The Memory of Love
It was Thursday and I was making soup. By now it was an established routine. Greek fish soup this week. I was boiling the vegetables, and steam covered the window above the sink. The kitchen faced the beach with an unobstructed view of the endless sea, which at that moment was just a grey blur behind the film of condensation. I had cleaned the fish, three small snapper, and I was making the avgolemono, the lemon and egg sauce. The lemons were scruffy to look at, but as I cut them the fragrance filled the kitchen. The lemons from the tree behind the house seemed to have more taste and a more intense smell than any I had ever come across anywhere else. I whipped the egg whites, folded the yolks into them and then I added the lemon juice. I chopped the parsley, and it was all prepared. All that remained was to allow the vegetables to boil till they had softened, add the fish, and then at the last minute stir in the avgolemono and parsley. I had time to go and sit on the doorstep for a moment. I kept a hammock and a few rattan chairs on the deck, but I seldom used them. I preferred the doorstep.
‘Marianne,’ I said to myself. ‘Marianne.’
Lately, I had felt the need to taste the name. To listen to it. Retrieve it, perhaps. It was still a strange experience – I didn’t quite own it yet. Or perhaps it was mine but in another, distant time, locked inside another room. I had made it a habit to try it several times every day. I couldn’t quite remember when I began, but it had been some time. I wondered how it would sound to others: a middle-aged woman sitting on the doorstep of her house repeating her own name. But there was nobody around. Just Kasper, my ginger cat; his slowly blinking green eyes looked as if they had seen everything, accepted everything. He sat beside me, close, but not too close, still in his own sphere. As we both liked it, I think. Beside each other, but separate. As always, he sat calm and patient while I did my strange exercises. Or whatever one might have called them.
‘Marianne,’ I repeated. It was odd to feel how my body responded to the sound. After all these years.
It felt hot. The colour was red, and the name burned on my tongue before it lifted off my lips like a flame.
Marion, on the other hand, fell from my lips light blue, almost grey. Pale and cool. And it dissolved instantly.
I stood and walked across the deck and down the stairs onto the sand. The dry grass on the dunes rustled in the light wind. I turned and looked at my house for a moment. The small weatherboard structure had become an integral part of my own physical self and I rarely consciously regarded it. I took a few steps back and looked at it where it sat on the sand in front of me. There was sand inside and out. It no longer bothered me and I had long given up all efforts at keeping it off the floors. I spent most of my time outside and I liked the idea that the distinction between inside and outside had become increasingly blurred. It was as if the house and all it contained was slowly dissolving and would eventually become one with the sand it sat on. These days I walked barefoot across the threshold without wiping the sand off my feet. It had taken me a long time to reach this state.
I knew that most people would say the house needed paint. But I liked it as it was, polished by the wind and the salt from the sea. It had become a soft grey, in some lights almost silvery, and the boards were smooth and soft to the touch.
‘Absolute beachfront ’ was what it had said in the brochure. It was a selling point then. Not so any more, I suspected. At least not on this coast with soft and low dunes, only just rising over the surface of the sea. The view had remained the same, of course. Impossible to ignore, even after all these years. The never-ending sea, subtly changing colour and character from one moment to the next. Never the same, yet always the same. Even before any mention of the greenhouse effect and melting polar ice, the dunes had provided a shifting, uncertain base for a house. October storms often swallowed large chunks of sand and washed them out to sea. I didn’t mind the sense of uncertainty. The precariousness of my existence. That lingering subconscious aware- ness of the slowly rising tide that would one day prise my house off the ground and sweep it out to sea. Or the giant wave that would lift it up in one quick rolling thunder. I preferred that scenario. And I would concede. I had convinced myself that I was ready.
But till that day I was going to stay put. I walked along the beach every morning. When I had first returned to make my home in this place I had started my walks as something to give my existence some shape and form. Or perhaps as something to cling to. But the tentative, dutiful walks had eventually become purposeful routine, in a way also part of my work. If you could call it that. It was during my morning walks that I gathered my material. Driftwood. Stones and shells. Nuts and seeds. feathers and bones. All polished by the sea and soft in my hands, each piece in its own way. There had been no particular purpose behind the gathering at first. My eyes would absent-mindedly set on a piece of wood rolling in the foam at the edge of the withdrawing sea and I would bend down and pick it up. Keep it in my hand while I walked on. Or it could be a stone, always more colourful where it lay on the wet sand than dry in my hand. But soft, always. Soothing. Later I had begun to carry a basket, and over time the gathering had become purposeful. It had changed the nature of my walks of course. They were no longer walks, really, but expeditions. Hunts. They continued to occupy my time and my thoughts.
“[A] deeply poetic novel...and a credit to Olsson’s narrative technique….Fans of Jennifer Haigh and Heidi W. Durrow will appreciate this darkly emotional novel.”—Booklist
“Exquisitely rendered….quietly gripping.”—Cleveland Plain Dealer