The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscape Stories

People of the Ice and Snow
Caitlin Metland

Hush little one. Hush. I will tell you a story. Imagine. A day when the snows starts falling. We gather, as birds skimming their way over a indistinguishable white plain. Trails come from miles away. A clock face with every minute marked. The hands scored in snow, then traced by heavy clad feet. The natatgonaq snow falls in fragile flakes.

Dusting the never ending surrounding, its fingers caressing the earth. We have come together to discuss the dying of our people.  I have organised this, laying tracks for others to follow my ghost-driven step.
Because you see, our people are dying. We are not threatened by guns or bombs or violence. The white men would not fight for land they cannot use. But still they come, to be paper masters of what they can never understand.

So now we are threatened by paper and talks. The pen is mightier than the sword, they say. We do not live beyond twenty four, our children cannot survive upon the ice. They say so with their pens. We are 5000 years old. We are older than buildings, older than mountains. We are older than white man’s ancestors. Our angakuk have watched the falling of time, the sun flee from the winter, the ice palaces shift, move and break. But in our best interests, we cannot live how we have done for millennia. Their pens tell us so. You see baby, we had lost our future. When the white men came, they took away our children. We could not have our children in the wilderness they said. It is unsafe. Our women were taken away, just as they were swelling into beauty. Taken to a city full of white man. We did not see them again, until the child was already grown. And with them came a half white man.

But you baby, I had you out here on the ice. Marking the white red. As our breaths drew apart and our heart became two. But I loved you baby, out there, more than a heartbeat or a broken breath.
Your children cannot learn here, they said. It is unsafe. They must learn the ways of the world, they said, not your ways. They would not learn to hunt they said. It is unsafe.

So now our children come back adults. Adults who can’t hunt or fish. Adults who do not understand the ice or the snow. They came back as white men. To die a white man’s death. They killed themselves like cowards. You cannot live here in the wilderness, they said, it is unsafe. With no food or homes how can you live here, they said, it is unsafe.  With no-one to help you, you must die in the wilderness, they said, it is unsafe. And they said so with their pens.

And so my proud people were lost. With no children born on our land we would be extinct, for if you are not born on the land, you do not own it. You cannot hunt, fish or live on the land that was once our ancestors. The white men took our lives, without our deaths. We could not see our way through to the summer light. As extinct as the leopard from the fireside stories, the ice would no longer have the prints to walk it. The snow would have no children to run on it. All was forever lost. All was lost.

So baby, I decided to fight back. Not with guns or bombs. But paper with paper, pens with pens. So youth would flow back into our veins, and we will once again stand proud, upon our ancient world of ice and snow. It was for you baby, all for you.

I went to the big city, Iqaluit. The only comfort was the layers of api snow covering the dirt of white men. Snow the great equaliser. Snow the great leveller. I arrive at sunset, met by a row of  inukshuk, meant to guide me safely, but they sit small against the city, an offering perhaps for our children. The great city was full of more people than I had ever seen, even people with white hair and white skin. Each walked straight past me. Their eyes watching only the path. Their world of grey, there’s no wonder our children should die if they live here. I tried to talk with an elder, but I was turned away. A woman ignored by women who sit on their thrones of access. Wielding their power through telephone. So I changed my direction and I talked to men, many men. Starched into their suits. Rigid as the buildings they lived in. Taller than trees, but smaller than our perpetual ice palaces. They listened, impotent. Until finally at the top of all these men I found a woman. She had a baby herself, she said. She understood why I had come. She was just trying to protect my children, from my life. I told her that her protection didn’t work. How else could she explain that we die at twenty four. But what else can we do? We argued for long hours. Until she said,  we must take your children away for longer, give them a better standard of health, of education? Take away your education I said. Take it far away. To live we don’t need to know facts, we need to know how a footprint curves into the snow. We need to know which ice is safe and which is not. We need to know the proper way to skin a fox. Your papers will not help us hunt or fish, or track or kill. Your pens will not help build a home. Yes she said. Now I see.

So you see baby, I thought you would not be in vain. You could save all of us. We waited for long seasons, but no-one came. No one from the city. Women were still taken away when their babies were born. Our children were taken from their mothers arms. I thought of that fancy woman sitting behind her fancy desk. And the empty promises that we could have our children back. Then one day, a long time after hope had gone, some men turned up to speak to the elders. They  said they came to help build a centre. In the middle of our village they would build a place from wood and bricks and lights and water. And so they worked for weeks, building and building. It was to be bigger than our driftwood homes had ever been. They were still working when I received a letter. The fancy lady told me I had to come back to the city, to learn how to help people. Since the women with babies would not be taken to the city, they would need me. So once again I packed my memories and set off for the long walk across the ice. To learn a new trade, to save lives, for I could no longer take them.

And now baby, here I am. My centre is in darkness waiting for me to turn the lights on, but now I am just smelling the paint. Smelling a future. They day has been a cold one. Snow hasn’t fallen for a few days now. It is too cold for the heavy clouds. The brilliant sun has been shining on us, the ice is so deep I managed to walk all the way back to where I lost you, to Sedna, the great woman beneath the sea. The crisp air blew your voice back, whispering across the sky.

