Growing up in the sophisticated Capital City of Norway, that shares it’s latitude with Alaska, Greenland and Siberia, Othilie Risen would have felt a close bond with nature as her every day choices of clothing and activities were profoundly affected by the changing seasons. Although the warm Golfstream sweeping along Norway’s long western coastline is somewhat counteracting and mellowing what would otherwise be a bitterly cold climate, Liv Risen would not have let her daughter out in the winter without ‘stil-longs’ under her trousers, – that is leggings made from genuine fine wool – and knitted mittens and a hat would also have been obligatory.
As midwinter approached, before daylight dawned Otti had already had two lessons at school and as long as temperatures stayed above minus 10 degrees Celsius the children had to play outside during breaks, – so the stil-longs came in handy. After 3.00 pm Otti walked back home again watching the sun set, the Norwegian day lasting only a measly 6 hours.
In early spring or on a clear autumn evening, after having a hot meal of seasonal whale-beef and boiled potatoes for tea at 5, Otti went out again in the dark to take riding lessons on the hills around the city, and this is when she might have seen – as she moved with the horse through the clear cold darkness – the spectacular northern lights flare across the wide open skies.
With the arrival of midwinter the ski-tracks around the city beckoned after school and Otti put her skies on and glided into the woods beyond the suburbs, exploring a crisscrossing network of tracks, her paths lit up with bright white snow and some even with electric lights, as she was taking her evening ski-stroll.
Finally, having endured the long cold winter, summer came with the longing to expose as much skin as possible to the warming sun and Otti played outside well into the light evenings while her parents were hesitating to go inside, too, eating and drinking on balconies in gardens and lingering in pavement cafes. On an especially lovely day the family escaped on the ferries to go swimming and pick-nicking on the islands around the fjords. When the sun finally set on such a lovely summers day, it was barely an hour until midnight. The sun would be up again before 4.00am.
It was on such a summer night that Fred and Otti finally got married:
Inside their suite he felt her tumbling against him, but he gave her a quick squeeze and let her go, taking his jacket off meticulously and looking around the room for the champagne he had ordered. It was on the table by the window. Outside, the city was wide awake partying the Saturday night away. Nights in midsummer never quite fell dark; after hanging suspended in half-light for a few hours, the sun wistfully gave up on its descent and started on its climb into day once more, growing pink and bright as it rose in the small hours.
Freddy drew the curtains tightly to keep the light out. It was finally happening, he thought. From now on, he would be making love to Otti. There was no turning back.
He popped the cork off the champagne and poured them both a glass, doing his best to keep her entertained while she drank. Filling their glasses up once more, he loosened his bow-tie and hung it on the hook by the door. There was no other way than to turn the lights off. He did so much want to see her; his head had been filled with images of her nakedness for a long time, both before and after the revelations in the sewing room. But he was not ready yet to let her see him. It was not his body he was worried about because he knew it was strong and athletic. He just could not reveal to her his need of comfort, of the security he hoped she would give him. He feared his eyes would run full of longing for what he had been missing his whole life.
Otti’s Escape by Marianne Wagner, ebook out July 18th