Stuck on a Rock
THEIR PLAN WAS TO LEAVE AT FIRST LIGHT and be back before the storm hit.
“Weather channel says it’s going to be a bad one,” Anne warned. But Warren couldn’t find his favourite reel. “I always keep it right here,” he said, pulling out a drawer that contained lures and line and a box of reel parts—but no reel. “Kids must have borrowed it.”
The grandkids hadn’t visited all summer, but she didn’t argue with him. Once he set his mind to something, there was no changing it.
“You rinsed it under the bathroom tap,” she remembered, after searching his work room and every other place she could think of. In desperation she rummaged through toiletry and linen cupboards and found the reel behind a stack of towels.
“Someone hid it,” he said crossly.
The sun was well up when they finally started down the gravel path to the boathouse, but a chilly breeze was drifting off the water. She wished she’d worn a sweater beneath her windbreaker. The oyster bucket bumped against her legs and her nylon cargo pants rustled in time with the crunch of maple leaves underfoot. Curbing her impulse to hurry, she matched her pace to Warren’s slow, deliberate steps.
“We’ll go up to the Narrows,” he said, his gnarled fists gripping his fishing rods and tackle box. “Coho might be running.”
There wasn’t the slightest possibility of coho in any of the inlets, but she would not point this out. He was right even when he was wrong.
In the boathouse where the Isabel, their eighteen-foot Alumnaweld boat, was berthed, he laid his gear on the dock while she knelt beside the stern, grabbed the starboard gunwale and snugged the boat to the walkway.
“We’re going for oysters in Hidden Cove,” she reminded him. “The Clyde group is coming.” Every Thanksgiving weekend for the past ten years Jim Clyde had brought his store managers to Anne and Warren’s
fishing lodge at Arbutus Point. “You remember them, right?” she asked with unintended sharpness.
Warren forced his stiff knees to bend just enough to climb aboard, and when he’d regained his balance, she passed his gear to him. He looked down at his rods, his expression confused. “If we’re going for oysters, why did I bring these?”
“Because while I’m gathering oysters, you can fish.” They’d gone over the plan three times since breakfast, but as he stowed his tackle box beneath a seat and placed his rods in the holders along the port gunwale, she knew he’d already forgotten his question.
The hundred-horsepower engine purred to life. She untied the lines and climbed aboard and by the time she had stowed the oyster pail and made her way forward, he had backed the Isabel from the shed, shifted gears and was edging the boat around the boom that protected their dock. As soon as he reached open water, he gunned the motor and they sped up the inlet.
The lightly rippled water sparkled beneath a sky so blue it hurt, but Warren was looking beyond the blue to the clouds darkening the northern horizon.
“Storm’s coming,” he worried. “Maybe we should go back.”
“No!” Anne said sharply before the idea of going back lodged itself too firmly in his mind. “We’ve got a couple of hours at least. Plenty of time to get the oysters and make it home.”
For once he didn’t argue, perhaps because he was still thinking about coho.
An hour later, Warren throttled down and carefully guided the boat through a narrow opening and into the wide but deep bay called Hidden Cove. A thick forest of cedars and hemlock obscured the entrance and the cove’s southern shore, but a mix of cedars and arbutus grew out of the cracks in the rocks on the steep north side that was terraced with rocky ledges swaddled with golden moss. She had once tried to climb a similar slope, thinking it was as easy as it looked, and almost slid into the sea when the moss gave way beneath her. Since then, she had left climbing to those who knew what they were doing.
A jagged fracture drew a vertical line between the terraced slope and the steep granite outcrop that marked the end of the cove. On the beach beneath the outcrop was a ragged collection of huge boulders that had split from the mountain eons ago. Visible only at the lowest tide, the seasmoothed slabs rested on a narrow underwater ledge, which, according to Warren’s depth finder, dropped off steeply another forty feet, but they sheltered an oyster colony that was known only to the few year-round inlet dwellers.
As the boat drew closer, she kicked off her socks and runners and squeezed into a pair of aqua shoes. They were tight around her ankles, but the non-skid rubber soles were much safer on the rocks than regular shoes. Unfastening the canvas flap above her, she opened the
walk-through section of the windscreen and lugged her oyster bucket containing her gloves and a screwdriver to the bow.
