- Vol. 04
- Chapter 03
The White Cover
My mother's parents lived in a region that was out of touch, countrified and deliciously backward. The roads that led to their house were all packed earth, dusty furrows in the summer, soon lined with amber posts to guide the snow-ploughs. My father, who had grown up in a wide-open floodplain, open to cars and to the future, where news from the capital rippled in, had gone to join my mother in this place apart, high above France, where my grandparents doted on ewes wrapped in a swaddle of greasy wool. Up on the plateau he felt as though he’d travelled back in time, travelled into memories: the memories of the people from up there, the keepers of the flock, the guardians of the land my father used to say. Then he and my mother had moved down into a valley that was more temperate and modern.
In that comfortable valley I’d go to sleep every night with a book of stories given to me by my grandmother, Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales, which I never read. It was my mother – long after I learned to read, in fact – who would read aloud to me every evening til we reached the end of the story, and the following day we’d begin again, always with the same story, my favourite fairy tale, ‘The Ice Queen’. Really it was called ‘The Snow Queen’ but my mother had transformed it just for me. Sure as ice I believed that my grandmother ruled this realm, the kingdom of the cold, the fairy kingdom.
The cover of the book was blue, with, still clinging to it here and there, the white tissue paper that my grandmother had wrapped it in and I'd never wanted to remove: I’d just torn it enough to open the book. Time and our long evenings of reading had worn it away so all that remained were a few wisps of the soft paper, stuck there by the grease from my hands endlessly turning the pages.
The White Cover
I dreamed of reaching that kingdom and the olden days, which I muddled into colden days in my head: pure, white cold, cold as ice. This kingdom of cold was always, for me, the world of my grandparents, invisible in spring but reappearing with the snow and ice of the pools and meres. For me every winter was a return to the colden days, the thick, precious water that you could walk on, evenings of firelight, glorious flames, and my grandmother telling me other tales, tales that weren’t in any book, candles when the storm blew out the lights, all those orangey sparks of stories, all that snow reinventing the landscape and its tracks.
For a long time I thought that my grandmother herself, queen of the imaginary kingdom, had written the stories in my book, all those beautiful flights of fantasy, those marvels written by candlelight.