5. The sledge
They climbed the path covered with snow, with small paces because the ice had seized the mountain again. The summits of the pines did not move almost anymore, like waiting for a modification of their space.
She said to him while looking at them:
- It is funny, it is as if they did not want to move anymore. I have never seen them like that.
She had a wrinkling across the forehead while saying that and she turned the face towards the little old man beside her. He had put on again his bonnet of fur on his almost naked skull and the sides of skin covered his ears up to the neck. She did not know why she tells herself that he looked like a wrinkled apple after the winter, of those which keep their savour under the crust which folded and that one is very astonished to notice they are juicy under the bite of the mouth. She did not know besides why she was there with this large cord which sheared her shoulders. She tells it to herself with this curious feeling of the trees above her.
She did not know the forest with this feeling. Her brother had not spoken to her of that. May be he had not had time to tell her this feeling which took you by the forehead and which descended in the nape of the neck. It went further than her neck which ceased to hurt her. It was now her shoulders which widened and the cord did not hurt her anymore with the heavy sledge tied to the front bar. It appeared to her that the weight disappeared and that even the noise of the skis splitting the thin film of ice did not give anymore the same sound.
Her brother must know that, him, but he did not have time to tell her near the chimney in the evening when he spoke to her gently while warming his feet at the embers. He did not have time, it is that!
The old man did no longer look at her since the departure of the house. He had wanted the night to come to go away by the paths of behind, those that one did not follow in winters. They skirted the brook which widened in the moor of canes, with its stagnant waters and the not very thick ice which came on them. These were places ignored by the men in winter. The old men said that the bad Gods kept these grounds in which the men and the animals got sucked to the knees, and even more sometimes. There was nights where rose the yell of an animal surprised by the grounds which were caved in under it. The old men then made quickly a sign on their forehead and they cleared the throat. The spittle went in the embers, just between their feet which had hardly opened.
- Again a malignant spirit which has been caught by the fogs and the moving waters of the Earth!
- Minus one! It is well for us the livings.
- It is good and fair, said the oldest woman because it was her share to say “the good and the evil”. One hardly listened to her, but if she did not speak, the others lifted the neck up and were turned towards her.
- What’s the matter, the Mother?
They did not dare to ask some more. One never questioned directly “the Mother” when these yells of anguish crossed the night and covered the roof of their house. She knew.
- It is nothing…. Sleep in peace my sons… It is only a malignant spirit which dies strangled by its own madness. This one does not have anymore a voice because it cannot stand anymore to go out of the stranglehold which holds its legs. Sleep.
But she remained to prick up the ear over the roof of the house, through the heavy wood shutters which closed the windows. Sometimes she remained so to listen during long hours, on her straw chair. One perceived her tension to her manner of taking out the neck folded by the heavy pelisse which shrunk her so much that she seemed sometimes that she came directly out of the ground, like an outgrowth which was still kept in life to teach “the children”.
The others continued to speak. They did it with lower voices, as if they did not want to disturb what the old woman saw with her eyes which were hidden behind the bones of the forehead. It is what she said:
- That happens behind my forehead. It is as if there was a sight by there, something else that the one of my eyes which looks at every day.
- It is like a not ordinary look, he had laughed, the youngster of the niece, the one who is a little stupid and who has the mouth all twisted so much so that he dribbles constantly.
“The Mother” had shaken the head without looking at him, then she had said:
- Yes, it is like a not ordinary look…
The others who had already opened the mouth for telling the boy where to get off did not let the words going out of their throat. One had just heard them going up, ready to touch the flesh and the laughter of the simple of spirit who triturated the end of the pelisse of the Old woman.
They closed their lips again.
The Mother said:
- Death will not come yet this time.
They lowered the forehead and the son of the niece laughed. His shivering and acute yell covered the one of the wind which turned above the thatched roof. The dormice which usually ran in the thickness of the thatch did not move any more.
They continued to speak, as if nothing had happened, because it was like thus it should be done.
It is by there that the old man has wanted them to leave the village.
“The Mother”, the Old woman, she has not heard her say since a very long time. The war has passed through the valley and the dead have filled the houses so much that the living beings did not have anymore room for them near the chimneys which remained still light.
