talking nonsense, drawing pictures and singing songs. She gazing so seriously with her giraffe in her mouth and then chuckling back, reaching for your hands, tugging your hair. She left the wet trails of her kisses all over your face. Each of these pictures had to stand for something, had to be a sign that our life would go on being possible, so I could say to myself, look at this life we have, so natural and loving. We are not defeated, we are not despairing.

That day I watched you. You dipped her hand in the river and waggled her wrist, sprinkling water drops from her fingers all over your face. You spluttered and screwed up your eyes; she laughed and laughed. You turned her hand and sprinkled her own face, too. I memorized you both for later that day, to bring you to mind when I was at work at Vi’s general store over the bridge on the other side of the river. I needed to save you up like this; it was the only way I could spend the day away from you.

When I had put my hair in a ponytail and brushed my teeth, I still had some time before I had to set off to get the bus.

Silva, come on out, you called.

Anna was sitting on the ground with an old spoon in her hand, digging into tufts of grass that sprang up between the sand and pebbles of the shoreline. You led me a little farther down so I could see the geese bobbing on the river. The sun was up by then and still bright through a mist of cloud. I had to shade my eyes to see. On the far side, the old wooden cabin looked silvery gray, as if it were made out of water rather than from pine trees like the ones that grew steeply all around it. It shimmered like something wet, scooped out of the current and set up on the bank, solid but made of water all the same, shining in the sun just like the sheeny membrane of the gliding river. The white rowing boat moored at the little jetty sat as it had always sat. It hadn’t moved in all the time we’d been here.

Stefan, see? That cabin, it’s still empty. Nobody’s even been there in over a year, that boat never moves. It’s deserted. We could find the way down to it through the trees on the other side. Why don’t we? It would be great to live there. At least for the summer.

You tugged on my hair. And then what? you asked. You think next winter we’ll be better off there? First storm that comes, the roof blows off, then what? We’ll have nowhere at all.

But the trailer leaks anyway. And the roof doesn’t look so bad, it looks okay. We could do repairs. It’s bigger than the trailer.

Don’t keep going on about it, you said, tugging again on my ponytail. You can’t even tell if there’s glass in the windows. And it’s not that much bigger.

I caught hold of your hand and pulled your arm around my neck, wrapping myself within a circle of you. You curled your other arm around my waist, and we stood swaying together, gazing across the river. Behind us Anna was talking to herself in a singsong and scrabbling with her spoon in the pebbles.

Anyway, you said in my ear, it must belong to somebody. Any day they could just show up. We’d go to jail.

I know, I said. Worse. They’d send us back.

Then what about Anna?

Oh, I know. Don’t talk about it.

I raised your hand to my mouth and kissed it, then I nipped at your fingertips. I didn’t want you to start on again about borrowing money to get us out of our trouble. We’d been over and over it. You drew away, cupped your hands around your mouth, and hallooed, and the call rolled across the water and startled the geese off the rock in the river, all in a flurry. This was our way. We kept ourselves restless on purpose, distracting each other with these innocuous forms of disturbance: making love, sudden bursts of song and silly games, scaring geese into the sky. Anything that kept us from talking about it too often, about living in a leaking trailer hidden from the road, never having enough money to change anything. Being illegal in a foreign country, such a beautiful country but one that yet could give us no resting point; one we occupied like flies on the surface of a painting.

The geese were gliding back down to the rock. I clapped my hands and they rose up again, flapping their wings.

Silva, I’ve had an idea, about the car.

I wouldn’t let you speak. I shook my head and clapped and hollered across the river, and then I walked over to Anna and picked her up. I didn’t want to hear it again. No jobs for illegals that pay enough, you kept saying, we should get a car, run a cab, you knew guys who’d lend cash and do false papers, you’d work nights. You’d pay the loan back, we’d get a proper place to live. And I kept saying, the kind of people we’d have to borrow from, the amount they charge, you don’t get out of trouble that way. I kept saying we had to be patient and save up the proper way, owing nothing, we already had just over three thousand, I’d remind you, and then you’d lose your temper and tell me that way it would take ten years to get enough. We never got anywhere, did we?

So we would chuck pebbles and call across the river to the birds, we’d make childish jokes, make love, pull on each other’s hair, play clap-hands with our daughter. Sometimes I was afraid our whole life was getting to be like a silly guessing game we were both secretly sick of. But still I hoped it could last. We needed it to keep going long enough for an answer to come.

The bus will be along soon, I said. Give me your phone. Here’s mine.

Just another of our little survival rituals, swapping phones so I could plug each of them in, every few days, under the counter at Vi’s, and that morning also a way back from the dangerous subject of how to go on living.

You walked me up the track to the road and a bit of the way along, until Anna got heavy. After you turned back, I watched you for a while, walking away. The noise of the road and the bridge traffic was too loud for me to shout out to you, and so I turned, too, and set off to the bus stop at the service station.

We’d got another day started, I thought. And if in ten hours or so I stepped off the bus and walked back along the road and down the track, my long shadow cast behind me, carrying a bag of past-sell-by groceries from Vi’s, and if I heard your voices as the rumble of evening traffic on the bridge died away, I would be able to count this one as another day that had let us stay together. Another day done and it still hadn’t all come to an end, a day that would let the same day, with luck, come again tomorrow. A good day was one when nothing got worse.

I didn’t go as far as Inverness.

The road from the hotel followed the river for several miles. I switched on the car radio and drove, singing along raucously with one song after another, refusing to cry, trying to drown out Col’s words in my head. From time to time rain fell, not in spiky drips like English town rain but in milky currents that wet the air with cold, gusting sprays. Between showers, and seeming more liquid than the rain, sunlight poured down through gaps in the clouds onto the rocks and larch and pine trees across the steel-bright river. When my throat was so tired I could hardly make a sound, I turned the radio off and kept driving. Just as, when my father was dying, I used to absorb trivial details while waiting for bad news-every stem and leaf on the wallpaper in the doctor’s office, every stain on the floor by his hospital bed-I concentrated now on the sunlight, how it spilled over the landscape into refracting pools of sharp, unfiltered silvers and russets and greens. This was not my country, and I was glad I could numb myself with touristic gawping; I felt no tug of ancestral pride, found nothing revelatory or significant in its beauty. I traveled with the lulling detachment I might have felt thumbing through racks of postcards.

There were dozens of places to pull the rental car off the road and admire the views, and I stopped often. In some of them there were souvenir vans festooned with tartan flags and pennants, blaring out disheartening bagpipe music over the roofs of parked cars and caravans and food stalls. Sometimes I loitered, reading billboard warnings about forest fires and litter and threats to wildlife, watching people come and go, all of them in pairs or groups, never alone. I saw a family of seven disgorge themselves from a camper van and claim a damp picnic table; the mother and grandma spread plastic bags over the benches, the dog crawled underneath and lay down. The last of the four lanky children ran back to the van for a soccer ball, and a loud, hazardous game began at the side of the car park. The father got in the queue at the burger van and began a long relay of shouts to the others. He brought an armful of boxes back to the table, and the children darted into place, mauling the packaging, snapping open cans of explosive drinks, pushing torn-off lumps of pizza and burgers into their mouths, feeding the dog with their fingers. I made my way back to the car. I wanted to get away from them, from my envy of their messy, uncomplicated pleasure, and from the shame they aroused in me. I had married a man who shunned the very idea of that noisy, easygoing acceptance within families; surely I must be at heart the same kind of person. I was at the very least someone who would consider aborting a child rather than be abandoned by its father.

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