Umber


by Sara Krueger


Every part of Franky ached. Bones. Muscles. Heart. She rocked on her ma’s porch, staring out at the woods where she’d spent her childhood exploring, knees skinned and dirty as a grub. Bunched between her hands was the quilt she’d been working; a jumbled patchwork taken from her folks’ clothes. Franky missed them. Her mutt, Jefferson, padded across the floor, joints popping like kettle corn over a fire. He stretched across Franky’s bare feet, his belly warming them from the cold. She scratched behind the old dog’s ears. Jefferson was all she had now. Franky’s hand itched something fierce. She looked down to find a fat skeeter sucking up her blood, but resisted swatting it. She couldn’t blame the thing for gobbling up a good meal.

Franky returned to sewing. It’d been 127 days since the accident took her folks, but the hurt was still like a hard chop to the windpipe. Damn deer always meddlin’. Whether it be in ma’ lettuce or on the road, Franky cursed. She worked the stiffness out of her fingers. Sewing was harder than it used to be. Franky was only 34 years old, but farm business kept her overworked and feeling like battered meat.

The sun dipped below the trees. Franky drew the quilt up and smelled her folks. Her ma’s rose water perfume. Her pa’s sweat from the fields. The cooking smells from their last meal together. She wrapped the quilt around her shoulders and let Jefferson lick her foot until she nodded off.

#

A loud bang jerked Franky awake. Jefferson scrambled to his feet with a grumbly bark. “Shush.” She patted the dog’s rump and stood, hitching up her dungarees. They were three sizes too big, but she liked the breathing room. “Who’s botherin’ out there?” Franky kept her ears pricked, but everything was still as pond water. Raccoons, she thought, and collapsed back into her chair. “These animals need learnin’ on when to make social calls, don’t they Jefferson?” The dog’s tail remained ramrod straight. Franky chuckled. “Well ain’t ya the man of the house.” She let out a jaw-cracking yawn.

Another crash sounded from her backyard. Franky bolted out of her chair. “That takes it.” She gripped the porch railing. The quiet stretched out for what seemed like hours, and then the noise came again. “You’d think a woman alone would live more peaceably.” Jefferson growled, the whites of his eyes flashing. “Ya done said it right Crabber. A person can only stand so much garbage meddlin’.” She went inside and grabbed her pa’s rifle. “We’ll give ‘em a good scare.”

Franky eased onto her back porch, hoping to catch Mother Nature’s burglars in the act. Jefferson crept forward, sniffing the air. At first she only saw the same old fireflies with their bottoms blinking. And then it moved, all eight feet of it. Franky lost her hold on the rifle, backing up until she was flush against the house. Jefferson moved in front of Franky. “I got a shooter,” Franky stuttered, bending to retrieve the rifle. “So go on an’ get.” Her hands were so slick with sweat she could barely hold the rifle steady.

The hulking creature ducked behind a porch beam and answered with a deep clicking at the back of the throat. When Franky didn’t move, the creature gripped the porch beam with gnarled fingers and peered around it, clicking again.

Jefferson yelped, backing his butt into Franky. The clicking sounded like words. Livin’ alone musta made me a nutcake, she thought. “Say ‘gain?”

The creature stepped towards them with its arms up, trembling slightly. The porch groaned under its weight. A strange smell flooded the air, like boiled liver or when her old dog, Daisy, birthed pups.

“Hold yer horses.” Franky slapped at the porch light until it flashed on. Her mouth hung open like a frog catching flies. The rifle slipped through her fingers for the second time, but she couldn’t make herself move to grab it. Franky had snuck off to three travelling circuses in her life, but nothing could top what she was seeing now.

The creature had massive shoulders, a gigantic melon-shaped head, and barely any neck to see. It was covered in matted brown hair, looking like a cross between a bear and an ape. But, still, the creature’s eyes seemed gentle, warm…human.

“I can’t believe ma’ peepers Crabber,” Franky whispered. Jefferson lurched forward and she went for his scruff. The old dog strained against her. Franky chewed her lip like bubblegum, wishing she was taller than 5’3, and addressed the creature. “You a…Bigfoot?” She scanned him from head to toe. “A…a boy Bigfoot?”