She remembers, thus, by snatches which come up from the memory and which invaded her so much that time loses compactness which wraps the spirit in the gangue of its duration. She wonders again what has made her follow this old man in the moors of fogs and ices whereas all the hairs of her legs were standing on end at each suction of the vicious earths. She does not know either what has made her prepare the sledge in the afternoon, secretly in the barn because he has said to her that “the others did not have to know”. She has understood what “the others” were, at this moment, when he has taken her head between his hands and that he has placed it on his chest. At this moment, she knew. Not now! It was as a lightness which had come and which had left immediately, leaving her again with her life of woman who did not know what to do of her body in which she had sometimes the impression that her soul wandered on smooth walls. These moments were the most dreadful! It is may be for that which she has obeyed, because this old man had made cease this crack for a while.
However, while panting under the weight of the sledge made of big hard wood, the rough cord biting her in the flesh of the shoulders, she knows that it is not that, not only that.
There was happiness in her body while she prepared the sledge in the shed, the door closed on the steps “of the others” from the lane. She was not able to hide the gleam which danced in her eyes while returning in the room by the door opening on the courtyard of behind. The old man has seen this happiness which lived her body of full woman and he has smiled. He has stretched out the hand towards her, without moving of the stool fixed in the corner of the hearth which glowed its embers. She came towards him and the three paces that she has made towards him, have left astonishment in the forehead, so that she still feels them in her belly now, under the bite of the icy wind which goes down from the crest.
She has stopped in front of the hand because she felt that her body must not go further than the fingers next to her belly. The look of the old man was in hers and gently he opened the lips and she heard the sounds coming towards her as in slow motion.
- The man does not know anymore that the gift of oneself is the door of happiness… You, you start to rediscover it and it is good.
She did not know what he wanted to say, but it does good to her. It was warmth in the belly which radiated higher, near her heavy breasts.
- Thus the poison of the doubt leaves the body and the body can work in the softness of living, he says.
He has descended his hand. The movement seemed so slow that time ceased one moment and she understood what he had just said. Her knees folded because there was not means to make some other way and she was not ashamed to be thus, kneeling on the hard ground of the earth packed by the ancestors.
When he has said to her to put her bonnet and her pelisse on, she knew that it was the time.
The night was outside, a night without moon hidden by the heavy black bundles which filled the space above them.
The old man remained a long time to look at the sky, leaning against the stone wall of the house, a long time after she was ready, the cord around her kidneys and the sledge filled with covers as he had told her to do it.
- It is time, she called him to order.
- It is always time, he said lowering his head towards her.
The eyes of this old man shone curiously. It is as if he saw in the night. He unstuck his back of the stone and made the first step towards the barrier of the end of the enclosure.
- It is not by there, she blew.
- Yes, it is the way to go to seek my son.
He had said to her that his son was very sick in the mountain and that he needed a sledge to carry him at his place, on the other side of the crests of the mountains of North.
She does not know why she believed him. She does not know why she followed him in this way. She did not know anything anymore of the life, suddenly.
Then she let herself carry by the will of this old man who spoke so gently and always looked at her in the depths of her eyes.
Her soul rested then in the vase of her belly and the heart went up to her throat with its tears wedged behind her eyelids. But curiously, these tears had the taste of the salt of the earth, of this earth which she guessed sometimes happy in the heat of the nights, when the noises of outside did not come through the shutters anymore.
She pulled the carriage with strength to unstick it from the snow.
He put a pace one in front of the other, as it must be done in the unsure grounds. His boots were inserted in the miry peat and he felt the water below which would have liked to take the place of the earth.
He kept a close watch on the young girl who struggled under the weight of the carriage. He had left her this weight because she had to struggle thus. The dark ball which invaded her head must no longer radiate in her fibers of life and he had taken care of it when he had put his hands on her forehead. The effort was necessary for this young girl and he gave it to her in gift of his infinite kindness. So, he had said to her to take the heaviest sledge, the one that her brother had made out of solid wood to keep himself busy in the evenings in winter.
Her also, she put a pace in front of the other. However, she missed to know where her road of the life led her. She progressed such as a courageous and nice donkey. She progressed so and he blew the rhythm of his life to her. She felt it. She carried the head higher on the shoulders and the neck seemed to grow. To grow! She will be with him two days: it is what he has decided. He has two more days to make her grow. He has two days to teach her how to pray.
