Winter Count

Jones always said that wives had to vent, and if you left them alone, they’d right themselves eventually.  Rolland focused on what he could see. Her yellow stained teeth were open right to the roots; her gums shrunk in mute protest to life-long abuse.  She didn’t floss.  Nor did she brush; her teeth, her hair, or the crumbs off the counter.  Piles of her laundry laid unfolded and marked by her cat.

But in her defense, she did warn him.  She said she was not house proud.  Rolland didn’t know his house would become this sty.  It shouldn’t bother him.  He guts animals; he skins them.

So he was wrong.  Now he needed time alone, in the clean whiteness of his outdoor world.  The stone moved from his heart into the force that compelled him to leave.

On this windless day, there is nothing better.  He exhales through frost-tipped nose hairs, then brushes his moustache.  He pulls up the hood of his coat and loosely ties it. Too tight, and he could sweat.  Rolland has a deep respect for the danger of these temperatures.

He’d told her. The trap line was part of his life.  He’d warned her it meant days of him out in the skin shop, a pervasive odor to contend with, and not that much money for all the work.  He’d told her.

Maybe she thought he’d give it up since he had a wife now to fill his time.  How would that feel, if she thought that?  She’d be bitter.  And sarcastic and maybe even give up trying.

He slips the harness back on; he’s got another two traps to check before he reaches the shack.  Then, he’d decide what he’d do.

The snow that fell last Tuesday, perfect pellets or graupel, is ideal for skis, but with snowshoes, it is slow going.  He’s never wanted skis, and he didn’t get a snowmobile until he turned 60.

As he approaches the first trap, a bastard magpie cackles from a tree branch.  Their carrion ways could spoil a perfectly good pelt, but it is useless to try for a shot.  The bird flies away to another tree, then flies again.

Movement catches his eye.  A coyote, trapped but still alive, twists and jumps, and then reaches down to bite at its pain.  Rolland goes for his rifle, but the final sinew of tendon gives way.  The freed coyote rips off through the snow into the bush.  Damn it.  Damn it to hell.

He knows this can happen and does.  Once or twice, he’s seen the tale of desperation told by a leg left behind in the jaws of the trap.  The fiction is that the animal chews its way free, but that’s not what they do.  If they can get the trap jammed somehow, they will break their caught limb.   But to see the animal escape… The stone grows heavier inside of Rolland.