Under the Ice (3)
Hauling the body across the ice was not so hard. She laid it onto her fur and pulled it fairly easily to the start of the land. The body had rolled a few times, but remained on the fur. The trek from the edge of the ice to her hut was more difficult. Not only did she have to make her way up a steady incline but the snow was thinning, allowing rocks and stones to further hinder her progress.
Eventually, with a combination of strength, persistence and a skilled use of twine and rope, she reached the door of her hut. She was exhausted and longed to rub her aching limbs with liniment, drink herb tea, then sleep; but she had more pressing matters to deal with.
It was growing dark outside but it was even darker in her cave of a home. An orange glow at the centre of the room indicated the embers of her fire were still hot. Aroha rolled the body onto its front on the matting beside her fire. She pushed her fingers into the young man’s mouth and found that it was not iced up. The jaw was hardly slack, but she was able to prise the mouth open. Aroha found his tongue and stroked it to one side. There was some flexibility in the muscle and she felt a twinge of hope.
She pulled layers of cloth and fur from her own body, which was hot from her exertions, then pulled her thickest and best fur from the mattress of her bed. She rolled the body onto this fur, ensuring once again that the head was to the side, the mouth open and that the tongue was not blocking the entrance to its throat.
The night’s endeavours began. She pressed as much of the naked surface of her skin against the deathly chill of the body as she could. She wrapped them both in the fur, to try and trap any heat. She held him close to her and breathed her hot breath into his mouth and nose. The transference of temperature was working in reverse; the cold of his body was so intense that it sucked all warmth from her. She was soon trembling with cold and had to stand before her fire and rub her body with a fiery and powerfully scented liniment, which drew her hot blood to the surface, warming her skin.
Aroha thought of her mother, now long gone, and what she might do in her place. She saw the strong capable figure surveying the situation and identifying what must be done and in which order. Aroha heated water on the fire, returning to rub the liniment onto the male’s body, before pouring the steaming water onto a concoction of herbs and unnameable essences. She continued to hold him close and breathed into him. She grew light-headed as she gave the frozen body the greater share of her breath, and so cautioned herself. She had to be wary of endangering her own life in pursuit of an unlikely resurrection. Aroha rested for a moment, and drank deeply from the container holding the infusion she had prepared. It had a strong and bitter taste, but she had long ago lost any sense of aversion to certain flavours, survival was the only imperative.
Aroha held some of the warm liquid in her mouth and passed it into the mouth of the body. Most of it trickled out and down his chin, but she hoped that some of its power would find its way to that small spark of life, which she was convinced lay deep at his core. She could envision it with her mind’s eye and this glimpse galvanised her determination to nurture it, and bring him back, whoever he might be, to the world.
All at once far more liquid than she had dribbled into his mouth poured from some cavity within him. Aroha pushed the body onto his front and rested his head to one side. She massaged his back with strong circular movements and then moved his arms up and down, in an attempt to pump the sea water from him. After each expulsion of water, Aroha placed her mouth over his and breathed air into him, commanding life to respond. “Live, live for me. Live, live for Aroha.”
She willed the words to travel into him with each breath. She breathed herself into him, longing for a further sign. Time lost all meaning as she continued this work; her reason for being became only to bring this other human back into existence. Death could sometimes be a temporary state, she knew this for certain.
When she was much younger, 12 or more winters ago, Aroha had slipped beneath the ice. It had been such an easy action, one moment she had been on the surface breathing air, not even aware that she was doing so, and then she was somewhere else, a place of pain and cold of such intensity that it changed her flesh to stone, a place of new and dark colours where her body had no strength. She had rolled on that black, green, current, swallowing salt, feeling the significance of her tiny body in the hugeness of the world. So this was death approaching. She had looked down, it was black. Something shone in the darkness, an eye of such overwhelming kindness that she lost all sense of fear.
Later her mother would say to her that whales never came that close to the shore, but Aroha knew who it was, and in that moment of recognition she knew that death wasn’t so much, she could slip from what she was into something else, or even into nothing.
Then she turned and looked up, there was light and shadow. She had kept her eyes opened, she realised. Her eyelids were frozen open and she was pleased. She wanted to see all there was to the end. Light and dark played above her, and then there was a change of colour, she looked through the ice into another world and saw the different shades of blue of the sky and ice, the distorted shapes that she knew were her parents. Then all senses slowed to a halt.