Bent-Tree by Joshua Ian

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I feel the flutter of feathers against my skin and I awaken.

#

His body was mottled, pale beneath his clothing but yellowish in other places as if the sun couldn’t decide whether to rest there or flee. Other times, when he was angry or lustful, it was stained red, like the juice of dried berries had painted designs across his face or buttocks.

His hair was brown, muddy and dull, not shiny like my own. When it fell against his milky skin it reminded me of the trees whose branches we purposely bent in the forest as a guide; how the young ones would sometimes split at the bend and reveal the flesh beneath the bark.

For this, I called him our word which meant “bent-tree.” It amused me. Every time I called him this, he smiled. He did not know what it meant and he assumed it was a name of affection. I suppose, in truth, it was.

#

The others of his group teased him about his attachment to me – some even berated him. Never too harshly though because it was, after all, a thing of no consequence. We were hardly real to them, my people – especially ones like me. To them, I was like a story of the gods, a myth, or perhaps even a joke, something to amuse themselves with when they were bored but nothing which translated to the real world.

At first, he stayed close to me on the pretense that I had learned their language. I was always good with this, learning other tongues. I was known for my talent of speaking to any tribe. When I was of age, I took on the name which meant Many Voiced. I knew the songs of birds, my aunts told me; the sounds that carried through the forests and were only heard by those who could respond.

Soon though it was obvious to everyone, even to his own people, that he clung to me for other reasons.

“I want you to live with me as my wife,” he said.

I looked at him like an aunt looks at a very young child.

“I cannot be your wife.”

“Then we will figure out some other way,” he said, nodding, his brow furrowed in determination.

“Who says I want to live with you anyway, Bent-Tree?”

He ducked his head in a smile. “You look like a wife, but maybe if we…” He shrugged and tugged at the fabric of my tunic. “Maybe you could be my boy then. Not as easy to explain but–”

“I cannot be your boy, Bent-Tree. Or your wife.”

He frowned. “But you must be one back home; otherwise people will not understand.”

“Then it is a sad place where you come from,” I replied and turned back to my task.

I took down the sprigs of dried herbs and flowers hanging above me and placed them in the bowl to crush into powder.

“Tell me,” I said, “about this place you come from, where people do not understand.”

“It is open. Wide open. And very, very green,” he began.

“Greener than our forests?”

“Well, no,” he said. “But different. There is so much sky to be seen in all directions.”

“There is always much sky to be seen if you are looking at it,” I said with a small smile.

“The fields they stretch,” he continued, the strange lilt returning to his voice. It was a lilt he tried to suppress around the others that looked like him. “Rolling and dipping, into the horizon, like ocean waves of green. And the clouds pile up right at the edge of the sky and it seems you can lie down there, just there on the edge, and sleep. Sleep. For as long as you want.”

I turned to him. “Do you want to sleep, Bent-Tree?”

“Some days I want to close my eyes and sleep forever. Nothing else. Nothing more.”

“Come,” I said. “Sleep, Bent-Tree. I cannot ensure forever, but at least until dawn.”

He pulls me close then. I touch his lips and the dust from my work leaves a mark. He kisses my fingers and whispers of always. Of his want for me, his need for my body. He marvels, he says. I am all things at once; I can be whatever he wants, he says. He fingers the beads at my neck, he touches me below, his hands stroke, he kisses my stomach.

But he is wrong. I cannot be whatever he wants. I can be only what I am. And I am both, and neither, and I cannot be claimed by him.

He has no tongue for calling my name.

#

We lay there, morning spilling through my wigwam. We are wrapped in skins and furs; one of his long pale legs is bare. A scar runs up its length, dark pink, broken, like a seam of sap caught in sunlight.

He moves and covers me with an arm. He kisses my neck and his hand moves. He touches me below again.

“You must return with me,” he whispers. “When the ship comes, I will bring you with me; they cannot stop me.”

I look at him. I stare into his eyes. In the shadows of morning, they look almost as dark as my own.

Almost, but not.

#

I hear the flutter of feathers pass by outside. A crow cries and my skin goes cold.

#

In the end, he does not come for me. He does not bring me with him.

#

The sky is sad, splintered grey, like his eyes. Miles from the shore, I watch as the enormous ship rocks on the waves and then I look beyond it.

The sea touching it on every side feels expansive, overwhelming, its colors stretching on for eternity. It is like a forever field of blue, rolling and dipping, falling off into the bank of clouds at its edge. Dark clouds that do not invite sleep.

I hear the caw of a gull and look up. The air is bright and empty and filled to its edges. I turn my head all around, looking.

There is so much sky to be seen in all directions.

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Joshua Ian

Joshua Ian is an emerging writer, sometime poet, and former filmmaker living in New York City. His stories and poetry have appeared in Coffin Bell Journal, Chaleur Magazine, Twist in Time Magazine, Footnote: A Literary Journal of History (upcoming), and Enchanted Conversation eZine.

In addition to his journal appearances, Joshua has also written and published several historical, speculative, and fantasy/scifi fiction stories, both self-published and included in anthologies. A listing of all his published works, with links, can be found on his website at: https://www.moodyboxfan.com/

Website: https://www.moodyboxfan.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/joshuaianauthor/

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Twitter: https://twitter.com/moodyboxfan

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/joshuaian

Image by alejandro skol from Pixabay

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