The next morning while they were sitting around the fire eating acorn mush and rabbit ham and little round roasted balls made from the nuts of the laurel tree pounded into paste, Antelope and Bear started to argue. Bear said, “I don’t understand how Coyote could make people as something new that had never been before, since he himself and Hawk and Flint and the Ducks and all the others were already people. That’s too much for me.”
Coyote Old Man just squinted and smiled and went on eating laurel-nut balls and rabbit ham, but Antelope said, “Aaah, you don’t understand anything. He didn’t say last night that his great-grandfather’s grandfather made people, he said that Hawk complained because there were no people.”
“Well, isn’t that just what I was saying? I said that you said that Grandfather said—”
But Fox Boy interrupted, “Why don’t you listen to the stories instead of talking like two magpies?”
“Well, what does the story say then, you smart boy?”
“How can I tell myself after you two have mixed it all up?”
At that Old Man Coyote burst out laughing and almost strangled on a rabbit bone.
“That boy is clever all right,” he said. But Bear grumbled, “You are so clever yourself, Old Man, well then, tell me why you say that you made people when there were already people.”
“Because I am Coyote Old Man. I am a very old man. I am a thousand years old. I KNOW WHAT’S HAPPENED AFTER THE BEFORE and before the after!”
Bear growled, “That doesn’t make sense what you say,” but Coyote shot back, “It doesn’t make sense to YOU because you are a young man yet, Mr. Bear. You are too young to understand.”
At that, Fox Boy started to dance. He whooped and yelled and sang, “Father is too young, Father is too young.” He took Antelope by the hand and they both danced around the fire singing, “Father is too young, Father is too young.”
Old Man Coyote got up and took the little baby Quail in his arms and he joined the dance around the fire. Bear growled, “Just a bunch of kids. I’m going to hunt rabbits. Somebody has got to do something useful in this camp.”
“Wait a minute, Father, I’m going with you.”
Antelope took up her weaving material; she had commenced a new basket. Coyote was watching her. He said, “Why don’t you weave in the Quail pattern?”
“I don’t know how it goes. Do you?”
“Yes, I’ll show you how,” and old man Coyote took the basket from her. His fingers went fast, fast, fast. Pretty soon you could see all the Quail running around and around the basket, black figures on the white background.
“That’s beautiful,” said Antelope. Coyote gave her back the basket and she continued weaving, but she had to go slowly because it was a new pattern to her and she often had to stop and ask instructions from old man Coyote. Coyote was rocking the baby Quail in her cradle board.
“I’ll sing the Quail song for you.”
Daaabo le eeema ma a…
* * * * *
Soon they were on the trail again, they were traveling along a valley. Fox said, “Mother, do you remember the last trip through here, and how we stopped at this same village of Hawks, and then we had an argument, Grandfather Coyote, you and I?”
“No, it wasn’t here boy. It was later on the trip. You have either forgotten or you are all mixed up. Grandfather was not with us when we visited the village of the Hawks. We did not go to his house till later in the trip. But I think I know what you mean. It was after Grandfather Coyote told us that same story about the Hawk Chief of the old days that you started the argument with him and me.”
Oriole said, “Aunt Antelope, do you mean to tell me that Fox was already in the habit of arguing when he was a little boy?”
Antelope laughed, “Yes, he was always that way.”
Kilelli asked, “What was the argument about?”
“Oh, it was about how could people be people and not be people at the same time. When Grandfather Coyote said, ‘That’s the end of the tale,’ Fox said, “Why, NO, Grandfather! the story is not finished. Your great-great-grandfather stopped the fire, and then he stopped the flood, and then he got new fire from the people in the South World, and then he got the Sun so as to have light to see by. But still there are no people in the world!’ Then I said, ‘What do you mean, there are no people in the world? Isn’t Hawk people? Isn’t Dove pople? and Rat, and Flint, and all the rest?’ But he wasn’t satisfied, he kept insisting that they were people, all right, and yet they were not people.”
Tsimmu looked at Kilelli.
“What are you laughing about, you White One?”
“Nothing, nothing. Oh, well, just that the same question has always bothered me too.”
White Bead asked, “What do YOU think, you Tsimmu?”
“I? OH, I don’t think anything. I am a WOLF!”
“That’s no answer!” said Oriole.
“You can’t trap that wild owl. Eh, you, give me that baby, she is too heavy for you.” And he swung the Quail on his shoulders, astride his pack.