The tide had already turned when Warren nosed the boat into a Vshaped gap between two of the rocks. He frowned at their algae-slick surfaces.
“Too slippery, Annie. And you’re not wearing a life jacket.”
“I’ll be fine,” she snapped, hating his caution, hating his assumption that her balance and mobility were as compromised as his. She might be sixty-five, but she still ran the local half-marathon each spring.
She swung her legs over the bow, waited until the waves from their wake subsided, then slid down to the rocks. Landing harder than she expected, she found herself skidding towards the water and only saved herself and her bucket by grabbing the bow rail. She didn’t look at Warren as she pushed the boat away from the rock. “I’ll wave when I’m done!” she shouted as he reversed the engine.
Barnacles crunched beneath her knees as she crawled to the edge of the boulder where oysters were growing just beneath the water’s surface. She rolled up her sleeves before selecting the biggest one, eased the screwdriver blade between it and the rock and gently applied just enough pressure to break the mollusk free. Tossing it into the bucket, she moved on to her second victim. When she had five, she stopped and, leaving the smaller oysters there to grow, climbed onto another boulder, one with oysters that were not under water.
She paused to watch the Isabel, trailing Warren’s salmon gear, make a wide, slow circle around the bay. There was no convincing him that it was thirty years since he’d last caught a salmon anywhere in the inlet. That catch was as real to him today as it had been then. She closed her eyes and tried to manifest a coho for him—one last beautifully magnificent catch, before he descended into the hell awaiting him as his dementia progressed. But there was no catch, and as he started a new circuit, she went back to work, jabbing an oyster so fiercely that she cracked the shell.
Simmer down, Annie girl, Warren whispered in her thoughts. We’ve got a long way to go before the sun sets.
His gently spoken words had often soothed her in the past, though not so much anymore. Now the slightest bump in her day could kindle her temper and an ornery oyster refusing to let go of a damned rock was a very large bump. But smashing their shells all to hell wasn’t going to fill her bucket. With a steadier, calmer hand, she moved slowly from one oyster to another, selecting each one carefully, choosing only those that would give way without breaking. By the time she stepped onto the largest rock, a rectangular-shaped boulder that butted against the granite wall, she had almost gathered her quota.
The tide was coming in faster than she had anticipated, and although this rock stood higher than the others, water was already creeping close to the surface. But the boulder’s lower sides sheltered all the oysters she needed to fill her bucket. Quickly, before the water rose any higher, she
knelt to pry one of them free and was splashed in the face by a wave hitting the wall. Twisting about, she saw that the water near the shore had grown choppy. If it got worse, Warren would not be able to come close enough to pick her up. Casting a regretful glance at the unpicked oysters, she cursed the lost reel that had delayed them that morning, got to her feet and raised an arm to signal the boat.
The Isabel was nowhere in sight.
Shielding her eyes from the sun, she searched the cove’s water again. Where the hell is he?
It wasn’t like Warren to go far from her, especially with a wind coming up and the tide rising. She moved away from the edge of the rock as a larger wave swept over her feet.
Has he forgotten me?
“Not a chance,” she scoffed. She was as much a part of Warren as he was of her. Two peas in the same pod, they used to tell each other, though not so often anymore.
A wave swept over her rock and when it didn’t recede, she looked uneasily at the dark stain on the cliff wall. If she stayed here, it wouldn’t be long before the water was up to her chest.
Don’t panic, she told herself sternly, and pulled her cellphone from its plastic zipper bag. It was a faint hope, since there were few places on the inlet that could access a signal, and she wasn’t surprised when the top bar indicated no service. Fingers trembling, she resealed the bag and was returning it to her pocket when she glimpsed a boat in the narrow opening to the inlet and heard the faint throbbing of an engine.
“Hey!” She waved both arms frantically. “Warren! Over here!”
