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Fiction

For Miles Around

Eighth in a series of short summer reads from Geist and The Tyee.

Thomas Sweetland 22 Aug 2007Geist Magazine

"For Miles Around" won an honourable mention in the 3rd Annual Geist Literal Literary Postcard Story Contest. Thomas Sweetland's work has been published in Orange magazine. He lives and writes in the Yukon.

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'Seven rungs on the ladder to reach the log house.'

Preserves of sardines, canned pears. A book, special order, on the history of human flight in the Americas. Salt. Harold Rose had little to work with.

Eleven dollars leftover to purchase a small, oily pistol, and just enough room to squeeze in a sullen cot. The cot is standard army issue -- a recruit from Missouri with buckteeth grew tired of shovelling asphalt for the groaning highway Uncle Sam rolled ever upwards to Alaska. He went AWOL for the love of a francophone widow who tasted like smoke and lived in the bush with three redhead sons. Harold traded the recruit his six-shooter for the cot and when winter came he no longer smelled the boy's sweat or piss in his dreams.

Seven rungs on the ladder to reach the log house. Seven is heaven and six goes to the devil, Harold whistles. Small but sanctified. Sketching notes on the geese and legs dangled over spruce trusses before his morning ritual -- God, Harold says, I'm so very tired. Let a poor man fly today.

Before Harold Rose can fly, his flesh must be tight, skin steadfast over bones and tucked behind the ear. He unlaces thin boots, unbuttons his pants. Pulls wool socks and sweater off and lowers his bare, freckled body into the black stream, twisted and icy in the southern corner of the woods.

Takeoff. Harold gasps for breath up the snowy bank. Streamlets lick his skin and bite his groin as the wind scythes over his wrist and flat palms, sprung fingers where lift first occurs -- jostling the shoulder in its socket -- glides beneath his non-existent triceps and whips down his shoulder blades. Willow saplings cut his shins.

In early summer, windless and heavier to the earth since he first travelled north, Harold spends an entire afternoon flattening coffee tins. He beats them between two river stones on the advice of local trappers while mosquitoes bloody his ears. He hammers the metal strips around the four posts to discourage black bears from climbing.

No panes of glass were available in town. Truth is, roughing a window into the wall rarely crossed Harold's mind. When he wished to read by the sun or look over his beaten toes into the west breeze, Harold opened the simple door.  [Tyee]

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