We decided to camp for the night. Some hours later I woke up to hear a blizzard blowing outside, and to find Filippo fumbling amongst some gear at the head-end of the tent. From inside my bag I called out to inquire if there was anything wrong, and received a reply that he was looking for the primus-pricker. Then he slipped back into his sleeping-bag, and all became quiet, except for the snow beating against the tent … Revolving the incident in my mind, and dimly wondering what use he could have for a primus-pricker in the middle of the night, I again fell asleep … On inquiry I found that Filippo knew nothing of his midnight escapade. It was a touch of somnambulism.

The snow beating against the tent. Soft flakes piling up into hard, sculpted drifts, blown into aerodynamic contours – sastrugi. Snow is so soft and deep. And slushy-wet and burning-cold and diamond-hard. Snow is like sleep.

The day is stink of men and food and foul air, dogs barking, fingers pricked by needles which slip from the hands. It is the itch of an unwashed body, the rub of harness. It is longing for a hard steel hut, and desire for the wind to stop. Stop just once, just once long enough for us to stand clear and see – see that ethereal stillness so few feet above our heads – the silence of those infinite spaces.

This afternoon I found myself thinking about Melbourne, and that led me to the evening I met that girl. She was clean enough, I suppose, a scrubbed little thing – quite boyish as she minced along. I can’t remember what she said, what I said. We went back to her room (on my insistence), so I had to wait while she ran in to check that the coast was clear. That was strange, standing out in the alley thinking about what I was about to do, or rather trying not to think about it, smoking a cigarette and watching the shadows. She was back soon enough.

Once in her room I insisted she undress completely, although she was very reluctant. I could see why, afterwards. She had a long scar running down the length of her back – a long red curve of cicatrice. It must have been devilish deep at the time. A whip? Too clean for anything but a stock-whip at full stretch, I’d say. More likely a knife. I didn’t ask her about it. Felt ashamed to, I suppose. In any case, it didn’t make me any less interested in what I’d come to do.

No comments: