Fiction Friday, my way of forcing myself to write outside my comfort zone of non-fiction, by backing myself into a corner every Thursday night.
To read Chapter ONE
To read Chapter TWO
There’s something good to be said for small towns, but Jess wasn’t sure what it could be. She’d lived in Sherman, Alaska her entire life and had spent half of that time trying to claw her way out. Walking through the middle of the tiny village with the boy plastered to her had drawn a fair amount of attention and three hours later, she was still fielding door knocks and window gapers at her little cabin on the lakeside.
A hundred miles from anything, Sherman housed just over 290 permanent residents in the winter months. Come summer, people flooded in as if the elusive Ark of the Covenant was buried along the shores of the icy waters on which Sherman sat. The Arctic Ocean on one side of the shack strewn village, a magnificent glacier fed lake on the other. Most everyone who lived there made their way as a commercial fisherman and most everyone who visited was there to catch what was left, on the end of a pole. Needless to say, the two didn’t mix and if it weren’t for the high dollar spending the tourists would not have been welcome there at all. But every single resident of the village somehow made a dime from the visitors and so their presence was tolerated…just barely.
She looked out now at her row of small log cabins along the lake’s edge and at all the people mulling about as if they always hung out there. She knew the gossip mongers were just waiting for something to chew on.
Jess had been running Oceans End Cabins since she was old enough to add the receipts and her father finally drank his last shot of whiskey. Not long after he died, her mother left the village for the city life and never looked back. At fourteen, she’d opted to stay and fifteen years later, she still wondered why.
It was all she knew, she supposed. She knew she’d never get out, but she also knew she’d spend the next fifty years trying. It was an agreement she had made with herself…to keep from going crazy from lack of hope.
Jess stared down at the dark haired boy who’d fallen asleep against her just as soon as she’d come in out of the snow. He’d barely budged as she lay him across her bed and he had been snoring quietly for several hours now. She’d slipped worn boots from damp feet and left him bundled in his coat and snow pants, one ripped knee exposed to the elements. She knew almost nothing about children, but even she knew this boy had been through some things. Sunken eyes and narrow jaw replaced what should have been a full, round face. His little mouth gaped slightly as he breathed. For a moment Jess felt a maternal tug where none had ever been. But only for a moment. And then she shook it off, went to the front door and hung a sign that read, “Get the Hell outta my business.”
The sun sank behind the snow tipped mountains just as the last of the gawkers finally left her land and a loud knock at the door startled the boy awake. He sat up quickly, brown eyes looking around and only then did Jess notice he was probably part Alaska Native. Wispy black hair fell across his forehead as he quietly took in the room. Jess went to the door and opened it slightly.
“Can’t you see the sign,” she barked before she saw it was May, huddled against the blowing snow, parka pulled snug around her.
“Don’t read no sign, anyhow,” said the old woman who Jess always thought needed a good ironing. The deep crevices of her face told a story of hard times and harsh weather that few, besides Jess, had ever heard. A Yupik woman never complains, or so May had always said just after a long breath of woes, and she rarely tells her tale. But Jess had heard them in the dark hours of the night, cuddled to May’s side in the months after her father left through the bottle and her mother, through a yearning that couldn’t be tamed in her small world.
May stepped quickly from the cold and Jess latched the door behind her. No words were needed as Jess stood back and let May do her thing. A foot shorter than most, May shuffled across the room, sat softly on the bed and began to undress the boy from his heavy clothes. He relented quietly, watching Jess carefully, as if making sure this old woman was okay. Jess nodded her approval without saying a word and the dark quiet of the one room cabin enfolded them as the old woman mumbled soothingly in her native tongue as she worked. Once stripped of his winter gear, the boy appeared even younger and more frail than he had before. May pulled him to her and swaddled him inside her heavy fur parka, their heat blending.
“Boy needs a bond,” she said. “You know nothing.”
“Never claimed to,” Jess replied quietly, and sat nearby on the only chair.
“What you going to do?”
“I guess keep him through the weekend. Kingston came by a while ago while he was still sleeping and said he’d gotten ahold of someone out of Anchorage who was going to come out Monday.”
“Where he come from?” May asked as she rocked the child back and forth, nothing but his nose and eyes showing from inside her coat.
“Kingston said there was a boat by here early this morning. Some said they heard the engine. Nobody really knows any more than that.”
There was no reply, as conversations always ended abruptly with May, who never said more than was necessary. And they sat in silence for the next hour, May rocking slightly back and forth. The boy stared out at Jess, never taking his eyes from her. Jess didn’t look at him, but she felt his stare. She lay her head back against the worn chair in which her father had sat each night of her youth and closed her eyes. The sun disappeared, the narrow windows darkened and the howl of wolves talking to each other across the water filled the thick silence surrounding the three.