Einar heard the crunch in the snow behind him, did not particularly care for being followed but didn’t suppose it was any more reasonable to expect their guests to remain cooped up in the cabin all the time than it was for he, himself to do so, and with that in mind was mostly able to keep his displeasure to himself as she matched his pace around the cabin and met him beside the woodshed.
“Need any help with the firewood? This sure looks like a nice setup you’ve got here, and a good bit of wood set aside, too.”
“Wanted to have plenty before the baby came. So I wouldn’t be wandering all over in search of it during those first weeks. Setup works a lot better when we’re using the front door and can step out and grab an armload of wood, but we’re not using it much right now. This way leaves less tracks.”
“Yes, I guess it would,” she replied, beginning to choose logs and stack them in the crook of one arm, Einar’s silence on the matter taken for consent.
“I noticed…” really getting down to it, the reason she’d insisted on joining him out there, “that you didn’t really have much of the stew a little while ago…where do you think this goes from here, if you keep it up?”
Einar glared at the woodshed for a long minute, considering which logs to take on that first trip and hoping Susan would drop the matter if he didn’t say anything, but he could feel her staring at him. “Where does what go?”
“Your refusing to eat.”
“What, a tiny bite every six or seven days when you get so near to death that there’s no other choice? Big tall fella like you who spends most of his life doing hard physical work outside in the cold can’t get by on a little bite here and there, every few days. Not for months on end, anyway.”
“I do just fine.”
“You do not. You’re having seizures because your blood sugar is so low--yes, I know you can go and have gone for many days at a time without any food in the past with no problem at all, and I think that’s a good thing to be able to do, but right now you’ve so completely exhausted your resources that your body doesn’t have anything at all to draw on for energy when you try to do that--and you know what? Seizures like that don’t happen until your sugar drops to a level just above where you go into a coma, and if that happens--especially if no one’s around to give you a tube of cake icing like Bud and I were yesterday, because that’s exactly where you were headed--you may never come out of it. Certainly won’t if you’re up in the timber when it happens, and you end up lying in the snow… Surely you can see that this particular road you’re on doesn’t go much further, without running you over a cliff. You’ve very effectively starved yourself to within an inch of your life, and unless you’re determined to finish the job, you’re going to have to find another way to deal with life. This one’s taken you as far as it can, and it’s not working anymore. Can I show you something?”
A noncommittal shrug from Einar. Figured she was going to show him, whether he liked it or not. Susan took his hand--left one; she knew from experience not to grab the dominant hand of a man as tightly wound as Einar appeared to be that day, got to leave it free--pushed up the sleeve and pointed out to him the numerous bruises that covered his arm, some fresh, others fading to yellow.
“Now unless Liz goes at you every day with that rabbit stick, which I highly doubt, this looks to me like a sign that you’re pretty severely anemic. A person shouldn’t bruise this easily. And if I had a mirror I’d be able to show you that your gums are nearly white, which isn’t a good thing, either. Liz tells me she lost a pretty significant amount of blood after the birth, yet it seems she’s less anemic than you are. This shouldn’t be happening, not out here where you’ve got plenty of meat and blood and other animal products just literally hanging from the trees waiting to be eaten…what are you doing?”
“Doing what I have to do. Anyway, when I start eating again, my legs swell up with water and I can barely move, can’t get my boots on at all. I’m pretty useless like that, especially out here. This is better. I can live with this.”
“This is going to kill you. Real soon. The only way to get through that swelling is to keep eating, to eat more, and your body will adjust to it again. You know that. I wouldn’t have taken you for the type to try and come up with excuses, but that’s exactly what I see you doing right now. The swelling is an excuse you’re using because you want a reason to go on exactly as you have been going, but this isn’t going to work for you, long term. Your heart will give out, your organs will fail…”
“Haven’t done it yet.”
“Maybe not. You’re an awfully resilient fellow, there’s no denying. But you’re human, too, and very intelligent, so you have to know the eventual result of going on like this.”
