Trunks and Lace

by kholinar

A continuation of the Story of Ibex and the Button:

Tempest’s fingers worry the hem of her skirt as she sits watching Briggs run from tree to tree with a loud exclamation to each encountered trunk. There is a level of mischief in his play today that would concern her if she hadn’t spied the dark patch that had appeared in her lace.

“Bark!” Briggs proclaims.

Tempest glances up.

“Bark!” he repeats, and his finger asserts that the pine is guilty indeed. He glances up, smirks, and then looks around to see if any canines enjoy his pun. If a housetop had been close-by, no doubt he would have found further inspiration.

“Funny,” she says, glancing back down at her dress, but the disapproval seems to encourage his grin.

“It is, it is.” Her brother said, “They don’t say it, but we say they do.”

“Who doesn’t?”

“Dogs. They say ‘bahr-oo’ or ‘brak’ or ‘rouw,’ not bark, but we don’t pay attention. That’s why we can’t hear them.”

“You really should try not to harass the trees with your theories.”

“That’s just so they know I get it. Leafs aren’t like dogs. They whisper.”

Tempest thought for a moment and nodded. Sometimes Briggs thought of things so strange that they made sense. A clarity like madness. For the moment her thoughts went back to her dress. A stain. It was preposterous. Normally Briggs and herself resonated like opposite poles of a magnet. He drew dirt to himself and she seemed to repel it. This didn’t seem like a stain she could have gotten outside either, it was almost a purple-grey. It was as if her dress had fallen and bruised from the injury. The strange incident darkened her mood.

The late spring sun crested on its periwinkle wave, and the trees broke beneath it, their shadows falling in a plummet straight for the forest floor. Tempest feels her black hair warm as a gap in the branches above permits a few errant rays to slip through. Her large blue eyes tilt upward with her head to check the time.

“My stomach grumbles like a beehive bumbles,” Briggs said.

“Oh, rhymes and puns, what other wonders will you work with your mouth today?” she asks and continues, “But, yes, it’s lunch time. We should head back.”

Tempest walked through the glade to their path and set off smoothly at a moderate pace. Briggs would run ahead, then linger behind collecting acorns and snail-shells. Grasshoppers leapt and moths fluttered in the grass as they walked. The occasional gust of wind encouraged them along after they escaped the trees’ windbreak. Stepping along the edge of a field, they turned and cut back at its corner to access the meadow next to their house. Just over the gentle hill they could see it, a small farmhouse all square except for the one peak of roof on its side. Not a bold-triangle gable or rounded decoration in sight. Even the weathercock was fashioned from square rod-iron and seemed to spin in halting quarters.

Then Briggs breaks into a race with his arms and legs in the lead, but his stomach seeming to catch up. Tempest almost feels the percussion of the back door closing after his entrance. She continues her pace, grasps the handle moments later and steps inside.

Slipping thru the utility room into the kitchen, she finds Briggs mid-sandwich. Their mother had laid out grapes, cheese, ham and lettuce along with a fresh, yeasty-smelling loaf of bread. Her brother is nibbling on a wedge of the cheddar between fast mouthfuls of grapes and sandwich.

“Is there anything I can get you, dear?” her father asks as he appears out of the hallway. He glances at his son and smiles, “Getting ready for winter, Briggs?”

“Yep, I saw lotsa grasshoppers, and it reminded me.”

“You need to read the story again,” Tempest said, “the point was to save some back.”

“I am. Just in my tummy. See?” and lifts the bottom of his shirt to show his well-stuffed stomach.

Tempest ignores him, “Do we have cucumbers and onions?”

“I believe so.” He turns and checks the pantry, “Yes, indeed.”

He and Tempest assemble her lunch quickly and she cuts her sandwich carefully into four even triangles. While she eats he talks of people met in town, the new librarian and the book he’d found on carving. Her father was a sort-of high level tinker, fixing most anything that needed repair around the county and creating lovely things to sell when things were slow. Most of his art had been in casting and other metalwork, but lately he’d taken an interest in woodworking. “In this, each one has to give. The wood has something in it and I partner with it to reveal it. Not as easy as metal, but more rewarding when you can keep from destroying it. Knowing when to stop is the hardest part.”

Her mother had said that she thought some of his new interest had to do with Briggs. Metalwork was a fine medium, but far too dangerous for a curious boy. Briggs was approaching the age where careful use of a pocket knife or file under supervision would be possible.

She listens to her father and thinks about all this until her mother steps into the room. “Well, it seems that lunch has started.”

“Briggs was starving, and honestly, so was I… a little,” Tempest replies.

“A good appetite will never get disapproval from me,” her mother replies and smiles, “So what did you two do today.”

“Briggs barked at trees, mostly”

“I didn’t. I was explaining to them.”

“I hope you didn’t leaf anything out,” her father replies seriously, and four female eyes roll upward simultaneously.

“We mostly just explored the woods, … and Briggs looked for snails.”

“Just watch for sinkholes,” her mother says, then glances down at her daughter. “It looks like you found something as well.”

Tempest felt her mood, which had been raised by her father’s conversation, sinking yet again. “Horrid stain, I have no idea where I got that,” and fingered it in annoyance.

Her father took a look and said, “Looks like you picked up a bruise too.”
Surprised, Tempest looks where her father had indicated and sees the discoloration just above her ankle. It is a darker purple than the stain and shaped like a crescent moon, as if someone had pushed half a coin into her leg and left a mark. She couldn’t remember falling or bumping into anything and said as much.

“Are you sure you weren’t running around? It’d be easy to collide with something,” her mother said.

“No, Tempest wasn’t running,” Briggs said, “She likes to explore, but she’s more careful than me.” Briggs was always covered with scrapes and bruises.

“Maybe that happened yesterday then,” her father replied and the matter was dropped.

But Tempest looked at the bruise shining on her ankle. She touched it. It felt strange and tender, but not like a normal bruise. Strange shape, strange feeling, strange color. And she certainly didn’t remember where she got it.