By EJ Spode.
Chapter 21: Deer and Jaguar
I couldn’t see Uncle that well in the inakagapi, but I sensed that he was delighted he was getting to tell a story. I know a natural storyteller when I meet one. Uncle settled in and began.
“As you know, the Mayan calendar is a complicated thing, so it is nigh impossible for me to pin down the year in which this happened, but we can be sure it was many great cycles ago.
One day Deer was walking along a riverbank thinking to himself, what sort of life do I have here? I have no home. No place to call my own. I feel adrift in the jungle. I should build a home here.
A few hours later, Jaguar walked by, thinking just the same thing. What a loser life I have; I have no home. I should build one in this lovely spot.
The next day deer came by the beautiful spot again and began construction of his home. He used his antlers to clear the brush, and after a half day of hard work he moved on to eat some delicious fruits in the jungle.
In the afternoon Jaguar came by and remarked, “this place is truly blessed; the god Tupan has cleared the brush for me, allowing me to improve it more. So Jaguar spent the afternoon using his paws to smooth out the earth in the location that Deer had cleared.
The following day, Deer arrived, amazed by the shiny floor in the space where he had cleared the brush. “This is truly the work of Tupan,” Deer exclaimed to no one in particular. Deer now knew that the location and the project was blessed. He spent the rest of the day using his antlers to build walls of sticks and mud. He then went back into the jungle to feed himself on the delicious fruits that grew there.
Well, in the early evening Jaguar returned to the spot and was delighted to find the finely crafted walls. Tupan continues to this project, she thought; I shall contribute a roof! Jaguar gathered branches and fronds, and she built an elegant roof for the house. Then Jaguar ran into the jungle to catch a tasty dinner.
The next morning Deer arrived and was amazed by the beautiful roof. “Thank you thank you thank you Tupan for this beautiful roof,” Deer said. And then Deer decided that he should build two rooms in the house – one for himself and one for the generous god Tupan. As before, Deer used his antlers and great skill to build the two bedrooms in the house. Exhausted by this effort, Deer went to bed in one of the rooms and fell asleep immediately.
Shortly after Deer had fallen into a deep sleep, Jaguar arrived and was delighted to find this beautiful new addition to her home. Her thought was, Tupan has built these rooms – one for Him and one for me. I shall sleep in this room. By chance Jaguar, chose the empty room, and quickly fell asleep.
The next morning both Deer and Jaguar woke up and came into the common area of their new home. Needless to say, they were quite surprised to see each other. “Did you help me build this beautiful home,” Deer asked. “I did!,” answered Jaguar.
Deer thought for a second and then announced “Tupan works in mysterious ways; it is obvious that He wishes for us to live together and help each other.”
“Yes!” responded Jaguar, “so much yes.”
The two of them lived in harmony.
For a while.”
For some reason, Uncle took this moment to interrupt his narrative. He just stopped with the story and asked if I was ok and if I needed water and so forth. Of course I insisted that I needed absolutely nothing. “No Uncle, I eagerly await the rest of your story.” And yeah, I agree, my language was formal as fuck, but, again, fuck, the dude might have been thousands of years old, right? Sometimes formal is respect.
Despite my protest that I was fine, Uncle poured me a cup of water and continued with his story.
“After several days of living in perfect harmony, Jaguar became hungry, and she said to Deer, make a fire, I am going to bring us a treat, and then Jaguar bounded off into the forest.
Deer made a fire in their kitchen hearth, wondering what the treat might be. But Deer was shocked when Jaguar returned with the carcass of a deer.”
Up to this point I had made a conscious effort not to interrupt the story, but now I found myself needing to interject an opinion. “That’s fucked up, Uncle.”
I had the sense that Uncle was nodding in response, but it was too dark to see, so maybe I just imagined that. Uncle said, “well, this is the way of the Jaguar,” and then continued with the story.
“Deer, of course, was very distressed that Jaguar had killed and brought home another deer for dinner. Deer said, “I’m not feeling well,” and excused himself and went to his bedroom.
Jaguar didn’t understand this, so she feasted on her kill by herself and then went to her room for the night.
But Deer did not sleep well because he feared that Jaguar might come in and kill him.
The next morning Deer said, “Jaguar my friend, I am going to hunt for food for us. Put on a fire and make sure the pots are clean.”
Then Deer went into the jungle and found another jaguar admiring itself in a pond of water. Then, Deer sought out a very powerful and dangerous animal – the anteater. People underestimate the anteater. It has very strong arms and legs and fierce claws.
Deer said to the anteater, “there is a Jaguar at the nearby pond, and he is speaking ill of you.” Well, as you can imagine the anteater was shocked to hear this, and it asked Deer to take him to the Jaguar. Of course, Deer said yes, as this was part of his plan.
Deer took the anteater to a pond and the found the jaguar still admiring its reflection on the surface of the water. Anteater called out to the narcissistic jaguar. “Hey! Were you talking shit about me?”
“Who the fuck are you?” answered the Jaguar.
Well, this sent the anteater into a rage, and he killed the jaguar with just two blows from his powerful arms. Deer then asked if he could have the corpse of the Jaguar as a reward for telling the anteater about the jaguar’s shit talking. “The fuck do I care?” said the anteater, because of course he was far more interested in anthills than jaguars.”
