Snow Journal, Day 46
Winter hung over us like a gaol sentence, a punishment for daring to stay. Though we all had reasons for gravitating north, no one spoke of such things. When we spoke it was of food, or of what we saw in the fire, but never of before.
The days held us tight, compressed into dim mid-morning light. We used morning’s window to set and check traps, to drop lines through the ice. The fish never bit till it was almost dark, till we could barely make out what they were. We called them names we’d learned when young-cod and halibut, salmon and cabillaud-but naming things was not our game. Fish were fish, and grilled or boiled or smoked was how we distinguished them. Smoking them meant we could keep a stock, though we tired of picking wood from our teeth.
The traps stopped nothing larger than arctic rabbit, soft to touch. We skewered the meat and turned it in the fire, fried the giblets in an iron skillet. We stewed the bones and sucked out the marrow, washed it down with broth. Nothing was wasted. The skins kept us as warm as we could hope to be.
For distraction we read the flames, blue and gold and pink and orange. We sat so close, peering ever deeper, that our faces grew red and darkened. Salmon danced and wolves sang, and we threaded the images and spun tales across the night. Our early stories ended in triumph, the late ones in tragedy, revenge and betrayal. But only one story began with the figure of a girl. We each relayed what we saw, and pieced together her history, as she lay there, buoyed in the flames; her eyes black, her hair coal. We didn’t blink for fear that we would lose her. A day passed, then two, and still we sat at the fire, inhaling her voyage and swallowing her fate. Someone said she was a Legong dancer, from somewhere down in Indonesia. She held her hands just so, pointed and contorted in the pyre, and never once looked back at us. She turned, finally, enough that her pointed globes shone at us. That was when the knife was pulled, a rusty blade that cut through the our group. When the knife fell to the floor, two were dead and Bow had lost an eye; and the fire was dead, and all it held.
We didn’t fish that morning, nor the day after; we tried, but each time we lowered a line, her face shimmered on the water. We feared what we would draw from below.
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