Write On!

War Within Me

In Responses on March 9, 2012 at 4:15 pm

“He kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god.” — Isaiah 44:15

Evening falls fast now. At the brightest moment, I jump as a tin can falls and pounds the ice, and my martini soaks through the tablecloth. Looking up again, the ochre lets me stare it down into darkness. How quickly the stars take their places and make every shadow grow long as a terror’s fingernails.

Where’s my helper? Where’s some comfort? My knees creak down to the hard ice. Here’s a match, fire, heat, glow. Honey will bring the twigs and we’ll make it right.

It’s a hard edge we picked, but maybe the last one with a view. Spruce, hemlock, cottonwood—a successful canopy. With our binoculars, we spy on the grizzlies and blue grouse, his sac hooting its echoes off the ice. We could sit at this crevice forever. To camp, to set our flag on the wilderness, to dominate. Just to dominate.

Here he gives a brief glance. So many years ago, I looked across a room to look into him. We studied—his left hip (his hand rests there) sits lower than his right, he sneaks a bite of brownie and makes sure I see, he starts a load of whites and thinks I am too busy to mark it. Just a passing word would do then. But when there is no time for more than a passing word, you resent knowing each other so well. We share this house on wheels, this bed and table and shower. We terrorize each other with every polite smile.

I’ll tell it again: he burned that pie I made from scratch. I stirred it up—his daddy’s pecans, and that deep chocolate to make them sweet for him—and it burned while we watched some meaningless show because he heard the beeper but didn’t ask why it was set. Just one of those things you laugh about and let go.

We talked about this RV for years before we bought it. The sales lady told us all the middle-agers say that, but it’s true. Longing for something more than canned noodles with the kids, we set our eyes on the drive and hoped everything would hurry up. We didn’t have any other ideas. Recreation would be our mission field, and 300 square feet our sanctuary. Polished wood, a quick clean, and time.

So where is he now with those twigs? Hunting the glacier, that’s where. Killing a squirrel or two, if he can. The fire will die without his small offering, his twigs. Could I drive this holy habitation away from this godforsaken skating rink? The blue grouse hoots again.

“Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.” One Sunday morning, a boys choir sang that on the radio, the big drums and high young voices echoing through the cathedral where they made the recording. The crowd applauded the performance of the death masque, but I figured they didn’t know much about the song itself, seeing as they were still alive. Seems easy to applaud a song about comfortable death until you go to die.

But here comes my covenant husband, no dead meat in tow but a stack of twigs in his arms. His errand almost complete, he walks to the fire and dutifully places the wood. He stokes our fire on ice. I take another sip of my martini and explain, “The tablecloth.” He nods.

This place is boring, what with its “Would you look at that?” every five seconds. We don’t say it anymore; we just sit in our chairs and stare into the glacier, etched with a gargantuan finger into a Cubist nightmare. Its tumult comes from within, those passions so deep within the ice that erupt in slow but mighty cracks.

One day we’ll miss the children, I suppose. One day we’ll get sick of squirrel. One day we will have learned to make fire and won’t be able to survive with it everywhere. We’ll go to some other habitat and the whitebark pine will take our place in the flames.

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