He loved her.
It was the kind of love that starts in adolescence as an unquenchable yearning then swells to a torrent sweeping away everything that could have been, leaving only what can be built together. And he was stronger with her because she would not quietly suffer his whining, but held a bright light to his strength and made him see that he could perform miracles. She told him everything in unrepeatable secrets like tufts of lint that rose on thermals and flashed white-hot through window streaked sunlight, trite and unromantic to anyone but him. For him they were immortality. Because she would whisper that unlike most people he could make real his dreams as easily as morning coffee.
He believed what she said over everything else told to him.
And that is what he hated. For while he adored the space between her breaths, he felt his plans dissolving and could not bear to reconstruct himself in an image that included her as his guide. There was too much to do. She didn't share the passion he had for desolation. She would not want to endure the struggle he knew would define him. So he hoped that because she had helped him understand how to realize his strength she would easily accept the consequence of her creation.
On the night before he left he made her cry and shout that she would never speak to him again. He felt that pain as any lover would, and climbed up into the clear cool nothing of night to the top of the scoreboard at the high-school football stadium, and there painted his words so that even while his plane cruised seven miles high across the ocean, everyone in the stands would see them and know that in the end his courage had come from her.
He piled high his bravery by imagining what she would say in this situation or that. Survived when he shouldn’t have by remembering the high-school her, aglow like a ghost in the blue-white street lamp glare, her eyes sparkling in the front seat of his car, hip to hip, telling him that he should never worry. He was strong and everything would turn out okay. Kissing him the way that made him feel connected to a world much bigger and emptier than that on the street in front of his house.
So it was when he joined his father and became a pipe-fitter on the drilling platform, the North Sea undulating in mountains between planes of rain that hissed like falling glass in the lightning strobes, that fear rose to his throat and he wrestled it thinking of her. The men gathering in the recreation pod could feel the city-sized platform of steel and concrete swaying in the waves, each wondering about the tensile strength and mean flexure-before-failure of the structure below them. Metal fatigue would eventually drown them. Improperly loaded ballast tanks would capsize the rig if the swells rose beyond maximum design limits.
“One of the engineers told me those lifeboats won’t make a bit of difference because when the girders give way, this baby’s going down like a ton of cement in a bathtub and we won’t have shit for time to get out,” he said, and he wasn’t sweating when he did. Taunting death brought it into his grasp.
The lightning burned blue ions in the air and the water slammed against the windows with violence that tore away its identity. Was it the squall? Had a wave one hundred feet high broken against the recreation pod’s walls? Was it the splash from the helicopter deck crashing into the swells? Their lives’ flames flickered under fluorescent lamps, the illusion of safety provided by an aluminum box perched amid the derricks and drill bits seventy feet above the ocean when calm, nearly level with the peaks of the wind torn swells, the wind, the breakers, and thunder beating against their shelter in a rumble that vibrated them to the soul.
At these times brave men would confess as if to God who would forgive them their frailties. They’d tell tales of their mortality, of mistakes that hurt so deeply half a lifetime couldn’t wash away the shame that stained the marrow. Strong men who would not give as much as a passing smile spoke of love now lost so that life itself dulled in the shadow of what could have been.
That’s when he remembered her. That’s when loving her made him regret he hadn’t stayed home and married her. Had kids and settled down. Got a job selling insurance or cars and worried about bills instead of survival. That’s when he pulled on his life vest, tossed his poker hand onto the table, pushed in his chips and offered her to them. The sound of her whisper when she made him burn. The scent of her perfume. How she taught him where to touch and how to move.
He’d pull her picture from his wallet—a thumb-sized photo he’d cut out of his high-school yearbook the day he left home. He didn’t care if they thought she was beautiful. She’d made him feel his world could hold great beauty, and so was his muse, the architect of his adventure, and goddamn the man who’d speak one word against her in jest, for he had no sense of humor when it came to her.
That’s when it hurt him that she would never be his. Because he would not have her, he took nothing instead, and that pain was greater than the fear of death, and so drove him to the limits, the needle banging against the stops.
The oil men knew him and had seen her picture, but only when the weather got bad or the fires too hot. They knew what he would do and wouldn’t stop him, as ridiculous as he was when he got scared. There were prearranged excuses to the foremen if he wound up dead or missing.
There is an understanding between men who work in the blank spaces of the world that each must do what his life compels him to do free of criticism. Each would live his own life, so there was little more than a passing grunt when he went out into the storm.