But the small vessel wasn’t the Isabel. It was a crab boat and it continued past the opening without stopping. She lowered her arms. The fisherman had probably checked his traps and was heading home with his catch. It could be two or three days before he returned, and this late in the season there wasn’t much other traffic on the water. Since it was a Sunday, even the crew boats and barges ferrying men and equipment to logging or hydro camps weren’t operating. In any case, there was little likelihood that anyone would see her here in the bay. It was called Hidden for a reason.
She surveyed the water between her rock and the inlet opening, calculating the time it would take her to swim the distance, certain that it would require a lot longer than twenty minutes, which was how long a person could survive in this cold water before hypothermia set in.
Turning, she examined the cliff again. It wasn’t as sheer as she had assumed, and she could see cracks and indentations that she had missed before, including a cleft just above her head. It was wide enough for a handhold, and if she could pull herself up that far, she could reach the ledge above it. Beyond that she was sure she could find other places to latch onto. It was doable, she told herself firmly. But the rock she was on felt safer than the wall and she couldn’t make herself move, not even as the water crept up to her ankles.
She twisted about and stared at the water.
Warren, where the hell are you?
She looked up at the sky. The dark clouds he had worried about earlier were rapidly advancing from the north.
“Damn it, Warren! You went home, didn’t you, you silly bugger!” She pictured him, jaw set, turning the Isabel about and heading for the opening. “You pig-headed old fart!”
She pounded her fists against her legs then swung around and glared at the granite wall.
“There’s more than one bloody kind of stubborn,” she muttered.
She cast a regretful glance at the oysters in her bucket, shoved three of them into the pouch of her windbreaker, and dumped the rest. Cramming the screwdriver into the same pocket as her water bottle, she grabbed the crack with one hand and wedged a foot into a slight indentation. The rubber sole of her shoes gave her enough traction to push upwards and by pulling with her arm she raised herself high enough to wedge her other foot into a second indentation. Encouraged, she reached for another rift half an arm’s length from her head, but it was so slick with algae that when she tried to pull herself up, her fingers lost their grip and before she could grab anything else, she fell backwards.
Her head just missed the boulder as she plunged into the water. Disoriented, struggling against gravity and current and fighting for air, she finally righted herself and dog-paddled to the surface, only to be swept away from the cliff and carried along the western shore where the waves hurled her against the rocks, sucked her back to the sea and hurled her forward again. Frantically, she grabbed onto a rock, anchoring herself to it, and as soon as the wave receded, she scrambled, coughing and choking, up the steep embankment. Hooking her arm about the red, twisted trunk of an arbutus tree, she pulled herself onto a grassy mound, then leaned forward and vomited salt water and bile.
Eventually, she released her stranglehold on the tree and her shaking subsided enough for her to open the Velcro-sealed pocket that held her water bottle. She rinsed her mouth, took a few cautious sips, then set the bottle aside and pulled out her cellphone, blessing the inventor of the zippered bag that had kept it dry. But the phone still showed no service.
A light gust of wind swept the shore, teasing her wet clothes. Shivering, she took stock of her new circumstances. She was above the high-water line, which meant that she would be safe from the rising tide, but she was also fully exposed to the weather. There was only the slimmest chance that Warren would remember that he’d left her on the rocks and an even slighter chance that anyone else would venture into the cove today. Her only hope was to climb higher to a spot that was more sheltered and where there might be a cellphone signal, which sounded simple enough in her head, but every time she started to move she was overwhelmed by the sensation of falling backwards.
I can’t do it. The words repeated in her head until they were overridden by Warren’s soft voice.
“You’re no quitter, Annie. You can do this.”
She fought back tears. He was right, she told herself, and taking a deep breath, she climbed onto the rock above her. From there she crawled onto a rough incline and crab-walked to a spot where the footing was more secure. Gripping the top of a shoulder-high outcrop, she leaned her belly into the sloped side and propelled herself onto the ledge. Encouraged, she moved forward, angling sometimes to the left, and sometimes to the right, finding a toehold here and a handhold there, avoiding the mossy areas and becoming so engrossed that she was stunned when she came to a dead end. There were no toe-or handholds within reach that would enable her to go up, and passage to her right was blocked by a wild rose bush anchored tenaciously in a crevice.