They went on along the valley, tras… tras… tras. Fox said, “All right, go on laughing. We will soon arrive at the village of the Flints, and then we’ll see what you say about it. Are they people, are they not people?”
Kilelli asked, “Do you mean we are coming to a village where the people are supernatural beings?”
Oriole asked, “What do YOU know about it?”
He answered, “Not so much as you do!”
Everybody laughed. Tsimmu shouted, “He wins!! Throw the bones across…”
* * * * *
Fox Boy and Oriole were sitting by the side of the lake. Oriole said, “Fox WHAT did you DO to your tail.”
“What’s the matter with it?” asked Fox in an injured tone.
“Why, it’s so ragged—and it’s getting shorter and shorter… ever since you were initiated.”
“Oh, go on with you,” said Fox, trying to bring the end of his tail to the front to look at it. He was turning and turning around. He finally got dizzy and sat down, and Oriole burst into loud laughter.
“You had better not laugh, Miss. I didn’t want to say anything about it, but your wings have been getting shorter and kind of ragged. I have been noticing it.”
“Oh, have you, little boy? Well, let me tell you, we don’t call these wings any more. That’s just an old-fashioned word. These are arms. Arms, not wings, you understand? ARMS. Say a-r-m-s.”
“I don’t want to, I DON’T WANT TO. I don’t want to be a Man; I want to be a Fox.”
“Oh, the HA-HAS again. You are reverting.”
Fox was laughing. He said, “Seriously, Oriole, why did we grow up so fast? Only yesterday, when we began our story and I started to see the world with my father, who was then a real Bear. . . . ”
Oriole interrupted. “No, you are mistaken. He was not a real Bear yet, he was only a beginning of a bear, he was a person-bear. Now he is a bearman—I mean a man-bear… I mean…”
“Oh, keep quiet. You are getting me all mixed up again.”
“No, Fox, listen to me; I will explain. The man who is telling our story, it’s his fault, he has done something wrong with the machinery of time, he has let it go too fast. You see, he was supposed to take a million years to tell our story. The poor fellow, he is too old, he gets all mixed up. He should go and take a rest in the country for a while.”
“Oh, my, my, my!” sighed Fox, “the only thing to do is to start again RIGHT AT THE BEGINNING.” Fox looked curiously at Oriole. “What do you mean, a MILLION years?”
“Why, I mean an infinity of time, just as Tsimmu was telling in his story of the creation of the world. Don’t you remember? Ten times ten times ten times ten years, molossi molossi molossi tellim piduuwi. When Cocoon Man was floating around in nothing but air and fog he waited a million years for that cloud to come near enough so he could jump on it.”
“Yes,” said Fox. “Yes, just like Marum’da, who made the world and then he went to sleep. That’s an infinity of time, but it must stop somewhere—it can’t go on forever. It must stop somewhere.”
Oriole asked, “WHY?”
Fox thought a moment then he said, “I dunno. But listen, Oriole, what’s time anyway?”
Oriole said, “Why it’s ten times ten times ten times ten years. What else do you want it to be?”
Fox said, “I dunno. I guess it’s growing old.”
Oriole said, “All right, then, some people just grow faster than others. You know that yourself. Just as some people walk faster than others; it all depends on who is looking at it.”
“Why, Oriole, you are crazy. It depends on who is walking, not on the man who is looking at the fellow who is walking.”
“No, certainly NOT. Look at that man over there walking. He seems to be just crawling along, but if you were close to him, he would be going much faster. That’s the way with the man who is telling this story. Sometimes he is closer and sometimes he is farther away, so for him that makes us go faster or slower.”
Fox said, “Oriole, you drive me crazy. Now I don’t know whether I am standing on my head or my feet. It’s like that time when we first met you and your father.”
“Listen Fox, it is not I who started this idea that there was a man telling this story, it was you. For all we know, there is no such man.”
“Of course, there is not. I invented him.”
“That doesn’t prove anything. Marum’da invented the people, and they existed whether he liked it or not. Maybe you invented the man who is telling this story, so now he exists. It’s too bad, but now you can’t get rid of him.”
“Yes, I will. I’ll destroy him the way Marum’da did the people.”
“Then you know what will happen Mister? You won’t exist any more, because he is the one who is telling the story.”
“Oh, oh, oh, stop, Oriole!” Fox was holding his head in both hands. Then he laughed as he pulled Oriole to her feet and they both ran down the hill.