He was saturated the instant he left the pod. Pressed against the corrugated steel wall by the wind he felt his way to the machine shop, and there lit the acetylene torch, tanks strapped to his back, the wand burning while he held it lengthwise in his teeth he climbed the ladder to the point in the steel rigging where the slightest misstep would commit him to the hurricane and the sea.
The wind howled like hundreds of ropes sliding through their traces on a sailboat cut loose. The rain slid sideways and stung where it hit him. Lightning flashed like arcs of plasma from dying generators on sinking ships. Cursing the God who’d made him roam in the places in the world left void, he played the blue beam of flame across the tubular steel imprinting his words for her.
And when the storm passed and bravery raised itself to full-staff, his friends would slap him on the back pointing upward to all the times he’d written her in flame. While the storms wouldn’t sink them, his welder’s graffiti would, they’d say.
She was everywhere, then, and would be everywhere he was.
When a fellow pipe-fitter invited him to spend his saved bonus money to take an adventure, he couldn’t resist and found himself above the Hillary Step, twenty-seven thousand feet above the sea he worked, breathing air so thin the birds would suffocate, sucking life from the nothing of almost vacuum augmented by the contents of a ten-pound green bottle, he climbed the ladders mounted there and listened to the story.
As he fought to lift his boots out of ten inches of snow so to plant them nine inches ahead, it was all he could do to concentrate against the agony his drive imposed upon him. He was climbing because he had to, not because he knew why. And his friend needed to speak so that neither of them would misunderstand that the need to know wasn’t the knowing.
“Don’t waste your breath,” he’d said to his climbing partner two-thousand feet prior. On the mountain every bit of oxygen was needed to keep life burning. But his friend was a talker and needed to speak to be real.
“On Apollo fourteen Edgar Mitchell was on his way home from the moon,” his friend said, gasping between words, fighting upward with each step. It took him nearly half an hour to say it. “He had an epiphany when he looked out the window and saw the earth hanging in space all alone. It looked like a memory God had forgotten. Like an unfinished painting tossed in the attic in the artist’s disgust. All of us. Everything we were. Everything we are and would ever be was on that microscopic fleck of life in so much nothing. We’re condemned to roam in nothing. No meaning. All our lives we try to make marks on it, but it’s hard, like diamond.”
They got to the top, and uttered their prayers and astonishment.
“What…what was the epiphany?” he asked on his last breaths of bottled oxygen as he touched the Nepalese flags that strained faded and torn in the jet stream. “Mitchell’s.”
His friend said without looking at him, “That there was no such thing as nothing. Only us.”
He had no reply to that, but he knew he’d remember it because of where he was when he’d heard it. He knelt in the snow and traced some words with his gloved finger, and then they went down for the rest of their lives. He never again asked his friend about the epiphany in space. Presumed it was the machinations of a brain starved for oxygen. Then he went outward again, away from everything again.
“I don’t know why,” he told his friend, sitting in the airport in Hong Kong, for one of the numerous legs back to the country on his passport. He would have to find another temporary home. Didn’t want to go back to the oil platforms. “All of this. Why?”
“Do you wonder why you’re doing it—running from place to place?” his friend asked, and he told him he didn’t know.
“I can’t explain it. Sometimes things just don’t feel right. I go, then. I have to.”
“Maybe you’re looking for something. Maybe someone.”
“Yes, someone,” he admitted.
“You should come with me, then,” the friend said. “I’m going down to the ice this season. Do you remember the foreman from the rig on the North Sea? He’s down there and he’s hiring. Can you still sweat a joint?”
He told him he could, and when he asked about the ice, the friend said, “It’s the most wonderful experience you’ll ever have. It’s out there. Mountains like McKinley. An ice cap like Greenland. Icebergs. So much nothing you’ll think you’re in heaven. The last frontier. Nothing and no one can touch you. Immortality.” He followed his friend’s outstretched hand as it panned across the airport lounge painting Antarctica in imagination. And he saw it.
He thought about it on the plane, remembering stories he’d heard while on the sea and the mountains. They were stories of a continent that rejected human life. Outer space on earth. Antarctica.
He said to his friend on the flight, “I think I’ve always wanted to go there. Even when I didn’t know what it was, I think it’s what I was looking for.”
And so in a short time he found himself stepping from a military transport onto a brilliant plane of ice so flat and eternal he was sure he’d stepped onto the clouds above Annapurna. He felt a long familiar churn in his stomach and was happy the world could still take his breath away. But here the feeling was more of fear than delight. He felt like a cat walking on a clear window, unaware of the physics of glass that could hold him aloft, feeling like he was flying or falling. Floating in awareness.
