High Tide - excerpt
They usually brought Ieva in first. The prison’s hotel room was a long, narrow bedroom with a window at the end of it looking out onto the inner prison wall. Two beds against opposite walls. Two bare, ugly nightstands. No frills.
She was always sitting on the bed when the guards brought Andrejs in. He liked to think that she sat because her trembling knees would give away her excitement. But maybe she sat so she’d resemble a painting. Because she knew full well—in this empire of ugliness she looked so unnaturally beautiful. Who the hell knows. He was never able to fully understand Ieva.
He already had the feeling back then that she was slowly pulling away from him, that she was already associating with people who stayed out of trouble. And it was only the prison with the clanking of its hundreds of doors, the jangling of keys, narrow hallways, the spots of light on the guards’ uniforms, Andrejs’s shaved head and large eyes in his gaunt, dark face that fused them together—the way only prison can do.
When she stopped coming, he spent the next four years entertaining the thought of killing her once he got out. But that lasted only four years, not longer. No emotion lasts longer than four years without support from God. It was around then he found that book by the stove in the prison boiler room, read it and calmed down. For life. The only thing he asked of God was to never see Ieva again. Now he’s always on edge whenever he goes to Riga to visit their daugh-ter. Ieva is probably around somewhere. Why shouldn’t she be?
Just as alive as back then.
[. . .]
Ieva’s visits were beautiful in their slow pace. There was no rush. “We’ll be back tomorrow at ten!” the guards would remind them as they left. And then time would suddenly start back up for Andrejs, whose life orbited a bewitched circle, where the same actions took place every morning, every night, and every year, forever winding up back at the beginning; a life where the mirrors are frozen and always reflect the same image. He had been shunned from time both physically—in prison—and spiritually—within himself.
But then one morning Ieva would show up and time would start again.
Even the guards noticed it because they said they’d be back in the morning to separate them. Andrejs suddenly became worthy of keeping track of time—this body the court had sentenced to age hidden from sight. Something overflowed and pushed out, the floodgates burst open—a powerful torrent rushed forward from 10 a.m. through 10 a.m. the next day, and it took his breath away to see how elastic and shifting time was, how material and flowing it was.
On those days he hated the clock. On those days the clock once more had meaning, and it mocked him as much as it could, like someone born to be a prison guard—someone with tormenting in their blood, someone who makes sure you’ll never forget them.
He and Ieva would sit and exchange unhurried words, they could see the prison wall from the window and watch inmates wander around the yard like livestock, like a dazed flock in bluish parkas or white shirts, depending on what season it was. Sunspots moved across the floor. They talked about neighbors, Ieva’s job, his friends and prison life, their parents, money, and Monta. Andrejs would look at photographs of his daughter, if Ieva had been able to conceal them well enough in her clothes, and say he’d put them in a plastic binder. He had an entire collection of photographs like these hidden under the false bottom of his nightstand.
Andrejs would study how time had changed his daughter’s face. When she was born she had looked exactly like him, like she’d been shaped in a mold, a tiny copy of him, an imprint in dark metal. Then her face started to change, jump from his features to Ieva’s expressions and back again. Of course a lot depended on the angle of the photo and the lighting, but in the end Monta became Monta. It was impossible not to notice it.
He’d timidly beg Ieva to bring Monta with her. And Ieva would firmly answer that her daughter would never set foot in a prison or ever breathe this prison air.
“And if I die?” he asked.
And that’s how she was, a straight-up bitch. It was because of her Andrejs was in prison, because of her and that ass Aksels, but see, she made herself to be this noble, white dove who visited him like a dream once a season. But she was absent at the same time. Naiveté—or rather, what was it called again?—immaturity. Exactly.
An immature infant. And a bitch. She comes to prison, but doesn’t breathe the air! That idiocy comes from books, of course. I am what I am, and where I am is where I am. But see—it’s easier to deny reality, to linger in the dream, to pretend, to observe.
Independence and betrayal. The entire breed of book readers are traitors! Because they use words however they see fit, and they’re as sly as foxes. They’ll forever twist the world into something they like better. Everyone else sees black, but they say it’s just the opposite of white. Obviously you can say it like that, too, but it will always be connected to a selfish purpose so tangled it’s sickening.
That was when the fight started. The time when he gave her his shirt as she left because it was pouring outside. May showers—loud and spattering, or in a gleeful disarray.
And she never came again. Just sent back the shirt with a note—Everything’s over for real now. Ieva.