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NaNoWriMo Word Count: 1,114
“Miriam, is that you,” asked the caller on the other end of the line. Miriam had to stepped around a haphazard maze of filing boxes in Ax’s small office above the coffee roaster to answer the phone on his desk. She hadn’t expected to hear Dagen’s voice.
“Yes, Dagen, it’s me,” she said hold the phone close as if she could touch him.
“Ax must have offered you a job, then,” said Dagen.
“We worked it out. I’m going to set up his office, dig through files to set up a database, teach the old dog a few tricks called processes and file for foundation status,” said Miriam as she sat down in Ax’s chair.
“Is that all,” asked Dagen.
“No,” answered Miriam, “I’m also going to find him an office chair that doesn’t feel like sitting on an unyielding rock.”
“Ah, well, unyielding rocks are going to be my furniture soon,” said Dagen. “Is Ax there?”
“No, he’s meeting with a potential sponsor,” said Miriam.
“Really? He hates that,” said Dagen.
“Yes, and I told him he’d just have to get over it or he can pack up his not-so-tidy office and go back to Brimson and avoid all the potential sponsors he would like.”
“Ouch. You’re putting the whip to him.”
“I believe in what he wants to do, but it means going where he’s not comfortable. He agreed to being uncomfortable and I agreed to set up office and foundation. If it works out, he’ll offer me a more permanent position,” explained Miriam.
“Well, Miriam, I’m not sure I agree,” said Dagen.
“What do you mean,” she asked, sitting up straighter in the chair.
“Coming out of retirement. What’s he trying to prove? That the elderly can can go on expeditions, too,” said Dagen.
“If you were here right now I think I’d kick you,” said Miriam. How could Dagen be so insensitive? Ax spoke of Dagen like a son, yet Dagen acted as if he hardly knew Ax at all. “Are you so out of touch with Ax that you don’t know his purpose for coming out of retirement,” asked Miriam.
For a moment, there was static silence. Then Dagen said, “I didn’t even ask him why. I…don’t…know where I’ve been. Just off doing my own thing. Yet, I can’t say I have enjoyed it the way I know he loved his expeditions.”
Miriam wasn’t sure what to say. She told him, “Ax will be back in an hour or so. Are you someplace where he can reach you?”
“Yeah, give him this number. It’s to a pay phone at the Iqaluit airport. My pallet of gear and supplies take up most of the lobby, but my duffel bags make a fine bed,” said Dagen with a laugh that sounded forced.
“Are you okay,” asked Miriam.
“Fine, fine,” said Dagen, “You know, it’s typical logistics for traveling in the arctic. It’s a minor miracle to get transportation and weather to cooperate. I’ll wait,” he said.
“Did your agent go back to California,” asked Miriam. “Ax said something about her going to Ottawa.”
“No,” he said, his voice tight.
“Look, if you have something between the two of you, just say so,” said Miriam. “I’d prefer honesty.”
“There is nothing. For pete’s sake, the last thing I need is another jealous blond on my hands,” said Dagen.
“Excuse me,” said Miriam, “I’m just having an open conversation here. One, I am not jealous and two don’t ever refer to me as a blond. I am more than the color of my hair.”
“I know,” said Dagen, “I know, you are much, much more than anything I’ve ever let myself know. I’m sorry. Miriam. Maybe one day I’ll tell you how I got wrapped up in all this celebrity stupidity, but right now, I’m just waiting it out. Waiting out the storm.”
“This is new for me,” said Miriam, “I’m just not sure where I stand and yet we just met, so it’s not like I’m trying to put demands on you. Ax is worried, and I suppose he has me worried, too.”
“Ax has seen me crash and burn. Tell him I’m all right. I’m coming back through Minnesota,” Dagen said. “I want to see you again. If you want to see me, that is.”
“Well,” said Miriam, “Your celebrity status is blinding and all, but, yeah I’d like to see you again.”
Dagen laughed, “You know really, on the scale of fame and such, I don’t think I even hold B-list status. Okay. I’d say keep in touch, but unless you have satellite communications…”
“We might,” said Miriam, quickly, remembering that Ax had said if all went well at the meeting, the company would supply all the communications technical support, including a link to current research already established on Baffin Island. That meant they could get Dagen hooked up at his research site.
“How’s that,” asked Dagen.
“A possible sponsorship with tech support for live communication,” said Miriam. “Dagen, what Ax wants to do is put a face to climate change. Scientists are calling what’s happening on Baffin Island the canary in the cage, but Ax wants people to know that the canary is a community of people, and his future expeditions are to introduce the people of Baffin to the rest of the world. Satellite communications is key.”
“You know, Ax always talked about his Inuit guides and their families and towns. I guess all I paid attention to were the stories about adventure and dogs,” said Dagen.
“Well, now is your chance to meet those people,” said Miriam, “And just so you know, Ax said he hasn’t heard back from the guide he arranged for you, but when you get to Clyde River, go to his house as planned.”
“He isn’t missing, is he,” asked Dagen.
“Not that I know of. I think Ax said he goes seal hunting this time of year. It takes something like 150 seals just to feed a sled team of dogs over the year,” said Miriam.
“That’s a lot of seal meat, but having fed many huskies over many years, I understand,” said Dagen. “I ask because the plane that was scheduled to take my gear left early to search for a couple of missing Inuit hunters.”
“Oh,” said Miriam, “I’ll mention it to Ax, but I don’t think that would be his guide friend.”
“Good, then. Well, I smell angels not of heaven and I’m going to hide. Tell Ax I’ll call again. And congrats on the new temporary job,” said Dagen.
Miriam was not sure about the comment on angels or hiding. “Okay, then, take care.”
“You, too. Bye.” He good-bye seemed abrupt, but Miriam tried not to think on it too much.
NaNoWriMo Word Count: 1,564
At the first clearing of the storm, after three days of winds clocked at 60 knots per hour, an L382G Hercules roared over Clyde River. Even students from the school clambered out of the front door at the noise the plane made banking and then landing at the towns airstrip of ice.
RMCP Sydney Brindeau in his official red parka and mountie hat pulled up on his skidoo to greet the plane. It was on loan from First Air as part of the renewed search and rescue effort to recover the town’s two missing Inuit hunters, Moe and Elijah. Sydney had been able to convince few superiors or partner associations to assist, but one of his call led to several others that gained them use of the Hercules, additional RMCP, a helicopter and a Kodiak raft. All were in the massive cargo bay of the plane.
RMCP Alex Kincaid stepped down after the door hatch and stairs opened. “Sydney!” The man’s deep blue eyes twinkled from deep within his parka hood and his voice resonated like the engines that had just died down.
“How are you Alex, good to see you,” returned Sydney who had once trained with Alex. “Has it really been 10 years?”
“Nah, it was just yesterday,” Alex said. The men clasped hands and shoulders as other mounties stepped out of the plane, followed by a well dressed civilian in a trench coat and black knit-cap.
“Who is this,” asked Sydney.
Alex looked at the civilian who was standing at the top of the steps, scanning the horizon of Clyde River. “That’s Conrado Elizondo. He’s from Texas, way, way south of here.”
“Is he with one of the mining companies,” asked Sydney.
“No my friend, the U.S. media has arrived with the Canadian Mounties,” said Alex who then waved to the man on the steps. “Conrado! We have arrived. Come on down.”
Conrado hesitated and said, “But this looks like the place we just left.”
“No, I promise you, this is not the place we just left. Clyde River here is much smaller,” said Alex.
“It’s like the desert. Only white. And deadly cold,” Conrado said before descending the steps with two heavy looking black cases.
“Conrado, I want you to meet an old friend and fellow mountie, Sydney Brindeau,” Alex introduced. “Sydney, meet the voice of Dallas, Texas, Cornado Elizondo.”
“Good to meet you,” said Sydney. “Are you covering our missing hunters?”
“Not exactly, but when I caught wind of the story I thought I’d come along,” said Conrado, hunching his shoulders and puffing great vapors of breath. “It’s cold!”
“Conrado was already planning to ride the Herc here with your scientist who is coming to town,” explained Alex. “We commandeered the plane early. Seems the scientist won’t arrive in Iqualit until 1 p.m. today and we needed to head out before the next storm blows in.”
“He can catch another flight,” said Sydney.
“Well,” said Alex, “He’s got equipment and such. But the rep at First Air said he didn’t need the Herc per say just that they were going to run the Herc up north for another errand so it fit their logistics. The scientist may have to wait another day.”
“Or two,” said Sydney, “If this next blast hits us tonight.”
“What’s with the weather,” asked Conrado. “Doesn’t seem like global warming after all.”
“The weather is unpredictable on Baffin Island, but we could always count on there being ice,” said Sydney. “We still have grand blizzards, some even fiercer than most years, but then we get periods of no snow and incredible melting of summer ice. This is the first time that a shelf of sea ice has broken up so early. And now these storms on top of that. It’s extremes in the weather from year to year that indicates climate change.”
“You sound knowledgeable on this topic,” said Conrado.
Sydney looked up at the school yard where most of the kids were milling around. Probably an early recess due to the arrival of the plane. He looked back at Conrado and said, “When you serve a community that is caught in the extremes, you pick up a thing or two.”
