“You’re aware you’re going to have to actually talk to people, right? I mean, interact?”
That was Madge’s first reaction when John came home and told her he had agreed to go cross-country skiing with a friend of hers–well, theirs, but really hers–across some glacier up in the north of Canada.
Putting aside the issue of the cold for a moment, and the fact that she was eight months pregnant, Madge elected to focus first on just how unsuited John was, personality-wise, to camping with four other men.
“You can’t just go camping with ‘the guys’ and not talk to them. You’ll have, you know, fireside chats and camaraderie. All that stuff you hate.”
John mumbled something in response. He usually mumbled, which was a bit the point Madge was trying to make.
But in the end, despite the cold and the impending arrival of their first child and despite his anti-social tendencies, John went.
Perhaps, he reflected on the plane, this was that old family hunting and camping trait finally coming out in him.
John had always considered hunting to be distasteful. And as for camping, well, the closest he came to that was a very civilized log cabin in the woods.
Madge was right; agreeing to go was out of character. And John didn’t have a decent explanation for his decision. But he enjoyed cross-country skiing and the thought of the wide, expansive openness had seemed to be just the thing he needed after months of working late and attending social functions.
On April 5, 1975, after several connecting flights and in a haze of airborne half-sleep, John found himself standing in a vast, white, open landscape. The northern Canadian tundra. Other than his four companions standing beside him, there was nothing as far as the eye could see but craggy rocks, sky and snow.
John felt his breath catch in his throat. This, he thought, was what freedom looked like.
The excursion began the moment they had their skis on. The five men set off across the glacier, hauling their provisions in sleds and packs. That first day, they skied for eight hours, stopping only once for a quick lunch.
In April, this part of Canada wasn’t quite the Land of the Midnight Sun, but it was close. As the sun began to dip toward the horizon, the men set up camp and cooked their dinner over a fire under the broad dome of the indigo sky.
Despite it having been an exhausting first day, the men were in good spirits. They sat around the fire after dinner, telling stories, joking and discussing the coming days’ adventures, just as Madge had predicted they would.
John remained silent. He didn’t mind their banter but he let it fade until it was swallowed by the howling wind.
He looked at the vast, darkening sky stretching from one side of the horizon to the other and watched, rapt, as a shimmering green and blue curtain of light appeared and began to dance before him, adorned with a sprinkling of diamonds.
It was cold and late, and the others paused only for a moment to gaze at the northern lights before they said they were turning in for the night. But John couldn’t tear his eyes away.
“Lucy in the sky with diamonds,” he murmured to himself as he considered the sky. Those words formed the unlikely soundtrack that played in his head as he fought his way across the empty, icy glacier for two weeks.
The beauty of the open land occupied his thoughts during the day, while at night, he gazed quietly into the dream-like vault above.
When he returned to civilization, and to Madge, he was thinner and had a far-off look in his eyes and frostbite around his nose, but he was at peace. He took his wife in his arms and said simply, “We should call her Lucy.”
Lucy had been told this story over and over, and had come to think of it as her own personal creation myth. She remembered it as if she had been there herself, as if she had come from the northern sky and had really shone down upon the man who would become her father. Some things can’t be forgotten. It was a part of her very fabric.
This story was written in response to this week’s Speakeasy prompt #144. Submissions must be no more than 750 words, must include the line “some things can’t be forgotten” and must refer in some way to “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”
Word count: 721