Lowering herself to sit on the mossy ledge, she pressed her back against the rock. Below her the sheet of granite rippled and plunged toward the sea. The arbutus tree she had clung to before seemed miniscule, and she wondered how the hell she had climbed so high. From here she could see both Hidden Cove and the main inlet, but there were no boats in sight and the water that had been so blue when they started out was now steely grey. The sun had disappeared, blanketed by ashen clouds swirling with streaks of greys and blacks that were moving rapidly toward the Cove. Rain was already falling on the mountains to the north.
The warmth she had generated while climbing vanished as an icy blast of wind threatened to sweep her from her precarious perch on the ledge. Not daring to move, she gripped the edge and, closing her eyes, pictured Warren walking slowly up the hill to the lodge, expecting to find her in the kitchen making pies or fixing their lunch. But he would accept her absence as he had accepted most things in his life. “If it’s bad news, Annie,” he would say, “it’ll find you soon enough. In the meantime, you might as well get on with living.”
Even the doctor’s diagnosis had not altered Warren’s pragmatism. Anne had been dealing with his memory loss for months before she finally worked up the courage to seek a medical opinion. She had thought she was prepared for anything, but when the doctor said “dementia,” she was so devastated that she couldn’t breathe or concentrate on his summary of the disease.
Warren hadn’t even blinked. “Can I still drive?” he had asked, and after the doctor nodded and said that yes, he was fine for now, Warren had pressed his lips tight and said no more about it until that night as he and Anne were lying sleepless in the dark. “When the time comes, do what you gotta do, Annie,” he said quietly. “Put me in a home. Bonk me over the head with a shovel. It won’t matter.”
She had protested, sworn she’d be there for him to the very end and there would be no bonking with shovels or anything else.
“Then that’s that,” he had said and rolled over onto his side. In a few moments he was snoring softly. He never spoke of it again and she doubted that he even remembered the diagnosis, never mind the conversation.
Now, pulling out her water bottle, she drank thirstily, disregarding the water spilling down her chin and neck, then rested the bottle on her knee and contemplated the rosebush. It was firmly ensconced in a fissure that probably extended deep beneath the ledge, and if she was careful, she might be able to squeeze between the bush and the rock behind her.
“Piece of cake!” she told herself, but as she leaned to one side to shove the bottle back into her pocket, the layer of moss beneath her gave way, sliding over the edge and carrying her with it. She screamed and twisted about and grabbed the edge of the rock, stopping her fall. As the bottle tumbled and clunked down the rocks before it splashed into the sea, she tried to pull herself back onto the ledge, but her feet just skidded on the slippery granite. Her arms burned from the pain of bearing her weight, and losing her grip on the ledge, she reached out and grabbed the rosebush. The thorns pierced her gloves, but she twisted and squirmed until she was back on the ledge, this time on the far side of the bush. She huddled there until her shaking subsided; then, after picking as many thorns as she could from her hands, crawled to the next ledge and the next, inching upward until she was stopped once again, this time by the fracture that was too steep-sided and too wide for her to cross.
She stared at the gap between herself and the trees on the far side that promised safety. They might just as well be on the moon, she thought, feeling the same sick sense of defeat that had overwhelmed her when she finally accepted that there was nothing she could do to shift Warren’s dementia.
“There will come a time when he won’t know who you are,” the doctor had said, and showing her an image of Warren’s brain, pointed out the clusters of sticky proteins and tangled nerve cells that were blocking signals and ravaging his memories.
Refusing to believe him, she had proceeded to read everything she could find on the disease. She discovered articles that insisted Alzheimer’s could be stopped if you just followed this or that magical cure, and determined to try every damned one of them, she cut butter from their diet and used coconut oil instead, banned sugar from the menu, but added red wine when someone somewhere insisted it would stimulate a hormone or gene or some other bloody thing that would enhance cognitive abilities. When a friend gave her a link to a website that claimed mental exercise would slow the progress of dementia, she introduced brain games to their daily routine, and for a while they seemed to work. Warren had no computer skills, but with her operating the keyboard, typing in his answers, he managed to use the mouse and advanced several levels. Then he started losing points, and refused to play. The mysterious “they” who now tormented his world had rigged the games for failure.
