One of my fondest memories is of something that actually never really happened.
I can’t have been much more than fifteen. I was staying in the cabin with my father and grandfather, they were busy building a fence and I was busy doing nothing. Normally I would have hated that, but this time it suited me, because while my physical body wasn’t busy I was still occupied.
I was a kid that was always busy with something. I was creative, and I always had to be doing something. I jumped out of bed in the mornings and always fell right to sleep as my head hit the pillow. All these years later, I’m still like that.
I guess this was the quiet before the storm. Or perhaps this was the storm, a storm like it can only rage in the teenage heart. On the exterior I was quiet, calm and settled. I slept in one of the bedrooms downstairs, while both my father and grandfather slept upstairs. I didn’t mind the fact that there was no electricity, no television and that my walkman ran on batteries. Thankfully my father was willing to replace them frequently.
It was summer, there was no school and I was allowed all the leeway I wanted. I helped out when I felt like it. Fetched tools and hammered nails, but more often than not I was alone in the mountain, jumping on stones in the creek or resting in the clearings. The birch trees smelled wonderfully after it rained and the sun often peeked out. It wasn’t particularly warm that summer, but it was warm enough.
I remember the solitude of those weeks quite clearly. I wasn’t alone and yet I was alone, and it was a wonderful solitude and what sprang from it was something that left a mark on me.
The nights were bright, they always are at that time a year, and I would sit underneath the bright sky and listen to the night animals go about their business. I pretended I saw Elves in the hills and I pretended I saw the hangman. He was a ghost we always heard stories about, someone sad who had hung himself in an old sawmill that used to stand on the land. The ruins were still there, hidden by moss and grass, home of small critters and not much more. I would lay there trying to imagine what it had looked like, remembering the few words I had heard about the man and what he had done.
I knew very little about him, except that my grandmother had known him. He was a poor boy who used to roam the country side, stay where he could find work for a while, before he moved on. She would give him coffee and something to eat sometimes, and they would speak for a while.
She never told me about the time he died. All I know is that it was during the war, when my father was little. They would stay in the cabin, away from the city, while my grandfather would ride his bike to see them every weekend to visit. She became friends with the farmers and she got by, despite the cold and the hardship.
And there I was, so many years later. It struck a cord with me. Maybe because she had died a few years before, and left a hole in the family, I didn’t even realise until much later, would never really be filled again.
I was happy during those weeks. Happy, because it was summer and I was free to do what I wanted. Happy, because my life was filled with joy that came from the inside, satisfaction that was brought forward by some inner glow and onslaught of the most powerful imagination I have ever experienced in my life.
He came to me in the middle of the day. A boy, bit older than I was, with a grin on his face. He had dark hair, greenest eyes I’ve ever seen and a strange manner about him. It was as if he knew me already. He teased me in a way that talked of companionship, friendship even, as if we’d known each other for years.
I gave him a cracker out of the box I had and we spoke of friends I never had. It was like walking into a role, and I knew the part perfectly. We bantered and talked, ran to the creek and jumped stones until we were both wet and cold. We drank Coke outside and listened to Depeche Mode on low volume. And we kissed. We kissed quite a lot. Kisses that were filled with hope, but without expectations.
His name was Alexander. I called him Alex and he called me Susanna.
That’s not my name.
We would sit on large stones by the creek and he would tell me stories of the surroundings. There was an odd formation in the mountain, it looked like a giant chest and he told me that if you walked up the entire mountain, backwards, the chest would open up and it would be full of gold.
I had heard the story before but what he told me was that once upon a time a young bloke walked up the mountain without looking behind him even once. He stood before the chest and it opened before him, the giant stones forming into a lock that creaked open. He saw all the gold, enough to make him rich for life, but instead he called out to the owners of the treasure. He cried out to them, hoping for an audience and since he had braved the mountain a beautiful elven queen tread forward. She was dressed in the brightest blue dress he had ever seen and she wore a crown that was almost invisible.
