Alaska Shorts: Book Learning, by Rosalie Loewen

Hunger licks
away at the edges of the mind the way flame eats a page, moving inwards from
the edges until words fade to brown. 
Outside of the
cabin, the morning air was chilly, sun coming up on the soft green of August
grass already tipped with frost.   Even
in summer in Alaska, winter pants at your back.
The cabin
belonged to Brad’s family.  They used to
fly in every June, he told her, with a few boxes of provisions and seeds for
the garden.  The cold mists of Seattle
pressed against her apartment window as he described the long golden days of
his childhood summers.
His body was a
whole other story for her: dark hair swept back, forearms tanned and ridged,
fingers banded with scars.  When he
invited her to the cabin champagne bubbles of excitement rose and burst in her
A toy plane
dropped them onto a short gravel runway after a twenty minute flight; two
duffels tossed out on the grass behind them. 
It hadn’t seemed like much to live off for two months but Brad hoisted
his gun with a smile.  “Plenty of
She had brought
a backpack filled with books and notebooks, a handful of good pens, her
intentions to work on her thesis.  Those
would be left behind now, sloughed away like any soft roundness that she had
come with.  After just a week of being on
her own, she could feel how sharp and bright she was becoming, hollow,
light.   The little pack was now crammed
with what she thought she might be able to use: the last two packets of
oatmeal, a knife from the kitchen, half of a wool blanket.
They ate like
kings at first.  They rolled fresh caught
trout in flour and salt and fried in on the cast iron stove.  Brad snared rabbits and stewed them with the
canned tomatoes until those ran out. 
One day she
looked at the dwindling pantry and felt uneasiness twirl and wrap around her
like smoke.  Brad looked too and tramped
off with his gun, some jerky in his pockets, and an empty canvas pack. 
He didn’t
return.  No gunshots, no cries for help,
nothing but the wide blue sky above her, ringed by ice-tipped mountains.  The fireweed, lurid pink blossoms giving way
to soft white cotton, had straightened out to hide his path. 
After she had
scraped the last of the flour into a biscuit and eaten the rusted can of Vienna
sausages found on the back of a high shelf, she went with the fishing pole to
the river.  But the ways of the river
were a mystery and she exchanged her three lures to snags on the bottom for
nothing.  In the deep fast water she could
see shadows of fish, as out of reach as if they were imagined, something read
about in a book.
Once the sun was
up, she walked through the door, long strings of geese flapping overhead to
show her the way.
Rosalie Loewen lives with her husband and
their two daughters in Southeast Alaska. 
Recently, her short story, “The Alaska Finishing School For
Girls” appeared in F Magazine and was the winner of their annual fiction
contest.  For more of Rosalie’s writing,
please visit her blog:

49 Writers welcomes your submissions for Alaska Shorts. For details, see our guidelines.

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