“I shall not ski today,” Inia announced. There was a decisive dignity in her voice.
She leaned against the kitchen door, a coffee mug in her hands, fingers tensely wrapped around it.
The man was doing exercises in the living room. He turned to look at her. There was disapproval in his eyes, not disappointment.
“It’s just as well,” he muttered. “I don’t expect you’ll do better today than you did yesterday.”
She recalled her tenacious attempts to follow his instructions on the slopes. Pointless. She had been unable to do anything right. Finally, numb and spitefully helpless, she had lain flat on the snow and stared at the gray sky, determined not to reveal her frustration. The snow, cold and wet under her, had produced a feeling of discontentment in her, but she had remained there, arms stretched out like wings, one ski off, the other pointing menacingly upwards.
He had skied to her and stood watching her with curiosity, offering no help. It was obvious that he didn’t approve of her resignation.
“Have you decided what you want to do?” he had asked after a period of silence. His voice had combined contempt and insolence.
“Yes. I want to get off these damned skis,” she had yelled, overwhelmed by a fury of anger. Damned! The word had made her feel good.
She smiled, a bitter smile, as she watched him now continue with his exercises in front of a dead fire. They had made love on the floor, in front of a fire last night. It had left her shivering all night. She had lain in bed, under layers of blankets, cold and acutely aware of his deep breathing. She had tried to mute it by thinking of pleasant things, but, in the sacred darkness of her mind, a question interfered. Why were they lovers, the man and she? There was no love between them, no essence in their togetherness. The answer had gnawed on her entrails like a sharp tooth.
“My back hurts,” she said, angry at herself for having to explain.
Her back did hurt, but that was not the problem. It was the unbearable whiteness and stillness of the snow outside. She looked at the pines outside the cabin they had rented. Their peaks had to be soaring to a heaven that could not be seen; pillars supporting a deathbed, curtains in white hovering around it.
A frozen sadness settled upon her heart like a cold draft wafting from some secret crack of her soul.
He continued with his exercises. A kick with the left leg, a kick with the right.
“Here is an exercise that is good for your back,” he grinned and demonstrated.
She, filigreed snowflakes encumbering every nook of her soul, imitated his movements with disinterested boredom.
“You must try to move your body, not your head,” he corrected, watching.
She disliked being once again in the position of having to follow his instructions.
“I am not moving my head, am I?” she asked.
“You are moving only your head,” he responded.
She quit with a laugh of indifference and returned to the kitchen for more coffee. She sat to drink it in front of the window, alone, absorbed in thoughts.
Not a flake stirred, not a note was heard from outside. No life. She thought of blue seas, fragrant algae, golden sands. She longed for the sun, for warm, for love. A tear formed, hot and moist, but congealed into a cold, metallic ball before it could escape the frozen chamber of her silence.
Why had she chosen this outmost suffering of the cold snow? Why was she lost in this indeterminate distance in white? Was it a self-imposed punishment for her imperfections, a nagging feeling of guilt? The price of withholding. Withholding love to avoid pain. Withholding trust to escape betrayal. A strange burden for the soul to undertake. A choice. White snow. Cold snow that enhances recollections.
* * *
Inia was asleep. Dreaming the dreams of a child. Chasing butterflies in a flowery meadow. Crossing a creek with reflections of fish in gold. Watching soap bubbles imprison rainbows in the air.
Outside, it was a lovely night. A night bathed in the light of a silver moon. The house was quiet, drowsing in its overgrown garden of roses.
“I can hardly wait until ‘someday’ comes,” Inia had said to her mother that evening.
“Why?” her mother had asked.
“Because when ‘someday’ comes, wonderful things are bound to happen.”
She had laughed with excitement, her brown eyes shining with trust and hope.
She was taken away from her dreaming by the sound of her door opening. She looked. The silhouette of someone she loved. Her brother. Ten years her senior, she idolized him. She decided to pretend to be asleep and surprise him when he came near by jumping up and wrapping her arms around his neck. Yet, something felt strange. From the open door, a cold draft had entered her room and came shifting down on her, like a sheet of ice. Sinister. Evil. The shadow moved closer and closer, secretively. It became larger and darker. Heavy breathing. Icy fear. The body, a block of iron, fell hard on her. Beastly pain. As if, she were torn apart. Her heart, her ribs, her hips. She let out a cry, but it wasn’t heard. She sank into a cold abyss and landed on a white landscape full of icy waters. On them, black, solitary swans floated solemnly. As if carrying the casket of something newly dead. Suffocating silence everywhere.
She woke up the next morning and realized that an inexplicable sadness had replaced the joy in her heart. In her mind, an army of fears had begun a war with the incomprehensible.
“Inia is sick,” her mother’s voice reached her from the kitchen. “She is shivering and seems to have a fever.”
Her brother walked into her room. Concerned. He sat on the side of her bed and stroked her forehead with his hand. The cold touch of a snake that had uncoiled and was slithering across her face.
“No!” she screamed and turned her face away. Tears flowed onto her pillow of white.
“She is delirious,” he said. “We had better keep her in bed today.”
Inia felt helpless. She pulled the white sheet over her head and tried to comprehend. Useless. Devastated, she entered the hollow muteness of a tower of fears and shut its doors. With her went a shadow of guilt.
* * *
The snow was too white to reflect new shadows. She was safe.
“Now, I am ready for breakfast,” the man announced as he entered the kitchen.
She detested his interference with her thoughts.
“I’ll make some English muffins,” she volunteered and took one out of the plastic bag.
“I can do it,” he said.
She dropped it back in the bag.
He took it out and put it in the toaster.
No dependency. Two distinct entities, lost in a snowed landscape of no boundaries, miles apart.
She picked up a book by Amos Oz and returned to the chair by the window. There was a bitter taste in her mouth, an icy emptiness in her heart. She began to read.
I am writing this because when I was young I was full of the power of loving, and now that power of loving…
“What are you reading?” the man asked.
“A love story.”