Dawn bathed the mountains in a cool blue light. The sun touched snowy peaks with pale yellow fingers. Ice glistened and snow began its slow build-up towards avalanche.
At the house, wooden shutters kept us in darkness. I woke anyway, to the sound of the stream rushing and gurgling past, as if it had an urgent appointment with the sea, and was running late. I heard another sound that I was struggling to recognise in my semi-conscious state. The clink of metal against metal. It reminded me of the sheep’s bells. These were rusty make-shift tin things, attached by the ‘bergers’ around the necks of the unsuspecting creatures to signify their march down from the higher slopes onto the grassy hillsides. But the clinking sound was closer than that; it was coming from me.
I didn’t need to look. In a sudden flash of clarity I knew the source of the sound. I had been lain there all night, naked apart from two thick metal chains, padlocked to ankle and wrist cuffs. Every time I moved in bed, the clink of metal against metal gave me away. Next to me someone was sleeping. I listened to his breathing and tried to keep still so as not to wake him. Outside the stream paid no attention to our situation; it had more important things to do.
So much for freedom, so much for independence. So much for my theory, long-held and much-discussed with whoever would listen, that I needed my personal space. Not least when I was abed, tossing and turning in my private domain. I preferred to sleep alone, I moved and dreamed on my terms, and I would not compromise for anyone. The heavy chains between my legs and arms, and the man sleeping peacefully beside me knew different. Between them they had blown my theory to pieces. I lay there trying not to breathe, suddenly feeling sheepish.
Before I had time to really compute the implications of this paradigm shift, before I could find a new theory to replace the old, a new but equally acceptable way of asserting my autonomy, the man beside me stirred. ‘Good morning’ he said, contentedly, as he turned and touched my arm, and the metal that adorned my skin. ‘Morning’ I mumbled in reply, attempting to remain statuesque, as if that was the dignified thing to do. But dignity had long gone from this room, and was tumbling towards the sea on a wave of abandonment. The man, alert and sure of himself, didn’t waste time with watery metaphors. He had already got out of bed, moved around the room,opened the shutters and returned with something clinking in his hands.
As he added more chain, and padlocked my arms to the metal bedstead, and I clinked and chimed like church bells, as he pushed my arms behind me and went down to part my legs to take what was his, just before all hopes of rationality were lost, as the water rushed over my head, as the sheep scattered and stumbled down the mountain, as everything went dark, I had one last tiny helpless thought: it all starts here.