Stations in Stasis
I walk the snow-burdened steps, as my mother had, and her mother had before her. Though the seasons changed around the rest of the island, this mountain has remained in constant winter for as long as I, or my mother, or her mother could possible remember.
My legs don’t cooperate like they used to. Even with the help of my grandchildren, each step is a challenge in and of itself, and though they’re the light of my life, they won’t give me enough damn time to catch my breath. This is my end, after all — what are they in such a hurry for?
It’s true that we must reach the mouth of the waterfall before noon, while the sun is high enough to start melting the frozen opening, but we have plenty of time. I can see the sun now — it’s angled enough to make even my withered body cast a considerable shadow. We have hours, but I start moving.
It’s not too long before I slip for the first time. It took longer than I predicted, and Kel, my youngest grandson, minimized the fall by slowing down my momentum before I hit the snow. Kel, I’ll remember him well. Though he is no longer young, I will always know him as an infant, suffering from colic. He coughed and coughed, and I carried him for hours until he would finally fall asleep, if only for a moment at a time. He helps me to my feet, and we continue on.
After half an hour or so, I ask my family to take a moment and allow me to veer off the path. They know my goal, so the allow the dissent — we break from the steps and continue on a small trail that cuts right towards the center of the waterfall. After a couple of minutes my two daughters, three sons, and I reach the destination. I see the face of my mother, frozen and peaceful, held in place alongside hundreds of villagers suspended within the waterfall. I would have cried, had I the energy or been properly hydrated, but just seeing her face brings a smile to mine. As was tradition, I would soon join her, but I still have a little left to go.
On our way back from the trail, I request that we take a moment to rest, so that I may sit and allow my legs to regain their energy. My next grandson, Sim, protests. He says we do not have the time — he is right, the sun is not far from reaching its zenith in the sky. So, Sim picks me up in his arms and carries me himself — he is strong, like my husband and his father before him.
We move much faster this way, though the trip is uncomfortable. My youngest granddaughter, Ven, tends to my hair and face as it whips around in the growing wind and cold. She is sweet, but I worry for her future as her cleft lip continues to create problems for her in the village. I remember the day she ran into my arms, crying as her peers mocked her lisp and attempted to mimic her abnormal face. I wiped the tears from her eyes then as she wipes the snow from mine now.
Sim, dispite his great strength, slips as the steps grows steeper and more narrow. I tumble with the fall, rolling a short distance before my daughters at the tail of the party halt my progress.
My daughters, beautiful and intelligent, are my greatest disappointments. Not a single one of them took my place as the shaman, not a one learned the healing trade. Sure, they all make wonderful mothers, as I knew they would, but they are vain and care too much for their own world over others. They ask me how I am, distraught that I might have broken something in the fall, but what does it matter? In only a few short minutes I will be one with the waterfall, unable to feel such pain.
It isn’t much further, so even in my hurt I decide to move on my own — if this is to be the end of my life, I’ll finish with dignity. I continue onward, with my entire family anticipating my next collapse any moment, but I keep going. We turn a corner, and we finally come upon the mouth of the waterfall. Just as I near the water, I slip one last time — now, it is my eldest son, my firstborn child that helps me to my feet.
My daughters and granddaughters remove my shawl, then my insulars, then my undergarments, until I can feel the harsh wind connect with every inch of my body. It is unheard of for the people of my tribe to enter the frozen falls with any clothing on, and I’m not about to break tradition and risk not being chosen to wake up again once the fall finally defrosts.
Like clockwork, as the sun hits the mouth of the fall, the ice begins to melt and a small pool of water emerges in its wake. My sons take my arms and cradle my legs, gently dipping my body into the mouth. Most every child and grandchild try their best to hide their tears. “Do not worry,” I assure them. “I’ll meet you all here in due time.” They want me to say more, but my time is coming to an end.
It isn’t long before I can feel the water freeze around me. My thoughts slow to a crawl, and though there was some pain, I feel relief wash over me for the first time in my life. I would be with my mother, and her mother very soon.
My body moves forward while the water freezes, pushing me towards the fall alongside my lost loved ones. I can see my family fade from view, and I feel my face settle to a calm, simple position. I finally stop moving entirely, and at this moment, I can feel the presence of my lost loves surrounding me.
My children and their children will make their way down the mountain, looking back up at the fall full of souls every so often. The process will surely mystify the youngest, but the oldest have grown accustomed to the ritual. Once they reach the village, they will all pray at the foot of the falls, hoping for the water to reanimate in the future, and for all who inhabit it to come back some day, ready again for a second life. Perhaps that is when I’ll see them again.