"A Gathering of Tribes"

By : Socks the Catt
© 2003 Socks Furrotica Press

Author's notes :

This story is being written in a "shifting perspective" way.  I'm saying this up front because back in high school I had it drilled into my head to never do this.  But, here I am, doing it anyway.  Hey, you have to break a few rules sometimes.

If you've hit this page through a web search, and know nothing of my writing, or furry, or in fact anything else, I have something for you.  This should open in a new window.  Click here to see it.

Journal entry : Sal Malkahlah

I decided to start a journal on the urging of one of the tourists last week.  She was a nice person and all, and I felt bad about the weekend.  It's kinda funny, sometimes.  When you go to get away from your work, some people have a job fall in their laps.  I apologized to her constantly, but I think she was really happy to see she helped someone.

Sal sat on the beach, looking up to the night sky.  The tourists were a bit more inland with Taneh, drinking beers and sitting by the fire.  Sal's ears perked as he heard the footfalls coming towards him.  Human feet, Sal thought to himself with a smile to himself.  People who live in cities never know how to walk in the woods.

"Not a social animal?" the woman said.  Sal looked up to the woman, who introduced herself as Dr. Bornstein that morning.  She carried a few beers in her hand, already opened.

Sal shook his head and patted the ground.  "Not tonight.  I'm sorry." Sal shifted as the woman sat next to him.  "I've had a lot on my mind, and you’re the first group I've had since coming back."

"Vacation?" the woman asked.

"No." Sal said.  "It's kinda personal."

The woman offered Sal a bottle of beer, which he took with a thanking nod.  She looked up to the sky with him.  "Do you know where you're from?"

"Chicago." Sal said quickly.  It was a standard line he used for the tourists.

The woman laughed. "I mean your home world."

Sal looked to the sky, and thought a moment.  He then raised a paw, and pointed off Orion.  "There." he said.  "I guess I'm from around there, but I don't feel like it."

The woman looked with him, at the area.  "It's amazing." she said.  "I know some of your racial history, but not all of it."

Sal shrugged.  "Not really something on the best sellers list, I guess."

She sipped on her beer.  "If I said I was interested, would you tell me some of it?"

His eyes still skyward, Sal sat up and rested against a downed log.  He ran his claw along the white bracelet he wore, and then looked to her.  He studied her expression, and she seemed genuine.  "Why do you want to know?"

"Professional interest." she said.  "And I've never had a chance to really talk with someone like you."

"You mean one of the 'landed', or one that's acclimated?" Sal asked.

"I mean a mixed breed like yourself." the doctor said.  "Taneh told us you were a raccoon and fox mix."

"Arctic fox." Sal said, with a finger in the air and a slight grin or pride.  "Yeah, it's gotten me into trouble a lot."

"Oh?" the woman asked.  "How's that?"

"Well," Sal drank his beer.  "In the winter I like to go outside and collect shiny icicles."  The doctor stifled a laugh, nearly spitting out her drink.  "And before you ask yes, that's one of my standard jokes, Doctor."

"Please, call me Lynn."  She coughed out between laughs.  "I'm not in the office."

Sal nodded.  "Ok, I can do that."

Lynn collected herself, and finally asked Sal "So tell me about it.  What was it like landing here?"

I don't know the whole back history of how we got here, or why, but I know this much from school.  I guess that we found here.  My parents were part of a colonizing mission from our home planet, which I'm secure in the knowledge I may never see.  Somewhere en-route the ships found this beacon called "Voyager", and it had an invitation.  So, with that in paw, we came here.  The history books talk a lot about that, and the videos are kinda fun to watch at first contact, but other than that, it was an uneasy first few months.  Then again, seven ships landing all over the globe trying to explain our intents were peaceful wasn't the thing most wanted to hear at that time.

That's where I came in.  Well, me at a few thousand other cubs, kits, whelps, and whatever else we're called.  Someone back on the home planet decided that children, with no pre-conceived notions of what life should be like, would be the best to acclimate to a new environment.  I never knew my real parents, I may never know them.  I was placed into cryostasis before I was weened.  The fact that I'm mixed breed meant they expected me to acclimate to several environments.  A lot of the kids are mixed breeds, we figured so we could go anywhere on any environment and live comfortably.  My mix has, well, over the years my nature and instincts has gotten me into trouble, let's leave it at that.  Mix unbridled curiosity with the ability to outrun or outhide anything on the planet with a healthy dose of fearlessness then throw in a pinch of kleptomania and a steel stomach and…  Well I'm amazed I haven't broken any bones.  That's the safest way to put it.

