Mirka slipped through the thick first floor door of her small house, leaned against it, and looked out across the bare grey rocky shore toward the snow-covered Mount Erebus. A few small patches of green were all the natural color she could see. Although they looked like they might be grass from this distance, she knew they were only patches of moss or lichen. The midsummer sun hanging low in the midnight sky behind her house provided a softened, reddish illumination. A few flakes of snow stirred up by the wind glistened in the air. The sound of the Adelie penguin rookery could be heard in the distance.
She rested quietly against the door as she took in the view. Her thoughts drifted to to winter to come. There was the possibility that this would be her long-awaited first winter here, but that was still a question at this point.
A gust of wind swirled the thin wisps of the snow, kicking up enough to obscure the view for a moment. Mirka smiled and clapped her hands in delight as she watched the eddies of glistening flakes dance on the wind, all thought of the chill forgotten for a moment.
Though she could happily have stayed to watch the snow for half the night, about five minutes later she realized she was cold and had nearly fallen asleep despite the chill air. The wind cut through her fleece pajamas as if she weren’t even wearing them and the cold door was leaching heat heat through her jacket. In just the few minutes out here she had started to shiver.
With care to keep quiet, Mirka turned and went back inside. In the entrance she removed her jacket and hung it up before going through the second insulated door into the kitchen/living area. The pull-up she hadn’t changed before slipping out was cold and clammy, reminding here of its presence with every step.
To her left was the kitchen, occupying half the wall space. To her right was the dining/living area. A table for four nearer the door and a couch next to the doorway to the bedrooms mostly filled the space. The small Christmas “tree”, about as tall as her chest, stood next to the wall between the table and couch. It had been made and remade by unknown former visitors each year out of whatever materials they could “skua”, or not quite steal, for the purpose. Though the original provenance of the tree was now unknown, legend held that it was standing for its thirty-first Christmas.
The brief wakefulness she’d enjoyed now dwindled, Mirka made her way down the short hallway that had almost as much door as wall to her room. Once she closed the door her room was plunged into near-blackness. She felt her way to her window and raised the blind slightly in order to get enough light to move around. Now able to see what she was doing, Mirka got a new pull-up from her dresser, took off her pajama bottoms and old pull-up, cleaned herself, and put on the new one as quickly as she could without making noise. With her pajamas back on she turned to the window and closed the blind. Now in nearly pitch blackness she felt her way along her bed and slipped into it.
From her bedside table she took her small water bottle and drained it. As she did, she remembered the bedwetting alarm she hated and had taken out and dropped on the floor by her bed when it had awoken her. She silently cursed at it as she finished the water, deciding to forgo the alarm that had already woken her once this night, too late to do any good.
She snuggled under her thick blankets and in moments was again deep in slumber.
Mirka woke to the sound of the knock on her door. She poked her head out from under her covers. “What?” she said sleepily.
Her father, Vergen, opened the door and said, “The weather’s looking good and it’s time to go around and check the weather stations. Mom can get a chance to get away, so we’ve decided to go for a solstice run up the the ice cap. Do you want to come?”
“I’ll be right up,” she answered quickly, rubbing the sleep from her eyes and sitting up.
“Good. We’re not minded to dawdle before we leave.” He started to withdraw, then noticed the alarm sitting discarded on the floor in the wedge of light coming through the door. “Did you not use the alarm again?”
“I did use it,” Mirka insisted, “But it woke me too late to do any good.”
“It looks like it’s just sitting on the floor.”
“That’s because I didn’t put it back. It never does any good, anyway.”
“It would do more good where it belongs than sitting on the floor.”
Why does he have to have an answer for everything? she grumbled in her head. “Not enough. I still wake up all wet.”
“The sooner you use it consistently, the sooner you’ll learn to wake up at night, and be done with it and the diapers.”
Mirka mumbled something non-committal and unintelligible in reply.
“Get up and get ready if you’re coming. We’ll talk later about the alarm. Did you at least manage to stay dry after you woke up?”
Mirka replied with a vague mumble as she swung her legs out from under the covers.
“That didn’t sound much like an answer.”
“No,” she mumbled just clearly enough to be understood.
“Well, get cleaned up then and get get ready so we can be off.” Her dad withdrew and closed the door behind him, leaving the room dark except for the crack of light under the door and faint light creeping around the window blind.
Mirka stood up, opened her door, and went one door down the hall to the bathroom. The bathroom was scarcely larger needed to allow the door to swing in and against the sink. She stepped in and stood in the corner of space not swept by the swing of the door so she could close it past herself.
Though she was wet again, she did at least need to pee a little. She used the toilet before ripping off the wet pull-up and got the shower going. As soon as it was warm she wet herself down, turned it off, lathered her diaper area, and then turned it on again just long enough to rinse off.
