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The Colour of Winter
A heavy blanket of snow covered the ground illuminating the road with the monochromatic hues of deep winter. Color, Alina mused. It was something her life had missed for months now. As she dragged the sled through the drifts, she carefully avoided trees felled by the weight of the snow. She knew she needed to get to the cabin quickly, a challenge heightened by dark fall and snowfall. She shivered realizing the will to survive was propelling her forward. Forced to use her scarf to ensure the package was carefully tied to the sled, her neck and shoulders were exposed. She moved quickly as the flakes fell upon her face. The blades of the sled left a trail behind her footsteps. Occasionally, she was forced to untangle her blonde curls from an unsuspecting branch or to kick a burst of snow off her boots.
A quarter of a mile away, the cabin Alina was raised in sat perched near the banks of a frozen lake, serene and unfettered by the cold. The heat from the chimney had melted the snow along the pitch of the tin roof. Inside, Alina’s mother sat and stared into the corner rocking herself to and fro with abrupt movements, completely unaware that Alina was not there. She had started rocking ever since her complete memory loss. She also rubbed the seam of her blouse incessantly. Annika was like a pendulum clock in constant motion, an outward demonstration of her own will to survive.
As Annika rocked, Alina’s father stirred in the kitchen trying to heat dinner. It was now very difficult to feed to his wife and he would be anxious for Alina’s return. While 80 years had been kind to him in terms of health, Annika’s Alzheimer’s tried his patience on every level, especially when she refused to eat. Moving back to the family cabin to allow her to die with dignity had proven to be a brutal decision. No one had expected the coldest winter on record. The roads to the main outlet were closed; ready firewood was an enormous chore; life by propane was a distant cry from the comforts of modern electricity. Still it had been Annika’s wish to die here and he and Alina were bound to it.
Alina drudged through the last thick of trees from the road to the cabin. When the door opened, she fell into the cabin grasping for a breath of warm air. Her father quickly embraced her and exclaimed, “thank God you’re okay.” Annika never changed her pace; never uttered a sound; never turned her head. Alzheimer’s had muted her life and all that remained was a visible shell of a once intuitive, intelligent, and selfless individual.
Alina hadn’t heard Annika speak in months. At times it was hard to hear her mother’s inner voice over the white noise of terminal illness. The last words Alina could recall hearing her mother say were “oh my” as she gazed at the dogwoods in the fullness of their season, pink and delicate with blooms pointing toward a sky of brilliant blue. Alina had felt what her mother saw in that moment. Now as her mother faced her final weeks or days, she wanted to somehow recreate that moment despite the dead cold of a bitter winter and the unforgiving storm of human frailty.
Alina and her father put away the dinner dishes with lingering dismay by Annika’s disinterest in food. Her father put another log on the fire as Annika bounced back and forth.
He stared at the package which had been transported by sled over a mile through several feet of snow. “Do you think this will work,?” he prodded.
“What have we got to lose?” Alina answered. She carefully opened the package which had been meticulously stuffed with protective paper. Alina removed the final layer of paper and beneath it revealed the object of her affection. She raised the life-sized baby doll into the air admiring it as though it were real. The doll had been her mother’s doll and then her doll. The doll was named Alice after her great-great grandmother. It had been fed and changed as many times as any real baby and time and use had worn its cheeks and hands and clothing bare.
Alina carefully laid the baby in Annika’s lap expecting some type of acknowledgment. There was none. Instead, just the still quietness of what seemed like an empty heart and an empty room. She and her father glanced at each other with a shattered blankness.
It was time for bed as winter nights in the cabin brought fierce winds howling across the lake. The wind was now their lullaby. They cautiously tucked Annika into her bunk and turned themselves in.
Annika was awakened by a familiar sound. The light of dawn had only begun to stream through the cabin windows. She thought at first the sound was the wind but the tone was distinctly human. She turned her head so that both ears were not muffled by her pillow. Now the sound was melodic and unmistakable.
“Hush-a-bye, don't you cry,
Go to sleepy little baby.
When you wake, you shall have,
All the pretty little horses.”
“Daddy, are you awake,” Alina whispered loudly?
“Yes,” he whispered in reply.
As they both eased into the main cabin, there sat Annika rocking with Alice cradled in her arms. The doll had become real again in the hearts and imaginations of all who treasured it. As Annika sang the words to the lullaby with astute perfection, Alina smiled. Color had returned to her world and Annika’s final days would be spent doing what she had done so well her entire life – tirelessly caring for the ones she loved.
© 2016 Vicki Parker