CAMARADERIE OF THE PUBLIC HOUSE
To live to see the great day that dawns / And the light that fills the world. — From an old Inuit song.
A man sits alone in a bar in Yellowknife. It has been six months to the day since the death of his wife. He isolated himself in their house outside of town, and worked on his novel. This night he decided to seek the camaraderie of the public house.
His wife, a freelance National Geographic photographer, was killed in a plane crash near Arctic Red River, just above the Arctic Circle. Her body was never found. It was a front page story in the Anchorage Daily News: Search called off for missing photographer.
She was eternally preserved in the ice. Beautifully dead.
In the bar, the more he gets into the Canadian Club whiskey, the more morbid he becomes. He decides it was a bad idea and looks around for the waitress to get his check.
His glance rests on a young woman sitting at another table with two friends. She immediately looks up and their eyes lock. She has those characteristic almond-shaped eyes of this land.
He raises his whiskey glass to her and she quickly looks back down.
The waitress comes to his table, he pays her and heads for the door. He sees almond eyes looking at him. He goes over to her table.
He says: “Did you know Toyatuk?”
“Toyatuk Paquette?” she asks, surprised by his abruptness.
“Yes, yes,” he says excitedly.
“Were you her husband?”
‘I’m sorry,” she says. “I knew her a little.”
“She’s locked in the ice,” he tells her.
“I really don’t know,” she says.
No one knows what to say next. Then the woman says to her friends, “I have to go home.” She pushes her chair back and stands up.
“Where do you live?” he asks her.
“Past Franklin Street.”
“May I walk you?”
The woman looks down and her two friends exchange glances with raised eyebrows.
Then the young woman says, “That’d be all right.”
They walk out onto Franklin Street. It is the beginning of July but still cold. The night is as bright as day. Eighteen hours of sunlight. Soon, at the summer solstice, there will be twenty-four hours of sun. Sunshine at midnight. Winter is a different story. It was winter when Toyatuk disappeared into the ice.
“I didn’t know her very well,” the beautiful Inuit woman says.
She looks at him. “Toyatuk.”
They walk on in silence. Then the man says, “What’s your name?”
“Saluit. Saluit Smoothstone.”
“That’s incredibly beautiful.”
And indeed it was.