“How does that make sense?” Anne had demanded of him. “The company only makes money if you succeed and continue to play.”
But by then she had come to realize that it didn’t need to make sense. If Warren decided a game was rigged or a storm was coming, all the facts
in the world would not change his mind. And realizing that there was just no arguing with stubborn—at least not with his particular brand of stubborn—and there was no diet or supplement or program that was going to stop his decline, she gave up.
Now she stared down at the dark grey inlet waters. A single freighter plowed along the farthest shore, but there were no other boats. She was alone except for an eagle swooping and gliding on the wind currents high above her. She took out her phone again. There was still no cellular service, and the battery bar was at the halfway mark. Up a cliff without a phone, she thought, feeling slightly hysterical. The darkening clouds had made it seem as if dusk was fast approaching, but according to her phone, she still had about three hours of daylight left.
She surveyed the canyon beside her once more, and this time noticed a tangle of roots some distance above her. Not daring to hope, she crawled higher and discovered they belonged to a fallen tree. At least a foot in diameter at the base and spiked with the stubs of its former branches, the tree lay across the ravine, its tapered end disappearing into the trees on the far side. On closer inspection, the trunk appeared solid enough, but there was no way for her to determine if it was sturdy enough to hold her weight.
It was probably safer to stay exactly where she was, she reasoned. The tree’s canopy of roots would provide some protection from the worst of the advancing storm. After all, sea planes flew over this area all the time. If she could hold out until this storm passed in a day or two, it was possible that a pilot might spot her—though hell freezing over was probably a better bet.
“Just focus on what you need to do, and not on the outcome,” Warren would tell her in the old days whenever she got into a panic.
“Easy enough to do when you aren’t stranded on a mountainside,” she muttered now as she worked her way past the tangle of roots and straddled the tree. After a few failed attempts, she discovered that by centering her weight on her hands and lifting her butt, she could edge herself a few inches forward, but it was a painful exercise. Her shoulder complained bitterly with every lift, the stubs of former branches jabbed her legs, and the further she went, the more the trunk wobbled. Then she made the mistake of looking down and froze. It was a very long way to the bottom.
“Focus!” she told herself sternly. “You can do this.”
Looking away from the rocks below, she concentrated on the silver grey texture of the log and leaning into her hands again, lifted her butt and moved ahead, then ducked as a powerful swooshing rent the air above her. She lurched sideways as an eagle swooped over her head. Perching on the uppermost branch of a cedar on the far side of the ravine, the bird stared down at her, waiting, she was certain, for her to fall and provide it with an easy dinner.
“Not today,” she told the bird, and regaining her balance, and her calm, she continued across the log while the eagle watched and waited.
The trunk tapered to the width of a flag pole, bouncing violently with each move that she made, so that she fully expected it to snap at any moment, and when she gave a final lift and push and her feet connected with solid ground, her legs shook so much that she could scarcely crawl up the earthy embankment. Once there, securely cradled by the knobby roots of a tall cedar, she curled into a fetal position, clasped her knees and sobbed.
There would be plateaus, the doctor said, explaining that these were periods when Warren would seem almost normal, when for some reason yet to be determined, the dementia would pause and even retreat. The first time it happened, she was filled with hope. He fixed the railing on the lodge deck and brought her flowers from the meadow and told her how much he loved her. He even interacted with the guests instead of retreating as he had been doing for months, and he took a large group on a fishing trip, returning with a trophy ling cod. That night after the guests had retired he had read poems to her while they sat in front of the fire, her head on his lap, his fingers curling strands of her hair. His voice was deep and rich and the words flowed like music. She had been at peace, filled with love for him and a certainty that all would now be well.
Two nights later when she had come to bed late, he had asked suspiciously, “Are you my wife?” It was just a blip, and as soon as he was fully awake, he had laughed about it. But she knew he had fallen off the plateau.
