A country house in winter is something which brings to mind a rather romantic picture. But the glittering frosts always come later than expected, and are always accompanied with such an unanticipated, biting bitterness from the cold that the crystals fade half-forgotten on the dull brown leaves.
The cold inside the house staunches conversation. It pales the expressions of the face, tightens the lips and turns the mind to brooding. Like mammals hibernating in winter, the inhabitants wrap themselves up in their own bodies and allow their thoughts to become their sole occupation.
Even books were not a particular distraction. The library was too large to be efficiently heated, and whereas in summer one would happily seat oneself near a window, allowing the eyes to stray from page to garden and back again; in winter there was no choice but to huddle away from the grey daylight near the fire, and wonder that the fingers would not warm above a certain numbness by turning the pages, seeking a long desired yet long forsaken departure from that place.
The lady’s brow puckered with concentration, until eventually she tired of fighting the cold and ceased to wade through the book in her hands, turning her mind back to her present time, to reconcile herself with her surroundings.
Snow is always recalled as a childhood novelty, the anticipation fading with every passing year. One notices the dirtiness, the mud and slush, the way it pushes people further into themselves.[Ilana1] Its presence was now the recollection of an old acquaintance; the fragmented impressions fell gently out of the air and collected silently on the plane of her memory, silently and softly, behind her puckered brow.
Snow had at that time renewed anticipation in her. It was not exactly the snow itself, but the childish joy she felt kindled within her at the sight of it, that had seemed to promise a further renewal of innocent, untroubled bliss. But this was of course a misguided ideal.
It seems strange that snow should call forth recollections. Its silence and its whiteness seem to cover everything with a blankness, obliterating and beautifying, painting a white backdrop for experience. It falls carelessly, arbitrarily, without intention, independent of the woman huddled by the fire.
The freedom of her mind grew beyond the walls that held it. While her wilting body curled itself towards the fire in the growing darkness, her memory grew beyond her like a shadow – everywhere in the library, where shadows lay, lay memories too.
Unbid they stirred. The slumbering memories were folded in and around the pages of the books, nestled in dust and shadow. So peacefully slumbering it seemed a shame that they should flutter awake and separate themselves from the pages they nested in. Better that the books and the memories should lie silently together in the darkness, like lovers, who lie contentedly folded body in body, mind in mind in sleep, for in waking they open their eyes to see other eyes staring back at them, to feel another skin in contact with theirs. The faded border that was the outline of their bodies once again solidifies, the fluid edges of their existences no longer overlap, but freeze and become brittle; they fracture apart like ice.
The dawn sharpens the horizon and separates the earth from the sky, though in the night they would have happily believed they were one and whole.
Every ghost has its origins in a body.
PHOTO / terren in Virginia