1 Svend Åge Madsen: See the Light of Day (1980) Translated from Danish by Julie K. Allen. Chapter One Time, the bloodsucker, makes my days as fleeting as images gliding past me. I awaken, reborn. In a quiet room. Gently, because I want to look at her today before she sees me, I turn toward the woman lying by my side. The day reveals itself. Her hair is blond. It is short, kind of curly. Her cheek is plump, with the hint of a smile. A cute chin. A little doll-like, but a doll with character and warmth. I‟m extraordinarily attracted to her. She can‟t be very tall. Carefully, I press myself closer to her, right into the warmth of her body. I manage to feel her, firm and round, my hands under her pajamas, before she awakens. She mumbles sleepily. Just as my mouth seeks her breast, she pulls my head away. She holds it with outstretched arms, looking at me curiously. Her eyes are blue. And then she laughs and pulls me close to her. We kiss. —Judith, she says afterward. —Elef, I mumble. —Are you busy? —Mmmm. Then she chuckles. Soon she‟s as playful as I am. She is even smaller than I first assumed. Her entire body is warm and immensely lively. Her hands wander intensely around my body. When I come, I hug her head in toward my chest to never let go. And then she comes a moment later, with a long, joyful sigh. We lie beside each other, her hand in mine, and know each other. —Alef? —Elef. An old Nordic name. —I have finally given you love, Elef. The expected answer sticks in my throat. I squeeze her hand. She slides a finger down my arm. But there is no excitement in her touch now. —You seem thoughtful, Elef? —A moment ago it was so important, so strong. And now … I can hardly remember what we did. She laughs, sharply, infectiously. —Yeah, there‟s always something new to think about, she says lightly. —And don‟t you ever lack … give me the word … —Continuity? —Thanks. You never lack continuity? —Once I did … The thought makes her laugh before going on. —… I started to collect pictures of my husbands. I dabble in photography. —That‟s an idea. What happened? 2 —After I had taken pictures of three or four and put them neatly in an album, I abandoned the project. —Why? —It stopped being so important. I guess I got interested in something else. —We always get interested in something else, don‟t we? —Yes … fortunately. Do you smoke? She takes a filter cigarette out of her personal bag. I kiss her on the back when she stretches. Again, when I kiss the nape of her neck, she laughs. Her cheerfulness washes over me. —What a day to wake up to, I say appreciatively. The room is a bit dark, but arranged comfortably. A couple of vigorous potted plants in the corner. I get up and go over to the window. A bare, wild, thorny hedge. A cat slips over the grass, catches sight of me, stops, looks me in the eye, and then moves on. We are somewhere in Åby. I recognize the street a couple of hundred meters away. —What a day to wake up to, I say disappointedly. —You can‟t rely on anything. —Is it overcast? —Yeah, it‟s sleeting a little. Yesterday it was spring. Today it‟s winter again. —„Change is in all things sweet.‟ —Shakespeare? —Some ancient Greek guy. —Have you read him? —No —she laughs at the thought. —One day my husband was full of quotes. —I was traveling once. In the south. They could forecast the weather three or four weeks ahead. Guaranteed sun for the rest of the month. —How boring. —It had its advantages. The door opens without warning. Our daughter bursts in. —Mom, she cries and jumps up onto the bed to Judith. —Hi, dad. —Hi, baby. My nudity bothers me more than her. She‟s about four or five years old. I hear the other one outside, with heavier, calmer steps, and grab my pants. When she walks in, she doesn‟t say hello. She hardly looks up from the magazine she‟s holding. —I think children benefit from seeing how adults look, Judith says and winks at me. I surrender my embarrassment. —Hey, dad. You really like mom, right? —Sure. —It is true what it says here? —What does it say? —That ducks, after they hatch, imprint on the first living thing they see? —Whether it is a wheelbarrow, a puppy, or a little girl— Judith laughs— it follows it around for the rest of its life. —That‟s strange, says the older girl. The younger one laughs at the thought. We keep joking about the topic while we get up and set the table for breakfast. 3 —I‟m going to be a judge today, Judith bursts out happily. —Whisper your least desire to me… —Why are you excited about that? I think it sounds unpleasant. She explains a few ideas she‟s had about the treatment of rule-breakers. But the girls can‟t wait anymore to look in their day plan and soon they drown her out. —I‟m going to visit an English folk singer. That suits. —A what? —A guy from England who likes to sing. The younger girl tries bravely to read her day plan, but has to ask me for help. —You get to go on a hike. … The weather isn‟t too good. Remember to dress warmly. While they get ready, I get the chance to run through my own day plan. I‟ll be working as a teacher. It fits, as the children say. It‟s been a pretty long time since I tried that. Our girls are named Nicla and Anna-Margaretha; I hadn‟t even asked them. We have a green Citroën. A cat, probably the one I saw in the garden. We can stay home tonight, invite Judith‟s widowed mother, or visit some friends. We organize our day while we eat breakfast. I like making plans, so that there‟s a chance the whole day will work out well. Judith teases me a little and gets me to admit that a spontaneous day, where we follow our momentary impulses, would be more amusing. I get the sense that she attracts me more than I attract her. She forces me to grow. We drive down Silkeborg Road into town in our little, light-green car. First we drop off Anna-Margaretha at her meeting point, where a lively crowd of kids in raingear are already gathered. Nicla and I get dropped off at school. Judith continues on in to the courthouse. Before she drives off she gives me a goodbye kiss and whispers in my ear: —Try to remember not to feel up women before you dare to look them in the eye. I want to make a witty reply, but only manage to ruffle her curls a little before she moves on. I say hello to the Englishman who‟s going to be together with my daughter and a couple of other musically-inclined students. The school is one of the oldest in town. It has hardly been altered; many of the rooms look like they did originally. It is charming but can of course also be a little intimidating. I spend the first few hours in a teachers‟ meeting. A few new ideas have surfaced since I was a teacher last. We discuss them. I‟ve taught about forty or fifty times by now, so it turns out that I am one of the veterans. Typically enough, it is a really young guy, who‟s only taught two or three days, that has the strongest opinions about how things ought to be tackled. It is refreshing to encounter his completely open-minded ideas. I read the Memory to be used in the classroom. It is cut in a familiar pattern: a woman neglects her husband, who needs help. He passes this neglect along to whomever he meets and it expands and grows into a chain of suffering until one day it comes back to the woman again. The class, which consists of seven young people of about the same age, has spent the first couple of hours getting to know each other and talking about the story among themselves. We quickly agree that the pattern is not used very convincingly in this case. 4 Then we get into a conversation about Memories, when they are worthwhile and why we even have them. In the course of this, one of the students, a boy of twelve, says: —A day worth living is also worth describing. Even though I‟m not sure that I agree, the idea makes me thoughtful. We promise each other to write a Memory, each one of us, when we get home, under the heading, “A day worth living is also worth describing.” We end the meeting with a good feeling. Two of the girls have clearly decided to stay behind to write together. I feel something growing in my thoughts. Madame Datam had amused herself by giving me another class the same day where we talk about the same story again. The conversation is more labored. I‟m sure the students think that I seem mechanical, that I don‟t inspire thoughts but only reproduce them. The only interesting thing for me in this hour is experiencing what an uncomfortable effect repetition is. I have heard of people who had to play the same part in a play, repeat the same lines, express the same feelings on cue several times, several days in a row. After this second hour, I understand better what an agonizing experience that must have been. Judith picks us up. She is different. More thoughtful and serious, as if the day has matured her. Am I a bit embarrassed that my experiences have left so little trace? When we pick up Anna-Margaretha, she‟s soaking wet from having fallen into pond after thinking that the green duck food covering it was green-colored ground. She takes it in good humor, even though it sounds like she‟s starting to get a cold. Once we get home we give her a warm bath. We call the friends we‟ve been assigned. They invite us to dinner and we accept happily. They live on the outskirts of town in a pretty new building. We take a little detour to get out into the country and get a sense of how far along springtime is. We stop somewhere. We hop out and jump around like immature foals to convince ourselves and nature that spring is waiting just around the corner. Nicla stumbles and skins her knee. She has tears in her eyes. I hold both hands like a bowl around the sore spot and share her pain. Afterward we wink bravely at each other. She wipes a tear from my eye and I do the same for her. Anna-Margaretha remembers her accident on the hike, when her parents weren‟t around to worry about her. Judith makes everything all right and as the four of us go back to the car, arm-in-arm, I get a sense of us, for an incomparable moment, being one great, warm being. Our friends are the same age as we are. Their children and ours find each other right away. Just after us, a couple of young men arrive who have apparently spent a good day together, for they don‟t want to let go of each other‟s hand. They don‟t have any children yet. A little later, another friend arrives, a somewhat older man who introduces himself as Agge. There‟s something a little strange about him. All people are different and I value this difference, but there is something repellent about his manner. Of course I don‟t mention it to him, since I don‟t know him well enough. 