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Jan Christensen
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rockinpocket.jpg
Art by Lonni Lees 2012

A ROCK IN MY POCKET

 

Jan Christensen

 

My eyes snapped open, and I stared at a white wall, a wall that looked as if made of big white stones. No stones I knew of were that white. I shivered although my body was warm enough. Only my face felt cold.

 

I tried to think, but my head hurt, and I didn't know where I was.

 

I gradually became aware of three things. I knew I was a woman, I didn't know my name, and someone else was in the room with me. Whoever it was didn't make a sound, so I slowly looked to my left. More white wall. I looked to my right and gasped.

 

An old crone squatted there, her small black eyes staring at me. She had the prerequisite hooked nose with mole beside it, jutting chin and long black hair. She wore clothing like I'd seen in movies about Eskimos, the hood pushed back. I shivered even though I realized several animal skins covered me. The smell of them made me nauseous. And the realization that I was in an igloo, far from home, made my head spin.

 

"Who are you?" I croaked. "Where am I?"

 

"I am Naqi. You are outside Unalakleet in Alaska in a hunting igloo." The old woman rose and approached me. I tried not to flinch.

 

"You speak English."

 

She didn't answer but held open her hands to show me a rock, a hairbrush, and five twenty-dollar bills. "These were the only things in your pockets. We found you in the airplane. The man with you was already dead. He is in the next room if you wish to see him."

 

Plane? Man? My mind seemed to be a total blank. Why had I been in a plane in Alaska? More importantly, who was I?

 

I shook my head, staring at the things in her hand. The rock was a good size, round and smooth. The hairbrush looked well used. The money was, well, money—American. She placed them on the floor next to my pallet. I wanted to brush my hair but didn't have the strength to even reach for the brush.

 

"No ID?" My voice sounded weak.

 

The skin around her eyes narrowed. "You do not know who you are." It wasn't a question, and I realized she hadn't answered mine.

 

The dizziness intensified, and I lost consciousness.

 

I awoke again to the smell of something delicious—a stew, I thought.  I hadn't moved, and a feeling of dread overcame me. It would be bad enough to wake in a hospital somewhere, with regular walls, glaring florescent lights, and medical machinery everywhere, hovering nurses and doctors. And a bed instead of a pallet on the floor. But this!

 

I realized I hadn't tried to move anything earlier except my neck when looking around. Cautiously, I wiggled my toes under the heavy pelts, then lifted my right leg. Left leg. Left hip hurt, but not too bad. I wiggled my fingers, lifted right arm, left arm. All seemed to be working. All except my head.

 

"You are awake." The old crone brought over a bowl. "We found no bad injuries, not even a broken bone. We are not sure yet what killed the man. He had a gash on his head, and his foot was broken." She set the stew down on the pelt-covered floor and helped me sit up, placing two pillows behind my back. "Can you manage?"

I took the bowl and dipped the spoon into it. It was just the right temperature, and I found myself really hungry. After about four spoonfuls, I asked, "What is this? It's delicious."

 

"Venison stew."

 

"Oh." I thought of Bambi, shoved the thought aside and finished it. Naqi took a roll out of her pocket and handed it to me. "I will be back with tea," she said, retrieved the bowl, and left me munching the roll.

 

She came back with hot tea. I thanked her and drank it quickly.

 

"You still do not know who you are?"

 

"No."

 

"Let us see if you can walk. Maybe if you see the man, everything will come back."

 

"Good idea."

 

She helped me lift the heavy pelts and to pull on my boots.

 

I wore jeans and a long-sleeved green and white striped sweater. Naqi handed me a parka, which seemed familiar. I put it on and stuffed the items beside the pallet in my pockets, feeling some grit in the right-hand one. From the rock, I realized. Why had I carried a rock in my pocket? 

 

We went through a narrow passageway and entered another, rounded space. A man lay on a pallet on the floor. I knelt down in order to see him better. He'd been a handsome man, probably about forty or so. His eyes were closed, so I didn't know what color they were. He had a short beard and well-trimmed mustache. He wore chukka boots, faded jeans, and a dark blue parka, so it was hard to tell how fit he had been. I didn't recognize him. I started to rise, and when I did I saw a small scar at the edge of his hairline, and who he was came rushing back. Only by bracing my hands on the floor did I prevent myself from falling on top of him.

