Polka Dot Snow

Donald Shephard

Sleet blew sideways into their faces as the women of the village rowed the umiak through the steel grey sea and the men surrounded the whaling boat in their kayaks. They were taking her husband to the burial grounds to lay him on the rocks and cover his body with drift wood. He had coughed bloody spittle onto his sunken cheek before emitting his death rattle. At the burial site she took a handful of snow, cleaned his face and threw the wad away. It became a single red polka dot on the snow-covered tundra. They headed back to the village, the sleet gone and the wind behind them. She sat in the stern of the umiak, covered by a polar bear rug and smelled his death there. A scent-memory came to her from the first time she was wrapped in the rug. Her delicate smile befuddled the other mourners in the boat. The old woman saw only another red polka dot in the snows of long ago.

He had taken her up the coast from the village on a seal hunting trip. When she gathered driftwood for their fire, he crept up behind her covered in the polar bear skin. She shrieked and ran away across the endless whiteness knowing he was chasing her, knowing he would catch her, wanting to be caught. She fell into a snow bank and he straddled her and held her wrists wide above her head.

“What do you want?” She asked feeling the sharp, cold air in her lungs and another deeper pang. He cocooned them in the bear skin.

“What do you want?” she asked again.

“You,” he whispered.

She raised her hips pushing into him. She knew then that she would not stop him this time; that she was ready; that she wanted him; that it was right. He loosened her tunic and she felt his hands on the soft warmth of her breasts. They raced to remove the seal skins and animal fur that held in their precious body heat. He bent and kissed the wedge of her fur and entered her most enchanting, most powerful place with urgent homage.

She grabbed his shoulders, pulled her head up and with mouth and eyes wide open, surged against him. As he plunged by the final obstacle, red flashed from a spot in the sky over the base of his spine and welded them together. She gasped air deeper into her lungs, hugged him to her, willing the red pain away, replacing it with joy. The cold melted, the snow glowed and spasms rose within her. She crimped her eyes shut, saw the brilliant Northern Lights within her brain, and heard crystalline sopranos chanting in the air. When these images faded and euphoria set in, she opened her eyes to see the sky transformed into meadow green with a blue stream snaking through it. A high singing breeze blew colors across it from golden yellow to opalescent turquoise.

He lay still within and on her until she, for the first of hundreds of times, pushed him gently on his biceps to signal her desire to breathe more easily. He pulled his weight from her and covered her again with fur and seal skin. She smiled quizzically as she noticed the spot of red foam on him, reached for a handful of snow and cleansed him before throwing the redness out of their bear skin nest. With the care of a noviciate she arranged his furs and seal skin about him.

They rose together. He draped the polar bear skin around them as they rotated to take in the ever-changing, multi-colored hemisphere of the Aurora Borealis. They laughed into each others eyes as owners of a mutual secret at the one red polka dot staying true while the rest of the snow reflected the magical, incandescent, celestial show.

The villagers propelled her along the shore. The old woman wondered what the surrounding snowfields would look like if she had produced a speck of red foam everytime they made love. She thought there would be polka dot snow all around their village; throughout the caribou hunting grounds; along the shore where they had sheltered from storms under this very umiak; certainly over the polar bear skin; and once, when they had expected to die, on an ice floe that drifted out to sea and mysteriously back again. As she peered across the water to the burial ground, she pictured him lying in his grave in the center of a red polka dot landscape of snow. The Northern Lights came back to her then and colored the world with irridescent flashes of blue, green, red, yellow, and purple. The pure high voices sang above her again while the others heard the roar of the sea and saw only the miriad shades of grey and endless, endless white.

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