Chained to the steamboat’s smokestack, Emperor watches his son limp down the Texas Deck. The morning’s first light is clearing the mist off Grand Island’s deepest cove.
Vanity had driven him to make his progeny from mud and sticks, Emperor thinks. Now we’ll both come asunder by noon.
“The engine is ready,” Corporeal says. “Tell me, father, are you up for a boat ride?”
Delighted by his own wit, Corporeal dances a jig until his legs collapse with a mushy crack. Falling forward, he grabs Emperor’s sturdy legs hanging above his head. His face smears a trail of mud across his father’s woolen trousers.
“I made your legs from dry cypress limbs,” Emperor says.
Corporeal squints up at him. “Shoddy workmanship,” he mutters, “is the death of us both,” and sinks to the deck. His neck’s dried mud and straw wattle sways as he begins to drag himself toward the steamboat’s ornate staircase.
“You were able to knock me out. To chain me to this chimney.”
“And I’ll be here to see you smolder.”
Emperor watches the cracked soles of Corporeal’s useless feet slip down the staircase.
The silhouette of Grand Island looms. He’d once been content, alone on his boat, in that island’s shadow. Throughout the night, as a loon cried for its mate, he’d struggled to think of what he should have done differently. Only when the loon fell silent, did he relax in his chains