‘The lost tree’ (2/2)

As she walked, the trees fell away to nothing, like green woollen socks at the snow’s white-skinned ankles. She relished its thickness; the way it still crunched under the weight of her boots. She looked up. She remembered nothing of this.

Standing alone, on a perfect mound, was a tree. If she had seen it before, she was certain she would have noted its majestic shape: twice her height, a perfect pyramid, branches stretching out like arms bearing the gift of snow.

It was only when she moved closer that she realised what was hanging from the tree’s branches was not just snow; not even icicles, but decorations so fine they were almost invisible. Two hundred or more blown glass baubles. Ebba gasped, standing just close enough for the steam of her breath to cloud them.

On each, there were words, written in curly frosted letters. Opeth. Silvia. They were names, and beneath each of them, a date. Were they birthdays, she wondered?

Then, her eye caught a name she recognised: GarĂ°rofa. She had never heard it before or since. He was the horse she used to ride when she lived at Trolleboda, who ran away after the fire. She looked closer. There, on the bauble beside it, the name of her half sister: Alice Nilssen. Klas Wagner, her History professor. Julia, her Grani. Natt, the dog who never came home one night in – yes, it was in November 2005. They were all there, the people she had known and lost. All their names, on the tree.

It must have been midday, because the sun was trying its hardest to shine from where it loped behind the snow clouds, and in its bright apricot-coloured gaze, the baubles offered up the smallest hint of a sparkle. She had to get back. Her guests would be here by now.

Ebba tried to find the lost tree many times after Christmas day, but it wasn’t until May that she found it again, completely by chance, when she took a wrong turn on the hike up to the summer hut. This time, she was disappointed. Now the snow was melting, it looked just like any other tree, and it wasn’t particularly grand after all. The ground beneath her feet was sticky like a fruit cake, and the mud clogged her boots.

She would not search for it again until Christmas eve, and then she would leave the compass behind.