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Girl: A Short Story
Girl tugged at the jumble of dirty skins in which her foster parents had slept. The scent of urine and old sweat assaulted her as she smoothed their bedding. Finally, gagging but finished, she stepped away from Rog and Unda’s bed. Why couldn’t they straighten it themselves? Never mind, she had too much work to do to waste time being angry.
Girl grabbed her tousled tree branch and carefully swept the floor, eliminating all the clumps of dirt and pebbles. Bending over, she picked up several ratty snarls of Unda’s gray hair and a bowl of left-over, hardened, cooked grain, then after a quick glance around, she opened the tent flap and left. The brilliant sunlight and liquid breeze bathed her irritated senses, and the tired fourteen-year-old breathed deeply in relief.
Rog and Unda had found Girl as a four-year-old, alone and whimpering at the woods’ edge, and they had eagerly taken her in. Female children brought a high return when marriageable at fifteen, and besides, Unda liked the toddler’s lustrous brown hair and eyes.
“What a little doll,” she had cackled.
“We’ll call her Girl—obviously that’s all she is!” Rog roared, and with a leering grin, he cuffed Unda lightly, to which the woman replied with an answering kick to his calf. The resulting squabble took their minds off the child, who crouched in terror as the two degenerates fought and then coupled in quick succession and in Girl’s plain view.
She had survived with the couple only by luck or a design greater than hers; many nights, she had cried herself to sleep in despair. Unda’s early fascination with Girl’s beauty quickly gave way to an envious cruelty as Rog began to notice Girl too. One day Unda had brutally slapped the young woman simply because Rog was watching her with a smile. After that, Girl knew that her foster mother did not love her. Rog, with his loud brutal ways and funny stares, scared her too. She grew up trying to stay out of Rog and Unda’s way, becoming a servant to them. She never raised her face nor made eye contact with them if she could help it. Unda told Girl what chores to do while the older woman lay around in the apricot grove just south of the tent, playing with her mangy basset hound.
Girl looked over at where Unda napped in the shade, one arm thrown over the dog who returned Girl’s glance, his tongue lolling. This afternoon, as usual after cleaning the tent, Girl was free to entertain herself as long as she had the fire hot and the grain simmering by twilight when Rog returned from the hunt. With a revived sense of vitality, Girl twisted back her hair and took off through the beech trees on the opposite side of the cook fire.
The ancient forest loomed above her as she walked. Birds flew overhead and chattered; squirrels jumped out from behind tree trunks in quick surprise greetings; and the deep green ground cover and white, purple, and pink flowers soothed and delighted Girl’s lonely heart. After about an hour’s walk, the beech thicket opened onto a tiny grove, like a jewel. A green pond sparkled in its center, with jade water so clear that the multicolored stones on its floor and the darting fish above them were clearly visible. The pond was fed by a tiny splashing waterfall, which hurtled over a rocky hill topped by a grassy plain above. Millions of rainbows glistened in the waterfall’s path, mingling with dragonflies with filmy blue-green wings and soft yellow butterflies. The pool emptied into a quiet clean creek, which led back into the beech woods.
Girl smiled and unwrapped her tattered loincloth. She tiptoed over the mulch-like leaves and into her private, beloved pool. The water swirled around her brown body; it was cool underneath and warm on top where the sun had heated it. She ducked under to wet her hair, and surfacing again, giggled as a fish nipped playfully at her legs. Rog and Unda never came to the bathing pond. Girl put them out of her mind as she floated lightly on her back, kissed by the waterfall’s spray. Over her head, an eagle cried, long and eerie. Girl thought its call was the freest sound she had ever heard.
From listening to conversations between Rog and Unda, Girl knew that they planned to barter her to a man in the neighboring tribe, who, Rog boasted, had three oxen and other treasures with which to purchase his bride. Rog and Unda would be rich! Girl wondered what the man was like. She had seen enough of Rog and Unda's coupling to know what awaited her. Thankfully, Rog had not been overly tempted to spoil her bride price, or maybe Unda had scared the temptation out of him. At any rate, Girl had not yet known a man. Nevertheless, as she lay and floated in the sun, she dreamed of someone who would be clean and good and who would understand her, who would walk with her through the deep and rich forest, and be glad, safe, and together with her always.
Startled from her dream as a cloud passed over the face of the sun, Girl touched bottom and reluctantly trailed out of the silky water. The warm late afternoon air quickly dried her, and she redressed and wound her way back to start the dinner fire.
Unknown to Rog and Unda, years ago, close to the day they found Girl, at a distance of several weeks walking southward from their forest home, another family lived peaceably among several families of their kind. In that small tribe, late one night, Old Mort rolled off his plump wife Sarah, with a snort. What came over me, he wondered? Their lovemaking had been as if possessed, and recently he and Sarah, well… there were so many other hot-blooded females in the tribe. It had been as if he went to Sarah without thinking, impelled by a need or purpose other than his own lust—and she had responded in kind.
Deep within Sarah’s womb, a thought, then an atom, then a cell sparked into being. Nine months later, a boy was born to Mort and Sarah, a boy with deep blue eyes. He tasted breath with a strong cry. Outside, flying high over the cave, an eagle screamed, as if in response. This young boy grew with love, despite Mort’s strictness, and after Mort died, he became known for the songs he made about life in the woods and the tribe’s history.
As Girl stood bravely facing the tall middle–aged warrior who had purchased her, the young boy, nearing puberty, sat alone at the top of a cliff, watching the sun set over a lake below, and heard an eagle scream high above. The bird's cry spoke to him, guiding him.
A lovely pool for swimming
Tribute to Jean Auel
Dear Readers: This short story might remind some of you of Jean Auel's best-selling Earth's Children series, beginning with Clan of the Cave Bear in 1980. I admit Auel's wonderful novels influenced me, as have many other wonderful writers' works. This story is based on my own experience, but imagined in a world similar to that of the Earth's Children series.