“So tell me,” said Coronado, “What can you say to a person like me from Texas who thinks melting ice might be a good thing for your community?”
“I’d say let’s stop talking and start enacting our plan to find two missing men who are in danger because of melting ice.” Sydney then looked at Alex and said, “Let’s get back on the Herc. I’ve got maps and some key points I want to fly over.”
Alex said, “Conrado, if you’ll excuse us, we have our mission to attend to. We’ll discuss the results if they are newsworthy. Hopefully it will be nothing more than two Inuit hunters holed up in an iglu.”
Conrado watch as the RCMP all climbed back up the stairs. He turned toward a low building which must be the airport lobby. He walked that way, his recording equipment and extra clothes hanging in the two cases that pulled uncomfortably at his arms. When Conrado got to the doors they were firmly locked.
The pilot had fired up the Hercules and it was already taxiing into position on the runway. If you could call a stretch of smooth ice a runway. The engines gave thrust and the lumbering plane took off none-the-less. “Now what,” said Conrado to himself. He set down the two cases and began peering in the windows. From behind he heard giggling.
“Hey, do you know when they open,” asked Conrado. The three boys about seven years-old each wore brightly colored jackets and hats. One boy smiling with both top front teeth missing just shrugged.
“Is there a taxi service in town,” he asked the boys. “I’d like to find a hotel.”
The boys chattered together in a language that sounded like clicking teeth to Conrado. Then they ran off. “A lot of help, they were,” grumbled Conrado. He looked again in the windows, looked for a sign that might post hours, but nothing seemed to indicate that the building was going to open. Conrado pulled out his cell phone. He already knew it would have no service, but it felt comforting just to hold it in his hand for a moment as if he were not so far removed from civilization.
Laurel Henney of GGP had personally requested that Conrado cover the company’s efforts to measure any true indications of climate change. “Hearsay of natives hardly counts for anything,” she had told him. In her opinion melting ice was merely a cycle and GGP would take advantage of what they were calling “low ice” to access any hydro-carbons that were inaccessible during times of “high ice.” She said that they had scientific evidence that melts like this had occurred before. It was all about fluctuation. Anyhow, their scientist would pull cores to prove those fluctuations and maybe even predict how long this one would last.
Conrado heard a motor coming closer and around from the back building a man pulled up on a snowmobile. Like the boy who had left, this man smiled with two missing front teeth, only he was missing his permanent ones. “You need a ride,” he asked.
“Yes,” said Conrado, “is there a taxi in town?”
“I got a skidoo,” said the man.
“A skidoo,” asked Conrado, not understanding.
“My sled,” he said, pointing to his snowmobile. “Get on.”
“Ah, my cases…” said Conrado turning toward the two black cases on the ground.
“Grab them and get on,” said the man, still smiling his toothless smile.
“Can you take me to a hotel,” asked Conrado.
The man nodded and said once more, “Get on.”
Carefully, Conrado stepped a leg over the back of the seat with one case in each hand. The man pulled out and Conrado thought he was going to fall over backwards. But he didn’t loosen his grip on his cases. Following a ling line of electrical poles and silver piping, Conrado thought maybe this was a road. They passed boxy houses and a few cargo containers with chimneys. It reminded him of border towns. Finally the man pulled up to a blue house with yellow-trimmed windows.
“Here,” the man said.
“A hotel,” said Conrado.
“Here,” the man said again. He turned off the engine and slid off, taking one of Conrado’s cases and walked up to the door. An elderly woman with hair as white as the surrounding snow opened the door, smiling. The man set down Conrad’s case and went back to his skidoo. He said to Conrado before leaving, “Grandma take you in.”
Conrado looked to the smiling woman who began motioning for him to enter, her tongue clicking in that unknown language. “Grandma,” said Conrad. He was not sure how hotel got misinterpreted as Grandma’s House, but he had no idea how he was going to explain it to Grandma who was now leading him to a back room. She opened the door to a bedroom and motioned for him to go in. Not the hotel room Conrado expected, but after his first meal with Grandma who made the most delicious fish soup he had ever had, he smiled as he watched her prepare fried donuts. This will do, he thought.
NaNoWriMo Word Count: 1,103
Most of the passengers on First Air’s Boeing 737 200C salivated at the first warm wafts of baking chocolate chip cookies. Most. Not Dagen. No matter how strong the aroma of baking grew, or how often he stuck his nose over his uncapped thermal coffee mug just to breathe in its dark roast fumes, he couldn’t escape the scent of Angel. Dagen decided that when he died and met St. Peter at the Pearly Gates, he would request eternity in Hell if angels really smelled like the obnoxious perfume that Vina wore. He couldn’t escape it.
“Would you like a fresh-baked cookie,” asked the flight attendant, a short woman with a bobbed haircut and soft French accent.
“Thanks,” said Dagen, wishing he could somehow block both nostrils with the gooey cookie. Dagen was on a flight with an iron mining construction crew. Like him, the passengers had gear beyond the typical carry-on. The 737 was configured into a combination passenger and cargo plane. In the rear of the plane was a kitchen galley and 24 passenger seats with comfortable leg room. In front of that, between passengers and pilots were five massive pallets. The plane had an overall payload of 31,000 pounds and could land on ice strips as well as gravel. The only downside was that this plane would continue from Iqaluit to the site of the Mary River Project which would be the world’s most remote iron ore mining site when complete. That meant he would have to see that his pallet was transferred to another flight to Clyde River which was on the opposite side of the western shore mining site.
All of Dagen’s scientific equipment had been carefully packed back at the Green Global Petroleum headquarters in Texas. While he was delayed in Ottawa for two days, he had gone over the master inventory lists and checked a few critical pieces to make sure he had everything he’d requested. Nothing was missing and he even felt a shiver of excitement at having all this equipment available to him. It was like getting every single Christmas gift you circled in the Sears Wishbook as a child. Dagen understood Ax’s qualms about him working for GGP, but at least he would get to collect scientific data unhindered by budgets and resources. He was going to Baffin.
“What’s Baffin Island like, Ax?” Dagen was just 14-years-old when he asked that question. At that time Ax was the biggest man he knew, both in size and fame. And Dagen was his summer dog yard helper, cleaning up after 60 huskies specifically bred for hauling large sled loads within the arctic circle. Everyone knew Ax. He was even on the cover of National Geographic.
Dagen still remembered the answer, “It’s like a black and white movie come to life and sometimes you get to see blue. And when you see blue often it’s a lot of blue. Other times you can’t see your hand in front of your face, the snow blows so hard. It’s cold, beyond any cold you’ve felt in Minnesota. But the people are warm.”
Three times Ax had set out from Baffin Island to achieve his dream of being the first arctic explorer to reach the North Pole by dog sled. And three times he had failed. Mostly people knew Ax because he was the American addition to an international expedition to the south pole, a world away but just as extreme. Ax tried to leverage his status to get sponsors for his dream, but the man who could curse at huskies in five different languages found he had little to say when getting to know possible backers. Occasionally an outerwear company would hire him as a spokesperson and Ax would use the money to haul sled, dogs and gear to Baffin Island where he would set out. On the fourth try he made it. By then Dagen was 18-years old and looking to go to college in Michigan. Ax was the one who encouraged him to go into science when Dagen would have skipped college and started his own dog yard with his sights on the Iditarod.
“Adventure is no good without knowledge,” Ax told Dagen. “Fill your head first, then go see the world.” Ever since then Dagen’s idea of seeing the world was above the Arctic Circle. But this would be his first time to Baffin Island to meet the 11,000 people Ax had grown to love. Not that Ax knew each one personally, but he saw the Inuit as the face of climate change when other people in western society only talked about melting ice and the economics of natural resources.
Dagen could smell her approach before he saw her. Vina held out her hands as she strode down the aisle clasping the back of each seat. How Hollywood had ever intervened upon his adventures he wasn’t sure. He felt like he had been clubbed across the head and swept away on a pirate ship with no way off but to jump and drown in the sea.
“Enjoy your cookie,” asked Dagen, knowing how she loathed sweets. He kept his jacket and day-pack on the seat next to him.
“Do you mind,” she asked motioning to the seat next to him. “Those cookies smell hideous. How can anyone eat that stuff?”
“Yes, I mind. I told you, I need time to prep for the interview,” Dagen said, referring to the radio interview that GGP’s people had set up for him upon arrival to Iqaluit. Not that he liked interviews, but he couldn’t wait to get this one completed so he could point Vina in the direction of California and be done with her. Two months of peace and quiet on the ice with no intruding nasal assaults by Angels.
“Well, I’m just headed to the restroom, anyhow. Remember to smile even for radio. Listeners can hear it in your voice,” she said walking away toward the galleys and closet-sized bathroom that he was pretty sure had just been vacated by a burly iron crewman who looked as if he’d been out late partying the night before.
From behind, Dagen could hear Vina ask a flight attendant, “Is there another bathroom on this plane?”
“Your pardon, Miss but it’s the only one,” came a reply in French accents.
“God, but it reeks,” said Vina, followed by the sound of a slamming airline bathroom door.
