it again, I’m really not like you.
I’m kind of like them:
Captain Fantastic Free to watch for Amazon Prime users.
(Content warning: You will see Viggo Mortensen fully nude, but it’s a non-sexual scene.)
Despite years of therapy and whatever, I’m still not ready to fully discuss the exact details of my childhood, especially the time between when I lived with my parents and the events that happened prior to American foster care and adoption by my family.
I’m telling you this as a disclaimer, because the story I’m about to share might not make a lick of sense to you. It’s deeply emotional for me, which is why I’m declining the usual full feedback. I’m not honestly sure why I’m sharing this story, which is inspired by my life and combined with a child character from the Captain Fantastic movie, and sprinkled with some imagination. I should also mention that, in Lenni-Lenape culture, names are given by the name giver, and it might be YEARS before a name is given.
I looked at the prompt, and then saw comments where people associated the word “reunions” with something horrible, and then I thought about a time when I longed for a reunion with every fiber of my being, every drop of my soul, every bit of my life force. And the following story just came out.
Stew In The Forest of No Trees
By J Lenni Dorner
The pigtailed girl who smells like raisins pokes at my arm. “What’s wrong with his skin?”
Her friends start a chorus of laughs and ewws. I remain as still as an oak. Cruel wind may ruffle my leaves, but I won’t blow down.
“Good morning, class.” An elder taps a podium with her stick. “Where’s Stuart Doe?”
Thirty pairs of eyes set on me. None belong to wolves, yet I feel as if they’re a hunting pack, ready to attack me from all sides.
“Stuart, in this room, you stand when addressed.” The elder’s stick keeps a beat on her palm. “Well?”
Snickers and rude remarks fill the silence. “Get up, dummy,” someone behind me says with a shove to my shoulder. Unsure the purpose, I rise.
“Causing trouble is not in your best interest. It will not win you any friends, nor will it help your grades. Am I clear, Stuart?”
She keeps using that name. My hand shakes as I reach into my pocket. “Stew.” I hold up the label I peeled from a can. I point to the word that matches my name, then to my chest. “Stew.”
“You are not a canned food, young man. Stuart is a noble name. I do not take kindly to jokes.”
Last week I was with my family. Last week people didn’t stare at me. Last week I looked the same as everyone I knew.
Attempts at communication with these people are all failures. No one is able to understand my name. It’s a simple basis of greeting. This is especially bothersome as I’m certain the label is in their language, and that I mastered the pronunciation of the word.
“Are you hungry there, feller? Tell me your name and I’ll get you all the food you want.” A man in darkening-sky colored clothing waits for my reply. I point to the shiny gold letters on his jewelry. “Miller. That’s my name.” He touches his chest as he says it. Then he points to me.
I know what he wants, but I lack a reference. Elders, most dressed as Miller, buzz about, ignoring some sounds and responding to others. Those not dressed the same are watched. Intruders to the hive. I wear only deerskin pants. Another intruder to watch, to sting.
“Look here. A can of Dinty Moore’s finest.” Miller waves a can back and forth, an obvious attempt to direct my attention. “Stew. Everybody likes stew.”
“Stew.” I smile. I didn’t have what he wants. But he said that everybody likes stew, and I wish to be liked by everybody. I point to the word on the can and then to my chest. “Stew.” Upon seeing his face wrinkle in frustration, I decide to elaborate. “Miller,” I point to his chest, “Stew,” I point to my own.
He nods and smiles. “Well, how about that. Your name’s Stew? That’s my brother’s name!” He slaps his knee. “You’re not just saying that to get the food, are you son?”
I shake my head. He’s pleased. Later, when he’s not looking, I take the label with me. Seeing it should remind others that everybody likes stew.
Except others do not like Stew. Seeing the label evokes laughter and even violence.
“You’re in my spot.”
I produce the label, ready to attempt communication with a male around my age. He must surely be a warrior, for his size is suited for little else. “Stew.” I point to the word, then to myself. “Stew,” I say again.
“I ain’t feedin ya, dummy.” He shoves me to the ground. Angry words drip from his mouth as his fingers coil, forming fists. He strikes at me once I stand up, but I maneuver away. I’ve fought worse than him, but never without a weapon. My bow, my knife, even my rope were taken away last week. These people have given me no time to make replacements.
The warrior continues to swing at me, but his training has been lax. I move out of the way each time. A hand from behind closes on my shoulder, trapping me just as a swing comes up. My head snaps back as the fist collides with my jaw, splitting my skin.
“Both of you, my office!” The hand tightens, forcing my direction.
“Serves you right,” someone says as I’m paraded by.
“Guess you won’t be chief,” another chimes in.
The playground explodes in the most peculiar sound I’ve ever heard. All those my age open their mouths wide and slap their hands to their lips, altering the “waa” syllable they’re whooping. What ridiculous display this represents, I do not know. Their eyes, and the stance each takes, tells me this is a warning.
The office is like a bear cave. It could be a shelter, a refuge, or it could be a final destination. I’m handed a cloth and told my parents will come soon.
My parents! What will they make of this place, of these people? I wonder if I should shed the clothing they’ve put me in. Bizarre coverings that would stand out in the forest.
I stare at the strange device on the wall. Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock. They say it marks the sun’s movement across the sky. I’m not sure these people have ever looked up. Tick tock, tick tock. My leg bounces, eager to be free of this invisible trap. Reuniting with my family means going home! I ache to sit by the fire, to share my observations. There is much to discuss.
I long for our evening sounds. Soon I’ll hear the owl hooting in the night and the cry of the bobcat. Even the crickets will be welcome to my ears. Tick tock.
“Stew,” my heart breaks as I look up. The people who I’ve stayed with for the past few days stand there, arms folded, staring at me.
There will be no reunion today.
985 words : MPA
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Be sure to check out the Bout of Books post on August 25, 2017!