The Red Lake – Jenny Vernon

The Red Lake

            For a heartbeat there was absolute silence. As she walked it seemed to Iguptaq that the landscape was waiting and listening. Then a snow bunting broke in, tick-ticking as it hopped between boulders, watching her approach. It moved away from its nest to draw her from its young, two tiny birds sitting tight on a mat of feathers between bare rocks.

            A delicate ring of ripples spread out from the lake’s centre to caress the shore. Flies buzzed up from the heather, misting the still autumn air. Stark red rocks by the lake edge seemed to throb under a white sky.

            Iguptaq walked along the water’s edge, wearing only her inner furs, and sweeping flies away as they stuck to the sweat under her brow-band and tangled in her plaits. She carried a skin bladder and jumped between rocks until she reached a deep pool lined with red pebbles that shone up from its bed. She bent to fill the skin with water and saw an image of herself move up from the lake to meet her. Very young, the face that stared back still held some of the unmarried girl’s hope and thirst for adventure in the glint of the eyes and mischievous set of the mouth. The child’s wish for marriage, adult status, a woman’s tattoos and children of her own was still there behind the sunburst tattoo beneath the mouth, and the married woman’s hair style. But the eyes that looked back were sad, and the tattoo hid a small downturn at the edge of her lips.

            Iguptaq drew off her boots and sat cooling her feet in the lake water. It was cold and she watched her toes turn white as they stirred up pebbles. The ripples she made seemed to be the only movement in the water. She thought she might be the last person alive in the world.

            A low sound made her look up. It vibrated the air like ptarmigan wings, but it came from the middle of the lake. She saw nothing but, feeling uneasy, she began to climb back onto the rock to gather up her boots and the water skin. A deep voice rolled across the lake surface.