Following the post about my visit to the Royal Society of Literature thanks to my short story entry to the V. S Pritchett Memorial Prize, many of you kindly asked if I was going to publish the story here on my blog. So I am pleased do just that.
I wrote ‘The Whiteout Years’ in the midst of Spring but it is set in Winter and particularly New Year so I thought this an apt time to post it. The story was also shortlisted for the InkTears Short Story Contest 2015.
As this is quite a long story I have decided to split it into two parts, however if you wish to read it in one go, please click this link. The Whiteout Years
As always, I really will appreciate your comments.:)
The Whiteout Year by Annika Perry
The music was blaring in the car, some modern Norwegian pop and once again Carl scanned through the radio stations. Lots of grinding static, then a few words, then silence as he hit the off button. Admittedly he was out in the Swedish forest but surely it shouldn’t be impossible to find a decent station, preferably in English.
Outside the snow had started to fall again; thick snowflakes bombarding the windscreen, the white swirls hypnotic. Carl slowed down and rubbing his eyes peered through the windscreen. On full beam he was reduced to the bottom of well vision, so minimal it barely reached the bonnet of the car. There was a slight improvement with normal lights on as the headlights lit a dull streak in front of him.
It was too hot in the car and Carl turned down the heating and opened the windows. The cold blast of air bit into his cheeks. Well, that did the trick and now fully awake he looked out for the sticks. He remembered his first winter here with Karin, her laughter filled the car as she sped along the narrow road at if in a rally, catching the orange snow poles marking the edge of the road with glancing blows. Behind the poles was a metre deep ditch, packed with snow. No poles now, a recession was on, instead birch branches, painted white were impaled into the ground earlier in the Autumn. Clever that, white against the white snow – a genius stroke thought Carl ruefully. Wonder what Karin would have made of that?
Finally Carl reached a crossing for the main road and out of habit he stopped. He knew he didn’t have to; he’d have seen any approaching car from the top of the hill. Nothing. A moment of total silence. With the windows down he sat and listened. He never failed to be overawed by the silence, the odd rustle of snow falling gently to the ground from the over-ladened fir trees. The odd animalistic sound deep in the forest, feral and prehistoric.
That fist time he’d been petrified, as with Karin they took a trek through the woods in the late afternoon. Lunch at her parents had been long and jovial, wine followed by schnapps, then the coffee and cakes. Replete and exhausted they’d made their excuses and headed out for a break. Whilst his body had been warm, his lungs froze in pain, as he inhaled the icy wind. Shocked he’d stopped and gasped and with a warm gloved hand Karin lifted his scarf across his mouth and face, softly stroking his cheek. “Keep safe,” she’d whispered. If only she’d listened to herself.
During their first winter walk, the snow crunched luxuriously under their boots, the frozen twigs snapped against their coat and the moss popped quietly in protest. A world transformed and in awe Carl, gloved hand holding Karin’s, wandered around the magic winter wonderland. He’d laughed suddenly, startling Karin.
“What?” she’d asked.”What’s so funny?”
“Last year we took my nephew to a winter wonderland in Cornwall, it was dreadful, such a disappointment. But look at this. Heaven – there is no way you could recreate this.”
Not far now, he was almost there and yet another year without Karin. Without her blonde air across his chest as he woke in the mornings. Without her grumpy moody mutterings as she woke and then slowly cheered up sitting up in bed, black coffee clasped in her hands, duvet wrapped tightly around her. Carefully he’d snuggle next to her, sipping his tea. Another year without her clothes strewn around the bedroom; a shops collection of tops hogging the dresser drawers, skirts and trousers abandoned as if heading out for a walk. Whilst he folded his clothes with care, hung them on a hanger or over a chair, Karin would blissfully discard her clothes as she headed for a shower, one leg of the jeans in front of the other, as if removed mid-step.
The rejected choices from the previous day lay forlorn on the carpet, chair, wardrobe door. However did they get up there? In a fit of pique? Those early days together Carl had tidied up after her, attempted to mend her ways with hints and then stronger words. Within months he learnt to love the mess; he could gauge her mood by the number of items left out. Just one, a day of confidence and self-assurance. Three or more, Karin needed extra loving, caring. No one else knew, her fear of others, lack of belief in herself. How could they? So self-assured in her work, tall and beautiful. Your poster Swedish woman – god, how had he got so lucky?
The whiteout deepened and claustrophobic Carl glanced down the road. A wall of grey/white murk met his glance. He couldn’t see anything. The silence droned in his ears. Signalling right, he turned, first onto the the left side of the road, then correcting himself onto the right. At least the road was ploughed, snow banked two metres or so high on each side. He was still driving on snow though, icier here and he felt the snow tyres grip the surface with a little skid. That had been his life these past three years, skidding along.
Working, surviving, interspersed with hours, days, nights of whiteout. Oblivious he would just sit in the dark at home. Forgetting to put the lights on, forgetting to eat.
“You’ll slip through the cracks, if you don’t bulk up,” his friends warned him. He didn’t tell them, it was too late, He’d already slipped away.
Meals with Karin had always been spontaneous. His life of routine turned on its head as she entered his life.
“I’m starving,” she’d called out as they returned to his flat after their first date out. It was midnight, dinner was hours ago and the film had been a drag.
“I’ll get some toast and tea,” Carl had suggested. Karin scoffed at the idea, pushed her way into the kitchen and set to work. Within a few minutes most of the contents of his fridge and cupboards were on the counters, with the overspill on the small dining table.
“Let’s make a feast!” Swedish meatballs, rosemary potatoes, salad, dips, bread adorned the newly set table. She’d managed to find his one and only decent table cloth and not satisfied with its brown drabness she’d flamboyantly cast her blue scarf on top. With the harsh electric lights off, his long-forgotten candles were finally lit and in reverential silence they sat and ate. At two in the morning, a grotto of warmth and love. It was not only his kitchen which was transformed that night; Carl was never the same again.
To be continued…
©Annika Perry 2015