Love Letters to Earth

by Henry Quicke


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.





A pair of tattooed warriors grips the anthropologist’s arms and leads him up a hillock to a small round hut.  Inside, the priestess, nude as always, shifts her raised knee to keep her hammock swaying.

“Leave him,” she says.  The warriors release their grips.  One of them throws the anthropologist’s frayed and bulky backpack to the dirt.

“Why the rough treatment?” The anthropologist has been here for months and speaks her language fluently.

“You’ve learned too much,” says the priestess.  “We’re going to have to kill you.”

“I don’t understand.  You gave me permission to stay as long as I liked.”

She shrugs one shoulder, a habit of hers.  “Now you can stay even longer.”

Hers is the only naked body that has not lost its effect on him.  “I’ve been planning to write all good things about your people,” he says, “if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“All lies,” she says.   “We’ve been putting on a show for you.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“We know the most child-like tribes get all the government benefits.”  She clucks her tongue.  “Believe me or not as you wish.  You’ll be killed either way.”  She opens her hand and invites him to pull up a mat.  “Don’t worry, you have until the rain stops,” she says.  The anthropologist looks over his shoulder.  The warriors are gone and, she’s right, it’s raining again, one of those light-switch rains that could quit just as quickly.

“That’s one of our customs,” she adds.  “Don’t you have that scratched into your big black notebook somewhere?”

“Execution rituals.  I must have missed that one.”

“I don’t know how.  You scratch all day long in your ugly notebook, and for what?”

“It’s my job.”

“That notebook!  How old is it?  Why don’t you ever make a new one?  Why don’t you at least paint something on the cover?  It’s the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen an anthropologist carry, and that’s saying a lot.”

“I’m not really an anthropologist,” he confesses.  “I’ve lapsed.  I don’t study.  I don’t write papers anyone will read.”

“Then what do you do?”

It’s a question he’s been avoiding. “I travel and observe…I’m collecting my thoughts.”

“Into what?”

He’s not sure how to respond.

“If I find a pile of your thoughts lying around, I will carry it out to the shitting place before someone steps in it.”

He starts to laugh, then remembers she’s about to have him killed.

He folds his arms.  She taps the edge of the hammock

He stares through the doorless entry.  It’s pouring now.  The rain cascades through the rain forest’s leaves, overfilling those like cupped palms, spattering those like spatulas.  The puddles swell and join hands, climbing toward the hut.

His legs are tired and a little wobbly from nerves.  He decides to take a mat after all.  He sits at an awkward distance from the priestess, near the entry.  For a while, they observe each other out of the corners of their eyes.

 The priestess pushes her toes against the hammock cords to get it moving again.  The anthropologist puts his forearms on his knees and lets his head sink.  He rubs the back of his stiff neck.

His back hurts, too.  After all his travels, his endless observations, he wishes he had a comfortable chair for what now appears to be his last hours on earth.  He’s owed that, at least, isn’t he?

He raises his head.  “Isn’t it also a custom to allow the condemned to live like kings, to bring them food and drink and women, or whatever?”

“You must have us confused with some other people,” she says.

“So you expect me just to sit here quietly?”

“I never said you had to be quiet.”

“Maybe I’ll run.”

“If our warriors don’t catch you, the jaguars will.  You needed three guides just to find us, remember.”

Outside, the rain hastens the dusk.  After years of moving on, taking leave at the first sign of entanglement, his worst fear has at last been realized.  He’s overstayed his welcome.

"It is raining,” says the priestess.  “Soon you’ll be dead.  Now would be a good time to show me what’s in your very ugly notebook.”

The idea angers him at first.  He doesn’t deserve a death sentence for notetaking.  So why should he entertain his killer?  After a few minutes of silence he reconsiders.  She’s right: he’s going to die soon.  Why harbor a grudge?  He doesn’t want to spend his final hours in boredom. 

Still, he waits long enough for the silence to register his complaint.

It is dark now, and the rain falls steadily.  The anthropologist takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly.  He unzips his backpack and pulls out his ugly notebook.  There’s a small flashlight in there, too.  He has sealed it with duct tape and used it sparingly.  It still works.

He opens the notebook and clears his throat.