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July 2016, vol 12 no 2

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Marietta Jane McGregor

What We Hide

Her thesis supervisor is a courtly, softly-spoken man in his early forties, mild as a country cleric, for whom he could be taken from his dress. High-buttoned white shirts, grey crew-neck woollen pullovers hand-knitted by his wife, knife-creased flannels. For field trips he affects a working man's uniform of serge trousers, hiking boots and khaki gaiters. He behaves with impeccable formality towards all his graduate students. Sometimes at faculty parties he breaks out, drinks too much, spouts Welsh and jumps on tables. But he is devoted to his wife and three children, and is a diligent and fair supervisor.

Now, knee-deep in the tannin-dark waters of a mountain tarn, he is naked. Despite the bitter cold, after a day’s messy drilling for peat cores he and his student have stripped at opposite ends of the black lake to wash off clinging bog muck. The water is too icily acidic for soap to lather. She glances in the direction of his slender frame, his narrow flanks white against the heath field, and quickly looks away before he sees her. That night, huddled by the fire dressed in long johns and waterproofs, they heat dried vegetable soup to eat with hard crackers. Enveloped by mountain darkness they settle for sleep in the two-man tent they carried here. Close together for a little warmth, but not touching.

The year goes fast — peat cores taken back to the lab, analysed, results pulled together, thesis written up and submitted. She graduates and leaves for another city. On a homecoming visit, a former colleague says her supervisor has given away his books and left his family and job for a lover. Years later he writes her a letter about his feelings on their field trip to the wilderness tarn shelf. Thinking it over, she regrets burning this letter. She hopes he's happy.

winter night
tent shadows pin me
close to earth