CHRISTINA: CABIN FEVER
(from Christina's Saga: from Norway to Dakotaq)
That night the sound of the howling wind woke her. For a moment she confused it with the sea wind that swept over the island. She was comforted by the thought that her Pa and Olaf were in the next room. Then she was jarred by the thought, "That's the past: they're dead. I'm hearing Dakota wind." She went back to sleep secure in the knowledge that the thick dirt walls would keep her warm.
In the morning when she got out of bed, something had changed. The white light, filtered through the blowing snow, gave an eerie quality to the room. It no longer had a familiar, friendly feel.
She tried to open the door to look outside but found it stuck. Wrestling with it, it finally gave. Snow and wind pushed the door back at her. The air outside was a frigid wall of whiteness through which she could see no more than a few feet. Quickly she threw her shoulder against the door battling it closed. In the few seconds the door had been open, a two-inch wedge of snow had blown across the floor.
Christina picked up Cat and sat on the edge of the bed. Petting the purring animal, she said, "We're snowed in, Cat. Looks like it may be awhile before we get out of here." Cat's only answer was to rub her face on Christina's shoulder.
"Cat, I can't go out. I got nothing to read. There's no chores. I don't like this." Christina sat on the edge of the bed looking into the gloomy shadows, broken by only the faintest of light from the hearth. She stroked Cat. "Now all I've got is you, the dark and the cold." There was nothing she could think to do to break the monotony. She was still tired from yesterday's chopping. "Cat, I think I'll go back to bed now." She crawled back into bed and pulled the covers tightly around her. Cat curled up in the hollow of her knees. She slept fitfully, waking only to eat, to feed Cat, and to go to the toilet.
The second day she tried to find something to keep her mind busy. She swept the floor, looked for socks to darn, but she found little to do. Christina was used to spending time alone. When her father and Olaf had been on fishing trips, she had been alone for days. Here on the homestead she went days without seeing or talking to anyone. But she hadn't felt trapped like she did now.
She lost track of time and didn't know if she had been locked in by the storm three days or four. One morning when she awoke and looked around in the dim light, the room seemed smaller to her. Had the weight of the snow pushed the walls and the roof in? Her heart beat faster at the thought that the room was closing in on her?
She tried talking to Cat. But she lost interest and took to sitting and staring at the few pieces of wood she kept burning in the fireplace. Watching the flickering embers, she found her mind returning to Norway. Pictures of her father and Olaf came flipping through her mind: a shot of them in the boat, a quick glimpse of Olaf with Wolfman, her father driving Bossy out to pasture. The memories opened wounds. She wasn't ready for the pain. She forced herself to think of other scenes of the fjords and the ocean.
Time began to lose all meaning. The markers she counted on to organize her day evaded her. Was it morning or noon? Time to eat or had she eaten? She dug a slightly charred potato out of the corner of the hearth and took a bite. She chewed it slowly. No, she must have eaten earlier. A half‑hour later she was wondering again if it were time to eat. She went to the breadbox and took out a hunk of dark bread and broke off a piece. After swallowing a bite she said to Cat, "I must've eaten, but for the life of me I can't remember."
The next morning when she awoke she felt the presence of someone other than Cat in the room. She peered into the murky darkness of the corners but could see no one. Then she became aware there was something just at the edge of her vision. She turned but whatever it was stayed just out of sight. The presence held itself to her right side and slightly behind her. This time as she spoke to Cat, there was tightness in her voice, "Cat, what's happening? What do you see?"
Cat blinked her amber eyes at Christina. Christina frowned, forcing herself to concentrate on the presence. She now sensed that it wasn't a single object or person but a number of small things.
She forced herself to sit still and wait. They moved in to where she could see them. Her first thought was, they were little animals. "Cat, the place is overrun with mice. You haven't been doing your job." A few minutes later a new explanation occurred to her. "Maybe they all came in to get away from the blizzard."
But, would mice be wearing clothes? Each of the little creatures had on a coat with red and blue in it. They couldn't be mice. But what were they? They were moving almost randomly. If they would only stand still for awhile, maybe she would see what had invaded her soddy. "Chirp, chirp, chirp." The sounds were coming from the little figures. The chirps were reedy and high pitched.
Christina looked at Cat who sat passively watching the area around the stove. Something was wrong. Cat's lack of reaction puzzled her. The sounds were loud enough that Cat should be chasing the noisemakers. Excitedly Christina asked, "Cat, what's wrong? Have you lost your ears? Don't you hear the bird noises?" Cat got up and moved away. She sat with her eyes wide open, ears perked staring at Christina.
Christina was becoming frantic. "What's happening? Is this madness? Is there something wrong with my eyes?" She jumped up to pace the room turning her head from side to side as she tried to get a better view of her visitors.
The chirp now became a song. "It's a choir singing. It's like the music that used to come from across the bay on Sunday mornings."
For most of the morning she couldn't get a good focus on the little invaders. She caught only glimpses of them, but around noon they became much clearer. She could see now that they were little people, furry little people dressed in colored suits. They had gotten organized and were marching one after the other in a parade around the room, stopping every now and then to sing an old hymn in Norwegian.
The visitors in the funny colored outfits seemed friendly, and she reached out to touch them. Friendly, but not friendly enough to be touched, they quickly darted back out of reach. Next she rushed at them reaching out to grab them. They disappeared. "Where did you go?" She turned around and saw them on the other side the room. "Oh, there you are. What are you? How can you exist? Are you real? You must be real; I can see you. But can you be real? I can't touch you?"
She found that if she sat still and didn't move, they stayed in front of her and their antics now became entertaining. One in particular seemed to be the leader and was directing the others. She was delighted and laughed out loud for the first time when two little men tossed a woman into the air, and the woman did a double somersault. Her laugh encouraged the leader to have some of the smaller ones do more acrobatics.
Christina leaned forward to examine the leader more closely. He stood still this time allowing her to get close enough to see his face. The small furry man in the red and blue suit was Olaf.
She jumped out her chair and gasped involuntarily. "Oh, my God, it's Olaf! What are you doing here?" He jumped back and with the others darted for the corner of the room. They all disappeared into the dirt walls. Sudden movement scares them, she said to herself. If I want to see them, I'll have to sit still and be quiet. She sat back down in the chair, folded her hands in her lap and waited. Just as she expected they reassembled and went back to giving her a private performance.
Tears of happiness rolled down her cheeks. She whispered, "Olaf, you always did make me laugh. We had such good times together. I'm happy that you've come to visit." Olaf smiled.
She understood what they expected of her and through their actions they let her know that they only wished to entertain her in her isolation. Now that they had her attention, they did some folk dances, acted out a play in pantomime about a bad king and paused every so often to sing a hymn. Hours passed unnoticed as she let herself relax and just enjoy what she saw before her.
She was so caught up with the performance going on she didn't hear the door of the soddy being forced open. The first she knew that someone had entered was when he took her by the shoulder and was shaking her. "Christina, Christina, are you all right?" The little people in the gaily colored clothes vanished.
She turned to the intruder. "You made them go away," she yelled, angry at the interruption. She began sobbing.
Andrew Bakke drew back. "I think you got snow sickness. I come over to see if you're all right. I see you been here alone in the dark too long. You need to be with people. You come with me now back to our place and let Lizzie take care of you for a while."
"But the blizzard...." she protested weakly.
"The blizzard's been gone since two days. We got lots of snow but you can walk in it. Come get your coat on and we'll go to my home now."