by Jan Stinchcomb
She knows that all the travel will end him.
She stitches his leggings and sews his hat, stuffs his pouch with dried mushrooms, and carves her sign into the handle of his knife. She uses skins from the animals they raise and from the ones he kills, believing this blend of familiar and strange creatures will protect him. Still, he has an inborn sadness that she can’t cure, his spirit failing as the sun and moon trade places again and again, fearsome time surrounding him, front and back. He journeys, not because he knows languages or is a man of standing, but because the motion soothes him. She sees in her dreams the blow from behind, the arrow shot by an enemy. It will happen in the middle of the night, after he has set up camp, far from her. She sees it on the first night they spend together, and he laughs when she tells him. He roars, Who is this enemy?, and pretends to be afraid. She sees also how other men will find him one day, entombed in ice, and how his fame will grow until it is enormous, like that of a god. He will be regarded as a mystery; he will occupy space in the minds of people who have not yet been born. But she does not tell him this.
She knows he is a boy at heart and she keeps him that way, for herself. He will be singing a song of her, every night, as promised, even on the night of his death. She will continue on her own journey, on the woman-path, the route that stays in place but runs continuously. She will not survive to see the strange men release his body from the ice. Nobody lives that long. So she sings a song of him, every day, for the rest of her life, starting on the morning their child is born.
Jan Stinchcomb is the author of The Blood Trail (forthcoming from Red Bird Chapbooks). Her stories have recently appeared in Black Candies: The Eighties, Whiskey Paper, Atticus Review and Monkeybicycle, among other places. She is featured in The Best Small Fictions 2018 and is a reader for Paper Darts. Currently living in Southern California with her husband and children, she can be found at janstinchcomb.com or on Twitter @janstinchcomb.
‘Similaun im Morgenlicht (Ötztaler Alpen, Tirol, Österreich)’ by Woodsiailvensis courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0 AT).