Trapline all but forgotten, they sat together in front of the stove for the next few hours with the transcript of Einar’s debriefing, reading, Liz holding him, looking over his shoulder and Einar struggling to keep still as they went through page after page of the thing, beginning to end, Einar reading many of them for the second or even the third time but somehow finding it all so much more real and inescapable when done in the presence of another, Liz keeping the pace going by turning a page now and then when he’d clearly finished reading, but was losing his place in the world, drifting. Einar had to fight hard to prevent himself from taking off through that tunnel and out into the snowy timber, barely managing it. Felt more than once as though he couldn’t breathe, cabin walls closing in around him and becoming those walls of bamboo, Liz’s gentle embrace a thing of terror that left him wanting to fight with all his strength, free himself, her hands on his--a comforting gesture gone wrong, and she didn’t even realize it--burning and twisting as those coils of cord had done, cutting off the circulation, cutting into him with an excruciating hurt every bit as real as the day it had first happened.
Somehow through it all he managed to resist the urgings that kept insisting he struggle, run, lash out at the forces holding him in place, kept things at least somewhat in their proper context throughout the entire time, the presence of little Will there on the bed--he slept; his first time doing so at any great length when not in someone’s arms, and Liz was glad, for she would not have wanted him to be in the middle of that--serving to help keep him at least somewhat in the presence as Liz walked with him through the minutiae of his time in that camp, and after. Liz, for her part, struggled also to keep her composure at times, eyes filling with tears for him at the magnitude of the things he had endured, at the matter-of-fact simplicity with which he--the young man in the interview--had recounted those horrors as if they were every day events.
Reaching the end at last they sat silent for a time, Liz not knowing what to say--what can a person say?--and Einar staring at the wall, empty and nearly too exhausted to breathe but quiet, somehow at peace. Or maybe he was just worn out. Didn’t have enough energy to wonder which. For a good while they sat thus together, Liz not wanting to disturb him but Will was beginning to stir and Einar stirred also, took the child on his lap, straightened the pile of loose papers that had accumulated between his feet, carefully tapped them on the floor until they were neat and square and handed the stack to Liz. “Burn them for me.” His voice rough, not terribly certain.
Liz held the documents for a moment, tempted, balancing their slight weight in her hands and wanting to toss them into the hungry flames before anyone could have second thoughts, but she shook her head, gave them back. “You need to do it yourself. I’ll open the stove for you…”
As she had suspected, he could not do it. Not yet. Quickly stuffed the transcript back into its envelope and up into the rafters before sitting down again with Will, this time making no attempt to conceal from her their location, and she was glad. She could see the extent of his weariness as he carefully lowered himself back to the ground, dizzy, cradling Will in one arm and using the other to prevent himself collapsing into a chaotic heap on the floor as soon as he began bending his knees, and she hoped she had done the right thing in putting him through the ordeal of the past hours, but really believed it had been the only thing to do. Time had become a terribly pressing thing over the past days with the deterioration of his physical condition, and she had known that as absorbed as he’d been in thinking about that interview, there would likely have been no reaching him on such mundane matters as preventing his imminent death by starvation and such, until he’d fully immersed himself in the contents of that document, and come out the other side. Which, watching him smile down at Will, she thought he did appear to have done. Much as she wanted to back off then and let him rest and enjoy some time with his son, Liz knew her task was not finished. Must not waste the opportunity, lest things work their way right back to where they had been, before.
“Hey, I know I’ve said this before, but now…well, maybe now you’re finally ready to hear me.” He was listening; she could see it. “It’s just that while your mind’s been busy with all those jungle memories, lost in your lostness, as you put it earlier, you’ve pushed your body so far that it really is barely hanging on right now, not far at all from giving out on you, and it would be a real shame if you left us soon, for that reason. It sounds like that really isn’t what you want, and it’s certainly not what I want but I need you to realize just how close you are to having that happen. I’ve pointed it out before, and so have Bud and Susan, but I don’t think you’ve really heard any of us. I don’t think you’ve been able to see it. But the signs are all there, and surely you can see them now, if you look at things objectively… You know that if you want to turn things around you’re going to have to start eating again, and not stop after a day or two, so your body can start repairing itself…will you do that?”
“I’ll do it.”
“Ok. I need you to let me fix your meals every day just for a while then, and you’ll need to eat everything I give you, no matter how difficult that may be.”
“Oh, you don’t need to…”
“I do need to, believe me. Just for a little while, until you’ve got back into the habit of eating a little more regularly. I know you’re going to feel awful at times and your legs may swell up like before and you’ll probably want to quit more than once, and for more than one reason, but I’ll help you with that, too, as best as I can, and you’ll get through all of it. We will.”
“I’ll do it. Only trouble is that the not eating, and all that goes with it…gonna sound strange, but it’s been the only thing keeping me going at times, and I’m not real sure what I’m going to do without it.”
“You’re going to help me raise our son, that’s what! And run the trapline, and bring home dozens of beaver and muskrat before the snow melts out! I know what you’re saying though, as much as I’m able to understand it, and I do understand that none of this is going to be easy, but you’re good at doing the things that aren’t easy. Real good at it. Better than anybody I know. You will find ways, when it gets difficult.”
A nod from Einar--yeah, I’ll find ways, alright--and he directed his attention back to little Will, who was wide awake now and listening to the conversation as if he understood every word of it, watching Einar’s face with those huge grey eyes of his and an expression that would have been quite unreadable, even had Einar been better at interpreting such things. It was for the best, perhaps. The little one would soon enough be able to tell him just what he was thinking, and Einar, determined if possible to be around for that day, accepted the pot of broth Liz was offering him; might as well try and get started with this.