“Umber,” the Bigfoot grunted.

“Franky,” she squeaked.

In a raspy voice that sounded like he had smoked too much tobacco, Umber tested out Franky’s name. “Frank-hee.”

“Well, I never took him serious, but Pa told me ‘bout yer kind when I was young. Said that y’all ain’t half bad compared to them nasty town folk down river.” efferson snarled. “Calm down ya ole beast,” Franky scolded. “I think this here Umber thing is tryin’ to be friendly.” Jefferson barked, nails scraping the floor.

Umber covered his ears, heavy brows knitting together.

“Hold on an’ let me lock up ma’ Crabber.” Jefferson’s legs dragged as Franky wrestled him inside. “He’s full of sugar once ya know him. I swear.” Jefferson whined. Franky spoke in soft tones through the screen door. “I’ll be back ‘fore a jumpin’ flea. Promise ya Crabber.” Franky spun around to face Umber again. “So…”

He grinned, revealing long sharp teeth and half a foot of pinkish gum.

Wonder if he knows how his smile unsettles a person. She squared her shoulders. “Now why ya botherin’ in ma’ trash?”

Umber swung his ape-like arms up to hide his eyes.

She pointed at several overturned cans. “Well?”

He swatted the air with his leathery hands and shook his misshapen head like a cow, spittle flying from his jowls.

She scrunched up her face and wiped away Umber’s thick slobber from her cheeks. “Can’t argue. Skeeters been bad this year.” Franky picked her way towards her garden. “Ma’ mountain mint will make ‘em think twice ‘fore landin’.” She looked at Umber. “What ya waitin’ on? Want to be polished off like a holiday ham?”

Umber clicked and cooed, crossing the distance between them in two ground-shaking strides.

Franky cocked her head back until she almost tipped over. “Mind yerself now.” The mountain mint was strong and sweet and crisp. Franky turned and began bending off pieces of it.

A purr registered in Umber’s throat.

“Here.” She waved the mint.

Umber clicked, staring at the herbs in her hand.

“Look, ya had me pick this ‘an now yer––”

Umber snatched the mint away before Franky could finish and loped off through the trees with a whoop.

“Yer mama teach ya’ any manners?” Franky packed tobacco in her lip and walked back to the house, wondering if Umber had ever known her pa. When she reached the porch, Jefferson’s nose slammed into the screen door. Franky undid the latch and the old dog wriggled out, snuffling at where Umber had stood. Franky grabbed Jefferson’s chin. “No need for worryin’. Umber ain’t that bad.” She kissed his nose. “Sure he stunk like summer slop, but what’s that between friends?” Franky scratched Jefferson’s neck until his tongue lolled out of his mouth. “Now let’s settle in, what ya say? An’ see if Umber comes callin’ proper so we can get to know him. Be a nice change maybe.” Jefferson snorted. “Wise words Crabber.” Franky held the door for them.

#

Umber had been stalking the same hare for an hour as it nibbled clover. Hunting was miserable work, especially in the sun with the flies biting. Umber’s legs tingled from sitting still for so long. He shifted on his belly. The hare froze mid-chew, eyes sweeping wide, and then zigzagged across the field. Umber roared at it. He wished his mother’d taught him about hunting before she’d gone cold. And it wasn’t just hunting. They’d barely talked about the ways of his kind. About her history and his.

Umber rolled in the dirt to cool himself and thought about how this new forest was better than the last one. There were fewer camp-hairs and that meant less of a racket. Camp-hairs always shrieked and scattered when they saw him. And the yelling did hurt his ears so. Umber wished his people-speak wasn’t so rough. It might’ve helped make his chance meetings in the woods go smoother. His stomach rumbled and he thought about people food. The sizzling meat, salty and full of grease. Animals never tasted that way after opening them up.

Umber weighed out whether the Frank-hee woman might let him eat her cooking. He’d been spying on her, worrying at the best way to introduce himself and now it had really happened. She hadn’t even yelled…much. Umber wet his lips, thinking about the people food that Jeffsin Crab always seemed to be eating. Soon he might have a shot at the same.

