Robertson was not from here, and so no toothless and snuffspitting aunts had been assigned to their family. The drawbacks of marrying a Hudsons Bay Company man had been explored by dozens of women in the town, but this single advantage held. She lay in her bed now and listened to her daughters squealing and whispering and calling out to each other. This was an intimacy, she thought, that could never be available to a family who shared their house with another. She was lucky, at least on that score. But then, she thought, there might be a different kind of intimacy available to the cousins and brothers who had grown up unencumbered by the rind of privacy.
She was thinking about that when the banging at the kitchen door began. Victoria thought the door had become unfastened, and she leapt out of bed to close it before it was torn from its hinges. When she got to the kitchen she turned on the lights and saw her father standing just inside the door. Drifted snow stretched out alongside him on the kitchen floor. His eyebrows and eyelashes were coated in ice, and his caribou parka shed granules of snow steadily as he stood there.
Qanuipiit? he asked.
Qanawingietunga, she replied. As good as could be expected, anyway. They were all bored, certainly, but the furnace was working and there was food. Which was rather a lot to express with a shrug and a single word, but sufficiently severe terrain makes for a pronounced economy of expression. Consequently, Inuktitut is the very language of economy.
A little windy? Her fathers understatement made her smile. Justine and Marie appeared in the kitchen, drawn by the sound of conversation, and when they saw their grandfather in his sealskin kamiks they paused behind their mother. Twelve and fourteen years old, they were nearly as tall as the old man and were not prepared to greet him while dressed in their pajamas. Pauloosie loomed up behind his younger sisters in a flannel shirt and jeans. The old man reached inside his jacket and pulled out a plastic grocery bag. He held it out to the boy. Tuktu. he said.
Pauloosie took the bag of caribou meat. Koyenamee.
The steaks were frozen into pink and cartilaginous bricks. Pauloosie took the bag to the kitchen sink and peeled away the plastic. He began rinsing the meat off with cold water, picking away the bits of hair and tendon that stuck to it. Victoria and her father watched him. How is Robertson? Emo asked.
Hes in Yellowknife again. Gets home next week.
Hes bidding on a contract.
He works so much. The old man looked around the kitchen as he said this, as if scanning the house for evidence of the mans absence.
He does. Victoria followed her fathers eyes around her kitchen defensively.
Do you need anything here?
Not really. Which was to say: nothing at all.
I didnt see the lights on.
Theres ice over the windows.
You should tell the girls to put some clothes on. Its ten in the morning.
Justine and Marie were down the hall and out of range before Victoria's backward glance even came close to them.
Your mother wanted me to see how you were.
Why didnt she phone?
Its not working again.
Do you need money?
No. We just forgot.
Im going to the bank when the storm lets up. I could take care of it.
If you want.
Do you need some fish?
We still have char left over from the fall.
Excerpted from Consumption by Kevin Patterson Copyright © 2007 by Kevin Patterson. Excerpted by permission of Nan A. Talese, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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