heaven




Heaven



There were people going through the 'gate, one after the other, almost-familiar shadows that the 'gate swallowed with that distinctive slurping, gulping sound. The 'gate was a thirsty mouth, drinking, drinking, drinking. She waited at the end of the ramp and watched them go.

It was the lips that brushed her temple that pulled her finally out of the dream. Cool air swept around her as the thin mattress shifted, blankets opened and were tucked around her again, and she was alone in the bed with the rhythmic slapping and plunking of the Skeena River as it surged around the pylons that held their little house above the rocks. The incoming tide was the sound of the 'gate drinking in all the people she once knew. Maybe some of them did go, in those final days. She'd never dreamed of the 'gate in Carole. In Carole there was only the sighing of wind in the corn and she'd dreamed of flying, escape velocity and the blue sky thinning to star-pricked blackness. Burrowing deeper into the covers, she curled around the warmth that lingered in the empty space where Daniel's body had been and pulled the pillow in after her, wrapped an arm around it. It smelled like Jack.

Beyond the curtain, someone was stoking the little stove. The chimney needed cleaning again; smoke leaked into the house when the stove's door was open. Sam thought about standing on the roof, one foot on either side of the peak, the long-handled brush black with soot and resting against her boot. She'd wear Jack's work gloves, slip her hands into the worn shape of him. She thought that maybe today she'd be able to touch the clouds. They'd be only a few feet above her head, and the world would end at a wall of mist. Of course, she hadn't poked her head out yet to see, but still, the world felt small. The stove door closed with a clank and footsteps crossed the single room, cupboards opened and dishes were placed with a gentle clatter on the counter. Daniel, then. Jack either made a racket or no sound at all.

It was getting clammy under the quilt, the air stale as she breathed in her own breath, and the warmth around her was just hers now, and the pillow smelled just like her pillow. Bracing herself for the cold, she folded back the blankets and sat up. It wasn't cold. Daniel had pulled the curtain half-way open and the little stove was spreading heat into her space. It was pot-bellied, and, in her more Disney moments, she imagined it puffed up a bit with pride. Even the worn linoleum on the floor was warm when she put her feet down on it. Craning to look over her shoulder at the window above the bed, she saw only undifferentiated grey. No low curves of mountains like humped whales, no unlikely, prehistoric shadows of herons making their way down the river to the canning line for a breakfast of salmon scraps. The whole universe was gone away for the holidays.

Dragging the blanket up around her, she looked around the curtain just in time to see the door closing, Daniel's shoulder leaning against it to keep it from bumping as he went out. On the stove, the kettle was hissing. On the counter, a chipped mug--the blue one with the whales--was full of steaming tea. Cupping it in her hands, she stood in front of the sink and looked out the window while she breathed in the steam. The boardwalk was empty, no traffic at all, even though it was long past dawn. Through the fog, she could just make out the shapes of the workers' quarters, each one just like their own, receding in two rows on either side of the weathered walkway. The canning village seemed two dimensional, soft-edged shapes pasted against some kind of gauzy, translucent fabric. Somewhere way down at the other end of the boardwalk the canning line was silent on the vast floor of the factory, the grey-flanked barn gaping open at the jetty to accept its daily feeding of halibut and salmon. But today was a holiday, and the dozens of fishing boats were tied up in vast rafts at the end of the jetty, invisible but jostling against each other to make hollow, chuckling echoes that carried clearly in spite of the muffling of fog. Sam stood in their house--one square room with a curtain drawn across one end to make a bedroom, a sink with a hand pump, three chairs drawn up to the little stove, a table with Daniel's books open on one corner, Jack's tackle box on another--and the moon pulled the ocean in under her feet, drawing it through the narrowing banks of the river until, having stretched it to a thin ribbon, it let the water go. The tide would surge out tonight, and she would dream of the 'gate that drew everything into it and, unlike the moon, never gave back.

Suddenly, the house seemed cold again. Awkwardly, she pulled open the door, hooking it with her bare foot and then her elbow so she could slip out without putting down her cup or dropping her blanket. Outside it was cool, damp, and goosebumps rose on her neck as a shiver scurried down her back. Across the boardwalk, leaning against the ferny angle of the mountain, three tall spines of foxglove glowed pink against the deep green, each little bell wearing a water-drop earring. Stepping across to the nearest one, she tapped it with her finger and it shivered silver drops into the grass. She half-expected to hear the tinkle of chimes, but she always expected that, and she never did hear it. Sipping her tea, she swayed slightly as its warmth spread through her, listening to the voices drifting around the corner of the house.