#

Umber lurked at the edge of the forest, gauging Frank-hee’s state of mind. Jeffsin Crab followed her as she sorted vegetables. When things seemed peaceful enough, Umber ambled into the clearing. Frank-hee had her back to Umber as she rubber-banded beans together. Jeffsin Crab spotted him first and trotted over. Umber got down at the animal’s level and clicked. Jeffsin Crab’s nose worked the air as he inched closer.

“Leaping lilies,” Frank-hee hollered. Jeffsin Crab tore towards Frank-hee. “Ya sure do spook a person Umber.” She stroked Jeffsin Crab’s head. “Jefferson, this here’s our friend, remember?” She raised a hand. “Ya caught me packin’ for the markets. Could use yer help if ya have a mind to.”

Frank-hee’s words came so fast and strung together that Umber found them hard to follow. He did catch the word help though, which he’d heard camp-hairs say while setting up their sleeping nests in the woods. Umber made his way over to Frank-hee, glad to belong.

She motioned for Umber to follow her to the front yard. “The work’ll be easy for the likes of you.” Frank-hee stopped at a large blue object spotted with brownish craters and patted it. “Meet Gracie.” She waved at crates of corn and peppers. “Help me get this into her.”

Jeffsin Crab slept as Frank-hee and Umber worked. When they finished, Frank-hee leaned against Gracie. “Been thinkin’ Umber, why don’t ya come ‘round fer a meal sometime?”

Umber tugged on his bottom teeth. “Dog?”

“Ya can’t be eatin’ Crabber!”

Umber shook his head and grabbed a short stick, placing it between his palms. “Dog.”

“Oh. HOT DOG.” She patted Umber’s forearm. “Well, come by in a week an’––. Shoot. Ya prolly don’t know a week from a year. Uh ––. Hot dogs. Here.” Frank-hee pointed to the house and the sky. “At full moon.”

Umber made a circle with his arms.

“That’s right.”

Umber nodded and clicked, lumbering off into the woods before she changed her mind.

#

The week inched by, slow and steady like creek water. On the night Umber was supposed to arrive, Franky puttered around her fire pit. “Can ya believe a Bigfoot’s callin’ Crabber?” She wiped sweat from her forehead with a bandana. “Wonder what Pa’d say.” Franky bit her bottom lip and chopped up an onion. Her eyes stung, but she didn’t mind. It felt good to do a different sort of crying.

Several whoops punctuated the air. Jefferson cocked his head. “That’ll be our friend.” Jefferson shot past Franky into the dark. Another whoop sounded. Jefferson bounded from between the cornstalks, tail wagging. “Ya find Umber?”

A hoot made her look up. Umber stood near the fire, holding out a long stick.

“What ya got there now?”

Umber scratched his back with the stick and then held it out again.

“Ain’t that useful.” She got on her tiptoes and took it. “Glad ya came.”

Umber plopped down on a tree stump, clicking softly.

Franky fussed with her overalls, not knowing what to say. Her options were slim. The weather. Her bunion. Her crops. It was what Franky’s ma would call church talk––or the best way to waste a person’s time. Franky wished she was more interesting. She placed a bowl of wieners on the ground and shoved a tree branch into Umber’s palm, still marveling at how his hand was twice the size of her head. “Stick yer hot dog with this.”

Drool snaked its way down Umber’s chin.

Franky pried the foil off a can of baked beans resting in the fire. “How come I never seen ya ‘fore that first night?”

Umber shrugged.

“I’m not much fer people either, if that’s it. They’re never ‘round when ya need ‘em. Or they’re always nosin’ ‘round in yer business when that’s the least of what yer wantin’. Ma’ folks thought the same.” Franky studied the fire for a minute and then looked up into Umber’s eyes. “Any chance you knew ‘em? Ma’ folks.”

Umber picked at a toe and clicked a few times before returning her gaze.

“Nevermind. Knew it was a stretch.” Franky sighed and went back to staring at the fire. Her throat started to close up. No need to be a bucket of tears while entertainin’ Franky girl ‘less ya want to scare off yer shot at a real friend, she chided herself.

