NaNoWriMo Word Count: 1,700
Even with thick socks, Lucie’s feet could feel the cold that glossed the sheet. Even in their modern pre-fabricated home with baseboard heat, the cold pressed through the walls. Lucie missed when Elijah was not home to help her warm the bed. It felt empty, but there was nothing she could do until Mountie Brindeau had more news for her.
Was it possible that Elijah was still alive? He knew the sea ice, knew where it was safe. The sea ice would begin to melt in spring, but it was not yet spring when the vast expanse of sea ice began to dapple like the spotted hide of a seal. Even with seal openings from below and slushy snow and pools on top of it, the ice yet ran as thick as a man’s leg was tall. It was now March and that thickness would hold. Should hold.
But all the hunters were talking about how different the land was. The elders said they had no knowledge to give; it was not something that had occurred in their lifetime. It was something that had not occurred in the greater collection of elder knowledge. They did not know what to say. There were no stories for this strangeness. No stories for melting ice early. No stories for the strange birds that had begun to show up in spring or the dolphins or insects that were larger than the summer swarms of mosquitoes.
Lucie remembered the first time she saw a set of Encyclopedias at school in the south. It was as if southern elders lived in these books. After classes she would often sit on the floor by the shelves that held the volumes and read the knowledge. She thought it funny that the stories were arranged in alphabetical order. She wondered if throat songs could be arranged that way and what they would sound like.
Later, when Lucie suggested to one of her teachers that Inuit stories, the body of knowledge that the elders passed down, be put in a set of Encyclopedias, her teacher said it was ridiculous. “Stories are not facts,” she told Lucie. Even after her education and a lifetime spent as a person who continued to read books, Lucie still was not sure how these facts were any different from stories.
When the weather broke, Lucie would have a guest from the south. Even more south than all of Canada. This guest was from Minnesota where it must be very warm, or at least Lucie would like to think of it that way, with her feet still cold in bed. This guest was a doctor, someone Elijah was to take out onto the ice. Dr. Starkka she heard Elijah say his name.
Because he was a doctor, he was going to do tests on the ice. She wondered if it was like those tests the doctors did on her mother when she got sick in her lungs and a huge machine took pictures of what no one on the outside could see. Lucie had asked Elijah if this doctor was going to fix the ice, the way the doctors had fixed her mother’s cough. Elijah smiled at her, knowing she was jesting. But part of her was serious. Why did they need a doctor to test the ice if he could not heal the land and its melting?
This Dr. Starkka was going to collect facts like those in the Encyclopedias. How were these facts to be more important than her people’s stories? She would tell this doctor how frozen rivers that were trails to the hunters for 5,000 years were now flowing or how the sea ice was breaking away from the land that it had always clung to for nine months out of the year. How could this doctor collect facts greater than the body of knowledge the Inuit already had? She hoped he would listen to Elijah.
What Lucie really hoped for was that her husband would walk through their door and warm her feet. She smiled, at what he would say, though.
“Maki, your feet are cold because you are not moving,” he would tell her. And then he would suggest that they leg-wrestle to warm up her feet. She remembered that first journey onto the land with him and he kept telling her, “Wrestle with me, Maki.”
Run is what she did, even if it were clunky all bundled up in mukluks and skin clothes and parka. And laugh. He could catch her quickly, but would pretend to just miss her. If she was running and laughing, she was moving. And he did teach her to wrestle just like the boys would wrestle. But often their wrestling led to things a man and wife would do, out side of mukluks, skin clothes and parkas. Things that required their bed which required their caribou-skin tent or iglu.
Lying in bed unable to sleep, Lucie thought of their bed on the land all those years ago. A blizzard could be raging outside of the iglu, dogs curled up in drifts of snow and their bed was built on top of the ice, but it was the warmest bed ever. All skins and fur it was. She didn’t remember her feet being so cold until she got up that first morning they ever shared their ice bed. Lucie pulled the covers up to her mouth to stifle her laugh at the memory of that first morning when she desperately kicked out the plug to pee in a blizzard. Elijah had said, “Why do you let in the cold? We were warm.” He then peeled back the first layer of hides beneath the bed to show her where to pee in the iglu.
Lucie tried to drift off to sleep. What stories would she tell of Elijah? Which ones would be the facts of who he was. No, is, she told herself. Is. Elijah might have had to head north if he did get trapped beyond that place of broken sea ice. It was several days, to Pond Inlet. And with the storm he would have built an iglu to hunker down and wait it out. Yes, he was probably warmer than her toes at the moment.
Low in her throat, Lucie began to intone the first few notes of the song about the littlest sled dog. Actual throat singing was between two people as notes intoned different pitches as if the paired singers were tossing the music back and forth between their throats constricting and humming like instruments. Lucie’s mother had taught her to sing and her first song was about the littlest sled dog.
It was Elijah’s runt that stayed behind when the others pulled that tugged at her heart. The dog just never grew as burly as the others and Elijah did not think he could use her. He named the dog Maki, too. Maki the wife and Maki the dog. One Maki took care of the other when Elijah went out on the land, hunting caribou or seal. Maki would take her four-pawed counter part to the bay and throw rocks into the summer water, free of ice as it slapped the rocks in gentle waves.
Maki the dog would dive for the rocks and one day she caught a fish. She ate it quickly, but soon learned to fish for more. That summer Lucie spent time looking over the bay of water when she was not helping the cooperative of artists. She would hang prints for her mother and clean paint rollers for the soap-stone carvers. She even typed up letters that told stories of the prints or the artists. It was her summer of adjusting to marriage. Marriage to a hunter who was not home and her in a home she had always shared with her parents and brothers.
Some days she would pretend not to be married at all, but she’d find herself talking to Maki the dog about Elijah. How traditional he was. Probably didn’t know how to read, let alone type. Then she would start arguing with her own complaints. But his eyes were intelligent, gentle, kind. He was smart enough to learn how to type. Maki just listened, her head on her paws as Maki the wife debated whether or not her husband was likable.
When Elijah, her father and two of her brothers returned from summer hunting up north, Maki couldn’t wait t see Elijah. She told herself it was because she had the dog fishing story to tell him. Elijah listened then asked for the fish.
“What fish,” Maki asked.
“The fish the dog caught,” said Elijah.
“But she ate them.”
“Oh,” said Elijah, “It is a good thing that I brought back what I caught. You would starve living with that dog.”
“She is a good fisher, clever, I never asked her to give me her catch,” Lucie had said to him.
“Then what kind of fisher dog is she if she eats all the fish,” Elijah asked. “She is like the littlest sled dog.”
“Is that why you call her ‘Maki,’” asked Lucie.
“And why do you call me ‘Maki’ then?”
“You are my littlest wife,” he said as he grinned. “In case I have a yard full of wives one day, I will know which one you are.”
In the dark, Lucie felt a tear trickle out of the corner of her eye and plop into her hair as she laid on her back in bed. Elijah never had a yard full of wives, but he did have a little one who learned to love him. Maybe it was the dog or maybe she would have come to that conclusion after all. But she had loved Elijah and that Maki dog was the first of many that she would love, too.
Lucie was just worried about the dogs, also. But like Elijah, they knew the land and ice. She intoned a few more notes. This song she would need to teach to Elissapee. And warn the girl that if you fall in love with a man’s dog, you’ll fall in love with him.