From ‘To Siberia’

The attic at the farm was icy cold and usually in half darkness with only one paraffin lamp I had to turn off as soon as I had gone up the stairs. There was a small window on the east side and the bed was under the window and kneeling on it I could talk to my brother Jesper in the evenings when it was summertime and look out at the stars in winter and a spruce hedge and a Chinese garden from another world and then just rolling fields right out to the sea. Sometimes in the night I would wake up under the coarse heavy duvet thinking I had heard the sea filling the room, and I opened my eyes and it was just as dark as when I shut them again. The darkness lay close to my face and I thought, it doesn’t make any difference whether I can see or not. But there was a difference, and I would be frightened, for the darkness was big and heavy and full of sounds and I knew if I did not shut my eyes quickly I would be smothered. But when I wasn’t frightened it was like being lifted up to float in space with a wind through my heart.

I lie in bed looking into the dark and everything is black and then it turns gray, for the moon has come out. I can’t hear the sea. It is frozen like everything else, frozen and quiet. I do not think I am dreaming anymore.

Someone is knocking. That is why I woke up, I remember now. I wait and the knocking comes again and I get up from under the duvet which has warmed through at last and walk across the cold floor in my nightdress to where I know the door is. More knocking. It is not the door, it’s the window. I turn around and see a shadow moving against the moonlight in front of the window. It is Jesper. I know it’s Jesper.

“Let me in,” he whispers loudly, breathing warmth on the glass. I run over to the bed and jump up onto it knees first and open the window. A cold gust rushes in, it chills my chest and stomach and my thoughts turn sharp at the edges. I remember everything, the porcelain lions and porcelain ears and Grandmother’s straight neck and Grandfather and my mother’s frail voice fluttering in the room like a thin veil we all tend to ignore. Jesper hangs onto the eaves with one hand and has one foot on the windowsill. He has my boots around his neck with the laces knotted behind his head.

“Get dressed and come with me,” he says.

“All right,” I say.

I have a will of my own, I do not do everything I’m told, but I want to be with Jesper. He does things that are original, I like that and I am wide awake now. He swings himself…

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