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26 January 2006
BY WALTER D. REIMER
The Woodcarver's Son
© 2006 by Walter D. Reimer
After his teacher had asked her question, Ranua just stood there a moment. He blinked, then suddenly shook his head and asked, “What?”
Melli covered her muzzle with a paw to stifle a giggle as Tama said patiently, “Son, Melli’s offering you a chance to go to college. That chance requires you to serve a four year contract with the Naval Syndicate. Now, is there any part of that you don’t understand?” He grinned to take any sting from his words.
Ranua leaned against the doorjamb for a moment, rubbing the back of his neck with one paw. “Well, it’s a big decision,” he said finally, feeling unaccountably self-conscious. “I mean, I’m doing pretty well in the Guide School, and I want to help you and Mom here with the store – “
“Ranua, I’m not making this offer lightly, and you know it,” Melli said. “You and I both know that you’re very good as a Guide, but I think that you want something more challenging – something that can expose you to a wider world of ideas. Ideas, by the way, that you can bring back to Spontoon when you’re done.” She sat back.
“Do I have to decide right now?” he asked.
Melli shook her head. “I still have to approach the rest of the students,” she said, “and a curriculum will have to be drawn up that will satisfy everyone concerned. But,” and she smiled, “the basic idea will be to train you – if you agree – and five others as a start. Once you’re finished, you’ll have the opportunity to attend advanced training, of course.”
“What sort of advanced training?” Tama asked, glancing at his son before turning to the otter.
“From what I’ve been told,” Melli said, “people who graduate can attend the Naval Syndicate’s technical schools, go into the air arm or into the fleet. Now, Ranua,” she asked, looking at him with her short ears twitching forward, “would you be interested in something like that?”
The young wirehair terrier stepped back from the doorjamb and stuck his paws in his pockets. “Well, yes, I’m interested. But do I have to give you a Yes or No immediately? I said I’d like to think about it,” he said.
Melli nodded. “The first classes will start in Seathl City on January the fourth,” she said. “That will give you and the others plenty of time to think things over.” She pushed her chair back and stood up, then embraced Imana as she got up. “Let me know when you come to a decision, Ranua,” Melli said, and she walked out the open back door.
Ranua watched her go, then he sat down and looked at his mother and father. “I – I don’t know what to say,” he said.
Tama chuckled and stood beside Imana. “Want to know what’d I do, Son?” At Ranua’s nod the older terrier said, “I’d say yes, very loudly and very quickly. Opportunities like this don’t come along very often.”
“That’s true,” his mother chimed in. “You should take advantage of this, Ranua.”
“Yeah, I have to agree it’s tempting,” her oldest son said, putting his elbows on the table and cradling his muzzle in his paws. “But … “ his voice trailed off as he sat there, deep in thought.
Tama regarded his son for a moment, then walked back into the store, while Imana cleared the table. The movement seemed to rouse Ranua, who stood up and walked out into the small back yard.
Tapuharo’s General Store was also the Milikonus’ home, with two bedrooms and a storeroom over the business. The second floor was added almost as an afterthought to the original building, and a flight of wooden stairs with a canopy of corrugated tin sheeting connected the two levels. The back yard was bounded on all sides by a wooden fence, with a gate connecting it to the alley that ran behind the rows of shops. A small vegetable garden ran along one side of the fence.
Ranua looked around at the yard and remembered playing there as a child with his younger brother and the other children from the neighborhood. One in particular caught at his memory and he smiled. Miri Kalani and her family lived just down the street, and the two of them had grown up together.
They had done a great many things together.
A thought struck him then, and he walked out into the alleyway. Miri’s family owned a clothing shop just a few doors down, and he thought she might be there.
He stopped at another fence, this one quite a bit lower than the one around his back yard, and he peered over it to see Miri’s mother hanging up laundry. “Hello, Mrs. Kalani,” he called out.
“Ranua!” the canine exclaimed. “Good morning. What can I do for you?”
Again, he felt quite unaccountably shy. “Is, um, is Miri home? I’d like to talk to her, please,” he said.
“Talk to her?” A mischievous twinkle came to the older woman’s eyes. “Is that what they’re calling it now?” she teased and laughed at his sudden blush. She headed for the rear door of the shop as she said over her shoulder, “Wait here and I’ll send her out to you.” She stepped inside and he could hear her call out, “Miri! Ranua’s out back!”
Ranua stayed where he was, and his ears and tail perked as a young canine woman came outside. Miri was nearly as tall as he was, with black fur shading into caramel at her throat and down her front. Her headfur was a long black cascade that she invariably wore loose and her trim figure was accentuated by the shorts and blouse she wore. Her brown eyes lit up as she saw him and she said, “Ranua, hello! What brings you here? I thought you’d be working today.”
“Well, I – “ he was cut short as she leaned up and over the fence to kiss him on the muzzle, and for a brief moment he leaned into the kiss. Finally they parted and his paws drummed softly on the edge of the fence as he said, “Melli dropped by, and she had something to tell me.”
Her tail, which was very close to locking sideways at first, drooped slightly as she heard him out. She thought a moment, her eyes downcast, then she looked back up at him. “Want to go somewhere and talk about it?” she asked. When he nodded she said, “I’ll just go tell Mother.” She went back inside.
