What about the baby? He wondered. Is something wrong with the baby? How does she know? Is it not growing properly, too small for how far along she is, could it be that she’s not getting enough to eat? I’ve tried, have tried awful hard to make sure she gets enough, she seems to be doing well but it’s hard to tell, and I’d hate for anything to be wrong with the baby because she hasn’t been getting what she needs…
Some of the worry must have been showing despite his lack of words, and she tried to reassure him. “No, nothing like that. The baby’s fine. Just fine. Seems to be doing very well, actually. He’s moving, growing, he’s just about the size he ought to be for this time in her pregnancy, by my measurements, and Liz seems to be doing great, too. This life agrees with her, the work, all the fresh air, being up high like this, but that’s one of the things I’m concerned about. I already talked with her about this, but wanted to make sure you hear it, too.”
He? She said “he.” Can she tell? Is there a way to tell? I don’t know of a way, but maybe she does…
“Like I was saying, you’re up high here, somewhere around eleven thousand feet…”
But in Nepal…
“And while her body is certainly adapted to this altitude and to the amount of oxygen it has to work with up here, and the baby’s will be, too, there’s a real danger if the baby comes too early, because his lungs won’t be ready, and will have so much less to work with than if you were down lower. This would be a real challenge, but if it seems that the baby is coming early--more than a couple of weeks early--and there’s any way you can do it, you really should try to get down lower. Lose a thousand feet, two, whatever you can do--it would make a difference for the little one’s breathing. Since it will be winter, you might be wise to set up a spot ahead of time, just in case. Build a shelter down lower somewhere, stock it with firewood and food and furs for bedding, once you get some extras… It would still be a challenge to get a laboring woman down there, but she could do it. The two of you could do it.”
Einar nodded. Yes. They could do it. She was right, too, he had no doubt, about under-developed lungs needing all the advantage they could get, if it came to that, and he prayed it didn’t come to that, stay in there, little one, until you’re good and ready to come out, but he knew it could happen, was something they’d have to be prepared for. A second shelter. Very good idea. Better get to work. But Susan was far from done, beckoned for him to sit back down, and he did.
“My other concern is your food supply. Liz has told me that last winter you kept hunting and trapping all winter long to provide for your needs, and I just hope you realize that she may not be able to do her ‘share’ of that, for quite a while after the baby comes. She may not be out there to help you at all for the first few weeks, possibly many weeks depending on how the birth goes, may need to mostly stay inside with the baby just to keep it warm, out of the weather, to give herself time to heal up if it’s a difficult birth…”
To which he wanted to respond, But the Utes…what about the Utes and others, who would deliver their babies out on the trail, rest up for a day or a night and be back at it again, baby on the mama’s back all snuggled down in a nest of furs in its cradleboard, or in colder climates carried inside her clothing, against her skin like the Inuit always did…what about that? And what about the Montagnards? Different climate, for sure, but similar circumstances, otherwise. Mama back up on her feet and on the move with the little one real shortly after the birth, because she had to be and… It didn’t matter. None of it mattered. Forget the Utes, he told himself. Utes don’t live here anymore. And you know what happens to Montagnard babies, you were there, you’ve seen the smoke over that village and that…that baby in her father’s arms and there wasn’t a thing he--or you--could do about it, because she was gone…gone, and so was her mother, all of them gone… And besides, none of it matters because you can’t tell her, because you don’t have the words. Wrong. Have the words, obviously have them, because you’re using them right now. In your head. I hear you. Just can’t seem to get them out, and it frustrated him, not being able to communicate, frustrated him so badly that he frightened Susan by slamming his fist into the side of the punky log that was serving as his seat, bloodying his knuckles and taking a chunk out of the wood, a splintery, fragmented, dry-rotted chunk that left two fat white grubs to topple out of the log and to the ground, and he promptly snatched them up, but did not eat them. Was too mad to eat. Wanted to tell her…to ask her…it didn’t matter what, he just wanted to be able to do it, and wasn’t, and it didn’t make any sense.
Susan had sat back down, still looking slightly wary after his outburst, but not too disturbed. “What is it? Did you have something to say? Please go ahead…”
But of course, he couldn’t. Which she was starting to realize, to suspect, at least, and wanting to help she rummaged around in her pack, came out with a pen and a small notebook, handed them to him. “Write it, then.”
