Her bare feet burned in the frost on the deck. Isolina stood looking across the flurry of snow to the far side of the river. Through the Tunio trees, tiny darts of crystal flakes fell with the wind gusts.
The woman sets a bowl of potatoes and bread on the rock beside her. Precarious. Real. Odd, perceptable, but disconnected. She steps off. She disappears into the glacial froth of the river and is gone. Disconcerted, alarmed and frightened, Isolina screams from the cold deck above. Then there is nothing. It was nothing. A day dream. No bowl on the rock. No woman.
I am lonely, Isolina thought. More than lonely. I am more lonely with him. I miss him. The chill and burn moved up from her feet, and her knees began to ache.
The Tunio tress, with their tiny holly-like leaves, dark and waxy, still tittered at the touch of heavy snow. Soon, the snow would stick, heavy and unforgiving.
He may have called her for minutes, or even hours. She did not know because time was lost and his calls were always frantic. The first, and ultimately, the last.
Iso! He called her for something to drink. And eat. Frantic that she would not be there when he needed her. Always. Always I am here, she thought.
Some coffee? Or hot tea, or juice? Don't we have anything else, he asks? He forgets that we don't have anything else, and that we just went to the store and bought his favorite juice. Peach.
Here, I have some peach juice for you. I don't like that, he says. We just got it, Isolina says, remember?
He is angry, but then sinks back into the pillows, as if to remember that she is all he has, so maybe he should hide his anger and confusion. Yes. I remember. Why do you think I would't remember?
He takes the peach juice and drinks some. He likes it. Why didn't I remember I liked it? She laughs and slips into the bed beside him even though it is mid-morning. Because her feet hurt. And she is tired. And it is gray and snowing now. She kisses his warm head.
She needs to go out and carry in firewood for the stove. And start some bread, and a pot of water for potatoes. But right now she will touch him with her cold feet. Smell his good smell and be quiet. Remember. As long as she is next to him, with her eyes closed, they are young. She is young. He remembers things. He is not fearful of himself, or her.
Can I see myself, he says? What? Of course you can see yourself, she tells him. Why do you say that? Because, I forgot who I was this morning and I was scared. I thought if I could see myself, I would remember. She rubs his arm and he turns in the warm bed while the snow accumulates and the stove grows cold.
He falls back into barely perceivable breathing so Isolina slips out of the bed and downstairs, where she drags on her rubber boots and goes outside to get firewood. There is not much left. The split wood, anyway. Tomorrow she will need to split some more.
Inside, downstairs, it is chilly. She works up the wood stove and he yells to her. It is too hot up here!
Remember when we lived on the beach and you loved the heat, she wants to say. But he won't, so she does not try and remind him. She goes upstairs, opens a window, and back downstairs, she starts some water to boil potatoes. When that gets going, she starts some bread. The yeast, the sugar, water, flour. Isolina puts her face close to the bowl and breathes. Making something. Make anything.
He is breathing and she is watching him breath. Close eyes. Smell. Forget. Remember. He wanted this. He wanted here. This is easy for him, she thinks. This is not easy for me, she thinks. But I can be happy anywhere with him. But where is he?
Down by the river, while he sleeps and she stokes the woodstove, the heavily-clad woman, the one who slipped into the river that morning, stands waving at Isolina. Who IS that woman? Isolina wonders. She has no one to ask. Him? He would think she was crazy. Him.
The bread is rising for the second time and the potatoes are done. Now, some butter, which he will say will make him fat, and some rosemary and salt. Potatoes make me fat, he says. And butter is bad for my heart, he says. He lays in his bed, a skeleton and hurting for comfort. Butter and potatoes are kind to his stomach, she thinks, and besides, that is all they have. Except for peach juice.
I want peanut butter and jelly, he says. She takes the bowl of potatoes and the fresh bread downstairs and places it on the table. The woman is back, just down from the deck, looking back at Isolina. Waving.
I am lonely, Isolina thinks. He calls from the bedroom upstairs. Where are you he says. He is lonely too. In his world where he does not know who he is. Where he needs to look into a mirror to know that he is someone, somewhere, somehow. But even then.
There is a woman by the river, she wants to tell him. I wonder what she is doing there, she wants to ask. What would he say? Nothing maybe. But even then, if he did, it would be gone again in a moment.
I miss him, she thinks. I want him back from where I cannot retrieve him. He needs me. But I am emptying out real fast. That's it. I am empty she thinks.
She slips her rubber boots back on. Picks up the potatoes and bread from the table and steps out the door. She walks down the path towards the river. The woman is gone. Isolina steps down onto the frozen moss, onto a rock. Precarious. Real. Odd, perceptable, but disconnected.