Changes

Changes

 

            Grok leans forward self-consciously, his hands holding each other behind his back, a practiced look of smirking inquisition on his face. His attention is more on his posture than on the painting before him, but the painting requires little analysis—it is clearly more of the usual, an assertion of insouciant masculinity, of virility. A fantasy projected on a cave wall. The artist, Thwak Chauvin, has longer hair than anyone in the tribe, a stronger build, and slightly more leathery skin, despite his proclivity towards waking when the great yellow beast is very high in the sky, and despite his diet of mostly berries and no meat. He schmoozes with a crowd gathered around him, making nonsensical jokes and flirting with the women-folk.

            In standing, Grok is accompanied by Sheeba, a woman with whom Grok used to lay down and share food and gather, but not so much any more, which is kind of awkward.

            “For guy so unathletic, he sure make lot of art about hunting. Grok never see Thwak hunt in whole life,” Grok mutters.

            “Thwak work hard on this—have to mix many berries to make paint,” counters Sheeba. “Mine for materials in water, do much carving, too, see?”

            “Well, Grok think Sheeba have little crush on Thwak.”

            Sheeba walks off, perhaps miffed, and Grok continues his sideways, focused strolling, hands still back.

            The cave has several paintings and one sculpture, which is made of leaves and has a phallic shape. Groups congregate around the pieces and in various other spots around the cave. The shape of the crowd is like a representation of the village outside, small circular groups of three or four spaced out fairly evenly. A fire has been set up in the middle of the room, and in one corner a man stands ready to dispense leaves and deer meat. Sheeba storms towards Thwak’s group.

Standing in front of the next print, (which is of a bison bucking menacingly, of course) is Grok and Sheeba’s mutual acquaintance Jacqueline Gatherer. Jacqueline looks up and down at Grok, with big eyes, like Sheeba has not looked at him in some time.

            The openly-flirtatious exchange of looks, for the moment, is enough of a greeting, and no words are spoken until Jacqueline offers some art criticism, in a voice low enough to ensure that her assessment goes unheard by the artist, but still at a volume that betrays casualness and confidence. This tone also gives her voice a raspy quality, which quality is the last factor in making Jacqueline irresistible sexually attractive in a way that would be almost ridiculous if not for the necessity of her hushed voice and the subtlety of her eyes, which assure Grok that her sexiness is genuine, unforced, even beyond her control.

            “This one not honest because Thwak not know what it like to hunt,” she says, piling an intellectual tone on top of a seductive one. “He never stare beast in face.”

            “Yeah, well,” Grok somehow remains calm, “Grok guess no one want to see painting of guy sitting by fire all day brushing hair with serrated bone tool of woman he laying with.”

            Jacqueline pitches forward, cackling, her long black unkempt hair swinging over her head. She grabs Grok’s outer thigh (his naked thigh!) for balance and rights herself. He looks over at the group where Sheeba stands, but he is too concerned with the thought of why he is bothering looking, and if Jacqueline notices he is looking, to examine Sheeba’s facial expression or anything. Grok and Jacqueline look at each other silently for a moment, expectantly.

            “Jacqueline like better anyway the kind of art with the fertility symbols and the mother-figures,” Jacqueline finally offers. “Across the hills is very strong community of woman who do that sort of thing, supposedly.”

            “Mm. Hopefully they cook better deer-meat, too.”

            Jacqueline’s laugh is more restrained this time.

            “Can Sheeba have word with Grok for minute?” Sheeba appears, her voice cracking, addressing Grok.

            “Of course. What is problem?”

            Sheeba takes him aside. Meanwhile a group of men from the north-country, who look like Thwak but smaller and who have been lurking unapproachably together in one corner of the cave for most of the night up until this point, begin banging rocks together in a familiar rhythm.

            “Sheeba know Grok no want to hear about this. But Sheeba not know who else to talk to.”

            “Okay.”

            “Sheeba just now ask Thwak if he want to come back to her hut later. Thwak say no.”

            To be a gentleman is to perpetually walk in a twilight between condescension and carelessness. Grok tries to think of something to say as Sheeba buries her head in his armpit.

            “It just so frustrating,” Sheeba says. “It like—we not Neanderthals. But women still expected to act certain way. Expected to act like men now. Be unemotional, but sexually available. Put on façade of want to hang out with guys.”

Grok has heard of an entire tribe of layabouts up north who have several hundred words for “love” and not a single word for “snow.” Like they all just sit around loving each other all day in all kinds of different ways, and they never think of what to do about all the damn snow everywhere.

The music picks up. Grok notices Jacqueline is now doing the same juvenile laugh / leg-grab move to Thwak. Sheeba begins to sway to the rhythm. Grok is still casting about, but starts to notice the way Sheeba leads him in the dance—so careful, so sincere. Grok realizes that his dancing has always been poor, and hers has always been great, and he has never attempted to become better. He has always been looking, hunting, but she has always been intent on dancing, and—up until recently—dancing with him only. His experiences as a dancer have always consisted of a yearning, a search for a partner who will—what? Not need to rely on him so much? So he could maybe just stand there but she would somehow still make him appear strong and lithe in front of everyone else?

The rock band plays on, and the fire-light flickers. More people are swaying to the rhythm, in couples and in groups and alone. In her look, a deeper look than Jacqueline gave him, less naughty but much more meaningful, more solid, Grok sees what a vague fantasy he has been acting on all along, and he sees that dancing with him makes Sheeba feel as though she has herself achieved the win, the kill, that he has been looking for for himself, in every other woman, every time they dance. And they have always been dancing. They have been metaphorically dancing even when they were not metaphorically dancing.

Maybe one day, Grok thinks, people will make art that’s meant to bind rather than to alienate, and maybe they will even be true to those they lay with. But for now they are dancing, and they have plenty of time, and that’s at least something.

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