Dagen heard one man say, loudly for all to hear, “Man, Oscar, what did you eat last night?” The rest of the passengers, about 15 men all headed to Mary River, erupted into laughter.
NaNoWriMo Word Count: 1,961
“If global warming is real then why is it so cold,” asked Vina as she breathed out great trails of vapors from within her fox-trimmed parka of camel-brown. She was trying to keep up with Dagen’s brisk strides and frustrated that her lips felt cold and dry. Yet, applying her perfectly pink gloss outside resulted in the product turning gummy. She hoped global warming were real and that it arrived in northern Canada soon. Tomorrow, even.
Vina wasn’t sure if Dagen answered her or not the way her parka muffled sound. She really didn’t care to hear the answer anyway. Global warming might flood Florida’s coasts or melt Santa’s workshop at the North Pole, but to a California girl who worshiped the sun on sandy beaches, a little more suntan oil and a few extra bikinis was all she’d need. Vina felt like she was walking in a tunnel, and the strands of fur blocked her view of most everything except Dagen directly in front of her.
“Really, Dagen. Would you just stop a minute,” she shouted. He paused, momentarily, but then turned left to cross a street. Everything was encrusted with snow and Vina had had to buy not only this monstrosity of a jacket, but also snow boots. Snow boots! What ridiculous looking, bulky, ugly boots. Of course, none of them came with any kind of heel or sleek cut. At least she found a black pair. Trying to coordinate her winter survival wardrobe was proving to be frustrating.
At last, Dagen walked into a building, out of the stabbing snow and searing cold. Immediately Vina’s owlish brown sunglasses fogged over. Thrusting back the tickling parka hood, she hastily pulled off the glasses, blinking her eyes to adjust to the temperature change. Outside the double-glass doors, a bus pulled up and two hooded youth got off and walked down the street.
“Did you see that,” said Vina, pointing a black-mittened hand at the departing bus. “A bus, Dagen. A bus. To this place. You said, there were no buses. I said, let’s take the limo. Oh, no. You had to march me four blocks down treacherously icy streets in a full-out blizzard when I could hardly see or hear a thing. And the bus came here. Dagen… Dagen, where are you going?”
Dagen approached a man in a gray vest who had just stepped out of the open office door to the left. The only hair on the man’s head was a black mustache. “Dr. Starkka, good to meet you,” he greeted, reaching for Dagen’s hand. “Ax speaks highly of you.”
“Good to meet you as well, Mr. MacDonald,” said Dagen, smiling. He was taller than most men, and always better looking. Vina new veteran actors who were jealous of how easy Dagen was to film or photograph. If he would only let her direct his career, Dagen could be a star, not just some History Channel celebrity where even trailer-park pawn store owners could gain such status.
“Angus,” he said, “You can call me Angus.”
“Good. And call me Dagen. And this is my agent, Vina Winslow,” Dagen said acknowledging Vina for the first time since stepping off the bus into a blasting storm of snow.
Vina extended a limp, ungloved hand, “Ms. Winslow, will do,” she said. Never get friendly with the locals or soon they’ll think you’re on equal status.
“Well, let me tell you briefly about Nunavut Sivuniksavut, and then we have a lunch and performance to share with you,” said Angus.
“And when does the press show up,” asked Vina.
“Ah, no press,” said Angus, looking to Dagen for confirmation.
Dagen shook his head, “No press,” he said, “My agent seems to think I’m seeking publicity outside my contractual boundaries.”
“Oh,” said Angus, “Just information, pizza and some fun with our current students.”
“Well, then perhaps I should call the Ottawa Sun, let them know…” Vina started to say before Dagen excused himself from Angus, grabbed her elbow and walked her over to the far corner of the lobby.
“Look,” he said to her in a whispered voice, “It’s one thing for you to follow me and see for yourself that I’m not doing any publicity on the side, but quite another to turn my work into some sort of three-ring media circus.”
“Dagen, darling, do calm down,” Vina said in a sweet voice, not pulling her arm away from his grasp. “No need to get physical. We can do that in private.”
Abruptly he dropped her arm as if he realized he were holding the paw of a polar bear. “It’s best that you go back to your hotel. As you can see there is no media here. I am not cheating on you.”
“Poor choice of words, Dagen,” she said, pushing away thoughts of some hometown harlot. No, she was the one here with him, no need to flush her own cheeks. “I’ll be a good little girl and watch daddy Dagen work.”
“Grow up, Vina,” was all he said as he walked back to Angus. How he had ever signed onto this nightmare of a woman was beyond him. “That’s settled,” he said to Angus. “Please, let’s look at the center.”
“Is there some place I can freshen up,” asked Vina.
“The restrooms are down that hall, to the right. We’ll be in the multipurpose room just past those doors,” said Angus.
Dagen nodded with a half-formed grin. “Good idea,” he said, “You’ve got…” he motioned at his own face as if miming the dreaded melt of make-up. Vina’s eyes were smudged a tad, but they grew large with alarm as she mouthed an unspoken “Oh,” and walked quickly to the restroom.
As Angus showed Dagen around the youth center, he explained how Nunavut Sivuniksavut had gotten its start back in 1985 to prepare Nunavut youth for new education and job opportunities that came with the newly formed Nunavut government.
“Our courses center around land claims and Inuit history,” explained Angus, “They are small as we only have about 40 to 50 students. But it’s accredited.”
“How long is the program,” asked Dagen.
“Two years. It prepares young people from across the vast region of Nunavut to go onto college or work. Importantly, it gives them exposure to modern city life.”
“I see,” said Dagen.
“Also, it allows for them to share their culture with the modern city. You’ll see at the performance we have planned,” said Angus.
“Well, I hope it’s not too much of an inconvenience,” said Dagen, not remembering if Ax told him that they would perform.
“It’s part of what we do, sharing our heritage. The youth have pride in that. And we’ll get you prepared for visiting Baffin Island in case someone wants to throw a leg or pull a cheek,” said Angus with a grin beneath his mustache.
“Sounds intriguing,” said Dagen.
Angus approached the doors to the multipurpose room and already Dagen could smell hot pizza wafting from within. Vina was no where to be seen and Dagen hoped she would spend the next hour at least troweling make-up back onto her face. After getting over his appall at seeing her at the Ottawa Airport he had remained cool and distant. The only tie she had to him was publicity and that was the last thing he wanted. Although, after talking for 45 minutes on the phone to Laurel Henney of Green Global Petroleum, he realized that Vina had already raised a stink. First he’d collect the data, then he’d focus on whatever media outlets Vina and Laurel devised for him to share it.
Walking into the room that looked like a large classroom or small cafeteria, several tables and chairs were pushed aside. It seemed that every face was smiling at Dagen and each smile was genuine. Dagen smiled, one hand in his pocket with his blue Patagonia jacket hung in the crook of his arm, and he offered a quick wave with his other hand. “Hi,” he said.
The room reverberated with bigger smiles, return waves and greetings in what sounded like several languages. Two women approached and Angus introduced them as teachers. “We started with two and now we have six,” he told Dagen.
As Dagen was shoving his third slice of cheese-gooey pizza, greasy with pepperoni, Vina glided into the room, her parka discarded somewhere else. She was wearing a snug black pantsuit and black heels. Heels? Dagen wondered where her boots went. She was so blond and tan she nearly glowed among the students who seemed awestruck. Nothing in their studies had prepared them for her, Dagen was certain.
“Ms. Winslow, would you like some pizza,” offered Angus.
She looked at Dagen before responding, make-up all in place and her lips glittering pasty pink in the overhead lights. She smiled or pouted, which Dagen was never really clear. It was as if she didn’t have full control of her own lip muscles. Vina turned back to Angus, and asked, “Is there salad?”
“No, no salad,” he said.
“We got some arctic char in the freezer,” offered a young man with the faint wisps of a mustache and thick eyebrows above lively brown eyes.
“Char,” asked Vina, “Is that like Swiss Char?”
Dagen stifled a groan. “Chard is a plant, he said, “Char is like arctic sushi.”
“Sushi,” said Vina. “I like sushi, actually.”
The young man gave a big smile then hustled off to a kitchen in the behind a counter. Dagen leaned back against the table that held the remnants of pizza and waited to see how this was going to unfold. Maybe having Vina around would be entertaining after all. She was always so certain of her power to control a room, but this room was different.
With a small plate in hand, the young man returned with thin slices of dark red char. He handed it ti Vina with a smile.
“It’s not wrapped around anything,” said Vina. “Where is the rice?”
Angus answered, “This is how we eat arctic char.”
Delicately Vina picked up a thin slice between two fingers. “Do you have any wasabi,” she asked.
The young man shook his head and said, “I do not know this wasabi.”
“It’s green,” said Vina, “Like paste. Spicy.”
The young man shook his head again and Vina plunged the entire piece of semi-frozen fish into her mouth. With her other hand she kept her mouth covered as she chewed. Several of the young woman covered their mouths too, and laughed.
Vina walked away from the boy, past Dagen and said, “I have to wash my hands now.”
“Get them ready for cheek pulling,” said Dagen.
Vina stopped at the door and turned around. “What,” she said, looking at Dagen.
