Winter Too Short, Too Loud

Final Installment

When she awoke her
husband was beside her in another wood place. It smelled good and light came in
through an opening you could see through.
“Stay strong,” he said.
“Things are going to get better.”
“What is this thing I am
on?” she asked.
“It is called a bed.
Isn’t it nice? It’s warm and soft.”
“Where am I?”
“You are in the
Dillingham place. The trial is over.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means you are going
to die.”
 The Orthodox Priest man came into the
wood place through an entrance. “Are you well?” he asked in her language. She
could see another man behind the priest on the other side of the entrance
sitting, watching.
She turned her head to
see the priest, but did not know what to say. Turning back to her husband . . .
he was gone again. The priest sat beside her and began to unwrap her bandaged
head. For the first time, Anita realized that her head was wrapped in bandages.
“Take this,” the priest said handing her a pill and a cup of water. She did not
want to take it. He was one of the gusik people, but his voice was smooth and
gentle. Most of the words she did not understand, but his smile was like a
sunrise over the tundra on clear sky day when the ptarmigan came out of their
snow caves. She sensed she could trust him and took the pill. He changed her
bandages. She didn’t want to but soon she fell asleep.
When Anita awoke, she saw
a half moon through the opening against a night sky. Feeling better, she got to
her feet and walked to the opening and touched it. It was clear, cold and solid
but she could see through it. Tapping on it with a finger, it made a small
thumping sound. Stars in the sky were twinkling and the snow reflected the
light of the moon. Two stray dogs ran across the tundra, stopped and looked
back at her as if it was an invitation. Anita placed both hands on the opening,
laid her cheek against the cold glass and closed her eyes. The land of ice
melted before her and she saw a bear wading across the river. A caribou walked
around her snare and her husband sat on the bank of the river, laughing,
carving a stick. He was so happy. Always so happy, and he is still happy. She
opened her eyes and cried.
 “What are you doing up?” a loud voice
shouted. A man came through the entrance. He was big and had a hairy face and
had a rifle in one hand. “Seems you’re well enough to hang now.” Anita stood
firm like an esker of stone. Her tears stopped. Her eyes narrowed as she
clenched her fist. The man rushed to her, grabbing her by the arm, pulling her
to him. His smell was unbearable and his smile evil. Dragging her away from the
window, he underestimated her strength. Anita swung her free fist into his
groin. He doubled over. She raised her knee swift and fast into his face and
then raised it again catching him again in the groin. The man fell heavily to
the wood floor and the room shook. Anita acted quickly. Tearing off the flimsy
cloth they had dressed her in, she found her skins in the corner and was half
dressed when the Russian Orthodox Priest came in. Anita swept the rifle from
the floor, held it by the barrel and raised it to use as a club.
“Hold,” the priest said
gently, his hand open at the end of his stretched out arm. Anita held. Slowly
she lowered the rifle. “You don’t even know how to use it do you?” he said.
“When you caught the man in your caribou snare you didn’t mean it did you? But
you left him hanging there and he froze to death. Isn’t that the way it
happened?”  Anita nodded, but she
didn’t understand completely; his Yup’ik was not good. She pieced the words snare and man
froze to death and worked on
them as she continued dressing. “If you go, they will come for you,” he said.
“I’ve convinced them you deserve another trial. We are waiting on a proper judge.”
Anita walked toward the door. The priest moved and blocked her way. Anita
stared at him. She did not want to kill him, but she must leave. Their stares
connected. Anita’s brow wrinkled, her jaw flexed. The Priest finally gave a
crooked smile and stepped aside.
The house she was being
held in was on the edge of the town. Anita looked into the night sky and began
walking across the tundra in the direction of her dugout wondering how long the
darkness would last. The half moon was high in the sky, and she could see a
distance toward the mountains. After a half an hour of walking, she began to
feel faint, her head again hurting. Touching her hand to her bandaged head, it
came away with stains of blood. She walked until she fell.
“Get up,” her husband said.
He was dressed like the priest.
“Why are you dressed like
“Get on the sled,” her
husband said.
Anita looked at the sled
pulled by dogs she did not know and pulled herself up onto it with her
husband’s help and then passed out.
When she awoke she was
lying on the snow not far from her dugout as the light of a gray day began from
the east over the mountain. There were no tracks leading to or from where she
lay. Before she could raise herself, Elena was at her side. “You must not stay
here. You must go up river. Can you travel?”
“Where is the sled?”
Anita said.
“What sled?”
“The sled that brought me
“There is no sled. You
walked here. I saw you coming, and I saw you fall. I was sent to watch for you
I think. I had a dream that you were walking from Dillingham and were in
trouble. I have been waiting all night.”
“Then you saw, Sammy, my
husband, your brother.”
“No. You must be still
hurt bad. Sammy is dead. You know that, don’t you?”
“But the tracks? There
are no tracks.”
“It is snowing, of course
there are no tracks.
 “My dogs,” Anita said.
“We will take care of
your dogs until next winter. Now you must hide like only you know how where no
one will know. There is one man you can trust who will help you stay up river
until you get well. He is from another people south of Dillingham. He saw what
they did to you.”
A week later, Anita
watched the man called Alexie paddle his kayak back down the river leaving her
instructions to go someplace even he would not know. As she walked into the
mountains, her dog Alag by her side, she talked to Sammy who was as usual
laughing about how funny the gusik man looked hanging frozen to death from
Anita’s snare last summer. Anita laughed with him saying how the priest thought
she didn’t mean to kill the man who killed Sammy. The bad man did look funny
hanging there. Alag hid in the trees with her when the airplane flew over them
making the noise one could hear from far away.


Elena Hartwell

Author and developmental editor.