sidebrow

Boatmen

They sat beneath the trees and faced the river and the water was moving slow. There was a man with a rope of scar running down his back. He pulled from the cigarette and held the smoke and then let it out and handed the cigarette over. The other one smoked from it slow with short pulls and each time the edges of the paper glowed. There was no wind and the ash grew long and he threw the cigarette into the river. The other one was sweating and the sweat went into his eyes and he blinked. He pushed his hand hard to himself and held it and leaned back and the dirt around him was hard and becoming wet and warm.

The one with the scar looked over at the other one and saw the sweat. His shirt was not buttoned and he slid it off and raised it to where the hand was pushed but the other one pulled back. The hand shook and the eyes did not move from the direction of the river.

“How is it?”

“Persistent.”

The trees hung out low over the water and made a shadow in it. They looked at the river where the shadow was and the water could have been not moving but the end of the cigarette had gone.

There was a low noise coming. The other one moved a little and was still pushing his hand to himself. The one with the scar stood and pulled on a branch from a tree. The wood snapped but the bark did not break and he had to twist it to get it off. When it came he pulled it over in front of the other one. Then he walked up the bank under the trees and sat against one.

He took out a bag and a paper and began to make a cigarette. The noise came closer and the water was moving against the shore now. He could see the front of a boat. He watched and the boat came on. There were men on it and they were looking towards the bank. They stood straight and their hands were on the rail. The boat moved slow. The men wore black and the light bounced from the metal buttons on their jackets. The one with the scar could not clearly see their faces.

The river curved and the boat went around that way. The noise went low again. Then it was gone. He stood and walked down to the bank and pulled the branch back from the other one. The dirt was wet. He sat down and lit the cigarette.

“Sons of bitches.”

The other one did not move. He took the cigarette when it was offered and smoked it slow. He did not offer it back.

The one with the scar stood again and walked up the bank to where he had made the fire in the night. It was a tight scar and he could feel it pulling as he moved.

He had put stones in a circle and they were blackened on the sides. There was no wind to disturb the ashes. He picked up a stick and pushed it into them and stirred them. He had thought that when the birds had come in the night that the fire would have repelled them but they had come anyways. They had come from all angles and the light of the fire made their undersides look orange. They had blocked the stars and the moon. They had come and landed on the other one and had gone in his hair and his clothes. He had sat still and looked towards the river. The other one had been listening for the noise.

Now in the day the birds had gone and there were no feathers around. He wondered if he would build a fire again when the night came.

He walked back down. The other one was still watching the water and his hands were in his lap. The dirt was not any more wet.

“Is it letting up?”

“I think the water may have stopped moving.”

“Clearly it still moves.”

The other one did not look up but he pointed with his chin. The second cigarette floated in the shade and moved only in circles. It did not go the direction of the boat.

“It has stopped.”

He sat down.

“Just because the cigarette does not go does not mean that the water has stopped.”

The other one did not look at him.

“You are listening still?”

“Have I any other option?”

He breathed in slow and looked at the other one. The sweat came down still. It might have also made the ground wet.

“You should have water.”

“I have water. But it is still.”

He looked at his face and at the river.

“It is not still.”

The cigarette moved in circles.

There was a stick on the ground and the scarred one picked it up and threw it out into the river beyond the trees and he watched it move along.

“I will build a fire tonight again.”

“As you want.”

“And how is it?”

“As it has been.”

He stood and went up the bank and began to gather sticks. He brought them to the stone circle and put them in on the ashes. He walked up higher and put twigs in his pockets and he came to a tree that had small and hard fruits on it. He pulled some of the fruits from the branches and put them in his pockets until they were full. He walked more and there was a stream that ran in the direction of the river. He knelt and put a hand in and the water was cold and clean and moving fast. He took a fruit from his pocket and held it beneath the water and then he bit into it. It was fibrous and bitter. He chewed what was in his mouth and then he ate the rest of the fruit. There were seeds. They crunched when he chewed them and with cupped hands he drank from the stream and then he washed his face.

He began to walk along the stream away from the river. The dirt there was green with the baby-shoots and he looked at them as he walked. Then the sky began to turn dark. He had not found the source of the water and he turned back. When he was at the stones again the sky had darkened more and the birds were coming out. He stopped and listened towards the river.

Then he knelt to the stones and put the twigs on and lit them. The smoke came up thick. He blew onto the twigs and they glowed and a flame came up. It moved onto the sticks and he put his hands above it and he felt the warmth and the movement.

The birds were out now but they did not come near the fire this time. He felt that this was a good thing. He walked down to the bank and he could see the shadow of the other one and the other one was on his back. When he came closer the dirt was very wet and it was hot. There was steam coming from it. When he came closer still there were the birds and the other one was not there. The birds flew up and across the river and he could not see them clearly in the dark sky. He looked to the river and the cigarette was there and it was still.

He turned and went up the bank and sat by the stones. He rested his head on a hand and he could feel the heat moving out from the fire. The orange of it fell out on him and the rocks around him but beyond it was very dark. He looked down the bank and he saw only the darkness there but in it he heard the noise of the water in the river as it moved past.