Even before she was finished rubbing tanning solution into the goat hide Liz was began to notice a rather enticing odor wafting over from the area of the firepit, wondered what Einar might be up to but finished her task before going to check, not wanting to have to clean the brain solution from her hands more than once.
As the roast heated and began cooking over the fire Einar hurried from tree to tree up behind the cabin, collecting globs and oozes of pitch, scraping them onto a piece of aspen bark in an attempt to replenish their supply ahead of coating the cache baskets, which he hoped they might finish that night. The stuff was quite plentiful, fortunate, as he did not want to have to resort to using part of their precious supply of bee’s wax in the waterproofing process. It had too many other uses, pitch making a poor substitute for some of them. Even several dozen yards into the timber up behind the cabin Einar could clearly smell the goat roast as it browned and sizzled, hurrying down to it as soon as he had collected a useful quantity of pitch. Couldn’t have it burning. Liz wouldn’t like that. Which it had not done, not yet, but definitely needed turning, and another application of the improvised honey mustard, too. He couldn’t see Liz, figured she must have gone inside to wash up.
Sitting there watching the roast steam and spit and pressing his stomach against the hunger brought on by the sight--and smell--of the thing, Einar figured he might as well make the most of his time, begin melting pitch and coating one of the baskets, which he did, placing bits from their renewed supply on a smooth, angled rock near the fire and catching them as they liquefied and rolled down towards the flames. Using a bit of aspen inner bark to catch the pitch and brush it onto the basket--he wanted one of the bear fur brushes they’d used in coating the shingles, but didn’t want to disturb Liz and could not leave the fire, anyway, lest he return to find his supply of pitch having rolled down into it and caught fire--he coated the entire inside of the largest one. That hot pitch hurt his raw fingers, left him wishing for a tub of good cold water in which to cool them--snow had all melted away from around the firepit and was well on its way to being gone from the clearing, or he would have used that--but he had no water, and certainly didn’t want to quench them in honey mustard, so simply kept at his work, enduring, knowing the task would soon be finished. After a time--he should have known it would happen, having used melted pitch in the past as a quick bandage on a bad scrape of one sort or another--the pitch formed a coating on the damaged areas of his fingertips, protecting them from further hurt as he worked with the hot, sticky stuff, moving on to the outside of the basket and thoroughly coating it, as well.
With the pitch being antiseptic and quite sturdy, Einar knew the fingertip protection ought to do him some good, last well and allow him to use his fingers a good bit more normally than he might otherwise have been able to. Funny the sorts of things one ends up being reminded of, entirely by accident…at least on my part. This is a real good one to remember. Fingers feel kind of stiff now, but that’s a lot better than raw and oozing and tremendously sensitive to the least bit of heat, as they were when I started this job. A job with which he was now nearly finished, adding the last touches to the rim of the basket up where the lid would go, before moving on to the lid itself, coating first one side and then another to make possible a waterproof seal. All the time he worked he had been keeping a close eye on the roast, turning it this way and that and occasionally brushing on more of the sauce, a fresh wave of wondrously delicious-smelling steam enveloping him each time and leaving him to wonder how he would ever wait until suppertime to dig in and begin devouring that roast. Same way as he always did, that was how--by placing the food off limits in his mind and consigning it--for the moment at least--to the realm of dream, look but don’t touch, imagine but don’t… Liz was coming, and quickly he shook himself from his world of hungry dreaming, flexing fingers and rubbing hands to remove the excess bits of pitch and dousing the roast with yet another layer of that wonderful sauce so that both its sizzling and its odor should be fresh when she reached the fire.
Warming her hands over the flames as she inspected the soon-to-be supper, Liz sat down beside him. “Look what you’ve got done! One of the baskets all ready to go, and an incredible dinner prepared, too! I don’t know what you’ve got on there, but it sure smells better than anything we’ve had in a long time. How are your fingers? Did that salve help?”
“Sure, salve helped. And so did this pitch.” Held his hands out to her, fingertips stiff and somewhat shiny with solidified pitch and Liz fearing at first that he must have burned himself with its application, caused further harm but the way he was using his hands--though no guarantee; she’d more than once seen him walk on frozen toes or broken bones without complaint just to prove to himself that he could--assured her that not only had he avoided further damage, but had stumbled upon a fine method of protecting the fingers while leaving them at least somewhat useful. A good thing, good especially because it reminded her of the “old” Einar, the incredibly bright and resourceful man who had so often scraped together bits and scraps that she would herself have entirely overlooked and piecing them together to get the two of them safely through one difficult patch or another, and she had hope that if she could only convince him to go on eating on a regular basis and getting a bit of rest now and then, she would be seeing more and more of the old resourcefulness and presence of mind that had seemed to be somewhat absent of late. With its diminishing had come, she was pretty sure, a lessening of the dreams that had so troubled his sleep and the hair-trigger alertness which had kept him always on edge during the days and led to so many near misunderstandings between them, and she would have been glad of those changes, had she not been fairly certain that they were coming about only because he was slowly dying. Not a good tradeoff, and she wanted the old Einar back, quirks and all.
Together they enjoyed Einar’s honey mustard basted roast, carrying it inside to eat when finished, as the light had by then faded entirely and the night begun growing quite cold, and Liz found herself quite delighted with Einar’s attempt at making the mustard. All it needed was a bit of vinegar, and they’d have a sauce that could be used throughout the winter to spice up the meat of whatever wild game they happened to be eating at the moment. Vinegar--another project to work on, and we ought to be able to do it for sure, but not until we get a couple of these caches set out. That’s got to be first priority. Time to start packing this first one I think, seeing how much we can fit.