Late into the night Einar and Liz worked, Liz finishing the frames for both snowshoes and Einar completing the stitching on one of her parka sleeves and beginning on the other, first sewing it together into a long, fur-lined tube before attaching it to the main body of the coat. Liz had by that time cut a series of long rawhide strips and was about to begin weaving them onto the willow snowshoe framework to create the webbing that would keep them from sinking too deeply as they traveled that winter, when Einar interrupted her.
“Got a minute? I’d kinda like you to try out this parka, if you don’t mind…”
“Mind? I’d love to try it!” Her eyes shone as she stood and allowed Einar to slip the heavy garment over her head, arms into their rabbit fur-lined sleeves and settle it around her shoulders, warmer than she could have imagined and fitting so well--except for the belly area, where it was a bit tight, but wouldn’t be for many more weeks--that it seemed all his earlier measuring and tracing must have really paid off. Heavy as the parka had turned out, and completely fur-lined, Liz could tell it wasn’t something she would be wearing on days that were only moderately cold, but for the frigid sub-zero days and nights that could be expected with reasonable frequency after the passage of another month or two, the garment should be exactly what she--and the baby--needed to stay warm. Helping her out of the parka, Einar set it aside.
“Think it’ll work?”
“It’ll work great! I can just see myself carrying little Hildegard all warm and snug in there as I follow you on the trapline this winter. Now you’d better get started on your own--or would you like me to do it? I’d be glad to do the sewing, as soon as these snowshoes are done…”
“Ah, I don’t really need one. Mainly just wanted you and the little one to be warm, and with the exception of a good fur hat, pants and a pair of mittens, that’s taken care of, now.”
“What are you talking about? Of course you need one, because I’m not going to have you out there freezing in the snow while I’m cozy and warm dry here in this parka! Now, are you sewing it, or am I?”
“You don’t give up, do you Lizzie? I’ll do the sewing. But only after I get your snow pants done. Already got the materials cut and ready to go for those.”
Seeing that his mind was made up and knowing there was little point in arguing with him over the timing of it all, Liz let the matter go, grateful that he was so intent on providing for her and the coming child but wishing, as usual, that he might give a bit more priority to doing the same for himself. Still didn’t seem to understand--or believe, perhaps?--that failing to do all he could to ensure that he would still be there at winter’s end was, in a sense, failing them, too, and she wanted to say it, tell him, implore him to make a change in the way he looked at things--still wasn’t eating nearly as much as he needed to begin putting on a bit of weight for the winter, and that only at her continual urging, and seemed quite determined to head outside and freeze himself at every opportunity; a dangerous combination, for sure--but she had said it all before, and the night was growing late. Best simply to get to bed, for he needed rest, too, they both did, and she began her preparations, setting mostly-done snowshoes aside behind the water barrel where they would be a good distance from the heat of the stove in the hopes of preventing the rawhide lashings with which she was weaving the webbing from drying too badly in the night.
Einar had been all set to make a good bit of progress on the snow pants, but seeing that Liz appeared quiet ready for bed he put the work aside, helped make ready for the night. Figured his fingers and eyes could use a break from the detailed work, anyway, before he grew too much more weary and began making serious mistakes that might lead to the garments’ not holding together as well as they otherwise might have. Might not sounds like too serious a matter to most folks, but Einar knew from experience that the quality and durability of one’s winter gear could easily and rather quickly become a matter of life or death in the harsh climate the two of them called home. Fingers were getting awfully tired, anyway, starting to cramp up after many hours of close work and he figured they could use the break. Amazing, though, what the level of warmth Liz had insisted upon in the cabin that day could do for the flexibility of one’s extremities; he’d nearly forgotten what it was like to work in a truly warm environment--even the summer months had been rather chilly up there, especially when sitting still for long periods to work with the hands--and though he certainly wouldn’t have chosen to burn nearly so much wood had he been there by himself, he had to admit that the work had probably gone more smoothly and quickly because of Liz’s insistence.
Bedtime, then, and though she was weary, Liz found herself dreading sleep. Memory of the past night’s dreaming returned to her stronger than ever when she lay down with Einar in the bear hides, and she feared lest she end up trapped once more within its terrors, knew the fears were baseless--it was only a dream, has no impact on the reality around you, and you know it--but could not seem entirely to chase them away. Einar could not help but notice her restlessness, found himself a bit concerned, as it was entirely unlike her.
“You get enough supper tonight? Maybe you need some more of that broth, some protein of one sort or another? ‘Cause if the little one’s complaining, she probably knows what she’s talking about, and…”
“No, really, that’s not it. I just…” propped herself up on her elbow, fixed him with a more intent stare than he was used to seeing from her, eyes white and a bit wild in the glow of the single candle. “How do you do it, Einar? After you have those dreams…how do you get yourself to go to sleep again?”
“You been having ‘those’ dreams?”
“Last night…I got sick, baby wasn’t doing well and neither was I and you took me down to Susan’s, carried me a good bit of the way and ended up mostly dead by the end of it and you made it and so did we, but things went so terribly, terribly wrong down there, and now I’m afraid to go to sleep because it may all come back, and I don’t want to go back there…” Einar hardly knew what to say, took her hands and laid his head against hers, poor Lizzie, it can seem so awfully real at times, can’t it?
“It won’t come back, I don’t figure. Especially now that you’ve talked about it. As for how I do it…well, you’ve seen. Lot of times I don’t. Don’t sleep, just wander for a night or two, find a high spot and keep watch but I guess you’ve seen too what that leads to, and you sure don’t want that for you and the little one right now. Need your sleep. Need to do it for Snorri. Or Hildegard, or whoever it is in there… Tell you what. You sleep, I’ll keep watch here with you for a while, and if you start getting restless like you’re in one of those dreams again, I’ll know it and I’ll wake you so you can see that you’re still here where you’re supposed to be, and everything’s alright. How’s that sound?”
She relaxed a bit, pressed closer to him, knowing he’d do as he was saying and feeling somehow very safe at the knowledge, protected, wished she could sometimes do the same for him and didn’t even realize how very much she had already done. “Thank you…”