White Girl: New Year’s Grief

White Girl: New Year’s Grief

Flames are still dancing inside of the Co-op; we can see them behind the glass window that faces our house.

Shadows of people dart around the building, smoke swirls and mixes with the ice fog, people are in chaos after a night of celebrating the incoming New Year. Ladders are set up against the wall that is furthest away from the window, which is casting dancing hell lights on the snow.

Skies have lightened as much as they will; we have a grey dawn. Ladders set up by one person are being taken and used by another; the only escape from the roof for some is to jump.

Hoses and water pumps are close at hand in the community garage; 300 feet is all they have to travel. They freeze. It is at least -50°F. In the silver-grey morning, smoke from diesel-fired stoves escapes from chimneys and falls back toward the frozen ground. Sounds carry clearly on the cold air. “Watch out, it looks like it might go!”  “No, we got to get the carvings out!” Smells of burnt fur fill the air. Glass shatters and explodes outward from the building. I can hear my dad yelling. “Let it go, let it go! Everyone off the roof, she’s going to go! Run, get clear, get clear!”

With a whoosh, a back draft of wind is sucked into the broken windows and the flames shoot skyward! I can hear my mom whispering, “Oh no, it is all gone, it can never be replaced!” A great quiet settles over the crowd. Black figures with slumping shoulders and drooping heads stand in silence or quietly kick at the snow with frozen kamiks. Crackling of burning wood and the drip and sizzle of melted snow and ice dropping into the inferno are all of the sounds we can hear.  It is eerily quiet; someone has thought to shut the screaming siren off… finally!

All winter the burnt black and grey bones of the co-op stick through the snow banks and are all that remains of the heart of this Inuit community. In the springtime, the town kids sift through the ash searching for treasure. We find coins from the till melted onto one another.  Burnt soapstone carvings are black and the heat has cracked the bigger ones. My brothers pick up small-blackened lumps that have been passed over. It takes hours, but the boys rub and sand away the black and underneath gleams round-bellied polar bears (Nanook) and smooth, cool seals caught forever swimming in the green and grey of soapstone. From the ashes, new life begins.


Dawn Kostelnik

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