She stepped back and leaned on the peeling clapboard wall. Peeking her head around corner, she found them, both leaning their elbows on the railing, one foot on the lower bar, mugs cupped between their hands, watching the water rising and falling among the rocks below the boardwalk. In a few hours the rocks would be underwater and the river would no longer talk in hollow-mouthed vowels and glottal stops and instead settle into the steady shushing, the conspiratorial whisper of parents talking after the children are in bed. That's when Sam would sit on the planks with her feet swinging over the black water and close her eyes and imagine Carole, the wind brushing its palm along the tops of corn stalks. Some days, the sound of the water would be just like that of the air vent above the corner bed in the infirmary in the mountain. At those moments, she could close her eyes and feel Janet moving around in the dim light, maybe even imagine her warm hand on the back of Sam's arm.

But for now, there was Daniel in his sweater that unraveled a little more each time he put it on, the weave straining against the bulk of his shoulders to show the pale skin underneath. He balanced his cup carefully on the railing and his hand ghosted up to his face to push up the glasses he no longer owned. Like he did every time he caught Daniel's unconscious gesture, Jack ribbed him about the folly of donating his glasses to some myopic halibut. Tucking his fingers into the front pocket of his jeans, Daniel said, like he always did, "Oh that's even more funny than last time," and Jack ducked his head and grinned, and the hunch of his shoulders, the way he glanced up sideways as the smile curled up one corner of his mouth, well, it was pure Daniel, in spite of the angular slimness of body that was so different from Daniel's more rounded curves. Sam wondered if they knew how often they did that, assumed that mirror-image of each other, each one adopting the other's mannerisms until neither one was precisely what he had been and both were somehow more than they used to be.

She was just about to say something when a thin roaring tore the clouds above their heads and a death glider broke through the cloud cover out near the middle of the river, trailing a tail of mist as it swooped down close to the water and arced up again, wings waggling before the ship did a victory roll and shot down toward the jetty.

Straightening, Jack craned his neck to see past the house next door. "I guess he got it off the ground, after all," he said, upended his cup over his mouth to get the last drop, handed it to Daniel and, with a brief slap on his shoulder, headed away at a trot.

Daniel pushed away from the railing and he showed his teeth in a grin, crowsfeet crinkling around his eyes. "Tah-da!" he said, like he'd just pulled a bouquet of flowers out of his sleeve. "Happy Flash Day."

Her stomach fluttering, Sam bolted into the house, dropping the blanket in the middle of the room and launching herself onto the bed so she could hang over the side and retrieve her jeans from underneath it. Her sweater was nowhere, so she grabbed Jack's flannel shirt and pulled it on over her head without undoing the buttons, smiling a little as she remembered the racket Jack made the night before when she'd tried pulling it off over his head and the buttons caught on his nose. Outside, the village was waking up with a start and a lot of shouting. She could hear Daniel's voice rising over them all, saying, "It's okay. It's okay. It's just Teal'c, honest. Really." Stuffing her feet into her sneakers, she grabbed her cup, swallowed half the tea, and rushed out the door again, forgetting to leave the cup on the table as she went.

On the boardwalk, a crowd was forming, neighbours resolving out of the swirling white, doors slamming and kids running back and forth, squealing, their feet thundering on the wood, parents pointing first toward the jetty and then toward Daniel, who was still talking loudly with his hands held out, placating. His reassurances were passed along from house to house like a game of telephone. Finally, there was a ripple in the crowd and people stood aside to clear the way. Jack came first, bare arms and bare feet and a distinct bounce in his step. Then, after him, the unmistakable bulk of Teal'c. Her stomach fluttered again when he let out a laugh that rumbled up and down the village like distant thunder. Coming up close to her and Daniel, Jack stepped to one side of the boardwalk, Teal'c to the other. Jack's eyes were bright and his cheek was dimpled with a suppressed smile.

"You'll never guess which mountain is still standing." Before Sam could answer, Jack went on, hooking a thumb over his shoulder. "Look what the 'gate spat out."

A third man stepped around Teal'c and held out his hands toward her. Daniel took the cup from her as it tipped and tea streamed out onto her shoes.

"Hi sweetheart," Jacob said. "Long time no see."

THE END


Notes: A tag to "The Dirt of Sowing and Reaping." Written for Katie M and Carolyn Claire.

Feedback welcomed at troyswann@yahoo.ca.

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