LEKA'S NAKED GRIEF

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They had married a month earlier than planned, on the Friday so that they could have Saturday and Sunday together before Brynki went fishing early Monday morning. It was a month earlier than usual for the fishing season but the weather had been good and good weather was so rare that it seamed a shame to waste it.

Leka understood but she was still disappointed that they were to be parted so soon after their wedding, even for a short time. Their house would be finished on Wednesday and unless Brynki had an exceptional catch, she could not expect him to dock before the next weekend.

It had all come upon them so quickly that Brynki had not even mentioned the house. They had stayed with her parents for the few days until they could move into their very own lovely home. They had planned it together—it had a loft, smoked glass internal doors and was made of beautiful birch that Brynki had cut and milled himself over the winter when the tracks were frozen and the logs could be hauled to the fjord edge.

Leka knew that Brynki thought she would stay with her parents until he returned but she could not abide the thought of their new home being empty and lonely for even one day. There was only the barest of furniture and no wood for a fire, but she would sleep there and be able to see, first thing in the mornings, if his boat had come in. Perhaps even see it arrive!

She slept warm but felt the empty chill of Brynki not being beside her. The unpredicted storm worried her but she knew the sturdy little fishing boat had weathered worse many times. Still it all depended on just where they were; at sea conditions could change so much in just a few miles. Probably they would be near enough to an island to take shelter in its lea and wait out the worst bits. Of course they could not come home until the storm blew itself out and that could take two days, maybe.

When they had been gone ten days and the seas had calmed, most of the fleet had returned. None of them had seen anything of Brynki and his mates but that was not a cause for concern as he was notorious for his good luck and seldom fished in company.

But the night before last another boat had returned and they had seen Brynki making for shelter. They said that he should be about ten hours behind them. They described the storm as the worst they had ever struck but if anyone could survive it it would be Brynki, a fourth generation of seagoing fishermen.

When Leka arose and came out of the bedroom she paused and gazed at her reflection in the door. She looked so normal. How could she after the last days? Her face felt set in an expressionless mould and she stretched her lips and rubbed her eyes to see if they were as dead as they felt. She did not feel desolate or alone; she did not feel anything.

She had not slept last night and as soon as it was light she was up and looking across the snow-covered foreshore and down the fjord. His boat was not there. She had seen this situation too many times to have any false hopes. These last storms of the winter were notorious for their strength, after a false fine. It was as if they were making up for the early break. She was naked but did not feel the cold even when she stood at the open window to see more clearly, she had forgotten to latch it last night. She could only think how cold Brynki must have been and wonder how long ago that was.

She brushed her hair; it would not do to be untidy at the end. Brynki was a stickler for tidiness, in his person, in his boat and he was always conscious of when she had taken special care of herself. She stood in front of the never-lit fireplace, she thought she could feel warmth but perhaps it was just the sight of the boat's wheel that he had been so proud of winning for having the best catch last season. He had always insisted that it was really for winning her. Or perhaps the sailor-shaped bottle of liquor that was a wedding present that would never have been opened by the non-drinking fisherman.

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A picture of them both was around the corner of the mantle piece. Leka needed no picture of him to see him in her mind. But perhaps it could be an icon to which she could make a sort of goodbye gesture. She lent on the ladder to the loft and memories flooded over her, how silly he had thought her to want a loft, how boyishly happy he had been to be able to give her one and how delighted she had been.

She felt her body, she had never thought anything particular about it but now she felt glad to have had it for the obvious pride and joy that Brynki had experienced in it. She was concious of the smooth gold band against her cool chest; that was all she would take with her, it must never leave her finger.

Gold band

Well, that was all her life that she valued and now was the time to pay. She opened the back door to leave so that she would not be found too soon. Out there, it would be cold and she would welcome it but she knew she would never feel it. She carefully closed the door; everything must be left neat. She knew she would not have to walk far, just to the end so near.

Leka was found that afternoon by the wife of a fisherman. She was lying on her back, with her arms crossed over her breast, in a snowdrift about thirty meters behind the house—frozen stiff. The woman had found her easily, from the tracks of her small bare feet, leading from the house in a straught line to her body.

Her coffin was carried from the church to the grave by the women of the village and instead of flowers, the ship's wheel, the bottle of liquor and the photo of her and Brynki were placed atop the coffin.

On her headstone was engraved:

"LEKA—WIDOW OF THE SEA"

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