About the Author

Christine Fischer Guy

Books by this Author
The Umbrella Mender
Excerpt

Moose Factory, Ontario, June 1951

 

they had another hour of light if they were lucky. Lachlan stood beside her and squinted upstream as if by force of will alone the HBC Mercer could be made to appear on the horizon. The hospital dock dipped with the irregular rhythm of every impatient shift of his weight. It wasn’t the first time the survey boat was late, but that wasn’t it: he was not, by nature, an impatient man. The restlessness Hazel knew well, and it was born of a genuine appetite for the work they’d both come here to do. The boat they waited for carried more than a dozen Inuit patients, every one of them with disease-clouded lungs, from Great Whale and a few posts further north.

Yesterday she’d stood at his office door and watched him lift one spectral x-ray film after another to the light box, saw him shake his head in disbelief, heard the repeated catch in his throat. The swaths of gauzy clouds on this lot of chest films, flown in from Great Whale for him to examine, seemed to choke the air out of his own lungs. The rate of tuberculosis infection was worse than he had expected, worse than he’d seen in any other Inuit community, and she knew that this reality would cast doubt on all of his preparations. Even now he’d be recalculating dosages, recounting beds and rewriting requisitions, an endless series of minute adjustments to the running tally in his head. Only the boat’s arrival would slow this constant computation, and then only temporarily. His agitation came off him like smoke.

Hazel had done everything she could do. Extra beds were ready, the kitchen was preparing broth and bread, a dispensary inventory waited on his desk. She was beginning to wonder whether she should check in with Cook when she heard the boat. There it was at the bend in the channel, skimming the north shore of Sawpit Island, mainsail down. The light wind was a hand run the wrong way against the surface of the water and the sound of the boat’s hull skipping across it was a drum roll. She checked her watch. Nine forty-five. It would easily be ten-thirty by the time they were settled in the wards.

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