Reading My Work at Waterline

Last April, I had the opportunity to read aloud at an author’s event, which got recorded! Here is me reading from Halfbreeds, Part 2, Chapter 7, “A Study in Humanity.”

You can read along below if you like:

Chapter Fifteen — A Study in Humanity

Nappy was not caught up in the love fever that seemed to rage all through the village of Good. He had always been a calm, level-headed fellow, with a knack for observation and detail, and a
serious, feeling soul. He always wanted to know more, and had never been angry at Morgan, even when the strange man’s revelations had run contrary to the boy’s own observations.
Knowledge was knowledge, and as the Wiseman, it was his responsibility to know all that he could.
He reflected to himself in his owlish way (meaning that he curled himself on a stump or a rock alone on the edge of the forest, and thought wisely) that Morgan had studied the Halfbreeds in
order to understand them. Nappy liked that idea and thought that perhaps he ought to study the Humans. Of course, he could not live among them, that was not an option he even desired, but to observe them quietly from a distance, knowing the ins and outs of their society, and understanding just exactly what motivated them,
was an enticing idea.
And thus began Nappy’s Great Venture.
It went on much longer than he ever anticipated and, to his surprise, he found that he enjoyed it immensely. Humans were a “fastinating case study,” as he knew Morgan would say. With their rituals and mundane lives, jealousies and families.
Presently, he even began to write down his observations. Bobakin may have been Morgan’s most apt philosopher, but Nappy had been his letterman, and it was with great pride that
Morgan had watched the young boy drink in the writing that the older man taught him. Now, Nappy began keeping a notebook.
“It seems,” he wrote, “that ups and downs are for
everything. For the cold and hot seasons it is the same for Humans. Hot and cold feelings and days. One day a man is happy and the next he is sad. Sadness is funny, but I think I know what makes it.
It is when the day is different than it was in our dream the night before. I think in our sleep we expect it to be one way, but when we wake up and the sky is different or our friends are different, then sadness which is actually in fact disappontidness is there. Many Human men get disappontid a lot. And women too. But mostly
children. But they get happy again fast. Maybe because they dream during the day.”
Thus his journal ran on, with speculations and observations and little critiques of mankind. Bobakin was worried about this Venture at first, and questioned his friend extensively on his finds,
but over time, he grew to accept the study and appreciate the knowledge that came with it. Probably, before Morgan’s arrival, he would have banned the Venture, haunted by misconceptions and vague superstitions of mankind. But most of Morgan’s stories and lessons had eradicated them, and now Bobakin saw Humans as not
so terrible and untouchable, though certainly still as dangerous. Therefore, with a warning to be careful and discreet, he allowed Nappy his eccentricity.

Nappy was sitting in the bough of a weeping fig, well concealed by the overspreading foliage, taking notes in his journal and thinking to himself. He had an excellent view of the village, but it was a fair distance away. His tree was located on the edge of one Human family’s extensive property.
Presently, the daughter of the family (he knew her to be the eldest) made her way out to the tree and stood beneath it. Nappy did not mind. He had no intentions of leaving soon, so he sat
silently and hoped she would not look up. She stood there some time, looking around once in a while, sometimes smiling to herself, sometimes singing quietly. Nappy took notes of what she sang.

Picadillo Armadillo all is fanciful illusion
If I didn’t then he wouldn’t but I did and so he came
Pacarilla Sasparilla nothing is as what it seems
But yet I hoped and so I thought and all it is is in-betweens

Nonsense, of course, but Nappy liked the tune. She sounded happy, and he hoped she would sing some more. But just then she gave a whispered cry and ran out from under the tree into the arms of a young man who had just arrived. He took her up and kissed
her and spun her around, and they laughed and shushed each other.
“If mother knew,” she said.
“Your mother’s the one that wants us together,” he answered her.
She giggled. “Yes, but all the same; if she knew, she’d skin me alive.”
He gazed fondly at her. “I don’t know if I can wait ’til next month.”
“What shall you do?” she asked him, melodramatically teasing.
“Go out of my mind,” he answered seriously.
But she coyly refused to be serious. “That’ll be entertaining. I wonder what our children will think?”
Their talk went on in this way for some time, with him whispering romantic love into her ear, and she, enjoying it hugely, laughingly throwing it back upon him. They were too happy to pay any attention to time, and as Nappy sat there, the evening turned to dusk, turned to night.
Nappy took great enjoyment in this tryst, and returned to catch a sight of it every night for two weeks. The lovers were approaching their marriage day and were overwhelmed with happiness. Nappy speculated, theorized, reasoned, and enjoyed with his whole heart. He compared this relationship with the ones he saw back at camp and found few differences, except for this one ruling element: the ”parents,” from whom the young people hid the intensity of their passion. He wondered why they slunk away at night and did not behave so around the parents—for whom they had such apparent love and yet an apparent fear. It was these relationships that puzzled the boy most, as it had been the lack of an adult figure in the Halfbreed colony that most intrigued Morgan. We are confused doubters of what we do not know.
The wedding day approached, and Nappy had an excellent view of the ceremony from his tree. There, he gained intriguing ritual knowledge which he passed onto Bobakin later, wherein the
vows were given, the wine drunk, the bottle crushed, songs sung, and dances danced. He vastly enjoyed it. But even more so, he relished the sight of the bride and groom, ecstatic in one another’s arms, disappearing into their new, freshly built home. He wished them well.

