ON STOLEN TIME
We both know this was over years ago.
Our eyes shouldn’t meet, fire laughter,
our hands shouldn’t seek the other’s,
trusting as children,
tenderized by time.
Your mother said at our wedding
she’d give it a year. You didn’t listen.
I got fed up with your family thinking
I was second rate. When he came along,
said I was special – I fell.
When I told you, you listened
then you said you forgave me –
you’d done something first,
you hadn't been present
for me to betray.
That’s when the stolen time started
because we should have turned
away from each other, not fallen
on our hands and knees,
rooting out broken pieces of heart.
Deep-mouthed love on stolen time
but I knew
if I left you I’d never
belong again because I’d lose
how you saw me –
better than my true self.
So when life gets scratchy,
and marriage is like being stuck
in a net with a biting fox,
I remind myself it was over
years ago. This isn’t real,
we’re living a dream.
She went to a concert,
the watch on her freckled wrist,
visible on snapchat as she took a 'selfie'.
The light blue strap matched her distressed
the sparkles matched her smile.
But she wasn't given time,
Her loved ones wanted forever,
would have settled for years,
to say goodbye.
Instead they've been given eternity,
to hold her in their hearts,
never in their arms.
She never gave the watch back.
Tonight, Richard says we should settle in, which I’m grateful to him for. Tomorrow we can explore. I try to look keen when he says this, but I’m still so tired and I blame it on the journey. In fact, the flight to Bergen wasn’t too bad, but then recently things I’ve been afraid of haven’t seemed so frightening after all. I suppose after what’s happened I’ve gained a little perspective. Or else I don’t seem to care that much anymore.
The snow outside is as high as my knees, but the roads and paths are clear: the Norwegians are good at weather management. On the drive from the airport I noticed tractors with big snow shifters attached to their fronts idling in private driveways. Over here, people are prepared.
Inside the pinewood cabin, Richard lights the log-burner and as it heats up, the room takes on the smell of a sauna. I fall asleep easily.
Richard is driving again and we’re headed to a mountain, which has been described as good for beginner hikers. I’m happy to sit in the passenger seat and be taken care of. It’s a role that felt unfamiliar at first, but since I came out of hospital, Richard has been quite insistent and it’s easier to just go along with him.
As he winds along the mountain passes, I look out at the brightly coloured wooden houses dotted on the banks on the fjord. Mustard yellow, red-brown, olive green; all with dark slate-grey roofs and stilts underneath, their windows looking out to the water. On the land around them leafless, gnarly-hag trees reach out to the low-lying mists across the water’s surface and I find myself recoiling from their ugly grasping. I shift my gaze upwards and Richard points out the mountain we’re about to walk up. Strips of cloud circle it like the rings of Saturn.
‘We don’t have to go all the way to the top,’ he says, glancing over at me as he parks the car. He has that worried look on his face again that I just can’t bear.
‘If it gets too much, we can go back, hole up in the cabin like hobbits. Remember, I’ve brought you here to recuperate, not for an adventure.’ I try to give him a reassuring smile and he squeezes my knee. After a moment, I pull away and climb out of the car.
Outside, the air is sharp and as we begin the ascent, I breathe deep lungfuls, feeling it wash behind my forehead and travel down to clear my insides. For the first time, the sensation of being hollow, empty, feels good, as if my body is ready to start afresh. We don’t meet a soul on the way up and although it’s a long, steep climb, I feel reinvigorated. I catch Richard watching me as I stride on up beside him.
‘Take it slowly darling,’ he says, a fretful note in his voice. ‘Your energy levels aren’t back to normal yet. Perhaps we ought to turn around.’
But I’m fine and suddenly we arrive at a frozen lake. It’s so unexpected, on the side of a mountain, that for a moment we are silent together and I feel as if I could tell him. That perhaps I could say the words and they would be locked up here, frozen under the lake’s surface, and we could go back down to the cabin and carry on as normal. But a sound makes me hesitate – it is the drip of water. Somewhere, the ice is thawing.
‘Let’s go back down,’ he says.
I am searching for the source of the drip and I notice the trickle of a stream entering the lake. I walk to the edge of the lake and dab a toe on the hard surface. It yields and I’ve broken the picture.
‘I want to go higher,’ I say and before he can object, I walk past him and re-join the path up.
Behind me I hear the trudge of his boots on the snow, but the sound of water is also there: it is running off icicles hanging from fir trees, it is in the rivulets forming their own paths down the mountainside, it is coming from the sky. I put my hood up, but still the sound is all around me.
At the hospital, it was the squeak of the nurse’s trainers on the lino. I was out for the operation but when I came around I didn’t open my eyes for a long time. I suppose I didn’t want to face up to what had happened. Instead, I kept my eyes closed and listened to people coming and going, pretending I wasn’t part of their world. The nurse with her spongy shoes came by quite often. I’d lost a lot of blood so she had to keep tabs on me. Somehow, Richard knew I was awake – after years of living together it was easy enough for him to sense it. He said it was understandable. Denial, he called it. Of course I didn’t want to remember I’d lost a baby, it was perfectly normal. That’s when he suggested we get away for a bit. Somewhere quiet and peaceful. Norway out of season: the winter retreating to the sea, the skiers returned to the city.
This morning I woke to the lapping of the fjord on the shore. Richard thought we might go out on a rowing boat whilst we’re here. Sit ourselves in the middle of the fjord, nothing but water all around. But he’d picked up a leaflet left at the cabin by a previous holiday-maker and read about the waterfall at the top of a mountain and so here we are, at the peak, faced with a twinkling ice sculpture of soundless gushing: a waterfall frozen in time.
It reminds me of a story I read when I was a child. A story of two adventuring sisters travelling together under white skies and a never-setting sun. They come across a strange, deserted kingdom, an empty ice palace. It takes one of the sisters, traps her within the ice.
I look at the waterfall and think I see a girl frozen inside it. Or perhaps she is standing behind it. There is a gap there, a space between the rocks and the iced fall. Knowing Richard would think it dangerous, I scramble towards the gap before he can hold me back and I try not to look down as I reach the space behind the ice.
‘Stop,’ he calls, but I’m already there, I’ve already done it. I look back at him, see his image waver through the ice.
There is no girl behind the waterfall. Just me.
I come out and slide back down to the path. As I reach him, my foot slips on the melting ice and he catches my hand and holds me upright until I’ve regained my balance. I give him a look of thanks and as he looks back, I see something in the water of his eyes suddenly slide into focus, as if a twisting kaleidoscope has finally landed on its true pattern and he sees something he has suspected since he first arrived home from work and found me doubled over in the bathroom. Since he caught that brief look between the paramedics as they examined me in the ambulance, as they asked me questions that I could only answer with evasions, pretending to be too out of it to understand. He looks at me and the truth settles on his shoulders. He drops my hand. ‘It was you,’ he wants to say, but he doesn’t. The baby. Nine weeks in gestation. Not yet showing. We stand together in the stillness, the suspended waterfall looming over our heads.
After a while, the cold mountain air stirs and I hear the drip of water again. I think about the droplet’s journey, sliding off a branch, splashing into a melting ice patch, running down the path towards the lake, joining the stream, gathering with other droplets to form little waterfalls all over the face of the mountain, and finally hurrying down all together to the fjord below.
‘We can go down now,’ I say, taking charge, knowing that Richard won’t want to take care of me anymore, won’t feel able to. And although I know this is probably the end, the relief I feel is like the waterfall suddenly coming back to life.