At the pole the world finally stops. Respite at last. The world doesn’t end, it ceases to turn. At the core of the axis there is no motion, there is only the centre, and the centre is both still and alive. Everything spins around us, and we are the point that extends in no dimensions and all dimensions at once.
Here in this space that has no expansion and no description and no volume and no coordinates, we are at one with everywhere, and The Ice King rules: I am his. His court, his jester; his courtier. His counsel, his subject. His servant. His chosen. His man. Am I his Queen?
I do not want to be what The Ice King is, and nor can I. Here, the Ice is eternal for as long as Eternal exists, and here it is ever in motion, and here it is still absolutely; and here the snowflakes are effervescent sparkles in our mind, which now is conjoined as one, but not one alone, but one that has in it the snowflakes like gossamer dust and the depths and the infinities of the sky in which there are stars that do not make sense any more than the snowflakes which they outnumber by magnitudes of improbable potentialities.
I lie on the ice bed The Ice King has bid me rest on, as he stands on the edge of his universe, overlooking everything with the eye of his mind, which is my mind, which is the mind of the snowflakes and the mind of the stars, which is the mind of the glacier, the river, the sea; which is the mind of the water, the air and the ions, which is the mind of the magnetic force of his presence and the electricity of my spirit; which is the mind of the other side and this, and the mind of the shadow he casts not on the ice but into the core that has no expansion and no dimension and no rotation; and I know that soon I must leave him, but not now.
Now The Ice King turns around to me, and I see that he is made of ice as I thought. And the ice, as I thought, and as everyone knows before they are told, is like fire; and the fire is just the energy dying and the energy dying is the source of all life and life is preserved in the ice and the ice is nothing but water and water is living and living is knowing and knowing is forgiving and forgiving is patience and patience is growth and growth is taking the energy on and becoming the other and the other is just an extension and the extension is continuation and continuation is the reflection and the reflection is the same as what is and the same is the all and the all is the now.
I welcome The Ice King onto me with my eyes, and as he melts into my open-arm, open-rib, open-mind being, I feel we are no longer one, we now simply are; and having him having me makes the ice disappear and the fire burn out and the water rise up and the energy surge and the stillness the stillness prevail.
I look down on the pole, spinning on my own axis as I lift up above; I see myself writhing and being consumed, I see The Ice King drowning me out and myself burn up in blue and greenpurple flames that dance on the water, and I know now I know now I am.
Hand in hand we walk north in the night, now upon the ice that stretches ahead to the pole and beyond. Can there be a Beyond, beyond the pole? Another pole, perhaps, where the penguins are asleep. They know not of The Ice King, they care not for me, their dreams are of flying turtles and jellyfish in a trance.
Above us the sky is a fantasy of too many colours; those yellows, those greens, those purples again, I have seen them before: I saw them, I’m sure, in the chamber, but here in the open, we are naked and free.
Naked we walk hand in hand on the ice that has no horizon, it just yields to the sky. It extends so far that the eye wants to rest, but the light and the ions and the glow of the heart have emboldened us to go on.
After the water, the land, and now the ice once again, only this is no glacier. This is the home of The Ice King, it is where he belongs. I’m not sure I should be here at all, but with his palm in mine and the steady sound of his breathing beside me I feel safe and assured. His step too is steady and strong; his eyes are determined now, and his hair, which I hadn’t noticed before, here in the open waves in the wind. The wind cuts our cheeks and our chests and our thighs, and the ice is so cold that it burns the soles of our feet, but we are not afraid, and we are not tired, and we are not alone: we have each other.
I don’t know what having The Ice King means, or he having me. Are we now one? I glance across to him as we stride, and we are so far gone now, the aurora has left us behind, and all about are the stars: magnificent molecules in the sky. Never have I seen them so clear, nor so many. Numbers no one can name. In the light of the night that is moonless and large The Ice King looks like an invisible force, a presence that cannot be known, that can only be sensed; that cannot be fathomed, it can only be lived. Am I living The Ice King?