Write it. Write! Now you write! He hadn’t thought about it for a very long time, hadn’t recalled those words but there they were all of a sudden fresh as the day it had happened some thirty eight years prior, that time, five or six days into the whole mess, as he recalled--which would have made it the day before he’d escaped--when they’d dragged him…literally, for his legs would not support him, not the way they’d been keeping him raised off the floor, like that… out of his little cage just after dark and into a cramped, stinking hut equipped with an oblong metal table, sat him on a stool, jammed a pen into his hand and demanded that he write. As if he’d be more willing to write the things they wanted to know than to speak them, which he hadn’t been, had let them know, and he’d paid for it…and Susan didn’t understand the quickening of his breath as he took the pen, the trembling of his hand. When he put pen to paper, the marks that resulted were chaotic, meaningless; he thrust the pad back in her direction, crossed his arms and sat there on the log, miserable, shaking. It was all he could do after that to keep himself still, to keep from fleeing into the darkness of the waiting timber where his only hope of escape seemed to lie, his only chance, and he couldn’t take it, couldn’t make that dash for freedom, because he had to sit and talk to her. Listen, anyway. Because the baby was coming. Felt like his head was going to explode, but it didn’t, so he went on sitting.
Susan could plainly tell that something was wrong, that Einar was having a major struggle of some sort, but seeing also that she still seemed to have his attention, she elected to continue. “About your food supply… I just wanted to say that even though Liz is a very independent person and I know she does a lot around here, in those weeks and months after the baby comes, she’ll be depending on you to some extent for those things--food, especially. And if she doesn’t get enough to eat, to drink…her milk won’t be good, won’t give the baby what it needs, and it will suffer, end up with deficiencies, and that’s no way to start a life, if there’s any choice. No way to end one, either, if you ask me…” And she gave him a pointed look that said a good deal more than her words had, irked him some, for he knew it was directed at him.
Well, I didn’t ask, now did I?
“So you’ll need to make sure she gets plenty, lots of fat and greens if possible, as well as the meat…you surely know more than I do about getting a balanced diet out here, but it’s going to be more important than ever, this first year of the little one’s life. Every bit as important as it has been during the pregnancy. Which means, I think, that you’ve really got your work cut out for you over the next couple of months, to make sure that supply is there, even if for some reason you’re not able to get out every day, yourself, and hunt and trap after the baby comes.”
Again he nodded, met her eyes to let her know he didn’t disagree with anything she was saying, understood, appreciated it and had thought about all of it before, though her words did impress upon him the growing urgency of the situation, the need to get out and work every day towards getting that stock put back, preparing them for the winter. Been working on it. Have a lot of jerky so far, the bear fat, lots of dried nettles but we need more, for sure. I got to get more serious about it, stop running around here and there and losing entire days to who knows what, because at this point we don’t have any days to lose, do we?
Bud Kilgore woke grumpy that morning, which was never good news, at least not for those who might have the misfortune of being in his proximity. Grumpier than usual, in fact, grumpier than he had been in a long time, and it was all Asmundson’s fault. Durn fool mule of a mountain critter just wouldn’t listen to sense, seemed determined to stop short of doing the one thing that might actually stand some chance of helping him get on with his life--as much as a person could, there were limits, as he knew quite well, himself--and spend some more of his time in the present, wasn’t willing or wasn’t able to really settle in and talk about it, and Bud didn’t really care which. Time was short, they had to head back by sometime that afternoon, and he was determined to do everything in his power to see that Asmundson’s kid would have a father, before he went. Was just about out of ideas, though. The man was wearing him down, but he hadn’t yet given up. Would try again. Press the issue just a bit more strongly than he had done before. Assuming Asmundson was still around, still himself, in any recognizable form. Which was a lot to assume. The matter had seemed just a bit in question, that past evening. Ha! No problem there, Kilgore saw, because Einar was indeed in camp, was sitting just over there talking with Susan--or so it appeared, he not yet having realized that it was rather a one-sided conversation--and seeing his opportunity, Bud hurried out of his sleeping bag to take advantage of it.