5 Our host had been a lawyer a few days ago and still remembers it clearly, and one of the young men has occasionally been a reporter about criminal affairs, so the conversation naturally turns to Judith‟s experiences in court. —I was probably a little naïve this morning, Judith admits with a smile. —But I really thought there might be a chance to help law breakers. —Don‟t you think so anymore? I ask. —There was an older man I had to sentence. Fortunately there were three of us. I would not have wanted to have that responsibility by myself. Suddenly, a few days ago, he had gone on a rampage. He had smashed several windows, slashed some tires. I had imagined that you‟d be able to talk some sense into someone like that, get him to recognize his mistakes. He had done the same thing three times before. The strange thing was that you couldn‟t talk to him at all. Impossible to reach him. — Judith is clearly unpleasantly moved — he didn‟t seem at all … human. —I‟ve met that sort, our hostess interjects. —A kind of fixed personality. I remember one of them saying: “That‟s just the way I am.” Those words made a deep impression on me. —This one said something similar. I didn‟t understand him. —Can‟t they be helped? I asked uncertainly. —Better just let them be. Agge says it slowly with an odd emphasis. He looks penetratingly at me. Now I know why he seems so strange. The feeling comes from his penetrating eyes ... and I mean really penetrating, they aren‟t receptive like most people‟s, but sharp, piercing. —I don‟t think there‟s anything to be done with them, says one of the young men. —A sort of function error. That sort of thing happens from time to time. He is talking about Judith‟s case, of course. I can sense that she also feels oppressed by Agge‟s gaze. —What‟s going to happen to him? the host asks. —We didn‟t finish the case. It is a serious matter, after all. They‟ll continue tomorrow. I think there are some older women who have offered to take care of him. —That‟s probably the best that can be done for him, I said. —It has to be stopped before it gets out of control. —That‟s what I thought too. That‟s why I was interested in being a judge. Imagine, as often as once a week someone goes amok like this guy and raises hell. Mostly it‟s older men or women. It must be terrible for them. —It‟s much worse when parents abuse their children. —Here in the city alone it happens two or three times a year, says the one who had been a journalist. —And it doesn‟t get rarer with time. Three out of two hundred thousand! That‟s fifty across the country. Each year! We talk for a while about what the cause can be, but recognize that we know too little about the matter to get any further. But Judith decides to learn more about it. I get the feeling that one of the young men has gotten quite interested in it too. —I‟ve never been very interested in that sort of thing, I admit. —Are other kinds of crime also on the rise? —There have been a few robberies. Mostly cars. But there aren‟t that many. And people are rarely hurt. 6 —I heard about a woman who got the crazy idea of collecting jewelry, says our host. —When she left a home, she‟d take a ring or bracelet with her. Finally her bag was completely full. —What happened to her? —She realized after a while that there were always new pieces of jewelry wherever she came. Whatever she needed was always ready, so she never had any occasion to use any of the stuff she had collected. After she had lugged all the junk around for a couple of days, she returned it all. We laugh together about the absurd idea. —Does violence as a result of disagreements between couples happen too? I ask as a follow-up. —Yes, there was a case of that last year. —There were one or two the year before that, my wife adds. —That seems to be something you have to live with. —I don‟t like that attitude, says our hostess. —It must be possible to do something. Agge has been quiet for a while. Now he joins the conversation, but this time with a greater sincerity, not as accusingly as before: —We should also consider that two people took their own lives last year … crime or not … but still a type of violence. I can see that you don‟t like to hear about this. But it is critical that the truth come out. In the last little while I‟ve been interested in the different kinds of law-breaking. I‟ve written an article about it. He sits leaned back in a high-back recliner, pretends to be relaxed, but I sense that he is more invested in the topic than he wants to admit. The others ask him about the details of his investigation. He answers willingly, almost gladly or proudly. I try to point out that a tragedy lies behind every single case he mentions. But even this objection does nothing to dampen his self-satisfaction. The others are also offended by his lack of compassion. —What do you expect to accomplish with your sighs and sorrowful faces? His unexpected question pulls the rug out from under me. It feels like acting in a serious society-drama when a bicyclist with a red balloon suddenly appears on stage. —These are people we‟re talking about, one of the young men answers quietly. —If we don‟t take their problems seriously, we aren‟t treating them like fellow humans. —We don‟t know if they have problems. We just know that they have broken some rules. This claim leads to a longer discussion but we don‟t get any closer to agreeing. After the conversation the host offers wine or liquor. The only one who accepts is his wife, who asks for a single glass of wine. She explains that she sometimes has a little trouble relaxing and finds it easier to do after she‟s drunk a glass of wine. My wife goes over to talk to her, no doubt in hopes of helping her. The men go out and play with the children. First we play ball. Even though it is completely dark, we play a round of peace ball and have a great time, precisely because the darkness makes it so hard to play. Later we go inside and play clumsy fool. I have the doubtful honor of winning. Judith expressed interest in Agge‟s article, so we take him along in our car. When we drop him off at his house, he gives us a copy of the material he‟s collected. 7 After we get home, we chat with the girls about the events of the day before they go to bed. Anna-Margaretha plays with the cat. Nicla has learned “a pretty little song” that she performs for us. The words of the song fascinate me. After they‟ve gone to bed, I hear the younger girl trying, with difficulty, to imitate the older one, who patiently repeats the difficult English sounds. I make a note about Anna-Margarethe‟s toilet-training and possible cold. And I add that I, as a result of the partially unsuccessful second hour of class, don‟t want to teach in the near future. When the house is quiet, we sit down together on the sofa with a pot of tea. We sit back to back. I can feel the warmth of her body and remember the tight, little body when I got to know it. I only regret that I don‟t have the energy to renew the acquaintance. She reads Agge‟s article. Now and then she quotes something she finds interesting or comments on it. —What did she mean about „fixed personalities‟? I ask. —Fixed personalities? —Yes. —Can you remember this morning, when Nicla came into the bedroom? —As I was standing there fumbling with my underpants? —I made a comment and you immediately stopped fumbling. You showed that you weren‟t a „fixed personality.‟ You very clearly assimilated a part of my personality. Something comparable is impossible for that kind of person. —Odd. For some reason or another I think about Agge. It was almost as if he found a certain satisfaction in destroying the mood. I couldn‟t recall having experienced anything like that before. —I was recently married to a man whose name was Bertil that day. —Judith‟s thoughts had also been wandering. — He claimed that it was unnatural and limiting to keep the same name day in and day out. He was originally named Petter. But he wasn‟t the same the next day, so he felt like it was wrong to keep the same name. He decided to change one letter. So he called himself Pettel the next day. The day after that it became Pertel. That‟s how he was intending to continue. I smile at this. Judith does too, but I can still tell that she is also somewhat attracted by the thought. I‟ve heard of something similar before. I can‟t decide if it is the same guy I heard about, or if this is one of those wandering anecdotes, or if there really is a new trend going around. Judith has picked up her reading again. I lose myself in my thoughts. In an instant I relive the day, this day in its uniqueness, and feel happy. And in the next instant I recognize with a suddenness that gives me vertigo that this day will soon be gone, impossible to regain, and I feel deep despair. I must make a Memory of my day. I grab the stack of papers that Judith has already read and begin to write on their white backs this text about Time, the bloodsucker… That‟s why I‟ve written down this day, when I was Elef and Judith was Judith, piece by piece, the way you write down a dream to hold onto it before it dissolves into nothingness, ceases to have existed. 8 But something important escapes my description. I have often felt this conflict between my words and my experiences before. I have longed for a language that can reflect my life, as I experience it, a soft, gliding language. If I try to capture the content of my day on paper, the mood escapes me, because I am bound to the wrong words … as if I have to use an antiquated language, a series of hard, robust, angular words, invented before life was created. It has taken me a long time. Judith has just dropped the last sheet of paper. I carry her into bed. As I take her clothes off and put her pajamas on, her eyelids just flutter and she smiles in acknowledgement. Her body is still warm, but almost lifeless. She must have taken her sleeping pill without my noticing. I lay down beside her. —Good night, I whisper in her sleeping ear. —I will miss you. —You mustn‟t say that, she mumbles sleepily. —You will take me with you, just as I have been expanded by you, by having lived together with you. We can never be separated. I had already packed my description in my personal bag, but it seems important to me to capture these last words from her as well. So I tiptoe out, write them down. Put the papers back. Chapter Two “Being beautiful just for you.” Donovan. It is morning. I awake. Hesitantly I turn, just to look into two large, dark eyes staring at me. No attention, no response, although I attempt a smile. Has she lain sleepless and fallen into deep thoughts? So I get the chance to observe her, before any bond has been formed between us. Dark hair, narrow face, irregular, as if it has been dented. Is that why it seems a bit frightening? Dark complexion, one of her parents was apparently colored, or at least a grandparent. Only after I clear my throat does she reluctantly turn her head. Maybe it‟s her nose, which is quite prominent, that creates the impression of asymmetry. —Elef. Good morning. —Maya … hi. There is not much warmth in the smile she sends me. I rub my hand searchingly over my beard stubble to determine whether they need to be removed. She seems relieved. Am I a little hurt? I consider giving her a good morning kiss, but she doesn‟t appear to expect it. At the same moment a baby cries in the room next door. She sits up, shocked. Another cry. Maya grabs her housecoat, pink, pulls it on quickly as she runs in to the children. I feel paralyzed, the world goes on, I am at a standstill. A moment later I hear voices from within and then laughter. 