Angus who was now standing next to Dagen nodded and said, “Yes, cheek-pulling. Like this.” He then wrapped his arm around the back of Dagen’s head, spoke to Dagen to do the same and then each man grabbed the other with a crooked finger inside each other’s mouth and began tugging.
Vina stared at the spectacle. The young man still holding the arctic char on a plate walked over to her and said, “Want to try?” She pushed through the doors and spent the rest of the afternoon in the bathroom.
Dagen enjoyed the dances, leg wrestled with several young men and was in awe of the throat signing between pairs of girls. He even pounded a skin-drum and learned a few steps of a hunter’s dance. His cheeks were sore after several rounds of the game but if it chased Vina away he’d offer to cheek pull with every person he met.
NaNoWriMo Word Count: 1,845
“I never think to come into this place,” said Ax, sitting back in his chair at French Meadow Bakery. “I suppose I stick to the mid-town area, where I can walk or bike. But the bus was easy to get here. Have you been to the Global Market, Miriam?”
Miriam kept her hands folded around the outside of her mug. Even with her fingerless mittens of purple and red that one of her roommates had knit for her, and the warmth of the hot African Skies herbal tea, Miriam’s hands were cold to the bone, sucking up all warmth. “No, I haven’t,” she said, “But where I work, they get in hand-rolled tamales from one of the shops.”
“I know which ones you’re talking about. Often have three or four for lunch,” said Ax.
Miriam considered what it would take to polish off two tamales let alone double. But then again, the man hulking in the seat before her looked like Paul Bunyan come to life in his senior years wearing, a thick buffalo plaid flannel that looked like a great blue and black swath of checkerboard material. “One’s about my limit. I like the ‘green firecracker chicken.’”
“Spicy, that one,” said Ax. “This cup of meil is great. Don’t find meil too often.”
“What is meil exactly? I don’t drink coffee, so it’s not familiar to me,” said Miriam.
He looked at her with both bushy white eyebrows raised over thick black-rimmed glasses that looked retro, although Miriam suspected they had been his same frames since the style was first introduced. “No coffee? Where did you grow up?”
“Uh, Minneapolis,” she said.
“In a basement? Did your parents not let you out? How do you grow up in Minneapolis and not drink coffee?”
Miriam smiled at the thought of describing her mother, a self-proclaimed earthbound soul making the city green. Of course, back in the 1980s that meant Florence, Miriam’s mother, was into the co-op movement and keeping the old victory garden in south Minneapolis thriving. So she shrugged and said, “I grew up on tea and in co-op aisles and city gardens.”
“Did your parents get involved in the co-op wars?” The way Ax asked about the labor tensions of the earlier co-ops made Miriam momentarily imagine her mother mixing peanut butter with a rifle slung across her back.
“Flo was involved and her partner Gabe,” said Miriam. “But I wasn’t born until after all that and really I just remember endless buckets of peanut butter and Gabe always cutting and wrapping cheese from the small factories in Wisconsin. I still love co-op cheese. I guess it’s really Wisconsin cheese. But no cheddar is alike from the different makers. I think people don’t realize that.”
“Is Gabe your father,” asked Ax.
“My other mother,” answered Miriam. This was the point in every conversation where she gauged whether or not to say more. She was good at reading body language, seeing the discomfort people tried to hide at learning that she was raised by two women who loved each other. To her surprise, Ax didn’t flinch, or even readjust his seat. “My father was a University student, helped out two women who wanted a child, and went on to become a lawyer in Seattle. I’ve seen him a few times.”
“Are they still living, your mothers who don’t drink coffee? Didn’t they support the fair trade movement,” he asked.
Miriam laughed and said, “Yes, they did, but if they drank anything dark, it would have been some aged Chinese tea. And yes, they just celebrated 30 years as a couple. They hope one day they can marry.”
“Might be with some of the legislation pending. Minnesota is progressive that way. I’m hoping for some meaningful climate change laws, ones that would also create clean energy jobs for people in our state,” said Ax. He paused, then added, “Still can’t believe your mothers would raise you without coffee in the home. Seems un-Minnesotan.”
“Dagen certainly likes his coffee,” said Miriam, wishing she could think of anything else but the man who kept filling up her mind. His soft green eyes, slanted smile, long slender fingers.
“Ah, that boy does like his coffee,” said Ax. “I’d take credit that I introduced him to the brew, but growing up on one of the last Finnish homesteads in Brimson, I think he was nursed on the stuff.”
“Boy? How old is he,” she asked.
Ax blew out a sigh, looked into his empty mug, then said, “Twenty, but I know that’s wrong. Just can’t believe he’s 35-years-old. We’re going to be the same age soon.” Ax rose and said, “I need another cup of this fine meil. You want some more hot water for your wimpy leaves?”
“Sure,” she said, handing him her cup, then tucking her hands into her armpits. It was so cold today. High below zero. It didn’t matter how far below, one or 20 degrees. The snow still squeaked the same and the air made your nostrils stick each time you drew a breath.
“Oh,” said Ax, pausing as he started toward the counter, “Meil is coffee, milk, honey and nutmeg.”
Miriam nodded. Actually that sounded like a drink Flo would concoct only it was with the almond milk she’d make each morning. At night, she’d heat up what was left of the milk, sweeten it with raw honey and strike a nutmeg against a metal file for those aromatic flakes that became the smell of bedtime to Miriam.
When Ax walked back with two full, steaming mugs Miriam was staring at the ice-glazed windows. “Brisk day, isn’t it,” said Ax.
“Seriously? No I call this down-right cold. I question my sanity sometimes, staying in this city. I dream of warm places,” said Miriam.
“Then go,” said Ax.
Miriam clung to the cup like it was a living coal and she a block of ice. “I did. Went to Austin, Texas and worked with an agency there,” she said. Slowly she smiled, looked at Ax who pulled his mug away to reveal a meil mustache and said, “It was too hot.”
Ax laughed. “Something we learn as we go through life. No place is perfect.”
Miriam nodded. “So, I take it you’ve known Dagen since he was a kid?”
“Since he was born. His mother had him at home. His sisters, too. I tell you. Miriam, he comes from sisu,” said Ax.
“Sisu, isn’t that a finish word? I think there’s a sisu marathon up north. It means tough or courageous,” said Miriam.
“Something like that,” said Ax. “Some say it means ‘guts’ but really it’s about finishing what you started no matter what. He was born into sisu, but sisu is what tears him up.”
“I don’t understand,” said Miriam.
“You know, if we are going to have this talk, about Dagen, and then talk about what I really took a bus over here to discuss, we need to order food,” said Ax.
“I really don’t need to pry about Dagen. I was just curious and now that I’ve met him and he’s literally a world away, I was looking to stay connected,” said Miriam.
“How do I say this without sounding like an interfering old man,” said Ax. “Dagen’s like a son to me. He’s had heartache and hardship but pushed through. True sisu. But that boy can attract the worst women.”
Miriam didn’t say anything, but Ax shook his head at her anyhow, indicating that he didn’t mean her.
He continued, “Really not-nice women. Maybe it’s his looks or that he’s laid-back or that he’s a lonely man, or all of the above. But women want to control him, and he really is free spirited like those of his heritage. Instead of meeting better people, he stays above the arctic line as if the ice shelters him. Really, I think he’s running from the guilt that he sold his mother’s homestead. It was that or drop out of college. He stayed in school, but lost his anchor to home. That place was his parents’ sisu and I think it shames him that he let it go.”
“This is really personal,” Miriam said, “I think I’d kick either mother in the shins if they talked so openly about my pains in life to Dagen.”
Ax sighed. He said, “That’s what I meant about not sounding like an interfering old man.”
“Let’s order lunch and discuss the other topic. Dagen said you might have a job proposition for me,” said Miriam.
Ax nodded. “You order lunch and I’ll order breakfast. Then we’ll talk shop,” he said.
Both walked up to the front counter. It wasn’t so busy because the lunch crowd wasn’t yet descending not to mention that many people were not wanting to go out into the cold. Miriam ordered a Wild Acres turkey burger with a side of avocado. That was one thing she loved about Texas, avocados. She now liked them with eggs, sandwiches and even breaded and fried.
Ax ordered not one but two breakfasts. He ordered the blueberry corn pancake and the Cajun hash-browns. Then he added a third meil and excused himself to go use the “boy’s room” as he called it. Miriam shook her head at the counter attendant who commented that Ax could pack away the food. They both surmised that being an arctic explorer must have altered his metabolism. Miriam thought if certain co-op customers realized that going to the arctic could super-size your fat-burning capacity, they’d be looking to go on the “arctic diet.”
Ax walked back over to their table that now had a laminated placard of Marilyn Monroe to alert their server when their food came up. Miriam had grabbed silverware, napkins and a large bottle of Tabasco sauce. Ax eyed the Tabasco and asked, “Pick that habit up in Texas?”
“Yes,” she said, “That and avocados.”
“I once visited a friend there and we had grapefruit every day. Giant ruby reds. So good, but nothing I get here in Minnesota, even at the co-ops, comes close.”
