I looked at her slathering paint over the wall. She knew how to draw, the antelopes running over the cave wall in formation was enough to make me hungry. The hunt had gone well, we had cornered a boar in the woods. I had missed the honour of the kill; Grok had thrown the spear into the beast’s heart.
I told her, “I want to eat.” I guess told isn’t entirely accurate. I was pounding on the floor and making an eating gesture and emitting some guttural growls, but that’s as close at talking as we have. She ignored me and kept ignoring me. Finally she looked at me when my groans got too loud to pretend not to hear. “What,” she gestured at me casually. The cave had gone silent and everyone was looking at us now.
“Food.” She shrugged.
“I didn’t get anything today,” she said to me, her nonchalance inflaming my temper.
“No fucking food? All you have to do is gather.” I lost my shit, jumping up and down, smacking my hands on the cave floor. I grabbed her paint bowl and threw the rest of the gluggy berry and bark mixture at the wall. She didn’t care, walking off to sit with some of the other women.
What was I supposed to do? She was my mate. We had been together for more than thirty moons. We were in love. I mean, weren’t we?
I slid down against the cave wall and ran my hands through my long hair. It was thick and knotted. I pulled out some twigs. When was the last time she picked all the junk out of it? When was the last time we sat together and groomed each other? I sighed. There was a time when I had the straightest, shiniest hair in the tribe.
Grok came over and crouched beside me. We ate the meat he had brought. He shared the heart with me, the prize he got as the beast’s slayer.
“She just wants a baby,” he growled and gestured to me.
“We talked about. We decided we didn’t want to have kids.”
He laughed at me. “All men have a child with their mate. It is the way it is and it is the way it will always be.”
“I don’t want kids. Neither does she.”
“Lela told me she does.”
“She told Lela that?” I felt rejected. Why couldn’t she tell me. I didn’t get it. “Why are kids such a big deal?” It was stupid, half the women who got pregnant died and the tribe looked after all the kids together. What did it matter if one of them was born from your body or not.
“Give her a baby. The she will be happy and you can be happy. If she dies then you can get a new mate and be happy.”
I got up and went outside. I wasn’t in the mood for dancing around the fire. It was dangerous to leave the cave at night, and especially dangerous to leave alone. I heard the cries of the longtooth cat on the wind. I didn’t care. I wanted to go for a walk. I wandered down to the lake and climbed a tree. The quiet calmed me, the deep peace expanding inside me. Grok used to be my best friend. I picked at my hair. But now I feel like he’s so different. I gave up on my hair. Not much I can do but sharpen a rock and shave it off now. I sighed. He’s not different. It’s me.
Why can’t I just be like the others and do things like they have always been done.
I nodded off and then before dawn I had a vision of me in charge of the tribe. I had won the chance to make it into what I wanted it to be. I saw myself in the skin of the longtooth cat, standing strong and proud. Voices battled in my head. You’ll be bested, one said. You are strong, said the other.
As the sun rose I climbed down the tree and walked back to the cave. Everyone was starting to get ready for another day. I took my spear and joined the hunting party. The tribe’s leader was already there. I shook my head. He was so much taller and more muscular than me. I envied his confident ease. There was nothing I could do but accept things wouldn’t change.
“Are you actually going to hunt today Zog or just stand around?” I couldn’t help balling my firsts, the arrogant bastard.
“Are you sure you’d like that little Pebble?” using his childhood nickname, “I don’t want to make you look bad.”
He snarled, showing his teeth and walking closer to me. I stood up on my toes and stretched out my back, spreading my lips in return. What was I doing?
“Maybe I will take your mate and make a child with her since you don’t seem able.”
“We don’t want kids,” I forced out between clenched teeth, stepping towards him.
“Be careful little brother.”
People were watching and whispering. I could see Grok in the corner of my eye looking agitated. Rock had turned sideways and was shuffling side to side, readying himself incase I challenged. I started to crouch down, getting into a fighting stance, when I was pulled backwards.
“Are you crazy?” she hissed.
“You care now?”
“Since when do you? You don’t even want to be part of the tribe anymore and now you’re challenging to be leader. What are you doing?”
I walked off, down to the lake. At least the lake was there for me. Dependable, never changing. I walked in and bathed. What am I doing, she had asked me. That’s all I ever think about. I still didn’t have an answer.
Olg followed me into the water.
“Why did you do it?” she asked me again. I ignored her. She splashed me trying to get my attention and when it didn’t work, she jumped around splashing and laughing. I couldn’t help smiling, I had missed the old Olg. She came over, sliding her wet body onto mine. We made up there in the water and then again on the shore.
“Why are you so unhappy?” she asked me.
I thought about how to phrase it. “Life just seems empty. Hunt, have kids, dance around the fire. Fight to be the tribes leader. Die. Isn’t there anything else?”
“What else do you want?”
“I don’t know. Everything is so meaningless. Yesterday I could have killed that boar, but what difference does it make if I kill it or Grok does. Nothing would have changed.”
“Maybe you just have to accept things are the way they are and embrace them. Enjoy the simple things for what they are.”
“No man is a tribe and no tribe is a man,” I parroted snidely.
Looking out across the lake and out to the horizon.
“There’s nothing else out there,” said Olg.
“I know.” I knew I could never leave. Even if I did I would surely die out there on the plains by myself. I sighed.
Olg climbed on top of me. “Don’t pull out this time,” she said.
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