Mother was right, I should have listened. “He’s just like your father,” she said. “Mark my words, there’ll be trouble.” But that’s guaranteed to make a young girl, in love with her caveman of a boyfriend, go ahead and move right on into his cave. And I idolized my father so I went ahead just to spite her, talking about my Daddy like that.
Now as I sit here stoking the embers of a fire that will be out before the sun sets, three little ones crawling and running about my ankles and another on the way, I remember that my own father was out late a lot too. Mother was the one we saw most of the time and Daddy came and went in my memory, fetching wood for the fire and meat for food. He was always bringing things, never the one disciplining us. Maybe that was why he stood so lofty in my childhood.
My skin is tattered and the children have begged-for ones from the family nearby who had all their children swept away in the swollen river. We are barely warm as winter starts to creep towards us. Without new skins and plentiful wood supplies, we may not last the season. Last year’s snows were harsh and we would not survive them equipped like this.
If the rest of the local men are away hunting I expect him to be with them. It’s when they return and he is still gone, or he goes when they are still here that I don’t understand. The women work together when our men are gone together, but when only mine has gone, the others are too busy caring for their families to help me. Some are embarrassed too and give me odd looks, like they suspect what I say is not true. Like they suspect he isn’t away hunting but somewhere else.
Mother once claimed Daddy was away so much because he was hunting for two caves, but I dismissed it as her sour ravings. True, we often had less to eat than our friends and our skins were pre-worn, but because we saw him less than other fathers the time with him was extra special. Perhaps I was unfair to her for all those years.
As the little ones huddle to me for warmth and start to drop into sleep, I fret about the fire and whether we will have food for tomorrow. My head hurts to think farther ahead than one day once the sun has gone down. My heart pounds too loud and I make myself concentrate on stroking my babies’ heads to calm down. It’ll be fine, I tell myself, all fine.
I am almost asleep too, and I promise myself tomorrow I will ask him for more wood and new skins. If he comes to us tomorrow.