For the moment, she must exhaust her body which has kept too much things since years. He has kept the memory of the men. It is too much. Her destiny is not to open this book. Her body cannot stand it anymore! Thus it exhausts her.
- The one which waits for me at the top must know, him!
- What do you say, Grandfather? , the young girl blew.
He had said out aloud. The sounds had passed his lips! By all the Kamis, how his concern must be important for thus letting himself go!
- Nothing, this is nothing, my daughter…. It is not too heavy?
- I have the practice, you know Grandfather.
The old man smiles to her and she felt reinvigorated under these eyes which always seemed to encourage her.
“Yes, Him at the top must know why the body exhausted by the load of the memory must become exhausted even more to become again a container for the soul. He Knows, it is certain!”
He has felt all the day the breathing of this man whom he brought back to the life of the Men this night. He has known that he must take his time now and to hustle nothing. The destiny put him on the road of this young girl. Then he has instilled force in this woman because surely she is may be another thing that a woman of labor. He has thus fractured the iron circle of the spirit. Now, she starts to breathe in her belly.
- It is well thus, he blew… It is well.
- What do you say thus, Grandfather? You mutter all alone now!
The old man bit his lips. He had just come out of him and that could be serious.
“By all the Gods and Demons! Am I then so concerned about this man under his rock?.”
- Still an effort, we are almost arrived, he said.
- The sledge hardly goes through the path, she answered.
He laughs with an acute sound which vibrated between the summits and she was astonished by that. That has made her rediscovering the impressive silence of the forest which she had forgotten in the effort of the climb.
- It is always necessary to enlarge the way, he said. You will learn, my daughter that the path is always too narrow.
She shrugged her shoulders and he fell silent on the new words which were at the edge of his lips.
“She is not yet ready to hear”.
He made his look go in front of him and sought his landmarks. He now knew the Man very close by the vibrations in his belly. Between both of them, the supreme bond was squeezed up now and he noticed that he was anxious. What he had been able to see of this man in the greyness of the small day was terrifying!
- How the Gods could send that to me!
- What do you say again, Grandfather?
- Nothing… It is over there that I have left him… wait for me there. I will attach him with the cord and you will pull.
- You really do not want me to go with you? The descent is stiff. Hey, are you sure that he is not injured with such a fall? The slope is sacrament stiff and all these rocks which are out of the snow…
- No… I have already told you that he had the disease and that one must not touch him.
- Yes, leprosy… You told me. But my brother told me…
- Leave your brother tranquil and do what I tell you!
The young girl shrugged her shoulders and sat down on the edge of the sledge. She searched under the covers and gave the old man the roller of narrowly tight rope. Then she made another package of two fine covers that the old man put on his shoulder.
- You really do not want me to go down with you?
He shook the head and smiled to her. She came on his look and he then seizes her at the bottom of her orbits. The mouth of the young girl was closed and blood withdrew from her lips.
- Well, she blew… I stay here.
A languor had just taken her. A sudden tiredness. She had wanted to lie down on the covers.
- rest yourself, he said. You have made an effort and in a moment, there will be another one even bigger.
She leaned in the bottom of the sledge. Her look followed the back of the old man automatically. There was no more noise in the forest.
“The leprosy! … Of course.”
He has to invent this story. The reality is much more alarming. A white! It will be necessary that he rolls the body of the man up in the covers. Nothing must exceed at the sight of the others, neither the face, nor the hands.
“Nothing must be seen of this monster! By all the Kamis, it is this monster there that the Gods send to him like successor!”
He shivers about it while letting himself slip towards the flat stone which shelters the body of the man.
He knows now that the danger will be constant, a danger far larger than all those which he has dealt with in his life of Master of the family SHIN.
He knows that he slips himself now towards a single destiny into the History of the Men and that makes him quivering because the danger will not be only “the others”, but above all this man there… This monster!
His odor is strong and unpleasant. All the space under the stone seems impregnated of this sour acidity.
He breathes now and he slips next to him.
Then the answer of the Gods arrives to him and the tears come to his eyes. It is a gentleness which ascends in his legs and radiates in his belly. The Love is now in his heart. Under his eyelids the light is also there.
The Gods have just spoken!
It is well this monster there that the Men have sought to kill and that him must save of his madness because he will be the new Instructor.
“The New Master of SHIN! …”
Now he is certain and knows that his life has just been irremediably related to this monster which will become his son.