Many months passed. The cold spell, known as winter, came and went, bringing with it discomfort and less food. The Halfbreeds learned to make better blankets, build a fire in the home, and wrap up warm. There was a brief sickness that passed through the camp, the healthy ones pulling through all right, but two of the little children, weak from the cold and lack of food, passed away. It was a sad but common enough phenomenon for the Halfbreeds, so they sang dirges, buried the dead, and life went
One day toward the end of winter, Nappy wrapped himself in his fox fur coat, and returned to the Human village to spy on his pet married couple. He climbed into his tree and watched the
closed door. But all was not right. There was a hurrying and frowning behind the windows. The doctor went in and out over the course of the day, and the young bride was weeping in her
mother’s arms. Nappy wrote in his journal: “There is so much sadness, and there was before much Happiness! i do not think the humin girl will never be Happy again. Not when I see her cry up so
much sadness. I never seen anyone so sad as she is, and I want to cry with her. I cry when my friends dy, and the man was her friend. Is he ded?”
And as he watched, sure enough, he saw them carry out the groom and bury him, his widow standing near. And he saw her return alone to the house where once she was so happy.

Nappy could never decide afterward why he did it, but it seemed the thing to do. So he did, and we will see what came of it. For much comes of our actions, careless or loving; they are like the
little stones that begin an avalanche. That is what Nappy would learn. Despite all that came afterward, he never regretted that first pebble.
“I am sorry he is ded. He was a Nice Man. He loved you, and you loved him, I could tell. Now you are sad—maybe forever. But maybe one day, it won’t hurt so much.”
He wrote this, and in the dead of night, he slipped it under her door. In the morning, he saw her open the door and peer out into the street. Perhaps she thought it was a loving note of a little
child, for she did not look worried, just curious and still sad.
A month later, for he was still watching her once in a while, he wrote her another one. “I saw you smile yesterday. Good. I am glad. But it was a different smile than it was before. He would be
glad to see you smile.”
To his unbounded astonishment, she slipped him a response under her door that night. It read, “I do not know who you are, my little angel. But you are looking out for me, and I am grateful. He would be too. Perhaps he sent you to take care of me with your words and little helpful advice. Don’t ever stop being so kind to those in need. You are a good person.”
After that, Nappy began writing longer epistles about things he saw in the forest, about his observations of Human life. All as carefully worded as possible, to avoid being perceived for what he was, and she wrote him back. Her name, he discovered, was Marityme, and she was a weaver, which meant that she made cloth
for clothes. She responded intelligently and philosophically to his many observations. By paying careful attention to how she wrote, his grammar, spelling, and vocabulary improved.
Finally, after a few months of this correspondence, Marityme wrote that she would like very much to meet him.
Nappy expressed reticence, stating that he did not much like being amongst people and did not know if she would like him when she met him.
“Nonsense,” she wrote back. “There will be no one but you and me, and we will have a lovely little chat together, I know. For, you see, I know you already, and we both know that Charles
approves of you.” Charles was her late husband.
So Nappy asked that they meet outside beneath her fig tree and she agreed. “Nothing is ever the usual way, with you, is it?” she commented in her response, and Nappy thought, terrified, that
she would soon know why.
When the day arrived, Marityme stood excitedly beneath the tree, waiting to meet whom she thought would be a young boy.
“Where can he be?” she wondered aloud. To her astonishment, she heard a deep-voiced answer from above.
“I’m here.” And down dropped a young man about her own age. If a man he could be called, for indeed he was so wild looking, and rather short, and completely strange.
Nappy thought to himself that he should reassure her. That he should say something. He thought hard but she spoke first. “Do not be afraid. I won’t call for help.”
Then he realized he had been afraid. But now he was not.
“Aren’t you afraid of me?” he asked.
“No. Surprised, confused, but not afraid. I told you that I know you, and what you look like can’t change that.”
“But I’m a Halfbreed.”
That hateful word coming from the real face before her was completely incongruous, and her eyes simply crinkled into a smile.
“Would you like some tea?”
He wanted to run away, but he wanted to stay. What was tea? Whatever it was, he would find out. “Yes,” he said, and followed her into the house.
Tea was apparently dark water that tasted like sweet grass. It was hot but good. “Halfbreeds are supposed to be vicious and man-eating, but I think you’re more afraid of Humans than we are
of you.”
“Just you,” said Nappy. “You’re not afraid because you knew who I was before you saw me.”
“That’s probably true. Yes, you’re right. How old are you?”
“I don’t know. Your age, maybe?”
“How did you know so much about me? You’ve been watching me, haven’t you? Ever since Charles died.”
“I was watching the village, and then I saw you and Charles before you were married. I was int’rested, so I watched you sometimes. Then you were so sad after Charles died, and I wanted
you to not be sad. I liked him.”
“You liked Charles?”
“He loved you.”
Her eyes were a vibrant blue—he’d never been close enough to notice before—and her skin pale and white, unlike the Halfbreeds’ half-baked tan. “I loved him,” she answered.
They talked a long time that day. Marityme wanted to know about the Halfbreeds, but Nappy refused to say much. Bobakin did not know about this meeting, and he certainly would not have
approved of a Human from the village knowing details about Halfbreed life. He made her promise to tell no one else about him, and she agreed on the condition that he return and they continue
their friendship.

