NaNoWriMo Word Count: 1,626
“Suicide is not the answer,” Lucie said out loud, opening the door to the community center. Within 20 minutes, most of the youth of Clyde River would be coming through these open doors to the warehouse-structure that was sometimes community center, sometimes funeral home and sometimes airport lobby. If you could call the airstrip above town an airport. It was what Lucie said to herself each time she unlocked the doors to the community center for the youth hip hop dances, a mental reminder that Inuit youth have the highest suicide rates in the world. Not while she served this community as an elder; not on her watch.
She walked fast for a short woman in her sixties. Her strides across town had been brisk, air vaporizing as she breathed beyond the fur of her parka hood. It was close to 5 p.m. and already dark. Yet the sun was setting later and by the end of March there would be more than 11 hours of daylight, something Lucie was looking forward to. Passing pre-fabricated houses and shipping containers turned into make-shift shelters with smoke-stacks, Lucie noted hides stretched near the homes of other hunters in town. She had expected Elijah home before sunset, but maybe he had landed a great narwhal after all. If so, he would have gone up to Moe’s cabin for help.
If she did not hear from Moe or Elijah by tomorrow mid-day, Lucie would bring an apple pie to Mountie Brindeau. He always went soft over her pies, even if she made them from dehydrated apples. She imagined the slight smile that would form beneath his close clipped mustache that was mottled brown and gray, like a lemming. Not that he needed a pie to look for an over-due hunter. Brindeau was a good man, one who believed in second chances and singing funny songs while strumming the few chords he knew on a guitar.
Within five minutes of flipping on the overhead lights, Elisapee, a sixteen-year-old girl wearing a black cap with the bill angled backwards across her shoulder-length black hair, walked in carrying an old record player. She smiled at Lucie and asked, “You going to scratch records for us tonight Maki?”
Lucie didn’t mind that most of the town kids, the ones who knew Elijah, called her Maki like her husband did. “Sure. You going to throat sing?”
Elisapee grinned and set the record-player down on a table. “Wait until you see my new moves. I even breakout throat singing in the middle of the dance.”
If she could, Lucie would bundle up each and every one of these children in hugs that would go on until the sun stayed forever. She and Elijah never did have any children of their own. But it was when the suicides started taking over the community that Lucie opened her heart and arms to these hurting children. Many spoke about having nothing to do and that it was always cold, but many also ate too many bad foods shipped in from the south that turned their teeth black. It seemed to turn their thoughts and hopes black too. The hip hop dances was the idea of the young Ottawan director of the Ilisaqsivik Society, a community outreach organization meant to help these youth in crisis.
“I can’t wait to see your new moves, Elisapee.” More families were arriving, some children as young as six or seven. Some of the youth were in their early 20s, but those like Tobie Koonoo, had strong messages to deliver to the younger ones. Tobie’s friends had saved his life after he tried committing suicide at age 17, but it was hip hop that delivered him. After each dance session when the kids were worn out from dance, some of the older youth would share messages of wellness with the group. It was based on a program that Ilisaqsivik had brought to Clyde River five years ago when real hip hop dancers taught the kids how to use dance to claim their voice.
Many adults and elders had worried about the hip hop, that it would replace cultural traditions like ear-tug-of-war, drumming and throat singing. But what Lucie, and others, realized is that the kids opened up, shared their stories, talked about being angry or sad and then danced with smiles on their faces. The dancers who taught the kids how to beat-box, spin and jump told them the story of hip hop. That it came from kids just like them in a place called the Bronx. It wasn’t about gangsters or bad words. It was about having a voice, being heard.
If ever there were kids without a voice, it would be some place as remote as a modern town of 1,000 people along the sea ice of the arctic. Hip hop brought hope.
It also brought out the elders. It wasn’t long before the kids were asking to be taught drumming or throat singing. They mixed the old ways into the new moves. Elders showed up wearing their best beaded skins and kids showed up wearing sweatshirts and colored beanies and caps. Together, they were a community.
Once the speakers and music were set up, the kids of all ages gathered in a circle, about 26 of them tonight by Lucie’s count. One by one, a single dancer would take center circle and spin, bounce and twist to the music. As promised, Elisapee hopped from foot to foot, throat singing a piece from the “Littlest Sled Dog” with a microphone pressed to her chin. It was the first song Lucie had ever taught the girl. It had been her favorite song, imbued with meaning from a time long ago when she finally fell in love with the man she hated—her husband.
Standing near the doorway, Lucie was surprised to look up and see Mountie Brindeau watching the dancers in his red parka. She smiled his way, but none moved his mustache. He strode over to her with long-legged steps and bent to speak into her ear over the noise of the music and cheering. “Can I speak to you, Lucie?”
She nodded and then led him to a back room where the din was quieter. “What is wrong, Mountie Brindeau?” Lucie wasn’t always so formal but she sensed whatever it was, it was official.
“I stopped by your place. I see Elijah and the dogs are not back, yet.”
Lucie thought about why he would be concerned. It was not unusual for Elijah to be late, even by a few days and Brindeau wouldn’t know when he was due back, just that he was gone. Lucie rubbed her own arms as if feling a greater chill in this back room. Finally, she said, “Why do you make this observation?”
He sighed and glanced out the room at the dancers. Without looking at her he said, “A private plane reported seeing some debris near the Walker Citadel yesterday.”
“And you’re telling me now?” Lucie’s asked.
“No, they just informed me less than an hour ago. They didn’t report it yesterday. More like they were inquiring about something else then mentioned the debris in passing. I know that other hunters are out and debris does not necessarily mean anything…bad. I just thought I’d check with you on Elijah.”
Lucie was silent, not sure what to say, what to feel. That gyrfalcon yesterday…
“Lucie, it’s just that they reported the entire ice shelf sloughed from the cliffs. Damn, but I’ve never heard of that happening before,” said Brindeau.
“Me neither. When can you go,” Lucie asked.
“At first light. We’ll take skidoos, cover more ground, faster,” he answered.
“All right. Then I wait. I pray, and wait.” Lucie barely noticed when Mountie Brindeau excused himself, and left the community hall.
Lucie stood in the backroom alone until Tobie ducked his head in and said, “Hey, Maki, you okay?”
She realized that tears had wet her face. She wiped both cheeks with her hands and smiled. “Yes, I’m okay. Happy thoughts, right?”
“That’s right,” Tobie said, “Happy thoughts.”
With a deep breath, Lucie walked back out to the dancers. Several adults and some of the older kids were watching her with open curiosity. But it was an elder, one at least 20-years her senior, Annie, who walked up to her and held Lucie’s had without saying anything.
After the dancing, Tobie reminded the kids that suicide was not the way. “You are loved. There are people who would miss you. Your community would miss you. Dance, jump and fill your mind with happy thoughts.”
Elisapee followed Tobie to speak messages, but kept looking at Lucie with a worried look. Finally, she stopped and turned to Lucie directly. “To the woman who taught me her favorite throat song. I love you, Lucie. Don’t be sad.”
Lucie smiled even though her tears started to flow again. Yes, she could wrap her arms around these children forever, until the goddess returned from the sea, until Elijah came home. Everyone was looking at her, some were mumbling, a few looked close to tears even though they did not yet know the source of her sadness. They all knew she was sad. “Elijah has not come home yet from the hunt. And Mountie Brindeau learned of debris floating where ice broke off from the great black wall.”
Murmurs like a rising wind rose from the people. A few placed their hands over their mouths. More tears flowed. Annie spoke, “When the ice disappears, so will we.” A few nodded, mostly adults.
Elisapee shook her head at Annie’s words. “No,” she said, “We think happy thoughts while we wait with Lucie.”