In the distance Mt. Erebus pushed the horizon upward, smooth and rounded like the breast of a lover beside him. The azure sky was so dark it seemed he could fall into it and become lost between the planets. Walking was nonsense, because each step in this eternity was exactly like the other, and nothing would get closer or further but only provide an expenditure of energy in illusion of motion. It seemed everything he always wanted had been handed to him in a single instant. He didn’t know what to do with it.
The bus brought him from the Cartesian plane of the sea ice where the transport landed to a series of brown hills dotted with warehouse like buildings of McMurdo, all painted in earth tones that made them seem as dirty as the frozen trails that served as roads between them. After his orientation he changed into his civvies and went to the bar to see what life he could find worthy of escape.
The barroom was lit by dim yellow incandescent bulbs and the reds and blues of neon advertising signs. People clustered around formica-topped aluminum tables, sitting on torn vinyl chairs borrowed from the ‘60s and never returned. The sour smell of spilled beer drifted between hamburger smoke and the sweet of buttered yellow popcorn.
And there she was. In a crowd of people clustered in front of the bar, he saw only her. It could be no mistake. Though bearing twenty years she had not so much gotten older but rather, developed a patina the way an ageless statue becomes an irreducible part of the landscape. Her hair had tiny streaks of white. Her face was red and weathered in lines that framed her in a perpetual smile.
What he wanted the moment he saw her was to take her in his arms, forfeit the rest of the game and go home. Find a home where they could live together and get old. He’d been running from her forever just to find her in the deepest nowhere he could lose himself.
He couldn’t think of what to say when he got to her. He was in a dream he’d had many nights on the oil platform. Tongue-tied, he felt something wet in his eyes when he touched her arm and said, “It’s me,” because in the dream she knew him.
“It’s me,” he said again when she turned, her eyes narrow, brow furrowed as if ready to fight. When she refused to answer him he scrambled, took the picture from his wallet. “This is you,” he said, smiling. “Right?”
She took the picture from him, and he realized it was the first time it had been out of his hands. She said, “Amazing,” then she looked at him, scanned his face, touched his shirt as if she expected her hand to pass through him.
“So what are you up to?” she asked him. It wasn’t the question he expected. It didn’t match the intensity of the fire that moved inside him and so he was disappointed.
“Been a few places,” he said. “They needed someone here so I got the job,” he said, instead of saying how much he loved her, instead of lifting her out of her seat and carrying her back to the bright plane of white and onto the aircraft so they could spend the rest of their lives together.
“That’s good,” she said. “I’ll be here all season. I’m working with a grantee in the lab. We’re part of a science project studying water pollution. What about you?”
“I’m a plumber. Be here all summer,” he said, hurting so much he thought he’d never recover. “Do you remember me? I mean? You know who I am, right?”
She said his name like it was a city she’d once visited. Recanted the memories he cherished as if they were tedious poems she had to memorize as a schoolgirl and couldn’t forget.
He snapped away the picture from between her fingers. Told her he was sorry. Made a mistake. He was looking for someone else. And then he fled the bar, exiting into the perpetual Antarctic summer daylight as if to lose himself in the ice and dirt. Now he knew why fate had brought him here. Forever he’d been trying to master the nothing of the great uninhabited spaces and finally, here, it would turn him to the nothing he sought.
When he got to the place where the volcanic soil met the frozen sea he stopped and looked out, asked for his life back even though he knew it was futile. He’d given it away.
Behind him he heard boots crunching against the pebbles and frozen puddles.
He didn’t have to turn to know it was her. He could feel her the way a campfire warmed his back on cold mountain treks.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “I didn’t mean…I didn’t mean whatever I did. Are you upset?”
He told her he wasn’t, praying she’d see through him. “It’s just, I’ve been thinking about you. And then there you were. I didn’t expect it.”
“I’m surprised you remembered me,” she said.
“Well, I do,” he said, wondering how to tell her he’d built her from a memory of twenty years ago. “I was sort of in love with you,” he said, having to say the words “I”, “love”, and “you” to her in the same sentence.
“We were very young,” she said, then, “Look at the cloud of gas over Erebus.”
He saw the column of white protruding from the top of the rounded blue hulk in the distance like the smoke from a train in an old John Wayne western. It meant nothing to him. There was nothing about it he needed to know. Maybe he didn’t need to know anything anymore.
