What worried Mrs Mercer suddenly took shape. Into the little room came a rush of ghosts. She sat down opposite him and both felt cold.
That Katya, she said.
Yes, he said. They’ve found her in the ice.
I see, said Mrs Mercer. After a while she said: I see you found your book.
Yes, he said. It was behind the pickles. You must have put it there.
I suppose I must, she said.
It was an old Cassell’s. There were words in the letter, in the handwriting, he could not make out and words in the dictionary he could hardly find, in the old Gothic script; still, he had understood.
Years since I read a word of German, he said. Funny how it starts coming back to you when you see it again.
I daresay, said Mrs Mercer. The folded cloth lay between them on the polished table.
It’s this global warming, he said, that we keep hearing about.
What is? she asked.
Why they’ve found her after all this time. Though he was the one with the information his face seemed to be asking her for help with it.
The snow’s gone off the ice, he said. You can see right in. And she’s still in there just the way she was.
I see, said Mrs Mercer.
She would be, wouldn’t she, he added, when you come to think about it.
Yes, said Mrs Mercer, when you come to think about it I suppose she would.
Again, with his face and with a slight lifting of his mottled hands he seemed to be asking her to help him comprehend.
Well, she said after a pause during which she drew the cloth towards her and folded it again and then again. Can’t sit here all day. I’ve got my club.
Yes, he said. It’s Tuesday. You’ve got your club.
She rose and made to leave the room but halted in the door and said: What are you going to do about it?
Do? he said. Oh nothing. What can I do?
All day in a trance. Katya in the ice, the chaste snow drawn off her.
He cut himself shaving, stared at his face, tried to fetch out the twenty-year-old from under his present skin. Trickle of blood, pink froth where it entered the soap.
He tried to see through his eyes into wherever the soul or spirit or whatever you call it lives that doesn’t age with the casing it is in.
The little house oppressed him. There were not enough rooms to go from room to room in, nowhere to pace.
He looked into the flagstone garden but the neighbours either side were out and looking over.
It drove him only in his indoor clothes out and along the road a little way to where the road went down suddenly steeply and the estate of all the same houses was redeemed by a view of the estuary, the mountains and the open sea.
He stood there thinking of Katya in the ice. Stood there so long the lady whose house he was outside standing there came out and asked: Are you all right, Mr Mercer?
Fine, he said, and saw his own face mirrored in hers, ghastly.
I’m too old, he thought. I don’t want it all coming up in me again. We’re both of us too old. We don’t want it all welling up in us again.
But it had begun.