Thirty years after, she appeared for the last time.
I could feel every stride, the creak in my left knee, the hairline retreating disgustedly from the blissful recklessness of youth.
I could feel the quiet, the strange security of knowing I'd be able cross the Orange sector to get home without anything happening. The murals I passed looked like runic Norse paintings, specimens from a time too far gone for me to have any recollection of what they meant.
I could feel the mud slithering into the tread in my boots, as I trundled home from a nine-to-five labour job that was quickly becoming beyond my reach, the autumn sky already threateningly dark. The bog was deep and soaked through by that time of year, mocking me in my mortality, trying with sticky claws to drag me under.
I looked down at the water, a ditch in the ground I had seen every evening of my life. The water was still the same, murky, stagnant. Made the whole damn town smell of rotting berries.
We used to swim in it as children. I wondered if it was still as cold, still as uncomfortably thick with something, no one ever knew what. I heaved my body down the ditch, trying to remember how I used to do it when I was younger. Certainly not like this, skidding, gasping, grabbing onto loose roots to keep from being submerged in the water I used to be so delighted by.
My hand rested on top of the water, stray weed brushing past my palm every so often. There was no ripple, no disturbance, only the single ring my hand created.
In my desperate nostalgia, I looked upstream, and there she was. Not twenty metres away. Face up. Heavenly.
"Var har du varit alla dessa år?" (8)
I crawled over, undignified before her, mud seeping into my pants, into the pores of my skin. I exposed myself on the banks of the bog, allowing her to see my age, my struggle, my suffocating regret.
Her skin black as tar, and her dress, still white as the fragile feathers on the breast of a dove. Her dress was still slashed in that way that was intrenched into the deepest recesses of my memory, but all of the blood was gone from it. It was pure, pristine, untouched by the uncleanliness of the bog.
The bog, that separated Green from Orange, us from them. She was Ireland, the land itself, above all that continued to lingeringly divide us.
Her face was of a dusty ash, though more solid than diamond. Her eyes, so pale in life, were as hard as ever. It was as though they had not aged a day. Her lips, stone, but still textured lightly, as if carved by a great Florentine artist.
All of her: cold to the touch, cold as the depths of the bog. Cold as the Scandinavian winter.
And she had not aged. Not like I, scrambling towards her form, youthful and peaceful on the bank. I was consumed not with jealously however but with a strange concoction of regret and warmth.
The regret was harsh, self-hating, confused. That innocent "varför?" echoed across the fjords of my mind, from so many yeas before. It seemed inconceivable to me now. Hur hade jag lyckats leva med bördan av vad jag gjorde? (9) I had forgotten to think of her, somehow. Wrapped up and blindfolded by life, and only now was I walking free. For it was all her, in that moment. Her petrified face, her white dress, her suddenly all-consuming role in my consciousness.
The warmth came from the onslaught of memories, as if this reunion somehow unlocked a compartment of my mind that had been repressed by a wicked spell. Drinking games in the pub, at which she would always win. Me, catching her singing some Nordic folk song I could not understand as she walked home with the groceries, and being too fascinated to disturb her. Protests. Modest dinner parties. Day trips to the country.
Snipets, small details, never enough to create a wholesome narrative, but enough to give meaning to her presence among us then, and among me now. Her circumstances, disgusting, unfair, as I had described it even then. Though she was youthful still. Hair still attached to her skull. Face white and petrified and impossible to destroy.
In my dreams I had provided her with formal closure, as the rest of the world slept on peacefully, unaware. The need for ceremony was dispelled by her lack thereof in reality. As the people forgot her, the land immortalised her. She was not the violence, but the peace beyond it.
Still, in my accepted cowardice, I went to the police.
Notes on the Swedish:
Var har du varit alla dessa år? ~ Where have you been all these years?
Hur hade jag lyckats leva med bördan av vad jag gjorde? ~ How had I managed to live with the burden of what I did?
YOU ARE READING
Freja (In response to the Poetry of Seamus Heaney)Historical Fiction
An Irish Nationalist is enticed to question the relevance and need for violence in his country's signature, as he is haunted by his involvement in a horrendous political crime, committed silently in the thicket of the Troubles.