Oh, sure, we had adults.  Whole communities volunteered to be on these missions, for crying out loud.  My parents were among them, you see.  So when we found this great planet called "Earth", we found that it was already inhabited.  No problem, really, we weren't here to take over, just cohabitate.

I've gotten into a lot of philosophical debates in college because of this, but it seems that a lot of our belief systems are similar to the ones that the humans had in place as well.  Some argue that it's a collective consciousness, some claim it's some flavor of god at work, some say it's a darsas of a coincidence.  I believe that the universe is way too well organized not to have some kind of grand plan, but I can't prove that.

Lynn nodded, listening to Sal speak.  Sal then leaned back, and drank a little more of his beer.  "I've been meaning to ask you, what kind of doctor are you?"

"Psychology." she said.  Sal rolled his eyes.  "What?  I thought your kind believed in it."

"We do." Sal said.  "My dad went to one for years."  Sal looked over her shoulder to see the wolf talking up a campfire story.  "Did Taneh set you up to talk to me?"

Lynn shook her head.  "No, no.  I just recognized a few signs, and wanted to make sure you're doing alright."  Sal tilted his head and let his ear twitch.  "You're acting removed, not really joining in group activities, and that alone made me wonder.  I know how social raccoons are."

Sal nodded.  "It's been a long month." he said.

"Would you like to talk about it?" Lynn asked.

"Depends." Sal asked.  "Are you a Freudian or something?  If you are I really don't…" Sal let that drift as Lynn snickered aloud.  "I just don't want to be told that it's a sex hang-up, because it's not."

"No, no." Lynn said.  "I'm not.  I have a few methods of treatment I use, but mostly I talk, let people talk to me." she said.  "Couches are optional."

Sal grinned, and drink a little more beer.  "Well, if you're going to dog me on it, I had a problem with the family recently."  Sal took in a deep breath.  "I lost my mother a month ago.  She had cancer, and it spread fast, and last month…"  Sal let the thought drift, sick of telling the story.

Lynn's face went from a smile to compassion.  "I'm sorry." she said.

Sal stiffened up.  "I know the sentiment is good and all that, but I am so sick of hearing that."  Sal took in a deep breath.  "But Thank you, I know what you mean, but I'm just sick of hearing that phrase."

Lynn nodded.  "Are you mad that she's gone?"

Sal stopped, and thought about that.  "Not really mad, I guess.  It's just that…  Dammit you're supposed to be on vacation here."  Lynn nodded, but motioned with her hand that Sal should continue.  "I'm not going to get off that easy, huh?"

"Sorry kid." Lynn said.  "Doctor's oath, to help the sick and injured.  And I know an injured heart when I see one."

Sal sighed, and just resigned.  "Let me tell you a bit about my family then."

I always knew I was adopted.  Mom and Dad never really talked about it, but I knew before I asked.  The fact that I towered over my parents at a young age was one thing, but It's not too uncommon for landed children who grew up on Earth.  But the fact that my eyes are blue and theirs is brown another, and the fact that my fur is lighter, and only has light colored raccoon markings in it and a thick winter coat was the kicker.  My sister is all raccoon, but I'm part what you'd call an arctic fox.  We're both adopted, but my parents loved me as their own anyway.

My dad was trained to be in agriculture, and excelled at it.  He also had a keen mind for business, and when the two paths could merge on Earth, he did it.  It took many years, but he did well for himself.  A lot of the raccoons settled together with humans, and in our case we had most of our community from our original ship that moved into a community on Earth.  Mom and Dad were happy that they could live with their old friends.

Mom and Dad still spoke with an accent for years, but I picked up English with the help of a big yellow bird on TV.  I still speak our native language fluently, but I've got English down now.  Mom never did get the hang of it, totally.  She was of the old world, even if she embraced this new one.  She insisted on inviting our human friends over for our traditional holidays, even if they didn't always eat the same things we did or celebrate the same things we did.  Looking back, I think she wanted us to immerse ourselves in human culture.