He asked her to allow him access to her kingdom, he pleaded for her to take him to her bodings, promised he would serve her well all his life if he just got to stay and she granted his wish, warning him that he might find her home a bit cold, a bit dark and a bit boring.
He said he didn’t care and he promised he would never complain.
Then time went by and the boy regretted his decision, so the elven queen, who was a kind woman, allowed him a week out in the world every summer. The story ended with the words that you could sometimes see him wandering the mountain, a boy in fine, colourful clothes, looking for a human being to talk to on his days on the outside.
We decided to walk the mountain and when I told my father this he said that it was alright, as long as I followed some rules. I was to stay put if it became foggy. “Never wander in the fog,” he said. I was to keep the houses in sight at all times, not go so far that I lost sight of them. I told him I just wanted to go to the top of the mountain and he helped me pack some lunch. My grandfather gave me tips on where it was best to tackle the mountain, and the very next morning I met Alexander by the creek.
I followed the advice my grandfather had given me. It was a clear sunny morning, no sign of fog or bad weather at all. We didn’t rush. Walked slowly up the hill, finding the paths were you didn’t need to actually climb, but kept to the slopes, the sometimes steep slopes.
When we got up on top of the mountain I looked down over the valley and cheered. I had never been up there before and it felt wonderful. We sat down and at lunch and we made out in the grass. The top of the mountain was a large, flat area and I realised that I could easily walk down the other side of the mountain and get lost in the wilderness.
When we were starting on our way down again we decided to take a different path. A longer path that led to a small canyon. We held hands and talked about what we wanted to do with our lives. He told me I should write books, no matter what else I did, I should at least do that. I was flattered.
When we got down to the canyon we met a young man, a few years older than I was. He was wearing clothes that looked like they had been expensive, once upon a time, but they were only tethers, with cuts on the knees and the colour almost entirely worn out.
We asked him if he was lost. He looked at us with wonder in his eyes and told us he wasn’t, that he was just taking a stroll before heading home again. He asked if he could walk with us for a while, and he did.
He didn’t tell us his name. He didn’t talk much about himself at all, but listened closely to what we had to say. When we came to the end of the canyon he stopped, hesitated as if he wanted to go further but didn’t dare and then he looked back and said he had to get back.
Before we parted though he came up to me and put his hand on my cheek and he told me not to let IT go. I asked him what he was talking about, but he just headed off into the canyon again.
When we got back to the cabin it was getting late. I crawled into my sleeping bag and lay awake. Alexander was suddenly lying in the bed on the opposite wall. We lay there talking the entire night. Together we conjured up a future, lived through more hopes and dreams in one night than I think I’ve done in my entire life since.
And when I woke up in the morning, he was gone.
I didn’t stop talking to him, just because he was no longer in front of me. I still talk to him from time to time, call me crazy, but he was born that summer and he stuck with me. Became a part of me.
That summer was filled with magic. And that magic healed something in me. It melted together something that had been a bit broken and I often wonder about those days, when I snuck in clearings in the forest, kissing the air, or perhaps the palm of my hand? You can laugh, but it was peaceful and pure in a way that nothing ever was again.
I often spend a week in the cabin by myself. It hasn’t changed much, though there are more cabins there now and therefore more people.
Recently, on one of my walks, I met an old man who had lived in the county all his life. And when I asked him he told me of the hangman. We were wandering up by the creek, he smoking a pipe. He took the pipe out of his mouth when I asked, and smiled.
“He was a bewildered young man,” the old man said, “my mother used to say he had the greenest eyes she ever saw.”
This may sound like a ghost story, but it is not. I didn’t spend my summer with The Hangman. But perhaps my mind conjured up a life, and the boy he would have been, had things been a bit different. I can still see him before me today if I try. Of course he has grown with me. He’s an old man now, with bald head and wrinkles on his face. And we still talk. But his voice is just a whisper, and his face is often hard to bring forward. His name has changed through the years, as has mine, somewhere along the line I stopped needing to be someone I wasn’t and started using my own name, even in my fantasies.
But I have fond memories of that summer as Susanna, memories of things that never actually happened. It was magic, pure magic of the mind.