The World According to Luke

Book I: My Life in Knots

Chapter 1: Friends and Strangers

We hadn’t seen anyone in almost forty knots. It had been a long, dry spell. Most of summer had passed and there was a hint of fall on the horizon. Out of nowhere, two people appeared in front of us as we turned from behind a stack of rusted cars in our junkyard. They were dirty, skinny and disheveled. The older one had a rifle. The younger one carried a rather impressive bow, though the quiver was empty. They weaved more than walked, heading north, toward Shiprock.

Grampa stopped in his tracks and stood in front to protect me. They were different than me and Grampa. At least, the older one was. The younger one looked a lot like me, except much thinner. I was thirteen string at the time. First time I’d seen a live woman. I’d heard Grampa talk about them, and I’d seen them in movies, but I’d never seen a live one until that knot.

“Whatcha doin’ out here?” Grampa asked.

“Huntin’,” the older one replied as she staggered north. The younger one didn’t even turn around; she just stumbled along behind her.

“Hungry?” Grampa smiled.

“We’s hungry three day ago, stranger,” she grunted as she walked. “We’ll find somethin’ soon.”

“It’s yer lucky day.” Grampa grinned.

“Don’t be gettin’ no ideas jest b’cause yer a man. Ain’t never needed a man to feed me,” she grumbled without stopping.

“I said it’s yer lucky day, woman, not mine!” Grampa grinned friendly like. “Suit yerself, jest offerin’ to share a meal wi’cha. We have plenny.”

“Men always want somethin’ fer their feed,” she grunted changing direction. “Gettin’ too old fer them games now, mood’s gone. We’ll jest hunt, thanks.”

“Yer kid looks awful scrawny, woman. Shore yas don’t want somethin’ to eat?”

“What else comes with the feed, stranger? She ain’t fer sale fer a li’l grub!”

“Lookit m’kid, woman! Does he look like he’s missed a meal?”

She stopped and stared at me. Squeezed my mouth and looked inside it, pulled my lips and inspected my teeth. She tussled and checked my hair before pulling on my pants to look down at my crotch.

“How old’s the whelp? He’s barely got any pubes.”

“Thirteen string. He’s m’daughter’s kid. She got took by the plague; it’s jest me’n him now,” Grampa answered, with a strained voice.

“What da hell’s a string?” she asked, shaking her head squinting with a quizzical smile and squatting down on her rifle butt; her hands on the barrel for balance.

“I’m sorry. I keeps track of time with this twine; one string per year, three hunret and sixty-five knots. See—” He held up a string with about two hundred different knots and trinkets tied to it.

“Yer a strange one.” She grunted a chuckle and tossed a thumb toward the girl. “I guess she’s twelve string, then.”

“Come with us.” Grampa motioned toward the trail. “We have a camp not far from here. Plenny of food, and we can make yas some bunks. Y’all can rest fer awhile. We don’t want nothin’ from ya. Jest wanna helps if’n we can. Ain’t nothin’ left to hunt around here, anyways.”

“Could use a meal,” she grunted, still sitting on the rifle butt. “We ate a coupla crows about a week ago; nothin’ since.” Using the barrel of the weapon to pull herself up, she grunted, “But, dontcha gits any ideas. You touch ’er and I’ll kill ya.” She waved her rusty rifle in Grampa’s face.

“Friend,” Grampa said, laughing. “I’m too old and tired fer any’a them shenanigans. Jest wanna help where I can, that’s all. Come with us, if you want. Otherwise, me’n the whelp’s gonna go eat. Suit yerself! If yas don’t wanna come with us, don’t. One last word of advice, woman, then, we’re gonna go eat. Even ducks fly south this time of year. Yer headed north, winter’s comin’. It’s gonna get awful cold the way yer headed. Yas might as well come with us, at least until spring. It’s only gonna get worse from now on.” He wandered between junk cars and into the road to our camp with me trailing.

They followed us through the junkyard at a safe distance, weaving back and forth along the trail to our camp.

“Looks like we’s got comp’ny fer dinner, boy.”

“I’ll bring a coupla more plates and chairs, Sir.”

“Just wash your hands and face, boy. They reek. They needs bathing more’n you.”

“Bathe?” the woman said. “We’s hungry.”

He came out with a bar of soap, a purple scrunchy, towels and clean clothes. “Nobody sits at m’table that filthy, woman.”

