Seeing that Einar appeared a good deal more lively and in the present when the child was being discussed and wanting to keep him headed in that direction, Liz figured the time might be right to get serious about choosing a name for the baby, as their conversations in that direction had so far been mostly limited to light-hearted exchanges about Einar’s long-lost but much loved Uncle Snorri, whose name--steeped in family tradition as it might be--she hoped not to have to use.
“Speaking of the baby, what do you think we ought to call him? Or her? I know we’ve talked about some things, but I’ve been wondering lately…well, what would you think of possibly naming him Andy? After your friend…” Einar didn’t say anything but looked at her like she’d just kicked him in the gut, looked sick so she dropped the matter, wondering if she’d made a mistake in even mentioning it.
“How about your family, then? Your father, maybe? Or an uncle…though not your uncle Snorri!”
A soft chuckle from Einar as he straightened up against the wall, scrubbed his hands across his face as if to erase some unpleasant image. “But Snorri was always my favorite uncle, up until he disappeared, anyhow. Still don’t know where that fella went, or why, or if he ever planned on coming back…but no, let’s not do that. Let’s give the little guy a fresh start.”
“Are they still living, your parents? Your family? You’ve never said much about them…” A mistake, perhaps, to ask such personal questions, but she had long been curious, and Einar had never seemed much inclined to bring up such subjects, himself.
Einar nodded. “My mother is. Or was, when all this with the search started. And my brothers, and sister. Haven’t had the opportunity to try and contact anybody since then, even if I’d wanted to…”
“You weren’t very close to your family?”
“Growing up I was, but after the war…” He shrugged, stared at the fading light above the door. “Well, I went home for a few weeks that winter after returning from overseas, was still pretty messed up, could barely use my left hand and arm sometimes and was still walking with quite a limp after the fine hospitality of…my captors and all those weeks dodging them after I’d escaped, and they wanted me to come there and take it easy and heal for a while, I guess, and I tried it but just wasn’t ready to be around people yet, even family. Especially family. Guess they could see I wasn’t doing too well just being around the place like that and they tried to get me a job but I didn’t want a job, I wanted to go back…there, only they’d insisted on shipping me home like so much worn out cargo despite all my efforts to stay, and besides, the war was pretty much over by then anyhow… Wasn’t fair for me to be around my family like that, though. Tried my best for a little while to be…how they wanted me to be, kept myself real busy shoveling snow and working on a couple projects they had going that year but I think they found it alarming that I didn’t talk hardly at all during the day and didn’t eat and then would disappear into the snowy woods every night without a sleeping bag or anything and not come back until morning…"
"One of my younger brothers--they were both still living at home at the time--followed me one night after I’m pretty sure my mother put him up to it, and I guess he saw what I was doing, which was just to sit there on a log freezing myself pretty much to death all night so I wouldn’t have to go to sleep and deal with the dreams and all that went with them…was kinda working for me, but I guess they didn’t like it. After that my mother and sister started trying to talk me into 'going away somewhere' for a while, and apparently they even had a place in mind, but it sure wasn’t the sort of place I’d ever want to be caught dead in. I mean, they wanted to lock me up, wanted me to agree to it and go willingly and I guess they must’ve had no idea at all how that sounded to me at the time... They even had a fellow come out to the house one day and talk with me about it, and I set him real good and straight on what I thought about his particular profession…yeah, did plenty of talking that day!--but I did want to leave for sure, couldn’t stay there any longer, so I went, though I don’t think a three month long wander through the winter wilderness without any supplies--which I’m still to this day convinced saved my life in a number of ways, though it nearly took it a couple of times too; dumb kid--followed by shipping out to Africa was exactly what they had in mind! But I’d decided on Rhodesia even before making it back to the states, just hadn’t told them about it yet. Had wanted to head out again just as soon as I hit the tarmac, actually, but didn’t think they’d be too likely to take me in my current physical condition at the time. Those months in the woods let me take care of that, get some of my strength back and work on the hand and arm until they were useful again, and then I went.”
“After you got back from overseas that second time, after…what was it? Four or five more years…did you go see your family again? Were things any different?”
“After I lost the second war? Nah, I came back from that one so angry and ready to tear into some lying, conniving American communist hind end that all I did was stop by for a real quick visit before heading out again…got that job I’d told you about, which meant going through school while working for them in something less than official capacity because there was some little stipulation about my needing a degree or two--I got three--before I could really be given the position, so I did that, and then was traveling the world again, all over the world. Saw my family some here and there in the years after that was over, but it never was the same, except between me and my brothers, we always got along, and my youngest brother Jakob even came out and stayed with me a few times at my cabin, but my sister was always poking and prying and trying to interfere with how I lived my life, to the extent that it turned out to be pretty unwise for me to spend any great length of time around her… But all that’s neither here nor there. You know, I really believed at the time that I could do some good working from the inside like that with that intelligence job, and I did, here and there, but for the most part I was a fool for ever thinking that.”
“You’re making a difference now.”
“Yes, now. You have no idea what kind of an impact the early months of the search had down in town, across the state and even the country. The fact that the feds couldn’t get their hands on you even though they were using every resource they could bring to bear--well, that changed how a lot of folks looked at things, gave them courage and led to a lot of resistance to some of the things that were happening down there, so you did make a difference, and you’re still doing so just by continuing to remain alive, and you’re going to be doing it by raising our child, too, going to be doing the most significant thing you could possibly do in your life. So. Are you ready to do this? I don’t want to ‘send you away’ anywhere like your family was trying to do, or to change you in any way, even, I just want you to be here to help me raise our son. Are you ready to come home now?”
Silence for a very long time, then a quiet answer. “I’d like to be. Especially now with the little one coming, but you know…this struggle, this daily fight for existence--I know a lot of it’s self-imposed, at this point, but I need it. I’d be lost without this, and you’d no more have me here than if I kept it up and…well, you were right about what’s ultimately gonna happen if I keep it up, I know that, but the reality is that some days…nothing against you and the little one, but reality is reality…this struggle is the only thing keeping me around.”
“I know. I can see that. Look at it this way, though. Even if you stopped that ‘other’ struggle right now, started trying to eat normally and doing all the things you need to do, it’s still going to be a struggle, and a pretty major one, just to get yourself through the winter the way things are going. I hate to put it like that, but it’s true.”
She offered him more soup, ready for some time on the stove but left untouched during the course of their conversation, and he ate.