She still had no idea why she said yes. Her auntie, she supposed.
“No one here still remembers. Everyone was young. Your father and uncle are gone.”
You remember, she thought.
“How will your brothers and cousins learn? No one at the school teaches the old ways.”
Nor would she. The line to the old ways had been severed long ago. Living elders and identified youngsters tried earnestly to splice the line, but with each fiber they secured, it seemed five times as many people wandered away into the 21st century fray and forgot.
The Beechcraft lurched forward as an opening appeared in the clouds. The pilot raced for the ground so as not to burn more fuel waiting. She watched ribbons of fog and snow peel back from the wings and flutter behind as the plane aimed with an insecure purpose for a depression in the white landscape below.
The runway in summer was a gravel pad piled over the flattest part of the tundra near the village. In winter it was an approximation determined by the plow. The pilot straightened the plane and began a short approach over the snow berm at the head of the runway. The windsock fluttered weakly as the wind slightly increased again.
She looked out the window and saw her house. She saw the dog yard where her incredulous father had strangled her favorite two puppies in front of her, on the day the principal had called home to say that he suspected, based on the child’s report, that her uncle had abused her. Her father was only too eager to accommodate her tear-choked shrieks that she be allowed to go live with her mother in Nome. It had saved her, but now she felt like she was risking her life again. The village disappeared behind walls of snow, and she felt the tires hit the ground, bounce, hit a second time and slide slightly to the left as the pilot feathered the brakes down the packed snow.
The plane made a casual u-turn and stopped as the props idled to a halt. Several people in a mix of fur and modern insulated parkas waited on snowmachines. Another lone figure sat off by the maintenance shed beside a low wall of boxes and luggage that had collected a small drift of snow behind it while he waited for that hole to open in the clouds.
One of the waiting party on sleds drove directly up to the plane and loaded parcels as the pilot emptied the plane’s tail and belly of cargo and mail. Then he sped back off the runway toward town followed by the others.The hole in the clouds closed. Fog swirled over the runway. The pilot cursed and climbed back in the plane. The man across the field rose and stared. She snugged the hood and collar of her technical shell tighter and pulled on the sealskin mittens her auntie had sent back when she graduated high school.
She picked up her cargo bag and her rifle and ambled in the general direction of the maintenance shed. The man looked at her but did not relax the embrace in which he held himself against the damp infiltration of the wind and sting of freezing fog. He stooped frigidly and hefted two pieces of luggage. “They told me I don’t belong, that I need to go.”
She smiled at him sadly and replied, “That was the last thing anyone said to me before I left here, too,” then continued her walk toward town.
gratitude for Ken Fish for the inspiration.
© Adam Knight
© Kenneth C. Fish Jr.
So, that’s what it feels like to pretend, he thought, as he laid in bed staring at the water-stained ceiling, trying to fall asleep for what felt like the millionth time in his fifteen years of living. It had been a normal day. It had been a rough day. In Abel McIntyre Junior’s family, there was no difference. In his family, in the trailer park with the neighbors that surrounded him like ghouls from a house of horrors, the best days for him would likely kill any other kid, he always thought.
Abel knew how other kids lived, and it wasn’t like him. He could see their houses on the soft, rounded hills across the Mystic River through the loose glass slats of the crank-open windows in his tiny wood-paneled bedroom. They had yards with grass and swing sets in them where children played all summer, and mounds of colorful flowers that gleamed in the most carefree way from mid-spring to mid-autumn. Even in the winter when those same hills were just grey mounds spiked with the craggy skeletons of oaks and maples, the houses glowed golden and warmly, twinkling on the coldest of days when there was ice in the air and the river looked as if it was frozen solid.
They lived in actual houses, and those houses they lived in didn’t have wheels under them. This fact alone seemed to provide those kids with some sense of permanence and security that Abel never knew. This fact alone, Abel sometimes caught himself believing, raised them up above him and his ever-toiling Ma, Ethel, and drunkard Da, Abel Senior, and their house with the wheels underneath it just in case they needed to make a run for it again.
“Pretending,” his mother always said “is much better than reality.” For Abel, there was always a certain disconnect between that mantra of hers and how he thought he lived his life. He never thought what he was doing was pretend, it felt more like protection. It was what he did to make do as the poor kid who lived in the trailer park that was essentially used as a halfway-housing complex for the underfunded and understaffed loony bin on the edge of this otherwise rich white town. For Abel, it was survival.
* * * * * * * * * *
“Don’t you ever change your pants?” taunted Fred, the super-popular star of the soccer team at school. “I can smell those filthy things from here.” The reality of it was, Abel rarely did change his pants. In fact, he only owned three pairs; one for every day, one for Sunday, and one for the rare occasion when Ethel would sneak their dirty laundry into the laundry room of the loony bin where she and her sorry excuse for a husband, Abel Sr., worked.
Abel always loved laundry day. He relished the brief moment when the few clothes he had were stiff and crisp and smelled like the industrial detergent they used to kill off every biting, burrowing, stinging, blood-sucking creepy-crawly he imagined inhabiting the flesh of all those crazies where his parents worked. Every time he slipped into a clean pair of trousers or a fresh shirt he felt, if only for a second, reborn.