Much as he liked the new parka, Einar could not be persuaded to go on wearing it in the cabin, hanging it neatly on the wall beside Liz’s as soon as they were through fitting it and retreating to his chilly corner behind the water barrel, where he spent the next hour or so freezing as he watched the ice melt, emerging only occasionally to trek out into the storm for more ice or trade a batch of cooled rocks for fresh, hot ones. Outside darkness was falling, dim, cloud-dampened light fading from the sky at a rate much faster than it might have on a clear day, even so late in the year, and Einar--having gone after what he believed would be the day’s final load of ice, as the barrel was well over two thirds full and the ice almost gone--stood watching great white breath-clouds drift away into the timber and listening to the evening, trees still for the first time that day and the wind almost gone. Still the snow fell quite heavily, quickly dampening his hair and soon starting to send cold little trickles down around his neck to trace ribs and backbone--he shivered; should have worn that parka--and he could see little sign, despite the lessening of the wind, that the storm was about to begin slacking off.
Kicking at the heaped whiteness which had accumulated to the side of the path he and Liz had kept somewhat trampled down between the cabin, outhouse area and the trees where they hung their ready supplies of deer, sheep and other meat, he estimated its depth to be somewhere upwards of two and a half feet, a good-sized storm by any estimation. He liked the snow. It’s presence, especially following so closely on the heels of his latest encounter with Kilgore and his band of apprentice trackers, struck him as tremendously reassuring, meant that any trail he might have left in his retreat to the cabin--had been working with tremendous diligence to prevent any such, but was well aware that he hadn’t entirely been himself that day, had not been as sharp as he might have liked to think--would now be well and thoroughly obliterated, impossible for man or beast to follow, the cabin as private and secure as ever. Except that, of course, Kilgore already knew the way to the basin, and could make the trip again at some point, if he dared. A concern for another time.
For the moment, the storm was sufficient to preserve their isolation from even so determined and skilled a would-be intruder as Bud Kilgore, and Einar figured he’d better be getting back inside before Liz came out after him. Night was coming, and they both needed a good night’s sleep, if they could get it. The following day would be one for beginning work on the back door of the cabin, a second exit and, assuming the storm had begun moving out, would also be one for retracing the route of their trapline, unburying snares and re-setting deadfalls in their cubbies, getting the line up and running once again. They would, he knew, be glad of the snowshoes. Well, Liz would. Still needed to make a second pair so they could both go out at once without sinking up to their knees or beyond in the soft, deep powder snow, but with Liz, Bearer of the Baby, being by far the heavier of the two just then, the single pair of snowshoes would definitely be hers on any shared expeditions that took place before the creation of the second pair. Einar could, he knew, get at least some measure of relief from the snow’s swallowing depth by lashing spruce boughs to his boots; he’d done it before with reasonable success, and would give it a try on the trapline.
If--and it was looking like a big “if,” much as he hated admitting so--my legs’ll cooperate sufficiently to carry me a reasonable distance from the cabin, in the first place. Snowshoes won’t do you any good if you’re falling ever four, five steps as it is. Might as well just crawl at that point, crawl, roll, drag yourself along on your belly like some ridiculous half-crippled marten or ermine whose back legs won’t work, because that’s about the position you’ll be in if things happen to keep up the way they were today. Not acceptable, and if you were here by yourself you’d probably have to head out into the snow to find yourself a way through it, not come back to the cabin until you’d found a way to make yourself walk again, but in this case looks like you’re gonna have to accept it, because you’ve gone and told Liz you’re gonna try, gonna do your best to change things around just a little and start eating a little more regularly, maybe, make your best effort to be around when the little one comes, so even though it seems the eating is doing you more harm than good at the moment, the way it’s causing your legs to swell up and lose what little strength they did have left, guess you got to keep at it for a while, see what happens. He shook his head, blew out a great breath into the almost complete darkness of the clearing and scooped up the fragments of ice for which he’d initially come, gathered an armload of wood to add to the stack beside the stove and headed back inside.
Liz was there, took the firewood and did her best to brush the accumulated snow from his hair but saw that it was rather too late, as the stuff had already soaked him rather thoroughly. Einar didn’t care about the snow, did not seem to realize how he was shaking with the chill of its wetness against him and, having dumped that last load of ice fragments into to barrel and clumsily added a few hot rocks, was staring intently at the back wall of the cabin, measuring, searching, trying to determine the best location for the rear exit he was so intent on affording them. And trying not to look at the log--added back to the woodpile by Liz--that they’d used to simulate the baby when experimenting with his parka. Liz’s mention of his having held a baby before--innocent enough; she’d meant nothing but good by it, had been trying to assure him that she thought he’d be decent at this fatherhood business, and for her confidence he was grateful--had stirred in him the memory of the first time he’d held an infant…years ago, many, many years and not his own child, of course, yet he could see the scene as if it had been yesterday, that little black-haired girl child not ten minutes old as he’d checked her out, made sure everything was alright and then handed her back to her mother, and now all he could see--blotting out the wall he was trying to inspect, swallowing up his world--was the tiny burnt body of that same little girl, a year old the last time he’d seen her and cradled in her father’s arms, the man having returned to his village too late to prevent it, any of it, nothing left… He shook his head, looked over at Liz, who was speaking. Something about the fire. Oh--the stove. She was wondering how, between the stove and the bed, there would be room for a back door, and he didn’t know how to answer, hadn’t got that far in his thinking before the other thing got in the way and he scrubbed a sleeve across his face, studied the wall again and had the answer.
“Not gonna be a full sized door. Just needs to be big enough for us to crawl out of, a second way out. Don’t see us using it too often, just need another option. Never good to have only a single way in and out of a place like this. Figure I can just cut out the bottom two feet or so of the wall there between the stove and bed, build a door there that swings in. Not very big at all. On the back wall I’ll have to cut through the retaining wall and all that insulation, but it’ll be alright, because I’ll turn it into a bit of a tunnel, dig down just a bit so we can crawl under the insulation and come out under the trees there just before the cliff face…won’t even be visible from the outside, and…”
Liz put a hand on his arm, stopped him. “Einar. What is it? Something’s the matter, and I don’t know what you’re thinking. Can you let me know what you’re thinking?”