9 I can move again, the dream is broken. I look out of the window. A very small garden, this is probably a townhouse. In the suburbs. There is quite a draught at the window. I‟d better insulate it this afternoon. For a second, as I turn toward the bed, I seem to see a small, plump, blond woman in it. Judith. I laugh at myself for the mistake. It must be due to the fact that the two rooms resemble each other somewhat. As I am getting dressed, the door flies open and first a boy and then a girl and Maya tumble in. —We tricked you, dad, cries the boy with an excited voice. —Aren‟t we going to leave soon? begs the girl. —This is Dagny, and Ares, Maya introduces them with a quiet smile. —I‟m twelve, adds Dagny to show that she has good manners. —Ten, mumbles Ares. —Can‟t we go in early? —They‟re going to be theater acting all day. Both of them, Maya explains. — That‟s why they‟re so impatient. —We screamed so you would think something had happened, giggles the boy. —I have a great idea for a piece, Dagny explains. —If we get there first, maybe we‟ll use my idea. —It‟s about a girl who gets too … —Be quiet — Dagny pressed her hand against her little brother‟s mouth. — It‟s supposed to be a surprise. You‟re coming to see it tonight, aren‟t you, Dad? Mom said yes. —Then we‟re coming. Ares stands and bites his lip: —I always get big sisters. Yesterday I had two. Two days ago I had one. And probably the day before that too. A moment later he is excited again. Hands me my day plan. I‟ll be working on the transport system. We have bikes. It‟s six or seven kilometers, but fortunately the weather is clear. That‟s all I manage to see before the kids drag me over to the breakfast table that they had secretly set. —That‟s what we did instead of coming in and waking you up. —That was a good idea, I say in jest. —Just think if you had burst in and caught us … Maya turns her head toward me. A quick glance. I don‟t understand her reaction, but fall silent. I sit down, take a piece of white bread before asking her: —What will you be doing? —I haven‟t looked yet. She doesn‟t look at me as she answers. She hasn‟t fastened her housecoat properly, just pulled it quickly closed. She is thin. And then suddenly she sees me. There is something about her eyes that I don‟t recognize. She picks up her envelope and opens it. Some people do it eagerly, full of expectation. Others are solemn, almost worshipful. Maya opens hers almost carelessly, disinterestedly. —Provisions inventory. She shrugs her shoulders, sits down. I don‟t mention the silly proverb that one is responsible for one‟s own daily lot. 10 —There wasn‟t any reason that you two couldn‟t have left on your own, she says to the children. —You have your own bikes, after all. —We didn‟t know that. —That‟s really too bad. They should put that on the kids‟ day plan too, says Ares. —There are always differences. —You‟re right, they really ought to. —You could write a note about that this evening, I suggest. —Oh please, won‟t you? says Dagny. —They pay more attention to what grown- ups write. —I don‟t think that‟s true. That‟s just something that all kids believe. They always feel unfairly treated. —You‟re generalizing, Dad, says Dagny and shuts me up. I send her a look with my eyes, which she returns smoothly. —I‟ll report it, promises Maya. —It won‟t help anyway, says Ares. —It will take some time, of course. I‟ll jump ahead a little. We‟re standing on the rapid transit tracks, Maya and I. We have dropped the children off at school. Now we are standing indecisively and are supposed to go on, Maya to the right toward the food center, I to the left to get into town. We hesitate, following with our eyes a man taking his dog for a walk. At the same moment we become aware of the rumble of the train coming hurtling from behind us. For a second we stick together, in a thoughtless attempt to save each other, then we jump apart, each to his own side, and are separated a moment later by the train. After it has passed us, we stand and look each other over thoughtfully. She lays her hand on my arm in farewell, it strikes me that this is the first time we have touched each other, and yet the touch doesn‟t mean anything in particular. I ride further through the forest into town. It is completely quiet in the transportation hub. I am among the first workers to arrive. We read the report from the night guard, and as soon as there are enough of us for a team, we take the system out to a place that has caused problems in the course of the night. One of the belts has come off the bearings. We replace some bearings that are worn down completely crookedly. Then we grease and inspect the nearest bays on all sides. We find a few more weak spots, replace them and make notes about two of them. A few of the others, who have apparently worked on the system several times, teach me a clever way to test drive the parts I‟d repaired, without having to start the whole system. Otherwise, we don‟t talk much to each other. We have worked hard and with concentration, and since it doesn‟t particularly interest me, I decide to stop. I daydream a little about what I should use my newly-won freedom for. I would certainly be allowed to help the children make costumes or sets; I know from experience how hard it is to get ready for a performance in time. I want to go to the library. After my discussion in class yesterday, and since I have begun to keep my own record, I feel a need to see how other people tell stories that are a little more comprehensive than usual Memories. It would especially interest me to look at some novels from the past. I could 11 also go to some square and see if a good discussion was going on. That used to be my favorite activity. I think I once took off work for an entire week to participate in the most heated and philosophical discussions to be found. Without have decided anything I begin to bike and discover a little later that I am on my way toward the center where Maya is working. I wander around a little before I find her. She is sitting and entering numbers and product descriptions as fast as three others call them out to her. The three others are wearing smocks. They are each standing by a shelf and counting, after which they call out the result. Maya is wearing her own clothes. She is busy for a while, but when there is a break, she looks up and sees me. Her reaction tells me that I made the right choice. I couldn‟t have found anything like that gleam of surprise in any novel in the library. —Let‟s take a break, she calls out. The three others turn around, surprised at first, then smiling in comprehension when they see me. I feel shy, a good, new feeling that I haven‟t felt in a long time. Suddenly Maya‟s face indicates that I am quite in the way. —What a surprise … are you finished with work? I nod. She turns to her co-workers. —I‟m quitting now. Luise Hanne can take over for me. But don‟t work yourselves to death. There needs to be some work left for them to do tomorrow. Bye. We walk beside each other. She has a unique scent. I recognize it from this morning. Not perfume, or anything like that. She asks, and her voice is different than I remember it, rather hoarsely: —We don‟t have any instructions for the next couple of hours. Do you have any suggestions? —It‟s almost as if we have stolen an afternoon. We press our shoulders against each other like two conspirators. —We could go swimming, she says decisively. —It‟s probably occupied. We can‟t just … —Let‟s try. As we stand outside the swimming hall, she whispers: —When a group comes, we‟ll just go right in with them. There‟s no one checking. She can see my doubts, smiles at them. When a group of eight or ten couples passes us a few minutes later, heading toward the changing rooms, we join them. We nod, no one looks surprised. Maya is issued a bathing suit that is rather large. Suddenly, as we stand in the pool hall, she looks fragile. Her shoulders are frail, the suit falls in folds. I want to go ask for one that fits better, but she doesn‟t care. Most of our group is taking lessons, but we keep to ourselves. While we are in the water, the group is shown a short film. It shows some competitive swimmers from long ago. It is exciting to watch them fighting to arrive a few fragments of a second ahead of each other, and yet tragic at the same time when you know how they lived. After the film we also try the butterfly stroke, but we drown in laughter at each other‟s antics. The rest of the group starts out more seriously but is infected by our laughter and soon even the teachers have to succumb. 12 Couple-saunas have been installed since I was last in this hall. We sit down in one of them. Maya has become thoughtful. —It must have been a strange existence... back then, she says. —Do you mean the swimmers? —Thousands of people were obsessed with one thing. Took upon themselves, voluntarily, one particular task. The idea is stimulating. —Unhealthy. That‟s how it sounds to me. Out of a lack of meaning, someone focuses on swimming obsessively, all day, every day, in the hope of swimming faster than everyone else. And if he‟s finally successful, then a few days later someone else will swim even faster. —What do you mean by „meaning? —To experience beautiful, varied days. In a way I find them also stimulating… or perhaps I should says strange, exciting, thought-provoking… tragic. Like calves with two heads, dogs with six legs, Siamese twins. They can be exhibited in marketplaces, we shudder, are amazed, maybe even applaud them. But envy them—no! —And there‟s nothing you miss? She seems oddly naked, as she huddles on the bench, her arms around herself, with her legs pulled up. Like a child that has forgotten what its parents look like. I am frightened and feel like I ought to do something. —I don‟t miss being able to swim faster than everyone else. I don‟t walk around dreaming of being able to jump higher than everyone else. —Maybe that wasn‟t their goal either. I‟m sure we misunderstand them. Maybe they just wanted to jump a little higher each day than the day before? She says this very quietly and searchingly, whereby she draws a line for my self- confidence. —You mean like we … how should I say this … like we try to raise ourselves a little bit higher each day, add something to ourselves … like I in this moment am trying to assimilate your thought to those that I had to begin with? —Yes, that is what we‟re doing, isn‟t it? she says. —Trying to go further, expand ourselves. Sometimes I have my doubts, sometimes it all seems to fall apart. —Yes. We are more like them than I understood at first, I admit openly. —I‟m afraid that I have looked down on them, I guess. —But there is still the difference that they were so mono-dimensional. We strive to have it all. They restricted themselves to one