Once clean, she went back to her room and put on a thin pink wool shirt and long underwear, and then put on a pair of lightweight purple moleskin pants. From the top of her dresser she picked up her watch and put it on as she went out to the kitchen.
“…alarm was on the floor,” she heard her father say as she neared the kitchen.
“Good morning,” she said as she entered. Her father was cracking eggs for omelets while her mother chopped vegetables.
“Morning, sweetie,” said her mother. “How did you sleep?”
“Good. What’s the plan for today?”
“Three thousand feet up the side of the sheet we’ll ride to the crevasse to dump you.”
Her mother, Mytzi, laughed, shaking her head, “Oh, Vergen…” Then to Mirka, “We’ll head across the sound and up through the Dry Valleys to say hi to the folks on Lake Bonney. From there we’ll continue on up the valleys to the ice cap and circle the stations up there.”
“You don’t have to come, but working is about the only way to get out in the field. It’s also important to staying welcome here,” said her mother as she put the veggies in the pan to sautée. “Just who have I been hearing begging to stay here through the winter?”
“But I don’t want to spend Christmas looking at weather stations.”
“We’ll be back before Christmas Eve,” said her father. “We’ll probably even make it back late tomorrow.”
Mirka gave her dad an annoyed glance, but said no more.
“You might as well start putting together your pack. One egg or two?”
“Mmm…make it two please.”
“Sure thing. Pack five diapers, not pull-ups, in case we get delayed and you use extra.”
“Why do I have to take the diapers?”
“So that you can put them on without taking off all your clothes in the cold. The also are more reliable, and I shouldn’t have to tell you how dangerous wet clothes would be out there. You can take one or two pull-ups, but take at least four real diapers.”
“Okay… but why so many? You said we’d only be gone for a night.”
“We’re only planning a night, but weather can change fast, and we’ll be far enough out that we could get stuck for a bit if the weather turns nasty.”
“Fine.” Mirka turned and went back five steps down the hallway to her room.
Mirka picked out a spare set of clothes, the specified diapers, her camera, and her sleeping bag. From the top drawer she took her knife, pocket sextant, and coil of thin rope. From her desk she added her small sketchbook and minimalist travel drawing kit her uncle gave her. It was a seven inch long piece turned from purpleheart with a maple cap. Inside was a hole just the right size to hold one of her fragile woodless graphite pencils and protect it from being broken and her belongings from the soft graphite. Under the threaded cap there was a space for a piece of kneaded eraser. With the larger cap area to hold the eraser and the color contrast of the woods it looked a little like a small torch.
“Omelet’s ready,” came her mother’s voice from the kitchen.
“Coming,” she called back, and went back to the kitchen, leaving her pack on her bed to recheck after breakfast.
Her mother was sliding her omelet onto a plate as she entered the kitchen. Mirka went over to get the plate, then got a fork from the drawer, and sat down at the table.
“Smells delicious,” she said as she cut her first bite and nibbled gingerly at the steaming morsel, “and tastes just as good.”
Mirka continued to munch her way through the green bean, broccoli, and onion omelet laced through with melted cheese. Her dad watched with some amusement. “Don’t rush through the freshies. Come winter you’ll be longing to have them back.”
“Mmm…hmmm,” she mumbled through a mouthful before swallowing, “Cold eggs are nasty.” Before her dad could get in another word she had taken her next bite.
Her dad sighed and went to take his omelet, which he then proceeded to eat only a little slower than Mirka was munching through hers.
Once she finished her omelet that was getting cold by the end, Mirka went to get a glass of water. The crisp, clear water was only heated enough to melt it, remaining just above freezing. While her mother went to eat her own omelet she started washing the dishes. Getting here was hard enough, and as long as she had been coming here — as long as she could remember, really — she’d been hearing people say that everyone in Antarctica worked. For the last three summers she and one of her parents would come in on the first boat and then leave with the other on the second to last planned plane. With both her parents staying this winter she didn’t intend to be sent to her grandmother in England. By the time she finished washing the few dishes her mom had finished eating and brought her plate as the last thing to wash.
“Thanks for washing the dishes,” said her mother.
“Everyone says everyone here works, and I’m going to stay.”
“Well, I can’t say you haven’t been helpful in every way since the boat docked,” said her father, “so you’ve got half of what you need to stay.”
“Make that helpful since the possibility of wintering over came up.”
“Now you just need to stop wetting the bed and we can get you the wintering over pass.”
“That’s the way it is here,” sad her father. “Transport here is expensive, and diapers for a year take up quite a bit of space. You’ve been lucky enough to come for the summers as it is.”
“You have a couple weeks before the next boat. If you’ve made progress you may stay for the last boat in another month. That’s why you need to keep up with the alarm, unless you can come up with any better ways to stop wetting the bed.”
“Okay, okay, I’ll be good,” she grumbled. Mirka dried her hands and then went to the door. “Anything much I should pack besides a change of underclothes, my camera, and something to do?”