The Ice King inwardly laughs, and his mirth appears on his lips as the memory of a trace of a smile. I love these lips, and I have no regrets. I regret not kissing them, nor sailing on them to the pole, nor listening to them as he speaks: I do not hear what he says, the wind is too fierce, the snowy crystals it blasts our skin with too sharp, the tremor of thrill of being exposed to his world too intense for me to indeed understand, but the melody that emanates from his body, and the idea that shines in his temple, and the soul that has taken me on make me trust in his language, his word.
His word that I do not now nor ever imagine I shall comprehend grows in my brain a new constellation of axons, and I tingle at the realisation that this is an initiation, it is certainly the commencement of something, it is a whole new creation. I do not know what this is, but I know it is good.
I feel the ice melt under my skin, I sense us slip away in the rush of torrents, surging up, then drowning into the depths; my eyes closed, I heave into his brain.
Where there were colours there is now only green and blue and that purple and the sting of the white in flashes between: I bounce and tumble and dissolve, the water rushes through me, the glacier crashes all about us as we tumble down the mountain, turn into a stream—the quicks, the pools, the depths, the shallows and the waterfalls—into the valley, then the river, the calm.
Then the meadows passing and the flowers on the hill. The trees. Is that a sun in the sky? I haven’t seen one in years. The Ice is gone, the King is no more. What have I done?
I float on the easy current along the stately swans and the comical ducks, and I wonder. Was that necessary? Was that emotion? Was that too much? The cloudlets above sing a round that lulls me into a new kind of sleep, and I dream that I am already restored to my senses, but senseless in love. I know not what that means, but it’s a feeling I have.
As we reach the towns and beyond these the cities, it is more a case of becoming a boat, or a ship, from which to greet the other farers of waterways, and nod at them gravely: the river has turned so serene. I am not sure I want this. I’m not sure I’m ready to leave him behind or to see him head off, onto land, into the streets, the multitudes, become a citizen: like everyone else. I cling on to him, but he is no longer there, has he never existed at all?
I refuse to panic and say to myself, it’s only a phase, it will pass, it’s all in my mind, soon I’ll wake up in the glacier, gazing at him by my side, and I’ll marvel at the tone of his skin and the glint in his eye, and the nearly-smile that says, I nearly get you, you’re not quite alone.
I dream that I’m not alone and for a moment feel warm, and the glow that encompasses me is enough for a while to soothe, to restore.
We yield into the wide, and buoyed by the salt, and cheered by the seagulls, we stretch our limbs, and with strong strokes make for the open, the free. I half expect a dolphin to greet us, but it seems we are heading north, which is just as well. At least we are now at sea.
Soon the seals and the icebergs. I’m not at home here, although the shades are familiar. I feel I have lost myself and I want not to mind.
He’s in my head now, I in his body, and against all odds we’re afloat, but are we together? I don’t even know who he is. He is The Ice King, but I’ve turned him into a fish. That is not true, of course, I have turned him into a captain. I have not turned him into anything, he’s still The Ice King, but like me he is out of his element now, and so he may just be a prawn. He may be a wave or a plastic bottle discarded in old Amsterdam. He may be a thought or a lover. He may be my nemesis. Can he be my salvation?
I want to say, ‘polar bear, be not afraid,’ and mean it. We’re here to help. The Ice King looks at me kindly now, maybe for the very first time, and thinks a thought of astonishing beauty. This, I know, is the noble mind. And the thought alone that thoughts can be beautiful, and merely to know that a mind may be noble, fills me with joy.
The Ice King doesn’t speak, and I don’t ask; the questions are too many, too small: too trivial by comparison.
I feel my body tremble, not with fear, not with cold; with unfamiliarity? I look him in the eyes, and their glint reassures me: I want his power to be absolute, but benign.
As I take off my heavy boots and both pairs of socks, I expect the ice under my feet to sting or to burn me, but with my eyes on him still, and his gaze still steady on me, there is only the glow that expands from inside my spine.
I take a step towards him, and his presence feels no longer silent, it hums, or so my mind makes me believe; in truth he lies still and alert, and my breathing is no longer shallow: I want to melt into him, meld with him, and as I step closer, he sits up just enough to extend his hand and bring me into his orbit.