Gradually, she became aware of the world once more—the sound of the wind rustling the tops of the trees, the wetness of the moss beneath her cheek—and the fact that she was shivering from the cold. She needed water and energy food, she thought, and clumsily fished an oyster and the screwdriver from her pockets. After several failed attempts and jabbing her hand with the blade, she pried the shell open and downed the oyster and nectar in a single, greedy swallow. Then she leaned back, rested her head against the bark of the tree, closed her eyes and dozed.
A high-pitched scream woke her. Startled, she looked toward the sound and saw the eagle had landed on the log, far enough away from her to be safe but close enough to fix its eye on the discarded oyster shell. “Nothing left,” she apologized, her words coming out as a croak. The eagle cocked its head.
If it wasn’t for her thirst, she would have stayed where she was, sheltered by the tree, warmed by the thick moss. But the salty nectar from the oyster had parched her already dry throat and she had no choice. She had to find water.
Most of this area had been logged, and though it was many years ago, she had a hunch that if she kept going up she would reach one of the roads left behind. Getting painfully to her feet, she pushed her way through the woods, climbing over downed trees that collapsed beneath her feet and
sent her sprawling, ambushed by moss-covered holes and blocked by salal bushes growing too thick to penetrate. Still, there was always a limb or a root for her to grab onto and on one cedar tree she found several clumps of licorice fern. Breaking off a root, she scraped away the outer coating and popped a piece into her mouth. It tasted bitter, but her licorice flavoured saliva fooled her body into believing she was quenching her thirst.
When at last she reached a spot where the ground was level, she felt slightly disoriented. She paused to study the fir and cedar trees and scarlet-leafed elderberry bushes that surrounded her and her heart quickened. A few more steps and she was standing on a road—one long overgrown with alders, but a road that might lead her to a beach on the inlet or to an active road or to someplace where her cellphone would work.
Wind whistled through the tree tops, buffeting entwined trunks until they whined in protest. She shivered.
In her head Warren said softly, Have to keep moving, old girl.
She broke off another bit of fern, and chewing the bittersweet root, began pushing her way between alder saplings, so intent on what she was doing that she didn’t hear the trickling until the trees gave way and she found herself standing on the edge of a small creek. Spitting the root onto the ground, she dropped to her belly and plunged her face into the water and drank until her thirst was sated.
If she’d had matches or any other means of lighting a fire, she might have been tempted to shelter by this stream, at least for the night. But remembering the report of a cougar sighting passed on by one of the loggers who’d stopped at Arbutus Point a few days earlier, she decided against it. Instead, after removing her phone from its zippered bag, she filled the bag with water and resealed it, then tried to stuff it into the pouch of her windbreaker. But the seal broke, flooding the pouch.
Patiently, she refilled the bag, and clutching it gingerly in one hand, stepped across the creek and carried on down the road. The trees were thinner here, enabling her to see farther ahead; picking up her pace, she rounded a corner then came to an abrupt stop. Less than six metres from where she stood, a large black mound lumbered down a steep, gravel berm that effectively cut off the road ahead.
She had encountered black bears many times before, but not in the woods where there was no place to run, and never an animal as big as this one. Not daring to move, she watched it waddle to the bottom of the embankment. There it paused to sniff the air before shambling toward her.
Bears, she knew, were nearsighted and notoriously lazy, and although this one may have picked up her scent, there was a chance it hadn’t seen her, but she wasn’t taking any chances. Dropping the water bag, she grabbed a mossy alder branch from the ground and brandished it in the air.
“Hey!” she shouted. “Hey!”
The bear peered at her and began swinging its head from side to side. She shouted again and waved the branch as fiercely as she could— so fiercely that it snapped in two, the top flying off into the trees, startling both the bear and herself.
Undaunted, she waved the stub and yelled even louder.
“Hey! Hey! Hey!”
The bear swung its head once more, then wheeled about, lunged back up the embankment and disappeared from view. Still shaking her broken stick, she began singing about the halls of Montezuma in a loud, cracked, off-key voice that she was certain would frighten away the demons of hell. When she was sure the bear had gone, she climbed the gravel slope and found herself on a newly built logging road.