She said, “It’s not steam you know. Volcanic gasses. Erebus is an active volcano.”
He said nothing, and when she started talking again the words were about pressure ridges on the sea ice, seal holes and penguins. He looked into her eyes and felt the way he did when she told him he could be someone if he wanted. He could have anything he wanted. If only he’d wanted her more than the dreams he thought would make him happy.
“I made a really big mistake a long time ago,” he said, interrupting her, knowing with the hindsight of an adult he should have wanted her instead of the quest.
When she stopped her monologue her face softened, and he hoped she understood him because he didn’t know how to say what he felt without seeming possessed.
“You’ve been carrying around my picture…” she said, and he nodded, wanting to kiss her. Years ago it would have been trivial. He’d just close the distance between them. She’d shut her eyes and tilt her head and they’d touch. Now it was as if he had to cross mine fields.
And in that instant he regretted everything he’d ever done that took him away.
She held his hand, led him onto the ice to a line of red and green flags extended from the shore and disappeared in the distance. They walked onto the white and saw the spires and dull rounded sides of extinct volcanoes rising like blue dreams on the horizon.
“It takes time,” she said. “I can’t…I mean I didn’t expect to see you here.”
“I did,” he said. “I always hoped that when I got to the end of everything, you’d be there waiting for me. It’s selfish, I know. But that’s how I know it’s over, whether you remember me or not.”
She showed him Black and White islands, asked him if he’d ever read of the great explorers. Shackelton. Scott. Mawson. Did he know who they were?
He did but he’d never read the books.
And she told him she remembered that when they were young she always thought he’d wind up a great explorer. She remembered crying when he left. Mostly, she remembered never hearing from him again. Then she turned and started walking back to the brown rock and the buildings scattered in the volcanic hills as if she intended to leave him standing clueless on the ice forever.
He followed, started to tell her he didn’t know how to get in touch with her, that’s why she hadn’t heard from him. It wasn’t malice. Or perhaps it was he thought that after all of it she wouldn’t want him interfering with the life she’d developed without him.
She walked silently, and when the quiet got uncomfortable told him about her life. How she’d left three husbands and two children back in the world. Her son was with her first husband, and her daughter at a boarding school in Boston.
“We only see each other in summer,” she told him. “In winter I’m down here and she’s at school. In summer we play all day.”
The third husband had never been divorced. She loved him deeply and forgave him his transgressions, but unlike the other marriages, this time she was the one who was ready to stay. He was the one who’d left.
“I suppose it’s stupid thinking anything will change. It’s probably over but I don’t want to believe it. When things happen to a person over and over, they should learn from it.” When she stopped and looked at him he wanted to kiss her again, but stopped himself.
Then he told her of the things he’d done after he left her that day. The oilrigs and Everest. Trekking in Nepal. Kilimanjaro. Riding with the Mongols through the Gobi. Crawling through grave robbers’ tunnels in the Valley of the Kings. Each adventure engaged him to other people who brought him new adventures. He got further and further away until he got to the ice, the furthest he could go.
But it was as if his words bounced off her.
When they got back to town she told him she’d see him around and left him in front of three large brown dorm buildings where a kiosk stood in the frozen mud.
Time passed. He went to work. Retrofitted the hoods in the lab with sprinklers and modern ventilation. Helped lay fuel line through the ice for the planes landing at Williams field. He worked in trenches in the permafrost that took weeks to gouge with backhoes and steam.
All the while he knew she was near. His time became a prison sentence. To have her so close and out of reach was torturous and confining. Once again the feeling overcame him. He needed to be away. When he found an old trekking partner who was a part of a science team looking for help, he volunteered with his boss’s permission. Though he was one of nearly a hundred volunteers, he was the only one with both climbing and engineering experience, so he got the job. He was to leave the next day.
When he met her at the bar the evening before he left she said to him, “You don’t want your freedom, you want absolution.”
“From what? I haven’t done anything,” he complained.
She lifted a drink to her mouth and took a sip, then said, “That’s exactly what I’m saying. You’ve been everywhere but you haven’t done anything that counted and you want someone to forgive you. Well, buster. Nobody can forgive you for that. It’s all right here,” she said, and she touched her temple.
“I don’t need to forgive myself,” he said, feeling a little peeved. In the weeks he’d been there he’d done his best to meet her. But somehow in the small town at McMurdo Sound she’d managed to avoid him. She must have been avoiding him. The place wasn’t big enough to not be found if someone was looking. Now that he’d found her, she was punishing him for it.