A spark landed on Umber’s fur. He yelped, smacking at his big arm.

Franky was thankful for the distraction. She leapt to her feet. “Ya hurt?”

Umber grimaced. Jefferson sniffed at the burnt fur smell before collapsing near him. Umber scooted away and rubbed at his wound.

“Don’t mind Crabber. He just likes ya. We both do.”

The three of them didn’t say anything for awhile. When Franky got the courage to fix her gaze on Umber again, he was eyeing the bowl of wieners. “Don’t be shy. Go ahead an’ eat.”

Umber hummed as he cooked the wieners. Once they were hot, he dipped the stick deep into his mouth like a sword swallower.

Franky blew away a wisp of bark-colored hair. “Ya can’t eat people food all the time I s’ppose. What ya huntin’? Small critters?”

Umber nodded.

“I hunt ma’ food too. Learned early from Pa.” Franky thrust a hot dog into the fire. “Ya see I was always shunnin’ women’s ways. Ya shoulda seen ole ma chasing after me with a cake of soap. I was a devil child. But, Pa didn’t trouble himself with belts. He was smarter than that.” She tapped her finger against her temple. “That man put me to use. Ya see, he figured I was the best thing they had to a boy. I learned all that needed knowin’ from him. How to work with the earth. How to catch and gut a fish. How to sling-shot hares away from the crops.” Franky pulled out her tobacco. “We hunted all kinds of things. Pa always said why pay fer meat when ya can shake hands with it in the woods?” She packed her bottom lip. “Pa started me on the juice too. Just another thing I don’t do ladylike.”

Franky realized she’d been nattering for near on ten minutes without a break to breathe. Franky, why ya so thick ‘tween the ears, she thought, no person with all their screws wants to know yer history. She pinched her wrist to fight showing any tears and turned back to her new friend. “Ain’t we two peas?”

Umber held the last of the wieners over the fire.

Maybe he hadn’t faulted her too much. She studied Umber’s face as he cooked his food. A pink bubbly scar cut across his forehead and the top of his ear was missing. “Where ya get that?” Franky touched her face.

Umber dumped the rest of the beans into his mouth.

“Got me one too.” Franky ran her thumb along her chin, where a thick white scar was barely visible. “Girl in town badmouthed Pa once.” She swished and spit water until it ran clear of tobacco. “Said the wrong thing back defendin’ him an’ she answered with a mean ole rock.” Franky wiped her lips with her bandana. “Them townies can eat a sock as much as I care.”

Umber pushed himself to his feet.

“Oh…Ya skedaddlin’ then?”

Umber nodded.

Franky scuffed her boot against the stones lining the fire pit, feeling silly. “Come callin’ soon ya hear.”

Umber hooted and clicked as he crossed the field to the woods.

Franky stayed by the fire and mulled the evening over. Next time I’ll reign in the loony. Make jokes. Be less like ma’ folks. The twigs crackled, sending sparks into the sky. Shoulda asked Umber to stay the night, she thought. Would’ve made the house feel less lonely. She missed her pa’s snoring mostly; a sound that calmed her to sleep when she was a scrap of a thing and having nightmares about monsters, sharp-toothed and slavering. Franky’d listen for the snoring even now. But the rhythmic wet sawing sound never came. Jefferson scratched his ear and looked at Franky. Her eyes watered. Franky wondered how many tears can fill a person. It wasn’t until the embers burned a soft red that she went inside, her Crabber following behind.

#

Umber’d visited Frank-hee many times since their first meal. She fed him and kept him busy around her farm. He liked feeling needed. Franky reminded him of his mother that way. Mother. Umber still remembered her scent––an earthy mixture of wet moss and autumn leaves. Frank-hee had a much different smell to her. Musky. Salty. And something else he couldn’t place.

That day, Umber found Frank-hee rocking on her front porch with Jeffsin Crab across her feet. She waved him near. “Come ‘round back. Some plants are takin’ root up on the roof.” Frank-hee stretched and turned to cut through her house.

