The Lost Diaries of a Cro-Magnon Man

Sung J. Woo

Quarter Moon, Cold Time #2

I don't even know why I'm bothering to write any of this down. Probably because of Gark, who keeps telling me it's important. Gark's my best friend and even though he might be the dimmest of all the people I know, he makes up for it tenfold with his noble heart. It takes a great man to recognize the importance of something he doesn't understand. He's always been super supportive of my work, and for that I'm grateful.
      Let me just set the record straight: I enjoy cave drawings as much as the next guy, and it doesn't take a genius to see that Taak is the most talented artist we have, but did everybody have to cram into his cave last night to gawk and marvel at his latest opus?
      Well, not everybody. My wife Meepa and Gark didn't go, though I know they stayed just to appease me. I could tell, the way their glances drifted to the mouth of Taak's cave every time someone ooohed or aaahed. Who could blame them, really. Taak was no doubt unveiling his newest batch of etchings in his usual melodramatic fashion, drawing up his mammoth-hide curtains to unmask his creations for visual consumption.
      At the last gallery gathering, which was only two moon cycles ago (if nothing else, Taak is prolific), I asked him what he called the middle picture, the one of a man about to spear a bucking horse, which followed the one of a man spearing an ox, which preceded the one of a man spearing a deer.
      He lifted his chin and scratched his salt-and-pepper beard, the flickering lamps casting sharp shadows on his face. It's his favorite pose, the conflicted, dark artist in serious rumination. "No need name," he said, "my painting pure, just painting."
      Yeah, whatever, Taak. Maybe it's because you're illiterate?
      Let me take that back. That sounded way too petty, and I'm not a petty man. Taak has his talents and I have mine, even if no one outside of my wife or my best friend recognize them as such.
      "You know here," Meepa tells me whenever I'm in doubt, which is almost always, her hand caressing my heart. When she sees there's no convincing me, she goes to the corner of our hut and sulks. "When Pooka so sad, me sad."
      I am sad, but it isn't because I'm not universally loved and revered like Taak. That's not to say that I'm not bothered by this fact--I certainly am, but I'd also like to think that I'm looking beyond the scope of my own ego. If we can learn anything from all the gigantic dinosaur bones we've encountered, it's that nothing lasts forever. In order to survive in this harsh world of ours, we need to do better than all the other creatures that have come before us. What we need to employ is a written language.
      Taak and I have almost come to blows over this. Of course, he sees no need for written words. He's terrified of them, actually, but he'd never admit to it, instead sticking to his bull-headed viewpoint that pictures are all that's necessary to preserve and convey information. I couldn't disagree more, and what I'm writing down right now is case in point: how could a drawing describe this very argument I'm proposing? There are ideas that cannot be represented on a graphical level, and that's all what I've ever said. But of course Taak has this ridiculous idea that the introduction of language will mean an immediate deprecation and an eventual obsolescence of his art and his place in our village. It isn't a coincidence that every time I've tried to hold a meeting to introduce my ideas to the people, he's trumped me with an impromptu showing of a just-finished cave drawing.
      Nevertheless, I persevere to proliferate Pookala. That's what I call this system of written language I have developed, the very thing I'm using to jot down this journal, and it's quite brilliant, if I do say so myself. I've broken down our oral language into an alphabet comprised of ten primitive components, and even the least coordinated of our people should encounter few problem writing any of it down.
      I can go on and on about this, but my nose tells me it's time to stop, for I can smell the deep, musky sweetness of Meepa's bear stew wafting in from the kitchen. We have known each other for forty moon cycles and have been together for thirty, and I feel fortunate to have a woman who is strong, kind, and beautiful. It is an honor and a privilege to be able to write her down like this, for others to read about my wonderful wife long after she's gone.