“That’s should be enough,” said her mother. “We may be walking around a good bit, so no need to add unneeded weight.”
“I know, I know,” Mirka said and promptly disappeared to complete and condense down her packing.
Back in her room, she stuffed her sleeping bag into her pack, then folded and rolled her clothes before stuffing them into her pack and filled the corners with the rest. There was still a little more space than she needed for foodstuffs, so, after a moment of consideration, she added Tux, her stuffed penguin that stood about as tall as her handspan. Thus packed but for foodstuffs she looked around to see if she’d missed anything and saw the mostly empty package of wipes and the alarm. She added the wipes to her pack, but decided that it was only two nights, she didn’t want to carry the alarm around, and her pack was about full. With a last look around to make sure she hadn’t forgotten anything, Mirka picked up her pack and returned to the kitchen.
Her parents were talking over cups of coffee when she came in.
“Do you have everything?” said her mother.
“I think so.”
“Let’s check it over, then.”
Mirka went over and set her pack on the table. It took only a moment for her mother to go through it. She paused at the wipes and said, “The wipes will be cold, but since it’s summer there’s probably enough alcohol to keep them from freezing. If you can use them, it’s a good idea.” After finishing going through she said, “Looks pretty good. No alarm, though?”
“It’s only two nights, and I don’t want to carry it around.”
“That’s reasonable. Just remember you don’t have much more time before the ship leaves port.”
“OK. we’ll just add a sleeping pad and a basic set of rations, then.”
While her mother collected the foodstuffs, her father went to get their packs. Soon things were ready, she had used the bathroom a final time, and they went out to the Skidoos. They strapped the packs to it, and climbed into the seats. Mirka sat on her mother’s lap, and they set off around the McMurdo Sound.
With the engine stopped all noise ceased, except for the quiet roar of the wind and the creaking of the ice. Mirka hurried to get off the Skidoo so she could empty her rather full bladder. She stopped a couple dozen steps away to squat on the ice, but didn’t bother trying to get out of view. Except for whiteout conditions that would make getting away hazardous, the flat landscape and slowly curving valley walls made attempting to get out of view a futile exercise.
While her parents made use of the same spot she had, Mirka took a couple sips of water from her thermos and moved around a little to stretch her legs a bit. They all took off their windproof jackets long enough to remove the outer insulating layer.
“We can leave things here,” said her father, who had stripped down to just a thin long-sleeved shirt under his jacket. “We won’t be long, and the weather looks pretty stable. I’ll carry your warm things.”
Mirka gave her outer warm layer to her father and hurried to put on her jacket again to block the bite of the ever-present wind through her remaining layers. Unlike him, she was still relatively recently come to the south, and she felt it with the temperatures hovering a little below freezing. The three then set off skirting the edge of the glacier down to Lake Bonney and the research station erected in the middle of it in companionable silence.
For some time the only sound other than the wind and the ice was the crunch of their boots on the ice and later the gravel of the bare valley. Being on the coast, there was more bare ground than normal, but the grey of the valley walls still made a nice change from the largely endless snow white of Antarctica. High overhead a few small lonely clouds moved inland, contrary to the katabatic winds flowing down the valley.
Once they got to the bottom, they crossed the glacier onto the lake near Blood Falls. Though the falls wasn’t flowing, the red stain stood out brightly against the white of the glacier. Mirka tried removing her glacier glasses to enjoy the sight in its natural color. It took her eyes a moment to adjust to the brightness, and even then she found it hard not to squint to the point that it was hard to see clearly. Disappointed, bu not really surprised, she put her glasses back on and enjoyed the view for another few minutes.
When they set out across the iced over lake, her dad started humming just loudly enough for her to hear. The words played in her mind as she joined in humming, “…declare myself to be nothin’ ever other than exactly what I am.” They continued on, humming songs occasionally until they got to the research station built on the ice in the center of the lake. They went up to the door and her dad knocked.
The door was opened by a surprised looking dark haired man. “Who… Vergen? What are you doing out here?”
“It was about time to make a run through the weather stations up on the ice cap and Mytzi had a chance to get away, so we took the chance at a pre-Christmas family jolly.”
He stepped back from the door so they could enter. “Good for you. And nice to see you all.”
“Likewise. And what about you, Bob?”
“Oh, keeping on with things here,” he said as he closed the door behind them. There were half a dozen other people in the room lined with desks. In the middle was an open hole in the floor which led to a hole in the ice. Beside the hole sat a shiny metal device that several people were checking over. Overhead ran the crane used to move the probe into the water and take it back out. A miniature Christmas tree about two feet tall made of bent wire sat on the desk by the door, hung with various ornaments including electronic parts, but also including a blown glass penguin and seal. “No major problems with the probe, but plenty of little ones to keep us busy. I can’t really talk right now, but you’ve come at a good time to see it. We’re just finishing the final checks before we send it down for today’s run.”
