In Your Room
The village relaxed. Everything would be fine.
Fannar, the man who’d make everything right again, stood on the veranda outside Leifur’s house. It should really be Kala’s house now that her father was dead and she was the only one who lived there.
Should. Force of habit probably. It’d change once the girl got back on her feet and the villagers saw more of her. Winter wasn’t a good time for being out and about. Going for tea at the train station was all well and good, but it wasn’t the same as seeing your friends and family going about their lives under the summer sun.
Things would turn out alright. The winter would be tough, but so were all winters, and it would pass. Spring would heal the village’s soul for real, and summer would bring back its strength.
But first, someone had to make sure things were going in the right direction.
– – –
Fannar lifted his hand and knocked on the door. Three knocks.
At first, nothing happened for the longest time, but eventually a shout came from within, and Fannar entered.
He stopped just inside the door. He pushed his hood back and tugged at his scarf, and then he just stood there. Waited. Frowning, he pulled off his mittens and placed his hands against the walls. Silent. Cold. There was nothing there.
He closed his eyes and bowed his head and thought about summer. Blue skies. Little fluffy clouds. Season’s first potatoes and smooth rocks warmed by sunlight. He smiled to himself and waited. Waves lapping against the shore. Swallows nesting under the roof. Water dripping from the eaves after a light rain and swimming naked in the ocean.
Deep within the house something stirred. Something small and scared and lonely. Something that still wanted to live, but which had gone into hiding and couldn’t find its way back.
There, there. Easy now. Fannar slowed his breathing.
Bear cubs and blueberries. Whales on the bay. Dancing with the wind sprites where the rocks meet the sea. Holding hands under the midnight sun. Vissla.
A cold fist of regret grabbed him by the gut and wrenched.
He clenched his jaws and pressed his eyes shut. Wrong. Wrong wrong wrong.
He took a deep breath and tried to compose himself and bring the good memories back, but he knew it was too late. The little spirit wouldn’t come out of hiding again any time soon. He’d beckoned and tempted it with the joys of summer only to stab it with pain and regret. It’d take time before it trusted him again, even if it wanted to.
Things may be worse than first he’d thought.
Doubt came creeping through the darkness – seeping through the walls, dripping from the ceiling, lapping at his feet like water at the bottom of a leaking boat.
Much worse than he’d thought.
Fannar drew himself up, cleared his throat, and rammed the lower end of his staff into floor hard enough to make his hand hurt. The doubts skittered and withdrew, but even then he still felt them watching him. Waiting for another chance to sneak up on him.
In front of him a door opened and the hallway filled with the soft, warm light of burning candles. Coats and jackets hung on pegs on the wall. Rows of boots and shoes stood in neat pairs on the floor, and in the doorway, a black silhouette against the light, stood Vissla.
“Are you gonna stand there all night?” she said. “Come on in. It’s warm.”
She stepped back to let him through and then pulled the door shut behind him.
A kitchen in candlelight. Nice and warm. A counter along the far wall, with a sink and and a cast iron stove. Cupboards to the right, and over by the window in the left wall a sturdy wooden table.
The window itself had been boarded up for the winter, of course – to keep the warmt from escaping.
Heat radiated from the stove, and candles burned on the table and along the counter. It was indeed warmer here.
At the table sat the girl. Kala.
He’d met her many times before. Talked and joked – about life and magic and the spirits and all the other important things you talk about with a young girl you don’t really know but for whom you’re the only one who knows anything other than fishing.
The woman before him had next to nothing to do with that girl.
Hunched back. Slumping shoulders. Limp black hair that had begun falling out in places. Hollow cheeks. Tired eyes watched without seeing, and where her right ear had been only a scabby mess of scar tissue remained.
“Kala?” he said and raised a hand to greet the girl – woman.
“Sit down,” said Vissla. “She’s there. She just doesn’t care.”
Fannar nooded. He stepped over to the table, pulled out chair, and sat down. Leaned his staff against the counter behind him.
Kala didn’t as much as blink, that he could see.
Vissla went and stood over by the stove. Kept out of the way – let him do his thing.
– – –
Nice and easy now. Breathe in. Breathe out. Slow and steady. Calm.
