Liz and Susan enjoyed a productive several hours of basin-touring, raspberry leaf harvesting and discussion of the intricacies of bringing a little one into the world when living way up on top of a mountain far from paved roads, human contact and hot, running water--Susan had twice done it, herself, and had attended and helped out at several more such births--and by the time they were finished, Liz found herself far more confident in her body’s ability to successfully birth the child but left at the same time with questions and concerns that hadn’t even been on her radar screen, previously. Still a good deal to talk about, questions she needed to ask of Susan, and all this with the knowledge that their time together was to be quite short. Susan had told her that she and Bud must, absolutely must be heading down by sometime the following afternoon, lest they risk raising too many questions on the part of friends, family and, in Bud’s case, employers with their extended absence.
When they returned, it was to find Bud sitting alone on the log-bench out front of the woodshed. Finished woodshed, and Liz surveyed the change with some amazement, the bark-shingled roof, several stacks of logs already nestled in the dry space beneath it, and thinking Einar must have worn himself out in the doing and gone inside to sleep--not like him, but then, it had been a terribly long time since he’d had more than a few hours’ sleep--she ducked into the cabin to check on him. Only to find it empty.
Kilgore met her accusing glance with a nod and a chuckle, inclining his head in the direction of the back of the cabin and pointing at the sky. “Up in the rocks. Where else?”
Something in his tone, causal though it seemed, put a bit of urgency into Liz’s step, sent her hurrying around behind the cabin and onto the path that led to their climbing route--not so easy for her those days, the way her center of gravity was changing, but still passable--as Susan began laying out their significant harvest of raspberry leaves to begin drying.
She found him up there on the rocks just as Kilgore had said she would, spoke, awaited his response but none came. He didn’t even look up, gave her not so much as a glance of acknowledgement. Sitting down beside him she put a hand on his knee, tried to get him to kook her in the eye, if only for a moment, just so she might get some idea of what was happening with him, where he was, but still he would not look at her. Taking his hand she pressed it between her own, spoke again but without avail which left her briefly very angry with him, for she had wanted to tell him what she and Susan had talked about in their wanderings, to talk with him about the baby, but she couldn’t because he was absent, he wasn’t there, and she needed him to be there, to be with her. And with the child. But she did not stay angry long. Could not. Not just then. She took his hand, which had, when she’d released it from her grasp, remained just as she had left it, slightly elevated, open, waiting. For what, she could not guess, and gently she placed the hand back down on the rock where she’d found it.
“All right. I’ll give you your space. Come down when you get hungry. I’ll have some soup cooking.” It was all she could think of to say, to do, and she left, hoping the odor of the simmering food might rise and get his attention where nothing else seemed able. She’d seen it happen before, a time or two. Seemed the smell of a good stew simmering could overcome a load of troubles, and she could only hope it would be sufficient to pierce through whatever cloud Einar had gone and lost himself in, that afternoon. Wouldn’t do to have him spending the night up there, and he hadn’t seemed very inclined to allow himself to be talked down. She wasn’t even entirely certain that he had been able to hear her words.
Bud and Susan were somber, quiet when she returned to the cabin, Bud still sitting on his log and Susan working intently to get the remaining raspberry leaves spread on her improvised drying rack of willow and fir boughs, and it seemed to Liz as if they must have had words in her absence, and she wondered what they had been. What Bud had told her. What he knew. Whatever it was, neither of them appeared inclined to pass it on to her, which she found more than a little irksome, and then Bud, sensing, perhaps, the danger in her eyes, rose, gave her his full attention.
“I was thinking, Ma’am, that the two of you might want the cabin to yourselves tonight, figured it might be best that way, so Mrs. Goodland and I will be glad to find ourselves camping spots out here under the trees…”
She turned on him, still angry, still wondering what he had done to Einar, her Einar, who was up there in the rocks and yet not really there, at all. “I’ll bet you will! What did you do to him? He’s practically catatonic. I’ve never seen him like that.”
“Oh, he’ll be alright Ma’am. He’s just thinking.’ All we did was to have a little discussion on some points of ancient history, and it can take a fella a while to think through things like that. Especially when he won’t go ahead and talk about ’em, bring ’em all the way out in the open as I’d hoped--woulda done him some good, I know it would--chooses to just sit there and stew over them instead, stew in ‘em, drown in ‘em, and he’s too doggone proud to grab hold of the rope I was tryin’ to throw him, too, ‘cause I’m telling ya, I could see them bubbles starting to rise to the surface before we got through up there. That man of yours is about as stubborn as they come, Ma’am, and while I do mean that as a compliment of the highest order, well, sometimes the ornery old cuss is just too mule-headed for his own good.”
With which Liz could hardly disagree, but she wasn’t about to say so out loud in front of their guests. So she went on with the supper preparations--what else was there to do?-- hoping, praying, that the cooking-scents might somehow reach him, bring him down. Bring him back. But they did not, the three of them sharing a quiet meal on the bench-logs outside the cabin as they watched the sun’s gold fade from the sky-sweeping row of spruces on the ridge opposite that of the little plateau, watched the light fade, finally, until it was very nearly dark. It was then, sometime after sunset but before full dark that Liz finally went after him, worried that he’d be getting cold up there in the evening shadows, in the breeze, which he was, shivering and staring down into the growing darkness when she reached him, teeth rattling together unheeded, and when still he would not respond to her words or to her touch when she sat down beside him and wrapped the deer hide around his shoulders, she knew she had to act. She got behind him, hands beneath his arms, pulling, inching him back away from the dropoff and then, once something like a safe distance had been achieved, took his hands, lifting, raising him. He did not resist, but was not much help, either.
When finally she got him to stand on his own she led him down over the rocks, fearing that she might lose him still, that he would fall, knowing that there would be nothing she could do to prevent it but relieved when he came alive just a bit at the sight of the rock, dim in the fading light, fingers finding its cracks and crevices, feet seeking purchase, working his way down. Down to the ground where he crouched once more, absent, unseeing, until she made her own way down and again lifted him, led him home to the cabin. Susan had kept the fire going, kept it warm inside, and by the flickering orange of the aspen-flames Liz got him into the bed, tended to the injury on his foot and wrapped herself around him there beneath the bear hide, sleep, Einar, sleep and be warm and in the night perhaps you will find your way back to me, find your way home…