Einar shrugged, kept stacking wood until he could barely stand under its weight, liking the hurt of it, the focus required to keep himself on his feet under that load, balanced in the deep snow as he began retracing his steps back towards the tunnel. Susan was following him, deposited her own load of wood beside his in the tunnel and waited while he ducked inside to retrieve his parka, not wanting to search it for darts in there where Liz could see and question, should she wake. He was sure it had to be done, the searching, but found himself less certain that he could explain why, if questioned on the matter. Better do it where he could be by himself. Only he wasn’t by himself; Susan was still there. Well. Nothing to do about that. Better just go ahead. He was going to need that parka. Spread the thing out in the snow, began a meticulous examination, blinking hard in an attempt to clear his rather uncertain vision and beginning to grow cold as he sat virtually motionless there in the shadows, searching. Again, Susan was there. Too close. Asked him what he was looking for. Tell her? Why not? Chances were she already knew about Bud and the darts, and if she didn’t she ought to.
“Darts. Tranquilizer darts. Skinny little things with an orange tuft on the end. Unless he went for something more stealthy this time, and took off the orange tips. Don’t want the little buggers poking me when I put this thing on.”
Susan kept her face still, not showing any reaction, nodding, not wanting to mess things up. “Is that why you couldn’t wear it on the hike back up here earlier?”
“Let me help you look.”
A suspicious glance from Einar, several possible scenarios flashing through his head but he dismissed each of them, allowed her to take a sleeve and begin searching. They didn’t find anything, and by the time Einar had satisfied himself with the search, he was freezing, far beyond needing to get back inside. Liz was awake again when they returned to the warmth of the cabin, Bud beginning to stir, also, with the smell of the supper Susan had been cooking up--onions, red peppers and thinly sliced elk steak, fried up in the iron skillets to be served with cheese, avocado and cilantro on a batch of tortillas she’d brought along, and the odor was incredible--and Susan greeted them, returning to her supper preparations.
In addition to the food she had brought for herself and Bud on their honeymoon trip, Susan had included as many items as she could fit to leave as gifts, and as the supper sautéed merrily in the skillet, she took time to bring these out, much to the delight of all present. Having figured the little family would likely have plenty of protein set aside for the winter by then, with both Einar and Liz being decent hunters and trappers--Einar had, at his last brief meeting with Bud, assured him that they were pretty well set, meat, bear fat and even honey from a bee tree set aside for their use--Susan had focused her packing on things she expected might have been a bit more difficult for them to come by--dried fruit, seeds for sprouting so they could have fresh greens through the winter, and some wax-dipped cheese rounds, just for variety. In addition, she had brought some items specifically for Liz, a big jar of prenatal vitamins which would help correct any deficiencies she might have experienced through the pregnancy--though seeing the quantity and variety of foods available to them there in the cabin, iron-rich meats, broths of boiled bones very high in calcium, dried nettles and lamb’s quarters added to stew on a regular basis and rose hips, chokecherries and raspberry leaves for tea, just to name a few--she was very hopeful that no such problems existed--and a liquid iron supplement made from nettles and other herbs, to strengthen her after the inevitable blood loss of birth.
For Liz also she had included a bottle of fish oil, not so much for its fat content--bearfat, she knew, likely provided them with all they needed in that regard--as for the beneficial fatty acids it contained and for which they would be unlikely to find good substitutes in their mountain diet, such compounds being helpful to Liz in those weeks after delivery as well as helping provide her milk with elements which would benefit the infant’s rapidly growing and developing brain. In addition to the food items, Susan pulled from Bud’s pack a small Bible for the pair, and with it a little book full of blank, lined pages--something for you to record the little one’s first year if you want to, write down your thoughts, anything you’d like--and several pencils, which she said she figured would be more practical than pens, since they could be sharpened, wouldn’t dry out and ought to last longer.
Specifically for Einar, Susan had packed along three jars of Nutella. She had remembered how much he’d liked it during his brief stay at her house that previous year, including it in the hopes that it might be something he would and could eat, even if he wasn’t eating too much else. Perhaps not the ideal food, but not a bad one, either, for a man badly needing to catch up on some basic nutrients and provide himself with ready energy to get through the cold of winter. When she handed him one of the jars, she could see the conflict in his eyes. Wanted it so badly, she could tell, but was at the same time terribly reluctant, and she could only hope that in this particular case, nature might prove the more powerful force. Not likely, though. That man has an unnaturally powerful spirit to him, a will that just doesn’t bend so looks like if anything’s going to change here, he’ll have to want it to. I’m trying, but not sure he heard me.