Handing her the stuff, he pointed at the burn barrel. “If you wanna eat; bathe! Throw yer old clothes in the burn barrel, yonder, and stick that kid in the shower with you. Wash ’er hair good, yours too. We’ll hold up dinner until yer done.”

“Shower! I thought ya wanted us in the creek.”

“Yes, woman, shower, hot and cold runnin’ water, too! We use the creek fer other things.”

He walked them to the bathroom and shut the door behind them. “You can lock it, if you wanna,” he hollered. “And don’t spend too long in there. You’ll use up all the hot water. Me’n the boy needs bathing, too!”

He came back outside and told me to get a couple of cots from storage and set up the rooms while they cleaned up.

“They’s gonna stay, Grampa?” I asked, surprised.

“Who knows!” he grumbled. “Git cher room ready fer ’em, anyhow.”

While I set up my room for them, he scrambled a mess of eggs with some jerky and cut up some apples and melon as the eggs cooked.

I walked to the creek and pulled out our tea jug. I was coming back when they came out of the bathroom. They were a sight. They looked like wet, raggedy dolls and their brown hair was now a silky, beautiful golden hue. I set the tea jug on the table, staring at them. My pants devoured the girl. She held the excess wadded up in front of her in her hand like the lady did Grampa’s.

“Luke, get some rope and make ’em some rope belts for now,” Grampa said. “We’ll git some meat on them bones soon enough.”

“I hadn’t had a hot bath in years, thank you,” the older one said. “You got all the comforts of home here. How’d you manage all this?”

“Just b’cause the world went stupid don’t mean I hadda. We spent years gettin’ this place ready.” Grampa grinned pointing to the picnic table.

“Looks as good as it smells. What is it?”

“Just somethin’ I threw together. They’s plenny more if yer still hungry after this’s gone. But I don’t recommend stuffin’ yerself if you hadn’t ate in a week. Start slow, you can stay here as long as you want.” Grampa grinned with that grin that said he loved you. I’d seen it a thousand times, and he meant it, too.

“Sit! Eat! Luke set up his room fer yas two.” He waved toward the table. “We’ll show you around inside, after dinner.”

The girl sat and looked at the platter of steaming scrambled eggs and jerky. Grampa stood waiting on the lady to sit as he served the girl a heaping plate of eggs. She just looked at it. The lady looked at Grampa and back at the girl’s plate.

“Oh, fer Pete’s sake!” Grampa said as he took a forkful of eggs from the girl’s plate and ate it. “Do you thinks I’d waste food on two scrawny girls? Sit down, woman. You got some serious trust issues.”

“Cain’t be too careful these days,” she said, cinching the rope through the belt loops around her waist.

“Luke, eat up, boy. She’ll eat when she’s good’n ready. Ain’t no sense food gettin’ cold, you trust me, huh?”

I ate my fill as the girls got comfortable eating. They continued eating and eating some more, until the whole thing was gone.

Making circles in the air with his fork, Grampa said, “It ain’t good to stuff yourself like that; there’ll be more in the mornin’. Eat some fruit, too. It’ll help start up your digestion.”

The girl didn’t need a second invitation. She went at that bowl of fruit like there was no tomorrow. They ate until it was all gone, and Grampa’d cooked a whole mess of eggs’n jerky and cut up six apples and a whole melon. When they finished Grampa got a small bunch of grapes out of the creek—nice and cold they were. The girl’d never seen a grape, but it didn’t take her long to get acquainted with them; she ate most of the bunch quick-like, smiling and shaking her head as she chewed them.

“Next time,” Grampa said, smiling, “use your tools to eat; I know, your hands were clean, but manners is manners, y’know. You’s a bit hungry tonight, but you won’t be in the mornin’.”

“We ain’t stayin’.” The lady wiped her hands on the pants and swiped her mouth on the shirt sleeve. “Gotta be movin’ on; they’s peoples waitin’ on us. Thanks fer the rags.”

“There ain’t been nobody around fer years, there’s no one left, woman; pick a different lie. If you don’t wanna stay, that path there will take you back where we found yas; make sure ya cover the entry.”

She picked up her rifle, pointed it at Grampa, and tossed him a bag. “Jest fill that bag with grub. We’ll git where we’s goin’ in time. We ain’t gonna die in some man’s camp, raped and abused. No sireeee, not us!”

The girl stood behind her, trembling.

