Meal Number 4, Accessory Package B
Thane said nothing. He watched as Reginald worked. He tired of watching the man's movements over the strange plants the two had walked to. Thane's heart settled down, the beating slowing to something normal. He opened his hands, palms up to let the sweat dry and the stinging stopped.
Reginald placed a few pieces of food down on the grass in front of Thane. “These should be good. They might be mealy, over-ripened, but it would be a crime not to eat them.”
“A crime?” Thane asked. His feet suddenly became aware of the meal there, and he tried to tuck them under his massive legs all to no avail.
“Yes, to waste this food, it's a crime.”
“Food?” Thane asked. He touched the few piece resting in the grass. All he could do was stroke the skin with a fingertip. He would not be able to close his hands around anything due to the injury on his palms. “This is food?”
“Yes,” Reginald said. He laughed. “I know you're hungry.”
“You eat this?” he asked.
“Yes, and you will too,” Reginald said.
“No, no I won't.”
Reginald laughed at the man's defiance. He continued to dig through a few plants producing a few more vegetables. Thane continued to sit and stare, his palms upturned and idle on his lap. Reginald hopped on his hands and feet toward a circular plank at the base of a straggly tree. Once he removed the plank and flung it flat on the the ground, he tilted his head to one side to get his arms into the now exposed hole. He fussed with more of the same items he'd called food, he adjusted the findings and eventually put the same number of items back into the hole.
He struck a few pieces of something to something else in his hands. Thane watched the man with a low level of interest. Behind him and and in the grave distance behind the trees, the sun was sinking in the sky above the great wall. Thane could not tell the color of the wall anymore, or any of the distinction he knew about the place from where he had come. It was a long time ago, he thought. The real fear came when he looked back from the wall to the close by Reginald. There the man was bending over on his knees blowing at the ground. “What is this?” Thane asked.
“Come here, I know you've never seen this,” Reginald said between breaths and blows.
Thane, doing his part, pulled the mass of the top of his body across the bottom and crawled toward Reginald. “What?” he asked. There was smoke rising from the his face there and Reginald was creating more and more of it. “What is it?”
“Don't be afraid,” Reginald said.
Thane carefully closed in on the spot where there were rocks around a pile of small plants and dead grass. “What is it?”
“It's fire,” Reginald said. The smoke cleared a little, and sudden flames crackled and engrossed the small wadding of plants. Reginald leaned up and began to take pieces from one pile and put them on the fire. “You've never seen this?” he asked.
Thane just stared at the beginnings of the cooking fire. His face had it all, the delight and amazement of the sight, and the sudden confused revulsion of the smell. He said nothing.
Reginald said: “How could you? How would you have ever seen this?”
Thane watched the distance clearly trying to ignore the old man and the fire, the smells of burning wood and the later smells of roasting vegetables. The distance was becoming more and more obscured. He had the frame of reference of one night, the one night before this one. He felt fear in this one, perhaps it was due to his frame of reference. The darkness settled in fast. Thane's eyes left the distance and focused on the undersides of the branches above them, the undersides of the leaves glowing and lit unevenly by the firelight. “What do we do?” Thane said.
“We're resting here for now,” Reginald said. He removed something from the fire and with a stick he handed it to Thane. “Here,” he said.
“What is this?”
“Dinner,” Reginald said.
“I'm not going to eat this,” Thane said.
“What's your favorite meal?” Reginald said.
“Number four with accessory package B.”
“Oh, I see,” Reginald said. “Number four, package B.”
“Yes,” Thane said.
“You know what my favorite meal is?”
“Whatever meal I'm eating at the time.”
“Number four,” Thane repeated.
“Let's say we can get that now, and you want to share it with me, would you be offended if I didn't want it?”
“I—I don't know.”
“How do you prepare meal number four with accessory B?”
“You don't prepare it,” Thane said. “You order it.”
“Well, this is squash and I stuffed it with peppers, do you know what that is?” Reginald asked. He took the half squash from Thane and placed it on a low stone in front of himself.
“I—I don't know,” Thane said.
“We can't order anything, not here. We have to depend on the Earth. You don't have to eat this, not tonight, but you will. Don't you see? Otherwise, you'll die?”
“Once I find Ulla, we'll get back home and I'll eat number four with accessory packages A,B,C, and D.”
“You won't be back inside,” Reginald said. He picked up the squash half and began eating. The smell of it was attractive to one and repulsive to the other. “You might find Ulla, I'll help you do that, but you'll never get back inside.”
Thane rested back on his elbows. The last of the day's light filtered in the sky, a half-glow of purple on one side to the black opposite. The fire cooled, a little and the light in the small crowd of trees was a night light in a large room.
When Reginald moved away and eventually put his head down, Thane did the same. Thane, exhausted from the day, from the last two days, felt restless. The feeling was met with more confusion than anything. Reginald began to snore, softly. Thane thought first of talking to him. The second thought was more menacing. Thane considered leaving him, running out. The night was dark, and there was still the consideration of Ulla. Thane thought she might be back inside by now. The thoughts faded until he fell asleep. The twitching of his feet and legs roused his sleep partially, but did not wake him.
