Spine of Empire

In Short Story by Nicholas Maistros

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Photo by Krzysztof Kowalik on Unsplash

Three days after the avalanche, Onderdonk arrived in his private car. “There she is,” Roscoe said, having let go his end of a plank, smiling a dirty, squinted smile. “Miss Eva, and ain’t she a bee-yute.”

Emil dropped his end and a flurry of snow clouded up. When the snow cleared, he saw the car. It looked more like an oversized trolley from his Barbary Coast days than a railcar, especially the cars that brought their ties and spikes. This one had clapboard sides, bright yellow moldings and trims, ornate trellises enclosing the front and back platforms as though it were someone’s veranda—a piece of mansion taken from a plantation in the American South, in the process of being transported up to the Selkirks, the rest of it somewhere behind, farther down the tracks. The name Eva was painted onto the side in sweeping cursive.

“A little face to face,” Roscoe said. “Appease the masses.”

By now, many were stopping their work—the hundreds in this wandering, laboring city. The men on the tracks twisted their necks, still hunched over their alignments. The men on the bridge, those among the top layers of the trusses, stopped their hammering and raised their heads. The foremen on their horses halted their orders mid-sentence, their voices taking a dive into the canyon, their horses doing pretty turns about. Those on break dusted the cornbread from their whiskers; those about the Palace—the saloon made up of several tents where Roscoe and Houser and sometimes Emil would spend their evenings drinking and playing cards—elbowed each other and stilled their aluminum cups. The old man who worked the Laundry Tent, yanking long underwear off the line, looked up as the underwear hit the basket at his feet. The Chinese laborers coming out of their quarters on the other side of the tracks urged their friends still within to hurry, to come and see. It was another picturesque morning here on top of the world. There was an explosion somewhere in the canyon, a sound just as typical to this landscape as the choir of hammering and the rush of the river below, the crash and rumble of ice, the plunks and fuck-shits of dropped and sailing tools. The snow glittered with sunlight.

“Wonder if he’s got his family with him,” Roscoe said.

Not here, Emil thought. This isn’t their kind of country.

Three days before, seven men had been buried in the latest avalanche, six of them white. Their whole makeshift city was fogged for an hour with snow dust.

“Think this is gonna make a lick a difference to me?” Roscoe said to Emil as they joined the other survivors, now gathered around Eva. “It ain’t. I’m outta here come next Saturday once I get paid. No, this Saturday. And you might do the same, if you value yer life any.”

They were so far from the contractor’s railcar that Emil could barely make out the blotch of Onderdonk’s beard, the blink of his moving mouth. He could pick up a word here and there. Something about tragedy. Something about good men and hard work and pay off. Something about the ages and nearly there, push on, push on. But whatever Emil heard, it wasn’t because he was trying.

A week before the avalanche, a plank at the top of the truss had given way, and a man fell into the canyon. Houser had come to Roscoe and Emil with the news, and at first Emil didn’t think much of it. “Another Chinese,” Houser had said. “I guess the rest of them are refusin to work.”

“What the hell for?” Roscoe said. “I about lost a hand when that nitro went off premature, and I was back to work that day. Thumb’s still kinda twingey.”

“Superstition,” Houser said. “They can’t work around no kilt guy. The body’s still there. In the rocks down there. The foreman, I heard him talkin. Says someone’s gonna have to go do away with it in the morning.”

“You know, a year ago I mighta said hell, another dead Chinese, another job for one of ours, but now? Now I say let ’em have it.”

It had been the fourth Chinese fatality in under a week. If anything, Emil figured the Chinese would be up in arms, would start to demand a new foreman, better treatment, equal pay while they were at it, a relief in the debt they owed just to get here. He figured he’d ask Gin about the accident later, or try to. Gin didn’t speak any English.

It was when Gin didn’t show up that night at their section of track that Emil began to think.

The crowd cheered, clapped, the strange thunder of all those beating gloves meeting Emil’s red-cold ears. “Musta said something,” Roscoe said, beating his gloves as well. “Don’t make no difference, though. Come Sunday…Monday the latest.”

He was surrounded by whites, as was usual, but Emil wondered if the Chinese were clapping in their section too. All those accidents, all of their own dead, and it took six white ones to get Eva into the Selkirks. But then, what could Onderdonk say that would do much good to anyone out here among the crowded hundreds whose job it was to lay the tracks and build the bridges, any among them who might have cared for a Chinese grunt like Gin? Onderdonk’s wasn’t the right language.

