I pulled my sealskin closer around me, but was afraid to shift too much. I was lucky to have caught it as the boatman hurled it toward me. All she'd left me, in addition to the bucket of herring and tiny salmon, was my cardigan and a pale green silk scarf.
She'd given no indication of what she was up to. She'd said that it was a birthday gift. She'd always talked about going on an Alaskan cruise, and I was thrilled that she'd ask along, at my age. "I'd be too much trouble," I'd told her. "Nonsense," she'd said. "The tickets are already booked." She had referred me to the website that listed the dates of the cruise. I never saw the tickets themselves. She kept everything in the sturdy cardboard envelope the travel agent had given her. I should have asked. That's the one thing I keep cursing myself for. I should have asked to carry my own ticket. Then maybe I would have looked at it. I would have seen that while she continued on into the Beaufort Sea, I didn't seem to go any further than Barrow.
"When you get old, Mom," she'd told me a thousand times, "I'm going to set you adrift on an ice floe with a bucket of fish."
I never really thought very hard about when that would be. What time of year. What else I should bring. It wasn't real. It was stupid of me, I realize, to tell her I'd go inspect glaciers with her. I didn't even think about her buying the fish. She was laughing the whole time.
It's colder if I keep to the shaded side of things. I don't have anything to push or row with other than my hands, which hurt like they never have before. But the minute I go out into the sunny side of things, my little boat starts to break up. Why did my birthday have to fall in August?