Life ain’t hard. It’s the living that’ll kill ya.
Violet James’ eyelids shot open. Her good ole daddy, with his gruff Missoura accent, had informed her of this when she was small enough to sit on his knee. That was years ago, though, before the Indians— She shook those awful thoughts from her head and peered out her bedroom window. Brilliant sunbeams were melting the dense snow outside. Thank goodness! It’d been weeks since she’d enjoyed fresh air, maybe even months. Her stomach growled. She clutched it to ease the pains. Buttons, her chestnut mare, had provided a few weeks of sustenance, but that meat was long gone, and the early-season snowstorms had simply not let up. Day after day, fresh feet of powder barricaded the door and walled the windows. However, thanks to those wonderful morning sunbeams, there might finally be hope. She leaned over and kissed her husband Henry’s cheek. “Wake up, darlin’. I think the storm’s broken.”
Henry stirred. “Really?” He was a rugged jack-of-all-trades who even now looked drop-dead handsome, despite the fact he’d lost several pounds. His cheek bones were still riding high on his face and his short blond hair had grown out a bit, but that just meant there was more for Violet to run her fingers through. She glanced at her own skinny forearm, which was half its normal size. Cramps knifed her abdomen. Gosh I’m hungry. Henry’s stomach rumbled as he squinted at the sunrise. “Now that’s a sight for sore eyes. Guess I should get goin’ while the gettin’s good. Critters ain’t gonna put themselves on our plates.”
Violet grinned. Henry had always been a provider. A good one, too. He’d built their charming log cabin with his own two hands in only three months. “Okay. But take Benjamin with you.”
“Good thinkin’. I’ll go wake him.”
Henry departed their bedroom. Violet crawled out of bed, grabbed her comb, and began brushing her hair. Then tugging. These rotten tangles. Strands of her jet-black hair soon clogged the comb’s bristles. More of her hair was falling out each day. She touched her face. Although it felt thinner than ever, she didn’t stumble upon any blemishes or sagging skin. Her lips were still plump. At least Henry wouldn’t have to see her slowly disintegrate into a skeleton. Because he was the envy of most hunters in town, he’d catch something today. She was sure of it.
Suddenly, Violet saw something outside. It looked like a person was spying on her from behind the giant evergreen tree just outside her bedroom window. She stole forward, crouched down, and surveyed the landscape. Her breath fogged the window, but she wiped it away. Who is that?
After a few minutes of reconnaissance, Violet didn’t observe anyone. Her mind was just playing tricks on her. No one would be stupid enough to lurk in the freezing cold for no good reason. Then she remembered her husband and son were about to venture out into that frigid wilderness. Better go heat up some water to keep ’em warm.
Violet and Henry’s log cabin was rustic, but well-built. It contained two bedrooms and a living/dining room with one sturdy table whose centerpiece was a bible, four chairs, a few cabinets, two axes resting against the wall, and three sets of snowshoes laid neatly by the front door. Gigantic antlers, trophies from some of Henry’s proudest kills, hung above the fireplace. Below them, Violet, wearing only a threadbare white dress, stirred a cauldron suspended over burning logs.
Henry and Benjamin, a cute eleven-year-old with long brown hair, emerged from Benjamin’s room as Violet finished filling two canteens with hot water. They looked striking all bundled up in their heavy coats and trapper hats with hunting rifles slung over their shoulders. Violet set her canteens down on the table. “My, my. Aren’t you two handsome?”
Henry smiled. “Thank ya, ma’am.”
She leaned in to hug them both at the same time, but Benjamin pushed her away. “Ma, come on. I’m a grown man.”
Violet chuckled. “Someone’s in a mood.”
“No, I’m not.”
She bent down to adjust Benjamin’s collar. “Grown men don’t whine, Benji.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I’m just hungry.”
“We all are, son.” She rose. “So off with you. Go get your poor old mommy something to eat.”
Benjamin’s face lit up. “You can count on me!” He ran towards the door and plunked down so he could put on his snowshoes. “Come on, Pa. Let’s git.”
Henry turned towards Violet. “Don’t worry, we’ll be back soon.” He pointed at the cauldron. “Hopefully with somethin’ to roast in that pot.”
Violet pushed the canteens into Henry’s chest. “That’s why I married you.”
“And here I was thinkin’ it was ’cause my good looks swept you off your feet.”
“No, it was the huntin’.”
Henry kissed Violet passionately. Eventually, she had to draw back to breathe. “And that,” she said, panting. “You were always a good kisser.”
“Darn right, I am.”
Henry leaned in for another kiss right after Benjamin finished putting on his snowshoes. “Ewww!”
Violet eyed Benjamin. “Now it’s your turn.”
“Get over here.”
He shook his head.
“What, you’re too old to kiss me goodbye, too?”
“Fine. But be safe out there, sweetie.”
“I will. Come on, Pa.”
Benjamin opened the front door. Icy Arctic winds swept into the cabin. Henry pecked Violet’s lips after Benjamin rushed outside. “Guess I better be goin’.”
Violet felt a twinge in her gut. It felt foreboding, but was probably just hunger pains. “Guess you better.”
“See ya soon.”
Henry walked towards the door, threw on his snowshoes, and stepped into the snow. Violet watched her family tromp into the forest from the doorway. Then she observed Benjamin’s hunting knife on the floor. It must have fallen out of its sheath when he put on his snowshoes. She picked it up. “Wait!”
Benjamin and Henry twisted around. Violet plunged her bare feet into the snow and instantly wished she hadn’t. The powder came up to her knees. Still, she lifted her legs, plodded toward her son, and held up the knife. “Forget something?”
Benjamin hustled back to her. “Thanks, Ma.”
Violet handed him the knife, handle first. “That’s what I’m here for. Now how ’bout that kiss?”
Violet pointed at her cheek.
“Fine.” He kissed his mother’s cheek.
“Have fun, dear.”
Snowflakes began falling as Violet, a smile on her beautiful face, watched her son race back towards his father.