She was hot and weary and aching. It had taken hours to reach this place. Or years, if you looked at it another way. The wind made her clothes flap and her hair whipped round her face, the roaring in her ears blocking out her sense of the presence of others. She looked out towards the Tiernsee, a far-away splash, and remembered the last time she had climbed this mountain. What a stupid child she had been.
Looking back now, she felt she could understand her struggles a little better. What had she been searching for in those days? Acceptance? Admiration? It was more than that. She’d wanted a place – a niche. Somewhere she fitted and things made sense around her. She had never found that at home, not after she left her grandmother’s.
School had been better, wonderful, at first. Only she’d always spoilt it by doing something idiotic. Rudeness, pranks that went just a little too far. Running off. Picking squabbles, even with Joey, who’d given as good as she got, but who’d always forgiven her, always loved her. And gentle Robin – she cringed when she thought of her reaction to Robin when she’d told her about Joey’s wedding. Jealousy. Insecurity. How could they damage you so much?
She’d been angry with her father when he wouldn’t let her take up P. T. Justifiably so. But she’d let anger and self-pity make her bitter and she’d grown sarcastic and unpleasant so that the girls disliked her and most of the staff let her alone. Yet her oldest friends had never rejected her. Never made her feel they didn’t want her. She could still remember every word of Joey’s after that last time. Len. Joey’s daughter, going up in flames. Even now the memory turned her cold.
Grizel! My poor lamb! Why hadn’t Joey flown at Grizel? Cast her away into some terrible outer darkness, as she deserved. How could anyone talk like that to the person who had almost killed their child? Bewildered and frightened, she fled. The Head had lent her the money that her stepmother refused her. It had allowed her to leave as she had wished, to cross the world and rest with Deira.
She tried to pay for what she had done – not just that, but everything – by serving Moira, Deira’s little daughter, gently and willingly. But that didn’t stop her waking at night seeing Len burning and screaming. Or Joey, calling her a murderer and throwing her out of her house, Len dying in terrible pain at her feet. Grizel never managed to tell Deira what had happened. Once she had woken up and thought Len was there, burning. She couldn’t move, but she could scream, so she did that. Screamed and screamed until Deira had come in, switched on the light, shown her that there was nothing there. It had woken Moira, terrified her. After that she realised she had to talk to someone.
So she told Tony. He was one of Deira’s closest friends. He loved Moira and she knew that Deira often talked to him about her troubles with her daughter. He told Grizel that she had to forgive herself. Grizel laughed. He told her that everyone made mistakes. The great thing was that you had to let them shape you into a better person. If you didn’t, you became, in the end, warped. Self-obsessed and deluded, seeing things that weren’t there and unable to see the good in yourself. She had known what he meant. Sometimes she felt that she was bad all through, that she could never atone, never become acceptable.
Tony had asked her if, in that case, she thought Deira unacceptable. Had Deira not done exactly the same thing as Grizel when she threw that stone? Shockingly, he had gone on to ask her why she felt she had to atone at all? Didn’t she proclaim her belief in the forgiveness of sins every Sunday? Why did she not live as though she believed it? Wasn’t that why Jesus had died – because he was atoning for everything that Grizel and Deira and he and everyone else in the world had done, freeing them from guilt? Or did she, perhaps, think that her sins were too great to be forgiven? Grizel had cried then. Cried and cried until she felt as though she had no tears left. She began to feel lighter, freer. But then Moira had died, and Deira had married Tony, which Grizel had been expecting, but that didn’t make it any easier. Tired, feeling as though she had lost her lamp and was groping in the dark, she had stumbled back to Joey.
Things were so different now. It had all happened so suddenly that even two years later it seemed rather unbelievable. It had started with Joey’s ridiculous house-party, of course. She hadn’t wanted to go. She’d felt so drained, so empty. But all those people – they’d all been glad to see her. It was as though they didn’t remember what she’d been like. And Joey had been impossibly wonderful. She’d forgotten what an amazing quantity of love Joey seemed to possess. And Mary-Lou, who, despite the fact that they had never met before or since, had said that Grizel had helped her. By the end of a few days she knew that the healing which Tony had begun was continuing and that somehow she felt more like a whole person than she had done in her entire life.
She’d saved Len’s life, too, and that gave her a warm glow even though she had truly forgiven herself for what she’d done that day. Most of all, there was Neil and without quite knowing how it had happened, she had discovered that there was a place for her in the world, that she could be happy. In ten days time she and Neil would be going back to the Platz, to their own home. And here she was now, at the summit of the great Tiernjoch, looking out across the mountains and valleys, at the Tiernsee, tiny and shimmering far below, and the whole world, just waiting for her to live in it.