Esker Mike and his Wife, Agiluk
Scenes from life in the Mackenzie River delta
Review excerpts
Esker Mike, a white muskrat trapper, and his common-law Inuit wife, Agiluk, live in Aklavik, circa the early 1960s. Esker Mike is a refugee from the South. Agiluk has become increasingly dismayed at Esker Mike’s shenanigans and his inability to keep them alive by trapping and hunting, which for her underpin the life of herself and her family in the North. She already has given birth to ten children, eight of them still living. She decides not to have any more until Esker Mike can feed them all again with the work of his own hands. In order to do this and to force him to face up to the disintegration of their lives, she stops having sexual relations with him.

Esker Mike, joking with his Inuit friend, William, is scornful of Agiluk’s stratagem and not a little angry. Oolik, Agiluk’s young step-sister, is frightened by Agiluk’s wild determination and the talk about her in the village.

Agiluk’s defiance becomes the subject of everyone’s gossip. Esker Mike, meanwhile, has the bright idea of forcing Agiluk to restore his connubial privileges by officially tying the knot with her at the church in Aklavik. This turns into a fiasco, much to the delight of the local shaman, an old woman called Toomik.

The federal government administrator, warm-hearted but cynical, is also part of the scene. Esker Mike, with William’s co-operation, defrauds the government of some welfare money, although the administrator is much more aware of the ploy than he lets on. Enter, now, Albert, the first mate on the tug that brings supplies in every summer on the river, from Hay River. Albert, with a far-fetched business proposition promising great profits, separates the gullible Esker Mike from his recent ill-gotten gains.

Albert then visits Agiluk, with whom he once had sex, looking to get her into bed again, behind Esker Mike’s back, while he’s in Aklavik. The encounter is a tense one. Agiluk, wilder than ever, resists. Albert, mocking her loyalty to Esker Mike, tells here about Esker Mike’s cheating the government and how, afterwards, he, Albert, then took the money out of Esker’ Mike’s pocket.

This latest foolishness by Esker Mike finally breaks the great Agiluk’s spirit, and she gives herself away to Albert. Then, in her agony – or is it now madness? – she murders her two youngest children. “Two less and two more,” she explains to the RCMP officers on the scene. “One for the baby that will belong to the mate. And one for the baby I have to give to Esker Mike to balance that one.”

She is sent away in custody to Edmonton.
Copyright © Herschel Hardin 2005
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