Emil left the Barbary Coast on an impulse. He worked every day at the wharf loading and unloading crates of fish and booze. This was after his apprenticeship with a hard-up metalworker had been dissolved, only two weeks in, when his master drunkenly accused him of conspiring to open up shop in order to steal his customers, of being young and arrogant, “full’a sin and aspiration.” After being socked in the face, Emil put on his hat, thanked his master for his two weeks of instruction, and left, rubbing his jaw and thinking it was for the best; he couldn’t imagine living under such a monster’s supervision for two years. Not in a city with plenty of opportunity. Emil did not fantasize about hitting his drunken master back. He wasn’t a violent person.

He made enough on the wharf for his basement room on Kearny and to eat at the tavern next door, where sometimes the owner’s daughter would flirt with him, and he wouldn’t know what to say, usually sitting alone by the window and pretending to look at things outside while she eyed him from the bar—but it wasn’t only the money. He worked because he didn’t know what to do when he was not working. He tried once, a Friday afternoon when his overseer told him to for Chrissake take a day. There was a festival on Hyde Street, but it was too busy for him—blocks of people and the noise they made, shouting vendors, children and women looking for children and men drinking, boastfully playing carnival games and betting on fights and fighting over bets, trolley bells and dust in his eyes from the stamping of boots and swishing of skirts and the ever-present bay wind—the noise, the people, their sour collective breath. Emil ended up at the tavern for a short meal, sliding past the owner’s daughter when she was occupied with another table, then back to his basement room. When he heard about the railway men in town recruiting for Canada, a place he’d heard of only in stories, usually from fellow workers who had never been and who sought the thrill of its mention—Canada, the untamed, the wild and wide—he went, he signed up. On the northbound steamer, Emil stood on the deck and watched the landscape change.

He was put on a timber crew when he arrived. He would wake in a shanty in the middle of some Canadian wilderness, uncomfortable in his straw-stuffed bed, next to his Chinese pallet-mate, and see nothing but smoke. It would then begin to color with the light of the fire, mixed with the gray-blues of the morning, stirring in bursts as if from the billowing of blankets, dissipating enough to recognize—and remember—the inside of this log structure, the bunks, the lines of yellowed laundry overhead, surrounding the stone fireplace in the center of the room whose smoke tunneled, poorly, through a wooden chimney. At the sound of a spoon against a pan, the shanty began to stir.

The men shuffled into their clothes, many of them pulling rags off the lines, many of the rags still damp. They tied their snowshoes and took a biscuit from the clerk, a chipper young boy saying, “Another glorious morn in the valley.” Forests of Douglas fir, about a day by sled and another by train from the construction of the railway, the end of track.

The men exchanged the smoke of their shanty for the mists of snow. This was the worst part, before the work began. Once it did, the body could heat itself, thankful for the strain of labor. Most of the men, Emil included, did not wear coats. They soon wouldn’t need them.

Emil and his pallet-mate took up the ropes of their sleigh to drag the equipment. Between them walked their gang leader, Shipley, ostensibly to direct but actually to bend Emil’s ear. He was boorish but friendly, always offering a nip of his “good stuff.” Since they’d arrived—how long ago now?—he hadn’t stopped talking. “The Nipissing, I think it was. Full spring and the waters were wild, good for a drive—you ever seen a drive?”

“No,” Emil said.

“You ain’t seen much, have ya? Boy, now there’s a sight. All them logs thunderin along—and I mean thunder.”

At times, Emil was thankful for Shipley, and for the rest of the men, rough as they were, for their company. Without the wind, or the hack of an axe, or the eventual satisfying plunge, the valley’s deep stillness began to settle in, along with the cold, into your clothes, into your skin, until you had to snap a finger to convince yourself you hadn’t gone completely deaf.

Still, it didn’t take long before Shipley’s voice began to grate. When the Chinese man took up the end of the crosscut saw, Emil would take the other, and Shipley would wander among the remaining men or take up an axe to top one of the trees they’d already felled, still talking to whoever was around, to no one. “Them river drivin days are over, now we got these railroads, and with ’em a whole host of mighty courageous gents, courageous and dead. Hey, you want a swig a my good stuff?”

Today was like any other. Emil worked up a cool sweat. They all did, and aside from Shipley, they stayed silent, mostly because three of the gang were Quebecers and knew only enough English, and Shipley enough French, to coordinate duties, and the Chinese man, though he never fell behind—in fact, he was always the first to start into the bark—seemed to Emil to speak no language at all.