area or another. That is what was unhealthy. —Or fascinating. At that moment we both smile, knowing each other, recognizing that we have successfully managed literally to exchange opinions. —I am you, and you are me, she says without touching me and goes out to get dressed. We go to visit her mother. She is a very old woman, certainly in her eighties. She is in a wheelchair and lives in a rest home. She is happy for the visit. —Of course there is always a lot of staff, no matter which home I am in, she says. But it is still something else to have a visitor who comes voluntarily. One‟s “children.” She talks eagerly and her eyes are very lively. But she emphasizes her words in an unusual way, which I have heard other older people do. 13 We take a walk in a nearby park, with the wheelchair between us. She says the names of the plants and trees we pass, and tells small details about each one. —I was interested in botany when I was young, she explains. — And I‟ve kept it up a little ever since. It amuses her to see our surprise. She expected this reaction, she probably sets it up each time her children come to visit. —Even though my memory is not what it used to be. Tell me now how you spent your “day.” What does my “daughter” do? Was your name Marianne? —Maya. Today I was in a provisions center to determine how much of the different products had been used. —And that certainly made your “day” unique and valuable? —It wasn‟t fairy-tale interesting, Maya smiles back. —But it was instructive to see what quantities have to be produced each day to keep a city going. I have had the same job once before, but the experience was powerful today again. It was also amusing to observe how constant the consumption of each product is from day to day. —So you‟ve had a wonderful time. —That wasn‟t the most important thing I experienced today. For example, I‟ve learned that my mother possesses a sense of humor that I hardly understand. —Sarcasm, or irony, mumbles her mother. —You mustn‟t be ashamed of it. On the contrary, I‟d love to learn it… And then there is Elef … and the children, Maya adds eagerly in order to distract her mother from her thoughts. —I‟m excited to see their theater piece this evening. You should come with us! We tell about it. At first the old lady excuses herself, citing various practical problems: transport, wheelchair, rest home staff who have the night off. But we can tell that it just a kind of irony. Maya places a hand on her shoulder and she soon allows herself to be persuaded. We drive her back to the rest home, and then bike homeward from there. Maya seems very silent. —Did something she said make you sad? —I‟m afraid she‟s going to die soon. —She seems extraordinarily energetic and active. —I spoke to a nurse. He said … that she‟s terminally ill. —Cancer? —Probably. —Does she know? —The nurse thought so. —She‟s dealing with it well. You‟ll see, she‟ll be around a long time. It can be hard to tell … —She seemed so lonely, hopeless. Her children, in the next few days, ought to know that. Then they‟ll pull themselves together and visit her. —Some of them probably will anyway. —I‟ll make a note about it, so there‟s a better chance that they will. When we get home, Maya puts on a record of Baroque music, Vivaldi, I think, without consulting me. She goes out into the kitchen but leaves the door open. —I‟ll call and see if we can borrow a car for this evening. 14 —Yes, please do, she calls back. I find the number for our friends in my day plan and call them. Jakoba answers the phone. —Hi, this is Elef. —Hi, Elef. … Did you need something? She sounds oddly reserved. Still, I carry out my errand, telling about Maya‟s sick mother, the children‟s theater performance, and that we only have bicycles. —No problem — Jakoba suddenly sounds vivacious and effusive. —We have a station wagon. You can certainly come borrow it. We won‟t be needing it here. We are painting the living room, the whole family, from top to bottom. We threw out all of the furniture and have each taken charge of one wall. We‟re having such a good time … to be honest, I was afraid you were calling to fish for an invitation. —You could just have said no. —Yes, but we would also have been happy to see you. If you needed some company. —It‟s probably not all that easy to stop in the middle of … what do you think the people tomorrow would say? —They‟ll have to get used to it. —I can hear someone laughing, is it …? —Yes, that‟s the kids. I‟d better go back in there before they knock over the can of paint … Just come get the car whenever. —Thanks. Have a good time. —You too! It was nice to hear from you. The conversation has put me in a good mood. Their whole apartment echoed of laughter while we spoke. Maya has started making dinner without asking me, but it doesn‟t bother me that she is a bit strong-willed. —I hope you like it spicy, she says. —I really felt like messing around a little in here. I stand silently and watch her working. Cutlets and a spicy sauce. But after she turns her head questioningly and tosses her shoulder-length, thick hair behind her shoulder, I go over to her and bite her bare upper arm. —I do like it spicy. She laughs and extricates herself. —Don‟t you have anything more important to do than bothering the cook? —Like what, for example? —Turning over the record. Go into the living room and turn over the record, the same type of music, it is Vivaldi. Suddenly I remember, I started a project yesterday. To write down my day. I decide to repeat the experiment, and get started. I don‟t give it a title yet, since the day is far from over. What is driving me? I had this experience yesterday, after all. Will it bring new insights to see two day descriptions side by side? I can‟t imagine that it will, but I keep going anyway. I don‟t stop until Maya calls that dinner is ready. The record ended a long time ago, time has crept away from me. The food is strong and delicious. I praise her. She isn‟t too pleased with the result herself. She turns her head and looks skeptically at me — we‟re sitting beside each other, 15 not across from each other. The expression on her face is so dubious that I start laughing, which annoys her even more. I lean forward, kiss her and wipe away the discontented expression. She smiles, but I‟m not quite sure that I‟ve been forgiven. After the meal, I take down a guitar that is hanging on the wall and strum a little. I can remember the gist of the song my daughter sang last night. Maya picks it up quickly and we sing it together, over and over. —Where did you learn to play? —I tried a couple of times as a child, of course, but didn‟t ever really do much with it. Then one day my wife was really good at it. She taught me pretty much the whole day. Since then I‟ve often taken the chance when there‟s a guitar in the house. —Could you teach me? —It‟s probably a bit late for that, even though you pick things up quickly. We have to go to the kids‟ performance soon. —Holy Datam, I have to find something to wear. I often have a hard time finding something that fits me. When she comes back wearing slacks and a flowered blouse, I have to agree. —You look like a poor excuse for yourself. —There isn‟t anything better. —Stop looking so despairing. May I take a look? She nods reluctantly and follows me into the bedroom. —It‟s because I‟m so dark. Everything is designed for someone with a lighter complexion. She‟s not completely right. It‟s also her skinny, gangly frame that makes the clothes look awkward, ugly. I hold up one piece after another in front of her, then shake my head. Her crooked mouth droops more and more. Now I‟ve come so far that I can‟t give up. I open a drawer at random that is supposed to contain dish towels. They‟re in there, on top, but beneath them lies a piece of fabric, white, with a discreet abstract pattern. I turn toward her. I unbutton her blouse, pull it off her, and help her out of her slacks. —What are you doing? Once more she seems so strangely vulnerable to me, frightened and expectant at the same time. I drape the fabric around her, leaving one shoulder bare, then gather it around her slender waist. —What is this? —I think some children were tie-dying. At first she is resistant, but then she starts to believe me. She understands the idea. She looks at herself in a mirror, straightens up, matching her posture to the dress. She adjusts it and turns back confidently toward me. She is transformed. At that moment I realize that I can use a line from our song as the motto for the day. While she bastes the dress together, to be sure that it doesn‟t fall apart, I fetch the car. Our friends‟ apartment is nearby. They live on the fourth floor. When I buzz them from the street, Jakoba sticks her head out of the window, and when she realizes that it is me, she tosses the car keys down with a funny comment that hangs in the air. 16 I pick up Maya and then her mother. We get to the school a little late, but fortunately the performance hasn‟t started yet. A group of parents have gathered, as well as other curious people. As I begin to enter a row of chairs, Maya pulls on my sleeve: —No, not there. Let‟s go one farther back. When we‟ve gotten her mother settled and have seated ourselves, she whispers by way of explanation: —That was my previous husband in the other row. I almost didn‟t recognize him. He has changed a lot. It must have been last year. Or maybe the year before? I just remember that it was a winter day and we went out ice-skating. A little later the man catches sight of her. He is startled, but clearly recognizes her. Fortunately he turns his head discreetly. It can often be embarrassing when two former partners run into each other. And it has always seemed disgusting to me if they, for whatever reason, happen to speak to each other. But before any unpleasantness can develop the lights are dimmed in the hall and our Dagny steps forward to recite the prologue. —Our piece is entitled: “When war was abolished,” she says. With a calm and firm voice, and a gleam in her eye that makes me very proud, she begins to recite: —Once upon a time, a war was raging. Everyone was afraid of it and worried about it, suffered because of it. People slaved for it, hungered during it, and died from it. Many efforts were made to stop it. Disarmament treaties were signed, solemn promises were made, and people begged and pleaded with their opponents to refrain. Nothing helped. Until one day a little girl — not much smarter than me — said: “War is murder. That means that declaring war is also murder and ought to be punished.” Politicians, generals, and scholars around the globe wrote to each other, called, sent telegrams: “She‟s right. Stop.” The next day, people in every country had agreed to add one single little paragraph into the soldiers‟ rules of engagement. Just as before, a soldier had to obey orders from his superiors. But there was now one exception in force, paragraph 7B: If a soldier is ordered to cross the border into a foreign country, the soldier must choose for himself: either he can follow the order, invade an enemy country, and risk death; or he can, with no further consequences, shoot the officer who has given him the order. The curtain now rises on a hilarious farce. The sly general desperately wants to start an offensive. But does he dare order his officers to do so? Not directly, because of paragraph 7B. Therefore he asks each of his seven colonels in turn: “What would you say if I suggested that we attack?” Of course the colonels know that there is glory to be won on the field of battle, but what will their soldiers say? Our Ares, who is playing one of the colonels, sounds out his enlisted men in the same cautious, indirect way. Dagny is now one of the enlisted men. Unfortunately (fortunately, I should say), at least one of the soldiers in each group is so unreliable that the colonel in question doesn‟t dare take the risk. Colonel Ares returns to the general: “You mustn‟t ask me to do it, general sir. I‟m afraid that I‟d be forced to shoot you. Paragaph 7B. Even if I don‟t want to.” The rest of the colonels come back with roughly the same message. And on the other side of the border stands an enemy general, apparently facing the same dilemma. The piece is performed with impressive precision and with keen characterizations. The colonels‟ obsequious, calculated attitude earns great cheers. 