And once I had returned from the ice, you were already headed for death. Things between us were unpleasant. We’d spent too much time apart. First, the effort to strike the northern pole aboard the Fram; then returning to science, to politics—the independence of our country, the lost soldiers who needed repatriation once the Great War had depleted itself. Our children stayed with relatives mostly. It was not until your death that I wondered: What did you do in the house alone? I like to think that you practiced your singing, though you said you never did. You said that you performed at your mother’s salons or went in to town, to the hall. I always imagined you were lying to me, keeping your secrets. The unknown of your heart was a great comfort to me.
There is no purpose to having goals for their own sake or for the sake of one’s honor. It took just over ten years for our work to be erased. After filling our home’s empty rooms when they interviewed me, the Italian team made it further north than Johansen and myself. Less than ten after that, the American claimed to have put us all to shame, planting his country’s flag in the ice. As a younger man, this might have unknotted me. I would have been called to beat him. I would have died, certainly, in an attempt to prove my supremacy. I was certainly prepared to die when we crossed Greenland and was nearly was asked to do so, being dragged down into a crevasse by one of the men who’d slipped through.
The snow had just fallen. It was still powder and I stabbed my axe over and over trying to gain purchase in the ice below. Yet it failed to make a difference: the axe would not catch. It was worthless. I could see the slow change of angles as his body continued falling down into the crevasse; its great maw pulled me toward it as well with all of its will and the aid of his rope, of gravity pulling on him, on me.
As a boy, I had taken my brothers into the forest and we’d practiced at adventure. The ski trips I’d made back and forth to home from university to home and back again over the mountains. A skill, to a career. That career to the wrong step of someone I’d roped myself to, the knot I had tied myself, the change in weather, all resulting in my death. I thought I heard you shouting. You told me, Dig in, Fridtjof. You cursed me more than you’d ever done aloud.
It was then that I felt a protective hand grasp the front of my coat and pull my body in the opposite direction. The man hanging out there in oblivion slowed his descent. The tautness against my stomach and groin lessened, and I thought that he might have snapped the rope and fallen, but he had merely halted.
“I’m alright!” he shouted.
“Get him up,” said the one who’d stopped us. He had a fist full of my jacket in his bare hand. With his other, still gloved, he motioned to a third man, who stood, dumbly, sticks still in his hands. His own rope hung between himself and his partner without purpose or energy. “Grab Nansen. Keep him in place.”
They came to hold on to me, and I asked who had grabbed my coat? Who had stopped us?
“You did it yourself, sir,” they said. “You caught yourself on the ice.”
My heart filled with love for you, my wife, my love. For you had leaned on my axe. My Eva, you kept me from falling.