Winter Count

Checking the traps seems the only thing left for him to do.  Mechanically, he starts back to his trap line, and he realizes Marilyn is trapped.  She has no place left to go.  And he’s trapped right along with her.

Jones hasn’t helped either, merely telling him, sometimes there’s tough times, old boy. Ride it out.  Then he laughs at the shortest honeymoon ever, and that leaves Rolland no choice but to laugh along.

The stone fills his body and just as he believes he cannot bear it any longer, Rolland begins to list the things that he has learned while trapping.  Aim for a clean kill; the animals should not suffer needlessly.  Respect for the balance of nature is important.  A trap line should be moved if it threatens a species’ survival.  Or the life of an individual animal, like the silver fox.

He should have not married Marilyn without a trial run.  He had expected something from her that she wasn’t able to give.  They could have moved into town so that she’d have the life she was used to.

Marilyn is like the silver fox.  They are both his failures.

He hears a yip, and he sees a flash of  movement. The animal stops, turns, and gazes at him.  A silver fox.  She looks right though him.

Rolland takes a step forward, unable to resist the lure.  She doesn’t move, as if inviting him to come closer.  She wants him to make things right.  Tears stream down his face.  He is so wrong.

His foot hits the center of the trap, the steel jaws spring and clamp the front of his boot and his toes inside.  He swoons and curls into a fetal position.  The pain swells until he believes he will die rather than endure any more.  Then it recedes, shocked into some corner.

The familiar steel that his own hands had positioned is clamped on his foot.  He labors to open it; but he has to twist himself to reach the trap, and the awkwardness defeats him. He sinks back in the snow.  The trap mocks him.

Think, he commands himself.  And the idea enters his senses that each decision of the day has led him to this point.  His unconscious mind has planned this.

No.  It is an accident.  To think anything else is to suggest that he is suicidal.   This is an accident.  That’s the rational explanation.  But he remembers his lies.  So that no one will search for him for a couple of days.

Once more, he feels the stone, and he welcomes it.  If he focuses on the weight on his chest, as it fills his mind, it pushes away the reality of his trapped foot.   But too quickly, the pain pulls him back.

An agent of fate, he used to think of himself.  Death is a fact of life, a balance measured by many forces, including his role as a responsible harvester.

Who is to say that an animal doesn’t accept death as they accept life?   What thoughts has any animal as they step into the trap?   He moans until a howl escapes his lips.  He lies back in the snow.

The snow begins to drift around him.  Several times, Rolland sees the silver fox, but each time, the wind blows away the shape.   It’s a vision; a product of pain.  That is why he sees her now, but what of the moment when he stepped into the trap?

Marilyn.  Somehow the animal is for them both.

The snow begins – big, beautiful flakes.  But inside him, the weight is overturned. The stone, he discovers, is an illusion, like a snowdrift that wind has fashioned.

Maybe a trapped animal is presented with this certain clarity of the moment.  Rolland feels the power of his own knowledge.  The trap is a painful lesson that means either death or a signal to continue in an altered form.  Any trapped animal will struggle until he has the answer.  There will be no rescue.  If Rolland doesn’t want to end up trapped, he has to act.


Liz BetzLiz Betz writes from rural Alberta. Her work has been published in SNReview, Transistion, Fiction365, Danforth Review, Persimmon Tree, JMWW, Down in the Dirt, The Prairie Journal and Necessary Fiction. Her work often depicts rural themes and people approaching or in their senior years.