Somewhat to Einar’s dismay the morning dawned dark and windswept, snow still curling down from the sky at a rate that rendered impractical any efforts to dig out the trapline and start over with it; the task would have to wait for another day, but at least the ongoing weather would give him plenty of time to work on the back door, make some candles and perhaps give his legs another day to regain some of their strength so he would actually be of some use on the trapline. A good thought, though unfortunately they didn’t seem to be heading in that direction at all, Einar stumbling and almost going down when he stepped out of bed. Hands braced against the wall he regained his equilibrium, took a tentative step towards the stove and stood there shivering in the morning chill with knees braced against one another, remaining that way until he was sure of himself, sure he could keep it up.
Frustrated. Lower legs were so swollen that morning that he couldn’t even properly sit back on his heels to build and start the fire--had been heading that direction all through the previous day, but seemed to have grown worse in the night, which didn’t make sense, as he’d been lying down--and he wondered if water was going to start accumulating in his lungs the way it was in his legs and feet, and drown him. Doubted it. Aside from the continued hurt of his re-injured ribs and what seemed to be an occasional weakness in his body’s automatic urge to breathe--slightly scary, especially the first few times, but he’d got used to it--his lungs seemed to be doing fine. He’d make it. Just didn’t always feel that way. Especially that morning.
Fire was going, orange flame curling up through its nest of finely split kindling but the chimney wasn’t drawing terribly well, a result, he supposed, of the fresh wave of stormy weather that seemed to have pushed its way into the area overnight. Rising, he peered out through the crack above the door. Yep, still snowing, and looked like it was there to stay, at least for the moment. Lots of cold air coming in through that crack and, being up near the ceiling, surely a lot of warm escaping through it, too. Figured the time had come to stuff it with something, and the basket that held Liz’s scraps of hide and fur, remnants of various sewing projects, seemed just the place to look. Took him a minute to get over there, as he didn’t want to fall and wake her. Hurt to walk. Hurt to stand. The touch of his clothing against the swollen areas of his legs and ankles hurt, even. No matter. Pain, he could deal with. It was a very direct, straightforward sort of thing, and he appreciated that. Much easier to face up to than the thoughts of the previous evening, the dreams that had haunted his sleep through the night, bringing with them stark, clear memories of…drop it. Don’t go there. Liz’ll be up soon, and you’re not gonna make her go through that again, that wondering why you won’t speak and what she can do to make things better…you know that can’t be easy for her, but once you’re all caught up in it, that thought doesn’t really occur to you, does it? Not until it’s all over with. So just don’t go there today. Night’s over, dreams are gone, and you can get on with the day. Which he did, snorting to clear from his nose an odor that seemed all too real despite his perhaps too insistent assertions that the dreams were behind him, the sickly sweet smell of charring human flesh and bamboo and chicken excrement but he couldn’t get rid of it, stuck his head down into an empty basket in search of some relief, the wild, bittersweet willow tang rising around him, a comfort, but it wasn’t enough. Couldn’t breathe. Wanted to scream, wanted to run full speed at the wall, into the wall…
Outside. Needed some air. Things suddenly seeming way too close in the cabin, too stifling and he felt short on oxygen. Struggle into the boots. Feet didn’t want to go. Shove them. Hard. Hurry. Got to get out of here. An ooze of blood; guessed the skin must be a bit fragile there. Didn’t matter. Just go. Gasping for breath, snow falling heavily, plastering the side of his face where the wind sent it swirling--better, things were better already; he was starting to be able to breathe again--small flakes and fairly dry, the sort of snow that would really add up, if it kept on falling. Had already added up, and he clung to the side of the woodshed for support as he kicked and stomped and once more cleared the little area in front of the cabin, pushing the snow aside; the work helped, pain helped, even, the screaming hurt of his swollen and now battered feet somehow seeming to quiet the other thing, send it down somewhere back deeper inside of him where he could get ahold of it again and mash it back into its place. For the time. Wasn’t very efficient though, that stomping and shoving. Needed to make a shovel of some sort. Aspen bark, that ought to do the job. A half-round of dry, hard outer bark from a fairly large aspen, branch lashed to it for a handle, and he’d have a scoop for moving good quantities of this nice, light snow in a hurry. Thing would never hold up to a heavier, wetter snow, but they could deal with that when it came. Springtime, probably. Late as it was getting in the year, he doubted they’d be seeing too many more wet snows until springtime. Good thing. The drier the snow, the drier one could stay while working and traveling in it, and the more efficiently their mukluks would function. He had five toes left, and wished to hang onto them, if at all possible. Speaking of which, too bad the water that seemed determined to build up in his extremities didn’t act as a better insulator. He was freezing. Couldn’t feel his toes. Should have taken longer for him to get there, even in the admittedly bitter morning wind and with his swollen ankles doubtlessly interfering somewhat with circulation, an awful lot longer.
What’s the matter with you, Einar? Can’t even generate your own heat anymore? You’ve been eating, body ought to be doing better at this. Instead you’re falling apart. Not good. You can’t fall apart, not yet. Come on, pull it together. Swung his arms, trying to get the blood moving, trying to get warm but he couldn’t keep up with the wind, knew it was time to get back inside. And a good thing, too, that you’ve got an “inside” where you can go get warm. You’d be in a real fix if you were having to make a go of it out in this winter weather right now, wouldn’t you? Cover miles a day and keep yourself--and Liz and the baby--going somehow? Doubt you’d last a day or two out there, way you are right now. Aw, might keep yourself alive, doesn’t take much to do that, it seems, but you sure wouldn’t be much use when it came to carrying a load or keeping your family safe, and that’s not gonna do. Got to keep eating, try and get past this rough patch even though it sure would seem better right now to go back to not eating, see if some of this swelling would go down. Becoming quite a nuisance. Just have to try not eating so much at once, somehow talk Liz into that being the best thing to do, which may be a bit of a challenge, the way she keeps pushing pot after pot of that soup at me! Reminded by the thought of Liz that he’d been intending to return to the cabin--that intention had got lost somewhere in all his pondering, leaving him to stand freezing and by then quite thoroughly plastered with snow in the little shoveled area out front--and he fumbled with a few logs in the woodshed, got them piled in his arms and pushed his way back inside.
Liz was still asleep, and he was glad. Liked to see her getting the extra rest, and liked to have a fire going and the place warming for her by the time she got up, too. Was a small thing, but she seemed to appreciate it. Besides which, he was glad she wasn’t awake to see him as he hovered trembling over the stove, hands braced against the wall for stability and head hanging low with exhaustion, for the sight almost certainly would have worried her a good deal more than necessary; he’d be all right, just needed a few minutes to get the blood moving again. Wasn’t working though. He was too dizzy, had to sit down long before he’d really begun to warm up. No matter. Presented him a good opportunity to crawl over to the wall and decide exactly where that door was going to be, perhaps mark its borders with charcoal, and he pulled the end of a burnt stick from the stove, made the marks and was about to retrieve the axe from its hanging spot up amongst the rafters--would have to wait until Liz was awake to begin the actual work, for he didn’t want to wake her that way, and besides, wasn’t entirely sure enough of himself and his ability to keep a grip on the thing to want to handle it with her lying so close, anyway--when Liz woke and turned towards him.
Einar met her worried eyes with a grin, bracing himself against the wall and rising as quickly as he could from hands and knees. “Don’t worry, I was gonna wait ‘till you got up to start chopping…”