Until, at the felling of the day’s first tree, Emil heard one of the Quebecers say something like “Gin.” He turned, not recognizing it as one of their usual exchanges, and he saw the man holding an arm out to push the Chinese man back several steps as the tree came down. The Chinese man looked at the Quebecer, smiled the most brittle crack of a smile, as though half his mouth were unwilling or paralyzed—but a smile. Emil wondered what it was they were communicating, if it was more than simply “stand back” and “thanks.” He wondered how it was even possible, two men from either side of the world, here in these woods, no civilization, nothing but trees and snow, and one says “Gin” and the other smiles.

The following day was a Sunday, so the gangs built another fire outside. They ate their beans. They smoked their pipes. They called the attention of the clerk’s pet beaver, who scampered here and there among them, gathered small twigs from their outstretched hands and carried them to the fire. They drank and they talked about plans for inns and shops along the railroad somewhere, fathering towns in their names—on such nights, the grand cities of Doyle Springs and Point Pomeroy and McCullinsville were born and blossomed. They wrestled. They bet on the victor. They bet on who could lift the barrels of flour and how far. Someone played a fiddle and they danced. Buck dancing, they called it.

Emil left his spot on the edge of the circle. He returned to the smoke and silence of the shanty, the fire still flickering, lighting several versions of the room, each with its own placement of bunks and clotheslines and moss-caked walls. As he stumbled out of his snowshoes, Emil saw the Chinese man sitting on their pallet, turned away. There was a scratching sound and Emil saw that he was writing a letter. It was dark, sporadic drifts of fire-lit smoke mottling their corner, but still the man wrote.

Emil settled in. The Chinese man, though he must have sensed him, did not turn from his task. Emil found himself watching the set of the man’s shoulders. They were slight, and yet Emil had witnessed what they were capable of. He thought the same things now, in their bunk, that he thought as they worked into the trees, the two of them heaving a saw back and forth—he thought of strength and power and dignity, feeling a bit of competition with this other laborer, trying to outdo the might issued from the other’s movements, trying not to appear out of breath, not to appear weak. He thought of images from mythological stories, men pushing boulders, lifting worlds, legendary white men he would never have attributed to the Chinese, not until the valley, catching as he did intermittently the face of his partner, obscured as it was by the tree, his neck red with effort, his lips sealed and blown out, the sweat on his temple and at his jaw, staring into the tree, into the dust they created, into their shared purpose—and what was it Emil had wanted from this man? A slip? Something that would appoint Emil the more powerful? Or was it approval? A recognition of his own strength and worth, his own status as a Canadian adventurer?

The Chinese man folded his letter, placed it somewhere beside the pallet, and that’s when Emil said it, “Gin,” in the dim smoky light of their corner. The man looked at him, surprised. Emil was surprised too. It was the first word either of them had spoken to the other. But Emil was also surprised that he had the man’s attention now, and he didn’t know what to do with it. He was embarrassed. Why had he said anything?

Emil turned away, under his blanket, feeling every crunch of his rearrangement. He ended up in an awkward position, his arm bent, his hip screaming at him, but he dared not move.

They loaded the train the men called “Curly,” as in “devil,” because of the frequency with which it broke down, and were riding it back up to the interchange several miles away to help with the transfer. Emil stood holding onto the outside of the railing, and Gin stood next to him. Despite the fact that he spent his nights as close to the man, if not closer, Emil tried not to let their shoulders touch, and he stared out, beyond their cargo, pretending to study the utility car they’d left behind them, or focusing, for no reason at all, on the bob of his own head as the engine chugged along. Their climb was a steep one, and Emil waited with dread for the moment Gin’s body would succumb to the incline and fall back into his.

Then Curly made a noise. Something near the front, a muffled crank and—there’s no other word Emil could think of—rip inside Curly’s closed mouth. And didn’t it seem, for a moment, that the crank and rip were happening within his own body?

They were rolling backward, back toward the utility car with increasing speed. It hardly occurred to Emil that they were in danger; it seemed more a possibility than something actually happening. There was wind in his hair and his teeth were colliding and men were hollering in another world when he felt someone take his forearm and pull. The wind stopped and so did his teeth. He was in the air, in a lost moment that seemed not to have had a beginning and in which an ending seemed both inevitable and other, as though he had simply stepped out, or was rather yanked out, of living. Just air, and then the ground—no, a body.

