Winter Count

He glances at the sky, as if a shift has taken place, but the sky is no darker.  Instead, he can see a patch of sun on the field as the clouds thin and part.  The air is still, perhaps a bit of a breeze; not significant, but Rolland shudders.  Calm before the storm, he thinks for no logical reason.  The weather conditions have not altered.

He feels a sudden compulsion to return home.  What of my overnighter?  He asks himself.  What of my assurance that I could survive a storm if I had to?  Why am I so jittery?

But Rolland doesn’t answer these questions as his thoughts give way to instinct, and he decides that he will begin the trek home as soon as he follows his trap line to the survival shack.  Good thing Marilyn isn’t with him, expecting an outdoor picnic as in her romantic movies.  This is more reality than Marilyn wants.  He’s the one who loves this.

He reads the weather as fair again, but still he is uneasy.  The disquiet adds weight.  This is where a population of foxes have established themselves despite the few his trap line has captured.  They are sly creatures, but Rolland has a weakness for them.  He would prefer they were not captured at all.  In the day when every farmwife kept chickens, foxes were hunted down systematically, but now they have returned to their native range.

The silver fox, the first and only one that Rolland ever caught in a trap ranged here.

The day that he knew of her, when he was sure of what he saw, he retraced his steps and removed a trap he had just set.  Then, in the very next trap, one that he was also going to remove from the area, she was caught.  Killed cleanly.  He stroked her nose, and he lost his sight for a misty moment.  Later that day in the skinning shack, time slowed as he reverently removed the pelt from her body.  All of his experience let him do an honorable job.   He brought in his trap line a week later, despite of three or four more weeks left in the season.

Rolland answered Jones’ tease by saying his winter count of hides was enough and said nothing of the silver fox or his sentiments.  Just as he never told Marilyn her hair was like the silver fox’s pelt.  Now that Marilyn is his wife and can use his money to treat herself, she dyes her hair a blood red color.

Would Marilyn be alarmed if he didn’t come back?  Jones knows of the survival shack; he has told Rolland that he’d send a search party direct there if Rolland went missing one day.  As Rolland draws nearer to the old granary, he is resentful that such a thought ever crossed his neighbor’s mind.  He’d be fine; he is prepared.  Again, he thinks perhaps he should stay overnight.

He resets the next trap.  Through the bush, he can see the shack with the banks of snow it has gathered. He thinks he will have to avoid fallen and tangled trees to reach it.  But when he is close, he discovers he had seen wrongly; the shack has collapsed.  From the side, it looks like it is an animal on its haunches.  He can’t even get at the supplies that he has stashed.  Nor would it be any use as shelter.  He should go back to his house.

The stone inside his throat chokes him from using the word home.  It is the place where Marilyn is.

The stone has come into his brain and before he can stop it, a movie plays out in his mind of him reaching his yard.  He would stop at the skinning shack to unload the animals he has trapped, aware that a better load might have been too much for him to pull.  He would
slip off the harness.

What might Marilyn be doing?  She might have returned to the couch for another movie marathon.  Or she might have dressed and tidied up, which would mean she was going somewhere.  None of these images move the stone, which seems to have grown large enough to fill his lungs and to press on his heart.  He lets himself think without censure of what his seven-month marriage has been like.

Marilyn never greets him when he comes home.  When he searches the house for her, he sometimes finds her in the basement, on her computer, with it placed so that he can’t see the screen.  Sometimes, she’s not in the house at all, and she eventually comes home with a take-out supper.  Once he found a penis-shaped vibrator among her night clothes. Her grocery sales slips always include lottery tickets.  Disorder and dirt track a life out of control.  Rolland can sense her deep sadness, and he is unable to do a damn thing about it.