Reginald was moving around tending to the plants when Thane woke up. The initial jerking out of sleep left the movement a little paralyzed at the end of it. Reginald had either not noticed or not wanted Thane to notice he had seen him awake. Thane held still. The colors across the valley moving away from their place went from a dull green to gray. Thane rolled over, over to the direction of the wall, his home. The sun had risen enough to make the stark color there look unappealing.
“Howdja-sleep?” Reginald asked.
“What?” Thane said. He jerked around to face the man.
“Oh,” Thane said. He closed his mouth and grimaced, shook his head in an affirmative turned negative. His gut rumbled loud enough that Reginald noticed.
“Hungry today?” he asked and pointed.
“Y—yes,” Thane said nervously. He sat upright.
“Luckily,” Reginald said. He leaned against a tree opposite from where Thane sat. Thane had broken down all the grass under his weight during the night. “I went back into the city and got you a meal four and some A, B, C, D accessory packages.”
“Really?” Thane asked. His enthusiasm spread to the fat tips of his fat fingers as his fat arms jerked along.
“No,” Reginald said. He felt awful for the joke. “I'm sorry,” he said. “It wasn't a good joke.
“Not a good joke,” Thane said.
“Look,” he said. “I've bot breakfast for you, it's good, you can trust me on that.” He handed Thane a handkerchief sized piece of cloth with some fruit on it.
“What is this?” Thane asked. He took the food, and didn't care too much for what it was. He was not going to reject it.
“Those are apples and that's jicama.”
“Oh,” Thane said. He kept his hands under the cloth. The wetness on the cloth seeped into the cuts on his hands. The stinging to ensue caused him to flinch. Thane raised the cloth to his nose and sniffed. His breath was stifled somewhat due to his size, and his doubled-over position. “Thank you,” he whispered.
Reginald sat down in the grass opposite him. He nodded.
In the crook of his body, Thane rested the cloth and looked at his hands. There were drops of moisture there, on his palms, juice from the fruit or sweat. The wounds had healed somewhat, but they were still tender. He shook his fat hands, let the air dry them. He smiled nervously as he did this. The smile faded as he looked down to breakfast. Gingerly he took one and raised it slowly and slower still lifted it into his mouth.
His eyes opened wide as he chewed. Their focus was at nothing, somewhere between the trees. His head moved up and down in a hypnotic nod. “Apples?” he asked with his mouth full of food. His hands raised to the sides of his face. He touched his face below the ears, the place where the jaw would be under all the fat. His nod increased in intensity. He smiled more. “Apples.”
“Is it better than number 4?” Reginald asked. Thane focused on his companion and his eyes tightened into little chinks in his fat face. Reginald back peddled a little. “No,” he said. “Maybe today we can work on humor.”
“Is that this?” Thane asked. He held up a piece of jicama.
“That's jicama,” Reginald said. “That will be a lot easier for you to swallow.”
Thane took a bite of the jicama in a much more trusting manner. He chewed it with an open mouth, crunching it loudly as he went. As he swallowed it, he looked up to Reginald and smiled.
Reginald smiled back to him. He stood and continued what he had been doing. “When you're ready to learn about this Jonathan, let me know.”
Thane didn't acknowledge, but rather continued to eat.
Reginald continued his work. He planted a few seeds, cultivated the ground with a stick made for it. He moved over the ground a little. He took leafless, lifeless branches off the trees and vines. He broken them up to smaller—finer pieced and laid them on a pile near the fire pit. At last he put fruits and squashes into the hole by the tree. “Are you ready?” he asked Thane.
Thane looked up from the last of his breakfast and nodded. Reginald stood erect, his thin frame at confident stature. His patience would last all day. He waited as Thane's fat bound form moved in twists and jerks as he tried to stand. He avoided contact with his palms, he rolled onto his knees first and then stepped up. As he stood, Reginald's eyes narrowed somewhat. “We got a long day, how do you feel?” he asked.
Thane said, “I—I don't know.”
Reginald ducked down to grab his scant belongings. There were a few odds and ends that as he picked them up—pieces of fruit, vegetables, he put them into Thane's pockets. “We'll need these today, please carry them,” he said.
They walked away from the little garden oasis in the opposite direction of the city—Thane's home. Thane, whose feet were still unaccustomed to the rocky terrain was terribly unsteady in his balance. After just a few minutes, Thane stopped and turned back and looked over his shoulder. The big wall in the distance looked further away and more impossible to him than ever. And the feeling of longing and homesickness he'd felt the day before had faded from the place. The feeling of longing was more for the garden than home. When he face forward again, Reginald had made a good distance on him. “Reginald,” Thane said. He took to his feet again and moved quickly to close the gap between them. “Reginald,” he said again. He was running out of breath, talking—the speaking of those two words along with walking proved to be too much for him. He waited until he completely caught up to him before speaking again. “Reginald.”
“Hmmm?” Reginald said as he stopped walking. He faced Thane with wide eyes, clear eyes.
Thane hesitated. He bent a little and inhaled deeply. “Reginald,” he said on an exhale. “Why did we leave?”
“Leave? What are you talking about? Leave?”
“It was perfect there.”
“Yeah, but we can't stay there too long, there are rules, rules to it.”
“Listen, we'll be at another place later, we have to keep moving, you see?”
“No,” Thane said.
“We got to find Umma.” Reginald turned away and began to walk again.
“Ulla,” Thane said. “Ulla.” He looked back once more. The garden was beautiful to him now, looking at the rocky ground below him.