Half Moon, Cold Time #2

If you were to poke you head into any of the huts at night, you'd find people sitting around their fires and telling stories. Forgive me for generalizing, but by and large, men tell better stories then women, because they tend to stretch the truth more, which is probably due to their heightened level of insecurity, an attempt to compensate for their lack of self-confidence, which is hardly surprising. Most of this could be attributed to hunting, where there's a great deal of pressure to bring back a catch every time we're out, and if you're not adept with the spear, you're doomed to a life of eternal shame. It breaks a man, this failure. Just take a look at Daaba, who's so bad at it that he stays with his daughter while his wife fulfills his duties. His posture has turned almost Neanderthal, his disgrace oozing with every shuffling step. I can hardly stand to see the poor fellow anymore.
      With storytelling, you can count on the women to supply the finer details, but details don't make a good tale. What makes a story interesting is that the tiger that almost killed you was at least twice the size of Raah, the biggest guy in our village, even if it was completely untrue. Yet the tale can't be so ridiculous that nobody will believe, so you have to straddle that line that elevates the boredom of everyday reality into palpable drama, and there's no one keener at this art than Deeka. So naturally I approached him with my unusual idea for the Half Moon Storytelling Night. This event is a big deal around these parts, a time when everyone in the village gathers around the main fire in the central hut for an evening of entertainment.
      "Hmmmm," Deeka said, tapping his feet as he looked over my pages. Although Taak never formally supported my Pookala initiative, I managed to convince a small faction of the village to give the written language a shot. Deeka wasn't married to it, at least not yet; I had a feeling this would push him over to my side completely. "We need people. Four."
      I told him we could do with as little as three. The wolf and the dog never actually shared the stage at the same time, so those roles could be doubled up, though that person needed to be pretty talented to pull that off.
      "Job for me, talented Deeka," he said jokingly, though he wasn't joking at all. He's never been one of my favorite people, but I needed him, so I smiled and nodded and asked his advice for the remaining two members of our troupe, which was of course exactly what he'd wished to tell me.
      The evening before Half Moon Storytelling Night, the four of us met at my hut to rehearse. I spent a solid hour just going over what I'd written because the girl, Loopa, had already completely forgotten how to read, and it wasn't as if the other two were fluent, either. And that's when trouble started.
      "Don't know," Kark said.
      "Me too," Loopa said.
      "Not real," Kark said.
      "Not happen," Loopa said.
      I got up and walked away. If I had a spear nearby, I would've happily bore a hole through each of their stupid heads. I'd already explained to them three times that this was a simple story between a man and a woman and the two animals they meet on their way to the forest, but neither of them were willing to accommodate this premise.
      "Why not hunting?" Kark said. "Man kill wolf."
      "And why dog talk?" Loopa said. "Dog never talk. And wolf, no talking wolf. Wolf bite, wolf eat, wolf growl. Growl!"
      Deeka put his hands on my shoulders to calm me down. "They make good point. We make change."
      "Change!" Kark echoed.
      "Wolf howl once, at least," Loopa said.
      Do I even need to tell what happened next? The three of them took apart what I'd painstakingly written and rewritten during the last moon cycle and turned it into an unrecognizable melodrama about a couple hunting after the wolf that had eaten their baby. As I sat down with my fellow villagers and watched the action unfold, I wanted to stand up and denounce my involvement in this catastrophe, but then I noticed that everyone was riveted, their eyes trained on the stage. They'd heard stories before plenty of times, but they'd never seen it delivered with such precision. When Loopa forgot his lines during the key scene where the wolf chews off the man's right hand, I was there behind the curtain, my trusty script in my hand to feed him the monologue.
      I knew then that even though my cohorts had made every effort to butcher my work, in the end, they couldn't destroy its elemental value. From this point forward, others would also leverage my new form of written storytelling, and once again I felt the great joy of starting something new.
      But not enough to make me forget of the woes I suffered at the hands of my actors.
      So that's why my current project is to write a one-man show where I play six different roles. I know it'll be a stretch for most of the people out there, but if I speak in a different voice for each character and move to different points on the stage, I'm betting they'll understand it. Deeka said I should make it about something that everyone can relate to. I'm sure I can whip up something dramatically interesting about eating, sleeping, and hunting.

