Half a dozen bats exploded from saguaro nests, providing opportune shelter for weary sparrows at sunset. Haphazardly balancing warm dishes as she hurried across the yard, Tara needed no reminding that she was late with her grandpa’s evening meal. It had not been a star-spangled day.
Beginning with overheard whispers of “the chubby girl” by someone she thought was a friend, to the almond-eyed boy avoiding her gaze, her rotten day continued with an embarrassing C- on the US history test; which she hadn’t yet told her grandma about because they’d been busy arguing about why she, Tara was not permitted to wear make-up like the other girls at school.
She’d stuffed a pocket full of chocolate for grandpa Hawk and would have popped another one in her mouth, had her hands been free to reach for one. She wondered if maybe she’d been having too many of those as she dove coo-ed at the heavy wooden door.
The door creaked open immediately, reminding her that she was late and Hawk was probably starving by now. Oh, great, another failure. But the darkness of her mood was somewhat lifted by the familiar heady scent of sandalwood, wafting from within the hut.
Dressed in his usual attire of moccasins, jeans, and an old western shirt, her grandpa still looked much like the brave Apache leader he’d been in his youth, though his hair was now silver and trailed halfway down his back. He didn’t smile, but his black eyes danced with delight as he nodded and stepped aside.
“The day grows dark, Tara.” He said without malice.
“I’m sorry I’m late, Hawk. I was um, talking to grandma.” She busily set the table where a single candle glowed softly in the waning light and tried to change the subject. “Only a month till summer break, I can’t wait.”
“You disagree with the old woman’s experience?” his eyes never left her face as he seated himself at the table. He stabbed his fork pointedly at her side of the table, where she hadn’t set another plate of food for herself.
Smiling at his ‘old woman’ term for her grandma, she shrugged. “I’m not really hungry tonight.”
He munched appreciatively on green corn tamales while she fidgeted; swinging a foot, drumming her fingers on the table. By the time she cleared the table, the sun had long since dipped behind Cat’s back Mountain. “Ready to lose another Skystone?” she challenged.
Reaching into a worn leather bag, Hawk shook his head. “Knots,” He said.
“Tonight, we play Knots. Sit.”
Once she was seated, Hawk handed her a two-foot length of rope, knotted at one-inch intervals. Tara gave him a quizzical look and he explained
“Untie each knot.” He held up his own length of rope and blew out the candle, immersing the room in total darkness.
“But,” she stammered “in the dark? Where do I start?”
“At the beginning. Solutions are better when found in thoughts not distorted by sight.”
For a time the only sound was the serenade of crickets as the two worked their knots in the dark. Tara found herself thinking about her gloomy day as her fingers felt and tugged and finally loosened the first knot.
“Got one!” she exclaimed proudly.
Under cover of darkness, Tara rolled her eyes at Hawk’s remark. “Hey, I’m just getting started!” she continued “I didn’t do well on my history test.”
“No. Well, I guess so. I was anxious to finish the test and be in time to meet up with friends between classes. Funny, I remembered the right answers on that last knot I untied.”
“Done! Last one, Hawk. I’m done!”
He struck a match and relit the candle, beside which lay his unknotted rope. A victorious grin on is sun-leathered face, he thrust out a hand; palm up.
“I win. Candy is prize!”
Smiling, she filled his waiting palm with all the chocolates in her pocket “I concede,” She said, “you win.”
She gathered up dishes and was at the door when he spoke again.
“There is one candy missing.”
She tugged on her pocket to show it was empty and shook her head as Hawk pulled the heavy door open. “Don’t know where it could be.” She said.
“On your breath.” He gave her a knowing grin.
“Oh!” averting her eyes sheepishly “Well, thanks for the game!”
“Goodnight, Tara.” He closed the door behind her.
Lit by a nearly full moon, the carefully tended yard lent a feeling of peacefulness she hadn’t realized she’d been missing as she made her way with a skip in her step to her grandma’s back door.
Lands End ©2012