“We don’t have all that much time to dally anyway. I wanted to see if we might catch Blood Falls flowing, and once we’re that close it would be a shame not to come say hi.”
“There are few enough chances to see the probe itself in action. Seeing it come up is perhaps better, but that will be a while. And help yourself to coffee if you’d like,” he said, gesturing to the table in the corner where a pot was waiting.
“Make yourselves comfortable while you’re waiting,” said Bob as he turned back to the probe.
Vergen went over to the coffee pot and poured himself a mug to which he added a helping of cream. Mirka followed and picked up a mug for herself.
“I suppose that’s what is here,” he said. “Not too much, though.”
“Okay,” Mirka said as she poured a small mug and added a similar measure of cream.
“Is that cream in your coffee, or coffee in your cream?” said her father.
A bit of laughter went round the room.
“There’s someone who knows how to keep warm,” said Bob.
One of the other men started singing without words.
“No, no, Erik. She’s not being greedy. Little girls have a lot of surface area to lose heat from,” said a third man.
“That is true,” said Erik. “Well, everything looks good on my end. You guys?”
“Fine here,” said another man.
“Aaahh… yes, it’s a go,” said Bob as he scanned the bank of simulated gauges on his screen.
The men cleared away from the probe and Erik said, “Mirka, is it?” She nodded, and he continued, “Come over here. We’ll let you do the honors.”
Mirka walked over to where he sat by one of the computers along the wall. The screen showed a variety of numbers around the left and bottom edges of the screen. The bulk of the screen was taken up by a black rectangle. The computer itself looked like all the others, except for a large red button with a plexiglass cover sitting under the monitor. Erik motioned for her to sit in the chair next to him.
“You’re way too… <i>fond</i> of that button,” said Bob slyly.
Erik ignored him and pointed to the button. “OK. It’s time to push the button.”
With some trepidation at the way they had spoken, Mirka pulled herself up to the desk, reached over the keyboard, lifted the cover, and paused with her finger on the button.
“Go ahead,” said Erik. “It won’t bite.”
At his prodding, Mirka pushed down on the button and jumped when the sound of a motor starting and metal parts rattling filled the room. A bit of laughter ran round the room as she whipped around to see what was happening, the back of the chair she was sitting in hitting the desk as she did so.
“Now you’ve done it,” said Bob with a grin on his face. “You’ve dropped the toy down the well.”
“Uhhh…” Mirka watched wide eyed, slowly figuring out what was going on, while the crane picked up the probe, carried it over to the hole in the ice, and lowered it into the water. It cleared by just a few inches all the way around. Once it was half submerged the crane let go and the water rippled as it worked its way through the gap around the sinking probe. A tether line paid out from a coil holder by the hole.
Bob walked over and clapped her on the shoulder. “A perfect hole in one!” he said.
Mirka looked up at him with a nervous smile. Seeing the expression on her face, he laughed again, “You did just right. That switch Erik wired up is a memento of his from a former job, so we tease him about it all the time.”
“The way those idiots behaved,” said Erik, “they’re lucky it didn’t get pressed in revenge before they ordered the change that blew everything up.”
“What happened?” said Mirka.
“The bosses were micro-managing everything when they had no clue how anything actually worked. Everyone hated them, especially because half the time what they made us do made the problem worse or caused new ones without solving the issue. We got back at them by demanding that they put all their orders in writing before we would follow them, even when they were correct, and spending all too much time documenting carrying out the order. Well, one fine day they gave an order to make a modification that would cross-connect two AC power supplies not designed to phase-synchronize. Somehow, no one remembered to tell them what any half-competent fool should have seen. We configured everything just like they told us to, but when we flipped the switch something crackled, and the whole system started billowing smoke. The switch was killed, but by then it was too late, because now that things had gotten started, the other power supply could drive the destruction all by itself. Before anyone could get to it, the fire alarm went off and we had to clear out before the halon dump. When we got back in, there was nothing left but burned and melted circuit boards. Only a few basic electrical components still functioned. For being the project lead and having to deal most with the bosses everyone voted that I got to keep the kill switch everyone longed to press, and probably would have if it could have been passed off as an accident.”
“What happens now?” she asked.
“Now we let it explore the lake and watch the pictures it feeds us,” he said, gesturing at the screen behind her, “while we hope its programming works without us having to adjust it on the fly.”
Mirka turned back to the computer to see that screen now showed a blurry, bluish shifting image.
“Not much to see until it gets below the ice where the camera has the distance to focus properly, and even then it’s rather slower and more boring than the videos that will be made of what it finds.”
They all continued to talk for about fifteen minutes, mostly her father and Bob catching each other up on the latest goings on. Mirka spent much of it watching the slow-moving picture of the lake bottom sent up by the probe.
