Base Camp Tim Noonan The snow is falling and I can¶t see two feet in front of me.

I regret stepping out from the shelter of the cave, modest protection from the blizzard now upon me, but enough to keep the stinging wind from my eyes and the feeling in my toes. But I¶ve a job to do. So I move on. I close my eyes. It seems like just moments ago I was with them at base camp. The light snow had just begun and we were all in a festive spirit - sharing a ration of eggnog, playfully leading her under the mistletoe by ³accident´ for a kiss. Times were good. But like all good things, I guess it was destined to change. I stumble and sink up to my thigh. I question the wisdom of our decision. His decision I remind myself. But only to deflect the guilt, and I know it. I never really tried to stop him. Like I said, we were doing okay. The snow began to fall in wet sticky clumps, not the light swirling flakes of the day before, but we were alright. We were together. We found a box of candy canes someone had squirreled away and continued to pretend everything was fine, just another normal holiday. She even had us singing Jingle Bells, maybe to avoid telling us what she had to tell us. But he found out, he could always read her like a book. I stop to catch my breath. Despite the arctic cold, hot sweat has formed on the back of my neck. My hair is damp. That can be death out here. I¶m also tired. How long I¶ve been out here only God knows. It feels like days now, but I can¶t tell. There¶s no time out here. Only darkness. I struggle to lift my right leg. I stumble again and wonder when the last time I had eaten had been. It was mid-day. I was reading him the report I was working on when she stepped in. She smiled at us but didn¶t sit down. He guessed it right away. Rations were low. She nodded, wiping her hands on her khakis; just enough to get us through one more meal. It would be plain, she laughed, but it would keep us alive for another day. But after that«the pantry was bare. She turned around and went back to the galley. He told me to finish, but I could see his eyes move beyond me and out to the white expanse beyond the frosted window. My mouth is dry. I am considering shoveling in a mouthful of snow when I see the tree. The tree that marks the trail back to camp! I run to it. I fall into it, wrapping my arms around the trunk. I don¶t have the strength left to hold on. I slip past. The world goes black. While he geared up, she went about her business. Maybe that was her way of pretending everything was normal. I watched him. I feebly asked him to send me instead, but he waved it away. He had seniority, it was his responsibility. I didn¶t protest. If only I had, maybe things would have been different. I open my eyes. The tree looms overhead, its bare branches drooping dangerously low with the weight of the sticky snow. I¶m thankful I didn¶t pass out face down, I could have suffocated. I

pull myself to my feet. I check for injury. As I pat down the front of my jacket, I feel the package. I had forgotten the package. She needs it. I hope I¶m not too late. After he set out, we tried to carry on as if everything were fine. I read to her, we played cards. Altogether, it wasn¶t an unpleasant way to spend the afternoon. We really felt his absence as dinner time approached. And as night set in, I noticed that we were low on fuel as well. We didn¶t know if he had taken a full inventory, or if the urgency of the food caused him to overlook the rest. I ignored her protests and suited up myself. I gave her a kiss on the cheek and went to find him. I can see the base camp. But there are no lights. I start to run. I pull out the package and notch it between my forearm and bicep like a running back carrying a football. It¶s heavier than I thought. I bet it¶s a fruitcake I muse to myself. My father always used to joke about using Aunt Doreen¶s annual gift as a football sometime. But no, this wasn¶t a fruitcake. I saw the light coming from the cave. He wasn¶t there, but the package was. He had scrounged up some food. And left it there, knowing I¶d find it. I waited for as long as I could bear, but reasoned that since he found his way here, he could find his way back. She needed the rations more than either of us and it would take me time to get back. I couldn¶t afford to waste another minute. And so I left. I¶m just a few meters away now. I catch a patch of black ice and go down. I hit my elbow, hard. I wonder if it might be broken as I start to drift off again, maybe for the last time. I hear my mother calling, then a blinding light. When I open my eyes, she stands at the back door. ³Did you find the cranberry sauce?´ I offer her the package. ³Johnny, get up, you¶re gonna freeze on the ground. Where¶s your father?´ ³Right here.´ Dad steps into the floodlight with an armful of firewood. ³You shut the light off in the shed, right?´ I shake my head and smile. ³Well hurry up, the turkey¶s almost done,´ she gently admonishes. I change hats and wrap a fresh scarf around my face, ready to leave base camp for my next mission«

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