The water here is cold. Memories of a childhood I knew could not be mine flowered in my mind; giggles and splashes with fingers trailing in a steam and cold water flicked at friends. If I tried that now I wouldn’t even know if the few fingers I had left froze solid and snapped off. Now only the custom-made fleece-lined leather gloves kept what was left of my hands safe from injury and the elements. The childhood squeals of joy faded until only the quiet lapping of my oar in the river and the occasional bird cry from the bank remained. I liked it that way. Memories were useless out here, they would only slow me, make me careless, drag me down with them. What was gone was just that, gone.
I looked ahead, my landing point approached, a stream flowing into the river where the forest at the base of the mountain dipped to meet the lake. The trees in the forest were snow-draped as if a funeral shroud had been cast over them, white and smothering…
“You’ll have to wear this under your clothes,” the doctor from the slums stood in my room and held up long white underwear. He’d been coming every day since my return. The hospital in Caledon offered me accommodation in the local sanatorium, promised me a job, promised me rooms, promised me a prison with lunatics for cellmates. I declined. I had a home. I had a jungle. I left and I went home only to find it had gone, burnt to the ground, not a trace left. I sat on the sand and didn’t move for three days.
I saw things. They spoke to me. They pointed and they laughed and they danced.
On the fourth day the rain came. I sat on the sand and made believe the rain streaming down my face were the tears I could no longer weep. It rained for a day and a night.
On the fifth day I left the island. I didn’t know where else to go so I travelled back to where it all began. Back to the epicentre. Back to Steelhead.
People stared. They whispered and pitied and taunted and joked. In Steelhead my misery was compounded by the unruly children that inhabit an underworld no adult can hope to enter without their permission. Oh yes, the Steelhead Scamps thought me great sport.
I wasn’t sure where to go, so I went to the slums to find the doctor. He stared. They all stare. Still, he helped. I don’t know what he said and to whom but by nightfall I was in a comfortable room in a nearby hotel. From my window I could see Spirit Lake flowing out into the river as it passed through the wilderness of St Helens.
“You’ll have to wear this under your clothes,” I turned from the window (how many days had I stood there staring out into the isolation beyond?), “and these gloves I’ve had made for you. Likewise your boots and socks. You are going to have to protect yourself if you are insistent about going through with this.”
I stared at the while underwear in his hands and the other garments on my bed. “Thank you. Is everything else ready?”
He sighed, “Yes. There’s a canoe and supplies ready and Lunar has stamped your purchase order. You’re the proud owner of very remote, very isolated forest by the mountain. I’m guessing that will make you happy, eh?”
I looked at the man with concern etched across his brow and said nothing. He shook his head and placed the long thermals on the bed, “Well at least promise me you’ll make our agreed meetings. Every two weeks. If you miss one, I’ll only come looking for you and neither of us wants that; I hate the great outdoors with a passion, you know.” I tried a smile but my skin wouldn’t move like that any more so I just nodded and told him he had my word.
The next morning I set a hat on my head, wrapped a scarf around my face and walked away from the hotel, away from the city, away from the scamps and everyone and everything. I checked the canoe and set off rowing, I let the river take me for a while but I liked to row, the exertion warming me in the frigid morning air. Since the fire, since Shade, The Erase, the would-be killer, since my recovery, winter had come to these parts and it held the land fast in its white silence. There was no one around, not a living soul for miles, and it was perfect. I looked down at the river, clear and blue beneath me.
The water here is cold, I thought to myself…
All the “Far From Home” posts can be read here.