Sunless Days by C.L. Patterson

Moon-rises slide and pass on the edge of the listless horizon. I stand, watching as it circles around me. White vastness spreads out before me as if I were dreaming in a world where nothing but the cold hard wind stirs up rounds of ice and snow. A poem comes into my mind by Robert Frost: And miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.
Sunless Days
Sunless Days by C.L. Patterson
It is miles to go before I sleep. Each night is more tormenting than the last. I become restless, weary, past the point of exhaustion where it takes too much energy to sleep. I feel my loose skin, slightly sagging from dramatic weight loss. My face is as gray as the ancient snow and gaunt as the creviced and carved glaciers I pull my sled upon. I think back to that morning. I woke, took a breath, stretched. Next to me, she was cold, stiff and empty. I shook her. I breathed into her mouth… nothing. I call 9-1-1. The dispatcher said the ambulance was on its way. I continued CPR. “Come back!” I yell, forcing my hands down on her chest. After what seemed like hours, the medics arrive. I rode in the back and watched her chest rise and fall, like a puppet moving on a string as the breaths are forced into her and the medic continues CPR. The ambulance blew through red lights, weaved around cars, but it wasn’t fast enough. She was gone. I could see it. Her body laid on the gurney like the husk of an insect. The ER doctors took over, “Code Blue” blaring over the intercom, and I was barred entry into the operating room. I longed to hold her for one last moment, but the double doors closed, and she was gone. The doctors do all they can for two hours, attempting to bring her back. Nothing comes of it, she was gone for too long. The hospital doctor says that this happens sometimes. The autopsy the next day revealed nothing. The final report is death by natural causes. An old Inuit man wearing a red cap sat in the chair next to me in the lobby. “It happens,” he said. “What do you know of it?” I say despairingly, as if my words say “You know nothing of it.” I signed the required documents and sit in her cold operating room for a few moments longer. I saw her pallid face, the kiss of death on her blue shaded lips, and the cold stillness of her flesh. She was not there, and when I said my last goodbye to the emptiness, they covered her and sent her to the morgue. I wept as they wheeled her out. The doctors gave their grievances and numbers. “In case you need anything,” they said as the handed me their cards in one hand, and placed their other on my shoulder, my arm, my arm rest, the back of my chair. I placed the cards in my wallet, never intending to dig them out again. When they left, the old Inuit man leaned next to my ear. “We have a legend, that you can see the dead among the Northern Lights.” I was silent, unknowing, unwilling to move. I was, in that moment, frozen with the Inuit man. “If you travel north enough in the winter, you may be able to see her.” “Have you been there?” I said. “Yes, many times. I will show you the way if you like, but first, you must cleanse yourself. We will speak more of this later. For now I will grieve with you.” I know this Inuit man. I have seen him in town, on the streets, in restaurants, on busses, driving busses for tourists. He is as iconic to our culture as the glaciers that surround us. We went down to the hospital café and ate. I talked, he listened. Nodding, he kept a firm, stoic lock on my eyes as I looked at the floor, the buffet, the glass of water, the ice cubes, his red hat. I told him intimate things, secret things that were shared only between my wife and me. I did this not to release feelings, but in hopes that she would live on in someone else. After words refused to surface, I cried. This is common in the hospital. The Inuit man placed my hand in his and wrapped his other around it. “I have traveled north many times. I have communed with my loved wife there.” “How?” I asked. The sadness was replaced with hope, and a warmness grew with that hope, the hope of seeing her again. “You will see her. I will show you the way. Now I speak of the cleansing. It isn’t to be done by flying, nor driving, but you must trek there, dragging your grief behind you. I take my wife’s coat, her plates, shoes, spear, jewelry, the heavier the better. It cleanses you and prepares you for that meeting.” [][][] I have been dragging my sled for three days across Northern Alaska. Her favorite stuffed tiger is lashed next to her jewelry box. Her moccasins and fur slippers decorate the corners of the sled. Vases and pictures rattle against the jagged snow. My legs shake as I pull. My breath is rhythmic, setting me into a type of trance. The moon continues to circle around me. My face is shielded from the elements by a mask and heavy fur coat. The brown and black fur tickles my peripheral vision. Occasionally I must look up at the sky and force my eyes to pierce the Northern Lights to find the Northern Star. I pull forward, stepping over a small crack in the glacier. The skis snag on the crack as I attempt to cross it. The stuffed tiger falls from its place and out of the covering. I release myselffrom the harness to grab the animal before it is swept into the crevice by the wind. I brush the snow off of it and hold it to my chest for a moment. “Soon,” I say as I look up at the lights. “And miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.” The moon is dipping again in the horizon, but only sinks slightly. It will be that way for three hours, and that is all of the day and of my physical recuperation. I set up the tent and crawl inside, knowing that sleep will not come. It has never come. I think of my first night alone back home. I tried to sleep next to the impression in the mattress. The memories seemed too real and at times, I thought she was there. I reached out to curl her hair in my fingers, but grasped at emptiness. I could not cry. In my tent, my sadness turns to anger, and the choking is broken by screams. I scream now in the darkness. I do not fear predators. I am miles in the wilderness. Nothing grows, nothing lives, nothing survives here. My dreams, if they can even be called dreams, are no more than thoughts, rationalizations, memories, weaving in and out in one steady stream. It is because of these dreams that the weight I drag across the snow and ice is heavier than those of the Inuit who have made the same journey. A dream, a memory, or a fantasy now comes to me, though I am not sure which it is. I am there in the hospital, sitting with by head against the wall. A Bible is next to me. I open it, vainly searching for a passage to give comfort. I open to Philippians chapter three. I skim the verses until I come to verses ten and eleven: “That I may know her, and the power of her resurrection, and the fellowship of her sufferings, being made conformable unto her death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.” In my mind I replace him, with her, my wife. I think of her, down in the morgue, sleeping that seemingly eternal sleep. I read the last section again. “If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.” I flip again through the Bible. I come to James chapter two, verse twenty six: “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” I close my eyes but I do not sleep. I think of the legend of the Northern Lights. The spirits of the dead reside there. The Inuit man in the red cap has returned and sits in the chair next to me. He gives me a map of the north and I stick it my shirt pocket. The sled I am to pull is outside next to a bike rack. On the sled is a pack with a tent and sleeping bag. Wrapped in a tarp is a large moose skin. It is wide and thick enough to wrap in and to stay warm. It is snowing outside, whiteout conditions. No one is traveling. The hospital is quiet. Doctors sleep in their offices. I am tired, weary. I want my wife back. At this point I know I am acting, but weariness and sleep deprivation begins to weave desires and reality together. I think again of the spirits in the northern lights. I think of my wife being there. I dream, maybe, of uniting her body to her spirit. “By any means might I attain the resurrection of my wife, for as the body without her spirit is dead, so am I,” I think. I look up from my dazed state and my wife is in front of me. She calls me with the wave her hand. I follow. She leads me down to the hall, down the stairs, into the morgue. It is unlocked. The mortician is asleep in a chair. Papers are strewn about him. Everyone seems to be sleeping but me. She points to the locker that I think her body is in. I look at the locker and look back to her, but she is gone. It is clear to me then. I know what I must do. I run up the stairs and take the moose fur from the sled. It is neatly wrapped in a grey tarp. I take it into the hospital. The receptionist asks me what I have. I tell her it is a blanket. I must sleep. She too is tired, it seems. Packets of creamer and sugar litter her area. Her current coffee mug is half drained. I walk patiently down the stairs, into the morgue. The mortician still sleeps. Slowly, I open the door and drag out the body. Her pale, stiff skin, golden brown curls, even the crispness of her lips holds a macabre type of beauty. I wrap her in the moose fur and tarp. Her body disappears in the mass of hair and plastic, and it looks as if I only re-rolled my blanket. I make my way back up to the entrance, grab my coat, goggles, boots, hat and gloves and go outside. I set my wife on the ground and dress for the elements. I place her on the sled and lash her to it and put on the harness and backpack. This is now a memory, tangible. I know I dragged the sled home and lashed to it her jewelry, vases, pictures, blankets, her stuffed tiger, moccasins, and slippers. No one is looking for me. I pull the map out of my pocket to gain my bearings. A note is written on the corner from the Inuit man with the red cap. “Always look to the North Star.” [][][] I stir from my reminiscing. It is the middle of winter. This I know. As these thoughts go through my head, I look at my watch. It has been six hours since I crawled into the tent. I roll up the bag, tear down the tent and secure them in my pack. I am now curious to see if my dreams were real. Carefully and gently I pull apart the cords. I move past the possessions and flip open the moose fur blanket. She is there, as beautiful as I remember in my dream. I kiss her gently on her forehead. I know now, past point of clarity, what my desire is. I wish to take her to her spirit, and reunite them together, so that I can be with her. The wind has stilled and I make good time in the dark. The Lights are becoming more beautiful. The white expanse has now changed to a foggy mirror, reflecting the yellows, greens and blues of the lights above them. I am walking on fire it seems. I feel by body begin to warm. I have not felt this sensation at any time on my journey. I do not sweat but pull onward. The heat is now stifling and I sense that my chest is about to explode. I feel constrained, captive within my coat and sweaters. I stop to disrobe and lash my jacket and sweater to the sleigh and pull northward. I look into my pocket, staring at the map the Inuit man provided. I have traveled forty miles northward. I look again at the sled. There is one box at the back to weigh down the skis. It was given to me by the Inuit man. I think back for a moment. He was there as I was leaving the town. “You’ll need this,” he said. “It is not part of the cleansing, but you must eat and drink. In it you will find food, cans of heat and water.” “How did you know Inuit man? How did you get out here? You were sleeping,” I said. “Sleep also. This you must try to do. Scream and cry if you can, if it helps you sleep. The way north is barren. No creature would travel it. That too is part of the cleansing,” he says, dodging. The snow whips between us. Every inch of me is covered in winter gear, yet the Inuit man wears a wind breaker and his red hat. “How is it you got here before me?” “Travel well,” he says. He takes a few steps to my right and disappears in the white out. Numbness has consumed my legs. My fingers curl from the tension of pulling on the lead rope. I try to open them, but in the midst of the burning snow, they seem frozen shut. I blow hot air on them, but nothing moves. I continue northward. On the horizon, where the Lights seem to bend from, is a bright light. I quicken my pace. The sky bends and shimmers. It would take too much energy now to sleep. I am almost there. I can feel it. “And miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep,” I say. I must press forward. I come closer to the bright light. Within it, I see someone. I pull harder. I take off my gloves, tossing them in the vibrant colored snow. I call to the figure. The figure turns. It is her; I can see her clearly, it is my wife. My heart is racing. I strip off my shirt. I am still too warm. The cool wind does not chill me. I see her. I stop in front of her. Her skin burns a golden white. “I am here,” I say. She does not speak. I reach to touch her, and in that moment, the golden light that swarmed around her consumes me as well. I feel her warm hands tracing the lines of my palms. I look behind me, to see how far I have come. I see myself, lying in the snow, the wind burning my bare skin. My wife kisses my cheek. She is tangible, and together, we travel northward into the sunless day.

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