Now the colours, the touch, the sensations, the heat from within, the cold from without; this surface I lie on is as hard as polished marble, this skin that I breathe is softer than ermine, but his grip and his hold and his motion are firm; no longer can I tell what am I and what he, my focus is gone, the ice and The Ice King, the light and the scent are all one; I dissolve into it, into him, into the fire of him in me; into the ice that is no longer chill but a mould of clean edges that envelop us like multiple layers of soothing gauze, like everything ever imagined but more, and more real, like losing myself, my thought and my fear, like everything ever felt but not known, like owning the universe through being owned, desiring only being desired, like being The Ice King through being his, not wanting not pining not longing not hoping not dreading not doing not acting not willing not giving not taking not talking not buying not selling not looking forward and not thinking back, not imagining and not dreaming. Being and ceasing to be all at once in the now and forever.
The Now. The Forever. We breathe. We hold on to each other. I think I smile, but I can’t be sure. He tilts his head back and exhales. I feel his breath on my neck and bury my face in his shoulder. The light is orange and blue and a bit purple too, and we are embedded in the ice that feels now as if it had melted and made a pool of clear water that seems to flow warm, although this may just be the pulse in my temple and the beat of his heart and the protective embrace of his arm and the comfort, the comfort of him.
We lie thus for hours, or so it seems, as I drift in and out of awareness, and The Ice King is deep in my mind, quiet and quite majestic. I know I can’t stay here but nor can I leave. I bathe in the silence, but words are bubbling inside me. I want for nothing now, but I wonder how deep, how old, how immaterial is the ice. I lift my head to look at his face, in repose. His lips are not of this world. I hesitate. I pause. I cannot ask permission. I cannot resist. I kiss him.
Deep inside the glacier lives The Ice King, supple and smooth. His skin is aglow with the cold, and unbelievably soft. He should be milky white, but there’s an olive tint to his hue, and no sooner do I see him, than I want to touch him. Without gesture or words, he demurs.
He wears no clothes, but it is clear that he’s warm; he’s in his element. He is The Ice King, and he doesn’t beckon or smile: he stands at the end of the hall that is lined with blue-sheened green walls of ice. They look soft, insubstantial, but they are hard as stone: centuries of gravity have worked them into solid rock. I close my eyes for a moment; the smell of the ice is clean and pure.
I slowly move towards him, and as each step feels heavier with uncertain awe, my head gets lighter. I realise, for him I’ll have to be all or nothing. Already I am sensing that heat, and I’m twenty, thirty feet from him yet. There, at the end of the hall, tall with ice and nothing else, is a gateway, a passageway, in which he stands; he has no need for me, but I am beholden to him now: I slowly advance, and as I do I have to let go; I have to, have to let go.
I half expect servants to take off my coat and my woolly hat, but there are no servants and no attendants, there is only he, and he looks at me, unsmiling but kind. He is ageless, of course, he is dark-eyed and strong.
The Ice King waits for me to come to him; he knows that I must. For a moment I’m tempted to look back to see what’s behind me, to confirm that this is the path I have chosen, but something tells me it’s too late for that now. Now there is only forward; and so the snowfield, the mountain, the moon, the cavernous void of the night, the narrow, low gap that I happened upon and through which—more curious ever than brave—I had entered, fall away by this wayside and become immaterial.
There is no echo in the glacier and no breeze. There is no fire, and so there’s no smoke. There is air, and the air is still. Cold as it is, it doesn’t move; it envelops me, and so it feels warm. The Ice King knows that I am now in his power, and he turns and walks ahead. I follow.
The gateway, the passage, the transition. A corridor of light and dark, of shapes and patterns. It neither narrows nor widens, it extends.
The Ice King, naked, not tall and not short, of a human-scale build, moves ahead, and with each step that he takes on the ice, the ice seems to light up a little under his feet: it may do so in my imagination. It may just be a reflection.
There is no other life in here, only he and I; and there’s the light that plays on us, on our bodies, our faces, our minds. Deeper into the glacier we go, and the deeper we go, the closer the corridor through which we pass must become, but it doesn’t get lower, only narrower still, until it is possible, just, to walk in a line, just about, without your arms or your shoulders touching the walls, if you go slowly, that is, cautiously, but determined, dead straight.
He walks ahead of me, and I follow closely; I feel the warmth off his body, and the icy walls look as though they glowed just a little with each step, as he passes. It may be just my imagination; maybe a reflection. Every surface is smooth but not flat: the curvatures of natural ice. Undulations.
