28: Stream of Misery

The canoe floated with the stream toward the outlet to the sea as he fished. No more giants were levitating above the landscape. Their eggs were long hatched and gone. He anchored where the river split into the delta and waited for the bite. The floater bobbed a little, and he sat up straight in the canoe. Waited, wanted. The primordial lust for prey filled his heart until it burst into the movement of his hand and arm and the jerk that hooked the fish. He hurried to reel it in and lifted it into the boat. A small fish and a meager meal, but it was something, and it had brought on the catharsis of his lust for fishing. He took the paddle as the fish flopped around the bottom of the canoe and paddled upstream again, zigzagging between the tussocks.

Hours passed, and it was evening when he reached their old fishing spot by the stones. From there he could see the cattle grazing the green hills and the meadows around the lake as the towers of the High District peaked from behind them. The wind ripped the by autumn turned yellow and brown leaves off the trees around the lake. The birds had left for the winter and the rodent hidden deep in their burrows. He removed the fish from the hook and put on a worm and threw out the bait and float by the stones where Itero once told him to. There came no bite.

He gutted the fish at the porch as they always did and took it with him into the cabin. He added the fish to the pot as soon as the water began to simmer. As it cooked, he went to the cabinet and took out the butter and the salt. He took the fish out of the water and put it onto a plate that he brought with him to the table. He ate in silence.

When he finished eating, he went to the bookshelf and looked at the books. Their spines had become tattered and torn. He pulled one out and inspected it, weighed it in his hands. Flipped through the pages as dust flew away from it. The rocking chair stood in front of the fireplace where they always had stood. On the table besides Itero’s chair, lay his pipe on a small table made from a sawed long. The rings in the wood encircled the pipe like the rings on the water had encircled their canoe many years ago. Seventy-six rings. For Seventy-six years had that tree lived before it transcended into a piece of furniture. Seventy-nine years had Itero lived before he transcended into ashes carried with the winds over the lake. There was only one person there when that funeral pyre was lit. Only one person mourned him. But he had mourned for lifetimes.

He took the book with him to his rocking chair and bumped into Itero’s as he passed it. It rocked back and forth as I had done for many nights where they had sat together, pondering the mysteries of life and death. They had talked until the sunrise when the birds started chirping outside the window. Then and only then, they went to bed for a couple of hours. Itero had given up most of his life in an attempt to tame the being that was the Devourer. He had no other friends. No other family.

There he sat holding the book for a while before opening it and sifting through the pages, never stopping at any one of them. He sighed and opened it somewhere in the middle and started reading. First silent but when he got lost in the words. He started moving his lips and then whispering. He went quiet again before looking up and over at the empty rocking chair beside him and the table with the pipe. A tear rolled down his cheek and fell onto the page. He started reading again but this time out loud as he had done for so many years to his friend.

The years passed by as everything changed yet stayed the same. People were born, grew up, and died as he watched from the outside of society. As he lived among them but never became one of them. Kings came and went with the centuries. As did those he could almost call friends. Those acquaintances he never let himself learn to love. The man that sold fresh fish down by the docks every day at noon after he had emptied his nets, the guard standing at the gates to the High District in the evenings. The noble boy he tutored and that now was a man of fifty-five. They all came and went as he remained.

He stayed for many years in the cabin. It seemed to act as a vessel containing all the fond memories they had shared. And as every vessel, it would break and shatter, and those memories would disperse in the wind. By the time he decided to move, every log had been replaced with a new one, retaining the shape of the cabin, while in essence the cabin was long gone. He fished in the sea. He hunted in the forest, and he kept a small garden where he grew tubers and some herbs. Every fiftieth year, he went to Mistwood Glade where he stayed for twenty more, before returning to the cabin as a new man with a new name. All to keep the rumors of the one-armed man that did not grow old from circulating.

Then one day, he rose from that rocking chair, went out the door and never returned. He took their canoe and went up the Misty River in search of a new self somewhere else. The cabin remained uninhabited, their few possessions unused, the books unread, until lit all became dust.