17 The children are tired but happy. They each get a hug from their grandmother and are ready to go to bed. It‟s a challenge to get two bicycles and a wheelchair into the back of the car, along with five passengers, but we manage it. —We didn‟t use Dagny‟s idea. —No, another boy suggested the idea with the general and it was much better than mine, Dagny explains. —It was very good regardless, says Maya‟s mother. —You showed how a “childish” and simple solution was far more effective than all of the sophisticated peace negotiations. It was important to remind us of that. The old lady seems very solemn, and when I escort her into the rest home, she takes my hand in a curiously significant way: —Thank you for today. There is nothing like having a good “family.” She smiles, lonely and warmly at the same time. Her words stay with me. We drive the children home, send them to bed, and then take the car back. Lights are still on in our friends‟ apartment. We ring the bell to thank them for lending us the car. —We‟re finished painting … at last. You‟ve just got to come in and see how it looks, says Jakoba, whose clothes are covered with paint splatters. —What a smart dress you‟re wearing. —Elef designed it. —Watch out where you sit. The paint isn‟t dry yet. —Well, what do you think? —Theus radiates pride as we enter. The effect is overwhelming. They haven‟t just painted each of the walls a different color, as I had imagined. All four of them gave their imaginations free reign and decorated the walls with odd figures, men in the moon, bright flowers, suns, ships, a complete farmyard, abstract patterns, an attractive vista in the corner, friendly ghosts here and there, a flock of starlings on the ceiling. Both Maya and I stare in amazement for several minutes. —I really don‟t want to ruin your day, I say at last. —But this is not exactly the apartment I‟d want to wake up in tomorrow. —Prophets are never recognized on the home field. —Jakoba laughs until Theus has to hush her so as not to wake the children. —We‟ve poured out our heart‟s blood here and you don‟t like the color. —It‟s not so much the color, Maya says. —It‟s more a matter of the style. —I told you that you should have painted a pine forest instead of the grove of palm trees, Theus. That‟s probably what seems too exotic to them. Their good mood is infectious, so we hang around and discuss the matter, although we had decided to go straight home. When we finally leave, I at least have reached the conclusion that transforming living room walls into living paintings is the only correct thing to do, so that each new inhabitant can add to them. That doesn‟t mean, however, that I think Theus‟ and Jakoba‟s solution is the best possible one. It is companionable to walk home together through the quiet streets. We meet a few night owls on their way to work, but otherwise it feels like we have the streets to ourselves. We walk hand in hand. —Nice friends to have, she says. —And talented children, I add, since I‟ve been thinking back on the play. 18 We stop on a street corner. We look into each other‟s eyes. It is amazing how I have become increasingly conscious of her as the day has gone on. Just as I think she is about to kiss me, she says instead: —You should grow a beard. —Why? —It would suit you, I think. Right then she slaps me on the cheek. I am utterly astonished. It was too hard to be affectionate, but she doesn‟t seem angry. Before I can say anything, she has started walking. It is as if she is trying to stay ahead of me. She is apparently embarrassed by her action, so I don‟t say anything about it. But there is something I need to try to understand sometime. Something I need to remember. At home, I get back to work on describing my day. She makes her notes. —Did you mention that your mother is seriously ill? —Yes. —Remember that the children would like information about their means of transportation on their own instruction sheets. —I‟ve written that. —What is taking you such a long time? —I‟m asking for a husband. —Asking … for what? —Surely it‟s allowed to express what you want, isn‟t it? —Of course. It‟s just unusual. Most people prefer to be surprised … Did you do that yesterday as well? —Yes. And it worked. She requested me! I was the answer to her wish yesterday! Oddly enough this thought makes her dearer to me. —You should try it some time. —I think I will. Resolutely I pick up a pen. What would I like tomorrow? Should she be cheerful? Thoughtful, impulsive, ethereal? Dark or light, for that matter? I put the pen down. —What did you write? —Nothing. I think I am no good at wishing. If I had made any suggestions yesterday, I‟m sure the results would have been worse. She accepts the compliment with a smile. A little later, as she is getting ready for bed, she does something else that surprises me. She takes off her dress, the white one with the red pattern, but she doesn‟t put it in the laundry. —What … what are you doing? —I‟m putting this dress in my personal bag. —Yes, but … it belongs here. —I would like to wear it again tomorrow. —The same dress? —Things ought to be used by those people who get the most enjoyment from them, don‟t you think? She goes to bed. I have the feeling that I have hardly begun to understand her. —What are you so busy writing? —I‟ll be done in a minute. I‟m … remembering you. 19 —Nonsense. You‟ll forget me … Good night. Thanks for today. Chapter 3 To find the thread that can tie my scattered days together. When I awaken, I see a face in front of me: dark hair, a crooked mouth, dark, staring eyes. When I close my eyes, the vision disappears. Cautiously, I turn over, but a vague feeling oppresses me: there is something I need to remember, something that it is important for me to hold on to. There‟s something I need to remem…. She has chestnut brown hair, long eyelashes. The blanket has slipped down. Her nostrils tremble each time she breathes. Gently I slide my hand up over the blanket, I raise it to let it rest on her cheek. Once more I stop. A glimmer: a hand, a slap on a cheek. My cheek, her hand. It is important to hold onto this … She moves her lips, pouts in her sleep. I allow my hand to fall gently onto her cheek, which is sunburned even though it is still early spring. Small freckles. Her face is slight under my hand. —Well, my friend, you‟re sure sleeping in today. Under the weight of my hand, which is pushing her deeper into the pillow, she opens her eyes, blinks a few times. She tries to orient herself but nearly drowns in the pillow. —Are you planning to sleep your life away? I continue without letting go of her. —Pardon. Je ne comprends pas danois. I am now the one waking up in a strange world. I retract my hand. A laugh line suggests that she is enjoying my confusion. I need to remember something, but now I have to locate an entirely different place in my memory. It has been a long time since I‟ve spoken French. I dig out the first words that come to mind to mask my confusion. —My name is Elef, bon-matin. For no reason that I can see, she begins to laugh. —Bonjour, —it sounds much more French than my attempt to say good morning. —My name is Octavie. Elef-bon-matin. Is that a common Danish name? —Pretty common. From the Viking Age …. —Oh, Vikings! —She seems to be quite impressed. —It means: always abandoned. —Always abandoned? But you have me, after all, Elef-bon-matin … How would you say this in Danish? —A „button.‟ —„Bouton‟? What are you doing now? —Unbuttoning. —Bravo. Your French is good. —It can stand improvement. What is this called? —A breast. —No, not the whole thing. Just this part? 20 We manage to pass quite a long time with a detailed course in mouth-to-mouth French. And Octavie learns quite a few Danish words that the dictionary doesn‟t know. Once we‟ve mastered the differences between a French girl and a Danish boy, but without managing to arouse much enthusiasm, she bursts out suddenly: —How often can Danish men do it? —Uh, um, … three or four times a week, people like to say … but I just … —What luck, she says with relief. —My husband yesterday wanted to three times! Three times! I was just about to go home at once. —That‟s not normal. Even for a Viking. —He had been very unlucky, in any case. The previous days he had had a wife he didn‟t like, and then two that were ill, and one day he was a bachelor … and there was also something about some children interrupting. Pure tragedy. Otherwise he was quite nice, aside from that. After all, that isn‟t why I came to Denmark. —Why did you come to Denmark? Vacation? —No. I wanted to study the Danish system. People say it is more flexible than the French one. —For how long? —A week …. Do we have any children? I thought Danes had hordes of children. —You really do need to expand your knowledge of Danes. I think I heard someone moving about earlier. We live in a large villa on Vibord Road, close to the center of town. When we come down into the living room, both my parents and our three children are gathered. Two little boys and a half-grown one. My mother speaks fluent French, as it turns out. She and Octavie fall into a deep conversation. I play with the children and our rabbit. The little boys are supposed to stay at home today, together with their grandparents, and they‟ve already made some secret plans for the day that they don‟t want to share with me. The older boy is supposed to help out in a nursery school in the morning and in a sports hall in the afternoon. He is particularly excited about the former, which he has never tried before, but he‟s also jealous of his younger siblings. He pumps them for their plans, but with no success. Octavie doesn‟t have any plans, gets to choose how to spend her day. I am to sit on an education commision. We head into town together. On the way I get an idea: —The best thing you could do would be to come with me and see how I work. —I won‟t be interrupting? —Of course not. We‟ll probably work extra hard if we know that our ideas might make it all the way to France …. Here‟s where we go in. The town hall. The tower used to be famous, but the main building is starting to overshadow it. Once I‟ve acquainted myself with my task, I explain it to Octavie. —We need to revise our educational standards. It is a question of which courses and methods should be used for teaching children, and to what extent. There are twenty of us on the committee, ten children and ten adults, who are to reach a decision about it today. But they already started working on the problem the day before yesterday. At that point several hundred people were called in…. —Equal numbers of children and adults? 