Umber high-tailed it around the side of her house just in time to catch the end of Frank-hee’s words as she came outside again on the back porch.

“––an’ I’ll fry up some grub while ya work.”

Umber nodded. He liked how Frank-hee’s chatter blended in with the forest noises, creating a comforting hum.

She handed over a small fire. “This lantern’ll chase away the dark. See?” Frank-hee placed the lantern on a stool. “Careful now. There ain’t no top.” She took off for the kitchen.

The sun had almost died by the time Umber was done with the weeds. He picked up the lantern and headed for a tree stump to rest. On his way, Umber noticed a blanket hanging over a rope. Maybe Frank-hee will let me use this for my nest, he thought. As he swung up the lantern to take a closer look, the fire caught a loose thread and ate through the blanket. Umber yowled.

Frank-hee ran out of the house, Jeffsin Crab at her heels. Her eyes landed on the blanket, which was swallowed whole by flames. “Ya burned ma’ folks!” She flung herself at the blanket, stomping on it until the smoke was gone. “God in heaven!” Franky clutched what was left to her chest, tears running down her cheeks. “Ya know what ya done?”

She raised her voice until it reminded Umber of the camp-hairs. He put his hands over his ears and clicked.

“Ain’t ya sorry?” Frank-hee shook the blanket at him. “Yer makin’ me madder than a wet hen.”

Umber searched for the right words to make her tears dry up. He clicked a few times and then added in a hoot or two.

Frank-hee draped the blackened blanket around her shoulders and wiped her tears with it. After several moments, she seemed to soften and shrink in size, her shoulders drooping under the weight of the blanket. Frank-hee squinted up at Umber. “Listen. I know ya didn’t mean it.” She pushed the blanket under her nose and closed her eyes, drawing in a few shaky breaths. “Let’s just go fill ourselves up. Get to findin’ some peace together.” Frank-hee trudged off in the direction of the house without looking back.

When they got to the front porch, Frank-hee didn’t touch the meal she’d made, claiming it was best to stick to her medicine. As Umber ate, Frank-hee stood out in the yard with her back to him, drinking. Jeffsin Crab nudged her leg, but she brushed him away and hurried into the house. A series of loud bangs came from inside. Umber flinched. The noise reminded him of how trees sounded when they crashed to the ground. He pushed away his food.

Frank-hee returned with more medicine. She swayed, staring him down. He hooted long and low and then worked a twig between his teeth, not knowing what else to say.

Frank-hee sank into her rocking chair. “Come warm me Crabber.” Jeffsin Crab plunked himself on top of Frank-hee’s feet, tail thumping. She pulled out an odd-looking piece of tree. “This pipe belonged to Pa. Whittled it himself.” Frank-hee lit a fire in one end until smoke trailed into the air. “He was such a good man.” She cleared her throat. “Not that you’d know.”

Umber took the twig out of his mouth and pushed it over to Jeffsin Crab, who snuffled the offering before resting his paw on top.

“Ya’ got other things like ya ‘round somewhere…Kin?”

He shook his head, wishing he knew the words to explain about his mother.

“Put ma’ folks in the dirt this year.” Frank-hee filled her glass with medicine until it sloshed over the brim. She held up the wrecked blanket. “This was the closest I’ve been able to get to their hugs.”

Umber scooted closer. He wished his mother was there. She would’ve known how to help Frank-hee. Umber sat with Jeffsin Crab in silence and watched Frank-hee rock with her blanket until the skeeters were too much to bear. He wished he had something powerful like mountain mint to chase away Frank-hee’s hurt. Thunder clapped in the distance. Umber clicked and got to his feet. He headed across the yard, scratching the bug bites on his belly.

“Sorry I’m a blubbering ninny,” Frank-hee called out.

He was almost to the trees. Jeffsin Crab will fix her better, Umber thought.

“Was a peach havin’ ya,” Frank-hee slurred. “Swear it.”

Umber pushed his way through the trees without turning around and drew in deep breaths, searching for the scent of wet moss and autumn leaves.

#

It’d been five evenings since Umber’d come around. Franky rocked on the porch with her jar of whiskey, scanning the brush. He has to get why a person’d be sore, Franky worried.

She ran her bare foot through Jefferson’s fur. “God I love the feel of ya.” The old dog didn’t look up. Franky sipped her drink. His breathing had been raspy all day. She didn’t like it. “Why ya so down Crabber?” She prodded his rib with her big toe and the old dog’s backside tensed. Jefferson picked himself up, hip muscles twitching, and padded a few feet away before laying back down. “Why ya keepin’ to yerself?” Franky leaned forward. “Crabber?” His rasping had stopped. In fact, Jefferson’s whole body seemed still. “Yer givin’ me the frights now.” Franky set her jar down. “Jefferson?”

The old dog jerked like a deer that hadn’t been shot clean. Franky dived down next to him as froth spilled out of his mouth. ”Crabber!” She gripped Jefferson’s flailing legs, trying to get a hold on her whole world before it left her. “I’m here.” Franky buried her face into his heaving belly. “Tell me what to do. Anythin’ an’ I’ll do it.” Jefferson’s body calmed and Franky lifted what she could of him into her arms, brushing his ears back to see him better. The dog focused on her. “Don’t ya leave me.” She placed her hand on Jefferson’s ribcage. “I couldn’t bear it.” His heart felt like it might bust out of his chest. “We’re like old shoes.” Franky kissed the bridge of his nose, tears falling. Jefferson whimpered. She rubbed her tears from his fur. “Sorry ‘bout gettin’ ya messy.”

Jefferson’s eyes rolled back in his head and he thrashed around again. Franky cradled the old dog’s head in her lap as his bladder let go in a warm wet river, soaking the knees of her jeans. “Leave me ma’ lil pup.” The words tumbled from her lips over and over until they became one warbling note, sung up to the heavens, to anything or anyone who might care to hear.

Franky rocked Jefferson until he was cold. She’d done the same with her folks on the side of the road after the accident. Now what do I have? Who? Franky took off her flannel and wrapped Jefferson in it like a baby. Maybe he’ll smell me, she thought. She scooped him up and staggered into the house. Franky laid Jefferson down at the end of her bed and shuffled out of the room, looking like a worn out sack doll. Franky returned with her whiskey and looked at Jefferson’s tail peeping from underneath her shirt. She crawled into bed next to him, stroking along the length of his nose from time to time as she drank. The rest will wait till mornin’.

#

Franky stirred from where she’d passed out next to Jefferson. She listened to the birds twittering outside her window until she couldn’t bear the sound of them being happy anymore. Franky placed her hand on his body. “Crabber. Ya sweet old man. It’s time.”

Franky lifted him, shirt and all, and stumbled out to where her folks rested at the edge of the woods. The crosses were wooden, cut and sanded by Franky herself. It’d been a full month after their passing before she’d even had the heart to make them. After all, there was no pretending after that. She set Jefferson down in the yellow wild flowers and grabbed her shovel.

As Franky worked, the night’s whiskey came out through her skin, sour and sweet. She kept digging, mouth dry, thankful to feel the pain in her blistering palms. When the hole felt deep enough, Franky dropped the shovel. A worm pushed its way out of the earth and fell into the hole. Once Jefferson was in, still covered with her shirt, she realized how small he looked. Franky surveyed the trees, praying she’d see Umber. But, there was no sign of him. “Guess we’ll have to do this alone, Crabber.” Franky trailed her fingers through the sun-warmed topsoil and down into the cool earth around Jefferson’s body. Flies were landing so she forced herself to move. Franky pushed dirt into the hole, her eyes burning. When it was full, Franky rubbed soil over the backs of her hands and kissed the crosses. “Y’all got each other at least.” Franky picked flowers and arranged them on top of Jefferson’s mound before heading back.

#

That night, Franky made extra for dinner. Umber’ll come. I just got to wait. She stared out into the trees, a chunk of unchewed toast wedged in her cheek. Franky spit out the soggy mess and tried a fresh bite. The sound of one fork against one plate struck her deep in the belly like a punch. Franky left the food on the porch, but it was untouched in the morning.