Fannar looked at the poor woman in front of him across the table. She’d been a young girl last he saw her. Strong and full of life. His forced his eyes to take in everything. Absorb every detail. Replace his old memories. Thin. Weak. Tired.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
He lowered his gaze and looked down on the table. Worn smooth by years of use. Hands and plates rubbing against the surface. Tablecloths in every color and pattern.
Generations of families had eaten here. Young and old. Small and big. Just married. First child. Joy and grief and lust and anger. All of the feelings and memories of an old kitchen, where families had lived and loved and laughed. The very center of the home, and he felt nothing of it.
The heart of the house did not beat.
He pressed his palms against the surface of the table. Just wood.
Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath, and slowly let it out again. Much worse than he had thought. He must not be hasty now.
Inhale. Exhale. Pause. Inhale. Exhale. Pause. Repeat.
His own heartbeat slowed down, and he pushed his own worries away. Relaxed his shoulders. Stretched his arms above his head, yawned, and lowered his guard completely. He let his face settle into an easy smile and opened his eyes.
A writhing mass of doubt and pain sat before him. The girl was gone. Despair. Grief. Fear. A slithering swarm tearing at her soul – ripping it apart. Piece by tiny piece. Memory by memory. Gorging itself on what was left of her will to live.
Fannar lurched to his feet, twisted around, bent over the kitchen sink, and hurled. All the tea he’d drunk that afternoon. His lunch, and the crispbread Hulda had served him. It all wanted out, and it wanted out now. A warm stinking mess of bile and food splattered into the sink.
He gasped for breath, and vomited again.
Pressed his eyes shut, clenched his jaws, and lost. Bracing with his hands against the edge of the sink he vomited until there was nothing left in him – until his throat hurt and his stomach howled in pain – and then he just stood there. Breathing through his mouth and making sure he had his balance.
“Water?” Vissla set down a mug on the counter next to the sink.
Fannar raised his head and looked at her, nodded, and looked at the mug. Throat hurt too much to speak. With a trembling hand he picked up the mug and sipped the water. Careful now. Not too much. Not too quick.
“That bad?” Vissla asked.
She crossed her arms over her chest and waited. She had time. Could let him drink his water. Get his act together again. Hurrying would help no one.
Eventually, Fannar nodded. “There is no love in this house.”
Yeah, well, that wasn’t her fault now was it.
“I’m trying,” she snapped.
It wasn’t she who was the shaman. She’d spent more time in this kitchen than in her own stupid home this winter. No one else had had the guts to stick around.
Fannar sighed. He bowed his head and turned around. Leaned against the counter, stared down into the floor. Not looking up.
Vissla snorted. “I’m not a stupid nice person. I can’t handle this.” She hated to admit it but she stupid couldn’t. “It’s beyond me.”
“You’re not stupid sorry.” Vissla sneered and spat into the sink behind him. Bastard.
Fannar’s jaw set, and he slowly raised his head. Even in the light of the candles she could see the tension in his eyes as he looked at Kala. What had he seen? How bad was it? Probably better not to know. She had a hard enough time to fall asleep at night as it was.
The girl hadn’t moved at all since he came into the room. Just sat there. Staring into nothing. Not even a flinch.
“You can leave if you want,” he said.
Vissla glared at him. “I’m not leaving her alone with you.”
The silence dragged out between them, and then, at long last, he turned to her with a grin. “Good.”
– – –
Fannar and Vissla. It’s complicated. Let’s not even go there. Completely different story. Maybe another time.
For now, they talk. She brings him up to speed on her version of what’s happened, but we can skip that bit. You already know the relevant parts. He shares news from around the bay, and we can skip that too. You don’t know the people, and it doesn’t really matter anyway.
He cleans up the vomit in the sink. She prepares a light evening meal. Soup and crispbread.
And all the while, they talk. Argue about stupid things that haven’t mattered since forever. Crack old jokes that weren’t even funny the first time. It’s been too long. Way too long.
In a kitchen.
It’s what it’s meant for. It’s what you do. The grumpy old woman. The middle aged man. The silent girl who lives there. There is talking in the kitchen and for the first time in much too long the words aren’t laced with fear.