06 December, 2011

6 December 2011

Morning, and neither of them had even been aware of the passage of the last half of the night, the half after Einar had finally grown warm enough to stop shivering and Liz, weary, had stopped keeping the conversation going and drifted off to sleep, and now they woke together to the faint grey of morning showing through the few cracks that remained here and there after Einar’s latest insulation job. Cold in the cabin, so bitterly cold that they could feel the tightening and shrinking in their noses when they inhaled, but there beneath the bear hides they were warm, Liz immensely comfortable and Einar, though rather aching from lying too long in one position, reasonably content to go on doing so for the moment. Reasonably content in general, actually, the realization that the skies had been quiet overnight--more than once he’d awakened with a start to lie rigid under the hides, listening, sure he’d felt the beginnings of an approaching rumble, but nothing had ever materialized; he’d simply been dreaming--washing over him in a great wave of relief that more than made up for the persistent gnawing hurt in his hip and shoulder where they’d spent the night in contact with the bed, the painful empty twisting of his stomach as it sought some sustenance with which to start what was shaping up to be another frigid day, and when Liz wrapped a sleepy arm up around his neck, feeling his wakefulness and seeking to keep him from rising just yet, he relaxed back onto the deerhide pillow. It could wait. All of it. Looked like they just might have a chance of getting through the latest danger without too many complications, and he was grateful, immensely, unspeakably grateful, tried to put it into words, anyway, and was sure the One to Whom they were directed understood their intent, despite his brain’s clumsy stumbling. The prospect of having to take off running into the snowy wilderness with the baby on the way and far fewer caches than he’d intended to have arranged for them by that time had been a daunting one indeed, and the chance to remain at the cabin for the time being was a blessing almost beyond belief. Almost as if having guessed his thoughts Liz ran a hand along his arm, and he turned with some difficulty to face her.

“We get to stay, don’t we?”

“Looking that way. Can’t take it for granted, can’t take anything for granted and better keep our ears wide open for a few days, but looks like that single pass may be the extent of it, this time. Don’t know how they managed to miss the heat that must’ve been lingering around the chimney rocks out there, but maybe they just weren’t looking, or else I may have overestimated the amount of warmth that would have still been left after all those hours…”

“Do you think it’s safe for us to have a fire again today?”

The worried lines that creased Einar’s forehead gave her the answer before he even spoke, and Liz, seeing a hint of that trapped, need to run look begin stealing into his eyes at the thought of it, was almost sorry she’d asked. “Not yet, no…no, really don’t think that would be a good idea just yet. If they were coming back I’m pretty certain they’d already have done it, but we really need to watch things for a few more days, keep tracks and heat to an absolute minimum in case they’ve got a drone up there or decide, maybe, to take a look at some satellite images just to back up their observations from the flight…might end up seeing something the second time around that they hadn’t even noticed the first, and we must not let that happen. Fire’s really got to wait.”

“You’ve spent whole winters without a fire, haven’t you, trying not to be observed?”

“Parts of them, yeah. Big parts.”

“I hope we won’t have to do that.”

“Rough way to go, but we’ll get along alright if we have to do it. Got lots of hides this winter, way more than I had when I was making cold camps for weeks at a time a couple winters ago, warm clothes, plenty to eat and that’s the biggest thing, really…just keeping yourself all fueled up so you can be warm. We’ll be fine.”

“Yes, but it does you no good to have all the bearfat and honey in the world, unless you actually eat it!”

“Why wouldn’t you eat it?”

“I would. I do. But you don’t, and you almost froze yesterday because of it.”

“Aw, now you know I don’t count when it comes to things like that. Food’s mostly for you and the little one. And besides, I did eat some.”

“Not enough, not nearly. Have you completely forgotten what happened last evening?”

Einar shrugged. “Sat still too long, got a little chilly, I think.”

“You think? I tell you, I’ve never encountered anyone who could understate things to the extent that you do! You were completely out of it, Einar. I had to start a fire and scare you half out of your wits just to get you out of your little corner over there where you’d basically curled up to die in the cold and wouldn’t let me anywhere near you because you didn’t know who I was, and even after that it was only with the help of the rabbit stick that I was able to keep you awake long enough to talk you into bed.”

“The rabbit stick I do remember…”

“You can’t keep doing this! You tell me you want to be here for the baby and I know you mean it because I can see how hard you’re fighting every single day to stay around and to provide for us, but then you go and all but freeze yourself to death again just because you won’t wear your parka and eat a sensible amount of food, and I just don’t understand. You don’t have to keep doing this, Einar.”

“Yeah, I do. If I’m gonna be around for you and the baby, this is exactly what I have to do.”

She stared at the barely visible dawn-dim outline of the ceiling for a long moment, not sure whether to burst into tears of frustration and sorrow or cave his stubborn skull in with the rabbit stick, but figuring she’d better do neither. He was seeming pretty reasonable at the moment, so best to try reason. She took a deep breath. “I know it must look that way a lot of days, and I know there are times when you really rely on that challenge and even need it just to get through…things, but I need you to find other ways. Your body can’t take much more of this right now, and one of these times you’re going to leave us without even meaning to, but you’ll be just as gone. When you get to feeling like you need that sort of test, the sort you were putting yourself through yesterday, it’d be a lot harder for you to turn away and not do it than to go ahead and freeze yourself or go without food or whatever it is at the moment, wouldn’t it?”

A nod. She could feel it. He had no words, wished she wouldn’t pry so, demand answers of him on matters he would not ordinarily discuss even with himself, in the darkness and silence of his own mind. Speaking them. But she was.

“Well then,” she continued, “I’m asking you to make the hard choice next time--for your son.”

Hard choice, yeah. You really know how to get at me, putting it that way. But you have no idea what you’re asking, Lizzie.

She wasn’t giving up. “Will you do that? What do you think would happen if you gave it a try?”

“I don’t know.”

“That scares you, doesn’t it? Just a little…”


“I’ll give it a go.”

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