19 August, 2012
19 August 2012
After Einar’s fourth day on the trapline without anything to eat and only occasional sips of icy water to drink—he’d consistently refused Liz’s broth, as well as the stews she continued to offer him—Liz knew she must make some effort to rein him in. Though keeping his route short as he had promised her, and having enough success in his daily rounds to render the task at least moderately useful, he was managing to wear himself out so thoroughly each day that she could sometimes scarce tell whether he might be dead or asleep when finally he laid down for the night, and she knew that, with his continued refusal of food, the line between the two must be growing perilously fine.
He’d been freezing all night for the past several, regardless of how many hides Liz might pile over him once he’d closed his eyes in sleep and could no longer object, not doing much better by day, shoulders, arms, everything icy to the touch and his face a seemingly permanent and progressively unsettling shade of purple-grey. Attempting to discuss the matter with him late one morning after his return from the trapline, Liz pointed out once again the seeming fallacy in the logic which allowed him to go on avoiding meals so that his legs and feet would be fit to carry him on the trapline—to harvest creatures whose meat he would never allow himself to taste. It was, she pointed out, an unending circle which could only lead to one thing, and by the looks of him, pretty soon, too. Einar did not like to hear it, having been clinging most tenaciously to his belief that, based on the fact that he was indeed able to maintain the trapline and keep his feet fitting in the boots that would hopefully prevent their eventual loss, he must be doing right. Or as close to it as he could reasonably hope to come.
He was, in truth, quite lost and had been for the past week or so, struggling—though perhaps not quite hard enough; mostly he just tried to ignore the fact and keep himself working too hard to do much thinking on it—to find his way in the world. The trapline was, at times, the only thing keeping him more or less tethered to reality, but was at the same time sapping what little energy he might otherwise have had to put towards the rational thought which might have warned him of the need to turn in another direction, before it was too late.
Liz, determined to find some way to reach him, alter his course, even if she had to knock him unconscious and pour soup down his throat for a few days, pondered the matter, wondering what might be at the root of his present lostness. Of the thing that was driving him, she was reasonably certain. Though he hadn’t spoken of the matter and had not tried to read the transcripts since his last failed attempt after their recovery from the snow, she knew from the distant look in his eye and the way he jumped whenever she touched him that these matters must be foremost in his mind.
She did not wish to broach the subject once again. Had done so too often for her taste already—and certainly for his, she was sure—and did not want to be nagging him or doing anything which must be thus interpreted. There was, however, certainly no sense in going on the way she had been for the past four days either, watching him quite literally waste away before her eyes while she repeated her calm and logical petitions for him to consider resuming his eating. No more time for such things. They had got her nowhere and, she could see, were not likely to do so. And so, against her wishes and probably her better judgment, too, she determined, sitting there and watching as he shivered away what she knew must be nearly the last of his remaining strength, too far from the fire and stubbornly unwilling to change out of the damp hide in which he had cloaked his upper half for the journey, to try once again to reach him on his own territory. Dangerous country, indeed.
She never had the chance to start. He’d been watching her, also, mind reasonably sharp if indisputably wayward and wandering behind the haunted, unreadable mask of his hollow face and hunger-glazed eyes, and he spoke first.
“You want me to give up the trapline.”
“No. I want you to eat. And I want…you know, every time it seems like things are getting a little better, and some glimmer of hope is beginning to appear…well, you just end up right back here. For a man who can so easily see and put together patterns out in the world where others—myself included—wouldn’t have so much as an inkling how and why all the little pieces fit together…you sure are clueless when it comes to recognizing patterns in yourself!”
Einar, living up to her accusation, gave her a blank stare, reasonably clueless, indeed, as to the source and meaning of her sudden anger. “So I can keep the trapline? It’s doing pretty well, considering…”
“Oh, forget the trapline! Trapline isn’t the problem, it’s just the latest…whatever you want to call it. The latest rock for you to bash yourself over, and sure, you can keep it so far as I’m concerned, because if it was gone, you’d just find something else. Don’t you see? Don’t you see the pattern?”
