The stint of weekdays had almost been uneventful since the weekend of
the house party, except for the delicious warming trend that had brought
everyone into the breach of spring. Yet over the course of those days,
Faye became loudly adamant that the time had come to think more
concretely of household chores as their shared responsibility. She was
tired of feeling like she was cleaning up after everyone. She grabbed
them each individually as soon as they crossed her path to berate them.
There was the mess after the party when it was Sunday afternoon and
nearly everyone had failed to help her clean and fled into the
spring-shine. They conveniently forgot Uncle Fudd was due, which left
Mr. Thibault alone on the porch waiting for somebody to come home
sometime and pay next month's rent. He was not pleased. Ultimately, Faye
was the unlucky fall guy to submit to his paternal reprimand. She
grumbled. There were unsettled debts for groceries which would not be
settled this week either and there was Becky and Duncan's preoccupation
with his bed. Even Beth, as Becky's most ardent supporter, had to admit
that they could probably sever Duncan's room from the house and tow it
to the Gulf of Mexico. The two would have been unlikely to notice.
During the week the rest of the household never spent more than brief
half hours together, being drawn to campus more than to home. When they
had the opportunity to be at home together for dinner, they each
sprinted away at the least likely offers of entertainment. Adam, alone,
puttered in the backyard and in the basement; though no one had seen any
projects emerge from his shuffling and reshuffling of tools and
This coming weekend promised to be more of the same. When Faye got her
hands on Maggie, she found a kindred soul. Maggie felt saddened.
Something was insidiously happening to their household. The shred of
unity they had begun with had dissipated to almost nothingness. She
wanted to talk with Faye about it. It was probably time for house
conference number two. She had been thinking about that but felt
resentful that she was left obligated to instigate this "meeting of the
board" as Andy had put it. She agreed with Faye that they would organize
this meeting together.
Maggie left the house after lunch lost in thought. She wasn't headed
anywhere in particular. She just wanted to be outdoors. She was feeling
claustrophobic again. The house didn't feel right. Not to mention, she
especially missed her family on Sundays and it added fuel to her
feelings of incongruity and melancholy.
She strolled across the street and toward the fields that were tucked
away behind the people zone of houses and human landscaping that defined
their neighborhood. As she was part way down the street, she turned as
she had that first night, to look back at the house. Adam was standing
on the porch in one of his many statue-like poses. He looked like a
motorcycle cop at attention, hands clasped behind his back, curly head
tilted slightly upwards to face the sun. The reflection of the sun off
his body emphasized the brute massiveness of his muscles. They gleamed a
little. Maggie considered his physical strength for the first time. "Not
now," she whispered to herself, and turning her back on both Adam and
the house, she cut through someone's yard crunching across brown scraps
of last year's lawn amidst green shoots struggling to emerge. She
entered the fields beyond. It was one of her favorite places. She could
sit up against a tree at the edge, on a cushion of forest litter, at eye
level with the dense prairie grasses. Quickly, tranquility would sink
in. She would concentrate and become so still that she could imagine
herself melting into the woodland as it engulfed her. With time, some of
the smaller animals would ignore her scent, finding her irrelevant. She
could watch them, only inches away, coping with daily survival. There
were squirrels, ground squirrels, shrews, mice, and occasional hunting
cats and dogs. On rare, wondrous occasions, there were prairie dogs, red
tail hawks, or possum. Maggie imagined herself as an old stump, sitting
solitary and immovable, becoming an integral part of this small habitat.
The animals humored her, it seemed. Oddly enough, sometimes when she sat
just so, in that stillness, someone had walked past her without noting
she was there. She was far from alone as someone who came to those
fields to play and dream and wander.
Today, Adam came to the fields also. Maggie had already settled cross
legged at the field's edge. She was dressed in beige, blending in with
sedge brown stalks which, in their tall winter masses, brushed against
her shoulders where she sat. She felt at home. Adam didn't seem to
notice her there. His movements suggested he thought he was alone. No
one else was within eyesight. He strolled at first, randomly picking
blades of wild rye. He stopped then, stretched and grasped at the sky as
if he were clutching for fists full of clouds. He turned and walked
directly towards Maggie and she was sure that by then he had noticed
her. Yet, she made herself remain still, willing an absurd invisibility.
He stopped about fifteen feet short of her spot. This was awkward.
Surely he had seen her by now. It was as if he deliberately looked away
from where she sat, like some acquaintance that ignores you in a grocery
store. He turned again, and his gaze downward, combing the ground while
walking, looked for finds in the collage of dirt and plant and animal
leavings at his feet. Maggie figured he was hunting for archaeological
knickknacks such as pottery shards or flecks of spent arrowheads. Then
he stopped, dropping to a crouch in a bare place in the field. What did
he see? There was a bulky piece of an old tree limb there, half rotten.
He picked it up and tossed it lightly to get a firm grasp. Still
crouching, he slid around on the balls of his feet to face toward the
open field once again. He slung the branch like a baseball bat to his
shoulder and in that half crouch, crept across the field, one deliberate
step at a time. Maggie couldn't see what he was stalking. He reminded
her of someone imitating a house cat.
Suddenly, he burst into the air with a blood curdling yell, while
viciously slashing the air with his club. He landed again in the half
crouch, whacking the club into the ground with such ferocity that the
resounding crack of wood echoed in waves past Maggie into the woods. He
repeated the stalking and the imaginary attack several times before the
rotted wood of his club shattered into dozens of smaller splinters.
While before, Maggie sat still with an inner sense of anonymity,
observing him, she now felt rigid with a primitive fear. She became
unbearably self-conscious, afraid he really would discover her. Then
Then, he did. He must have known she was there all along. She felt a
self-propelling panic rise in her legs and flow into her arms and chest.
As he poised in his half crouch, he spun to face her and his eyes began
darting left, then right, then boring into her. He was going to race at
her at any moment. She could sense it in the way he braced his arms.
They stared. But she wasn't at all convinced he was seeing her, Maggie,
his housemate. It was as if he was seeing a target or goal post, not
someone live and breathing. Slowly, she crept onto her knees and began
to back away behind the trunk of the tree. Even more slowly and
cautiously she stood. What the hell was happening here, anyway? She was
about to turn and run, when she realized she was being engulfed in some
fantasy role-playing thing. Damn it, she would not let this happen. She
would stand there and not move, daring him to finish his performance.
When he came, he shot as if from a starting block at the track. His
energy increased as he poured everything into his heavy run. Maggie felt
paralyzed now, unable to put motion into her limbs even if she wanted
to. She had committed herself. She heard his thick panting become louder
as he reached the tree in what seemed a matter of half seconds. Then, as
he was almost upon her, one brief gallop from the tree, Maggie shrank
back and screamed involuntarily. "Adam Wake Up!" He landed with both
feet in one motion, inches from her face, coiled and exploded upwards
catching a branch overhead to swing into a squat on the base of a
groaning tree limb. He didn't stop, but continued upward, climbing as if
driven to the topmost vantage point by a pack of others from behind. He
paused once and looking down and into Maggie's terrified eyes, said
hoarsely, "I am original Man."
Excerpted from "Neanderthal Man" by Cay Gould. Copyright © 2016 by Cay Gould. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.