We arrive in the chamber: the chamber is empty and neither dark nor bright, there is a greenish whitish blueish light that comes from all directions at once, and in the middle of the chamber is a large elevation where the ice rises to knee level, just: is this our bed?
There is no fire, but I am not cold, and while The Ice King reclines, I loosen my scarf, take off my gloves. I want to touch the ice but his eyes are on me, and I take off my coat and my jumper, my shirt…
The Snowflake Collector was a lone man, but he was not lonely. He had in Yanosh a friend and in Yolanda a friendly face, and he had many memories, some solidifying like ice that is formed by the weight of the snow in the glacier, and others fading like snowflakes alighting atop a meadow too early in the year, or too late, and melting away with the first rays of the sun, much as the first snow in October had already melted and was now no more, and no less, than a harbinger, that had been and gone, of what was to come. And also of what was to go: it would come and cover the earth and the path and the mind for much longer soon, throughout the winter and into spring, but go it eventually would.
But during those cold months this year for the first time, and in all coming years left him for as many times as were in the gift of his existence, he would now collect snowflakes. The cows in the meadow he could see from the very small window in the very thick wall of the inn, which had already been covered once, briefly, with snow, looked forlorn now, a little, but also quite safe, because they were already near their barn and soon they would disappear in there for the winter.
He considered, while Yanosh went online with his smartphone to look up ‘how to collect snowflakes’ on the connected brain of the world, how each snowflake was perhaps like a memory, and that there would be, in a lifetime, as many memories as there were snowflakes in a season, though what these memories were—much as what these snowflakes would look like—depended a great deal on the era, the region, the weather, of course, and the altitude, and the many, maybe innumerable, larger and smaller contributing factors, both literal and metaphorical, such as the overall climate and topography, the circumstances and constellations, the chemicals and the particles (be they natural or man-made) in the air.
If every memory is a bit like a snowflake and every snowflake therefore a bit like a memory, then I shall collect these snowflakes like memories, and like memories they will be an artifice in my collection, much as pictures in an album are a curated but also distorted reflection of memories, and they will be an artifice because in nature snowflakes will either solidify into ice and form layer upon layer of no longer distinguishable single delicate structures but the body of matter that is the glacier, or they will melt away with the sun, sometimes maybe having served a purpose—such as providing a surface for skiers to glide down the mountainside on—but more often not.
‘It’s really easy,’ Yanosh said after just a few minutes of such contemplative silence, during which, The Snowflake Collector noted with some delight, it had started gently snowing again outside already, ‘you just need some superglue or hairspray or something to fix them onto your glass plates with; you freeze down the glass plate first so the flake doesn’t melt, then you dab or spray on the fixing agent and you put your snowflake on it, or let one settle: what you get in effect is an imprint of the snowflake, then you cover that with another glass plate to protect it, and you’re done.’
The Snowflake Collector breathed a silent sigh of relief. He had not expected snowflake collecting to be difficult, but he knew, from many long years of experience—as he felt he’d experienced them, though they weren’t that many, and they had not been any longer than any other years, except for the leap years that fell in between the ordinary ones, which had been just one day longer—that sometimes the simplest thing can turn out to be fiendishly complicated, and conversely sometimes the most daunting and difficult task can simply ebb away and turn out to be nothing more than a thing that just needed to be done.
So finding, upon the reliable research carried out by Yanosh on his behalf there and then, that snowflake collecting was ‘really easy’ came, to The Snowflake Collector, as a relief, and as confirmation—though no such confirmation was needed—that he was on the right track, that he had found his calling, that the universe, at least this universe that he believed himself to be part of at this moment, was welcoming him into—perhaps even bestowing upon him—this role; and since he had already determined, as irrevocably as could reasonably (or even quite unreasonably) be maintained, to be The Snowflake Collector, this meant that he and the universe were not now at odds but in tune with each other.
And for that thought alone, The Snowflake Collector felt immeasurably relieved but also grateful and calm; almost happy, although he did not, by and large, entertain any notion of, or great desire for, ‘happiness’, finding it to be so very unreliable and unsound a concept, but certainly, and this was the realisation that cheered him so greatly, in tune with the universe. Had he not longed so long just for that, to be in tune with the universe.