Imagine. The first rain after the snow. Maybe the spring is coming, but for now, we are left with a heavy mist pushing down on the ice with it’s dappled hands. The mist clouds my view, like sleepy, lace dusted eyes. Awoken mid sleep, hazing my vision. I blink, and start to see clearer and clearer until you come to focus. I am standing on the outside of a treacherous lake.

Perhaps I’m tired from a long journey, perhaps not. The cold filters down the neck of my amaut, fingering it’s way down my ivory bones. A tiny hand wriggles against mine, the fingers twisting their way free. Impatience guiding your way.

The deep grey of weathered metal, twisted and beaten by the slicing wind, deceives it's calm surface. It calls to me as ice, but it would take one step, one hesitant step to suck me in and trap me under it’s mirrored surface, forever holding me as it’s own. Bowing around the land, the ice kisses the pregnant curves. The false idol lies with a bank of snow. Siqoq snow. So many layers frozen from a long cold winter, I break the surface like melting ice, my footprints engraved into the landscape, for a little time anyway. The mist is as enveloping as my amaut, but there is no warmth, just a dangerous veil descending to blind my way. Fading water into land into sky. The cinerous grey folds into the ashen grey which creeps into a soot grey, patched across the glowering sky. A monochrome watercolour.

And on the other side of this indomitable fortress is a child. Not just any child, but the one I rued carrying for nine months, then loved with all the warmth of my hunter’s heart. You learnt to walk with clawed feet, the sign of an ice child, gripping onto your world. My world. I watched your open eyes widen at the world, your mouth curl open in surprise, as you grew. Grew into my future.

You walk well now, your faltering gait has almost stopped. I look beside me, to where you should have been, in wonder at how you left my side without raising my senses. I have failed, as a hunter. I tell you to stop in a sharp sign normally only used when I have found my prey. You look around, with your dark eyes, and emit a high giggle when you see nothing, playing a game.

You put one step in front of another, leaving your tracks in the forgiving snow, stepping again and again and again. High pitched this time, I cry stop baby stop. You hear the ice too late and try to step back just as you tumble into those waters foul. I lightfoot my way round the edge and step down into the frozen water, my sodden amaut pulling down at my legs as I wade deeper and deeper, the ice needles thrusting themselves into my waist, desperately thrashing  around. Breaking shards of ice with my fingers, I pull back at the sheets of glass. My heartbeat desperate. Just desperate to find you. I make every pact, every promise to Sedna, until I stand waist deep in a frozen lake. Tears run down my steely face and drop into the lake that took you. I have failed, as a mother.

I lay by the side of the lake waiting for deaths kiss. My twisted body lays next to your frozen footprints, I must go with you, up to the stars. My world is broken but the snow comforts me with its soft embrace. The rain starts to tap into the snow by my head, tap tap tapping on the brain I wish to sleep. I want to let go. Leave it all behind. Be without. But as I roll my head back to envelop into the snow, I see the ancestors lighting the sky.

The dotted stars pull into the heavy fabric of the night sky. Each light dancing it’s way through the heavens. Guiding as they go. The great folds in the sky whisper to me raining down their comforting, shifting light. Pulling me home. But I am fine here. Nearest to you, baby girl. I close my eyes to sleep. I want to rest. Finally rest. Close my heavy eyes and succumb.
Listening to your whisper. But something is pulling at me. Tugging at me.
Forcing me back into existence.
Now baby, a young boy has been sent on ahead to the centre. You would be about his age. I throw on the lights, they reflect to all the houses in the village. A heavy woman is carried by the two fathers, hers and her child's.

She is close already. Gone through the first stage. She has to push now. Her words splatter red on the wall as she shouts through the pain. Listen to your body child, listen to your body, I whisper. And so the baby comes, and wails her way into the night.

I move across the room to check the baby and wrap her in blankets. The windows are all blurred from the screams of birth. The long heavy breathing, the expectation, the hope. Through the freckled panes of glass I see a face, and a second and a third, and then more and more, until every single one of our people are there. The heads covered in the fur of their amaut pulled up to protect them from the deadly cold of the night. All I can see is their curious eyes smiling in the darkness. I turn back to give the child to her waiting, doting mother. Then go to open the doors to the tribe. Waiting to see their future.
So, you see baby, it all turned out well. And now as I sit in my little centre, my breath draws lighter, like the whispers of ice. It’s a good place to die, surrounded by footsteps. Footsteps in primary school red, yellow, green and blue. Each child I have helped deliver has their footprints on the wall, baby toes curled as the ice children they will be. Each walking their way into our fragile future. My vision is blurred, I can no longer tell a nappatak footprint from a pussik . My eyes are old. But through the mist, there seems one more, there on the wall. Baby steps in the snow. I can see you again, mikilak. I can see you
© Caitlin Metland May 2006

A Lifeless Companion
Caitlin Metland

Caitlin is the assistant editor of Hackwriters and she is now on work placement in San Francisco for the summer of 2006 - Back in harness October

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