Sal smiled, thinking of it.  "I can still hear her.  You know how the accent is, right?"  Lynn nodded.  "She'd look at me and say 'You listen to me.'"  Sal made motions with his hand, obviously emulating his mother and laying the accent on as thick as he could.  "'If we didn't do what we thought was right we'd never be anywhere.  We'd be right back on Kral where we started!'"  Sal laughed.  "I'd get that speech a few times a week sometimes."

"She had ambitions for you?" Lynn asked.

"Doesn't everyone's mom?" Sal asked.  He put his beer down.  "I guess she did.  And in the end, I think she's proud of me."

"So what happened?" Lynn asked.

Sal took in a deep breath, knowing the story would be long.  "A year ago Mom complained that her back hurt.  Not unusual for older raccoons on this planet, I guess your gravity is stronger than back on homeworld.  So, anyhow, she went to a doctor."

"Sal, you need to listen to me."  Paal  said on the phone.  he was speaking in the old tongue, it was easier for him.  Sal knew it was only used when something was wrong, and his dad couldn't concentrate enough to speak English.

"What's wrong?" Sal asked.

"It's your mother." Paal said.  "We got back from the doctors here who said she has the beginnings of cancer."  Sal slowly sat into his kitchen chair as his father spoke.  "It's in her pancreas.  They can't operate on it, but they have treatments we can try."

Sal brought his elbows onto the kitchen table, and sat in shock.  "Will she be ok?"

"Well, we don't know." Paal said.  "You need to know that the survival rate is low, only a percent or two.  But you know your mother."  Sal let out a forced laugh.  "We will do everything we can, I can promise you that."

"If there's anything I can do, let me know." Sal said.

"I will.  But be strong.  We'll all be strong." Paal said.

Sal wandered into the living room with a beer some time later, and placed it on the floor.  He laid down on the couch, rolling his tail over the back.  Taneh wandered in a while later to see Sal staring at the TV.  "What's on?" the wolf asked.

"Nothing." Sal said sullenly.  He spoke in the old tongue.

Taneh looked to the screen, then to Sal.  "You know it's more entertaining to turn it on before you watch it."

Sal nodded, looking into the space that happened to occupy the TV.  "Dad called." Sal said in english.  Before Taneh could say anything, Sal added "You may need to sit down.  She's got cancer."

Taneh looked to Sal with disbelief.  He didn't say anything, only knelt next to him on the couch and gave him a long hug.

"At first I joked about it." Sal said.  "You know, typical 'coon or fox instincts.  I first said I'd only get worried about it if Mom stopped golfing."

"She did?" Lynn asked.

"Five months from diagnosis." Sal said.  "Then I said I'd only worry if Mom stopped shopping.  She did.  Then I'd only worry if Mom stopped playing backgammon with the neighborhood ladies."  Sal sighed.  "She stopped doing that a month before she died."  Sal looked at the sand.  "Then I told people I'd only worry if Mom stopped watching Wheel of Fortune.  It was all coping stuff, ya know.  As long as there was something there, I could hold out."

Lynn nodded.  "Did you have a chance to see her or talk to her?  Before she passed?"

"Yeah." Sal said.  "If you could call it that."

Near the end of winter I talked to Mom on the phone.  She sounded a little out of it, the chemo was taking it's toll on her again.  We didn't talk long, because she was tired.  She was tired a lot.  Taneh saw me sitting at the table and gave me a hug.  "Mom?"

"Mom." I said.

"What's up?"  He pulled up a chair.

"They've changed her meds." I said.  "It's spread from her pancreas to her liver, and they can't stop it."

"Can't they give her something?" Taneh asked me.

I knew mom had already been through the wringer of drugs.  The chemo was poisoning her system, they couldn't do radiation therapy because it's so deep in the body, and I knew the doctors were running out of options.  "They're starting her on a permanent IV drip and some painkillers." I told him.   Taneh held my paw as I talked.  "She's strong.  I know she'll be ok.  You know, we landed on this dirt ball on a space ship.  A SPACE SHIP!  And we can't cure this?"  I was mad, and I was trying not to take it out on Taneh.  My 'coon side is emotional, but I usually can keep it in check.  I was losing the battle this time.  Taneh looked at me with this look, reassuring but at the same time letting me know he was there.  I remember he patted me on the shoulder too, it was nice to know he wasn't angry at me.