Umber didn’t show for weeks. Franky let the dishes go. She lost herself in her mother’s childhood diary and in her pa’s farm records, running her fingers along the loops and curves of their writing. She collected Jefferson’s fur out of the floor corners and kept it in a tin, rubbing it from time to time between her fingers. She wandered around her house late into the night and hugged the burnt quilt to her, but it didn’t have the same power to comfort her anymore. There was simply too much bed without Jefferson there to keep her warm.

#

Umber whistled as he tromped towards Frank-hee’s house, proud of what he’d found for her. He’d spotted it across a valley and couldn’t resist. The light had come from an old camp-hair’s nest, and there, hanging from a tree was the shiny something. He hoped Frank-hee would like how it showed whatever was put up in front of it, like a pond. This will cheer Frank-hee up, he thought.

Umber wanted the shiny something to be a surprise. So, Umber found a comfortable spot in her herb garden to wait.

When Frank-hee rounded the corner of her house, she dropped her basket with a clang. “Oh! Look at ya sittin’ there so easy like.” Frank-hee tucked her hair behind her ears and rubbed her nose. “Where ya been?” She raised her voice, wiping at the corners of her eyes. “Can ya say or is that too much trouble fer ya?”

Umber covered his ears. He didn’t understand why Frank-hee’s voice had to be so loud. Umber pointed to the trees.

“Searchin’ out marshmallows an’ hamburgers an’ hot dogs, that it? Frank-hee spit. “Just like an animal.” She yanked a tool out of her basket.

Umber hooted.

“An’ yer not goin’ to ask ‘bout Jefferson I s’ppose? Not even goin’ to wonder why he’s not racin’ ‘round ya full of smiles like he does? Did.” Frank-hee hacked away at the dry earth. “Well ma’ Crabber’s gone. Put him in the ground last week or moon or whatever yer kind understand…if ya even understand anything at all.”

Umber lowered his head, trying to piece together what she’d said to him.

She kept making the dirt fly. “Can’t ya bother to say anythin’? I said Jefferson’s gone.”

Umber pulled the shiny something from behind his back and held it out to her, clicking.

“Ya never showed. Fer days ya didn’t.” A hawk circled above the crop fields, searching for its next meal. Frank-hee watched it as the silence grew between them, tears dripping down her chin.

Umber waved the shiny something at her.

“Oh I don’t want yer stupid mirror.”

The hawk’s shrill cry pierced the air. Umber couldn’t help but look upwards.

“Just go.” Frank-hee threw her tool at him. “Ya can’t even talk this through without yer mind wanderin’. An’ I don’t need ya botherin’ in ma’ crops no more.” She yanked up her basket and spun away from him. Franky shouted, “I was dumb as dirt to think ya understood how this feels.” The door to her house slammed shut behind her.

#

The hawk glided above Umber, breaking the silence now and then with a high-pitched call. He thought of his mother and the BOOM that changed everything. Of her hitting the ground like a felled tree. Of his palm pressing against her fur as a red warm wetness bubbled up through his thick fingers. Of his mother baring her teeth and moving away from his touch. Of how cold she’d felt in his arms after the second and third sunrises.

Umber wrenched a tomato off a vine. He bit into it, coating his fur with juice, and waited for Frank-hee to return. But, she didn’t come. The hawk swooped down, missing a hare as it shot through the cabbage. Umber left the shiny something on Frank-hee’s tree stump. It’s time for moving on, he thought. Umber entered the woods and aimed his nose at the sky, searching for the scent of big game.

#

Franky rested her palm on the kitchen tiles, chest heaving. Franky ya done a bad thing yellin’ at Umber like that, but he’ll come ‘round to ya. He has to. Her tears stung the cracks of her lips. As the minutes ticked by, Franky’s legs began to cramp. She stood glued to the spot, waiting for Umber to push open the door. Outside, the hawk shrieked. Franky closed her eyes, imagining what it’d feel like to disappear into Umber’s warm fur. Only arms that big could make the hurt of her folks…of Jefferson…go away. She waited in the kitchen until the sun went down. But, Umber never came.


 

 

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