The Rhythm of the North by Karen Schauber

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The blubber-oil lamp flickers against a wall of ice and snow. Illuminated figures loom large like shadow puppets; huge and misshapen. Their dance, dark and muted, whispering from the shadowlands.

It reeks like the campfires of my youth, but here the smoke is heavily infused with brine and grease.

They begin quietly and without fanfare. Two women close enough to kiss. They exchange breaths. In and out. Hum and thrum. The husky chanting and low growling quicken. Breaths animated and elevated, as if running to catch the wind. Oily, smoke-stained faces flank the circle in reverie. Transferring essence, exchanging spirit, sharing one heartbeat. —The rhythm is everything.

I’m being lulled off to sleep like a babe. But in the corner of my eye, I spot the dog.

He is restless and pushes up off the floor, straining to stand on rickety spindles. Unsteady. Greyish and thin. In his fur, a deep groove, where a harness once embedded. I watch as he circles, round and again, leaning into a drop, angling down toward the perfect spot, not taking his eyes off the target, as if he is in the throes of ‘musical chairs’ and at any second the music will stop and he will have to dive—no lunge, to claim the remaining spot.

He keeps turning on the hypotenuse fixing his eye on the prize. His maneuvering fueled by the rhythm of the throat singers. He waits for precisely the right moment. When his body finally hits the floor—collapsing onto layers of caribou fur and hide, overlaying the hard-packed snow—he lets out a loud grunt, and breaks the spell. The singers stop.

All eyes turn toward the dog. They watch for the rise and fall of his chest.

One of the women reaches for the poker and nudges the ridge of flames soaking in seal fat on the half-moon shaped soapstone dish. The glow has shrunk to tiny orange specks.

It is time. But I’m not sure for what.

The woman pulls on her parka—its enormous fur hood draped long down her back—and crouches low before exiting the shelter through the passageway. The dog notices her departure and insists on following. It is hard to watch him in his effort to stand as he struggles to catch up with his companion; out into the perpetual darkness of winter.

In the morning I look for the dog. I do not see him anywhere. I am told, it is the rhythm of the North.


Karen Schauber

Karen Schauber is a Flash Fiction writer obsessed with the form. Her work appears in 50 international literary magazines and anthologies, including Bending Genres, Ekphrastic Review, Fiction Southeast, New Flash Fiction Review, and Spelk Fiction. ‘The Group of Seven Reimagined: Contemporary Stories Inspired by Historic Canadian Paintings’ (Heritage House, 2019), celebrating the Canadian modernist landscape painters, is her first editorial/curatorial flash fiction anthology. Schauber runs ‘Vancouver Flash Fiction’, a flash fiction Resource Hub and Critique Circle, and in her spare time, is a seasoned Family Therapist. A native of Montréal, she has called Vancouver home for the past three decades.
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The Group of Seven Reimagined: Contemporary Stories Inspired by Historic Canadian Paintings

Other Fiction

The Rat – Spelk Fiction

The New Normal – Cease, Cows

Losing It – Bending Genres

Impossible Love – Fiction Southeast

Marmoset, Raccoon, and Fox – New Flash Fiction Review

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