When Winter Comes

We had spent the past Spring eliminating all of our worldly possessions save some clothes and a few tools necessary to even the modern human, a hammer, two mugs, some other dishes, two forks, two spoons, a good knife. We purchased a pack mule and loaded it up with the supplies we would need in the place we were going. I surprised her with a dog one morning, told her his name was Question and though the gift was as much for me as her, when it’s scruffy mutt face, shaggy gray hair and dripping wet nose started sniffing and licking her, she couldn’t resist. The two of us, as soon as the rain had slowed and all of the snow was melted, and our animals — we brought two chickens for eggs and two goats for milk — all headed into the forest, up into the mountains. Thirty nine miles after we left the nearest small town, and small it was indeed, a grocery store, two churches and a bar, and barely enough people in the houses to fill them all at once, we found a flat grove in the hillsides and decided to lay claim to our new stake.

I spent the summer building us a small house, one room, a bed made from feathers I found around the forest and from a few birds I’d managed to kill with an ever impressively growing skill at throwing rocks quickly and accurately, a stone fireplace for warmth and cooking, a small desk for sewing or writing or sharing meals over. She built a chicken coop, a fenced in area for the animals and planted a garden. The summer was full of long hours of toil, the good, fulfilling kind of work that comes from building your own life, not the kind of “building a life together” that people call securing a 401k and going to Home Depot for solar powered driveway lights, we were actually building our life, carving it out of the mountain forest home we were procuring. She would bake flat breads for us and I would bring home fish or nuts or whatever wild vegetables and fungi I could find, she would check them over and let me know which were potentially poisonous. We mended our own clothes, kept one another warm through the nights and took Saturdays, or whichever days we imagined were Saturdays, time had been lost on us, to hike around our new woody neighborhood or lay naked in a small nearby field and I’d tell her stories or read poetry and she’d pull out any ingrown hairs that may have been trying to get back into the warmth of my neck. She learned to make cheese and we had fresh milk and eggs every morning. The Summer lasted forever, and the house was complete. The area had been properly readied for Winter, and we had just finished the second and most bountiful part of the Harvest as she was cutting open a great squash to prepare for dinner. That night it began to rain, the temperature dropped, and snow fell over the house, the garden, the land. I held her as close to me as I could, we were layered thick in blankets and were prepared for the coming cold, well prepared.

I woke in the morning, our first snow plated mountain morning together, we were to celebrate with a feast of rabbit, vegetable stew and a bottle of homemade wine. I opened my eyes and went to stir her awake, to dive into this great new day. She didn’t move. I leaned over her to kiss her into the morning, but she had died in the night. This dream of mine, perhaps much more mine than hers, had brought her up here, set her to work, and then taken her life, and with it the dream.

I carved a hole into the ground that afternoon, the bottle of wine emptied, and laid her body — wrapped in a thin Afghan blanket — in the ground. I slaughtered the goat and let it’s blood run down into the spaces between her stiffening, bluing form and the cracks in the dirt, and falling snow mixed with the crimson as I said some final thing, perhaps outloud but of course, no one to hear or know what was happening. I ate what portion of the goat could fill me, raw, and lit the whole thing on fire. The flames licked at my boots and then raged up to singe eyebrows and beard. I turned and left everything behind me, one footprint in the snow at a time.

Within a month the chickens would be eaten by some wild hungry animal, the mule left to wander through the mountain cold, Question, who’d stayed behind at her burning side when I left, would go off to join or be killed by some pack of wolves. Eventually I returned to the town, though not on purpose, famished and pointless. When two people have spent so much pure energy together, for so many long decades, well when one dies they both die, one to burn up or be eaten by worms or locked forever in some casket, the other to roam for some many more years on this planet wandering how hard he might have to beg for an end.

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