21 July, 2012
21 July 2012
Before the stew was ready Will woke and needed tending, sparing Einar from receiving too much scrutiny when eating time came, and he was glad. Liked the smell of the breakfast, wanted some and knew how badly he needed it, but had to keep the entire process tremendously slow and deliberate lest he risk gagging and coughing on the stuff, which surely would have gained him unwanted attention from Liz, in addition to putting him in some real danger. That gulp of water had nearly done him in, and the last thing he needed was to go inhaling something into his lungs, just then. Second bite. Chew it real well, gulp it down…success. Had felt that momentary hint of panic when the stuff had tried to stick on the way down, but it had gone, and perhaps the next would be easier. What a mess, Einar. Shouldn’t even have to be thinking about things like this. It’s supposed to be a pretty automatic process, from what I remember. When everything’s working right. Ridiculous.
Will was not only wide awake but was staring at him as Liz carried the child, upright against her shoulder with his head barely supported by a gentle hand from the back; the little one was growing strong, doing more for himself every day, and Einar supposed he would soon be finding ways to move across the bed or floor, when left to his own devices. Then they’d really have to watch him. Eyes were still blue, the soft infant blue with which he’d entered the world, and Einar wondered if they would harden into a deeper ice-blue as he grew--like his father; wild, scary eyes, he’d been told on more than one occasion, unreadable, though somehow he doubted that had a lot to do with their color--or if, over time, they might take on the mysterious color-shifting green-grey of his mother’s eyes, gentle but firm and courageous and sometimes full of fire, which--when Einar could bring himself to look at them--seemed a different shade each and every time, something to do with the lighting and the season and perhaps even her mood. He hoped they might end up more like Liz’s.
Will was not happy. Crying, wriggling, not hungry when Liz tried to feed him--he’d already eaten not too long ago, but usually the offer of more food left him content and quiet--and Einar could see that he was making it difficult for Liz to enjoy her own breakfast, took the little one and sat rocking and bouncing him, trying to find the proper combination of movements. Found it, finally, the quick, rhythmical motion which seemed best to suit the child--somewhere between a swing and a bounce, repeated endlessly and in precisely-timed series--serving well to keep his father content, also, ease what had become through the morning a growing restlessness and discontent with sitting still there in the cabin. Good thing it served that purpose as well as quieting the little one, for it was about all Einar could manage, the activity fairly soon leaving him worn out and struggling for breath, black spots before his eyes but he drove them back, deep breaths and his gaze locked on the content little face of his son as the child slowly relaxed, slipping back towards sleep. At last Einar stopped, sweating, trembling a bit, glad to see that Will remained asleep despite the lack of movement. He was beat. And somewhat discouraged, too. Did not at all like the fact, undeniable and now witnessed by Liz, as well, that he couldn’t seem to handle more than five or ten minutes of baby-swinging, without completely wearing himself out. Shouldn’t be. How was he to go back down after the traps, in such a state? Perhaps he should have just stayed down there, gone on with his planned week of trapping. He had, after all, been managing an awful lot of work during his days on the river; returning to the cabin and its comforts had made him weak.
Ha! Who are you fooling, Einar? It was just the adrenalin keeping you going down there, the knowledge that you’d got to either keep moving or die, and every time night came and you stopped moving, you pretty nearly did die. One more night of that cold, and you would have, almost for certain. Or would have started losing limbs that you really can’t do too well without, here where you live. Yeah, you’re a mess right now and not good for much, can barely hold your head up and that’s mighty aggravating, but you know the solution to that. Eat. And then do it again, and again, preferably each and every day, foreign as that concept has come to seem to you. It’ll all work out. You’ll be down there on the trapline again real soon. In the meantime... he looked down at the sleeping child, just try and enjoy getting to know your son a little better.
Will remained asleep, and Liz, finished with her breakfast and wanting to see Einar able to make a bit more progress on his own, gently took the baby and eased him back down into his little bed of incredibly warm, insulating mountain goat fur, fast asleep. Einar saw her shift her attention in his direction, grabbed up his cordage project and tried his best to look busy. She wasn’t fooled.
“Eat. Your stew’s going to get cold.”
“Had some. It’s good.”
“You had two bites.”
So. She had been watching. And now would think he was deliberately being stubborn and refusing to have more, which while not without precedent, certainly was not the case that morning. Guessed he had to tell her. “Can’t get it down. Keeps choking me.”
She looked concerned, which was exactly what he had been trying to avoid, brow all wrinkled and eyes more stormy-grey than green. “Will you try again? Let me see?”
Didn’t want her to see, but she was insistent so he took another bite. Same result. Mostly resolved it with a gulp of water, but barely in time. Couldn’t quit coughing.
“Drink the broth, then. Just drink the broth. Then in a few hours, maybe you’ll be ready for the solid stuff.”
“Broth does it too. Water does it. That’s why…” panting for breath, sure didn’t want to pass out, “why the water made it worse.”
“I have the solution. Here, let me take your pot, and I’ll fix it up and bring it right back.” She snatched the pot from his hands and quickly turned away, as much to conceal from him the tears that stung bright and un-falling in her eyes as to provide herself access to the stove. He was really in trouble, then. Which she had known since he’d got back--since way before that, of course; it had become a part of their daily lives, almost routine at times--but if he couldn’t even get that broth down when he clearly wanted to do so…well, it wouldn’t be very long then, would it? But she really did believe she had an answer, a temporary one at least, which might allow him to get past the present difficulty. Setting the stew on the stove to begin reheating, she rummaged amongst the various dried berries and roots they’d stashed aside for the winter, settling on the rawhide bag which represented their dwindling but still sufficient supply of starchy, potato-like spring beauty roots. Choosing a small handful she began crushing them to as fine a powder as she was able to manage between two pieces of granite. Sifting the powder to remove most of the larger root chunks and pieces of skin that had not been ground finely enough, she dumped the resulting dust into Einar’s leftover stew, stirring and cooking and adding an ingredient now and then--bits of honey, bearfat and, once when she was sure Einar wasn’t looking, a small amount of milk--until the broth thickened to a texture which most resembled a thin pudding. This, she hoped, might be thick enough to reduce the risk of Einar’s accidentally inhaling it as he drank, while also being soft enough to prevent his choking. A difficult balance, but she had to try something. Allowing him to simply give up on the meal and wait was not an option; things would only continue going downhill until he’d managed to secure himself some serious energy and nutrients.
Einar accepted the pot when, having allowed it to cool a bit, she returned it to him, would have been content to simply stare into it as he’d done before but on her insistence he tried a bite, cautiously, water nearby just in case--not that it would be much help--but had little problem; her idea had been a success! Ready to settle in and finish as much as he could of the meal, Einar first hoisted himself up with the help of the water barrel and pulled down the orange envelope from its place in the rafters; still things he hadn’t read too thoroughly, had skimmed over, and if he couldn’t be out trapping, climbing snowy cliffs or soaking in ice water…well, at least he could be reading.