Then the summer came around.  I was caught up in our business, mostly to escape what I knew was coming.  I called Dad one day, and talked to Mom for a moment.  The conversation was bad, because I could tell Mom was way out of it.  She slurred an entire sentence into one word.  I could hear my sister's kits running around in the background.  And Mom just kinda took it in stride.  "Ohyah" she said, sorta sing song, but mostly in a haze.  "I'm really tired." she said, over and over.  It felt like the knife twisting in my heart.

Dad got back on and told me the news.  Along with her meds to help her system boost itself back up, Mom was taking a new medication.  Liquid morphine, as needed, for pain.  I realized then that her treatment had gone from attacking the cancer to comforting her.  She had given up.  Dad kept on trying to keep it upbeat.  "We've got permission from the FDA to try an experimental drug." he said to me.  "It's meant for humans but we think it will help your Mother.  We'll start on that in two weeks."  He offered to give me web pages I could look it up at, and I did.  It was a human drug, never tried on our kind before.  "Mom's just confused right now." he told me once on the phone.  I knew differently, she was doped up out of her freaking mind.

Dad's way is to never be the bearer of bad news, more like a messenger to bring the telegram and let you read it.  It's a raccoon thing, from the old world.  The fox in me is more direct than that, which is why I argued a lot with my Dad over the years.  But, in this case, It was a matter of family.  I felt like I was going to cry when I hung up the phone, and Taneh was behind me before I even put the phone down.  His hunters instinct is strong, he knows my moods before I do, sometimes.

"Go." he said.  "I can cover for you."  I smiled, and hugged him.  "I love you too." he said quietly, caressing my fur gently.  I was out the door before sunset and back in Chicago before Midnight.  Mom's sister, my Aunt Szay, was already there, sleeping in the guest room.  I slept in my old room, which in itself was strange.  The next few days are almost a blur.  Mom was in and out of consciousness repeatedly.  In one case, she passed out during dinner, dropping a cup of water onto the floor.  She'd pass out in the middle of "Wheel".  In the back of my mind I was still in denial, I mean, Mom had fought this long, she can make it.

I spent a lot of time with my extended family.  Cyndy, my sister, she married a human male.  Great guy, actually.  I got to know him better that week.  We went to a baseball game, and talked about things.  My sister's kids, and that's another story entirely, were running around, having a good time.  The innocence of youth.

But the one thing that I'll never forget.  I had to go home, and I thought things were stabilizing out.  Aunt Szay had flown home, there was a nurse there for her too, I felt like it was OK to leave.  So I knelt down on the bed with Mom.  Her glasses were off, so I knew she had a hard time seeing me.  She didn't look too good, but I figured it was the drugs.  The chemo had taken it's toll on her.  What fur she had left was in clumps.  It was starting to grow back too, that's the part that gets me.

"I gotta go home Mom." I said.  She nodded, and I could see she was choking back tears.  "I love you Mom.  Everything's going to be OK."  She put her paw up to my face, and looked at me.  It wasn't a vacant stare, like she'd had a lot to that point.  It was in intense look, she was burning my face into her memory, like it was something she was going to take with her.  In my head I knew what it meant, but in the back of my mind I was still in denial.

"I know." she said to me.  "Drive safe Sal."  her voice was weak, I knew she was fighting to get every word out.  "I love you."  I was fighting tears too, I didn't want to cry in front of her.  Dad told me to be strong, and I tried.  I hugged her, I kissed her, I held her.  I did all I could do for her.  I didn't want to leave, but I knew there was nothing left for me to do.  She did tear up, and I used a tissue near the bed to wipe it from her eye.

"I'll see you later, Mom." I said.  She nodded, and closed her eyes, drifting into sleep again.  I got up off the bed, walked past dad.  "Call me if anything happens, ok?"

