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Deep in the woods of the Reservation on a camping trip the gang has a humorous time until a warning reverberates throughout the night.
Uncle Tells the Third Story
“If I did not matter, neither did my feet.”
Uncle leaned back and breathed out the smoke he had held in as he spoke. It clambered along his face as if trying to get back into him through his eyes or ears. It tangled in his hair, and a halo of smoke formed as Uncle leaned forward, coughing. His body shook with age and pain as the coughs ripped from his throat. He laughed at the end and pulled his coffee cup to his face.
With a grimace, he leaned forward and tossed the last dregs of coffee into the flames before him. He pushed slowly up out of his chair and breathed a deep sigh as he shuffled over to his old wooden table. With wrinkled hands, he pushed the food he had out for the children, this way and that around the table, clearing a spot. He set his cup down and pulled from a shelf a large glass hourglass shape, which he placed upon the table. Every motion looked precisely rehearsed, as each piece was placed just so.
“Now, I doubt any of you kids should be handling hot water, so you”—he pointed with his lips at a girl sitting near the edge—“grab me the coffee grounds.” He turned and hobbled over to his ceramic washing pan and grabbed a pitcher of water he kept beside it. He hobbled back as the girl set the coffee tin onto the table and looked up at him expectantly. “Good, good, good, good.” His hands waved this way and that as if in dismissal, but the girl just smiled as she slipped back to her chair with the speed and grace of youth.
Uncle pulled a filter from the tin and placed it in the top of the hourglass-shaped vase. He then filled the filter with coffee grounds. “Now, you kids might not all remember, but Uncle used to use a percolator. Great device, the percolator. It’s setting right over there, right over… I might use it again soon. I just might, but I found this, and I like it. I really do. Never burns the coffee, and no grounds in the final product.” Uncle poured just a slip of cold water over the grounds, set the pitcher down and looked through the glass to watch the slow, meager drip as water soaked the initial grounds and the excess spilled into the bottom of the vase.
With a deep sigh, Uncle turned and hobbled over to the fire and pulled his thick metal pan off the stovetop. He had to wrap his hands in towels before grabbing it with both hands. He sighed with the weight as he steadied himself and then slipped this way and that, past the ring of chairs and back to the table.
The children and Uncle both watched in delight as the steaming water poured from the pan into the hourglass in a long thin stream. The water caught and worked its way through the grounds before cascading along the glass and streaming into the bottom. Uncle cackled every time he saw this, and before long, he set the heavy hot pan on the wooden table before leaning over to watch the last of the dark water slip along the edges of the vessel. Uncle took the water from the pitcher and poured it into the hot pan before his painful walk back to the fire to place it on the stovetop.
“Now that water there—it clears the air. It gives us that fresh feeling and keeps the spirits around the fire calm and cooled down. You don’t have that pan, you’ll be juggling fire before you know it. Dangerous, that. Dangerous. Calls down bad ideas. Always have a pan of water on the fire top. It’s just common sense. Everything is common sense in this life.”
Uncle shuffled and slipped along the floor, back to the table to pull the filter, now full of wet grounds, from the hourglass and tossing the bundle into a pail beside the table that he used for kitchen scraps that would go into his compost when he got around to it. He poured his newly made coffee and took a small sip. With a sigh of joy, Uncle smiled at the flavor. Placing a cracked plate on top of the hourglass to keep in the heat for the leftover coffee, he turned and walked back to his chair. The body before the fire lay unmoving as Uncle sat and looked down upon it. Leaning back, he began to roll a cigarette.
“Now, you new kids don’t know much about coffee yet, but you will. Oh, you will, and you will love it.” Uncle paused for a second, then turned to a small boy on the right. “Well, you… You drank coffee, ain’ it? I remember your momma saying it was to help with you being too active. Too active—well, isn’t that a thing these days? It calms ya down, cause your momma don’t like pills, and she sure don’t like you going crazy. What a world, what a world. Good switch kept us from being too active when I was a kid, though I suppose it was also used to keep us active.”
Uncle leaned forward as he flipped open his lighter and lit his cigarette. Leaning back, he smiled around the paper and tobacco in his mouth. He looked around at the kids, some still in chairs, some laid out on the floor, others playing closer to the fire. All of them stared up at Uncle as he dragged in his smoke and sipped his coffee.
“The story still clings to us. Do you see?” He pointed up at his halo of smoke and smiled a rueful smile. “Sometimes they have a lot to say. Sometimes.” He nodded at his own words and reached up to brush his fingers through his hair. His hand came back wreathed in a dark cloud of wiggling life. He breathed it in and held it, closing his eyes, and a look of strain came over his face, as if the smoke struggled within him.
When his eyes opened, they held a younger sheen than they had before. A giggling, soft tremor echoed along his vocal cords and danced among the children. The voice of one past attempting to become a present.
“I was sixteen the day I heard the bell ring…”
This is a short story written as part of the book “This Life as Told by an Old Ndn.”
Find out about the rest of Thomas’ stories at ourorchard.co