“Well, thanks for the welcome,” said Vergen as he got up from the chair. “I think it’s about time we need to be heading out. Want to make the ice cap and get a couple stations checked before it’s time to make camp.”
“Well, it was good to see you all,” Bob said as he got up too and headed towards the door. “Hope you get out again sometime.”
“We’ll try to. It was lucky timing for Mytzi to make this happen, so nothing’s sure.”
“Ever they way of things here. Work all day every day. Worth it to be here, though.”
“True that. Managed to get here for half a dozen winters already, and I’d be sad to leave for good. Mirka’s hoping to make this her first winter here, so I think we may be here for quite a while yet.”
“I’ve put in for staying the winter, but it looks like I’ll have to wait another year. I’m only a summer scientist, and they seem to give the summer janitors and maintenance people priority for the wintering slots.”
“It’s some stiff competition out there,” said Mytzi. “We’ve been pretty lucky as it is.”
“You’ve been trading off winters for the last several years? I’m jealous.”
“Well, no point in giving up 'till your plane takes off,” said Vergen.
“Things can change suddenly here. At least I have the past couple summers, and things are looking good for me for next summer.”
“That will give you something to look forward to through the Austral winter, at least.”
“That it will. Enjoy the heights.”
“Thanks. We will.” By this time they had donned their windproof overclothes and were outside on the porch. Bob closed the door and they turned and walked down the steps to set out again. The Sun was shining from a bit east of north as they set off towards the glacier and their skidoo. Blood falls was again only a red stain on the glacier and lake as they passed by.
An hour and a half of riding later after climbing a steep section Vergen stopped the snowmobile high up the Taylor Glacier. Turning back they could see across the Ferrar Glacier to Mount Erebus and the Ross Sea in the distance.
“This looks like a good place to stretch the legs and eat some nutty.”
“It’s enough sitting that I’m ready for a change of position,” said Mytzi as she some granola bars and chocolate out of her pack. She passed the bars around and they leaned against the back of the skidoo to gnaw their way through them. The sides of the mountains rising above the snowy glaciers were a stark grey against the white that faded to the blue of the ocean in the distance. Overhead the nearly clear sky was an expanse of blue slowly shifting in tone across its breadth.
“I’m glad you’re enough of a country mouse to get me out occasionally,” said Mytzi as she leaned into Vergen. “Here you can almost forget the rest of the world exists.”
“It’s the rare moment out in the field like this that keeps me wanting to stay as long as I can.”
“You just keep your year-round country mouse status so I get some chances at this.”
“I certainly plan to. Maybe next year we can get to be on a much smaller base camp, where it’ll be easier to make the base disappear.”
“Mmmm-hmmm…” The quiet conversation drifted into silence. Mirka finished her nutty and quietly dug into her pack for her sketchbook, hoping to get the scene drawn before her father stirred and made them continue on. The ever-present wind did a reasonable job of masking the sound of the zipper and she sat down on the snowy ice, removed her right mitten to expose the fingerless hand warmer underneath, and started to draw.
She looked up from her nearly completed drawing at her Mother’s call. “Oh, thanks,” she said, setting the pencil in her lap and reaching with a hand that showed red fingertips poking from her glove to take the piece of chocolate.
“It looks like your hand is getting a bit chilled. How’s the drawing coming?”
“Good. Getting close to done,” she said, biting off a piece of the cold chocolate with a crack and looking at her hand before speaking around the piece of chocolate, “I only need a few more minutes.”
“Best not make it long. There’s nowhere to go inside and warm up, and you really don’t want to get frostbite out here.”
“I won’t,” she said as she grabbed the chocolate in her mitten and picked up her pencil again. She paused after only a moment to stick her hand up her jacket and warm it up in her armpit. Though they said nothing, she could feel that her dad in particular was impatient to get going again. As soon as she thought she could get away with it she pulled her hand out and set to adding the last lines she needed so she could finish the shading later.
“Okay. I’ve gotten far enough. Just let me pee and then we can be off.”
“Good,” said her dad, “we’ve got a good bit of ground to cover yet, and the sun is sinking towards the horizon.”
“The sun doesn’t even set.”
“We still need rest, even if the sun doesn’t.”
Mirka got up and put her pencil and sketchbook back in her pack before walking off a little ways. As ever out in the field, the cold wind encouraged being quick about things and she soon was back and settling herself on her mother’s lap.
“Well, that’s two stations, and it’s almost nine,” said Vergen. “Any objections to camping here?”
“About the same here as anywhere else around here,” said Mytzi. Mirka just shrugged somewhat sleepily.
Mirka woke up a little as she helped set up the tent and sleeping gear, enough that she was awake but paying no attention to anything up her hoosh by the time dinner came round. The sun was low in the south when she went out to pee a last time before she put on her diaper and crawled into her sleeping bag. In moments she was fast asleep.
