Authors: Paul Butler
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Butler, Paul, 1964-
NaGeira: a novel / Paul Butler.
E-ISBN - 978-1-9268-8134-2
Cataloguing data available from Library and Archives Canada
Copyright © 2006 by Paul Butler
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We acknowledge the financial support of: the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program (BPIDP); the Canada Council for the Arts which last year invested $20.3 million in writing and publishing throughout Canada; the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation.
To P.D. and H.B.
“Hark, in thine ear: change places; and, handy-
dandy, which is the justice, which is the thief?”
here is another creak from the threshold. I glance from the table and see the sunlight harsh upon the floor’s shrunken planks. The door, wide open, hides whoever is too shy to approach.
“Come!” I say, my voice no more than a croak.
A couple of dry pine needles scatter along the floor as the breeze changes direction. “Is that you, David Butt?” Though no one shows himself, I can think of no other who would stand on a doorstep trying to gather courage. I have observed David Butt well and know he is nearing his changes. His eyes are restless, and his skin turns red with no warning as though all the secrets burning inside him might spill out at any moment and splash onto the floor.
I go back to work, wrenching the black feathers from the stillwarm crow’s carcass. The creaking comes again, and suddenly
David does appear, his fair hair thicker than autumn straw, his cheeks as red as apples.
“Why didn’t you answer me, boy?” My voice is sharp, though I am not really angry.
His green eyes glisten like those of a rabbit sensing a danger it does not understand.
“Answer?” he says. He turns back toward the doorway as though expecting to see someone else there. “Answer to what?”
My hands cease working. David stares down at the half-plucked bird, the pile of black feathers, and my pink swollen fingers flecked with blood. Most people would be disgusted, but this boy’s eyes are as curious as those of a babe who looks for the first time upon the rich dome of a summer sky.
“How long were you standing outside building up courage to enter?” I ask.
The boy hesitates, half-turns, then blinks.
“I just got here.”
He looks so startled I don’t have the heart to argue.
“I’ve been down by the wharf unloading with Uncle Seth. I was thinking about it, though, thinking of asking you … something …” The boy stumbles over his words. His cheeks flush.
Men begin where women end, it seems. My face burned like his thirty years ago to mark the end of my regenerative years. It ended in fire. I could feel it crackling within me.
Go to sleep, old woman,
said the hiss and snap of the rising heat. Your time to teem children has gone. Now, as the sap rises in this young man, a similar heat scolds him. Fiery shadows distract his sleep and enter his dreams. He wonders if he will ever feel comfortable and composed again, so overpowering is the great itch rising within him.
I watch him stutter once more and feel a smile upon my lips. I can’t help it. The arrogance of youth amuses me. He is the first boy ever to feel as he does, and he guards it all—this great secret. He feels that if someone were to catch one glimpse into his heart it would surely send cracks through the earth and bring about the Apocalypse.
“Who do you want to lay with, child?” I say casually.
His eyes open wide and his mouth gapes. His feet shuffle backwards and he flinches as though struck. “It’s not that!” he says firmly.
“No, not the way you think,” he huffs, his mouth and eyes suddenly moist.
“The way I think?”
“It’s respect,” he says, taking a step to one side, flapping his arms. At first he looks as if he will lecture me like his Uncle Seth, pacing the room, a pipe in his mouth. Then he stops, looks fearful and adds more quietly. “It is honour and regard I wish to convey to … someone.” He hesitates, looking down at the floor, lip trembling. “And the same that I wish to receive in return.”
“If it’s words you wish for, you seem to have them already,” I say, trying not to smile too broadly. “Such words become a young gentleman as truly as finest silks, as true as sword and polished scabbard, as true as golden carriage and shining white horse. Why do you not go straight to this young lady with your fine words?”
The boy stares back at me, his mouth tight as though sewn shut, his eyes angry.
“I know why you won’t,” I continue. “It’s because the words only tell half the story. You are afraid if you open your mouth to
your young lady to give them utterance, these words will betray you. You will try to say these high-minded things, but your tongue will trip and spill the other half of the story instead, the part you wish to keep concealed.”
The boy sighs, exasperated. He raises his arms again and makes a face a man might make under torture. “Why do you make everything so …”
The boy grunts, resentful but not arguing, and sits down on a joint-stool close to my working table.
“I want her to feel as I do,” he mumbles defeated, scuffing his boots against the floor. “I want her to notice me as I notice her.”
He blinks, astonished.
“How do you know?”
“Even I hear the best-known gossip. She may not have noticed you, my boy, but everyone has noticed you noticing her.”
Helplessly I watch his face form into a desperate frown. A shipwrecked man watching his wife, mother, child, and all his possessions pulled into the black, hissing waves of a storm could not have looked more forlorn.
“Now what chance do I have?” he cries from somewhere deep inside himself.
He looks so raw and shocked—like a hare that has been skinned in its sleep and awakes to see itself bloody and steaming in the reflection of a pond. I feel I must comfort him.
“Perhaps not everyone knows,” I offer a little doubtfully.
The boy gives a short, mirthless laugh and stares at the floor again. “But
must know,” he murmurs.
“But what does it matter if she does?” There is a sudden impatience in my voice. No one takes himself more seriously than a young man in love, and this morose child is wearing me down. “You may not have noticed it, young man, but there are few enough of us in this little place. Get it off your chest, boy, and move on if she refuses you. Move on before her sisters are spoken for, too.”
“Sisters!” The boy almost spits.
“You’ll be mourning over one of her sisters like a lovesick calf before the end of this summer if the first one refuses you.”
“It’s not like that. Not with me.”
“Not with you, ah.” My fingers are working with the crow again, plucking carefully, stopping every time the boy speaks.
Now he looks up at me, curious.
“What are the feathers for?”
“Your Uncle Seth. Newly plucked crow feathers will ease the stiffness in his shoulder.”
His green eyes watch my bloody fingers.
“How do you know what works and what doesn’t?”
He hunches his shoulders and scuffs his boots on the plank flooring again.
I allow myself another smile and pluck the last few feathers from the bird. Its bald, pink head twists dejected on the table as its body jolts to the action of my fingers.
“What you really want to ask,” I say, “is how do I know a love spell will work if I prepare one for you.”
I lift the crow’s carcass by the wing and hold it out to the boy. “Throw this to your uncle’s dogs. When I have prepared his medicine, I will see to yours.”
The boy springs to his feet, grabs the bird, and flies out of the door as weightless as if he has inherited the former life of the unhappy creature he carries.
“We burn something of yours and something of hers together in the same flame.”
David still holds his palm to the side of his head as though stemming the bloodflow from a mortal wound.
“Come,” I say. “It could not have hurt so much and you have plenty to spare.”
“You could have used a knife rather than pulling from the root!”