And their friendship continued. It was an odd relationship, woven in and out of the two worlds so wholly separate from one another. They were the common link, the bridge between peoples,
the relatedness that was impossible between such estranged cultures. She was entirely good, he was half so. But he was beginning to accept that such differentiations were false, misleading, and maybe even dangerous. They were the fabricated divisions that prevented any common understanding between their peoples. It was a division that began to seriously upset him.
One day, he was thinking about the hatred and separation when Marityme actually mentioned it. They were sitting together in the woods behind the village on a fallen tree trunk, listening vigilantly for any sounds of traffic.
“I hate that my people hate yours,” she said suddenly, after a completely unrelated discussion. “I hate that we have to be secret about this. You’re my best friend, Nappy, and I wish I could let you
meet my family. But they’d hate you.”
“I hate it too. I never did before; it was just the way of the world—to fear Humans—and I accepted it. But now, I wish the world was different.”
“Is that part of growing up?” she asked him, with tears in her eyes. “To finally see the world, and then to wish we never saw it at all?”
“Maybe it’s part of growing up to see the world as it is, and wish to change it.”
“Change it?”
“Don’t you want to?”
She smiled and shrugged. Then she shivered, and in concern he put his arm around her. She blushed and said, “I don’t know why I did that.” But he did not take his arm away, and she laid her
head on his shoulder.
After a long silence, Nappy spoke with conviction. “I want to change it.”
Their friendship had lasted months now. All in all, adding up from the time that Nappy first began observing her, he had known her for two years, and she had known him for one and a quarter. When he walked with her back to the edge of the village, Marityme grabbed his arm before they separated.
“I want to know you better. I want to know everything about you.”
“You know you know me better than anyone else. I tell you things I don’t even tell Denmin.”
“Denmin.” She sighed sadly. “I don’t even know who that is.”
Nappy shook his head in frustration. Once again, as he had been many times the past few months, he was torn between his allegiance to his people and his friendship with her. “What more do you want?”
They were the same height, and she met his owlish gaze with her own firm resolve. “Is it enough for you?”
He swallowed hard and scrunched up his face in frustration. His heart swelled up, and he did not look at her. “No.”
After a brief silence, he added, “But I can’t betray Bobakin! I won’t. Not even to you.”
She nodded her head, looking down at the leaves at her feet. Nappy felt like he had betrayed her by saying so, and his guilt was tearing him up inside. And she knew it.
“I want to meet him,” she said suddenly, looking up at him. “I want to meet Bobakin.”
Nappy’s stomach felt sick, and he opened his mouth to protest, but with one swift, fluid motion, she kissed him instead.
“I didn’t plan on that. I didn’t actually think I was ready. But I am, and I want to meet Bobakin. He’s the only one who can help us heal this breach. I know that he’s your leader and you respect
him. You respect him a lot. I would never wish to come between that. I think it’s wonderful that you can have a leader who inspires so much confidence, and I wish I had that. I think I would be willing to follow him too, if I could follow you first.”
Nappy felt crushed and apprehensive. He did not want to tell Bobakin because he thought his leader would feel betrayed. But he did want to further his relationship with Marityme, and he was clear-sighted enough to perceive that telling Bobakin was the only means to do so. She wanted to follow him. To be with him. He stood taller at that thought and smiled like a little boy. He looked at her, watching him with round, loving eyes, waiting to hear what he had to say. She had bared her heart to him and stood waiting for him to answer her. Tears welled in his eyes as he stood there, and tenderly he touched her face.
“I want him to meet you. I want him to know you. Together, I think we can change the world.”