Mirka woke up needing to pee. Her parents were still asleep beside her. She was tempted to just pee in her diaper, but when she checked it she found that it was still dry. Trying to move quietly but quickly, she slid out of her sleeping bag, and crawled around her parents to get the pushtin. Back on her side she pulled down her pants, un-taped her diaper, opened the pushtin, and used it.
“What is it?” said her mom sleepily.
“I woke up dry and needed to pee.”
“Oh. Good for you…”
Mirka finished up, wiped, closed the pushtin, and set it aside. Chilly in the tent that did little more than block the wind, she hid back in her sleeping bag and reached for her watch. Six thirty. Probably not too long before her parents would be up. She looked at the diaper, but the tapes had taken some of the plastic cover with them and had little remaining exposed sticky area.
Given the time, she could probably have gone back to sleep without a diaper, but it was late enough to make getting up reasonable. Hiding inside her sleeping bag she pulled on her clothes she had kept inside to keep them from freezing. She finished with her boots and waited a moment for her clothes to warm up before she reached slid out of her sleeping bag.
Moving slowly and quietly, she put on her windproofs, put her sketchbook and pencil in her pocket, put on her glasses, went to the tent door, and started to unzip it. She stopped when flakes of snow started blowing in, and moved the zipper so she could make an opening just large enough to see what was going on. When she put her face to the opening, all she could see was a wall of white. Sky and ground blended into each other with no way to tell up from down by sight.
Quietly sighing in disappointment that there was no view to draw, Mirka closed the tent flap on the blizzard and back to her sleeping bag. She took off her outer pants and sat in her sleeping bag to finish the drawing she had started the day before.
Mirka looked up for a minute to get a fresh perspective on anything remaining to be done before she called the drawing complete.
“Good morning,” said her dad quietly. “How’s the drawing coming?”
She looked over to see her dad watching her. It appeared that her mom had gone back to sleep. “Okay.” She turned the sketchbook so he could see. While she wished she were better at getting the perspective right, she had the shading close enough that she was reasonably pleased with how it was coming out.
“That looks more than just okay to me.”
“The shapes are wrong.”
“It’s still very nice even if it doesn’t match the spot. Keep working at it, and you’ll get there.”
“I know,” she said a bit morosely.
“Well, you should have time to go out and try the view from here before we head out.”
“I already tried. There isn’t any view.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s a white-out.”
“Can’t be. The weather is supposed to be nice for the next week.”
“I couldn’t tell sky from ground out there.”
“Tell me you’re joking.”
“What’s going on?”
“Mirka says there’s a blizzard out there.”
“What? Surely you’re joking.”
“If I should say the weather was clear… I could not, I’d be telling you a tale.”
Her dad groaned and started to dress in the confines of his sleeping bag. “Well, if that’s the case, we won’t be going anywhere fast.”
Mirka laughed with a sound that was rather close to a snort, “The way it was, we won’t be going twenty feet without a rope.”
Her dad slid out of his sleeping bag in just his thermal underwear and boots, a combination that looks altogether too cold to Mirka given the temperatures hovering around freezing in in the tent, and went to the door to look out himself. The snow she had let in was still where it had fallen in the tent. He looked out as she had done, then stuck his head through the hole to get a wider view. When he pulled his head back inside his brown hair was dotted with white flakes of snow.
“Damn. It’s as white as anything out there. No use even trying to go anywhere.”
“Well, we won’t starve anytime soon, so we might as well enjoy the holiday, dear. Not much other way to get one here.”
“True,” he said, looking forlornly at the door, “though if this doesn’t clear off soon, we’ll pay for it in extra work when we do get back.”
“Why worry about it before breakfast? The way the weather can change around here we may be dealing with nothing more than some snowdrifts.”
Mirka helped prepare the freeze-dried muesli for breakfast, though by the time it had been eaten there was no change in the weather. Her dad was looking daggers through the tent walls at the storm outside, while her mom attempted to get him to do something other than mope about the weather. Mirka decided there wasn’t much point in trying either of them and sat quietly in the corner in her sleeping bag with her sketchbook. For most of the morning there was scarcely a sound but for the wind and the snow it swirled.
Hours later, as Mirka was finishing a drawing of her dad staring at the tent door and her mom reading a book beside him, she started humming the melody to the words in her mind loudly enough to catch her dad’s attention.
…hang it on my wall
To say that I’d seen Arkansas
Her dad looked over with the first smile he’d worn since finding out about the blizzard and joined her with the words.
…I lust love ole Arkansas
Love my ma, love my pa
But I just love ole Arkansas…
With her dad singing they were loud enough to pull her mom’s attention from her book and they finished out the song together.
“What time has it gotten to be?” said Mytzi.
Mirka looked at her watch, “Eleven forty six.”