"I will." he said.  We hugged.  Dad was never really comfortable doing that, but I needed a hug desperately.  I went out to my car, started it, and drove out to the main street.  But before I could go anywhere, I put it in park and had a cry.  Something in my mind snapped, and I knew what was going to happen.  I drove home anyway, and collapsed next to Taneh in our bed several hours later.

Taneh hung up the phone quietly.  Sal only got there the night before, and collapsed in his clothing into bed.  The wolf looked into the bedroom, and saw Sal's tail whip in his sleep.  Sal was having a bad dream again.  Taneh closed his eyes, and started to cry.  Not at the news, but at what he knew he had to do.

"Sal?" Taneh knelt down next to Sal, rubbing his fur gently.  "Sal?"

Sal's eyes opened, and he rubbed his paws against his mask.  "What's wrong?"  Sal could see that the wolf was crying.  Sal knew what it meant.  "When?"

Taneh nodded.  "At six this morning."  Sal took in a deep breath, and Taneh laid down with him.  "I've already called everyone here.  We're clear for three weeks.  I'm going with you, and you can't stop me."  It wasn't defiance as much as a show of solidarity.

Sal bit his lower lip, and closed his eyes.  "Hold me?"  Taneh did, and the two of them held each other for a long, long time.

"Have you ever been to a raccoon funeral?" Sal asked.

Lynn shook her head.  "I've heard a few things, but I've never been to one."

"You make it sound like an orgy or something." Sal said, trying to force the jokes.  "I guess we keep it to ourselves.  Actually, it was weird.  We have a lot of Jewish friends in the neighborhood, so it was like some kind of weird crossbreed between our traditions and theirs."  Sal thought a moment.  "Sounds familiar, doesn't it?"  Sal ran his fingers through his light-colored tail fur, which got a laugh from Lynn.

"So what did you do differently?" Lynn asked.

"First there's no shoes allowed after the ceremony." Sal said.  Taneh was driving through Milwaukee as Sal explained things.  The wolf crinkled his muzzle.  "Tradition."

"So we all get to smell each other's feet?" the wolf asked with a grin.  "Sounds kinda kinky.  Why?"

"I really don't know why." Sal said.  "I think it's to keep us inside.  We're not supposed to leave the house or property.  And I guess you can't do that without your shoes, huh?"

"We do." the wolf said.

"Hey, I don't understand the origins, just that we do it." Sal said.  "I know that the place is going to be packed with relatives, friends, family, and some people too.  It's like a sleepover."

"Now it really does sound kinky!" Taneh said with a wink.

Sal laughed a little bit, forcing himself to ty to be somewhat upbeat.  "It's more like a depression watch.  Everyone in the community makes sure that the family is ok.  You know how raccoons get."

Taneh rolled his eyes.  "You mean it's going to be worse than your mood swings?  That's it, we're going home!"  The wolf tried to look angry, but snickered to himself.

"You're joking a lot about this." Sal said curiously.  "That's not like you."

Taneh thought a moment.  "I'm just trying to do what you do." he said, with sincerity.  "I thought it would help."

"It does." Sal said.  "Thank you."

When we got to Chicago, and we found a full house.  Mom's backgammon friends were in the kitchen with a macabre list of things to do.  Aunt Szay was back, as was my dad's family.  I was at the point where no words needed to be said, Dad greeted me at the door with a hug, and then Taneh with a hug too.  Cyndy did too.  It was weird, nobody was saying much of anything.

I stayed up for hours with Cyndy, talking about Mom and Dad.  It was helpful, actually.  I found out why they didn't have their own kids.  Mom couldn't, so they adopted.  I found out Mom held me as her favorite, and she felt bad for some of the things that happened to me.  Like never really explaining to me why I was half raccoon, half arctic fox.

"At least you had family there." Lynn said.

"I guess." Sal said.  "It was good to be there, talk to people.  We got a lot of stuff out of the air.  That and I got to see Aunt Megan again.  She's a character.  Dad's brother married a human, one of the first human and landed marriages.  You can imagine what kind of a woman it would take to marry a raccoon.  She made it a lot easier for me to cope."  Sal held up his bottle again.  "She went out and got beer and cigars.  We got smashed together when everyone else went home.  She's cool."

Lynn nodded.  "So what happened when you got home?"

