Cold and Shining
The air stretched taut like a blanket staked at the corners. Little Nonsense expected
to find the end of it when he stepped over the ridge, but it just kept going and his lungs
were being stretched right along with it.
Salmon Girl held his hand for a while, but pretty soon he needed to hold his arms at
his sides, his fingers curled back together inside the big thick gloves. He kept watching
his breath like it was an object and ice was going to fall off it.
Little Nonsense wondered if the earth could know that its blanket was moving right
through him. How warm was the earth beneath it? He wondered how far you would have
to go to get underneath the blanket and be with the earth. He knew the blanket was air,
but it did not feel like air, and he looked up into the sky to see if he could tell where the
other blankets of air had gone. He saw the stars sparkling all over the sky, and he thought
that they were breathing better than he was. He imagined the stars were happy, but he
couldn’t quite remember what they did when they were happy, except shine brightly.
Salmon Girl coughed and it sounded like a rifle shot. Little Nonsense thought of
his own cough as a secret weapon and remembered playing enemies with Weasel Eyes
among the willow and spruce where the creek chattered happily in the springtime. Little
Nonsense wanted to put some raisins from his backpack into his mouth now, but he
thought they would only make him colder, frozen little pieces of ice until his tongue
warmed them, and anyhow, he couldn’t see how to put them there without taking his
fingers out of the stiff gloves. Little Nonsense remembered the Moose Kidney Pie his
uncle had offered him just before he left, and he was sad he had not eaten any.
Little Nonsense thought about his grandmother’s false teeth and how she took them
out when she put moose leather into her mouth to soften it. She had used strips of the
leather to thread together birch-wood for the snowshoes he was walking on.
They came to the pond frozen solid with ice, and if Little Nonsense had felt like
talking, he would have asked if it was frozen all the way to the bottom. He didn’t think so,
but how far was the bottom? He didn’t know. Weasel Eyes had told him that frogs and
turtles and some kinds of fish could burrow down into the mud and hibernate there just
like bears when it got too cold or the water dried up, but he hadn’t believed him. Now he
Salmon Girl pointed to some cattails folded over like a lean-to and Little Nonsense
thought she was pointing the way. He stepped over the bent reeds and suddenly an
explosion of noise and air erupted at his feet. It scared him so much he couldn’t breath.
Then a sharp cackle and the telltale droppings fell so close he could smell them as the
heavy bird tried to climb the air. He had seen pheasants do this before but never this
close. It made the cold hold on to his chest. Salmon Girl was laughing but she stopped
quickly when she saw he was still scared, thumped on her chest, and started across the
polished ice on the surface of the pond.
For more than an hour they walked without saying a word. The rhythm of their
passage carried them across two frozen meadows and over a crusted snowdrift. They
walked with their heads down, forgetting the sky was above them.
Little Nonsense walked right into a dream and kept going. He was feeding stars to
the fish and the fish were salmon like Salmon Girl and the stars were all light and fluffy
like big insects that would float on the water until the salmon ate them. Then he saw the
head of one of the insects up close and it was familiar. Was it someone he knew?
Salmon Girl opened her mouth and coughed. The insect was gone and he still didn’t know
who it was. He felt the air around him in his dream, and it felt wet and dark. And then
suddenly he could see a long long ways away, and that felt like millions of years.
When they finally arrived and stepped into the warm cabin that smelled like bread,
Salmon Girl peeled off her clothing, stomping and huffing and getting everybody to help
her, but Little Nonsense moved very very slowly and with great care. He still had a very
long way to go.
Rich Ives is the author of Tunneling to the Moon: A Psychological Gardener’s Book of Days currently being published in serial @ Silenced Press everyday in 2014 and forthcoming in paperback. Begin from the beginning, catch up, read daily. Just refer to the Burrow Guide.