The Water's Edge - By Karin Fossum
No one saw him walk through the woods; no one saw what he was carrying. A modest burden for a grown man, yet it caused him difficulty, his steps were faltering and he stumbled. From time to time he would stop, gasp for air and make noises which sounded like whimpering. Then he would stagger on as quickly as he could. He walked underneath the trees like an old man, weighed down by it all, weighed down by horror and tears. It was so overwhelming that his knees threatened to buckle; he kept looking over his shoulder, his head twitching nervously. He increased his speed as he approached a cluster of trees. He did not wish to discard his burden casually on the ground; he wanted this precise cluster of trees, which would serve as a kind of monument. This last scrap of decency comforted him, he was still a human being, he had feelings, many of them good ones. Again he looked over his shoulder: there was not a soul around. He remained standing, sensing every sound as his heart pounded. The forest was like a huge organism, it breathed, it watched him, it condemned him with its deep, ominous rustling. How could you stoop so low? the forest intoned, no human being will ever smile at you with warmth or love, not after this.
He had reached the cluster of trees.
He squatted down.
He placed his burden on a bed of soft moss. He got up and wiped the sweat from his brow; it felt hot. This does not look good, he thought, not in any way. Emotions surged inside him, a mixture of panic and rage, nothing ever worked out for him, it was a mistake, the whole thing. How could it have happened? Horrified, he buried his face in his hands, they smelled like hot iron. He tasted fear in his mouth and felt it in his blood and in his lungs. Fate had played a mean trick on him and dealt him a rotten hand; now he was being hurled down towards condemnation and denunciation. Hanging's too good for him, people would say, lock him up and throw away the key; a man like him should never be allowed out again. He lurched a little to the side, he felt weak at the knees. I have to go now, he thought, I need to get out of here, I must get back to my car, drive home to my house, lock the door and draw the curtains. Huddle in a corner and listen out in case anyone should come. But I won't answer the door, he decided, I'll lock myself in, I won't be able to cope with this! He raised a clenched fist towards the sky, towards God, who had created him with such strong urges, but who would not allow him to satisfy them the way he wanted to.
His car was parked close to a road barrier a little way off. He walked briskly without looking back and moved as quickly as he could through the forest. It was not long before he saw the barrier and his car. And something else: something was moving, something red and white against the green. He stopped abruptly. A man and a woman were out walking. His first thought was to hide between the spruces, but at the last second he thought better of it and continued, averting his eyes, along the short distance he had left. The storm raged inside him with renewed force. This is fatal, he thought, this will be my undoing, those two people walking towards me, they will remember me and tell the whole world. We saw him and we can describe him clearly, they would say, he was wearing a blue anorak. And the hunt would begin. He did not look up until he reached his car and he met the woman's eyes for a fleeting moment. It surprised him that she smiled at him, a broad and friendly smile. When he failed to return her smile and stared at her in horror, she looked puzzled. The couple continued past the barrier and into the forest. The woman, however, turned one last time and looked after him.
They were a couple, but they had been married for many years and they no longer held hands. The woman was wearing a raspberry red coat, the man a white windbreaker. He was constantly one step ahead of her, tall, self-assured and fit. The woman