He heard the crash, hunks of metal reorganizing themselves, and with the sound, Emil knew it was real, and that he was alive. He sat up and saw Gin there beneath him, sucking at air. He looked at Emil, offered his twisted smile, and then he was laughing.

No one was hurt, but Curly had suffered greatly, and the utility car was damaged beyond repair. There was nothing they could do, the foreman said, until they sent another train to drag it all away. “Might be a day or so before we get this sorted. Get comfortable, men.” While a debate ensued over whether they’d be paid for their time off, Emil left for the shanty—where else was there to go?—and there he found Gin packing.

“What are you doing?” It was the second thing he ever said to Gin, and he enjoyed it, the simple acknowledgement of a relationship. Gin pointed to Emil’s things, and then he pointed up into the foothills—not the direction of the track; he pointed up into what was yet unknown. And to his surprise, Emil found that he understood.

For the next two days, they climbed. They would not be paid, Emil knew, if any of them were to be paid, but it didn’t matter. They climbed, they camped, they ate beans from cans. Gin caught a rabbit, and they ate that. They encountered several deer, and a moose. Neither spoke. They hardly looked at one another. They climbed and they stopped, almost in unison, to eat, to find a place to relieve themselves, to set up camp for the night, to build a fire, to sleep, now without the voices from other pallets. It got colder. A light, needly rain threatened to turn into something more solid. They covered their heads, and they continued to climb.

Emil knew when they were near the top—the top of what exactly, he wasn’t sure. He could feel it. They both felt it. An opening up. A change in the design of plant growth, a new bend to the trees. A heightened silence; no bugs, no wildlife. Or maybe it was none of that. Maybe it was just a sensation, a thing apart from science, the simplicity of the sudden and lightly falling snow, the way it stuck to their lashes, changed the way they saw. Whatever it was, it was clear, all of it, or none of it, what it meant to the both of them. Arrival.

A few weeks after the Curly incident, word came of a need for labor at the construction site in Fraser. Emil and Gin were among the men reassigned. “Best a luck up there,” Shipley said to Emil, clearly distraught over losing his friend and covering it with a slug of whiskey. “Don’t fall off a mountain.”

Once in Fraser, Emil and Gin went their separate ways, living in their segregated camps and working in their separate divisions. Emil admired the precision of the railway engineers and the brawn of the navvies, and though he found himself once again doing a lot of heavy lifting, unloading supplies and equipment from an endless circuit of tool cars, it was not at a busy wharf smelling of fish, it was here in this wondrous, dizzying wilderness against the backdrop of snow-covered peaks and deep lush valleys, the canyons and rivers and sky, and he was moving the basic materials, the rails and the wood, that would be used to build not just a railway, but a nation, and he felt it in him as he worked—history, and his part in it.

Nights were spent at the Palace, and Emil made an effort to enjoy its pleasures, the drinking, the gambling, the rough talk and the fights, but as with the campsite in the valley, and as with the nightlife in San Francisco, Emil began to recede, sit farther from the commotion, until he stopped entering the provisional saloon altogether, would instead wander the darkness of the worksite after hours, reconsidering this great feat they were all here to undertake, the capture of this land from the native peoples—for what end? More of what he’d witnessed? More noise? The same exhausting cities, the same unbearable progress?

Emil sat on the rail, at a point that split the distance between the navvy and Chinese camps. He held his arms, listened to the laughter in the distance, the closer sounds of his breathing, the buzz of his own blood in his ears, and he decided that he didn’t mind it, his being apart. Then he heard something else, the crunch of gravel, the swish of fabric. He turned and saw against the blue night sky the approach of someone from the Chinese side, a familiar form, the slight shoulders, and once he was close enough, a familiar face as well. Gin took a seat next to him. They weren’t able to talk about their work or their days, what they thought of this new place. They sat a while. They went back to their separate camps. And the next night, without having made a plan to, they met again at the same spot.

They continued, night after night, to meet and to walk the newly assembled tracks or to hike its surrounding forests, no two nights alike as the work moved from Hell’s Gate up along the Thompson and east through Kamloops, the Monashees, and on into the Selkirk Range. The most arduous and exhausting labor they had ever endured, working the line, but still they met, and they walked, sometimes for hours, sometimes until early light. Eventually, they found their way back to the section of track they began at, and, with hardly a glance toward the other, returned to their camps.

