The snowfall intensified to a thick blizzard and Walter stood up from where he sat and began walking towards nowhere. For miles on it seemed the landscape was a stretch of white nothingness. Nothing existed in that space—no life, no vegetation, no sound—only time and space and the dim stream of light, potentially existing. As he walked through the haze, he better understood what it meant to be blind, or rather, partially so, the white veil arrested his vision. On the edge of the landscape, from a far distance, he saw what seemed to be a dotted form. A speck. Infinitesimal. Unclear. On the threshold of invisibility. He continued to walk towards it, as fast as his injured foot could take him; his wound smarted in the cold. It became clearer—the form—as he got closer and his pace slowed to cautious steps. It was a woman. Like Walter, she was bleeding, but from her forehead and temples. She looked ordinary, not particularly beautiful, but there was the issue of her skin—so pale and white, it seemed to camouflage with the encircling blizzard so that in the swirl of snow she was like an apparition. She stood there saying nothing although she had noticed Walter who had stopped walking and was staring at her, terrified by how ghostly she appeared, with skin so pallid, she looked like someone who ought to be dead. They stood, several inches apart, each one’s eyes locked on the other, as if in a staring combat.
He: staring at her.
She: staring back.
And Walter, who had never adored the idea of suspense, even in his youth, broke the mute spell between them.
“Are you alright?” he said. He took a few steps forward, deliberate and slow, trying to verify the tangibility of things.
“Are you alright,” he said again, louder this time. He approached with more courage, but still uncertain, half expecting her to morph into a deformed nymph and fly away.
“I don’t know,” she said, “there’s a lot of blood.” Her hands went to the wound on her forehead and she refrained when it flared up in pain under her touch. She winced. Walter walked over to her, untangled the scarf that hung to her neck and pressed it against the bleeding. He sat her down in the snow as he crouched over trying to stop the blood loss.
“Keep this to the wound,” he said as she took over pressing the scarf against her forehead.
“Were you with the plane? The one that crashed?” she said
“Yes. I woke in the rubble.”
He nodded, wondering how long they could stay there without freezing to death.
“I was flung into some trees, I think,” she relaxed the hand against her head. “I don’t really know.”
“Leave it. Keep the pressure applied,” Walter said.
She looked at him, suddenly abash by his curt remark.
“I’m a doctor,” he said.
“Where are we?” she asked.
Walter scanned the scenery—the declivity and ascension of land widening into an expanse of white earth. Far away mountains, barely visible in the mist, and trees—dense in some regions, sparse in others. And only then did he notice the bruises scattered around his arms and a deep laceration that cut across his left elbow. He could feel no pain from the cuts which were numbed in the cold.
“The Alps, maybe,” he said.
“I haven’t seen any others,” her eyes probed as if to ask.
“Neither have I.”
“We’re going to die in this cold.” She sounded ready, a readiness that was born out of a life which was so plagued by the absence of happiness that death seemed appropriate.
“We need to walk downwards, towards a lower elevation and hope that it’s warmer there,” he said.
He helped her to her feet and they began walking, the snow rasping under their shoes. The woman kept the scarf to the wound which was so drenched in blood it absorbed nothing. “You can let go,” Walter said. The blood had clotted, but the gash remained sore and painful.
“My name. It’s Walter.”
“Oh. Ellen,” she said.
“We’re going to have to find shelter, a make shift one maybe, it’s colder at night,” he said.
“We might get rescued.”
“We don’t know how early.” Or if at all, he would have said, should he not have inherited his father’s fine shade of optimism. They had walked a great length, the haze had thinned in that part of the forest, and there was a comforting chatter of birdsong in the distance.
“People camp in these mountains,” Ellen said.
“Never when it’s this cold.”
“We should check for supplies. Maybe some campers left some behind.”
“Hope we find any.”
And they did when Ellen saw beneath a heap of piled snow the outlines of a tent and, amongst other things: a water bottle, a wool coat, a mitten, no food. Possessions of long ago campers who went with the avalanche, seized by the tumbling snow. The pain left behind within a local space is contagious. Walter fumbled with the tent, trying to determine its shape. Ellen wandered on the edge of the woods, scanning the leaves, where berries were growing, ripe in the bloom.
“Are these edible?” Ellen said. She held a handful of the strawberries up to Walter who continued to struggle with the tent.
“I can’t be sure. Some of these fruits are poisonous.”
Ellen put one in her mouth and started to chew. Walter watched her, ready to dig her icy grave. A single death is better mourned than a mass. To be a member of a mass killing is to be robbed of honor, the death camouflaged in statistic.
“We’ll take these,” Walter said, pointing to the tent and the coat and the mittens. A wave of frost beat across the air and they shivered. Walter hoisted the coat on Ellen, wore the mittens and accepted a handful of berries. They moved side by side through the vision cancelling intensity of whiteness and soon they descended to a level in which sight was restored. Slowly thick sheets of snow gave way to verdant earth and shrubs that specked the landscape, dense plumes of smoke from a distance circled the air. They continued to move past grids of plant and shallow pools till Ellen toppled to the ground—the coat falling around her like a large cape—and started to cry. Walter dropped the supplies and crouched next to her, a thick layer of macrophage had glassed her wounds. Only when darkness had overshadowed the forest and they lay together sheltered by the thin nylon of tent did Walter slip a berry into his mouth, wince and say, “Were you with anyone?”
Ellen meddled with her hair and a crow screeched in the trees.
“A co-worker, we planned to visit Boston,” she said and her face became the colour of the sea.
Their bodies were parallel from each other, the tent was large enough for each person to stretch and avoid the sight of the other. A steady column of breeze reached them from the narrow slit at the entrance so that it numbed their toes.
“I was escaping myself,” Walter said. “I was avoiding morality.”
Ellen furrowed her brow to nudge her scars, traced them with her iced fingers and swiveled to her side.
“I’m tired,” she said
They fell mute. The forest continued to hum. To the rustle of snow on leaves and the echoes of the forest life they slipped into the bliss of dream event.