Our last human visitor had been Woodrow Washington, a month before. Woodrow had a mustache and one tooth on the bottom, one on top. They didn't line up. Not near. His closest worldly ties were with the bottle, and that left him narrow and shaky. Though he hunted like everyone, his concentration and shots tended to stray. When he showed up, Jerry always hid the vanilla. Sober, he was nice and extra polite. "Tat Feathers boy, he suicide." Woodrow had brought news and stayed only long enough for warmed-up breakfast coffee. "He use double-barrel, backa their outhouse. You got fifty dollar? I sure need, alright?" Abe gave him the money. Abe leaned on his workbench and rubbed his ears. Harry Feathers was--or had been--a shambling teenager with blinky eyes and acne. He talked to Abe when Abe was snacking our sled dogs in front of Feathers's post office. It seemed as if maybe nobody else listened to Harry.
Woodrow had been disappointing company. We had only what money was in the Hills Bros can, but I blamed him more for not spending the night. And not bringing our first class.
Jerry served boiled caribou pelvis, in the cannibal pot, and pilot crackers, salmon berries,
who occasionally came upriver; Enuk's story was just to fill the night and he wasn't afraid to let silence happen between words. Time was one bend of open water to him and he hunched comfortable on the bank, enjoying what the current carried.
With the stick, Enuk picked his teeth. He had most of his teeth, he said, because he never liked "shigger" or "booze." I didn't know what booze meant and was scared to ask, vaguely convinced it might be something frilly that city women ordered out of the first half of the Sears catalog. I sat on the chopping-block stump and stared up into his face.
Abe threw a log into the stove. Sparks hissed red trails up around his shaggy head and flicked into darkness against the low ceiling poles. The poles around the five-gallon-can safety hung with dust tendrils from past smoke. Smoke and the oily odor of flame spread in the room. Abe filled a kettle, making hot water for tea. Mice and shrews rattled spoons on the kitchen boards.
"Wind blow plen'y hard tat night I get lost. Freeze you gonna like nothing." Enuk nodded at our bellied-in plastic sheeting windows behind his head, white and hard with drifted snow. A dwindling line of black night showed at the top. "My lead dowg, he been bite my dowgs. Al'uv'em tangle in'a willows. I leave 'em, let'um bury. I sleep in ta sled, on qaatchiaq. Tat night I never sleep much."
He chuckled and glared. "You listen, Yellow-Hair? Can't see only nothing too much wind." Enuk's bottom lip was thick and dark and permanently thrust out. I laughed, shy, and slapped my grubby red feet on the cold floor and tried to push out my too-thin lip.
In the corner on Abe's spruce-slab bed, Jerry and Iris lay on his caribou-hide qaatchiaq playing checkers. "Rabies," Jerry murmured. "His story's going to have rabies."
She pinched him. "It's your turn." A shrew ran on the floor. Enuk's black eyes followed it. He picked up the block of kindling and waited. Behind the wood box shrews whistled.
Jerry dragged a moose-antler checker over her pieces. The tops of his were marking-penned black, Iris's red. "'Kay then. King me." They wore corduroy pants. The corduroy ridges were eroded off the knees, thighs, and butts. Iris had two belt loops cinched together with twine to keep her too-big pants up. Abe didn't encourage us to change clothes more than once a month. More than twice a month put a burden on everybody. He wouldn't say no, but the house was low and one room-the only place to get out of the weather for miles-and the faintest disapproval could hang in the air.
The corner posts of Abe's bed were weather-silvered logs, the tops bowled from use as chiseling blocks and ashtrays. Above the foot of his bed, his workbench was messy with empty rifle brass, pieces of antler and bone, rusty bolts, wood chips, and abandoned paintings, the canvas and paper bent and ripped by his chisels and heavy planes. Abe Hawcly was a left-handed artist. He was also our dad. But we kids didn't know to call him anything generic or fatherly, only Abe. Travelers called him that. By the time we realized what normal people did, years had hardened into history. Calling him Dad felt worse than shaking hands.
Excerpted from Ordinary Wolves by Seth Kantner, pages 7-13 of the hardcover edition. Copyright © 2004 by Seth Kantner. All rights reserved. Excerpted by permission of the publisher, Milkweed. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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