The changes were fairly minimal on both parts, so I’m posting the combined version. My CP suggested making the end a little clearer to show he wasn’t on the boat yet, and I tidied up some word choice to remove repetition and make things clearer.
Six months and it was over. The boat – or was it a ship? Jake would know – bobbed on the waves, still a few miles out. The clues were all there, from the sudden cold snap to the growing ice that sparkled on the dark blue water. A few more weeks and whether it was a boat or a ship, it wouldn’t get through.
He turned away from the cliff, back to the little research shack. The frost crunched beneath his boots, the sound mixing with the chatter of the sea birds. They fluttered around him, squawking. The birds didn’t know enough to be frightened of humans, didn’t worry about social niceties.
The birds would look him in the eye at least.
The door to the shack stuck, warped by the temperature extremes and the occasional bouts of rage that still hit Caleb. He’d tried therapy. Tried drugs, of both kinds. Even six months in the arctic couldn’t quell them entirely.
He’d been better out here, though.
Not just the clean air and the solitude. There were no reminders here, nothing to snag his memories on and drag him screaming back around into a face full of grief. No vodka. No blank Citroens. No crossings wailing their electric song at someone who would never move again.
Just the birds and the wind and the empty sky.
He stepped into the building, warm and dry despite its rickety appearance. He should pack, get ready to leave. He didn’t know what the procedure was, how long the boat would stay. He hadn’t listened to that side of things much. Instead, he slumped into the worn easy chair, though easy was being generous. It looked like something stolen from a hospital bedside.
Notebooks spilled across the table, a haphazard pile of observations, notes, temperature readings, all bound in ink and sealed on the page. And at the bottom, Caleb’s own notebook, the one piece of personal property he’d taken with him other than clothes. Everything else hurt too much.
It had taken time to even touch this. He’d told himself it might help, though what use sketches of city peregrines and small songbirds would be in the arctic he had no idea. It stayed, buried in the bottom of his bag, until the height of midsummer. When the surrealness of the midnight sun finally became too much, he’d picked it out, flicking through the dogeared pages until he’d found it.
Between the pages of neat dense notes, and ink sketches, was a very different drawing. A rough, freehand circle, a little triangle stuck on the side, and the word BIRB in Jake’s uncompromising capitals.
“Helping,” Jake’s voice whispered in his ear. The flat was never quiet, filled with a constant hum of traffic and video games and the rattle and clash of cooking. Jake’s whispers as loud as he was. “See, I can do hornithology too.”
“Ornithology,” he corrected.
“Hornithology.” Jake’s breath caressed his neck, his hands on Caleb’s hips, pulling him close.
Caleb had laughed, maddened by grief, by love, by the sun beating down on the shack at three in the morning. He’d laughed until he’d cried, eyes burning, ribs aching, heart broken all over again. It had taken almost another month to look at it again. But it had taken less time between each rereading, and the emotional retching had been less painful each time.
He put the book down.
Outside, the boat, ship, whatever had drawn up in the bay, and a small dingy roared towards the shore. Seabirds flapped around him as he strode up the path to the cliffs. White feathers drifted on the air. White clouds above, holding back a sinking sun. White ice, building, grating in the ocean. Caleb made up his mind. He wasn’t getting on the boat.
He wasn’t going back.