Late getting back, will comment on the comments in a little while...thanks for reading!
With evening the sun finally put in an appearance, its rays weak and angled and hardly making a dent in the fresh snow cover before it dipped once more below the high, timbered horizon, cold setting in very quickly with its departure. Pausing in his firewood gathering--a task to which he’d returned after a brief bit of lunch with Liz--Einar watched the sun linger briefly amongst the trees before vanishing, a small, dying star swallowed by the blackness and gone. Immediately he felt the sun’s absence--thin atmosphere insufficient to hold in its meager heat for long--and responded by moving more quickly, working just a bit harder in an effort to generate more heat as he struggled yet another log down towards the cabin. He was leaving trails through the new snow, the deep, inevitable trails of a man dragging downed trees through the snowy timber, and though he was taking care to keep his paths as well concealed as possible beneath the evergreens, he knew there was some risk of the trails being noticed, should anyone fly over with their eye out for such things before the snow melted off. A risk worth taking, he had decided, seeing that winter was just around the corner and already making itself felt. Warming numbed hands briefly against his stomach--ought, in theory, to have worked quite well, but that day his stomach didn’t seem much warmer than the rest of him--Einar got the tree started down its last slide before the woodshed, a steep bit of slope upon which he found the heavy aspen somewhat difficult to control.
Liz’s presence would have been helpful just then, but she’d stayed behind, stayed inside, seeming entirely uninterested in helping him gather wood when he’d insisted on departing again to do so and leaving Einar to wonder at first whether her uncharacteristic reticence might simply be a way of expressing her displeasure at his decision to spend more time out in the snow, rather than resting with her in the cabin, and devouring a fresh pot of stew every two hours as she seemed so keen to have him do. He doubted it though. Seemed to him more than that, and Einar wished he was just a bit better at interpreting the moods and motivations of others, so he might have some idea of what was troubling her. Hoped she was simply displeased with him and choosing to show it by boycotting the afternoon’s work. If not…well, she just wasn’t acting like herself, and it worried him some. Especially with the baby’s time drawing nearer, but definitely not arrived yet. It was too early. Well. He was getting ahead of himself. She was likely fine, just worn out from all the climbing and hauling brought them by the past few days, as--if he was to be truthful--certainly found himself, that day. Girl just has more sense than you do, Einar, knows she needs to slow down and do something about it, both for her sake and that kid’s. Let her rest for the remainder of the day, and she’ll be back to normal, I’ve got little doubt. Yet he had some doubt, and it was more than he wanted to have with so much at stake, began contemplating, as he panted and struggled with that stubborn, snagging aspen, just what he--they--would do if for some reason Liz should happen to go into labor too early. Not much to do, other than perhaps try to get her down lower, and with no place prepared ahead of time and stocked with food, furs and firewood against such an eventuality, the entire thing would be rather a doubtful endeavor, even if they did manage to lose a thousand or fifteen hundred feet of elevation before the time came.
Liz was up and about when Einar freed his boots of their layer of heavy, clinging snow and stomped back into the cabin, working over the stove and giving him a big smile which he returned, relieved to see her looking better. She did not appear equally relieved at his condition, however, hurried to him and led him over to the bed, pulling off his boots and the sodden, snow-soaked socks that seemed to have absorbed everything his boots had come into contact with--not far from the truth, considering their state of disrepair. She seemed upset, and he stumbled over himself in an effort to improve the situation, would have spoken more promptly had he not been fighting so for breath, all the strength seeming to have gone out of him the moment he allowed himself to sit down. Finally he managed a weary rasp, far from the reassuring tone he’d wanted to take, but at least it was something.
“Snow’s gonna stick around for the night, looks like. I got a bunch more wood hauled down, stacked in the shed…”
“Your boots are all wet. They’re no good. Coming apart at the seams. You’re going to lose the rest of your toes, at this rate.”
“Right now? Nah, I wasn’t out long enough to…”
“You know what I mean. And you’re not taking me seriously. As usual. Now let me get your feet dry, before you freeze them.”
Einar wasn’t sure what to say, was too tired to think of a diplomatic answer and too stubborn to keep his mouth shut entirely as he probably ought to have, so he managed to get himself into worse trouble than he was already in by commenting that it wasn’t even below freezing yet out there, because the snow was still soft, and not crunchy. A fact, to be sure, but not especially relevant to Liz’s point, and he couldn’t really fault her when she exploded at him, tossing his boots across the cabin and declaring him a “thick-skulled old mule who doesn’t have the sense you were born with and clearly don’t care whether you’re alive or not to see your son born,” afterwards making a hasty retreat over behind the water barrel, where he could hear her crying softly, hunched over and seemingly trying to make herself invisible. Einar shrugged, shook his head and rested it briefly on his knees, bone-weary and too dizzy at the moment to trust himself on his feet, but he did not long remain thus, rising and making his way over to Liz and sitting there with her on the cold dirt floor, but she never did look up. Eventually he put a hand on her arm, rested his forehead on her shoulder and she grabbed him, held on.
“Lizzie, I uh…I’m sorry if I… You alright this afternoon? Everything Ok?”
“No.” She was still in tears, trying to get them to stop so she could speak. “Not alright. Something’s wrong and I don’t know what, but I’ve never felt like this and I don’t know what to think…”
“No, not like that. Not…labor, thankfully, but…things aren’t right. Can’t seem to keep my eyes open these last few hours and I can’t think. Brain’s just all fuzzy and…I know this must not sound like much to you, but it’s not normal and it’s been so sudden.”
“Yeah, was gonna say it sounds pretty normal to me, at least for lately, but that’s me and not you. So we got to figure it out. I have an idea. Let me see your hands.”
She held out her hands, Einar very deliberately keeping his face still, unreadable when his suspicion was confirmed. “Take you thumb and try to touch the base of your little finger with it.” She couldn’t. Her hands were too swollen.
“You need to have some more stew. Something with protein in it. Need more protein.”
“You need more protein. I get plenty. What are you talking about?”
“Your hands. See how they’re all swollen? Face is looking a little fuller, too, bet your ankles are starting to do the same, and it’s an indication that you need more protein, you and the little one, or you’re gonna end up with…”
“Yeah. Not good. Not if you let it go, but we’re not gonna do that, so come on sit down on the bed, and I’ll get you some of this stew, big bowl with lots of meat in it. Gonna be just fine.”