Ranua shifted his feet as he berated himself inwardly. Miri might have been doing something important, he realized, and it wasn’t right of him to take her away from work. He looked up as she came back out and said, “Okay, let’s go.”
“Um, where are we going?” he asked. “I thought we were going to talk.”
“We are,” she said, “but we’re going somewhere where we can talk in private.” She slipped out of the gate, took his paw and led him down the alley.
The sun was starting to set between Main and South Islands when the two came back up the street. Tama, seated on the steps in front of his store, noticed with some amusement that the pair had their arms around each other. Ranua and Miri made a fine couple, he thought as the two exchanged words in a tone too low for him to catch. “Ranua, Miri,” he called. “Do you want some supper? Miri, you’re invited, but you need to stop by your house. Your father was asking about you earlier.” He smiled as the black and brown-furred girl kissed his son and headed back up the street to her own home, leaving Ranua looking back at her. He then walked up to his father. “Sorry I’m late, Father,” he said contritely.
“It’s all right, Son,” his father said. “Head on in and get washed up; Mother left some supper for you.”
“Thanks, Father,” and the brown-and-white terrier headed inside.
Miri did not come to dinner, which was just as well since Ranua’s brother Tamuharo started teasing him. The lanky seventeen-year-old had heard of Melli’s offer, and wanted know when he could expect to have their bedroom for himself. Ranua laughed and tousled the younger canine’s headfur. “You get my half of the room?” Ranua said. “I’ll never leave home, then, just to spite you.”
Tamuharo, whose fur was more brown than white (and needed constant trimming to keep it under control), sneered at his older brother. “One of these days, Ranua, you’ll turn your back and I’ll take your side of the room.” He stuck his thumbs in his ears and waggled his fingers.
Ranua grabbed at Tamuharo’s paws and the two were up and out of their chairs in an instant, running out into the back yard and starting to wrestle. Imana winced as Ranua threw his brother with a hold he’d obviously learned in Guide School, but sighed in relief as Tamuharo got to his feet and returned the favor.
Later, Tama stepped out into the back yard to find his son tossing a Kilikiti ball against the fence. His features were solemn as he caught and tossed the ball effortlessly, obviously doing it by rote as he thought. “Still thinking, Son?” Tama asked.
The rhythmic thump of the ball striking the fence stopped as Ranua caught the ball. “Yes, Father,” he replied.
“Hmm. Come over here and sit with me a while. You listen while I talk,” Tama said, and Ranua walked over to sit beside his father on the back stairs.
Tama took the ball from his son and rolled it between his own paws. “So, you and Miri had a talk?” he asked. “About Melli’s offer?”
“Yes,” Ranua replied, one ear twitching as a small gnat orbited it. “We talked about that … and we talked about getting Tailfast at next solstice,” he said quietly.
Tama smiled and laid a paw on his son’s shoulder. “Good,” he said. “Your mother and I – and Miri’s parents – were wondering when the two of you would take that step.” He chuckled at Ranua’s quizzical look. “Come on now,” Tama laughed, “you and Miri have been playing together for years. I want you to know that we’ll all be there at the solstice to see you two get Tailfast – and who knows? Maybe it’ll develop into something bigger.
“You know, I dropped out of school to go to sea,” Tama said, and Ranua looked surprised by the admission. The older canine regarded the ball in his paw as he continued, “But I learned a few things after I got here. Everyone has a path in their lives, Ranua. Sometimes you have help getting down the path – family, loved ones, friends – but there comes a time when you have to take those steps yourself. Only you can see your path, and all Mother and I can do is support you the best way we can.” He slipped an arm around his son’s shoulders.
“I also want you to know this,” and Ranua listened intently as his father said, “No matter what you decide, my son, no matter what path you choose for your life, your mother and I want you to know that we love you. And we’ll always be proud of you.” Tama looked again at the ball in his paw, and nodded to himself.
Ranua looked at his father and said, “Thanks, Father.”
Tama grinned at him, and dropped the Kilikiti ball into Ranua’s paws. “Anytime, Son,” he said in a quiet voice. “Anytime.” He stood up then, and walked up the stairs to the bedrooms, leaving Ranua to his thoughts as night descended.
A full moon was high in the night sky over Casino Island as he stood, stretching slightly to relieve a kink in his back and tail. He slipped into the back room and washed his paws, then went upstairs and went to bed.
The smell of steamed breadfruit and bananas filled the small kitchen the next day as Imana prepared breakfast. Ranua came downstairs, attracted by the smell of cooking. “Good morning, Mother,” he said, and she smiled as she said, “Good morning. Have you come to a decision?”
“Yes,” Ranua replied. “But I’d like to tell Melli first.”
After completing his chores, Ranua took a water taxi to Meeting Island and walked up the hill to the high school. Several of his old teachers recognized him, and he exchanged greetings as he looked around for a particular room.
Younger students streamed out as classes changed, and Ranua stepped into the room and stood in the doorway while Melli wiped the chalkboards clean. The windows were open, and the breeze was in his face, which meant that she couldn’t catch his scent easily. “Excuse me, Melli?” he asked.
She turned and grinned delightedly. “Ranua! What can I do for you?” she asked.
He smiled at her. “You can sign me up for January.”