After he fled the house, he shivered in the cold but the sky was clear, and he made good early progress. Wind and sunshine had helped formed a hard crust over the snow and made walking relatively easy, even though his body nevertheless ached and throbbed with every step. But the breeze soon picked up, nipping at his face, and the sky clouded over, signaling the approaching storm.
The beating Brian suffered earlier in the day had been particularly savage, even by his father’s brutal standards. Fueled by alcohol, frustration and rage, his cruelty was more unrestrained than usual. Blows from the leather strap left a latticework of ragged red stripes on the youngster’s back, buttocks, and upper legs. Despite his fury, the man was careful not to hit the boy on the face and head to ensure no telltale evidence to raise suspicions in nosey neighbors and self-righteous teachers. Under different circumstances, his mother would have intervened. However, she was toiling at her job, the family’s only source of income.
When the blizzard swooped in, unbridled and vicious, Brian bravely trudged forward. But it wasn’t long before his face grew numb, and the feeling drained from his fingers and toes. The gale became a real physical barrier seemingly intent on preventing his escape. The youngster was unsure he had the strength to go on, but neither was he certain he had the strength to go back.
The small city the boy lived in sat in a natural basin banked by high hills. In his 10-year-old imagination, beyond the hills stretched an uncomplicated world free of pain, fear, and anguish. Beyond that, he had failed to flesh out this sketchy new existence but was driven by the childish faith it was there, beckoning in the distance, if only he had the determination to reach it.
Brian bent his small frame to meet the blast head on, but the journey up the hillside became steeper, sapping more and more of his energy, until he had no choice but to stop and rest. He chose a spot where the wind had scooped a hollow surrounded by high drifts. He slid down and reclined, sheltered from the wind, which shrieked above him.
The boy gazed up at the gusting, churning snow, which conjured images and sensations from events in his short life. Some disturbed him. Smelling whisky and stale sweat as his father, grunting and gasping, loomed over his frail body during countless thrashings. Paralysing fear suffocating him before falling asleep, dreading what the morning might bring. Others comforted him. Nursing at his mother’s breast, soothed by the smell of the lavender-scented soap she used and by the gentle sounds of his suckling and his mother’s calm, steady breathing. Playing under the warm sun, a summer breeze cooling and caressing his face.
In his heart, Brian knew he should abandon his trek and head home. Off work by now, his mother was probably worried. If he had yet to pass out, his father would be furious. But hypothermia had played its cruel joke, and the freezing cold had given way to a warm glow, and he longer felt pain. Peaceful, comfortable and sleepy, his eyelids fluttered and threatened to close. Brian decided to rest a little longer. Soon…soon, he thought, while the wind and the cascading snow dipped down into the hollow and swirled around him, wrapping him up as if in a blanket.
A former newspaper reporter, Duff Marshall lives and writes in Swift Current, Saskatchewan, Canada.