of the Kosher Voles
saved!" Dolan sags onto a stool,
stuffing heavy gloves in his pockets; a thick knitted cap follows. Finally, he attempts to escape the
all-embracing grip of his parka. "Beer please."
parka slips down behind Dolan and leans against the stool like a dead,
midget-sized drunk. Dolan wipes his
specs, slips them on, and peers into the mirror behind the bar. A typical Alaskan bush establishment, The
Rosie Creek Saloon--bear and moose skins quilt the walls, moose antlers, jukebox.
Dolan brushes his wiry brown hair
almost into place. He peers at the
bartender and the locals near the far end.
locals, a middle-aged blond with a lopsided face, and a bearded oldster who
reminds Dolan of the abolitionist John Brown on a bad hair day, peer back. Everyone nods simultaneously at each other's
bartender, Leon, barely twenty-one with a shaved head and nose ring, plunks a
draft beer in front of Dolan. "How
you liking cabin life? Staying warm up
there?" The kid always says
this. Dolan is counting on it.
Dead winter during the long darkness
and Dolan's first year in the little hamlet thirty miles from Fairbanks. Weather makes excellent bar talk.
"I'll get by," Dolan says, a
little too eagerly. "But I've got this problem."
"Oh?" Leon leans on the
bar. The locals turn towards him.
"Have some visitors." Dolan
holds his hand up, thumb and forefinger spread about three inches. "Don't
know what they are, little furry guys.
Bout this big, I guess."
big?" Leon holds up his own
thumb and forefinger the width of a beer glass. Rather unnecessarily, Dolan
thinks, but neither is pressed for time.
"Yeah." Dolan nods and sips his beer.
Leon disappears behind the bar, pops up
with a large Folgers can with a taped paper label 'Treats'. He tilts the can Dolan's way. "Like
Dolan looks into the can. A rodent, kinda
brown, chubby, sort of like a hamster with a stubby tail looks back through
beady black eyes. Its nose twitches.
"Yeah, like that," Dolan
"You got voles," Leon says
and returns the can behind the bar. He grins at the locals and announces,
"Dolan's got voles in his cabin."
"Imagine that." Miranda, the woman with the lopsided face,
"Not surprised." Bad Hair
John Brown, aka Miller, nods.
"So, keeping warm up there?"
"Coldest winter in ten
years," Miller says, lifting his glass to his lips.
"Yeah," Miranda agrees,
sipping her beer. "Damn cold."
Dolan's shoulders sag. He'd hoped for a
little more conversational excitement and hides a frown behind his beer.
"Now what about
these things?" He pushes the
empty glass forward.
Leon gets Dolan another beer. "What things?"
"The voles," Dolan
replies. Jeez, does he have to spell
everything out for these people? "What about these voles?"
"You got 'em." Leon grins, nose ring
glittering in the light. "You got voles in your cabin." His
head cocks toward the others. "Just like everybody."
"Yeah but what do I do?"
what?" Leon offers such a
blank look that Dolan begins to wonder if they're messing with him. He glances down the bar. Miller and Miranda talk quietly among themselves.
voles, man!" Dolan glares at
him. "What do I do about the
"You don't have to shout." Leon's eyebrows quiver, voice approaching the oh-poor-me range.
"Sorry," Dolan says
quickly. It's never wise to hurt your
local bartender's feelings.
"Why do anything about
them?" Miller spits something black
and beard-staining into a paper cup.
"They're cute little critters, interesting to watch. And clean too. I give 'em the run
of my cabin. They even keep kosher with
"Kosher?" Dolan pulls back and stares at him.
"Jewish dietary laws," Leon
"Started back about 100 BC,"
Dolan stiffens but tries not to show
it. Religion, any religion is dangerous
bar talk. He's learned this the hard
way. Miller doesn't look Jewish, or come
to think of it, even sane.
"So you don't do anything?"
"I follow the rules," Miller
grins. "For instance, I don't mix
meat and dairy products."
"I meant the voles." Dolan's
fists clench on the bar.
"They don't mix meat and dairy
either," Miranda laughs. Leon
smirks and makes a show of wiping the counter.
"You just let them...the voles,
run loose in your cabins?" Dolan presses on. "That's all you do?"
Leon nods. Miller nods. Miranda shrugs and reaches for
"Oh." Dolan lets it drop. No
sense getting pissed. He means to get
along with his new neighbors. Time to go with the flow.
Five beers later, he struggles into his
parka. Out come the thick wool hat and
heavy gloves. He's found some of what he
came for. If not a
solution for voles, at least a little companionship--and a good buzz.
Home. The gloves come off so Dolan can light the
propane lantern. The cabin is so cold
the metal lantern burns his fingers. The
water jug on the kitchen counter has split; tiny glaciers trickle down a crack
in its side.
