The children are to be taken at the end of the summer. When the letters come, they request each child by name and age. Louise sits at the table and reads them all, with the stew bubbling away in the background. Ned is still out on the boat and won’t return for another hour or so. They both knew the letters were coming, but it doesn’t make anything easier. At least the youngest children were barely past teething and would be safe for a few more years.
Louise hears the children outside. The house is hot and tight from the stove. Spring has just broken through beyond the walls. Bulbs are pushing through the grass and soil that clothe them, through the last of the snow. The children are running up and down the dirt road full of muddy potholes.
Louise stirs the stew, tastes it, replaces the lid. She starts on the dough for her bannock. Already, her fingers are falling into stress injuries—they ache for the sting of nettles, freshly harvested greens that bend and snap as they whip wrists and fingers. Her arms remain strong. She kneads the dough into warm and lively elasticity. There are few windows in the house, but there’s one in front of the kitchen counter that looks out to the edge of the yard, the vegetable patch, the wildflowers that bloom even brighter under her care. The dense tree-line beyond.
The children are antagonising the dogs out front. Louise hears the agitated yipping echo down the road. In the pot meat is being tenderised and pulled apart by the swell of broth. Sparkles and bubbles of oil and fat swirl overtop of the liquid, bone and socket rise from beneath. Louise continues her kneading until she’s satisfied with the bread’s softness. She shapes it and puts it aside to rest. The birds are darkening the skies on their way home. Flying all the way back from the city to roost in the forest here.
The oldest girl bursts through the door and says she’s hungry. Louise tells her Papa will be home soon and then they can have supper. The girl is almost seven and looks plenty like her father, but her dark hair is cut in the exact same fashionable style as her mother. Louise makes her start washing up and setting the table. The girl rushes back outside to wash herself, her dirty and scabby arms, before returning to pull out bowls and plates and cutlery. Louise remembers the sting of sheep dip and delousing fluid on her own skin.
Ned returns home, pale as hell and exhausted. He sits at the table and starts talking to Louise—they are still in love and it shows. Sometimes she misses Nanaimo, but Saanich has been home for a decade now and she has accepted the rare visits to her parents. The very few times she has the appropriate papers to leave the reserve, past the officers keeping them in, make her body ache with anxiety.
The rest of the kids tumble in after washing themselves in the basin. Louise heats up fat to fry the bread in. The cast iron skillet takes on a wavering heat, the fat becoming a frothy liquid which hisses and bubbles as the bread is added to it. The children sit around their father, who smiles despite his fatigue. He is slowly being worn away by the ocean and its hard labours.
The dough transforms from cold and pale to a crisp, golden succulence. Louise serves it with the stew and a berry jelly saved from last year. Ned eats with his eyes closed, as if hoping to live somewhere between the broth and the bread. The children fight over the biggest pieces of bannock. Louise watches the childlike ricochet of emotion and noise, which simmers down just before a fight starts.
She’s seen the children who return home for the summers between school years, ghosts who wander the dirt roads alone, or stay inside all season. Louise sits at the table with her husband and children. She is thankful for the flour that made the bread, the vegetables she grows when she can, the deer Ned’s brothers secretly hunt. Everyone keeps eating and she wonders when she’ll tell Ned.