"Well dad became a pusher." Sal said.  "He was trying to get me to take some kind of human drug he had prescribed to him for anxiety.  I figured I could just drink if I wanted that.  Aunt Szay's kids were taking them tho.  Not my thing."  Lynn nodded with a smile.  "But we did the funeral the next morning.  That was it's own Darsas."

Lynn' mouth crinkled up, then she remembered a little of the "Landed" mythos that "Darsas" was similar to human "Hell" in slang terms.  "That bad?" Lynn asked.

"Well, I kept telling people "This Sucks", and nobody got it." Sal said.  He shook his head.  "I mean, it sucked.  A lot of people showed up, and that was ok I guess.  It just sucks that you never know how many friends you have until it's too late to appreciate it."  Sal took in a deep breath, like he was holding this back and finally able to express his feelings to someone else.  "It sucks that it had to happen.  It sucks that the only way to really know about someone is after they go.  It sucks that nobody wants to talk about the real things that happened, and only want to remember the "Happy times."  It sucks that you can't express what you really feel without having someone else feel offended or seem like you're being insensitive.  It sucks that you can't remember the real things that are important."  Sal wiped a tear from his eye and sniffled once.  "It sucks that I can't figure out how in the in the world Mom made her  beef soup."  Lynn smiled.  "You laugh, it was good stuff."  They sat quietly a moment.  "But yeah, the funeral sucked."

A lot of my friends scattered to the winds after High School, but that's to be expected.  Only one could show up, Bruce.  One of my good fox friends.  His comment was probably the most accurate.  "It looks like a mob funeral." he said.  I guess he was right.  Everyone wore sunglasses, myself included.  The humans wore black, the raccoons wore black, everyone showed up with nice cars, the humans had gray hair for the most part, dad's friends had some silver fur…  It was kinda like a mob funeral without security guards and guns.

I held my composure, bit my tongue, and held it together.  Our tradition is to bury the dead right away, which was a slight shock for some of the humans.  We also incorporated one of the religious rights from Judaism.  Several of our human neighbors are Jewish, and we shared holidays together all the time.  Dad thought it fitting to include it, and he said that he and Mom talked about it before the drugs made her "confused".  "It is customary for the community to help the departed pass on her way." the rabbi said.  "We invite everyone who wishes to help Jl'lann on her final journey, the final favor we can give her as a community."

I did what needed to be done, barely.  Many of our friends did the same.  I wanted to go home after that, I wanted to be out of there.  Dad's boss found us then, tears streaming from her face.  She's a big panda, a wonderful woman if not a little overbearing sometimes, pardon the pun.  "I'm so sorry!" she said, giving me a big hug from out of nowhere.  That's when I lost it.  I don't really remember the drive home, I just remember crying a lot.  A whole lot.  Everyone had said "Be strong for your father." or "Be strong for your sister." or "Be strong for Aunt Szay."  In the end, the dam broke, and we all collapsed into each other, crying and sobbing.

I walked in the door, and threw my shoes into the laundry room.  I didn't even bother looking where they landed.  The flood gates were open, and I was emotionally stripped.  Looking back, Taneh was devastated too, more at my reaction as well as the situation.  I don't think he'd ever seen my raccoon side come out so strongly to that point.

It took me the better part of an hour to get myself back together.  Taneh was there the whole time, holding me, doing what he could but I was totally gone.  It was a good thing too, I think I set Aunt Szay off, Dad's wasn't as bad, but I think that was the drugs he was taking.  Cyn fell apart too, she leaned on her husband who tried to understand what was going on.  Unless you've got it in you, you don't understand it.  But we had a family cry there, in the front room, just falling on each other in raw emotions.

Now, I hate to backtrack, but I need to.  My fox nature had been protecting me a lot up to that point, giving me something to hide behind when it got bad.  I kept throwing jokes around because that was the only armor I had.  On the way down I was reciting, word for word, Bill Cosby's routine about funerals.  "Don't I look like myself?" became a joke phrase for the week.  One thing I told Taneh is that the funeral would be a catered affair.  He laughed it off, figuring I was kidding.  He'd never been to a raccoon funeral before, poor wolf.