“Heard there’s a river turbine going in at Bruin Creek,” Warren had told her a while back. As usual, she had thought he’d fabricated the story to explain why a barge loaded with equipment was heading up the inlet, but now she wondered if he had been right. Run-of-the river hydro projects were being installed in almost every major creek on the coast, and Bruin Creek had a steady, year-round flow that emptied into the inlet about three miles northeast of the oyster bed. If that was the case here, there must be a work camp, probably somewhere near tidewater.
She stood in the middle of the road trying to decide which way would lead to the camp, and which would take her deeper into the mountains. Without the sun to guide her, she had no sense of north, south, east or west, but she did know that her life depended on making the right choice.
Lately, she hated making choices, especially when they concerned her husband.
“Warren’s dementia is progressing,” the doctor told her, and warned that she needed to start making changes. “You won’t be able to care for him for much longer living way up the inlet.”
She had thought about it for a week before broaching the subject with Warren.
“I’m not moving till they plant me in the ground,” he’d said. It was the first time in months he’d weighed in on a decision of any kind. Mostly he couldn’t choose what he wanted for breakfast, never mind where they should live. Last week when she asked him to write out a cheque for their gas bill he had said quietly, “You do it, honey. You’re better at that than me.”
But she knew she wasn’t better at anything. Warren was her strength— the calm, sensible, reliable yin to her impulsive yang. It is what had drawn her to him the day they met at a sports show in the city. He was looking for fishing gear and she was demonstrating fish cakes made with a packaged mix. By the end of the day he had ten boxes of mix and they knew pretty much everything that was important about each other. He was a fishing guide who hated the city, went to the States every Christmas to visit his widowed mother, and dreamed of building a lodge on a piece of property he’d bought up a remote inlet. She was reeling from the death
of both parents in a car accident and the end of an affair with her boss, who had dumped her when his wife threatened divorce. Six months later Warren and Anne were married and living in an old shack on Arbutus Point and planning the foundation for their lodge.
There was no way they were going to leave the inlet, she told the doctor. This was their spot, the place where they had raised their two boys before sending them off into the world. The place where he felt safe and happy, and so did she. They were outdoors people, lulled to sleep by the wind rustling through the trees and greeted in the early morning by the squawking of seagulls. They shared their breakfast watching deer nibbling salmonberry leaves outside their kitchen window.
She would, she had insisted, find a way to make it work, or bloody well die trying!
Now, without knowing why, she turned right and began walking, eagerly at first, then more slowly as the elastic rims of her aqua shoes chafed her ankles and the flexible rubber soles that had been so helpful when she was climbing failed to stop sharp rocks from jabbing into her feet. Away from the trees, she was exposed to the wind and soon became chilled, and as if to torment her further, rain began to fall, a few timid drops at first and then a steady drizzle.
She ducked her head to protect her face and almost missed the bright yellow board tacked to a fir tree that read Bruin 8. When she did see it, she almost cried with relief. The mileage marker meant that she was walking in the right direction—it also meant that the camp was only eight kilometres farther and probably all downhill. With decent shoes, she could have run it in less than an hour.
But she didn’t have decent shoes and she was already limping from bruised feet and blisters on both of her ankles, and by the time she reached Bruin 4 she was too exhausted to walk another step. Hunkering down in the lee of a large boulder, she tackled the two remaining oysters, but her hands were shaking too much to open them with the screwdriver. Giving up, she grabbed a rock and used it to smash the oysters against the boulder, then picked the meat from among shattered bits of shell. When she was finished, she searched the slash along the roadside until she found a tree limb that looked sturdy enough to use as a cane, then continued walking, one step at a time.
That had been Warren’s mantra. She hadn’t known squat about building lodges or running boats when Warren took her to Arbutus Point for the first time, and she was terrified of being alone in the woods. But he was a patient teacher and eventually she had learned to stop letting the mountain of impossibilities get in the way of what she had to do. One step at a time, he had said. One step at a time.
She blinked the rain from her eyes and limped past the threekilometre sign, then crossed a metal bridge and made her way around
a switchback from which she should have been able to see ahead but couldn’t because of the rain.
