07 October, 2012
7 October 2012
Liz listened in silence as Juni confessed to reading the transcripts and to the--in Liz’s eyes--far greater offense of having told Einar of her having done so, shaking her head and praying for the continued restraint which would be required to prevent her slipping her knife between the young reporter’s ribs sometime within the next few minutes…
Her prayer was answered. Restraint. Calm. The damage was already done, matter could be dealt with at a later time. For now, she just wanted some answers.
“Why did you have to bring it up? Surely you had to realize it wasn’t something he would be too anxious to talk about…”
“I was curious. It’s my job to be curious. I want to know his story, how it’s affected his life, how the things that went on over there might have uniquely prepared him for the life he’s had out here in the hills, things like that.”
“He’s not a story, he’s my husband--a man with a life and a family, and he’s hanging onto that life by a thread right now, he really is. By getting involved in this and making him think about those things all over again, you may be setting in motion the sequence that finally takes his life. I really don’t know how many of these we can go through, before he takes it a little too far and he’s gone. Do you know how many nights I’ve spent praying that he’ll leave those transcripts alone, not feel compelled to go read them again anytime soon, how many times I’ve wanted to burn them just so that wouldn’t happen?”
“Why didn’t you burn them?”
“He asked me to, once. But I couldn’t. They’re his. His past, his memories, his burden, and until he decides on his own to set it down…”
She nodded. “Then I didn’t really do too much harm by asking about them, it sounds like. Except that now he looks at me like he wants to kill me, of course… Because this stuff was already on his mind, coming up from time to time and surely would have come up again and again whether I was here or not, if he was, as you say, still unwilling to ‘set it down.’”
“Maybe. But it was still not your place to intrude like that. What were you thinking?”
“I was thinking like a journalist. Those papers fell out when he went to get the maps yesterday, I could tell how anxious he was not to let me see them, and so naturally the first time I was alone in the cabin…”
“He’ll never trust you now, you know.”
“Does he trust anyone?”
“I didn’t think so.”
“Well, it’s done. I wish you could take it back, but you can’t. But you can help me find him. I really don’t want to leave him out there all night with that sort of thing on his mind, if he can be talked into coming back here.”
“It’s been on his mind a lot lately?”
“I really don’t want to talk too much about it, because I don’t think he’d like my doing so. But yes, it’s been on his mind more and more over the past year or so. It’s the running, I guess, or the search itself, all the helicopters and things that were coming over so low for a while…but it’s like things he put out of his mind for years and years have finally come up and thrown themselves in front of him to the extent that he can’t ignore them anymore, and as it turns out…well, maybe there were some pretty good reasons why he’d chosen to try and keep those things in the shadows, all those years. Not look at them. Now that he’s allowing himself to look…well, I thought it would be good for him, hoped it would, in the end, and maybe it still will, but sometimes he lets himself slip so deep into that shadow-country that I start wondering if I’m going to get him back again…and that was even before the transcripts.”
“I know better than to ask where he got those transcripts, though of course I am very curious! I guess it doesn’t really matter too much, though. Where do you think he’s going?”
Liz shrugged, an action barely visible in the near-darkness. “Off into the brush to freeze himself for the night. It’s what he does when all of this gets to be too much. Seems to help sometimes, but lately he barely lives through it.”
“It’s no wonder. When you’ve got no insulation on your body, the cold can get awfully intense in a hurry. Is that why he does it? Starves? So the cold will be more intense, since that’s what he uses to handle things?”
“No, I don’t think so. Like I said before, it’s complicated. The cold is a separate thing. He really does like it, thrive in it a lot of times, but with all of his ‘insulation’ disappearing like it’s done…well, I’m afraid he really doesn’t know where his limits are, anymore.”
“Doesn’t know, or doesn’t care?”
Another shrug from Liz, but it was too dark for Juni to see.
“Let’s go find him.”
Einar did not want to be found. Intended to stay close enough to camp to be certain of keeping watch over it and of being able to intervene should trouble come, either from the outside or internally, as Liz and Juni seemed to be exchanging a fair share of angry words that evening, but he wanted very badly to be left alone and to keep out of sight, at the same time. Well, perhaps he could still have both. Had better move in a bit closer though, make sure things weren’t about to boil over between the two of them. Which they must have been, for Liz sounded angry in a quiet, “better watch out for the rabbit stick” kind of way which he had seldom heard from her except when action was soon to follow.
“You need to leave,” she was saying.
“It’s too dark.” That was Juni. “I’d just blunder around and make a lot of tracks.”
“Is that a threat?”
“You’re every bit as paranoid as he is sometimes, aren’t you? Of course it’s not a threat, it’s just the truth, and I’m sure I will be leaving soon but had better at least wait until daylight!”
Einar, crouched in the snow on a rise not too far from the spot where Liz and Juni stood arguing, could not make out their words, but could tell with certainty that they were speaking too loudly, both of them, making too much noise for their first night down in the valley, which should have been a time of watching and of caution, and he moved, putting himself in their anticipated path. They nearly stepped on him before Liz felt a presence in the darkness and put a hand on Juni’s arm, stopping her.
“Einar?” she whispered. “Are you there?”
Silence, and then she heard him move, a slight settling in the snow as he shifted his weight to the other foot. “We were looking for you.”
“Said I’d be back in the morning.”
“I wasn’t going to wait that long.”
“Should have waited. I’m not fit company, right now. You don’t want me around camp.”
“Einar…” It was Juni again. Wished she would just be quiet. “I came to apologize. I’m sorry. I had no right trespassing in your house by taking those papers down and reading them, and I never should have done it. Now that I have, though…it’s just that it wasn’t in your record, the things that were described in that debriefing…”
“What record? Don’t figure you have the right clearance to get hold of the relevant records. And what were you doing messing around in my records, in the first place?”
Juni smiled. “Just trying thoroughly understand my subject, before doing that first story. I found out a good bit about your service, and your discharge. Not the whole story though, I always was sure. Things were missing, or seemed to be. Now I guess I know why.”
“You don’t know squat.”
“I know that you were a prisoner of war, and that the fact was never officially acknowledged because of the circumstances.”
“No, I was not.”
“Effectively you were. Everywhere but on paper.”
He was angry. Feeling unsteady, and not at all liking it. Couldn’t let it show, not in the presence of this stranger, this intruder, in the presence of mine enemy, and he took a deep, slow breath, kept his eyes fixed on the cluster of timber straight ahead across the little clearing, a blacker shade in a world of black, glad it was dark so she couldn’t see him trembling. Cold. He was just cold, he told himself, and couldn’t help it. Struggled hard to prevent his voice from shaking, too.
“What is your purpose in asking these things?”