A few hours after we got home from the cemetery, food began to arrive.  Deli trays, veggie trays, meats, cheeses, drinks, everything.  Soon after, Taneh pulled me to the side.  "You weren't kidding."

"I told you." I said.  "Just wait.  This house will be packed by nightfall."

"You've done this before?" He asked.

"Yeah." I said.  "Back in high school one of the kids died in an OD incident.  We held the ceremony for the raccoons in the school gymnasium, we filled it."

"So what happens?" He asked.

"Like I said, a sleepover." I said.  "Well, the real name for it is a 'poslah', but basically you surround yourself with family, friends, food, and you take a day or two to remember.  Friends come and go, but it's traditional to spend a night if you're able.  Oh, and no shoes.  It's tradition."

"Still sounds kinky." he said, taking off his shoes.

"Stop it!" I said with a smile, using my claws to playfully scratch his muzzle.  I felt better after the front room incident, Taneh was helping a lot.  "It's actually so you can get it out of your system, and try to move on.  That and we…  I mean raccoons…"  Taneh motioned like he understood.  "We're social by nature.  When one passes on, we get really down, having friends over to keep sort of an emergency watch is almost mandatory."

Taneh stopped to think about that for a moment.  "Can I make a phone call?"

"Why don't you stick your head out the window and howl?" I asked jokingly.

"Now you stop it!" he said with a wicked grin.  "I'd never be able to reach who I need to talk to from here."  I pointed to the phone, and he made his call.  Dad, meanwhile, was sitting at the dining room table with some friends of his.  It was weird, because for the first time I can remember, they had a conversation that lasted an hour that never included work.

Sal finished the last of his beer.  "Then the photo albums came out.  Then the stories."  Sal put the bottle down.  "All the stories.  About getting married before leaving the home world, them being given myself and Cyn, and all that.  We sang songs, we drank."  Sal shook his head.  "Wow did we drink.  Who needs 'Zac when you've got beer?"

Lynn got a laugh from that.  "Beer wears off in a short while." she said, pointing out the difference.  "But I understand.  So it really helps?  The poslah?"

"I think so." Sal said.  "I mean, we got to let it all out.  I think that helps the most, really.  You get to let it all out, and it's ok.  Humans, you tend to bottle up your feelings because you don't want to appear weak to each other.  My fox side is like that, I know when I'm being headstrong to keep up appearances.  But when I can let the other side flow, with other raccoons, it feels natural.  Everyone gets their emotions out, and on the table, and it's a release."

Lynn thought a moment about that.  "It would put me out of a job."

"Not really.  Sometimes you can't deal with it." Sal said.  "Sometimes, you get lucky."

Lynn let the comment trail off, knowing when to stop prying.  "Want a refill on that beer?"

Sal looked at the bottle, then to her.  "It's ok.  I'll be there in a few minutes."

Lynn smiled.  "If not, you know I'm coming back."  She got up, and dusted her jeans off before returning to the fire.  Taneh was telling an old story of the river, the "Big Fish" story as Sal called it.  He knew better than to walk in on it.  Instead, he looked to the moon, and smiled.

It was a few days after the funeral.  After the two days, I needed to get out.  So did Dad.  The Alberts took him golfing, which I found touching.  They usually had a foursome with Mom, but even without her they went.  I guess, in a way, it was their way of saying they would help Dad, and she was there too, just not in body.  I stayed for another few days with Taneh, before figuring I could safely leave.

It was in that time that Dad came up to me and Dad pulled me aside.  "Mom wanted to be there when you got married."

"I'm sorry." I said.  "I haven't found…"

"Yes you have." Dad said abruptly, and I felt like I was going to collapse.  "It's ok.  I talked about it for a long time with Mom a long time ago, and never talked to you about it."

"About…  what…" I stammered out.

"If you want to live with the wolf, go ahead." Dad said.  "Mom asked me to make sure you're happy.  I can see that you're happy with him.  I don't understand it, but what's to understand about love?"  Dad's accent was still thick, and his mannerisms were as they always have been.  "If you two ever get married, or whatever wolves and raccoons do, She'll be there in spirit, with you."  I could feel myself tearing up, and I reached to hug dad.  He stepped back.  "Don't get funny ideas Sal."  He tried to force a joke, but I didn't care, I hugged him anyway.

