The Screaming Seagull: Part Three — The Warning”
RACHEL ATTITUQ QITSUALIK
“Where are your glasses?” my father asked irritably.
“I left them at home.”
“Put my extra ones on.”
He folded the screen he had used for stalking the seal, then pulled off his hip-waders and told me to fetch his sealskin boots – special boots, having water-tight stitching, and strips skin sewn onto the bottoms for traction.
“Ataataak, I’m hungry.” I flopped over on the caribou-covered seat, where I had been sitting, to dramatize my starvation. Being a child, I possessed an innate sense of exaggeration.
“Well, if you’re hungry, get some tunnuq from the grub-box. And get me a tea from the thermos, and some bannock.” He rubbed cream on his nose. Unlike myself, he had fair skin, and his long nose froze in the winter and burned in the spring. I had once made him a caribou nose warmer, which he even politely wore for a while (and probably quickly removed when I was not within sight.)
My father had decided on a little break before heading on. Just because he had missed this seal didn’t mean that the hunt was over. While I munched away, he wandered off, presumably because he didn’t want me to see his anger.
At some point, I napped on the sled, dreaming vaguely of seagulls. I thought that I was awakened by the sound of a .22, but I concluded that I had simply been dreaming.
My father came back in much better spirits, squatting down for some tea. I kept waiting for him to comment on the seagull that had ruined his stalk, but he would not. I wondered if seagulls always did that….
I knew what came next, a tougher and more dangerous trek to the open water. The dreaded flow-edge. Large cracks had formed. Seals sometimes fed on the cod that were abundant there. It was extremely dangerous. There, the dogteam sometimes became overexcited, dragging the sled into the black, open water.
It did not take us long to arrive.
My father patiently led the dogteam through a narrow path alongside the winding ice-cracks. It looked to me that if we were any closer to the water, we would be in it. The snow was hardest nearest the edge, softest away from it. It was difficult to avoid the water without becoming mired in the melting banks of snow. Still, the dogs pulled us on, until my father noticed a spot wide enough for seals to come up through the cracks for air.
The next phase of the hunt began, and there I was again, waiting forever in a silent hell of boredom.
I had thought that at least waiting for seals to surface would be less tedious than stalking, but I was wrong. The peculiar density of the water surface was breaking up the light into hypnotic patterns, and soon I was fighting to stay awake. I bit the insides of my cheeks in order to keep my attention on the hunt, for if I failed to control the dogs while my father waited ready with his rifle, no seal would surface long enough for a shot.
My hands and feet were going numb….
Suddenly, my father leveled his rifle with blinding swiftness. Two shots cracked out before I could realize what was happening. Klack! Klack! Just like that, it was all over.
He lifted his harpoon and thrust it into the side of a seal, now floating lifeless in the ice crack. I barely gathered my wits in time to keep the idiot dogs from leaping into the water. Like me, the less experienced qimmiit were still in training.
Later, when we were butchering the seal and my father was showing me the anatomical parts of the animal, I made a joke about the seagull who had warned the first seal, the one that my father had missed as a result.
My father smiled grimly, and said that such a thing would never happen again.
“Why not?” I asked.
“I put out a warning for other seagulls,” he said.
Getting up and walking over to where he had pointed, I saw the warning he had provided for future birds that might think to cross him.
A dead seagull.