Monday, February 15, 2010

Clench. Unclench.

The month is half over, and by the end of March – six weeks – we expect to be not so much settled as resident in Salzburg. Perhaps we’ll be in a short-term self-catering flat. Or, if things go well next week, it’s possible we will have found an apartment.

But wait. Even if we’ve found an apartment, when will the container packed with furniture and household belongings arrive? It was almost exactly three months from the day the Spanish-speaking crew packed our belongings one August afternoon in Southern California until the two men with Cockney accents unpacked them here in Co Tipperary, carrying the crates across a muddy yard under a pewter-streaked sky. Rather than crossing an ocean, however, this time it’s only a ferry trip and onto a train or truck to travel into the heart of the Continent.

Time expands. We’ve been waiting nearly three months for confirmation of the job, anxiety all but paralysing us as we drifted through the winter days. I sat in the quiet of this comfortable, secure house watching the clouds rest on the heath-covered peaks of the Galtee Mountains to the north, thinking. The three years in this peaceful countryside – peaceful, not quiet, for tractors rumble by, sheep bawl, cattle low, and crows scold – stretch out indeterminately. From the light-filled windows of the bedroom, I see the undulating silhouette of the Knockmealdown Mountains to the south, calm and blue across the valley farmed for centuries by my husband’s forebears and those of our neighbours. (How many centuries? There is a 5,000-year-old burial cairn, a heap of stones piled as high and wide as a two-story house, standing in a field two pastures over.) Seasons change, light and colours shift, the days drift onward like the clear bog-brown water of the streams and rivers that wend their way through this green land.

Time contracts. I lie in the early morning dark, stomach suddenly clenched, remembering the August afternoon not even three years ago, shimmering heat distorting the blue mountains seen across another valley. Even after weeks of trying to plan, I stand paralysed, surrounded by a whirlwind of activity, as the removal men sweep away books, clothes, bedding – our houseful of belongings – and load them onto the truck. So much stuff! How much can we afford to take? What goes in the luggage, what goes in the container? What stays, relinquished with the finality of never coming back? (The men, eager to get away that Friday afternoon, work faster than I can think. And then, after they’d driven off – Where are the passports? They were right here, on this shelf, the shelf – and I see, as from a distance, the gesture, my arm flung back as I indicate the shelf – ‘All this goes.’)

It will be like that very soon. Only a day after we contacted the estate agent about renting this house, he showed it to a prospective tenant, even in this slow market. How soon will it be available, he asks. Kathleen, the agent in charge of shipping, wants to know when she can schedule the survey of the house, or, more precisely, of the items to be shipped. How can we say when we haven’t even an idea of what size apartment we’ll be able to afford? This day next week we’ll fly to Salzburg so Himself can formally begin work and we can look at apartments. Only then will we begin to know how much space we may have.

Then we’ll come back to the questions. What goes? What stays? What goes in the luggage, what goes by air freight, what goes in the container? As I move through the house now, my eyes light on small items, things I rarely notice – an ornament, a vase, my great-grandmother’s gift to my grandmother, the small strawberry-patterned plate that belonged to my mother, gifts of the long ago, memories. The shelves of books, read and unread. Densely written notebooks, set aside and unregarded. Dishes shipped six thousand miles, some not used since. So much stuff. Does any of it matter?

Time contracts, then expands. A week to wait, unable to move, until we leave. A week until I see Salzburg for the first time. A week of uncertainty, of watching the clouds snagged on the amber-and-violet covered peaks of the Galtees. What should I be doing while we wait out the week? Only a week. My stomach clenches. So much to organise. So little time to think, to say goodbye. I know I should be doing something.


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