December 2018

“Sure thing Kenneth, I’ll be down there in about forty-five minutes.”

Leigh hung up the phone and hustled the loose papers on her desk into a file folder. Sometimes the detachment went days with no calls. She’d been hoping it was one of those days. Yellowknife had always been cold, but Resolute was testing her at a cool minus thirty-three degrees. She threw on her blue parka and her muskrat hat, and took a sip from the thermos she’d forgotten about. Cold. The sour chemical taste of instant coffee dwelled in her mouth.

The wind was still, but the cold was biting all the same. Stepping outside made her sinuses burn and her eyes water. She brushed the snow off the seat of her snowmobile—a mid-nineties Ski-Doo, always giving her trouble. She surveyed the town as she waited for the engine to warm up. It’s squat vinyl sided homes glowed amidst the dim winter daytime. Snowmobile tracks crisscrossed on the road but not a person was in sight. She checked her handheld GPS. The coordinates lined up with somewhere northwest, about a forty-five minute ride under the blanket of dark. There were no stars today. It was always cloudy.

She pulled up to a small hunting shack, where Kenneth was already waiting with the door ajar. He gave a little wave, which felt unnecessary considering the only thing around them was white. Leigh shouted over the chugging snowmobile.

“I can’t stop this thing or it might never start again! You go ahead and lead the way.”

Kenneth nodded, which was impossible to see from underneath the thick fur lined parka that covered his entire face. He kicked the shelter’s door closed, slung his rifle over his back and started his snowmobile. Their headlights illuminated Kenneth’s tracks from earlier, almost masked now by a fresh layer of snow. Kenneth revved his engine and turned back to give Leigh a thumbs up, before driving off.

At first it appeared as only a dark outline, starkly out of place in the otherwise flat landscape. Kenneth looked back at Leigh, who signalled him to cut the engine. They dismounted their snowmobiles about fifty metres away and traipsed through the knee deep snow. The smell of musk wafted up to their noses. The snow was trampled and dark with frozen blood. Covered with a dusting of snow lay a caribou, shot through it’s hind. Leigh pulled down her parka hood and crouched to get a closer look.

“I can tell ya, people are gonna blame those Americans,” said Kenneth. She placed her hand on the body. Frozen.

“They know the rules. Wouldn’t risk it.” Kenneth shrugged.

“Maybe was an accident. Shot in the hind by mistake, it runs off before you can finish the job.”

“You see how far that blood trail goes?” Leigh said as she stood up and brushed the bloodied snow off the knees of her pants.

“Bout a mile. That I can see.” She ungloved her hand and quickly scrawled a few lines in her notepad. Closing it, she turned to Kenneth.

“Well Ken you’re free to take it home, if you can manage to get it outta here.” Kenneth looked the caribou once over, then nodded.

“I’ll come back later with Johnny and the trailer.”

Blue hour had hit by the time she drove back through town. The desk girl at the inn informed her that the American expedition had taken a boat to hunt a migration further south. They’d be gone for days. Rumours would stew, and resentment would build in that time, she knew.

She stopped in front of a green single story house. What caught her eye wasn’t the overturned snowmobile out front, but the half naked baby standing in the open doorway. She dismounted the sled and lifted the boy into her arms.

“Melissa?” She stepped through the front door into the dark house. There was no response, but two teenage boy’s heads poked out from behind the sofa.

A cartoon played on the TV behind them, the sound turned low.

Leigh sat the toddler on the sofa.

“You boys know your brother’s outside in his diaper?” They were silent.

“Where’s your mom?” said Leigh.

“Taking a nap,” said the younger of the two.

“Boys?” A hoarse voice rang out from the bedroom down the hall.

“It’s me Melissa,” Leigh called back.

She nodded towards outside. “You boys been out riding while your dad’s gone?”

“No officer,” they mumbled.

As Leigh surveyed the room her eyes fell upon a rifle, propped up inside the coat closet. When she looked back at the eldest boy their eyes met.

Melissa shuffled in wearing pyjama pants and a hooded sweater.

“Hi Leigh, sorry I didn’t hear you come in there. They getting in trouble?”

“Saw the baby trying to get outside as I was passing. Just wanted to make sure everything’s ok.”

“Oh,” said Melissa. “Shit.”

“Might want to think about locking up your guns,” said Leigh as she pulled back on her gloves and turned to leave. “‘Specially with a toddler around, you know.”

Leigh flicked on the electric kettle and hung her fur hat on the coat hook, her fine hair now a staticky knot at her neck. She emptied her jacket pockets and left a note on her desk to question the Americans when they were back in town.

It was already getting darker outside. The detachment would be quiet for days once again. She dumped three heaping spoonfuls of instant coffee into her mug. As she stirred in the boiled water, it turned the same muddy brown colour of the arctic plains.

Always Winter
Philippa Jones
Ink and watercolour on paper

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