He didn’t. Was having a difficult time, following her tirade, actually, because he was so cold, meager warmth of his travels leaving him and the ice settling once more in his bones. Which, he supposed with a hint of a wry smile which he knew he must never allow near enough the surface for the clearly dead-serious Liz to detect, was probably part of the pattern. Whatever that meant. “Tell me.”
Liz shook her head in exasperation, studied his face in an attempt to gage how serious he might be. Unreadable, as usual, but he seemed to rather lack the strength for guile, and besides, it was seldom his way. He seemed sincere. “Surely you must know what I’m talking about. Every time things start to go a little better for you and there seems some chance you can get strong again like you were before and like I know you want to be…you find some reason to go back to your old ways and end up right at death’s door again, teetering on the edge.”
“Aw, I’m plenty strong, and working on getting stronger, too. Want me to show you?”
She pushed him back down beside the fire. “No, I do not want you to show me. You’re nearly dead, Einar. You somehow manage that trapline every day, but the rest of the time you can barely get your legs to support you, and what little muscle you have somehow managed to keep will surely be gone after a few more days of this nonsense, this starving and freezing and pushing yourself through the snow. What’s the goal, here? You’ve said you want to live, to be here for little Snorri, but you sure don’t act like it.”
“Yeah, I do. Want to.”
“Do you want it more than you want to keep on living back there in the jungle with all your…ghosts and memories and all of that? I know it’s not entirely your choice, sometimes a lot less than others and I’ve seen how that goes for you, but at some point, you’ve just got to try and decide on your priorities.”
To which he had no answer, couldn’t even entirely get his mind around what she was asking him to do, and though he sincerely wanted to do right by her and the little one, all he could do was to shake his head and stare at the floor. “Got nothing to do with…jungle and all of that. I’m just trying to stay alive here, stay useful so I can run my trapline, and if I eat right now...feet swell up and I can’t get my boots on. Simple as that. Doing my best.”
“Oh, Einar, can’t you see? It has everything to do with the jungle and ‘all of that.’ The things you’re doing to try and stay alive don’t make a lot of sense, most of the time. Right now they certainly don’t, except maybe in that context. Even if you don’t realize why you’re doing it…”
He shrugged. Sure. Sure, it influenced him. Couldn’t deny that, though his actions at the moment—well, when he thought about it, couldn’t really even effectively counter her argument that it, too, had been largely inspired by his ongoing connection to past times. Would have liked to counter it, but he kept silent, nodding.
“It’s a part of me, sure, all of that. Can’t just turn it off, come to some sudden realization and be a different person and say ‘right, of course,’ and have it all go away. Can’t be other than what I am, and right now—well, if you had any idea how hard I’m trying, here, just to go on breathing…”
“I know. Sometimes it just doesn’t look like it from out here. Looks like you’re trying as hard as you possibly can to do something else. You’ve got to do this your way, I know, but will you please, please just eat today? You’ve got to see that the way you’re doing things right now just isn’t working.”
“It’s working. Can do this.”
“For how long? Another day or two, maybe, before you end up face-down out there in the snow? Maybe not even that long. I know that the closer you get to that edge, the harder you have to push yourself. And that’s usually a good thing, a strength that keeps you going, but this time, it’s going to kill you. Eat today.”
“Really not hungry.”
“Of course you’re not! You’re too far gone to feel the hunger, but you know it’s there. This rabbit you brought back just now from the trapline—I’m going to turn it into a soup, and I want you to at least have some of the broth. It can’t hurt you. Won’t even make your feet swell, if that’s still what you’re worried about.”
He stared at the ground as she made the soup, doing his best to comfort Will when he woke and began whimpering for his own breakfast, speaking softly to the child and then singing when that did not work, wanting to pick him up for further comfort but knowing he must not, near as he was to toppling over every time he raised his head. Yeah, strong. You’re plenty strong alright, not even able to lift your infant son for fear of falling with him…and the tears came, at that, singing stopped and Will looking up at his father with a mix of curiosity and alarm in his clear grey-blue eyes, and when Liz brought him a pot of broth, he drank.