Meg shivered as she crossed the cold cabin floor to put a fresh log on the dying embers in the fireplace. Squatting on the hearth, she stirred the coals, blowing gently to encourage the log to light. The embers flared, small flames curling themselves around the fuel. Meg stared into the fire.
The funeral had been held on a bright, warm day in late summer, the kind of day Kent would have called a perfect hiking day. Kent’s sister, Janice, had said that it seemed wrong somehow for the sky to be so blue, the sun so bright, but Meg had known better. Kent would have loved it. Later, her mother tried to talk her out of returning to the cabin. She told Meg it was dangerous for her to return to the woods alone. What if something happens? she'd asked. What if there's an accident? Meg had known what she’d meant, what she’d wanted to say. She knew that they all thought Kent would still be alive if only he and Meg had never moved up to the mountains, but Meg had been adamant. The cabin had been their dream, their paradise on earth. It had been the one thing they’d had in common from the first day they’d met, and it had become the driving force behind everything they did, their reason for working so hard, scrimping to save every cent. They had spent all their spare time planning, searching for the right place, and finally, building their dream home.
It wasn’t a big house by most standards, but it was cozy. They had built it right into the side of the mountain so that the earth could provide some protection and insulation from the harsh winter weather. There weren’t any real roads up to the cabin, just old unused logging trails, but their heavy-duty four-wheeler had gotten them in, and out again when they’d wanted, which had been seldom.
Meg placed another log on the fire, grateful for the large store of wood. Kent had always insisted they be more than prepared for any contingency. He’d loved the mountain wilderness, but he’d also had a healthy respect for it. Meg shivered again as she rose from her place in front of the fire. Throwing off her nightshirt, she slipped into jeans and a clean flannel shirt, pulled up her thick wool socks and padded into the kitchen.
It was cold in here, too. She fanned the sleepy coals in the old iron cookstove. There was a kerosene back-up, but she preferred to cook over the sturdy wood-burner. Twinges of loneliness pulled at her as she pumped water into the coffeepot, and scooped the grounds into the basket. She smiled, remembering how Kent had always been up before her. Making the first pot of coffee had been one of his favorite daily rituals. She would lie in bed stretching, smelling the perking brew, and listen to him humming quietly to himself.
He had always seemed so close back then, even when he was out on one of his solo hikes, photographing the mountain wildlife. Meg would give anything right now to have that back. Even this cabin, this home, she thought. Yes, she glanced around the room, even this.
She poured herself a cup of coffee, watching the tendrils of steam rise from the cup as she reached for the sugar bowl, then paused, spoon hovering over the cup, white crystals suspended above black.
Kent had always drunk it black. She emptied the teaspoon back into the bowl and took a sip, letting the acidic liquid wrap around her tongue, and made a face.
She scooped sugar into her cup and stirred, fixing her coffee the way she wished she could fix her life, covering up the bitterness.