Roscoe sometimes asked where it was Emil went at night. “You got some girls up here you ain’t tellin us about?” Sometimes he would press the matter, wanting to glean from Emil a few dirty details, even if they were made up—where they would do it, what were their names, what did their voices sound like? Emil offered no more than a chuckle here and there in response, and Roscoe would put his tired body to sleep with his own lullabies of Emil’s imaginary women.

After Houser came to tell them a Chinese man had fallen, and after Emil had waited at their place in the tracks, he crossed over to the Chinese camp. It was dark, and the camp was unfamiliar, an inversion of the one he knew. Nothing out of the ordinary but a sense of foreignness, the movement of other bodies, the passing of Chinese faces, common in their streaks of grease and dirt, and none of them Gin’s.

“Gin?” It was all he knew to say. He said it to those he passed, who all stared at him with the same curious reticence. Please—Emil did not pray, but it came naturally enough—please let it be his name.

There was a gathering. A fire, like the one kept by the Palace on the navvy side, but here, none were eating, nor drinking, smoking. A single voice erupted from the group, not the language the whites imitated with brusque, delighted whines; a different Chinese altogether—a musical, melancholy chanting. This was a funeral.

That’s why, Emil thought. Whoever had been lost, Gin had known him, was close to him. It was a difficult construction, to consider that a man he knew so well—or thought he knew—would have a stranger to mourn. But then, Gin knew nothing of Roscoe or Houser. And they knew nothing of Gin.

Emil broke into the circle, and the melody stopped. He felt no embarrassment. He scanned, left to right, each startled face, their alternating growths of facial hair, some with wrinkles about their eyes, some young and smooth, bones of noses, some broken and split from accidents, hats, no hats, forelocks, bald, the constant licks of the fire in their eyes as he scanned, until he came around to the same faces again. Only then did he leave the circle. If the melody started up again, he didn’t hear it.

After Eva took Onderdonk away from their city, the men were given early release from the day’s work. Emil spent hours with Roscoe and Houser in the Palace getting drunk. When the sun began to fall, Roscoe had an idea. “A service,” he said. “Our very own, for all the men who’ve given their lives out here. We’ll send em off right.” Sending them off right would require taking their bottles of whiskey to the bridge, having a toast there, at the highest point of their labor. It wasn’t something they were supposed to do, hang about the work sites after hours, but most of the foremen were there in the Palace as well, and Roscoe said he was hightailing it Saturday anyway.

They sat there drunk, the three of them, their legs dangling over the edge, overlooking the wide river below, the mountainous valley beyond, sun gone, sky pink. This was Canada, Emil thought. This was supposed to be beautiful.

They waited for one of them to speak, come up with a toast. As excited as Roscoe had been for this sudden ritual, all he could say was “Well…” with a rattled cough, a slug from his bottle. Emil wasn’t sure if Roscoe even knew the names of the men still buried under the snow. Did Emil know them?

Houser lay back on the plank beneath him, an arm over his face. Houser was never able to keep up with Roscoe when drinking, and Roscoe, either out of politeness or genuine enthusiasm—that’s it, that’s what this service will be about, lying back and looking up at the stars!—decided to lie back as well. But Emil stayed upright, leaning forward and staring down at the rocks, growing more purple by the second, where the body had been.

The Chinese had refused to work. They would have to get rid of the body. That’s what Houser had said. Emil’s only hope, the night his friend had disappeared, was that they would delay the removal till morning.

He’d hurried, that night, from the Chinese camp to the bridge, the canyon where the Chinese worker had fallen three hundred feet to the rocks below. Emil looked over the edge, only several meters from where he would later sit during Roscoe’s midnight funeral. He searched, but it was dark. There was no moon. He began to climb down.

If there was a plan for what he’d do once he found the body, if he found one at all, Emil was not conscious of it. He made his way down the crisscrossing planks of the truss, presuming their sturdiness. His movements were quick, not because he felt any real urgency—if the body was still there, it would be there until moved—but because he would have to confront, if given the slightest pause, what he couldn’t confront in the circle of the Chinese funeral. As long as he was moving, Gin was not dead.

The water grew louder, then duller, the absence directly beneath, where the rocks and concrete blocked the sound. He continued. He looked down over his shoulder, and finally—had the moon come out? was it something sensed, outside of simple vision? a hallucination?—he saw something. From his position, it was merely a crack in a boulder, but as he moved lower, closer, the crack transformed itself into a shadow, a small animal, a larger animal, and finally, as Emil stepped off of the truss and onto the concrete base set into the sloping mountain rock, a man. The body. It was twisted in a way that made it difficult to imagine it was ever anything but a dead man. But more importantly, it was twisted in such a way as to prevent Emil from seeing who it was, or had been.