21 —Naturally. That‟s the norm in educational matters. They were asked to formulate their desires, suggestions for improvement, and criticisms of the current system. Everyone knows something about the issues; they‟ve all taken part in the teaching or have had children who have participated. Moreover they have probably discussed the matter with colleagues, family, and friends on at least one occasion. Perhaps a boy the day before yesterday wrote that he wanted to learn more French. She smiles, because she can see from my eyes what words that boy wanted to learn. —Twenty people were called in yesterday. They read through the two hundred replies, as well as the requests that have come in since then. —Requests? —The daily notes. She nods. —The twenty people yesterday had the task of summarizing the various wishes and suggestions that had been collected and making suggestions of how to fulfill them. Today we are going to read these summaries, discuss the suggestions, and vote on which ones can be instituted and which ones will have to wait until next time. Tonight our decisions will be fed into the central computer, which everyone calls Madame Datam. If we have decided to give children the opportunity to learn more French, then tomorrow Madame Datam might take advantage of the fact that you‟re here in town. Maybe a group of six or eight children will be asked to give you a tour of the city—in French, of course. Now she smiles slyly. —What is it? Did I say something wrong? —So Madame Datam must have discovered that there were some French words you didn‟t know and paired you with me? —I wouldn‟t be so sure about that. No one knows Madame Datam‟s reasons. More likely she wanted you to get a good impression of the city, which is why she assigned you the most charming guy around. —Yeah, that must be the reason. —How was my mother‟s French? —Excellent. —Then maybe she‟ll be asked day after tomorrow to bake cookies with six small children, while speaking primarily French to them. —Have you tried this job before? —Both as a child and as an adult. I‟ve been on the suggestions committee several times and on the processing committee a couple of times and on the legislative … like today. It‟s because I‟ve had a lot to do with teaching. Literature, among other things. Only every once in a while, of course …. —Of course. —Several areas function in approximately the same way. Foodstuffs, what should be in the houses, how much, how often they should be replenished. Or the transport system. The health system. And many others. I‟ve been on several committees. Everyone has, I guess. —When will the laws you pass today be revised? 22 —In a month or two. It varies from area to area. It depends among other things on whether many requests are received. Education is a very lively area. Many people make requests, so the system develops rapidly. I introduce Octavie to my nineteen colleagues. I begin to work. Fortunately, this kind of thing never becomes routine, even though I‟ve done it before. Among other things, it helps that there are always a handful of imaginative and fantastic suggestions, that seem unrealistic at first glance and can only be resolved by untraditional thinking. For example, a mother and her son suggest that an annual day should be introduced on which children attend school just like in the old days. The point would be to give children a certain sense for history. There are practical difficulties. Schools are no longer set up the way they were back then, and it would be difficult to find teachers who could carry off the “classical” teaching without laughing themselves silly. But the suggestion is so amusing that it ought to be attempted as an experiment. Then time will tell whether it would be useful for more than just making fun of people from the past. We have an interesting and lively discussion —I try to keep Octavie constantly informed with keywords —in which the children are eager to try many unusual and diverse options. We older people try to restrain them, by pointing out that there are also costs to be considered. Each time an exciting opportunity is implemented, it means that one of the permanent topics has to be reduced. It might be a lot of fun to sit on a school bench one day to learn to spell, but what if that meant that you‟d never get a day to be an architect? —It‟s a sore subject, I explain in a whisper. —It‟s important that children are part of shaping the new accommodations. They think much more clearly and less forced in this area than adults tend to. —Who is the last man? she whispers back. —Oh, that‟s the childrens‟ scribe. He helps the smallest ones who have a hard time expressing themselves so that Madame Datam can understand it. During the break, we eat lunch in the cafeteria. While we stand around slicing bread, she says something I have trouble understanding: —So am I married to the mother of the city today? —Does “the mother of the city” mean something dirty? I ask, wondering whether she has started again with the game from this morning. Now she looks taken aback. She smears liver paste on her bread in silence, looks around, bends over toward me and whispers conspiratorially: —„Bourgmestre‟? I laugh. I recognize the old word and realize my mistake: mayor and mother sound a lot alike. —Yes, I‟m the mayor. Or rather a member of the „city council‟ today, in this particular area. Like she is. I point to a six or seven-year-old girl who has made diligent use of the scribe during the meeting. Octavie briefly explains conditions in the Toulouse area and concludes with the question: —You don‟t have any unions or „political parties‟ either? —No, we believe that people should make decisions, not parties. 23 —You aren‟t afraid that all of this work might fall apart into small individual decisions, one day in one direction, the next day a few additions in another direction, patches here and there … ? —That is a danger. But it is also the strength of our method. The field of education grows organically in step with new needs, and is revised when something seems outdated … Like people grow without a particular plan … —But still, shouldn‟t there at least be a baseline? A foundational principle? I get lost in thought. Her words awaken something in me. Something hidden. As if I have suffered a little from memory loss and suddenly hear a name from the past. I come back to the present, but I have no idea how long time has stood and waited for me. I hear myself sitting and mumbling: “What do you mean by „meaning‟?” Octavie is sitting and eating, while she watches the traffic outside with interest. Just then a car drive by that still has a gas motor. It bangs and roars. The sound bounces off the walls on the other side of the motorway. —What are you thinking about, Elef-bon-matin? —Yesterday. —What was so special about yesterday? —I don‟t know, but I still can‟t shake the thought. But I can‟t get ahold of it either, because … of you. Her light blouse accentuates her sunburned skin. She turns her head at the last explosion from the motor before the car turns the corner toward the train station. —That‟s a comforting sound, she says. —It reminds me of when I was a child. —Me too. Do you still have any of those in France? —A few. —Modified? —Yes. They‟re not allowed to drive faster than the electric ones …. What did you say about „meaning‟? —Later on today I‟ll show you where the fundamental political work is carried out. —Excellent. Are there other things I ought to see … in the next few days, I mean? I tell her a little about the city, its attractions and about conditions that will interest her. She listens eagerly, not least when I tell her about some newly-constructed houses that have been allowed to grow „organically,‟ rather than following a specific plan. —Won‟t the houses be unsuitable if the details haven‟t been worked out before the construction? —Of course there will be aberrations, mistakes, flaws … but significantly fewer now already, since we have been working according to this method for the past few years. In exchange, the houses have certain qualities that couldn‟t have been predicted. Like cities that grow on their own, without any advance planning, often prove to be much friendlier, charming, and satisfying than cities that are designed on a drawing board first. —Chance, rather than reason? —We don‟t worship blind coincidence. We aren‟t just standing and throwing bricks over our shoulders in the hope that they‟ll turn out to be a good house. We build and think at the same time, rather than thinking first and then building. Just like we live 24 and shape our lives at the same time. It would be absurd to design a life-project and then proceed to live blindly in accordance with it. While I am speaking, I believe my own words, because they aren‟t just my own, but the sum of the thoughts I have received and developed together with friends and family members. Where does the doubt come from that afflicts me after Octavie goes to the bathroom and leaves me alone? What have I forgotten? I feel uneasy. I go over and exchange a few words with a young man whose ideas interested me during the meeting. He suggested that we should group children of the same age together more often. I don‟t agree, but want to hear his arguments. Unfortunately he has to leave soon afterward to keep an appointment. I keep eating. I hold my mug in my hand. It reflects my face, but in a distorted, crooked, flattened-out way, because the mug is irregular. I lift my left hand to my mouth. I put part of my palm between my teeth and bite down. I bite so hard that it starts to bleed. It hurts. I look at my hand in surprise. I must have groaned in pain, because several people look in my direction. I stand up and go over to a young girl buttering her bread. I hold out my hand: —Look, I bit my hand. It‟s bleeding. I turn toward several other people. I keep holding my hand outstretched: —I just bit it all of a sudden. I‟ve never done that before …. I was just sitting there quietly, then I suddenly bit my own