Gift

Eva had a gift; had had it, in fact, since she was born. No, before she was born. When she was a baby in the womb, visible only in the form of an occasional footprint on the drum of her mother’s belly, she could already call the elements to her. Sigrid, her long-suffering mother, felt Eva’s powers. She knew the baby was thirsty when she looked down at her hands and saw them shrunken to the bones, all the moisture sucked down into her sloshing centre.  When Eva became frustrated, trapped within the tight confines of the womb she had outgrown, Sigrid felt the sky darken, saw the clouds draw dangerously near as she closed the shutters against the roaring of the wind. Only when the sky had been rent by lightning and the clouds shredded and whipped away did the baby grow calm again. Sigrid crossed herself. Nobody but God would believe her, and she was too tired to bother God.

Eva had a lonely childhood. She lived with her family in a small village on the foothills of a mountain where the peak was covered with snow 10 months of the year and the village was threatened by avalanche every ski season. She had no idea why she struggled to make friends with the dozen or so local children and if she asked them, they would look at her nervously and go back to their play. The teachers in the staff room and the parents in the playground, however, were quite clear on the topic. Eva was weird, strange, odd, and a little not-right. Neurodiverse, said the school psychologist. Touched, said her grandma. Blessed, said the priest, in a way that didn’t require her to attend Sunday School. That particular Sunday, the candle flames had flared up towards the great arched ceiling and the thurible had grown red hot on its swinging chain as it spewed out clouds of smoke, more like a tiny forest fire than a censer. Eva ruminated on this later, as she washed up after Sunday dinner. While she calmed herself, small waves ran across the sink, creating a current that drew the cutlery to the surface and made it swim around the soapy water like so many stainless steel sharks. She was not an angry child. It’s just that she felt things deeply. She scrubbed at some hard residue on the side of a baking dish and wished to be someone else. What use is it to be able to call wind or water or fire when all you want is a friend? No use. That’s what. She banished the last of the dampness from her soaked apron and hung it up. It would have dried anyway, in time.

It was a film that changed her life. One Saturday afternoon, her father took Eva and her younger brother to the cinema to see Disney’s new release, Frozen. It was cold and grey outside, with the first wind of winter blowing and twisting around the cobbled streets. They had been getting on Sigrid’s nerves as well as each other’s, and this was Anders’ contribution to the peace of the household. He was not a massive fan of children’s cinema, but he valued calm relations and was willing to buy popcorn and fizzy drinks and sit in the dark for two hours if that’s what it took. Eva was transfixed. A film with girls who looked like her in a country that looked like theirs, and a hopping snowman for comic relief, would have been enough, but when she realised the heroine had magic power over ice and snow, something woke inside her. Not for her, the Elsa and Anna merchandise, the cheaply made blue princess dress, the snowflake-decorated slushie cup. This was sacred. She had found her purpose. The lonely, tortured, Elsa spoke straight to Eva’s soul. With her, she strode fearless up the mountain. Together they pulled the power of the aurora down from the night sky. With a gesture of their arms, an ice castle exploded out of the ground. They were invincible. Let it go. She would not hold back anymore. Eva burst out of the cinema like a piece of popcorn from its shell. Everything would change.

But is life ever that easy? All Eva needed to control was herself, and now here she was trying to control the world. She spent hours on the mountain making herself ill. The sullen snow ignored her until she became furious and then there were blizzards and deep, unsafe, rumblings in the permafrost, and she was forced off the mountain and back home to melt cheese in front of the fire and try to calm her pulse rate to control the flame. The delicate ice structures in the film eluded her, as surely as friendship. And still, the skies responded in their own way. Thunder. Gales of wind. A week of rain. Eva crept into her parents’ bed one morning for comfort. The girl was yellow-skinned and red-eyed and her hair stuck out from her head in a range of messy tufts. She tucked herself in and sighed deeply. Sigrid, waking, murmured the words that had been rattling round her head for weeks:

‘It’s not what you ask, Eva, it’s who.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Stop telling the snow what to do. Ask your own self how you feel.’

‘I just want a friend.’

‘Then be a friend to yourself. And have a bath.’

And with that, Sigrid rose to make the porridge, leaving Eva in bed to consult her feelings and to find they spoke a foreign language. She had not really, until that moment, noticed.

But Eva had a gift. Had had it, in fact, since before she was born. That morning she went back up the mountain and asked a different question;

‘How do I feel?’

A breeze blew up and twisted this way and that. Clouds boiled on the horizon.

‘Confused?’

Yes, confused. The clouds calmed, the wind dropped. She had got it right. Now what?

‘Content?’

Sun shone on the upper slopes, brightening the snow until it glowed back at the sky. A scent of late Autumn grass came up from the valley. A nearby stream tinkled over golden shingle. Content. Perhaps even smug. Not many people can see their emotions in the sky.

‘Angry?’

But no, she didn’t feel angry anymore. In fact, on her way back home she may have skipped a little. The group of girls playing hopscotch on the street noticed her skipping and smiled. She smiled back, and not in a weird way. Less than a week later, they invited her to join their game.

Photo by Tobias Bju00f8rkli on Pexels.com

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