It could have been spring, or even summer. While still in bed, leaning on my elbows, I can see the rooftops, lighted with the warm glow of the sun that is hiding behind my shoulders. Behind the roofs, the church tower stands quiet against the blue sky that accents its red bricks, setting them ablaze. Smells of dry dust and sunbathing facades come towards me, linger on the other side of the window, get stuck there without reaching my nose. The only thing showing the true temperature are the white puffs of smoke rising from the chimneys. They try their best to stay alive but are soon pulled apart, dissolving into nothingness. That shows how cold it really is—that, the down blanket I have enfolded myself in, and the countless others with me: obscured from sight, invisible and hidden in their bedrooms where walls are beige and flowers adorn the pillowcases. Everyone is comfortably wrapped in their own story. Had it really been spring, I would have been outside, in the sun. I would not have been lying here, not even with you. Or only with you. Spring is not the only thing that has left me waiting.
Slowly the city awakens. Warmed bricks are pulled from their northern hibernation and no longer rigidly face the inhabitants. Life can carry on, arise from sleep as it hasn’t done for a couple of seasons. You never did. You never woke up here, with me, summer, spring, or cold seasons. I would love to blame you, fly into a rage, tell you you are cruel and cold hearted. That you deny our being together. But even that is a pleasure I cannot have. How could you possibly know that my balcony looks out into your study? That during the warm months, when every window and door was open so that the inside was no longer locked in, the books on your shelves became my most intimate friends. They saw me, recognized me almost immediately. The books I didn’t already have, I acquired, and I lost myself in their pages. It feels as if our libraries have the same parents, they are so much alike. It was the first thing I noticed, before I noticed you, before I knew you were there. You weren’t there at the time; you didn’t work in such beautiful summer weather. Not there, in that room, in any case—somewhere else, where the air wasn’t as syrupy as it became between our old buildings.
But you were there when you and your wife split up. The sounds of the rows that erupted bridged the minimal distance from garden to balcony without hindrance. I heard your silence, saw you pace to another part of the house, even heard the dull clink of the small metal ring she flung outside, when it hit the partition between the two outdoor spaces. Your empty gaze was directed at the books, never at me.
Last week you were there too, when you procured your new job in Stockholm over the phone. Another couple of months, six at most, and you won’t be here anymore. You will be even less here than you are now. The then-empty study will have to get a new function, your books are heavy, cannot come along, disappear wild and homeless into a box.
Before you leave, when spring arrives, or pretends to arrive as it does now, when the icy winter fools us and the cold seems like warmth, I will be here. I will ask you if this morning fooled you too, with that light that wishes she belonged to spring. Who knows, your doors might not even be open, you might not unknowingly recline in your armchair on the other side. I’m running out of time, chances of coincidental encounters dwindle before my eyes. I don’t want you there. Not in the Scandinavian cold, where spring is too short and intense, winter too long and dark. I don’t want you there either, at the other side of that wall. I want you closer, without partition. I always want things I cannot have, things that are out of reach, things that are married, things that don’t care, things I cannot name.
I hear cracking, the sighs and moans of cold locks, slamming doors. I wish I could float onto the balcony like an angel, but my fleece pyjamas are torn, miss two buttons, have holes along the seams, are even printed with smiling reindeers. Contemplating all this I still move forward, out of bed, outside. Crumpled and shivering I stand there, attempting to casually lean against the doorpost, but the cold of the metal frame makes me cringe. I must look like a bird dazed by cold, disappearing into its feathered collar. Carefully avoiding the railing, I stretch my neck and peek over the edge. My downward gaze falls helplessly into yours. You smile, say that the light fooled you, that you thought it was spring.
By Thalia Ostendorf
Thalia Ostendorf is a graduate of Utrecht University and has studied comparative literature in Italy and California. Currently she is pursuing a PhD in "the politics of literature" at St. Andrews University, Scotland. She writes short stories and the occasional article.