an excerpt from Nine Cuts
“I can see why he loved this place,” I told my wife later as we rode the bus across the arctic tundra into the Kantishna wilderness.
I saw surprise flicker across her face. I hadn’t talked about him, our son, for months. Even if we carried it daily in our hearts, we couldn’t keep bringing up our loss and our sorrow, could we, I’d said months ago to silence her tears. But now, here in this place, how could I not?
The mountains going up into infinity, the white braided streams running like the plaits he liked to play with on Aunty Jade’s head, the silence… It was his type of space. He’d fallen in love with the trout fishing movie A River Runs Through It, our high functioning autistic genius of a son. He’d watched it repeatedly. Then, obsessed by the images, he’d travelled the West and the North in search of its essence. It had been here he had found it, at the foot of Mount Mckinley — Denali, the High One in the local Athabascan tongue. Here…
We left the bus to walk a tundra trail. The High One was on my left but I couldn’t see it on this clouded-over midsummer’s day. ‘It’s best viewed in the fall when the sky is clear and blue like ice,’ my son had written. ‘Then it’s so beautiful I stay out all night to look at it.’
Braving the trail with my wife, I tried to imagine those darkling autumn nights: my son sitting in one of them until his body was numbed into unfeeling by the cold. “How someone with an autistic spectrum disorder might like it,” we might have worried when we read his letter. But we didn’t because he was high functioning, wasn’t he? A genius, the people who knew about such things had told us. Someone who didn’t have any common sense, we ought to have remembered.
“I wonder if this would be something he saw?” my wife asked, handing me a little stalk of forget-me-nots she’d just stolen from the side of the path.
The tiny flowers were the colour of midnight, with yellow hearts no bigger than grains of sand — how the sky and stars might have seemed to our son, the backdrop to the mountain where the Athabascan gods lived.
My wife and I stopped at a viewpoint to look down at the river running through the valley. It went on for thousands of miles through emptiness I couldn’t imagine. I scratched at the moss on the caribou antlers displayed in front of us then picked at the bits collected under the edge of my nails. That dirt under my nails, it was something smaller, a problem I could deal with.
© Math Paper Press
by Audrey Chin
from Nine Cuts (2015)
published by Math Paper Press