They’ve stopped at the spot where two months ago, when it was still warm enough to take the boat out, they dragged the carcass of a seal to land. Until Ian had the head resting in a small net, and the feet bound by rope, the seal was nothing but an unknown black lump a few hundred yards off shore—something to puzzle at through the antique binoculars Olivia’s father left her. The island’s only veterinarian paid for the body. He showed up that afternoon, and loaded the animal into the back of his truck. Ian made a joke about it, called him a butcher, asked for the meat to be returned perfectly filleted. In a stern voice, the doctor told Ian the information his research would reveal might prevent people from having to take dead animals out of the water.
So much has happened since then: the first snow, doctors’ appointments, flowers to put in water and more to replace them. Two straight weeks of below-zero temperatures got Ian up early to wrap pipes, and haul firewood into the house.
They continue their walk along the beach, carefully hopping from stone to stone, together becoming the line that holds the jagged coast together. Olivia dares her husband to walk out on the ice with her. “Just a little,” she says. “Just far enough to look back at the houses and see things from that perspective. It’ll be nice.”
“Is that such a good idea? The ice isn’t very thick this early.”
She runs her hand loudly along the sleeve of his jacket. “You’re like an old lady, always worrying. Anyway, it’s how I want to remember it.”
He starts to tell her that the view is the same from the boat. They can wait until the spring. He stops himself because he’s not sure that’s true.
They walk out a good distance, turn around and look back at the house.
“It’s a side we don’t see very often,” Ian says, which is, of course, not true either. They see the house from this side nearly every day when the weather is warm.
“Don’t forget to re-paint the shutters this summer.”
Ian looks across the ice to where it pushes impatiently against the shore, and remembers the seal. How heavy it was, how completely dead. They stay out for a long time. Long enough to see smoke begin to crawl from the chimneys of all the other houses along the coast.