At this point I was wondering where Uncle picked up expressions like “shit talking” and “fuck do I care” but I chalked it up to Uncle having a keen ear. An advantage of being blind, I suppose. Or maybe it was because he was hanging out with 14 year olds too much.
“With some effort Deer dragged the corpse to the house he shared with Jaguar. Dropping the dead animal in the middle of the kitchen, he announced: “Jaguar look at what I brought us to eat!”
Well, this very much freaked out Jaguar. She was a carnivore to be sure, but she was not about to eat another jaguar, and she became afraid of Deer. She looked at the crushed skull of the jaguar on the floor and thought, “Deer must be very powerful to do that. Those antlers are dangerous weapons.”
“I’m going to bed,” Jaguar announced.
“Me too,” said Deer.
Neither animal could sleep of course. Jaguar wondered, “might Deer kill me too?” And Deer thought “perhaps I am safe now that Jaguar fears me, but what if Jaguar is now angry with me and kills me for revenge?” Both animals tossed and turned in their respective rooms, keeping eyes on their bedroom doors.
Sometime after midnight, Deer turned in bed and his antlers scraped on the side of the wall, making a loud noise. Jaguar heard this and leapt from bed. She screamed in terror, thinking that Deer was coming to kill her. On hearing the terrifying scream of Jaguar, Deep jumped out of bed and ran into the jungle as quickly as he could. Meanwhile, Jaguar was running in terror in the opposite direction. Neither Jaguar, nor Deer ever returned to their home, and in the fullness of time, the jungle reclaimed it.”
That was a story and a half, and it completely nailed what happened with Penny and me over the summer.
“Thank you for that story, Uncle, it truly spoke to me. I guess now the question is whether Penny and I are going to return to our home.”
“That is one question, yes EJ.”
“I suppose the other question is, what is the moral of the story.”
Uncle laughed, “You know that is the very question I asked when the shaman first told me the story in the jungles of Belize.”
“So what did the shaman say.”
“He said the moral is for each person to decide.”
“Perhaps the moral is that trust is a valuable thing, and it is a tragedy to not trust those you live with, because you lose a beautiful life together.”
“Yes, that is a good moral.”
“Or perhaps the moral is that people who are so different should not try to live together because it will end badly.”
“Also a good one.”
“When the conquistadors came the Mayan’s saw yet another moral in the story. Notice that Deer does most of the work for Jaguar – her contributions are mostly aesthetic.”
“What about the roof?”
“What is a roof to a deer and a jaguar?”
“Jaguar is a natural danger to Deer and his kind. Deer can only feign power, but he has no viable weapons. He is at the mercy of Jaguar. And Deer was probably right in thinking that Jaguar’s fear was only temporary – it was bound to give way to revenge.”
“Why do you say that? Why suppose that Jaguar would have done that?”
“Think about where we are, EJ, we are on a tiny Lakota reservation. The great warriors Sitting Bull and Red Cloud could make the European invaders fear them, but in the end revenge came, hatred came. They were no match. Just as in the end, Deer was no match for Jaguar if it came to that.”
“So is that the correct moral then?”
“I agree with the Shaman, there is no right moral. Perhaps there are many morals.”
I suppressed my natural instinct to opine about the story, because I had the sense I was supposed to shut up and contemplate it. I mean I could have signed on to any of those three morals. On the one we may be wrecking our relationship simply because we can’t trust each other. But on the other hand, maybe we are just too fundamentally different – she with her jaguar’s sense of beauty and narcissism and me with my utilitarian grind it out ways — maybe there never was any hope for us. But the third moral was the one that really had me thinking. Was Penny a natural danger to me? Was she taking advantage of me? Was that what Uncle was trying to say to me?
We sat in silence as the rocks cooled and the third round came to an end. Without announcing the end, Uncle touched my shoulder and then we crawled out of the wikiup.
The icy Sodak weather felt great. I dove into a snow bank and planted my face in it. I rolled onto my back and made snow angels and stared up at the midday sun. It looked differently than it had when I went in the ditch with Climax. Rather than staring directly into the sun I decided to flirt with it a bit, taking quick glances. I had the sense it was playing along – shooting out those knives of light as a coquettish response. I thought of Athena making her platinum hair dance for Funmaker. It was like that. Had David Foster Wallace been taken in by the sun’s flirtation? I felt I now knew the deep truth about this sun – something that few others knew – and that secret knowledge made me feel joyous. But this joy was just a respite from the hard work that is the inakagapi. The boys were already heating the rocks for round four.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Image: Jana Astanov.
Chapter 1: Giants in the Earth:
Chapter 2: The Welcome Inn:
Chapter 3: Dimebag Bob’s:
Chapter 4: The Trojan Horse:
Chapter 5: The Turtle Diaries:
Chapter 6: The Cartagena Diaries
Chapter 7: Penny
Chapter 8: San Pedro
Chapter 9: Triggered
Chapter 10: Letters and Dreams
Chapter 11: Helena and Steady Eddie
Chapter 12: Circe
Chapter 13: Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Chapter 14: The Sleepover
Chapter 15: The Bittermilk Road
Chapter 16: The Rocket Sisters
Chapter 17: The Pelorum Avenue Street Racers
Chapter 18: I reconnoiter the Stockman
Chapter 19: The Prosetry Slam
Chapter 20: OG Homeboy
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, March 19th, 2017.