“That seems about time for lunch then.”
While Mytzi and Mirka started preparing a lunch of soup from freeze-dried meats and vegetables her dad ventured out with a rope tether and succeeded in making contact with the base by radio. While he went out, Mirka reached through the door to scoop up a first pot of snow for the soup. By the time he had made contact and come back in the soup needed only to heat nicely before being eaten.
“Well, I got through to John. The commander happened to be there, and he said not to worry about the delay.”
Mytzi looked at him questioningly as he spoke, and then said, “What did he do? Tell you not to act like it’s your first time dealing with bad weather on the ice?”
He hesitated before answering, “Something like.”
“Well, make sure you remember it when we get going. I don’t want to get slotted.”
“I know. I’ll be careful.” He shuddered. “I’ve seen someone get slotted once. They were roped up, and it was still plenty bad.”
That ended the conversation. After lunch Mirka went out to the portable toilet, and then tried to keep drawing, but found her hand was tired after spending the entire morning drawing and she was feeling a little sleepy after a good lunch. Although she normally preferred to avoid them, with nothing much else to do she decided to take a nap. She took a pull-up from her pack, slid into her sleeping bag, worked her clothes off and the pull-up on, and settled back. Lulled by the wind blowing snow around the tent and the unintelligible thread of sound above the wind that was her parent’s quiet conversation, Mirka fell asleep.
Mirka awoke to find her mom starting to prepare dinner on the low table formed by the ration box. Her dad was somewhere outside the tent. She sat up, rubbed the sleep from her eyes, and looked at the pemmican and biscuits on the table. “Hoosh again?”
“Yes. How did you sleep?”
“Good.” She started to put on her clothes and then stopped. Her mother noticed the change in her expression.
Mirka took a moment to make certain before answering quietly, “I wet.”
“Your pull-up did its job, didn’t it?”
She felt around to make sure of what she thought she’d felt before answering, “It did.”
“Well, you managed this morning, so that’s a big step, and you slept almost six hours. It’ll probably take a bit of time.”
“I know,” she said dejectedly and dug the wipes from her pack and pulled them into her sleeping bag. The package was cold enough to be stiff, but hadn’t quite frozen solid. While it warmed up a little she put her clothes on again, but even so they were still quite cold when she ripped the sides of her pull-up and had to clean herself with them.
The tent zipper moved, and her dad came through the opening as she was sliding out of her sleeping bag.
“Well, it’s lightened enough that I think I can see about where the sun is, but I still wouldn’t step away from the tent without a tether.”
“Then we have a reasonable chance of getting out of here in the morning, and the blizzard will have gotten us a day to rest.”
“I suppose that’s a good way to look at it.” He was quiet for a moment, then said, “I hear you managed to stay dry last night?”
“Nice going. You’ll get there sooner or later.”
“What’s wrong? Did you not manage it this afternoon?”
“You had on a pull-up. As long as it did the job, with how long you slept, don’t worry about it.”
“Did you save your diaper from this morning?”
“It’s here, but the tapes tore the cover.”
“Keep it anyway. If we really need to, we can use other tape. Better that than not having anything if things go really wrong with the weather.”
There was only a little about commonplaces while Mytzi finished preparing dinner. Once dinner was in hand they all kept gingerly testing the hot, thick stew until they could eat it, at which point they ate quickly so as not to let it get cold. After dinner Mirka showed her parents the drawings she had done earlier, the view from the day before she had finished, an imaginative drawing of penguins having a snowball fight in snow forts, and the one she had done of them in the tent. Once the topic of the drawings were exhausted, they sat around singing until they were tired enough to get to bed.
It was early afternoon on Christmas Eve when they pulled into the base, after being delayed first by a successful search for and then fishing expedition to recover and replant one of the weather stations that had fallen into a crevasse that had opened up right next to the station and it had broken through the thin ice wall remaining in the wind. Then, when they had started down from the ice sheet in the early evening the day before they found it much more treacherous than normal and backtracked to camp a final night at the top so as to be awake and alert going down. Mirka had managed to stay dry again the first morning, but woken up wet that morning.
He waved at the bearded man walking towards them, “Dave! How have things been getting on without us here?”
“For most people, just fine. One of the generators failed shortly after you left, and I’ve been dealing with that. We finally got it running a couple hours ago.”
“Ouch. Were you running long hours, or did you get to pass off requests and rest while you waited?”
“All too much work, but there were enough moments waiting for things to snatch food and catnaps that I’m doing fine. What about you?”
“I suppose it could have been worse,” said Vergen as he unbuckled the packs from the snowmobile, “but after the first day it seemed like nothing but problems to deal with.”
“We got a white-out that kept us from going anywhere for a day. Then we had to hunt down a missing station. That took a few hours to locate because it had fallen into a crevasse.”
“One station down, then.”