Dolan hangs the lantern on the ceiling
hook. Black beady eyes peer at him,
gleaming in the shadows. Accusing little
eyes, perhaps wondering how he could be so heartless and let it get so cold.
Dolan shivers as he loads the
woodstove. Paper, twigs, finally a
couple of good dry birch logs, split by his very own hands with his very own
maul, this very morning.
Beady vole eyes wink out, two by two as
the fire gets going.
"Can't we just get along?"
Dolan grins at the last pair that watches from deep shadows beneath his unmade
He turns on the radio.
"-sleep now in the
fire!" Rage Against
the Machine rattles through the cabin from Battle of Los Angeles. He frowns, flips through the static and
mellows out with some Cowboy Junkies.
Screw the oppressed.
Off goes the parka and hat. He'll sleep in long underwear, sweat pants,
and a sweater. His breath still steams
as he pours a glass of schnapps.
Feeling generous, he tips a half shot
into a jar lid and leaves it on the floor beside the woodstove.
a nightcap," he says aloud, and then chuckles. "It's...on the cabin."
Bedtime. He turns off the radio, relishing the
quiet. The propane lantern hisses. He takes a long steaming whiz in the honey
bucket, too damn cold to brave the outhouse.
He turns off the lantern.
In the darkness, the woodstove rumbles
gently. Dolan climbs into bed. His eyes close.
On the edge of sleep, the schnapps warm
inside him, he mumbles to the voles, "G'night."
A heartbeat later, a small furry body
runs across him. Dolan blinks, looks
down at a moonlit square on the brown army blanket. Two glittering black eyes blink back.
"Not on the bed, okay?" He
shifts and turns over.
Scurry, scurry, scurry, another little
body scampers over his shoulder. Dolan
tries to ignore it. Two more dash across
Dolan gets up. He adds wood to the stove; maybe the warmth
will attract the critters so he can get some rest. Back in bed, not ten minutes pass before
little vole feet race over him again.
"Shit," Dolan mutters,
turning over, drawing the blankets tighter.
It's like that all night. Sometime in the wee hours, he hears the
crunch of cardboard, then the crackle of pilot bread. They've gotten into a box he left on the
counter. Dolan's too exhausted to care.
Morning? Afternoon? Dolan can't decide. His wind-up clock quit during the night. It's still dark. Wire rim glasses burn his cheeks, sticking to
the flesh and leaving red marks when he finally fumbles them off in the Rosie
Alone in the bar, Miranda sits at a
table. She glances up from a pyramid
formation of cards, peers nearsightedly at Dolan.
"Hey," Dolan lifts a frozen hand,
and then pulls off his gloves and hat.
"Where's your buddy Miller?"
him today." Miranda leans
back in her chair, puts her feet up on another.
"What can I do for you?"
"Well, I was hoping for a
"Hope. Where would we be without it? No planes would grace the skies, no ships
would sail the foamy seas." Miranda
clasps her hands behind her head, further mussing an unruly blonde mass, not
quite dreadlocks but too tangled to be called combed. "All is lost if one abandons hope."
"Uh, about that
"I'm busy watching the bar."
A lopsided smile splits Miranda's face. "Leon's in Fairbanks at some
meeting. Help yourself. Hey, bring me one too, will you?"
Dolan goes behind the bar, finds some
clean glasses, and draws two beers.
Underneath the counter, he notices the Treats can. Three small furry voles gaze up at him as if
he were God.
Dolan scowls back, and then rubs his
eyes. Tired, the three-mile walk from
his cabin hadn't woke him up completely.
As Dolan approaches, Miranda lifts her
feet from the chair and gives it a shove with her heel. "How you liking
"That's just what Leon
says." Dolan sets down the beers
and sags into the chair.
"That's my boy." Miranda
reaches for her glass. "Taught him
everything I know." She has a sip
and studies him. "So, staying warm up there?"
I've slept better. Last night,
the voles used me for a racetrack."
"Know how that is." Miranda leans forward in her chair, hits her
beer, and then wipes her mouth on the sleeve of a torn blue sweater. "Same thing happened to me."
"Do they often do that?"
"Miller says so. And he's the high priest of cabin
life." Miranda frowns at her beer,
mouth pulled to one side.
Her face isn't really lopsided, Dolan
realizes. Not the bone structure at
least, her chin is the perfect tip of a heart.
No, it's her expression. Has she
had a mild stroke? A
"They're driving me
nuts." Dolan reaches for his beer
and catches a whiff of her--an acrid mix of body odor, wood smoke, and alcohol. His nose wrinkles but he covers it with his
"Ever had your fortune
told?" Miranda studies a display of
cards. Some sort of tarot deck, Dolan
"Tell you what. Get us a couple more beers and I'll tell
yours." Miranda thumps him in the
chest with a nail-chewed forefinger.