 

"You know who he is." The old crone bent down to help me up.

 

"My husband," I whispered.

 

***

 

I don't remember getting back into the other part of the igloo. I lost consciousness sometime after seeing Lionel, and I had no idea how long it was before I awakened again.

 

I didn't feel anyone watching me this time. Gingerly, I got up. Naqi hadn't taken off my boots and the parka waited at the foot of the pallet.

 

In the doorway, I stopped to look around. No one in sight. I had a sudden urge to run. But I didn't know what direction to go, or even where I wanted to go. I just knew I didn't want to be here anymore. Two people approached over a small hill. A feeling of dread overcame me, and on weak legs I went back inside to sit on the pallet and wait.

 

Naqi entered with a short, stocky man, also dressed as I pictured Eskimos dressing. Both pushed their hoods back as they entered, and I saw a resemblance between them, although his nose was straighter, and his mole was high up on his forehead.

 

The man stood looking at me, then they both squatted, and he finally spoke. "I am Tyee, chief of our village. Naqi tells me you have started remembering, and that the pilot is your husband."

 

I nodded.

 

"Do you remember what happened before you crashed?"

 

As he asked the question, it all came rushing back. How I took the rock and smashed it into my husband's forehead. As I put the rock back in my pocket, the plane skittered and shook, then veered sharply off the runway and rolled into a bar ditch. I was jerked back and forth and hit my head on something hard. And then I woke up in an igloo.

 

"No," I said. "I only remember flying, and he was about to land, and then, nothing."

 

"You had a rock in your pocket. Did you always carry a rock in your pocket when you flew with your husband?"

 

"Yes." I saw the look of surprise on both their faces. "It was a joke. I always carried a rock, my hairbrush and a hundred dollars. In case we crashed." My laugh was shaky. "I could smash out a window to get free from the burning plane. I could brush my hair--nothing aggravates me more than unbrushed hair."

 

"But only a hundred dollars? No credit card?"

 

"Part of the joke. I never expected we'd crash. Lionel was an excellent pilot."

 

"Maybe so, but not this time. Our local mechanics have gone over the plane, and have found nothing to cause a crash. So it must have been pilot error."

 

Yes, pilot error. I'd found out just before our trip that he was playing around on me, and not for the first time. The shock had nearly undone me. Maybe it had undone me because I decided the only solution was to kill us both. I couldn't stand the sight of him. A divorce would be too painful. I needed immediate relief. When he told me about the trip to check out some land in Alaska, I'm jumped at the chance to go with him. He didn't know I'd found out about his tawdry little affairs. I'd never see that smug smile again because I planned to kill him while he flew the plane. But I weakened, and the strength only came back to me as he was landing. Now he was dead, and I still lived. I wasn't sure yet how I felt about that.

 

"How bad is the plane damaged?" I asked.

 

"Flat tire, some damage to the frame. Not much. It will not take too long to fix. An autopsy has been performed on your husband, and it was ruled an accidental death."

 

I sighed with relief and nodded. "So when can I leave? When can I take my husband home and bury him?" I realized I hadn't shed a tear. Perhaps that bothered them. Or perhaps, I hoped, they thought I was still in shock. And I didn't care that much about going home, but the cold was really getting to me. My teeth chattered, and suddenly there were tears in my eyes. Tears of regret and grief for what I'd thought I'd had. I wiped them away and looked at Tyee.

 

"You may leave as soon as you can make arrangements," he said and stood up.

The relief was instantaneous, surprising me. I tried not to smile. I was going to get away with it. Justice had been served.

Well, not totally. There were still at least two women who had enticed my husband to cheat on me. Maybe I'd look them up when I arrived back in the lower forty-eight.  

I fingered the rock in my pocket.  

Didn't they say living well was the best revenge?  

For me, living at all and taking my revenge was going to be best.

 

THE END

 

 

 

Jan Christensen has had over fifty short stories published, mostly mysteries. Her stories have appeared in Hardluck Stories, Mysterical-e (where she also has a column about reading), Ruthless Peoples, Red Herring Mystery Magazine, Spinetingler, Futures, and many others. Her first novel, Sara's Search, was published in 2004.

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