hand. Why on earth did I do that? —You‟d better wash that and put a bandage on it, the girl says. She has already started looking for a first-aid kit. A man standing nearby helps me to wash my hand under the cold-water tap. It numbs the pain. The girl applies the bandage. Someone else asks if I‟m feeling better. I reply that it was just a single bite, after all, so there isn‟t really anything to worry about. I reject several offers of help. I just need to sit by myself for a while, I tell them, then I‟ll be fine. But when I am finally sitting alone, I don‟t want to pursue my own thoughts. Instead I begin to write down the events of the day. It‟s amusing to describe my amazement when the girl in my bed started speaking French. Was I not able to experience completely what happened then until now? The thought that has been bothering me, this foolish dream of holding on, perhaps it is a result of this diary. Is this the source of my problem? I push it away from me, but, at the same time, I feel like I am failing in some way, that I‟m … well, pushing something away. A decision, a task? She comes back to the table. I look up. I‟ve been so lost in my thoughts that I half expect to see Maya‟s face before me. I smile when I recognize my mistake. —I know what you‟re thinking about, Octavie says. —You should be ashamed of yourself. —Do you? She laughs at my confusion over being found out. The other members of the committee have left the cafeteria; I‟m sure I‟ve been missed. —Was she that nice? There is more of a connection between us than I had thought. More than I am comfortable with at the moment. On our way up to the meeting room I show her my wounded hand. 25 —I happened to bite it. —Ah, berserk, she says with understanding, using the Danish word. —Viking! At the beginning of the meeting, I am far away in my thoughts, but when the discussion returns to the young man‟s suggestion of bringing children of the same age together more, I get caught up in it. I outline my objections. At a suggestion from a few of the youngest members, we agree on a limited trial, after which a later committee will have to make a final decision. After the meeting, Octavie walks with me down the hill, across the stream, and up to the square. We walk in a tight embrace. The spring sun shines, but provides no warmth as yet. —The city is ruled from here, —I indicate the various groups sitting around the square. —In any case, this is where fundamental ideas are tried out, new interpretations are proposed and digested. We go up to a group of about half a dozen people and listen. It is mostly younger men and women, but two older women participate very eagerly. The discussion is about the size and composition of families. I explain it to Octavie. —This is an important discussion these days. It is collected here and on the other squares. From there, it trickles down into homes, people talk to their own families about it, to their friends. The new opinions are brought back here and so forth. When clear opinions and more specific proposals have begun to crystallize, the matter will be handled by a committee like the one I sat on today. —I know the procedure. It is not very different from ours. —More and more people will join the discussion when it gets a little warmer. During the winter, we use large buildings, like those across the street, where there used to be shops in the olden days. We move on to other groups. Two or three people in conversation sit here and there. They‟ve either split off from a larger group or are in the process of forming a new one. In one spot, a couple is sitting and playing chess. Others are enjoying the sun and waiting for a discussion that might interest them to start. For a little while, we listen to a small group that debates the new types of houses that I described for Octavie. We take a place in the group and I try to translate for her. Later, we stroll over to a group that is particularly vocal. —A good day after a good day after a good day after a good day. What more do you want? It is a woman that is speaking. I visited her several days ago. When she catches sight of me, she gets a little confused at first, then greets me pleasantly. I realize that she is having trouble placing me; she was probably worried for a moment that we might have been married. A young girl shakes her head vehemently. She reflects before she answers: —It isn‟t enough. It isn‟t enough for me, day after day. She stands up and walks seriously over to the woman she is arguing with. She bends down and embraces the sitting woman, slowly and ceremoniously. —I think the real point is for us to embrace all people. That is the only way I can understand my life. My task is to touch all people. The girl presses her hand against her heart, then places it on her opponent‟s heart. 26 The circle has fallen completely silent. This little encounter is so simple and convincing that Octavie and I involuntarily pull each other closer, and I see others doing the same thing. The sitting woman, who has tears in her eyes, whispers “Thank you.” —In my day, says an older man hesitantly, a little afraid of interrupting something important — In my day, we used to say: to each day its own experience, its love, its help. I have held on to that and tried to live up to it and it has served me well. The discussion touches on some things that occupy me for the moment, but Octavie seems less interested in it, so I signal that we can go. The last thing I hear is a new voice that says: —We must make each day into a work of art… We pass a woman holding a sign that reads “More parks.” Almost as soon as she has seated herself, a couple of older people have begun making their way toward her to take part in the proposed conversation. We walk home through the Old Town Open-Air Museum. —That girl was the real mayor today, I say. —The gesture she made was today‟s mayoral address. I am far from certain that I agree with her, but her position was the strongest at that moment. —She convinced me. —It is important that things like that are discussed. Even if it undeniably has to be chewed over several times before it can be converted into numbers and concrete instructions that Madam Datam can understand. But without that discussion, we risk losing ourselves in details, miniscule corrections, and habitual decisions. We walk across the cobblestones with our arms around each other. Octavie kisses the tips of her fingers, then presses the kiss on to my lips. —If that isn‟t the meaning, she says—what is the meaning for you? —I don‟t know. But I feel like there is something slipping away from me. We stop in one of the old courtyards, surrounded by half-timbered houses. The old atmosphere lingers in this place. We can almost see them in front of us, the people who lived in this courtyard. My hand plays with her shoulder-length hair, hers slides down my back. Our caresses become more passionate. I hear footsteps, think that I see a white robe, but forget it because Octavie pulls my mouth to hers. A long kiss, and I have reached under her coat, when we discover that we are not alone. We tear ourselves apart, as embarrassed as two teenagers who haven‟t yet moved in together. We straighten our clothes and pretend to be intensely interested in the gallery that runs the length of the house under the roof. It is two men in cotton coats who‟ve come into the courtyard. They look searchingly at me, exchange a few words, and leave again. The mood has been broken and we slink home. We are greeted by the two small children who have been awaiting us eagerly. They immediately haul us out into the mudroom, so we can admire their creations. They are in fact quite impressive. Together with my parents, they‟ve been working with clay all day. The result is twelve lovely bowls, each with a different pattern, displayed in neat rows. My father smiles proudly. My mother writes a note to our successors about the next step in finishing the bowls. —For the next many, many days, people will come into this house, I say to the children. —They will look at the bowls and say, „Those are almost too beautiful to use.‟ And them they will use them anyway, enjoy them, and be a little happier than before. 27 Octavie looks at me. Even without understanding the language, she has noticed how mechanical my words are. She knows me too well. Now she performs a little play, in which the content of my cold words is presented with warmth and humor. The children are delighted and start playing along. They act out the surprise and delight of the next inhabitants of the house upon discovering the bowls. The oldest child comes home. At first he seems jealous or distant, but I manage to draw him into the game. He suggests bits of dialogue and earns shouts of praise by mixing in a handful of French words. Octavie returns the favor by pronouncing a few Danish phrases—not the ones I taught her earlier in the day. And suddenly my father comes with some Russian expressions and it doesn‟t take long before the whole world has admired the bowls and derived pleasure from them. —I feel like cooking, I say. —Should we invite someone over? One of our friends worked as a bricklayer today. Perhaps she can tell us a little about the new construction projects. Octavie is interested. I make the call… Why am I writing this? Day after day after day after day … Does my life have more context, as I had expected? Am I coming closer to my goal? Our guests have left. I served them the dish I learned how to make yesterday. While I prepared it, I was alone in the kitchen, with the doors open to the living room, where everyone was enjoying themselves. I felt both attracted and repulsed. We talked about the new residential buildings. I ordered the newest brochures on the subject, as I realized that I know too little about it. I started this diary in the hope of obtaining a certain perspective. But haven‟t I just made the classic mistake of losing myself in the details? I am still determined to continue, I still cling to the desire. But I need to change my method. A day must come …. Chapter 4 ...I awake, one day richer, one day poorer... ? I am awakened by a strange sound that I can‟t place. Like a rhythmic gasping. I am startled. Even before I am completely awake, the panic has seized hold of me. This must be how a person who has done something wrong feels. For a moment I lie still and analyze my feeling. It must have been fear. I turn over. An infant looks at me with enormous eyes, while steadily continuing to nurse on a breast. —I hope we didn‟t wake you. —It‟s a nice way to wake up. I was completely caught off guard. Relaxed, welcoming, harmonious. She is pretty and she is young. This must be her first child. A strong chin, soft eyes. But first and foremost this kindness. I have to struggle to turn away. In that moment, an absolutely abnormal impulse coursed through me. I wanted to see Maya again! One more day with someone I have already spent one day with. The thought scared me, of course, but at the same