“I understand,” said Miriam, “I’m still waiting for someone to create the ‘avocado of the month club’ so I can relive the ones that I ate in Austin.”
When their plates arrived, Miriam almost suggested that they move to a bigger table to accommodate all of the food Ax had ordered. He handed over Marilyn Monroe to the server, arranged a few things and announced that it would all fit. Miriam was doubtful until Ax dumped his Cajun hash browns on top of his blueberry corn pancake and handed the plate to the server who looked startled.
“I’m not sure those flavors will blend well,” said Miriam.
Ax just smiled, poured the entire single-serve pitcher of pure maple syrup over it all and handed that to the server, too. Just as Miriam took a big bite of avocado, Ax said, “Dagen’s in trouble, Miriam and he needs a friend.”
NaNoWriMo Word Count: 1,674
To grow up on the land is to know shadow and light. Sometimes there is great darkness and other times, great illumination. To see the light of day again is the hope in every heart. Especially living on the land. Everywhere you step your foot is either on rock, snow or water and the world is a striation of black and white. Ice waterfalls cling to cliffs, water pools in both rock and ice. Even the soapstone carvers chip away black rock to reveal white underneath.
Elijah grew up in this chiaroscuro world, living for the hunt. He learned to carve soapstone, but it was rigging a harpoon and hitching the dogs that excited his hands the most, so he would tell Lucie. She remained unimpressed, taken early by fancies of a world full of colors. Where Elijah grew up on the land, moving across rock, snow or water from camp to camp, Lucie grew up in a white clapboard house with a red roof. If she goes back far enough to the place where earliest memories live with the many thoughts in her mind she, too, can remember living on the land.
Fluttering in her mind are the shadow dogs and birds her father cast upon the white walls with his hands in front of a light. It must have been a snowhouse that far back, and the light that of a cooking stove. Like Elijah’s family, Lucie’s had also lived on the land. But when she and her older brother were five and seven, they moved to Cape Dorset. Her mother wanted the children to go to school, which both of them did.
Elijah would tell Lucie that Cape Dorset was Kinngait, which meant a place of mountains. She remembers her father showing her the old rings of stones that their ancestors left from living there since the time when birds and humans began to walk upright. Those birds would have been ravens, Elijah’s black birds. Again, back to black.
Sometimes Lucie wondered if it had been her mother who sought color first and then pressed for the children to go to school. It was in 1952 that her mother began drawing the thoughts in her head that she had for ideas to embroider on the skins made into clothes. But in Cape Dorset she worked with a man from the south who gave her drawings to a soap carvers instead and then taught them how to roll paints onto the carving and carefully apply thin sheets of paper. Rubbing would transfer the paint to the paper and Lucie’s mother would see her thoughts become full colored expressions.
Although her father continued to hunt, like Elijah the man lived best on the land, Lucie’s mother created more and more fanciful prints as if the addition of color to black and white had unleashed spirits in her head. Soon, other Inuit were learning the printing techniques and Cape Dorset was reborn from a seasonal hunting village into a thriving artist community with a cooperative that sold the prints to the outside world.
Bursts of orange, globes of yellow, swaths of blue over green colored their walls as prints hung to dry like arctic char on a drying rack. Old stories became colorful and new stories emerged. Lucie’s father would still entertain the family that grew with the addition of two more brothers with hand shadows on the wall, black and white.
It was frightening the first time Lucie left Baffin Island to go to school in the south, but for the first time in her life she saw trees. And many of those trees were like her mother’s art, changing colors from light to dark green to orange, yellow and red. Winter was a return to black and white, it seemed for any land that knew snow, even in the south. Lucie learned to type letters on a black box with many metal keys; a typewriter. Although she did not like making mistakes in school, secretly she loved the red pen that one of her teacher’s used to correct mistakes. It was color against black and white.
Lucie never did develop the artistic talent of her mother although it seemed that every other person in Cape Dorset could draw. But she did learn how to make apple pies in the south and from that time forward, she would always make sure she had dried apples, flour and sugar for pies.
Then came that awful day when she returned home after her final year of school. Lucie’s father was still out on the land; caribou were moving north. When he and her older brother returned with several hides she wondered at the other man with his own sled and dogs. The dogs were mostly white with black hairs in their pointy ears and eyes lined so thickly in black it looked as if one of the cooperative artists had inked around their eyes. Lucie longed to tie red sashes around the necks of the dogs.
This man with the black-eyed white dogs was her husband, so her father said. Husband? Even her mother had stepped outside their house, smiling, greeting Lucie’s husband. It cannot be, she thought, wanting to run and hide. Elijah, how shy he actually was in that moment, and her so fierce. She yelled like a polar bear trapped in a crevasse. And trapped, she was. She could type, speak English and French, bake apple pies and wear many colors, but her parents had arranged marriage for her.
“I am Elijah Ujarak,” he said to her in the midst of her yelling. She stopped. Embarrassed that she had caused the expressions of wide-eyed worry on both her parents and a few neighbors who stopped to stare at her. Rock. Of course he’d be named after a rock. What else was there in this black and white world?
Lucie glared, then said, “Well, my name is Lucie and as your ears can hear, I speak fluent English. If you wish to speak to me, Mr. Rock, you’ll need to address me in English.”
“English,” he said none-to-fluently. Then in their native Inuktuit, he said, “You can teach my mouth English and I will teach your mouth how to chew seal skins to make mukluks.” Her father and brother, even the peeping neighbors, all laughed. Her mother put an arm around her shoulders and coaxed Lucie back inside the house.
An arranged marriage had to be followed. Although all manner of escape teased Lucie’s mind, she believed it to be so. The next transport of cooperative art and Lucie could hide among the colored prints and carvings. She could type. Maybe the Canadian government could hire her. After all her teacher said there were many jobs for typists who made few errors and could fill up the blank page. Or she could fly away on the fantastical blue and green bird her mother had just printed fifty copies of.
Not that she would love this Elijah, but she would do what was required. As for the man, he seemed to give his dogs far more attention than her. She began watching him with the dogs, feeding, pulling out great tufts of hair as summer came on and teaching them commands. “You want to teach my dogs English, too,” he had asked her one day as she sat on a rock watching him work with the dogs.
“Your dogs have no color,” she told, thinking of nothing else to say.
Elijah nodded. “What colors do you like, Maki?”
“My name is Lucie,” she said. She was short, true but no shorter than any other Inuit female. Then she added, “Red. I like red.”
“A good hunter you would make,” he said, “Spilling red blood across white snow…”
Angry, she got up and left Elijah among his white dogs as they stood on the black rocks. Lucie had never thought of red that way. She had loved the blazing colors best in her mother’s art because they felt warm, like the dancing hues of a fire. Blood! Leave it to some hunter to think of that.
Several weeks later Elijah walked into her mother’s house as she was preparing dinner and handed her a soft leather pouch that was full of something like tiny beach pebbles. “Open it,” he said.
Walking over to the low table her mother often used for drawing, Lucie sat on the floor and spilled out the contents of the pouch. Hundreds of glass trade beads about the size of a bird’s eye scattered across the table. They were old, some were chipped and every last one of them was red.
“What will you do with these red beads,” asked Elijah.
Lucie just shook her head. She didn’t know what to say.
“I am braiding strips of seal hide to make new dog lines. Would you work with me and we can add red beads to the lines,” he asked kneeling beside her. She began to run her fingers through the mass of beads, wondering at the color and how it caught the light. “I am sorry I said red was the color of blood. It is not a bad thing, but you must have different thoughts about red.”
For the first time, Lucie smiled at Elijah. “I have seen women use these beads, too in their embroidery. Not many do that any more. Everyone seems to draw,” said Lucie.
“I don’t see you draw,” said Elijah.
Lucie shook her head and said, “I don’t have my mother’s hands.”
“Then learn the way of the beads. I am a good hunter and can provide you with many hides,” he said, sounding as if that had been the pitch he gave her father for her marriage vows.
“Is that what you told my father,” she asked. Lucie looked at Elijah, his face now so near to hers. His eyes seemed gentle, but maybe a bit sad. Or was that her own sadness she was feeling?
“No,” he said, “That is what my father told your father.”
NaNoWrimo Word Count: 1,513
Dabbing her lips with cotton candy gloss, Vina snapped shut her Dior compact and tightened the lid of her gloss before tossing them into her black leather Prada bag. She mastered the look of pink gloss and blush in high school. With her classic California tan and long layered blond hair, the touches of pink perfected the look of a barbie-doll. She was the real deal; long legs, sculpted breasts and light blue eyes lined with liquid black liner. And she wasn’t some beach blond, either. Vina’s colorist called her hair, “rose gold,” a warm mix of golden, honey and apricot tones. She just had ivory highlights touched to strands framing her face. Dagen would see the visage of a goddess when he stepped off his chartered flight.
Practicing her most provocative pout, Vina would let him know that his departure from California had displeased her greatly. Who was he to think that she didn’t suit him anymore as an agent. She found him, and she would negotiate any departures. Running off to play scientist in the arctic was not going to work. She found out that he contracted with Green Global Petroleum and under her contracts with Dagen, she—and only she—could permit any public appearances. Of course, Green Global was now aware and soon so would Dagen.
