28 September, 2012

28 September 2012

Liz found Juni to be remarkably proficient not only at cording the bundle of prepared nettle fibers when they were handed to her from their supply up in the rafters, but at preparing the raw stalks, as well.  Deftly breaking the rigidity of a small bundle of the stalks by pounding them softly with a rounded rock, Liz showed the journalist how to remove the white inner pith from centers of the stems, stripping the long, sturdy fibers which would later become cordage from the woody stems, themselves, and further cleaning them before beginning the twining process.  Even before she had gone through the entire operation one time, Juni was not only making her own attempts but nearly keeping up with Liz, a feat which Liz knew from experience was only possible for a person with a fair amount of familiarity with the skill.

“That’s pretty good!  How did you learn to do this?”

“Oh, I did some experimenting on my own, mostly with things like dog hair and plastic bags cut into strips and other things that were readily available where I live, but most of it I learned at a two week course I took in Arizona.  We covered fire, cordage, shelter, building traps and processing game, a little tracking, all sorts of things.  For cordage we mostly used yucca, either scraped while it was green and fresh off the plant, or cut and then left to rot in some stagnant water for a few days.  The green ‘plant’ part rots off and leaves the fibers behind, and then it’s real easy to scrape and prepare and gives you a nicer, cleaner cordage, in the end.  Probably not too exciting to you, since you get to live out here and do it all the time, but to me, it was quite a revelation!  I was really proud of myself for learning it, and the other things, just to be able to really do and produce something for myself, starting with…nothing!”

“Yes, it is a good feeling, isn’t it?  Cordage and some of the other things we make and do out here are more chores for me now than anything, just a part of our daily living, but I do remember the excitement when you successfully complete your first coil of the stuff, or tan your first deer hide, all by yourself!  It’s pretty good to know that you can come out here and really make it, without any outside help.  Most of the time.  You’ll have to tell me more about this class sometime.  It sounds interesting.”

The conversation echoing dull and distant in his ears, nearly intelligible but seemingly coming from too far away for him to really make out many of the words, Einar woke before too many minutes and lay blinking in some confusion at the maps spread before him, sweating and feverish in reaction to the tea and wanting very much to be in a less crowded location as the walls seemed to be closing in on him, ceiling descending until he could hardly breathe.  Really had to take a break from those juniper berries, water or no water.  Reaction seemed to be getting worse, and he carefully folded the maps, stared at the floor and tried to swallow the cold, sick feeling that had been rising in him, attempting to slow his racing heart with a few deep, deliberate breaths.  Helped a little, and a good thing, for he had felt himself about to lose his supper, and really didn’t want to do so.  The intense unpleasantness began to subside some after that, heart rate slowly returning to what passed those days as normal and the sensation of overheating replaced by a dull, pressing chill that crept into his bones and soon left him clamping his teeth to prevent their rattling.  Glad that’s over.  Last time I use the stuff for a while I figure, if Liz can be convinced that it’s good for me to take a break from it.  Which she probably would be, if I told her about all of this.  Results are getting just a little too interesting… 

Though glad to be done with the juniper-sweating and all the increasingly unpredictable effects that went along with it Einar found himself soon bitterly cold and barely able to work his hands as he gathered up the maps there in the chill air way from the stove, but at last he finished the task and stowed them in the rafters--warm up there; he could feel it--checking to be sure his yellow envelope remained in place and untouched, which it did, and quickly sitting back down to prevent either of the women from seeing the way his hands were beginning to shake.

They saw anyway, though careful to keep this knowledge from Einar, and Juni, seeing that darkness was complete outside and knowing from her own recent experience that the night would be growing rapidly colder after that point, rose and took up her winter things, wanting to make her last trip to the outhouse for the night.  Einar objected--one thing to have her out there poking around during the daylight hours when they could keep an eye on her, but at night…well, if he’d misunderstood the situation, what was to say that she couldn’t use the cover of darkness to slip away and meet whoever it was that she was working for?--seating himself firmly in front of the tunnel door.

Juni regarded him with crossed arms and the same fierce demeanor he remembered seeing when, after their first meeting, she demanded he return the camera he’d confiscated from her.

“I just want to spend a few minutes outside.  Is that a problem?  Am I a hostage here?”

He considered it for a moment.  “No, but your…ski suit and gloves are hostages. You’re free to go wherever and whenever you want, so long as they stay here in the cabin while you do it.”

Juni opened her mouth to object, closed it, got out of the warm things that made up her outer layer, folded them neatly and tossed them down in front of Einar with an air of defiance that he found quite satisfactory, perhaps even admirable.  He struggled to suppress a little hint of a twisted smile at the fact that she’d thrown her hat in at the last minute, even though he hadn’t asked for it.

“Will that do, or do you want my boots, too?”

“It will do.”

She left in a hurry then before he could change his mind, scrambling out through the tunnel as Liz collected her parka and other things and stowed them beside the water barrel.  Einar had been freezing before but now after the big draft of icy evening air that entered through the tunnel with Juni’s departure he couldn’t stop shaking, was beginning to get that cloudy, distant look in his eyes which Liz had learned to take as a warning, and with a bit of convincing and a promise that she would check on Juni after a few minutes she got him into bed, working to warm him before the deep cold of the night could finish setting in and leave him in all probability unable to stop freezing all night.  While she knew he might not have minded that too terribly--might have even benefited some from such a night, or so he would claim, if he managed to live through it--what he really needed was to rest after their long trek through the snow and the previous near-sleepless night, they both needed to rest, and she knew this would be best accomplished for them both if he was a bit warmer going into the night.  Einar did not care too much for her insistence, for being pushed closer to the sleep which he had been struggling so to avoid, but finally he began to relax slightly, stopped trying to pull away from her and allowed the warmth to do its work.  After a while Liz began to think he really might be asleep, completely still aside from the occasional shivers with which his body strove to complete the warming process, but when she attempted to disentangle herself and ease from the bed, he caught her arm.

“Why do you think she’s here?”

“You’re asking me?

“Asking you.  Real tired.  Probably…missing things.  Details.  Need to know what you think.”

“I think…you’re a mystery she wants to solve, and she’s probably been wanting to do this ever since your first meeting.  Find you again, and see what you’re up to, and who you really are.  That’s why she’s here.”

“That’s pretty…absurd reason, don’t you think?  Must be…other reason.”

“Oh, there are probably several other reasons, but I really do think that’s likely to be the main one.   I don’t think she’s scouting for the feds or anything like that, but I guess you must have already come to that conclusion, mustn’t you, or she probably still wouldn’t be with us…”

Further conclusions, though, would have to wait, for Einar, reassured somewhat by Liz’s concurrence that the reporter wasn’t there to betray them to the feds--he had indeed come to be pretty sure of it himself, but had at the same time ended up rather too exhausted and befuddled to fully trust his own judgment, that evening--had finally allowed himself to sink into a deep and much-needed sleep.  Liz slipped from the bed and into her parka, figuring she had better go make sure Juni didn’t get lost in the snow outside.

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