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Steve Wacksman
Gulag / The Wanderer
posted:

Images occur to me as if from the mist. Sometimes they'll appear fully formed but often they appear as kernels and - if they're insistent enough - I'll work up a narrative around them. Such was the case here; I had an idea of a man alone on an ice floe. I was in dire need of some 'Steve time' and life was relentless in it's determination to deprive me of it. No matter how I tried to bar the door against them errands, snow days, illnesses or some such intrusion would always find a way in and force me to abandon my post here at my homey picture-drawing studio.
So I had a man on an ice floe. In the original sketch he was transporting a motorcycle, which briefly became a bicycle. How and when the bicycle morphed into an enormous pig with luggage lashed to his back  remains a mystery to me, but these porcine beasts of burden seem to be an entrenched theme. All in all it's generally more complicated than I prefer my work to be, but it captured the scene sucessfully.
I had no specific use for this image in mind when I created it . To further 'flesh it out' I wrote a little narrative to accompany it.

Gulag
 
    It had warmed considerably in the last few days and finally I could once again smell the ocean, a gentle and welcome proof of life. Nik-nik's attitude remained foul and dour until lunchtime when his chin lifted and he was back to pestering me with his philosophic natterings and vain attempts to recall the lyrics to AM radio hits popular years before he was even born. I'd grit my teeth and stare at the featureless horizon as he'd repeat over and over the chorus of Paper Lace's  'The Night Chicago Died'

"I heard mah muth-ah cry, nah nah nahnunna nah nah naaaha the night Chic-ahhhgo died!"

My grip tightened around the oar and my eyes narrowed, trained on the horizon. I concentrated on the sound of the ocean, it's thick and rythmic slap against the icy walls of our floe. The wind whispered in my ears but I closed them to it's secrets. I'd been careless before and we'd lost a day and a half to my carelessness.

"Do you know Navajo", Nik-nik asked in a childish, singsongy voice.

"Southwestern tribe. Yeah."

Nik-nik shifted a little, pawed at the snow.

"My mother was Navajo. She was a potter and the first in my family to ever go to college. A potter. She made pots, beautiful. Beautiful pots. Cooking pots. Her parents, my grandparents?', he paused although whether for effect or to buy himself a little time to piece together more of this outrageous falsehood was not immediately evident. Again he pawed at the patch of snow under his snout this time producing a raspy gurgle from somewhere deep within. "Her parents had never even left the town they were born in, never been more than fifteen, twenty miles from where they were born".
 

I took a deep lungful of the frigid salt air and closed my eyes tightly. OK, I thought. OK. God alone knew how many more days we had on this merciless chunk of ice. There was a good chance that we'd be out here forever, out here in the frozen back of beyond with no one but one another for company. Out here in the vastness of space with nothing to affix our searching eyes on, where radio waves had no place to gain purchase and so simply passed over our heads unheard. I imagined my heart beating in my warm chest, unaware of the grim arctic eternity that lay just beyond that thin wall of bone and muscle. I thought of Amanda's small, warm hand against my chest . I could almost smell the cheap lavender fabric softener she favored and feel the weight of her stout legs intertwined with mine. I raised a mittened hand and pushed the fur ruff of my hood back so that I could steal a glimpse at Nik-nik's face and found him  looking directly up at me with crystalline tears frozen to his pale lashes.

"Navajo Indian", he said slowly and heavily as if unsure if I'd heard or understood him.

He was by far the most emotionally complex of all the pigs I'd travelled with.
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