His Daughter’s Eyes
He skis along the crest of a ridge through drifts of crusted snow and it’s hard going because no one has broken a trail. An unzipped jacked lets some of the heat of his exertion escape. His wife and daughter had been with him, but he and they have become separated. He is not really worried yet, although he came up here in hopes of spotting them more easily, and now it’s beginning to cloud over. Pale grey sky blends into white ground, isolating him, a dark speck in a huge washed out canvas.
He wears no watch, has no idea of the time and begins to wonder how long he has been skiing by himself, whether his wife and daughter are worried, searching for him. The only sounds are the hiss of his skis as they slice through snow, the in and out of his breath and the beating of his heart. He has thought about shouting their names, stopping and waving his arms, but has not done it. Perhaps it’s because he is afraid to give up hope and what if there is no answer to his calls?
A dark shape breaks the whiteness ahead, an outcrop of rock that has not been covered with snow. Though he doesn’t know when he last stopped, he thinks it’s important to rest, to eat. He leans his skis against the rock, crouches against its hardness. His small backpack contains a chocolate bar, a hardboiled egg, a chunk of cheese, a thermos of coffee, waxes, an extra ski tip, a screwdriver, a length of leather thong, and a jack knife. He has always prided himself on being prepared for any emergency.
As he sits chewing, a slight wind rises and he watches snow sift over the marks he has made. His parka is down filled and he is warm enough in the lee of the rock. They didn’t want to come skiing. His daughter wailed about plans with her friends and his wife supported her.
“Why today?” she asked. “You’ve gone skiing by yourself before, why not this time?”
A necessity he thought, some kind of last chance, but didn’t say it for fear of embarrassing himself. They wouldn’t understand, probably laugh, his fifteen-year-old daughter regarding him with blue-lashed eyes rimmed in black. He could not talk to those eyes, saw a stranger looking out of them, under the stiff, spiky hair.
“Leave her alone,” his wife often said. “She’ll grow out of it.”
But he remembered his own adolescence, how his parents never seemed to understand anything. When he finally went away to university it was a relief and he made his visits home as short as possible. There had never been closeness between them again. Of course he got along with them all right, but they talked about inconsequential things. They didn’t know anything about his real life, the things he wanted, what he worried about, what was important to him. How could the same thing have happened with his own daughter when he had decided he would not let it?
He watches snow swirl, making patterns that he can’t read, like the twitch of his daughter’s dark dress at the dance. Not the kind of thing he remembered girls wearing to dances. He’d volunteered to be a chaperone because he wanted to be part of his daughter’s life, but all evening she and her friends ignored him and he felt like a stranger in a foreign country, unable to speak the language. A peacock among crows, in his red shirt and faded blue jeans. So many of his daughter’s friends wore baggy black, and to him unattractive, clothes. Recently his daughter has even taken to wearing heavy chains around her neck and wrists.
“Maybe one of us should quit working,” he said to his wife. “Stay home more, be here after school.”
“I’m not staying home,” his wife answered. “For God’s sake, she’s not a child anymore!”
That’s what worried him, though he’d not been able to say it. His little girl growing into an alien, perhaps dangerous creature.
It’s time to get moving again. Slowly he rises, puts on his pack, cleans his boots and connects the skis. He continues in the same direction, along the top of the ridge. After a while he realizes that he is going down, the slope so gradual that he didn’t notice at first. He stops and debates the best way to go. There is really no way of knowing for sure and so he continues on, letting his skis take him where they will. The ravine offers shelter from the wind, but it’s beginning to get dark and colder.
He worries about his wife and daughter, hopes they have sense enough to go back to the car. His wife has her own keys, so they will be able to get in, to keep warm. They are probably impatient and angry that he went off without them after insisting that they come on this trip.
Bushes slip away on either side as he weaves his way along, skirting the edge of a frozen slough. Now that he has convinced himself of his wife’s and daughter’s whereabouts, he digs in his poles, skis shooting through drifts, cutting tracks, leaving puffs of snow behind. A big hill and he herringbones up, then stops at the top, breath rasping in his throat, to rest and gather a bit of energy for the last leg. He’s not exactly sure where he is, but the parking lot can’t be far. He skis along the top of the hill in the deepening dusk, watching for headlights that will guide him toward the highway.
A dark shape stands out slightly in the snow ahead – an outcrop of rock. He stops beside it, sees in the hollow on one side the marks of someone who crouched there earlier. It is the place he stopped before. Panic rises in his chest, but he pushes it down. Darkness won’t be total for a while. He’ll just have to be more careful this time. He hopes they’ve waited for him, or maybe worried by his long absence they’ve driven to the nearest town to notify the RCMP. Right now he doesn’t mind the thought of that at all, even if it discredits his outdoor skills. A gulp of coffee from the thermos to warm his insides and then he’s off.
For a while he follows his own tracks backward, but this time he watches for landmarks and finds the place where he thinks he went wrong earlier. He should be more certain now, but he is not, his confidence in himself, shaken. Surely he has been this way before, knows these trails and yet there’s a nagging doubt. Maybe his whole life has been like that, his self-confidence all a con, a sham, and someday people will find him out. It’s why he’s gone in for things like skiing that involve technique and specific knowledge that can be learned. He’s needed to prove his competence to himself as well as to other people. In the past he’s always pushed such thoughts back into the dark parts of his mind, but suddenly they have broken loose.