“One step at a time,” she chanted as she headed down a steep hill. “One step at a—crap!”
Her right foot had come down hard on a rock, twisting her ankle. Pain shot up her leg and hobbling to a nearby fir, she lowered herself to the ground.
“Are you happy?” she shouted, up into the trees and the rain as if they had colluded in sabotaging her. “Are you fucking happy?”
She began to sob.
It wasn’t about the rain or the wind or her throbbing ankle or answering the same damned question from Warren twenty times an hour. It wasn’t even about losing her home. She wanted her husband back. She wanted to feel his strength, to know that she could still lean on him when life got tough, to be cheered by his irrepressible humour, to wake to his silly little surprises—a heart-shaped rock beside her pillow, a bouquet of yellow violets and clover or a poem he’d written about her. But that wasn’t ever happening again. She stared out into the gathering darkness and a future as bleak and empty as the road ahead.
Is that what it’s like for you, my love? Are you living in a single, unending minute surrounded by nothingness?
“I can’t do this,” she howled. “I can’t watch this happening to you. To us. To me.”
She closed her eyes and leaned against the tree. Maybe she should have tried to swim to the cove entrance. Maybe someone on that freighter would have seen her and her journey would be over now. Or maybe she would have drowned and she would be at peace.
But what about Warren?
She pictured him in the boat patiently circling the bay, waiting for that non-existent coho to take his lure and calmly accepting his luck when no fish appeared.
Who would care for him if she wasn’t there? Who would know that he liked his eggs sprinkled lightly with chipotle chili and turned just before removing from the pan? Who would make sure that his T-shirt collars were not frayed or iron his handkerchiefs or hug him in the morning and make him feel like his world was complete no matter what else was happening?
“You are the most precious thing in my life,” he had whispered last night. “Without you, I’m lost.”
Anne grimaced, remembering.
“I’m the one who’s lost, you old fool,” she muttered.
Groaning from the effort, she climbed to her feet, and leaning heavily on her stick, she limped down to the road.
“You bloody well better be at home,” she growled, then recited silently, One step, two step, three ...
The road grew darker and she lost all sense of time. Guided only by the feel of the gravel beneath her feet and probing the way ahead with her stick, she kept walking until finally in the far distance she saw a pinprick of light. As she drew closer, she picked out a lighted window and the dark outline of a building. Her steps quickened then halted as something big suddenly thumped the gravel and lunged towards her, barking wildly. She tried to scream, but no sound came, nor could she move as the snarling dog charged at her from every direction, coming close then wheeling about and charging again. Then a door opened, creating a new shaft of light around the silhouette of a man. “What is it, old boy?” he called.
As the dog ran toward him, Anne hobbled into the light. The man stared at her, his mouth open.
“Where the hell did you come from?”
She smiled faintly. “Hidden Cove,” she said hoarsely. “I’ve been hiking.”
He helped her inside, gave her dry clothes and coffee laced with a stiff shot of whiskey, lathered her blistered feet with salve and offered her the choice of a bed for the night in one of the camp bunkhouses or a ride home in the camp boat. She opted for the latter and half an hour later, his radar-equipped boat rounded the log boom and pulled up against the wharf at Arbutus Point.
“You sure you’ll be okay?” he asked as Anne stepped onto the dock. “I can help you up to the house.”
The boat-shed light clicked on and she saw the Isabel rocking gently against her berth.
“No...I’m good, thanks.”
“Then I’ll be off.” He tipped his hat, pushed his boat from the dock, and by the time she had limped up the ramp, he was speeding up the inlet.
Outside of the lodge she paused, bathed in light from the kitchen window, and watched Warren doing something at the sink. Probably washing dishes, she guessed. Dishes were something he could still manage without much difficulty.
He looked up as she opened the door and there was delight in his expression—as well as some relief. “Did you have a good run?” Then before she could answer, he added, “I didn’t know if you’d be back for dinner. I caught a couple of rock cod...but I’m not sure what to do with them.”
“I’ll take care of them,” she said gently. “Just let me catch my breath.”