He sidestepped off the base and moved, slipping to his elbows, down the snow-sprayed rock as far as he could go before a large projection of granite obscured the image of the body. And looking farther on, Emil knew there was no way for him to reach a better vantage, let alone the body itself. Its resting place was an island surrounded by rushing, frothing currents whose mists Emil could now feel. He hadn’t realized how cold he was until this moment. He could no longer clench his fists.

He looked up into the latticework of the bridge, looked to the top as though to see the accident play itself over, to see the man falling. Whether something had caused it, or whether—why hadn’t the thought occurred to him before?—the man, Gin, simply let go.

Emil could almost see him now, falling away from the truss, falling down to him.

Roscoe and Houser, still lying next to Emil, had begun to discuss the possibility of a strike. “To the Palace!” Roscoe kept saying, where they would gather recruits, draft a petition, delegate a leader, organize, this very night. “To the Palace!” pointing up at the stars as he shouted, but they were both too drunk now to move.

Emil was likewise unable to move, though his paralysis was for the sudden, depleting fear of how easy it would be to dip forward, leave the bridge. Whatever Canada had meant to Gin before he arrived—that Emil could not even envision where Gin had come from, whatever town in whatever part of that faraway country, made their friendship all the more intangible—whatever he’d hoped Canada would become, this wasn’t it. These tracks, this bridge, this mountain pass, unmoving except for the water below and the imperceptible shifts in the earth, whatever fine and final dislodging sent the rock and snow sliding toward them, through them.

This was not Canada. So Gin fell, Gin let go.

But that wasn’t right, Emil thought. They’d seen Canada, he and Gin. And knowing it was there, and within reach, there was no way he let go. Which meant that, had it been intentional, an intention Gin, and now Emil, was incapable of, it couldn’t have been Gin.

Of course! Why hadn’t he realized this before? That night, exhausted at the bottom of the canyon, Emil had been numb, sitting there, as close to the body as he could get, his hands in his armpits, trying to get warm again, and that numbness had continued, hadn’t it, until now, atop the bridge, three hundred feet from where he’d been. Up here he could see clearly. Here he knew—it didn’t have to be Gin.

Emil hadn’t been close enough to get a good look, nor could anyone in the morning get close enough, without great difficulty. Who’s to say it wasn’t another worker, another Chinese man? Emil could almost see him now, falling away from him, with a different, terrible face, shoulders not slight enough, someone else’s arms outstretched in failed flight.

And the morning after, when a crew of white men, unable as Emil had been to reach the body, lowered a pack of nitroglycerin onto the island where the body lay, it didn’t have to be Gin’s body that they’d blown away.

Roscoe and Houser continued their scheming as Emil walked away from the bridge. There would be no strike tomorrow. Roscoe would not leave come Saturday, or Sunday, or Monday. He’d remain, compliant to the end, until he died. As would Houser. As would the rest of them.

Except for Emil. Except for Gin, who was waiting for him now.

Emil climbed, feeling his way in the dark of the deep and snow-covered woods—his eyes were already adjusting, weren’t they? the snow already giving off a kind of light?—minding little that he had not a single clue as to Gin’s location, any inkling of direction. He would feel it, he knew. The way they’d felt the pinnacle of that first summit before they’d reached it. The way he’d heard, for the first time in his life—how had he never heard it before?—the light tapping of snow falling on snow.

He could feel it now, with each stride, trying not to think, as he climbed, as he hiked, of what they’d done to remove the body, trying instead to recall the melody from the funeral in the Chinese camp. But he couldn’t. It was gone. In its place was the sound of a Quebecer saying his friend’s name, and the creeping sound of a tree about to fall, and the memory of slowing breath in the shanty, the floated voices of other men and their dreams of Canada, of empire.

About the Author

Nicholas Maistros

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Stories and essays by Nicholas Maistros have appeared in Witness, The Baltimore Review, The Literary Review, Sycamore Review, Nimrod, Sequestrum, Washington Square Review, Colorado Review, Beloit Fiction Journal, Bellingham Review, Cagibi, and Longleaf Review. Nicholas has worked in Broadway merchandising, nonprofit finance, filmmaking, and food service. He lives with his partner in Dayton, Ohio.