“I checked the gun while you took yer bath, woman. There ain’t a bullet in it. Who ya tryin’ to fool? We’s been nothin’ but kind to yas. You don’t need to be wanderin’ out there in the dark. At least check your room before you decides you wanna go out there again. Luke, show ’em.” He waved me on.

“Ya gotta want somethin’ from us, mister. Nobody’s that kind without wantin’ somethin’ in return.”

“Woman! What I want, you cain’t gimme. I’ll git mine when the time comes. God’ll see to that.”

“Show us the room, boy,” she said, laying the rusty rifle on the table.

“Luke!” Grampa waved his hand toward the house.

“It’s got a working lock, too!” he yelled as I took them in.

She walked into my room and felt the mattress on my bed. She checked the cot and air mattress next to the wall; looked at the blankets folded at the foot of each bed and fluffed the pillows. She inspected the lock on the door to make sure it worked as gramps said.

“Whose room is this? Is this a normal guest room?” she asked, shooting daggers from her eyes.

“No, ma’am, we don’t git too many guests. This is m’room. I set up the cot while you took your baths.”

“C’mon, Erin, let’s git,” she said, tugging at the girl’s arm and walking back out. She sidestepped the door and me and headed to the kitchen. She saw gramps’ scraps pile.

“Whatcha gonna do with them trimmins?” she asked, with the same hard stare.

“I’ll takes ’em out before I goes to bed,” I said, pointing toward the compost area.

She walked around the kitchen island and out the other side and headed toward Grampa.

“Why ya doin’ this?” she said, as she walked back outside.

“Cause you need it, no other reason. Would you rather be in the wilderness or takin’ hot baths regularly?”

“We ain’t stayin’ long, Mister, but a good night’s rest does sound good. Ain’t slept on a mattress in years. Hell, I don’t remember the last time I had eggs.” She shook her head.

“Fine!” Grampa said, as he looked up to the sky. “We’ll go shoppin’ in the mornin’. You and the girl’s needin’ some clothes; ours don’t fit yas too good.

“Shoppin’!” she said. “Are you totally nuts! Where’s ya gonna go shoppin’! Do you know the world ended?”

“In town.” Grampa grinned, ignoring her last question. “Fer now, git some rest and we’ll hitch up the wagon tomorrow and go to town.”

“Mister, I don’t git cha!”

“It’s the first time m’boy’s seen womens. Let ’im learn a little, will ya.”

“Jest how much do ya want him to learn is what I am worried about?” she said, with her arms across her boney chest, one hand on her chin.

“Damn! You really gotta git that checked, woman. Not every man’s after what you think you got that ya think’s so important. All women’s got the same thang, y’know!”

“Most men want whatever it is we’s got, Mister. If’n ya hadn’t noticed, it ain’t zactly crowded with women around here!” She put her hands on her bony hips and bulged her eyes out at gramps.

“Well, we ain’t most of ’em, lady! All I’m tryin’ to do is teach the boy to be kind, nothin’ else. Yer safe here. Learn to trust a bit, woman.”

“I’m gonna turn in, Mister. Thanks fer yer help,” she said, backing away from us and into the house, dragging her rifle and the girl along.

“Don’t lock us out of the house, just yer room, woman.”

Me and Grampa sat outside watching the sky as we did every night. He’d tell me stories about the constellations and the stars. And he’d tell me about the moon missions, and the missions to Mars and beyond; the space station and the moon settlement, until he could tell that I was getting groggy. Then, he’d tuck me in bed, go back outside and cry a bit before he went to bed. This time, my bed was in his room, so I heard him when he came to bed. I didn’t let him know I heard him, but he knew. Once he’d gotten comfortable in his bed he said, “I love you, Luke. Go to sleep. We got a long day tomorrow, the women needs clothing. We’ll be goin’ into town after breakfast.”

“Yes, sir, I’ll get the car ready.”

Morning came and went and the women didn’t get up. We ate lunch and worked around the orchard and chicken coop waiting for them to get up—never seen someone sleep through a whole knot and night, before.

Evening came; I asked if I should put up the car for the night. Cutting fruit, he said, “Yes,” without looking up. By the time I came back, there was a bowl of fruit on the table. We ate and sat for a while after we cleaned up the dishes.

“Let’s turn in early, Luke. We’ll go into town tomorrow and get ’em some clothes.”

“Yes, sir. I’ll get the car ready.”

 
~*~*~

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