“Amazingly enough, it got caught and we were able to fish it out. That ate some time too, though, and by the time we got to the descent it was starting to get late. Just as well we camped again. It was a nasty one.”
“Good thing you had food enough.”
“None too much extra, but we had plenty. Could have managed another night if we needed to.”
“Feels better not to run up against the edge there, though.”
“Well, I’m on my way to catch up on sleep. I’ll see you all at the feast tomorrow.”
“See you, Dave.”
By this time the snowmobile manager had come over.
“Looks good. Bring the toilet over there, and the cold weather stuff to the quartermaster’s counter.”
It was the work of a couple short trips to get the stuff moved as requested. The manager satisfied, they shouldered their packs and went to the rare house they lived in here.
Mirka spent the afternoon quietly after helping clean and sort their things from the trip. She wrapped the small presents she had brought for the very few people she knew and had known would be here. She made a try at working on her arithmetic but found herself too distracted by the coming holiday to focus. Frustrated with that, she got her larger sketchbook and pencil set, intending to go down to the main mess hall and see if she could find any mutts acting stupidly.
On the way out she found it was getting towards time to make dinner without enough time for a good picture after considering the walking time, so she spent the time reading Chosen by the Trickster.
After dinner Mirka went partway up observation hill to get a picture drawn. When she got back they continued their Christmas Eve tradition of reading and watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas before she went to bed.
Mirka woke up early on Christmas morning to find that her diaper was wet. She was disappointed, but hopeful that the two nights she had managed to stay dry while out were a sign that her bedwetting was finally going away.
Excited about the festivities that one of the two big Antarctic holidays made an excuse for, she promptly got out of bed and went to clean up. It wasn’t until she was halfway done that she remembered the alarm she had put away in her drawers before leaving on midsummer morning and forgotten to use.
Early though it was, her parents were already in the kitchen sipping cups of coffee when she got there. They smiled when she came in.
“Merry Christmas,” they said, all three of them saying it at the same time.
“How did you sleep?” said Mytzi.
“Good. Looking forward to today.”
“As I think everyone here is,” said Vergen. “It’ll be a fun day.”
They each opened their presents before heading out to the mess hall to join in the Christmas breakfast rather than preparing food on their own. Mirka’s dad was delighted with the stash of nutty she had picked out for him, and her mom got the picture she had drawn of them in the tent. They had given Mirka a pair of pretty pink gloves with thin fingertips and removable insulating covers that would make it possible for her to draw outside deeper into the depths of winter in these parts. The other package contained nutty with the note, “To start your hoard.”
The day was long and fun. Mirka’s highlight of the day was when she was set up on a snow throne at the end of the water section of the Christmas race and given the task of deciding who among the racers had the most fun crossing the unstable ice that gave way such that they spent more time in the water and trying to get back on the ice than they did walking or crawling across it. Those who chose not to race lined the course to cheer the racers on with much laughter all round. At the supper feast, before dessert was brought out, she was called up to deliver the award. After the pictures were taken of the judges and award winners, the man who had won her award carried her around the room sitting on his shoulder to another great round of applause.
Worn out from the day, Mirka leaned her head on her fist and picked at the last of her dessert. When her parents got up to leave one of the men sitting nearby insisted on carrying her home. She paid little attention to the conversation as she drowsed against his shoulder until she her her dad say, “We’re hoping she can stay with us, but she’s still wetting the bed, so…”
“Dad!” she interrupted, suddenly awake.
“I won’t tell anyone. I promise.”
“You really won’t?”
“I’m a doctor. I’ll keep it just as secret as if you were my patient.”
“Though actually, in this case, it’s a good thing your dad said that. Bedwetting is easy to fix, though the cure can be unpleasant at first.”
“It is?” Mirka said, interested now.
“Oh, yes. If you go through with it, we’ll have you all cured in plenty of time to stay through the winter.”
“Are you sure?”
“My wife deals with this all the time in her practice. It’s no big deal. Come see me tomorrow and I’ll go over everything and get you started.”
“I thought kids just grew out of it sooner or later?” said Mytzi.
“Usually they stop wetting the bed, but they aren’t always really cured. There’s only one real cause and therefore cure in most cases.”
“What do you mean? We’ve been trying an alarm, but it’s been pretty marginal so far.”
“Get rid of the alarm. I’ll go over the rest tomorrow. One day won’t matter.”
By this point they had reached the house and the doctor, Jeremy, set her down in the kitchen.
“Thank you for the ride.”
“Your welcome, miss. Good night. See you in the morning.” He tipped the hood of his jacket to her as though it were a hat and left.
Grinning for another reason as well now, Mirka got ready for bed and put on her diaper feeling much better about it than before. By the time she got into bed the long day had again won over the brief excitement of the conversation with Jeremy and she soon drifted off to dream of the Southern Cross brilliantly crowning the midday sky.