“Some people are like dogs,” she blurted. “Did it ever occur to you? They go from place to place making their mark like pissing on trees.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. “Or are you just trying to make me feel stupid?”
Now she acted drunk, but she probably wasn’t. She said, “Look, you have your Edgar Mitchell story. That one about you and your friend on Everest. Astronauts. You should have been one, you’re just as irresponsible. Did you know the one about Eugene Cernan? He was the last man on the moon. Do you know what he did? Right before he got back in his space ship to come back to earth he knelt and wrote his daughters name in the moon dust with his finger. Because there’s no weather there that name will be in the dust for freaking ever, unless a meteor hits it. Tracy. Now some astronaut’s kid named Tracy owns all that primordial nothing. A whole planet, for god’s sake. And what good does it do her?”
He tried to smile. “She looks up every night and knows her name is there,” he said. “She’s the only one in the world who can do that. Someone who loved her…”
“Oh, cut it out,” she said, stopping him.
“What do you want from me?” he said. “You just want to make me mad?”
“So your mountain climbing friend, the one who brought you here, he told me what you were doing. Writing things all over the place wherever you went like a dog marking his territory. Did you think if you went far enough you could own the world?”
The anger spread in him like a brushfire. He clenched a fist and brought it down onto the bar soft enough to keep anyone from noticing, but hard enough the speed of it made her jump.
“Did he tell you what I wrote?” he said, praying she didn’t know. If she was making fun of him--if after all these years she would mock what meant so much to him, then there would be only blackness ahead.
“No,” she said, “But I know what it was. You were marking your territory. Writing your name.”
He thrust a finger out from a fist and pointed toward her nose. “I was in love with you for a long time,” he said, feeling his throat close so it would soon become hard to speak. He calculated and knew he’d stop talking before it got that bad. “I used to think of you. I was stupid. I was hoping…shit. I guess I was hoping way too much.”
He got up so fast his barstool fell and he had to pick it up.
While he did she said, “Yeah, well you left me, you son of a bitch. You left me sitting there without saying a word. You thought of me? Since when? You think you’re just gonna waltz in here and take me out of my life? What is it with you? Don’t you care about anyone else?”
There wasn’t any sense listening. He went back to his room and packed his gear. In the morning without sleep he went to helo ops with his duffle bags and got on the helicopter with the scientists going to Mt. Erebus.
The sea ice passed beneath them like a rumpled bed sheet, and soon they could see the brown earth poking from beneath the white. And the land rose in blues and browns until the camp appeared, the tents like breadcrumbs on the tremendous volcanic slope. When he got out of the helicopter amid the snow caves and blue white chimneys of ice he felt he was back where he belonged, broaching the thin air that could never be home to anyone who cared.
The science team had already heard about the fight. In McMurdo every event diffused through the population with absolute transparency. When the first dinner was finished in the camp hut one scientist asked him about it while they washed the dishes in a bucket of dirty lukewarm water. She said she knew her, and had spoken to her the night before.
He said, “I don’t know what I did. I thought…I guess everything I think is wrong.” The wind fluttered against the walls of the hut building. In the desolation it sounded like the ghost of the earth itself had come to call.
“Well that’s just like a man,” she said. “You don’t even want to try to figure it out, do you?”
He threw up his hands, splashing dirty dishwater. “Is there some kind of secret code I’m not getting?”
“Just frigging ask her,” the scientist said.
“Ask her what?” he insisted, his mind swimming between possibilities, none of which felt real. “What am I supposed to do? Is this some sort of puzzle? I’m just living my life. I’m not the one making things complicated.”
The scientist threw down her dishrag, took him by the arm, and dragged him through the worn wooden door of the hut. The frigid air burned his wet hands. Before them the mountainside extended in whites and browns to a razor thin horizon that sliced into the sky so dark its blue faded to black at the zenith.
“Damnit. This isn’t rocket science. Tell me what you see,” she said, her words torn on the wind.
“The mountain. The ice. Rocks. A steaming vent.”
She shrugged her shoulders and rolled her eyes. He followed her back into the hut, disgusted. “Are we done now?” he asked. “If so I’m going back to my tent.”
“It’s nothing,” said the scientist.
“I said—It’s nothing. There’s nothing out there and it stays nothing until you’re in it. Same as here,” she said, tapping her chest. And then tapping her head, “Same as here.”