She's got a pretty good buzz going, Dolan thinks enviously. Does she have to pay for her beer?
right." Dolan stands, drains
his glass, and picks up hers. He
retrieves two more beers, ignoring the Treats can and the frantic scratching of
claws on metal.
"Better check the stove
too." Miranda says when he returns.
"Yeah, okay." Dolan goes over, throws a couple logs into
the woodstove, and comes back.
Miranda hits her beer, looks him over,
and then sets down her glass beside the freshly stacked tarot deck. Her faded blue eyes flutter closed.
Miranda slurs. "Whenever I look at
someone like this..." Her eyes slit, half open. "I see their past
lives, all laid out like cards on a table." She gestures, toppling the cards.
"Shush!" Miranda's voice grows sharp. "And right on the very top of your deck,
I see a uniform. It's black. There's a swastika..."
Dolan frowns, starts to reach for his
beer but stops. The crooked line of her
mouth, the slight drooping of her left eye; it had to be a birth defect. Had
she been ruined before she was even born?
The sadness of that thought holds him still.
"Sieg heil!" Miranda's arm slants up in a Nazi salute,
almost hitting Dolan's face. "Klaus?"
Her arm drops. Her eyes
open. She stares at him, through him,
beyond him, and then says with perfect clarity, "Your name was Klaus Schultz,
and you worked as a mail clerk at Auschwitz."
"Never scoff at a
psychic." Miranda shakes herself
and looks around. Abruptly she smiles. "That'll cost you another beer."
"You haven't finished the one
you've got!" Dolan glares at her.
"You don't have to
shout." Miranda picks up her mug
and drains it. "There. Get me another, will you please."
"Oh hell." However, Dolan drains his and goes behind the
bar. The Treats can lies on its
side. The voles have made good their
escape. This irritates him, or maybe
he's irritated with Miranda. No, it's
that Nazi bullshit. Nevertheless, he
draws two beers.
"Here you go." Dolan plunks the beers down on her table and
reaches for his chair.
"You'll have to move,"
Miranda's voice hardens. Her foot hooks
his chair and she yanks it against the table.
He stares down at her.
"I don't sit with
Nazis." Miranda turns her back on
him, facing the woodstove, beer in hand.
"Even past-life Nazis."
Dolan lifts his hands, makes fists, and
then drops them. He grabs his beer,
stomps over to the next table, and slumps into a chair. Got to get along, go
with the flow.
"That's better." Miranda turns back to face him.
"I thought you didn't talk to
past-life Nazis." Dolan's well
aware of the snide hostility in his voice.
Not that he ever was such a thing.
Nazis, he was raised to believe and still does, Nazis suck.
"I said I didn't sit with
them," Miranda says primly, and pulls her chair closer to her own
table. "But this is America and
I'll talk to anyone over a beer."
She has a sip. "It's
probably not your fault. You can't help
what you were."
"Of course you're not. Not now, anyway." Miranda smiles her lopsided grin and lifts
her beer in salute. "But I know
what I saw."
"Christ." Needing something to do, Dolan gets up,
checks the woodstove, and slams its metal door with a loud clang. "All I wanted was some advice on getting
rid of the goddamn voles."
"You know," Miranda stares
thoughtfully into her glass.
"They're probably some sort of penance. Maybe God put Jews into vole form so they
wouldn't remember the horrors of their previous lives. Maybe that's why you got so many. God wants you to take care of them to make up
for what you did."
"But I didn't do
ANYTHING!" Dolan fights to control
his voice. "You said I was a mail
"You wore the uniform,"
Miranda says smugly. "No doubt you
were just going with the flow?"
"This is bullshit." Dolan storms over to his table, drains his
glass, and slams it down. Miranda
flinches, her eyes widening.
"Careful now," she
cautions. "You bust things up; Leon
won't let you drink here no more."
"I'm leaving." Dolan glares at her. "Maybe I won't drink here
anyway." However, he takes his
glass to the bar and puts it carefully into the sink behind the counter. Something skitters past his feet.
"Ever do the nasty on a bar
table?" Miranda smiles at him.
Dolan stares back at her. He walks over to his parka but doesn't pick
it up. "Uh no. I haven't."
"Are you interested?" Miranda leans her chin on her hands and gives
him a sweet if lopsided smirk. "I
do love a man in a past-life uniform. Even if it is all black."
Dolan opens his mouth. No, he won't say it. He was raised better. He grabs his parka, wringing its fur-lined
neck. Turning his back on her, he
marches towards the door, pulling on the parka and punching into its sleeves.
sweetie!" Miranda cackles and slaps
the table. "Be nice to those voles
now, Herr Dolan!"
It's all he can do not to slam the door