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I rolled him on to the middle of the plastic where he settled on his back. His eyes half opened and he muttered something inaudible. I looked back along his tracks, and saw something dark in the distance. I went to fetch it — the bag was surprisingly heavy, I had to drag it — and dumped it on the plastic beside him.

Ice Diaries: An Antartic Memoir

Getting going was hard, but once moving the plastic slid fairly easily over the surface in spite of the combined weight of the man and his belongings. Back home, hot and sweating, I lumped the backpack over the railing on to the balcony what on earth was in it? I struggled and heaved. No chance. I shouted in his face.

I took off my glove, pushed his hood out of the way and slapped his cheek a stinging blow. He grunted and his eyelids flickered. I went to slap him again and found my wrist trapped in an iron grasp. Furious eyes met mine.

Review: In Ice Diaries, Jean McNeil is haunted by her time in Antarctica

His voice was a snarl. He let go my wrist and after a moment pulled himself to his feet, hanging on to the edge of the railing, and stepped over painfully slowly as if he were in his eighties. I followed with my plastic, grabbed his bag, slid the door open and we both went in. I lit a tea light lantern. The stove had gone out, and the place was icy; most of the snow in the buckets round the walls still unmelted. Sometimes I long for radiators and a timer and no smell of wood smoke in my hair. I was down to my last few sheets of newspaper for fire lighting. I opened the stove door and dropped it inside, added kindling, wood, and a handful of coal, then lit the paper from the tea light so as not to waste a match.

The man had slumped on the stone-effect tiles and was leaning against the kitchen island, head down, face half hidden by straggling hair, pulling off his gloves with a visible effort. Irritation swept over me at finding myself lumbered with this uncouth man and his problems — my compassion appeared to have been all used up on Claire with none left over for this random stranger.

I picked his gloves off the floor and hooked them over the stove. He was probably dehydrated, so I scooped him a glass of water out of the nearest bucket. He drank it in one go and I gave him another. And the stove was cold. I was tired and wanted to go to bed. He was clearly dead beat. He struggled upright, picked up the rucksack, made it to the sofa and lay down as he was, eyes shut, one foot still on the floor, dead to the world. Reluctantly, I unlaced his wet boots and pulled them off, because the flat was freezing and boots can restrict blood flow, making frostbite more likely.

I got out two spare duvets and a couple of blankets and dropped them over him, and put a glass of water to hand on the coffee table. I washed my hands and face and cleaned and flossed my teeth — in a world without dentists anyone with sense does this with religious zeal. I woke as it began to get light, thinking about Claire and the baby. Then I remembered the man and slipped out of bed to check on him. He must have taken his jacket off during the night, as it lay across the rucksack beside his boots. The water glass was now empty, and I refilled it.

Ice Diaries: An Antarctic Memoir

I dressed in the privacy of my bed corner. Usually I dress by the stove. When I moved in, I dragged one bed into the living area and partitioned it off with neat stacks of firewood from floor to ceiling, so I only have to heat one room. I watered my spider plant and removed a few dead leaves.

VANESSA’S DIARIES -- DANCING ON ICE -- WEEK 5 -- PART 1

They are the only plants left in this part of London. There are bodies, but not too many; I work fast in those rooms and avert my gaze, careful to shut the doors behind me to keep the rats out. The worst ones are where there are several people, huddling together, especially children. I try not to think about their last hours.

Probably most of them died of cold, anyway. Wood burns much faster. I could forage the next day. Greg interrupted my writing mid-morning. It was a particularly nice one. He wound the brass key carefully, shook the globe and set it down. We stared into the tiny perfect world; a village on a snowy hill, a church and snow-covered houses around a central Christmas tree.

A miniature train ran on its track through tunnels while a cheerful tune tinkled and snowflakes swirled. I certainly have. You could have the big one opposite. We could ride on the train. A snow globe and London have a lot in common these days; both are perpetually snowy and limited in scope. I put water to boil. Greg was in favour of calling him Bart he was a great Simpsons fan, and misses them. I found him in the snow last night and dragged him here. I joined him. He was right — how did I miss that?

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A big dark patch on the quilted lining. We stood for a few seconds, gazing thoughtfully. Greg picked up the jacket for a closer look, and the man erupted from the bedding and pulled a knife on him. The sunlight flashed off a short business-like blade. He stared at us in turn, bloodshot eyes narrowed, breathing fast.

His sweater was soaked in blood. We edged away. After a moment, Greg bent forward and dropped the coat back where it came from. I suddenly felt annoyed. Put that away. Clearly I was on my own with this conversation. He was called Wat. He was stabbed by the Lord Mayor of London.

Maybe you could use that argument to persuade Claire. Conversations with Greg often have a surreal quality I no longer notice. The stranger gazed from one of us to the other, frowning slightly, as if we had suddenly started talking in Ecclesiastical Latin. He felt in an inside pocket and held out a coin. I took it, curious.

A Krugerrand, heavy in my hand. Or for lugging you here, or letting you spend the night. He nodded. While I opened the tins, they both sat on the sofa and Greg told him our names and about our little community, and asked him questions which Morgan answered without giving much away. Then everyone helped me to find things for my own place.

Greg counted on his fingers. Temps de fonctionnement: hrs. Voix de: Bridget Wareham.


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  • ICE DIARIES!

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