He looked at her as if she were spouting mathematical equations. He had no idea what it meant.
She said, “And then you go there, and it becomes the world. But you have to ask her. You have to tell her that’s what you want. Ask her to be part of your world or it stays nothing. That's what you have now.”
“I don’t know how to do that,” he said. “I’m not good at that.”
“Don’t be a jerk,” she said. “You’ve been doing it all over the goddamned planet.”
“What if…?” he stopped himself. What the hell was he telling this scientist he hardly knew?
But she answered the question he couldn’t bring himself to ask. “What if she says, ’no?’ What if she doesn’t give a shit? You go on with the rest of your life, that’s what. There is so much nothing everywhere it’s not worth talking about it until you put your heart into it. You just get on with it.”
In his tent he stared at the blue and yellow nylon that riffled in the wind above his face. After a while it became tedious to stop people from speaking over his head, so he’d just nod and affirm verbally, understanding nothing, begging time to set him free. That’s what he’d done with the scientist. He needed to get away from her so he could clear his head and think.
This was different than thinking about other problems he’d had. This felt like the maw of an ice cave opening in his chest. It was bad and everywhere, and he wanted it out. Away.
So he did what he was accustomed to doing when the fear rose to his throat. He put on as many layers of foul-weather clothing as he had. There was a pair of snowshoes in the main camp hut, and he donned them and trekked over the mountain slope, stamping down the snow and ice in the pattern he’d made on oilrig girders in flame.
He finished by morning, and when the first helo landed with supplies he demanded to be redeployed. When they asked him how far, he told them all the way. North. He’d been to the last vacant place in his world and wasn’t needed anymore. He’d go back to where he started years ago and try to make sense of the rest of his life.
Before they sent him off Mt. Erebus on the same helo that had landed, the scientist asked him what he’d done on his walk and he told her if only to spite her. She smiled and told him she knew he would. He was too predictable.
“Just out marking my territory,” he said.
“She’ll get this one, you know,” the scientist told him. “When the sun angle is right the ridges in the snow will reflect. Probably around four o’clock local time when the sun is about there,” she said, pointing to the sky. “Tell her to get some binoculars and climb to the top of Ob Hill. She’ll see it if you made it big enough.”
“Could you tell her for me?” he said. “I won’t be around long enough. Tell her it isn’t nothing anymore.”
When he got on the helo, he shook hands with the scientist, thanked her and was gone from Mt. Erebus the day after he arrived.
That evening he was packed and sent north on the next transport out.
In New Zealand he spent several days trying to acclimate to world full of everybody and everything. It was hard to be needed where everything was known and well defined.
He couldn’t help but feel sorry for himself, and the beer made it worse. He sat in a pub in Christchurch watching people in the Antarctic program anticipating their trips down to the ice, and up from the lost continent. Their conversations twisted around him like smoke and he caught words and sentences from each and put them together in his head as if it were dialog from a very long and disjointed performance as strange as his life.
All the while he watched the bubbles in his glass form on nothing out of nothing and rise to the surface to burst and return to the void from which they’d appeared.
Then he was ready to tell the world he’d made he no longer had to be a part of it. He could stop running now. He would materialize as if out of thin air and become someone like everyone else, then disappear like everyone else.
It seemed a punishment worse than death. Maybe death was better.
He was thinking that when she sat next to him and touched his hand.
“Gene?” she said. “Are you in there?” She tapped his head like she was knocking on a door that wouldn’t open.
“Where are you going?” he asked, without looking up.
“I came to find you,” she answered. “I’ve got…I gave up everything to go to the ice. Now I gave up everything to leave.”
The fear inside him changed color so the deep reds and blacks of pain blossomed to white ice and blue mountainsides. He imagined a horizon razor sharp that cut the sky from the eternal white plain upon which everything was possible. All of it was inside of him and could live.
All it needed was him. And all he needed was her.
She said, “I saw it. I saw what you wrote. You wrote it on Antarctica. You marked the whole damned continent and I couldn’t stay there anymore.”
He said. “But I was leaving it to you. It was supposed to be yours. All of it is yours.”
She slid onto the barstool next to him, slung an arm over the back of his neck, and touched her head to his.
“I love you, Tracy,” he said, turning nothing to everything. “I’m sorry for leaving you behind. But if you wanted to, if there was some way…”
And he turned his face and kissed her the way he wanted to on the ice, the way he’d wanted from the day he left her.