Vina plumped her artfully wound pink scarf that was the color of a kitten’s nose, the only splash of color to her Burberry London travel jacket and straight-legged pants of gray wool. Standing as if on a model shoot for a high-end catalog, she tapped the right toe of her black heels, mindful that she was the only woman at the Ottawa Airport in stilettos. She also noted with a nose-thrust of pride that her snugly clad thighs did not touch as other women’s inner thighs seem wont to do. After all, she ran three miles every day and steamed away any remaining fat from her sleek body with regular hot-yoga classes. Looking at the others around her, hot-yoga was probably unheard of in this backwoods Canada town.
Never mind. They would not be here long.
Then she saw the plane, white underbelly, emerald green body with a yellow tail fin. The GGP logo in red confirmed that this was the plane. From her vantage, Vina watched the plane taxi to a stop. Men in bulky dark blue jackets and matching knit hats pushed a set of stairs on rollers toward the side hatch door. Other men began unloading boxes and bags from underneath the plane. Several men in trench coats stepped down the stairs, holding brief cases. No, Dagen would be in some abominable snowman jacket. More trench coats and brief cases, but none seemed to be Dagen. Then the pilots, at least they looked like pilots, stepped off and someone went up the stairs and shut the hatch.
When the first of the business men walked through the airport doors, Vina approached a dark-haired man with a clean-shaven face. He looked away from his companion, a heavy-set man with slicked-back silver hair, and slowed his pace as Vina neared. His eyes wandered up and down the captivating figure Vina knew she possessed. “Excuse me,” she said, looking him directly in the eyes, but not too intensely as to make him think he was the man in charge of the situation. Terms that Vina could twist to her will at any moment with the slight tip of her chin or downcast eyes.
He had stopped in his tracks like a rabbit caught in a beam of headlight, trusting, not understanding that he’d soon be whacked by treading tires. Vina only moved in the direction of her intentions. And all she wanted at the moment was a single answer. “Where is Dr. Dagen Starkka,” she asked.
“Uh, who?” The man looked disappointed, realizing that she was not present for him. The rabbit skipped to the side of the road, unharmed.
The other man knew who she was asking about and told her, “We had a delay in Chicago and caught up with one of our planes in Minneapolis. It’s loaded with Dr. Starkka’s gear and all, but we didn’t have room for him. I believe he was catching a flight on Air Canada tomorrow.”
“Yes, that fellow,” said the dark-haired man. “He was amiable about it. Said something about extending another date night.”
“Oh,” Vina breathed the word as if it could set charcoal to flames.
The other man offered, “We’d love your company, Ms…”
“Winslow, Vina Winslow, celebrity agent,” she said, smoothing over her momentary surprise. He had a date? An extended date? Dagen never dated. She made certain of that. Was it some hometown hussy he was meeting up with? She’d find out. Oh, yes, she’d find out and send the distraction another direction, properly tarred and feathered.
“Who are you exactly,” asked Vina.
The silver slick-haired man corrected his posture and Vina swore he tried, unsuccessfully, to draw in his thick mid-waist. “If I told you that, we’d have to take you to our arctic dungeon,” he said, nodding at his own poor jest. He added, “We’re just boring old board directors, not celebrities, I’m afraid.”
“Ah, well, perhaps just not celebrities, yet,” said Vina.
“How about steak and wine with us at Le Cordon Bleu this evening,” asked the other man, regaining some confidence that they might draw her in yet. Let them think that, thought Vina.
“Vodka and salad will do,” she said. “But I’ll need to get out of my travel clothes.” Both men looked as if they’d eagerly volunteer to help her with that chore.
“Where are you staying, Ms. Winslow, agent to the stars in my sky,” said the silver-haired board director. This would be a long night if alcohol did not improve the man’s jokes. The more people from Green Global that she could stack in her deck would leave fewer cards for Dagen. Not that she intended for him to play against her. Who was this date? No, she would not let it prematurely wrinkle her taunt skin.
“Fairmont Chateau Laurier,” she said, crafting a well-articulated French accent. Thank you daddy for sending me to Paris after high school, she thought to herself.
“Ah, nice place, yes a fine hotel,” said the dark-haired board director. “Green Global has stashed us away at the Hilton, I’m afraid.”
Indeed, the French gothic hotel was fine even in a remote outpost as northern Canada. The Rideau Canal was just outside the hotel’s front door and offered the world’s longest ice skating rink. She could skate, after years of lessons in Beverly Hills and even winning some figure-skating awards. Dagen, you are skating on thin ice, but I’ll glide circles around you.
“Well, Green Global board directors, what time shall we meet? Say 7 p.m.” Both men nodded and offered to walk Vina to a cab, but she called a limo service instead. You didn’t represent celebrities riding around like a hack in a yellow cab.
The next day, confident that Green Global was more than delighted to have Vina accompany the board directors to Iqualuit, some capitol of Nunavut which sounded like no-man’s-land, she met Dagen’s Air Canada flight at the Ottawa airport. This time she was in a fitted black suit, skirt and jacket that snugged her breasts so closely together they looked ready to pop buttons, and perhaps a few male eyes. Blond hair tousled, lips glossed pink, she was ready.
As the plane taxied, Dagen stretched as much as he could in the cramped space. He had fallen asleep, lulled by thoughts of Miriam. It was a pleasant nap. He let the mother and her toddler go past first. The boy dawdled as they entered the tunnel-like ramp to the airport. His stomach did a momentary flip-flop. My God, he thought, it smells like Angel.
“Are you wearing Angel,” has asked the mother, certain he had not smelled it on the plane.
Grabbing at her son’s hand to pull him away from the wall he was tracing with his finger, she said, “Angel? I don’t think so. Is that a familiar scent to you?”
Too familiar he thought. Only one woman he knew wore the devilish scent. It couldn’t be possible. He told her he was taking a break, considering other options. What on earth would she be doing in Ottawa? He almost laughed to himself at the absurdity. But the closer he drew to the airport lobby, the more distinct the scent became. It was a Thierry Mugler scent that had some fearsome tagline like, “Beware of Angels.”
Dagen walked out of the ramp and immediately saw her, bottle-blond, tan-fried and pungently-scented. He almost turned around to scramble back onto the plane.
“Hello Dagen,” she smiled with that smear of shiny goo she was always applying to her lips. “I’m afraid you’ve been a very bad boy. But Vina will correct you.”
NaNoWriMo Word Count: 1,216
Sydney rubbed at his mustache in frustration. It was bad enough that the arctic winds blasted through Clyde River, not only knocking out communications but impeding the progress of the Canadian Search and Rescue team. Convincing them to even dispatch for two local hunters was enough of a hurdle without the bloody weather showing its bad side. Not that winter had a good side on Baffin Island.
White-out conditions made it difficult to even go from house to house. Earlier in the day one of the locals had run his skidoo right into a sewage pipe. Because of the permafrost, sewer was piped above ground, causing its own set of problems, although sledding into a pipe was not always one of the more common ones. Everyone was tense, from elders on down and some spoke none too quietly about the officials not interested in helping two missing Inuit hunters.
While he would not admit it openly, that was the gist of the push-back Sydney was receiving from his own superiors. Two didn’t add up against the expense of a full-scale search and rescue deployment. Those tourists afloat on a sea flow last June were headline news and all the search and rescue boat and air power was launched in response. It had also occurred in June, not early March in the midst of a storm like elders recall storms behaving—fierce.
Sydney knew a few officers stationed in the Canadian Armed Forces who were willing to make a few phone calls. Trouble was that his lines of communication were sporadic. So a few phone calls turned into miscommunication and often having to start the process all over again while trying to convince everyone involved that the situation was urgent. It made time slow down and the more time it took to get looking, the more time two men might be over-exposed.
Despite the unlikelihood, Moe had already become legend. Down at the diner somehow people were talking about “Moe on a flow.” Within two days the man had become the biggest story around. Over donuts, coffee and brown fries, everyone added their own thread of color. It had become the community quilting bee, to fabricate what was happening when truth was, no one knew anything. So the quilt became their comfort.
Moe Ipeelie stranded on a flow of ice. It seemed more like a bad joke than anything. Sydney had even scattered a group of children, telling them to go home and get out of the storm. They had been waiting by the bay to see Moe drift past. An elder was telling a group of people about the animals and sea creatures that were visiting Moe one by one. For once, the stories held more attention than the hip hop dances. Although Tobie said they were planning one to honor Moe and Elijah.
Knowing that he had no real news to share, he still stopped by Lucie’s house, pulling up on his skidoo. The snow and wind howled as it rent a tarp on a neighbor’s shed. Soon the blue material would be airborne. Maybe it would make its way to Moe and become another part of the story as he sailed to Greenland and beyond, guarded by a pair of narwhals. Hastily climbing the steps to the small dark brown house with white trim on small windows, Sydney pounded on the door to be heard over the noise of the storm.
Lucie open the door and motioned for him to enter quickly. “You must have smelled my apple pies baking,” she said.
He could now; the sweet aroma filled the warm air of the cozy home. The kitchen was beyond the living room where five women were sitting on a couch and chairs arranged for visiting. “Smells splendid, Lucie,” Brindeau said.
