This story by Linda Moser won 2nd place in the William Taylor Memorial Short Story Competition for 2016. The Judge commented: This is beautifully sustained descriptive prose that offers fine insights into a moment of change for the narrator who is the protagonist. You know someone is the real thing when they can offer a sentence like this: ‘Shades and hues of greys and brown slice like ribbons through snow, criss-cross hillsides in bold brushstrokes, etched in layers of meaning, confident of their place in the world… Many of the sentences were pure poetry.
“White” by Linda Moser
Way out here where the air seems cleaner, sweeter, and the quality of the light shines pure and translucent, you suddenly realise with surprising sobriety, that you have definitely already lived more than half of your life. This epiphany is not so unlike the childish realisation that there is in fact, no Santa, or that Dad is just a man like any other, and does not possess supernatural strength or intelligence. It is merely something, that once known, cannot be unknown, it is something you can never be blissfully ignorant of again.
You are here on Doctor’s orders, because stress has overridden your life to such an extent that someone, other than yourself, has finally noticed your inability to function as effectively as you once did. Overburdened by your own unhappiness you breathe deeply, suck at the air and swallow chunks. Too immense to ignore the beauty flits across the sky in wisps of pinks and patches of purple. It’s like Jackson Pollok has been here already, only this time it makes perfect sense. A masterpiece.
Shades and hues of greys and browns slice like ribbons through snow, crisscross hillsides in bold brushstrokes, etched in layers of meaning, confident of their place in the world. You stand within the beating heart of the Southern Alps, half way down the stretch of giant misshapen vertebrae. Greywacke and granite. Before you embarked on this journey you said to your reflection, ‘All I ever wanted was everything’, kissed your wife goodbye and set fire to five years’ worth of archived insurance records. You’re lucky you weren’t sacked.
It’s just you and the wife at home now. Your boy is busy drinking beers and studying medicine at Otago. He’s got brains to beat the band, that one. Hasn’t called home since March. It’s the small treacheries that hurt the most.
Something pointy is digging into your back so you stop to adjust the pack and have a quick look at the pamphlet you picked up from the visitor centre. The photos look slightly different without the snow, but miraculously, momentarily, the sky has cleared. Aoraki, the cloud piercer, sits straight ahead, the solid rocky bulk of it dominates the skyline and you wonder why you have always been so easy to please, so accepting of your lot, why you never asked for more even when you wanted it.
No one is here to share this moment, it’s the wrong time of year for tourists. Cold and unforgiving. The wife thinks you are in Hanmer Springs, tucked up in a small holiday house that hugs Conical Hill. She thinks you are taking the fresh air on afternoon forest strolls and soaking away your mental anguish in the thermal pools, where she’ll join you on the weekend, because her mental health is as solid and unmoving as the mountain that lies before you.
Ice floats calmly on the surface of the lake, lulled by the soft snap and crackle of water as it transforms from a liquid to solid state. You can almost see the ice take hold at the edge of the shoreline and grow inwards like a cancer. The viewing platform holds you alone. It becomes a place that is outside the realm of good and evil, right and wrong, and you think of your indiscretions’, the affair and the lies that followed.
Something propels you down to the water’s edge, gets you scrambling over uneven rocks and blazing a trail along the western side of the lake, where loose shale is slippery and unstable. It is suddenly essential to get around this lake, to go beyond the manicured pathways and solidly constructed swing bridges. It is suddenly essential to sweat, to suffer.
With wet feet you collapse around the final bend, slump with head in hands and whisper your loneliness through the snow. Fast and furious it falls, collects on rocks and hills making everything look flat and white and endless. Aoraki closes its eyes.
You contemplate your life and realise that you have only been limited by your own imagination. You dream of somewhere smaller, somewhere simpler, quieter and calmer, where you can get back to basics, maybe raise some chooks, grow a garden. You picture yourself chopping wood, starting the fire, and when you reach out your hands you can almost feel the heat, see the red coals changing shape. Tomorrow. Yes. Tomorrow the weather will clear and you’ll will walk right out of here. It finally makes perfect sense.