BY JAMES BARKER
Copyright is held by the author.
IT’S CHRISTMAS day, but there’s no Christmas dinner. Not today. Six strangers are in my living room. Six people, not from my village. They stand around the card table, making marks and lines on paper maps. Search lines. Grid lines. Little boxes where life might be. Murmuring. Whispering. Trying not to look at me in the kitchen. They are afraid I’ll come out again and hit someone else. I hit the red parka guy hard when he said my son was dead. He clutched his chest with both hands, and just looked at me.
It’s been eight days. The strangers can draw all the lines and boxes they want. My boy is not dead. A mother knows! My boy is smart and strong. He can deal with the cold and the snow. He knows how to stay alive.
The helicopter found his boat yesterday. Broken. On the other side of the Bay. They think he tried to walk home across the new ice instead of a hundred mile detour around the head of the Bay. They think he dropped through. They think he’s gone.
No. Not my boy. His dad, Ahmic, is useless, but he trained my son well. “You don’t trust new Arctic ice. You walk around, but never across. There is no easy way with new ice.”
Ahmic disappears every morning, in the darkness, to find my boy. He comes back after the strangers have left, taking their maps and their whispers. He climbs into bed for a few hours, and is gone again before morning. He says nothing. There is nothing to say. He will keep looking for my boy for as long as it takes. I feel that he will do this until the day he dies. It’s what a father must do.
I hear the whisperers in my living room, now. It’s the ninth day. Last night it was minus 40. They want to stop searching, but they cannot. The Government says they must search for fourteen days, unless I agree to let them stop.
I will never agree.
Another man announces his arrival at my home by repeatedly stamping snow from his boots. He walks past the strangers and into my kitchen, right up behind me as I work at the sink. There is a huge explosion of ice and snow on the counter beside me. Ice crystals fill the air, shimmering. The counter is covered by snow and ice. In the middle of this mess, goose legs stick out.
An old rifle is placed in front of me, across the sink.
As I start to turn around, I am embraced by powerful arms. A cold furry hood rests against my neck.
He holds me tight for the longest time.
Softly he says, “Hi, Mom. Sorry I’m late for Christmas dinner.”
James Barker was raised in Northern Manitoba and moved to Toronto for his education and career. His passions are boating, wilderness photography of Georgian Bay, and writing about his experiences. He has tried to spend much of his career outdoors. Retired in Niagara on the lake, he keeps a workboat on Georgian Bay, north of Parry Sound.