“Oh, good. You called me Lucie. Then this is not official,” she said referring to his visit.
“Well, not exactly. Officially, I don’t have anything to say, but I wanted to check in with you,” he said, feeling a touch out of place now that his outer gear was beginning to drip and pool on the rugs splayed over wooden floors.
“Get undressed,” she said and all the other women, elders every one but Elissapee, laughed and eyed him with twinkling eyes that made him think they really would watch if he disrobed completely.
“Well, my parka, perhaps, my boots. I don’t want to drip.” He stuffed his gloves, face-mask and goggles into pockets and hung his coat on one of the pegs by the door. On the other side of the door a rifle was racked. It reminded Sydney that he had wanted to ask how Elijah had outfitted himself for the trip. When guiding, Elijah brought out a surprising number of modern gear and gadgets, but on his own he often used only what was traditional. “Lucie, did Elijah take a rifle?”
Lucie looked toward the gun on the wall and said, “That’s mine, and Elijah’s in the back bedroom. He took spears and a harpoon the way his grandfather taught him.”
“Your rifle? Are you hunting or protecting,” he asked.
“Neither. It is to the the dogs know dinner is coming,” she said. The women all laughed and Sydney hoped she really didn’t shoot it off like a dinner bell, but then again that might explain the random shots he often heard fired throughout town.
Curled up on the floor nearest the heater lay one of Elijah’s oldest dogs. Other than her stiff movements, she looked very much like the others in his yard. She was nearly blind, though, Lucie had told him last year, and had earned a hearth spot in the house. The only chair available was next to the old husky.
“She won’t mind if I sit next to her,” asked Sydney.
“No, not all all. She loved the last Mountie she met,” said Lucie with a mischievous grin. “Said he tasted good.” And the women laughed, some clicking their tongues and speaking Inukituk. “She’s fine, sit down. She’ll sleep and never know.”
“Ah, good then,” said Sydney, taking the chair and rubbing his hands down his knees. All eyes were on him expectantly. He cleared his throat and said, “Still waiting for the storm to break up and the military to launch a search and rescue mission. Not more to report, I’m afraid.”
Lucie walked over with a fat slice of apple pie on a blue plate, still warm from the oven. She handed it to Sydney and asked, “Do you know the story of Elijah?”
Fearing that a second legend had spawned, Sydney only shook his head and hoped that Lucie wasn’t going to get caught up in the Moe on a Flow frenzy.
“Elijah was bold. When he had to flee, he trusted God. He hid by the water and was fed by great black birds. He rode a whirlwind and raised the dead. Many wonders did Elijah perform.” Lucie went and sat down next to Elissapee. She then said, “My Elijah is not afraid. To live or to die. Which…we do not know yet. We will in time. But now, we eat apple pie and share stories. We keep our hearts warm, like melting ice so we do not grow hard or fearful.”
NaNoWriMo Word Count: 1,719
He couldn’t get Miriam out of his thoughts. Polishing off the last of a tall peppermint mocha latte, Dagen handed the paper cup to the flight attendant and cringed inwardly, thinking that Miriam would have chastised him thoroughly for not using his own travel mug. He did have one, but it was probably in Canada by now in a duffel bag. In the past few day he had learned that her favorite phrase was, “If people would just make one change…” Yet, he realized that her list of one-changes would use up at least an eighth of a tree to spell out. And he wasn’t sure which one change he would make so that he could start telling her, “Hey, I’m already not flushing the toilet after every use or I’m vegan now, so back off.”
No, she wouldn’t buy the vegan excuse. She already witnessed him devour an entire plate of steak and fries at the Dakota Jazz Club the other night. It was a beastly meal with slices of hanger steak layered across thick-cut fries and cheese curds and then topped with rich brown-gravy. But it turns out she’s not really vegan, either which Dagen realized as she ordered the Baked Feta Ravioli. He was only trying to help, pointing out to her that it had cheese and egg. She had stared steadily at him before saying, “I know.”
“I thought you were vegan,” he had said.
To which she smiled just enough to turn up the corners of her full pink lips as she told him, “Not really.”
“Well, it has baby spinach in the dish, too, in case you want to make one change in your life and stop the madness of harvesters ripping baby spinach from their hydroponic cradles.” He realized in that moment that he liked watching her laugh. Her eyes really did shine a brighter blue.
Dagen tried to adjust his plane seat back without disturbing the four-year old tucked up to his mother in the two seats behind him. The child seemed asleep, and that was the best way to travel with a kid, in his opinion anyhow. He also understood, from a mother on another plane flight, that little ears were sensitive to the popping all passengers felt with the cabin pressurization. It had been on a long international flight and that mother had apologized in advance to those nearest her seat, but no one fussed when her baby did. Maybe it was the bite-sized Milky Way chocolates she shared from a bag that kept her fellow passengers from grumbling. For Dagen, it had more to do with understanding. Working with dogs taught him that behavior had a cause and some causes couldn’t be helped; like little ears hurting on an airplane flight. But for now, he just wanted to get his seat back for a little nap before his plane landed in Toronto where he’d catch his flight to Ottawa.
Dagen’s gear and supplies had left Minneapolis the day before on a chartered Green Global plane. He was supposed to be on that flight, too, but some seating snafu left him behind and scrambling to get an Air Canada ticket. As soon as possible was six a.m. the next day. The plane, was a CRJ 200ER; a tight fit, but a solid, fast plane. Four hours might not be fast enough though if Dagen couldn’t get his legs stretched out enough or if the toddler awoke. At least it had given him one more night in Minneapolis.
Settling back, Dagen thought about how intense their food conversation got at the jazz club despite the ribbing. She actually understood what he was saying. Co-op Girl was a tad deeper than he presumed. He had explained to her how superficial many people were when it came to food, wielding diets and organic labels like weapons, as if eating raw black tahini or drinking beet juice smoothies three times a day made you elite. It was an attitude that grated against Dagen’s natural inclination to find satisfaction in food raised or prepared by people he knew or was learning about.
He told her, “One day on the set in Norway, I see this crew tech pull out a package of Twinkies and eat them. Twinkies! Not that I like Twinkies, I was always more of a Susie-Q kind of kid, but it opened the door to a great conversation about food that had nothing to do with any fad or had Oprah-backing.”
“Susie-Qs,” she had asked. “How does a Finnish kid in the Iron Range get a hold of Susie-Qs?”
“See, that’s it. Some foods are just so pervasive that we’ve all experienced them. But let me set the record straight—Brimson was not an Iron Range town. My family was part of the Finns that got kicked out of the mines back in the 1920s because they were organizing a communist party. Brinsom is the place where they jumped the train before Two Harbors and settled on the land as homesteaders. And, once in a great while, my parents would drive me to Duluth with my two older sisters and I’d get a Susie-Q at the Phillips 66 gas station.”
“I see,” Miriam had said. “And what was the Susie-Q allure?”
“That thick bank of cream in the middle. I’d split open the cake and there’d be enough cream for each side. I felt like I was doubling the treat. Loved that cream!”
Miriam laughed, shaking her head. That night she had her dreadlocks down, about shoulder length with a few blue and red beads crimped randomly along the right side of her face. “I liked jello, and not prepared, from the box. I shudder to think that my friends and I actually dipped our wet fingers into the sugary-pink mass and licked it off. It was sweet and tart all at once and our fingers and tongues would turn red. Hideous.”
“And that’s how my conversation went with this tech. He was from Iowa and we named off forgotten foods of childhood. Like Vienna Sausages. I think my Dad would buy those things by the case. He’d heat up the whole can in hot water and boil those thumb-sized chunks of who-knows-what-kind-of-meat after it bathed in its own bath of gelatinous goo. Maybe it was pork fat, but maybe it was axle-grease. Who knows. My point is, we have memory and emotions wrapped around food and that is real. So much more real than the waif-like actress who calls herself a fruitatarrian and passes out half-way through a morning’s shoot.”
“But food is also choice and healthy choices are important,” Miriam had said.
“I know, but we’re people and food is more than some George Jetson nutrient pack that simply sustains us. Food is about who we are, too.”
“What about kids who are…” but Dagen cut her off before she could finish that thought.
“Ah, Miriam, I know there are social issues, too but just let me dig into these curds and gravy because you can’t find anything like this in California and it’s survivalist food for the next two months.”
When their food arrived, two eastern European cellists took the stage and rocked the jazz club. It ended the conversation, but they listened to the music together without needing words. It had been the most relaxing evening Dagen had had in a long while.
Later that night they threw snowballs at each other, chasing one another through the drifts of snow piled around the Walker Sculpture Gardens. They made footprints in the snow around the huge spoon with a red cherry, the most famous icon of the park. The pond it sat in during the summer was now reedy with blond stubble that poked a foot above the ice and snow. It had been a brisk walk from the downtown jazz club, beautiful with light snow twinkling in the street lights and a pink glow emanating from all the high-rise buildings of the cityscape.
Miriam lived in an older apartment complex nearby with hardwood floors and a huge picture window that overlooked Loring Park. Cars were parked along one side of the street, a system used for snow removal. Miriam said she was glad not to have a car. People she knew had their cars impounded because they forgot which side of the street to park after a snow storm.
