He trekked high on his snowmobile, slower and slower, hour after hour. He stopped occasionally for a shot of rum to warm himself, reaching under his mask to feel his frozen face. His mustache had become stiff with a mixture of sweat and drainage. He urged the snowmobile through the massive trees on the unbroken trail late into the night until he came to the familiar small clearing with the old cabin.
The drift was up over the windows, the icicles from the roof meeting the risen banks and spreading frozen fingers out over them. He took yet another shot of rum and grabbed his shovel from his pack, leaving the machine to dig away the snow from the entrance.
The wind had stopped, the biting cold remained. He paused for a minute, listening for the sounds of the mountain around him. There were none. He continued digging.
Soon he broke the door free of its icy hold, prying it open so he could see into the place. Nothing was revealed. In his anxious packing he had forgotten to bring a flashlight. He would have to get the fire going for light.
The machine was unpacked in three loads. His bag, some kindling, and two loads of heavy wood. Each time, he groped his way through the cabin to the foot-felt base of the fireplace, dropping everything and leaving it. There would be time for order later.
He covered the snowmobile with the remainder of his load, a large tarp to keep the snow off. Then back inside the cabin he shut the heavy door firmly, knocking some of the snow from the roof to the front of the door. He was in.
Recalling the stepping space in the room from instinct, he set up two candles on a table and lit them. The fireplace was next.
“Now we need fire. A big fire.”
He teepeed the kindling halfway into the clean fireplace, placing some dry twigs over the top in a similar fashion. He carefully inspected this from various close angles. So hard to see anything.
With a match he lit the kindling, watching it catch, watching the flame rise. It mystified him briefly until he felt its heat against his hand, and he pulled away from the hearth abruptly. “Logs, needs logs,” he reminded himself as he stayed captivated by the fire as it took to the twigs. Pulling himself away he grabbed a couple of small logs and placed them atop the growing flames, grabbing a third for good measure.
“That’s it. That is all.”
He watched the flames as their rage grew, and he rubbed his face, stinging, wet and cold from the melt.
Soon the cabin was lit and he stood tall in front of the fire, rubbing his hands together.
“That is a beautiful fire. A real beauty.” His face was warm now, soon hot, and his soggy mustache hid his upper lip, skirting his large grin.
But the smile was short-lived as he moved away from the fire. He went to his pack and placed it on the covered sofa, looming over it as he removed his daughter.
“Hi Missy, warming up yet?” He placed her on the end of the couch, putting her plastic hands in her lap. Returning to his bag, he frowned as he rummaged.
“Where is your mother? I didn’t forget to pack her did I?”
Where was his wife? She was the one who seemed so gung-ho about coming for once. He found her packed down in the side of the bag beside the food. They locked eyes for a moment before he removed her and placed her next to his daughter.
This was good. Paints and paper were next. He dug them out and went over the large wooden table in the dining area, placing them there. He thought he might do a portrait of them later, but he hadn’t made up his mind yet.
The fire had already heated up the cabin almost too much, so he did not add any more wood.
The dog. That goddamned dog, where was it? He realized he hadn’t unpacked him and dug back into his pack until Buck was found under the camcorder. Buck went onto his daughter’s lap and stayed there happily. Everyone was happy.
“I’m going to have a cigarette now Lynda. If you don’t like it, you can always go up to the loft. I’m sitting right here and I’m smoking it.”
He sat next to his family and lit up, purposefully blowing smoke in his wife’s direction. Perhaps she really meant to make this trip a good one, as she said nothing. No complaints.
They all watched the licks of the flames, listening to the crackles and snaps. Everyone seemed really relaxed tonight, and he felt that things were going to go well.
“Well I’m going to make some cocoa now, would anyone else like some? I’ll make some for you Missy. Lynda, may I assume you’ll have some? Hey? Well all right then, if you want to play the silent game then you can make your own.”
He made the cocoa with the Coleman stove and served a mug to his daughter. It was steaming hot, and he warned her not to burn her tongue.
“Well I’m glad we could all make this trip up to the cabin, it’s been a while since we’ve done it. Good idea, Lynda. Are you happy now? I’m glad we took the time to come up and spend the night up here.”
He was glad, but the novelty was always over by morning. Lynda almost never seemed to like it, but he knew family time had to be done. Every family must bond, share times like this together.
“Well, we can play a board game, or we can teach Missy how to play cards. I know! We can make baskets! I have some nice bark strips left over from the last time we were up here. We’ll weave baskets then.”
From one of the dark corners he brought a small box stacked with strips of birch bark. “It’s a good thing we treated this stuff with oils hey hun? I imagine it can get pretty dried out.”
He dropped the box on the living room floor.
“Lynda, I can see you’re choosing not to participate, but Missy and I will begin. Feel free to join us at any time.”
He and his daughter weaved a basket together as the wife and dog looked on.
“See? Now we can use this basket to gather berries or leaves or anything you want. It’s quite a handy little basket, isn’t it? See Lynda? Isn’t it nice?”
She sat with her plastic arms and legs crossed.
“All right then, that’s fine. What do you want to do now Missy? Some painting? Blow up some balloons? We could dress Buck up in a dress!”
He shivered a little, and realized the fire was in need of more wood.
“We could feed the fire! Would you like to do that with me Lynda?”
Still she did not respond.
“Okay Missy, how about you? Would you like to feed the fire? I did most of the basket work, so why don’t you do that?”
Missy looked up at him, saying nothing.
“Missy! You’re not trying to have fun! Don’t take after your mother and not have fun! You don’t want to end up a miserable bitch like her, have fun! Feed the fire!”
He was getting quite upset. His family wasn’t getting into this trip. His wife was being impossible again, and his daughter was starting to act like a brat. It was typical.
He was starting to resent them for making him resent this trip. It just wasn’t as fun as it was supposed to have been. Everyone was miserable. Even the fucking idiot dog was just sitting there.
“I’m getting kind of angry. I want us to HAVE FUN, to FUNCTION LIKE A NORMAL FAMILY. LYNDA, I want you to stop acting like a GIGANTIC TWAT AND DO SOMETHING. SET AN EXAMPLE FOR YOUR DAUGHTER AT LEAST!”
Oh she was setting an example all right.
The fire continued to lose its life and his anger continued to grow. He began to pace about the cabin, into the glow of the living room, back to the darkness of the dining area. The shadows were growing steadily as the fire dwindled to hot coals. It was clear to him now that the trip was a mistake, that none of it was what he hoped it would be.
“All right. This family thing has all been one big mistake. I was VERY wrong, this was all a VERY BAD IDEA. I had my feelings, I had my hopes, but I had to be sure.”
He grabbed the daughter and the dog and dashed them into the coals, and when he realized his wife would never change, he threw her in too. The whole thing was just a bad idea he had realized, just as he had the last time. This time he wanted to be sure, he had to make that trip one more time. He was still right though, it was just a giant mistake. And so he was certain that he still felt right about not having a family.
Packing his things and leaving the cabin, he left the wood behind for the next trip.
© 1993 – 2011 Chris Dwyer