An excerpt from

Raven Wakes the World

It was cold, and all the world was white. Snow covered the stony island, and from where Katie Mason stood, the icy landscape blended into the overcast winter sky, white melding into frigid white, without shape, distance, or horizon. It was the white of a barren canvas, or fallow stone, art stillborn. The only change from the stunning, melancholy monotony of white was a single black bird, a large crow, or raven, maybe, that circled overhead once, twice, and three times before winging away over the still sea toward the frozen rocks of the mainland,

 

“I wish he’d stayed,” Katie said aloud, her syllables disappearing in a cloud of frost. “I could use some damn company.” The mist carried her words away, and then they were lost. She pulled her coat more tightly around her. She wished she’d worn a second shirt beneath her sweater. The wind had teeth. She didn’t shiver; she was too numb for motion.

 

She should be moving, she knew that, but she stood still, like a statue shaped from ice. She’d planned to take the boat to the mainland and then drive into town. She would need supplies soon. Soon, nothing. She’d needed them yesterday. Coffee and wine, food and paint. Well, not paint, not really. She had plenty of paint.

 

She really should start moving. Down to the boat, across to the truck. One step, then another. Who knew? Maybe the new chisel set she’d ordered would be in. Maybe if she had the new tools, the novelty would spark excitement and the excitement would flare into passion. Passion. That’s what she needed. Then maybe she’d be able to sculpt again.

 

Maybe.

 

But it was so cold, so terribly cold, and the wind reached through her heaviest coat and sweaters to chill her blood and frost the very marrow of her bones.

 

Maybe it would be warmer tomorrow.

 

Yes, tomorrow would be soon enough. She could go into town then.

 

She went back inside.

 

The cabin’s great room was to have been her studio. After all, she’d come all the way up here to Alaska, to the very end of the world, to work. To work and to heal. As a studio space, it should have been perfect. It was quiet; the room was large and airy, at least by local standards; and the windows looked to the east. They were small, true, but when there was light, they let it in. The overheads were white but not too harsh, and they cast few shadows. Her tools and brushes were arranged just the way she liked them. The room had no sink, but that was okay. The kitchen waited just through the door, and the sink there was a giant steel industrial one. Katie didn’t mind walking a little while she worked. She hadn’t used to, anyway.

 

She hadn’t done any work, though, nothing more than a few false starts and aborted attempts. Here and there the projects she’d begun, or planned to, waited, still lost in barren stone or empty canvas. Sheets of glacier-white canvas stretched in frames glared accusations at her. Blocks of stone and plaster with just a few chips chiseled away lingered, children neither born nor aborted: the shapes and form of the art still frozen in slabs of unmoving white.

 

Only one showed any recognizable sign of creation at all: she’d begun a statue, but her effort had revealed only a single arm, fingers curled and grasping, like the limb of a drowning man reaching desperately for life from beneath the surface of an ice-covered northern sea. Katie stood still and looked at it for a long time. She should work on that one, she decided. Or something, anyway. She needed to work. When she was making, she wasn’t thinking about Billy.

 

Katie sat down at a worktable, one where the sunlight was more or less good even in the Alaska winter. It would be pale bright for a little while longer. But she only gazed at the white marble, studying the swirls and textures like the ink in a Rorschach blot. The shapes hidden within eluded her; she could not free them from the stillness of stone. She never even reached for a tool.

 

So paint then, dammit, she commanded herself. You’re a bloody artist; bloody create something.

She didn’t bother with any of the efforts she’d started before. Instead, she stretched a new canvas and put up a frame. When she finished, when it was ready for her at last, she saw that it was white and pure and perfect, like a field of new snow, so very lovely in its desolate, pristine emptiness. She couldn’t bring herself to touch it, to spoil its empty virgin-ice perfection.

 

Her heart was numb. If only it weren’t so cold....

 

An hour passed before she gave up. She poured herself a mug of Irish Mist, pulled her favorite chair to the window where she could catch the last of the dim, fading, fatal light, and stared at the pages of a book. She tried not to think about Billy. After two more Irish Mists, she almost succeeded. That much, at least, was good. If she wasn’t healing, at least she wasn’t hurting. The pain lay still, numb in her breast. That was enough. When night came, she went to bed.

 

After three more days, she found herself out of everything. She’d finished the last of the milk more than a week ago. The bottles of wine and Irish Mist were empty. Even the last can of Spaghetti-Os was gone. Katie hated Spaghetti-Os. She’d purchased the cans out of habit; she used to keep them in the house for Billy.

 

“I like the kind with meatballs,” he’d said one time as he helped her unpack her plastic bags. Katie had done the shopping in those days. Billy didn’t like to go to the store, not even the new Stop & Shop with the scan-it-yourself checkout lanes. He said it embarrassed him to be there when she paid for everything, because he never had any money. Katie thought it made him feel, well, humiliated that she had money, even though he never actually said so, and even though she never had very much—especially not when shared by two.

 

“Your stuff’s so much more commercial than mine,” he’d told her. “My art confronts people. You know? Yeah. It’s like a punch—” He slapped his left palm with his right fist for emphasis. “—smack! Right in the gut. You know? It makes them uncomfortable. That’s why they don’t buy it.”

 

“Maybe if you finish your series,” Katie had suggested softly. “Do your show. Right, baby? Let them, just, see—”

 

Billy looked at her and rolled his eyes. “I’m not commercial. I’m not like you. I’m moved by a muse, not by money. Muses don’t work on goddamn deadlines, you know. Christ, Babe, what’s wrong with you? Why can’t you even see that?”

 

Katie had felt very small. He’d tried to be gentle, but she’d heard the accusation in his voice. And the contempt. Just like when he’d unpacked the Spaghetti-Os.

 

“They were out of the meatball ones, honey,” Katie had explained. “I looked. Okay? Look. I got the ones with little hot dogs. Can’t you eat those? Just this once? Or here. Let me make us something.”

 

Billy hadn’t answered.

 

“Baby, I did my best. Okay? Maybe you can come with me next time. Then you can pick out what you like. Okay?”

 

“Honestly, Katie. Sometimes I think you do these things just to belittle me.” He’d shook his head and walked away. He’d sulked for the rest of the week.

 

That was before, a lifetime ago. Billy was gone now, and she was in Alaska, and she’d still bought the stupid cans, the ones with meatballs.

 

Now even they were gone.

 

So was the last of the coffee.

 

Worse, the roof had started to leak again, and snow whirled in to settle like dust on the cold stones and barren canvases she hadn’t even begun to make into art.

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