They walked up creaky wooden steps in a narrow stairwell. She unlocked the door and greeted her roommates who all seemed to be chilling in front of a television screen hooked up to someone’s laptop. Radiators heated the three-bedroom place she shared with three other people and two cats and it felt like a blast of tropical air when they walked in. Miriam seemed shy about introducing Dagen which made him want to tease her, but her refrained.
“The cats aren’t mine,” she told him as one pressed against his lower leg, loudly purring.
“Oh, good,” he had replied, “Cause I didn’t want to have to change nicknames from Co-op Girl to Crazy Cat Lady.” She grinned.
Her roommates were watching ‘Fringe’ on Netficks, so they sat at the small kitchen table that had two mismatched chairs, and drank hibiscus tea she made after boiling water in a bright yellow tea kettle on the narrow white stove that was pressed against the refrigerator on one side and the sink on the other. Miriam called the tea the finest from her “cellar.” Dagen told her that she needed to get out more and try wine. But it was the company that made the tea finer than any Rhone varietal from the coastal vineyards of Santa Barbara. He stayed long enough to drink three cups and play a game of Scrabble. He lost so he told her she owed him a rematch after his arctic trip. He now knew he’d come back through Minneapolis again. And he wondered how good the communication systems would be on Baffin Island. Something he hadn’t cared about before that night.
As the Air Canada plane flew over lakes and then endless miles of flat snow-covered prairie, Dagen fell asleep to that warm image of drinking tea with Miriam in her tiny communal kitchen. He awoke as the flight attendant nudged his elbow to ask him to pull his seat upright. They were preparing to land, and the toddler behind him was barely whimpering. His own ears were popping slightly.
NaNoWriMo Word Count: 1,542
Seven black skidoos pulled up to the the one-room plywood hut that Moe Ipeelie used as his hunting cabin on the land. It was nearly mid-day when Sydney Brindeau and six other riders, volunteering to search for Elijah, rode up to the place and the sun was making a low circuit in the southern sky like a bright ball curving east to west. It gilded the thin layers of clouds that hung long and wispy across the sky. No smoke rose from the single pipe chimney and Moe’s skidoo was gone. Sydney realized that he could be looking for Moe in the bay beneath the Walker Citadel, as well as Elijah.
Early March was still the height of ice sealing, when hunters traveled to the great white swaths of sea-ice to hunt the holes made by seals as they entered the water to fish. Most Inuit followed ancient hunting trails on modern skidoos, but a few like Elijah employed the traditional dogs, mixing old ways with new. The eastern trails followed the sea ice all the way to Pond Inlet to the north. Hunting meant sleeping overnight along the way. An experienced and fit elder like Elijah could build in iglu under an hour if the snow conditions were right. Sydney had heard much grumbling over the past too years about there not even being enough snow cover to build such a structure. But this recent storm had left the perfect snow.
Not only were snow storms becoming less dependable, the ice was becoming more dangerous. Two years ago, Clyde River, a town of only 1,000 souls, lost seven hunters during ice sealing. The elders had clicked tongues in worry, speaking in their native Inuktitut, not knowing how to advise the hunters. For 5,000 years they had followed trails and seasons mapped out and passed down from elder to youth. Their once rich tapestry of knowledge hung in shreds, unable to accommodate changes to sea, ice and land. One elder told Sydney that it was a new land that had no place for the wisdom of elders.
It was one thing to adapt to change, which Sydney thought the Inuit culture did well, but another to lose wisdom. How would he feel if conditions changed and all his acquired knowledge became obsolete, meaningless? Hunting on Baffin Island was more than a way of life, it embodied the Inuit. Who would they be without hunting on the land? Sydney’s thoughts had been on this all morning as the drove over endless flats of ice beyond the shadow of treeless mountains.
“Mountie Brindeau,” said Tobie, who had insisted upon coming with the party, “Moe is not here.”
Sydney nodded, already drawing that conclusion miles back when he saw no smoke on the horizon. At present, there were no skins drawn to dry, either. When had Moe been here last, Sydney wondered. “All right,” he said to the group of Clyde River men, “Let’s take a break. If Moe doesn’t show up in thirty minutes, we’ll head north to the Citadel.”
Enook Koonoo, Tobie’s uncle walked over to Sydney and Tobie with a hunk of arctic char in one gloved hand and a knife in the other. “Lunch,” he asked with a smile that revealed a missing front tooth.
“Yes, thank you, Enook,” said Sydney. Slowly he chewed the crystallized fish that was half-frozen, a taste he had become used to. He preferred caribou in this style, but the caribou had been tough hunting this winter. Some said the herds were disappearing, but others like Elijah, noted that they were moving to different places. Could it be that their trails were no longer safe, either? Sydney also thought it might have to do with increased air traffic over the island, including wildlife biologists that flew helicopter missions to collar caribou. Even seasoned pilots were talking about how different the sea ice was looking.
Sydney pulled out a thermos of hot coffee from his skidoo pack. He didn’t have more than the lid for a cup but passed it around to Tobie and Enook who shared communal sips. Enook smiled, taking a second sip.
“Ah, yes, coffee,” was all Sydney had to say. He never liked the brew before taking this outpost station five years ago, but friendship more than cold, opened the way to liking coffee. He always carried a thermos and offered a cup to anyone he met out on the land. It had earned him many friends.
Not that Sydney had expected Moe to show up, but it had been thirty minutes. “It’s time,” said Sydney.
Enook looked over the expanse of sea ice ahead of them where they would go. He said, “My grandmother says that in the old days the ice might melt a little in the day, but in the evening it would freeze up. I don’t think this ice has been freezing up at night.”
Sydney worried about that observation. “Do you think it is safe to go,” he asked.
Enook paused, looking at the white shelf that easily could have been a plain of snow, but was actually frozen sea. “The wind has not blown. Does that mean more melting? Or does that mean the ice won’t break up. I cannot say.”
Not wanting to direct more men to plunge into uncertain watery depths, Sydney decided to slow down the group and travel in intervals. “Enook, you lead. Each of us will wait two minutes before following. No fast sledding. Be cautious. Look ahead.”
“Look ahead for what,” asked Tobie.
Sydney suddenly felt like an elder. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “Maybe look for standing pools of water or flows of ice.”
“Like those tourists who got caught on an ice flow last year. Man, they traveled far,” said Tobie. “Do you think Elijah could be floating on ice with his dogs like a boat?”
It was a hopeful thought, but Sydney knew that the plane reporting the debris off of the Walker Citadel had flown up the eastern coast low enough to notice a hunter and dogs. If they could see a tarp and a cooler, they could certainly see the odd spectacle of a traditional hunter surfing the coast on a flow of ice. “Probably not, Tobie, but we look for people alive until we learn different.”
The youth nodded and skidoos fired up and formed a line, spread out in single file. Sydney brought up the rear. About two hours up the coast the skidoos stopped, one by one. In the distance the ice did look different, as if a laser had swept through melting pockets. Enook walked back to Sydney. “We cannot go this way.”
Sydney nodded, but if not this way, then what way could they go? “Is there another trail to the Walker Citadel,” he asked. Not that he had heard of one.
Enook said, “There is another trail if you live in Pond Inlet.”
Of course. The same trail, but traveling south instead of north. “No trail by land,” asked Sydney.
“No Mountie Brindeau, those river trails are windy, rocky and maybe not too safe anymore.”
Sydney looked at the pockets of azure water pooling amid white snow and ice like the kind of sapphire and diamond necklace his ex-wife would have wanted. Not on the salary of a Royal Canadian Mounted Police. After their divorce, Sydney had requested this outpost. To think, he had told his superiors. Thinking now, he was not sure what next. Procedure, he reminded himself. There is always a procedure. He could call in a search plane. No one would risk a boat early in March. Funny because it looked like boats might fare better out here than their snow machines. “What does it look like, closer to the cliffs,” Sydney asked.
“It looks strange,” said Enook. “The land is uggianaqtuq.”
Sydney said, “Explain that to me.”
Enook shook his head, but Tobie, who had joined them, said, “It is like when your friend acts strange, drunk or sniffing gas. Uncle says the land is acting strange.”
Just what Sydney needed—drunk land. If the land behaved as badly with these weather changes as Inuit did on alcohol, they were all in serous trouble. Why did it have to be so bloody beautiful? If it were ugly, like a ripped off limb, bleeding and gory, maybe it would get the attention necessary to heal. So white, so blue, so vast. The land did not look strange to those on the outside. No one cared if elders couldn’t direct ice traffic in their old age.
“What of Elijah and Moe,” asked Tobie.
Sydney rubbed at his mustache with a gloved hand. “Maybe there is hope after all. Both can survive on the land. Maybe they are just stranded around the bend of cliffs.”
Tobie nodded, but he chewed on his bottom lip as if not quite believing it was possible.
“We return to Clyde River. Another search will have to begin tomorrow,” announced Sydney.
By the time the seven riders arrived back to town it had long been dark and the winds they had been missing showed up. With a full-out blizzard that would delay another search for days.