New Moon, Hot Time #1

I wish I could say that I saw it coming, because it certainly would've saved me from this avalanche of misery. But I saw nothing.
      Meepa left me a moon cycle ago. Her promise of departure that morning seemed impossible until I witnessed the removal of her three bearskin dresses from the closet, watching as she rolled them each into cylinders and carried off the stack in her arms. I couldn't speak. She'd said she was going to my best friend Gark, which mystified me.
      When I asked Meepa why, she paused her packing. "Too smart, Pooka," she said, "so smart you not see me."
      Now, as I sit in this hut, this hut that echoes strangely with its one lonely dweller, I recall the times I had Gark over and how well he and Meepa got along. I made her laugh once in a while, but in Gark's presence, her giggling would never cease. Inevitably, I would end up dragging them both down to my lowly level of self-pity, and now it's easy to see that after leaving me mired in my melancholy, the two of them would console each other the best they knew how. I have no right to blame Meepa or Gark for falling in love, only myself.
      After Meepa left and I was surrounded by this suffocating silence, I brought down my collection of spears from the wall and sharpened the ends of each with my stone knife until their points were as deadly as they were beautiful. For hours I stared at my growing cluster of gleaming weapons, promising each spear to a specific part of Gark's body, imagining the bright bursts of blood that streamed from his wounds as the points penetrated his skin. Of course I was never going to follow through with these visions, for I am not a violent person, but it was a good way to pass the first night without my wife.
      When news of our breakup spread, women from the village started dropping by, which frankly surprised me. By now, I'd thought they would've already heard about my shortcomings as a marital partner. They came, stayed for a while, and left, either puzzled or disappointed, or sometimes both. Most of them asked me why I was so unhappy, which I answered with a question of my own: why are you so happy?
      For the most part, their answers were identical: they had food, they had friends, it was getting warmer, life was good. It was what Meepa would have said as well, which temporarily placated my loss: she was an utterly ordinary woman, easily replaceable with any of these others in the village. The only reason why she distinguished herself from them was because I got used to her, and there was nothing stopping me from getting used to somebody else.
      As I read over what I'd just written above, I see how it all makes logical sense, and yet in my heart I know my scribbling contains nothing but lies. How could this be so? How could they say one thing and yet mean something completely different? It is almost as if I hadn't written them at all. These words I write have a life of their own, separate from me. It was my intention that the written language of Pookala be the honest carrier of memory and emotion, but now I see its limitations. I'm afraid I'm beginning to lose faith in my work.

Moon Unknown, Cool Time

When Meepa and Gark came in yesterday, which was the first time I'd seen them since the breakup, I was fully prepared to unleash my pent-up anger. From the way they were standing at the foot of my bed, hunched together and cowering, it seemed as if they were expecting the same, but I was surprised to find the invectives I'd saved up for this very meeting retreating like a wounded animal.
      Simply put, I'd missed my ex-wife and my ex-best friend more than I resented them. I told them to make themselves at home, which set them off on a crying fit. I asked them to stop, but that just made them wail even harder.
      When the pain in my stomach became unbearable, they brought in Mookuku, our residential medicine man. As usual, he came wearing the strangest possible clothes, a weaved suit that covered his entire body in white feathers, topped with a mammoth-fur cape that dragged on the ground. Even though I had my doubts about Mookuku's abilities to heal--I'd seen too many people die on his watch--I figured it couldn't hurt.
      "No move," Mookuku said.
      From a leather pouch, he brought out tiny gray bones and set them on my stomach in a meticulous spiral, starting with the little skull in the center and spiraling out until the four tiny feet rested around my navel. Then he began chanting, softly at first but gradually increasing in volume until his voice thundered, calling to the gods above. Meepa and Gark kneeled on my bed and shook like leaves on a windy day. I felt sorry for them, for the constant fear that pervaded their everyday lives.
      I'm not saying that I'm better off. I may not be afraid of a fierce rainstorm or the mountain that spews red-hot liquid, but like everyone else, I live in the country of my own private fears. What I want is to be remembered, for my existence to mean something, and it terrifies me that the time I've spent and the work I've accomplished in this world might be lost. Gark promised me that after I'm gone, he will bury all my leather scrolls and my tablets in the safest place he knows, the hole underneath his bed. But what if the Great Snow returns and the village has to move again? Will Gark remember to dig up my precious belongings and lug them to his next destination? Highly unlikely. I can't even guarantee that I'd be able to carry that out. By the time we'd realized that the last Great Snow was there to stay, everyone was too hungry to think straight.
      A more immediate concern is Deeka and his troupe. This morning, they came into my hut to perform a healing poem they had worked on for many moons. I don't know why they were each disguised as female bears, but regardless, what impressed me most about the poem was the refrain, "Sweet blue love." Blue love! I loved the concept of an emotion having color. It was the first Pookala-written work by someone else than myself, so I was eager to lay my eyes on the manuscript.
      Where I expected to see "Sweet blue love," I saw these words: "Heavy butt rain."
      After lunch, I heard the entire village singing an entirely different combination, "Love blue butt." Over and over again.
      I wish I knew where I went wrong.
      From the way my stomach is feeling, I don't think I have much time left. If my writing here somehow manages to survive the cruel and indifferent passage of time, I hope that the person who reads it is in a world where loneliness is no longer a word that has any valid meaning. I hope the smart and the rich help out the less fortunate. I hope words and pictures can peacefully coexist with one another.
      And most of all, I hope wives don't cheat on their husbands.

Sung J. Woo

Sung is a writer living in New Jersey. He currently has a story featured on East of the Web. If lady luck is on his side, his novel "Everything Asian" will be published on the same day the New York Mets win the World Series.