Sal poured water on the fire to put it out as Taneh packed the gear for the day's paddle.  The humans were finishing their breakfasts.  Satisfied he did a good job, Sal walked back over to the wolf.  "Ready to go?"

"Just about." Taneh said, scratching Sal between the ears.  "You ok?"

Sal nodded.  "I'll be ok.  Just had a lot on my mind."

"Soaky luv." Taneh said.  "Just don't worry me, ok?"  Sal nodded.

Taneh got out of the car, and looked around in the darkness.  He sniffed the air a few times, and caught the scent of raccoon and fox musk.  He followed it to a bicycle.  Taneh shook his head and looked up the hill.  He figured Sal must have been upset to pedal thirty miles in a day then climb up to Kitchen's Cave.

Sal sat near the ledge, looking across the city below him.  "Hi Taneh." he said, catching the scent before Taneh got to him.  "You're stalking upwind."

"I'm not stalking." the wolf said.  "You left a trail."  The wolf sat down behind his friend, straddling his body to let the 'coon lean back into him.  "You don't come up here much anymore."

"I needed to get away." Sal said.  "But I didn't want to hide."

Taneh stroked Sal's tail gently.  "Is this more of that fox and coon thing?  Bright enough to run, but not enough to mask a trail?"

Sal shook his head.  "No.  More like I wanted to be away from everyone."  Sal leaned back to Taneh, who held him.  "After last week, I felt a little trapped in the house.  I needed out."

The wolf nodded, stroking Sal's chest fur gently under his t-shirt.  "I wanted to tell you something, and I guess now is as good a time as any."  Taneh held Sal to him.  "I talked to my elders, we're going to have a howl in your mother's honor this weekend."

Sal looked over his head at Taneh.  "But I thought you only did that for other wolves?"

"And their families." Taneh said.  "Your father likes me, and I like your family.  Now I'd like you to meet mine." Taneh shrugged.  "Who knows?  We may be able to talk someone into performing a pawfasting."  It took Sal more than a few moments to register what the wolf had just insinuated.

Sal bit his lower lip gently, and rolled over to be belly to belly with Taneh.  He locked his eyes with the wolf, and felt himself shake slightly.  "Tell me you meant that." he asked, almost desperate.

"I did." the wolf said.  Sal kissed Taneh passionately.

Sal rubbed the rope bracelet he wore with a happy sigh as he secured the packs to the canoes.  Lynn was in his boat with another person.  "Ok!" he said cheerfully.  "We'll paddle to Prarie du Chien by tonight, and we'll get picked up from there."

The tourists raised paddles with a cheer.  Taneh put his sunglasses on and pushed his boat out.  "Don't celebrate yet!" he said  "We could still run into…  THE MONSTER CROPPIE!!!!!  AAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!"  He made panicked screams in mock horror as the tourists also made mock terror screams with a lot of laughter.

Sal looked back to the campsite, and saw the site was clean and the fire was out.  As they pushed off, he leaned towards Lynn "Thank you." he said.

"My pleasure." she replied, adjusting her hat.  "Let's shoot these rapids!"  She giggled with the others as Sal paddled out with Taneh's boat

When we got home Lynn wouldn't let me pay her for helping me.  So I demanded she take a free cap and t-shirt instead.  She did, which made me feel better.  Her group asked about this fall too, they want to come up when the leaves turn.

Taneh did ask me about what we talked about.  I told him the truth, it was about Mom, but not about Mom.  In the last few weeks I've been thinking about this heavy stuff, life and death, what you leave behind, what you enrich the world with when you leave.  And I guess that in the end, all you really can leave is not the physical things of life, but the good stuff that you can't touch.

Love, happiness, stories, legends, friends, family… all things you really can't grasp but you can leave when the body is gone.  I miss Mom, but I know she approves.  Dad was there for the pawfasting, he thought it was beautiful.  He said Mom would have liked it too.  I like to know that, actually.

I suppose I should call this an entry, at this point.  We have a group tomorrow that wants to go pretty far down river.  Taneh told me one is a cancer survivor, and wanted to make sure with me that I would be OK with it.  I told him to take the booking, and I'd be perfectly ok.  And now, I think I will be.  I love you Mom.

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