She stood at the edge of the lake, squinting in the early morning light. Len was moving in the cabin, getting ready for work. He was already five minutes late and was rushing around and around in circles, getting nowhere. She looked back at the lake.
The water’s been open a week, where are you?
The lake was lapping gently onto the shore, just a few chunks of ice were lurching around the edges. Sprinkled indiscriminately like the salt on a margarita rim.
The door of the cabin opened and Len lurched out.
“I’ll see you at five!” he yelled as he rushed for the truck, “I’ll be down on River Bend Road all day if you need to find me.”
She reached up to wave gently at him. So much for being retired. Her arm ached and she brought it back down to her side. She thought of the loggers brought down by the years of pain they endured from their lives in the bush that she treated back when she was still the nurse for Rutherglen and the farms around it. They spoke to her in memory fragments.
I always figured it’d be kinda romantic to be a broken down logger when I got older, now that I am I just hate it.
She shook the pain from her hand and started to walk away from the lake. A loon laughed behind her, she circled around and peered out across the water. The loon was there, stark in black and white against the kaleidoscopic background of colour that surrounded it. The loon called out again and she watched while its call finished and it sat quietly in the water, moving gently in the waves. She moved toward the pier Len had built a million years ago, it moved incrementally closer to the water as she stepped onto it. As she did, the space within her mind stretched across the surface of the water, reaching the opposite shore in a gentle arc before careening off the tall reeds and looping over to sit beside the loon and float gently in the breeze with it. She reached the end of the pier and sat watching the bird, it dove under the water and her mind travelled down quickly with it.
The water was dark and cold, it wasn’t quite May after all. The loon was sleek and colourful, shimmering with green against the dark background of the water. The deepest water still runs. It collected something into its mouth and lifted its head, kicking its feet. It let the power of the water push it back up to the surface. Her mind bobbed in the water, the cold brought her back to the prison cell she had been stuck in so many years ago when the white army turned red. The wall was rough, carved stones pieced together a hundred years earlier. She stood up and looked out the small window. Vertical bars obscured her view. She watched as the snow fell straight down in enormous flakes. She tried to look to the ground but she was too short to look down out of the window. Better to look up anyway. She looked across the other wing of the jail, where her husband Gleb was being kept. A lone evergreen to the right was collecting the snow slowly, resiliently maintaining its shape. A picture came to her mind. It was the same picture she saw but a different country. Free everybody though.
A sound appeared on the edge of her ear. Her mind righted and she was back on the dock staring across the lake. A collection of birds wheeled in the air and flew for the safety of the trees on the far side of the water. She walked up the dock further as the wheel skidded to a stop on the branches. Chickadees probably.
She blinked and the tree re-appeared in front of her but darker and bleaker. She was on a train back to Sweden, alone again, or still, or something. Then she was off the train and back on the dock again. Slowly she walked further up the dock and as she arrived at the end of it she saw the loon reappear at the surface again, swallowing something. Lucky girl. She looked back up and now the tree was outside her bedroom window. She was home in Sweden looking out at the sprawling manor grounds, nothing in the room had changed but the view meant something different to her.
She stood on the very edge of the dock, squinting more and straining to see what type of birds they were. Chickadees I am sure. There were five of them spread throughout the old white pine that rose from the solid ground behind the reeds on the far side of the lake.
Like a gust of wind the birds leapt off the tree and, forming into a circle, they wheeled to the left. She stepped to her own left to follow them. She stepped just a touch too far and her foot grazed the edge of the dock as it passed it by. Her body started to follow in a chain reaction. She tried to press with her right foot and force herself back into balance but the pull was too strong. She slipped over the edge and into the water. It was freezing and the air evaporated from her lungs when she hit the surface. The water broke underneath her as she landed on her side and in a wink she slid below. With her body and mind reunited under the water she sunk toward the bottom. The water wasn’t all that deep, maybe a half foot over her head. She waited for the buoyancy of the water to send her back up toward the surface. The water waited in return. She touched the bottom briefly with her left hand, collecting a handful of mud and releasing it into the water. Still the water waited. She forced her feet to the lake’s floor. She froze and kept her eyes shut tightly. Something appeared before them anyway: a short man with a gun.
“It’s time to go, nurse.”
“Where is my husband?”
“I don’t know. Nowhere you want to go.”
“Do you believe in what you are doing to us?”
“I don’t believe in anything.”
She shook the image out of her head. Suddenly the water grabbed ahold of her sweater and tugged on it gently. She pushed her feet against the mud, kicking twice before reaching the surface. She opened her mouth and the air poured out, then more and more of it rushing out faster until it came to a crescendo and nothing was left, a beat passed and the air poured back in burning all the way down. She turned slowly, aching from age or the cold, either way her joints pulled apart at the seams as she paddled back to where she could stand and walked haltingly to the shore.
Suddenly a chickadee flew past her and settled on the railing of the cabin. I do call it a nest after all.
She sloshed toward the chickadee slowly, trying not to scare it away but she was cold and needed to get inside. Her semi-erratic walking scared the bird and it jumped into the air and took a new position on the roof of the house. Thanks for looking out for me. She crashed through the door and into the house, took off her shoes and sweater and dropped them in the entry way and headed for the kitchen.
She stood soaking wet, the water pouring from her hair and ricocheting around the room surrounding her. Flecks of it collected on the surfaces around her. She leaned against the counter, her head still swimming. She stumbled toward the bathroom to look for a towel, ending up at the mirror with Gleb staring back.
“Life is transient.”
“Then what’s the point of it?”
She thought for a moment he might step out into the room beside her. He thought it too.
“The pieces are the point, it’s why you can only remember pieces of me. Nobody’s whole life makes any sense.”
He looked sadly at her. She looked at the wrinkles on her hand, suddenly as she was still staring at it her hand grew its own mind and climbed into the air, smashing directly into the mirror in front of her. It fell to pieces and she sat down in the wreckage. What are you doing, you’re seventy years old, not five.
She stood back up and collected a towel to wrap around herself then plodded back into the kitchen to collect the broom and dust pan. She swept up and cast around desperately for how she would explain this to Len when he got back. He’ll be happy to have a project anyway.
She changed and came back into the kitchen, looking down she saw a book on the table beside her. She reached down and picked it up. The Ripon Falls have now been submerged beneath a hydro-electric dam, and somewhere in the green depths of the great river the place where Speke’s plaque used to stand has been obliterated forever. A submerged waterfall indeed.
She walked back out of the kitchen and made for her desk. She arrived to find the letter she was writing to the young ornithologist from Cobalt whose halting descriptions littered her desk. No, stop telling me the science to it all, tell me how it makes you feel.
Like I know.
She walked over to the record player and flipped on something, a quintet probably. She sat down at her desk to begin to write.
Another winter, another spring.