time, it captivated me. —Madam Datam is certainly not in doubt as to what I need, she says and lays her hand on my arm. 28 —What is it? —Variety. I‟ve had to stay home, because of some complications during the birth. —How long has it been? —A month … that‟s a long time without getting out. —How old is that little guy? —Five or six months, I think. Would you check? She‟d guessed correctly. The boy is just under six months old. —How does my day look, since you‟ve got my day plan right there? —Counseling services. A woman is going to come visit you. Thelma Amleth … That‟s funny. Her name is the same forward and backward. I wonder why both of her names are included? —So that I can contact her again, see if she still needs help. She must be ill. Problems. I‟ll try to lighten them a little. —I‟m going to be a journalist. Elef, by the way. —Linda. We don‟t really connect. When she notices that I am pensive, she lets me drift off and starts changing the baby‟s diaper. I take the bus into the main square and go into the news building. It has been years since I was a journalist. I start by reading the instructions. When I find it hard to concentrate, I take them with me into the press museum. I become dizzy in this ocean of random, unconnected details. Pages from an old newspaper. They are carefully dated. Back then, people were tied to calendars and clocks. The seventh of June. On that single day, this newspaper was important, indispensable for everyone. People had to plow through it to “keep up to date.” The next day, it was outdated. The fashion in shoes, a fire, weapons stockpiles in various countries, pub brawls, spaceships, negotiations, details upon details. My attention is caught by a frightening description in the commentary: “Back then, people only had experience in very specific areas: a single profession, a narrow circle of family and friends. In order to counter the feeling of isolation, people grasped desperately at news from all corners of the earth and from all categories. People were afraid of shriveling up if they didn‟t get „the news‟ from the other side of the earth every hour, or at least every day. This unnatural lifestyle had the result that people gradually lived vicariously, through the „famous people‟ that fill the majority of the newspapers, as you can see. Politicians did all of the debating and decision-making, singers did the singing, runners did the running, philosophers did the thinking, authors did the dreaming, gymnasts did acrobatics. Actors did the living for everyone else. That is why the newspapers from that time contain everything about these people‟s love lives, problems, defeats, triumphs, and deaths, because they functioned as a type of life representatives for the readers. People were more interested in the broken leg of an otherwise unfamiliar but „famous‟ woman than in the circumstances of their own lives.” After this Memory‟s reminder to avoid irrelevancies, I feel equipped to begin my work. I could naturally throw myself into the issue of education. But the topic has begun to bore me after having dealt with it for three or four days. I‟ve been infected by 29 Octavie‟s interest in the new construction projects. It turns out that it has been nearly a month since any news has been gathered on this subject. I call up the relevant information, both that dealing with local buildings and corresponding projects in other Danish cities. I read through all of it, excerpt the observations that seem most important to me, and write an article that summarizes the progress made. It‟s a full day‟s task. But it is satisfying to finish it, so that I can wrap up by listing my pamphlet in the index that makes sure it will be sent out to all interested parties. The pamphlet is set up so that it can be used as a supplement to the job instructions for those who are assigned to organic construction in the next period of time. I go directly home; the weather isn‟t nice enough for a walk. Linda—I‟ve almost forgotten her, so little connection there was between us—is not the same as before. She is thoughtful and sad. —Was it so monotonous? —No, it‟s because of the girl who came to visit me. —You aren‟t supposed to make her problems your own. —Yes, I am. That‟s the point of the counseling services. You can only help people get rid of their problems by taking them on yourself. —What was wrong with her? —Personality fixation. She feels stuck. Like a „personality,‟ or „type‟ they used to call it. —How does that manifest itself? —First and foremost in that she is unable to receive impulses. She isn‟t able to make contact. She could be married to a man one day and, the next day, be completely unaffected by him. No changes. —Is it difficult for her? —Of course. She is really suffering. But, oddly enough, she doesn‟t regard herself as sick. She was just visiting someone who has to stay home. That‟s how she sees it. —Were you able to help her? —She wasn‟t the same when she left. Linda lights up with a smile at last. Almost childlike, but very confident at the same time. With a slow movement, she pulls her feet up under herself on the sofa. —In any case, you‟ve helped me, she adds. —Tell me about your job, so I can get out of these four walls. I tell her about my pamphlet on the new construction. She decides immediately to order a copy for tomorrow. I tell her about my impressions from the old newspapers I leafed through. She shivers with delight. —It struck me that the people in the pictures were very different from us. They were wrinkled, creased, irregular … —All of their worries gave them creases. All of their thoughts, the mass of details they had to keep track of … it‟s not surprising they got wrinkled. —In a certain sense, they seemed more real … more exciting … I can‟t explain it. —Do you mean tragic? Grand? —Something like that. For example, you‟re much prettier than any of the people in the pictures. Really attractive, and you know that that isn‟t empty praise. You are 30 bewitchingly earthy and delicate at the same time… but I have the feeling that I could learn enough from you in one day. —You don‟t have any choice in that. —For many of the women in the pictures, it would take time to … Linda gets me talking. I say things that I didn‟t even know that I had thought. She is young, but somehow more experienced than I am. She understands what I can‟t quite explain. It is therapeutic to put my thoughts into words. —Haven‟t you met anyone like that? she asks later. —Yes, the other day. I met one. I can‟t forget her. —I had a husband like that a month ago. —Just after you gave birth? She nods seriously. —I had a little girl. I wanted to keep her. Only her. Not to get another one, randomly placed at my breast the next day. I wanted it to be her. I wanted to possess her. —I‟ve heard that before, that that happens. How did you get over it? —By thinking through the whole thing. I got a good husband, who helped me to recognize my own selfishness. „My‟ daughter, the baby I gave birth to, would of course be happier waking up in a new place every day, with new parents who open themselves up to her, give her their feelings. She would become strange, mono-dimensional, judgmental if she stayed with me. We know that: she would be emotionally handicapped if she only got the impulses that I could give her. —Linda smiled bravely. —Now her life will be rich and varied; with me, everything would soon drown in routine, ordinariness, familiarity, monotony. —You haven‟t quite gotten over it? —I can see that it is correct, but my feelings are taking more time to get convinced. The problem is that I carried her for nine months. It bound me to her. But it doesn‟t make her my possession. Nor am I hers. My maternal love is far more usefully applied when I welcome a new infant every day, a new person that needs me, that eagerly receives my uniqueness. The woman you keep thinking of can‟t ever be your possession either. And if she is as exciting as you claim, she also deserves a balanced life, wide- ranging experiences, a variety of challenges, that you can‟t offer her, so that she can continue to grow, to develop herself … instead of getting into a rut, in a purely personal sense, which you would force her to. The baby starts to cry, but when I start to get up, Linda shows me with a smile that he is hers. I feel a lack when she has gone. Her confidence, fervor, has transplanted itself in me. I am starting to let go of the obsessive thought that has threatened to lock me inside myself. I try to recall Maya‟s face, but can hardly do so. Why do I keep worrying about her? Tomorrow I‟ll have another wife who is interesting, exciting, a challenge for my intellect. And the day after yet another one, with different qualities, other experiences that can enrich me. Why am I worrying about her, whom I can hardly remember …? Reluctantly, because I am having trouble controlling these thoughts, I throw myself into my other obsession. I start writing down the events of the day. With what goal? Linda doesn‟t come back until the baby has eaten and is sleeping again. —Why don‟t you put those papers away? 31 —It‟s important for me … I‟m trying to hold on to my experiences. —That has exactly the opposite effect. You get lost in the things that have happened, and forget the day itself, the present. —I‟m trying to solve my problems… —You are creating your problems. —Do you think so…? She doesn‟t answer, but slowly nods. Her glance and her fingertips that slide down over my arm tell me that I will soon forget everything. She doesn‟t say anything, vanishes with a gleam in her eye. I keep writing. She has changed clothes. She is overwhelmingly young. The clothes she wore earlier made her maternal, nondescript. Her breasts are heavy, but her smile is very light. —Elef. There is something I‟ve wanted to try for a long time. Teasingly I continue to write, although it is becoming difficult to concentrate. —There is something you‟ve wanted to try for a long time, I mumble. —That suits. She has brought a mirror in. She places it in front of me. Calm, deliberate movements. She knows what she is doing. I see myself in the mirror, when I raise my eyes, and she is behind me. She bends over me. With difficulty, I keep writing. —Then, I‟ll have to take your pen! She really takes it awa… Chapter 5 Longing for longing I am no longer the same. There is a roaring in my ears and the lines are jumping about, but I must still … I don‟t really even know how many days it has been, three or four, maybe even five, since I last wrote. It lost its meaning, I was swallowed up. Today, this … this strange thing happened, and the desire to write returned. It was early in the evening. As we drove past the Music Hall in the buss, I saw a car stop and a woman wearing a white dress get out. A white dress with a red, abstract pattern. A dark-haired woman. That‟s all I saw. The bus drove quickly past. We got out two stops later. I was with my wife, Elvira. She is blond, a head taller than me. Her limbs are unbelievably long and smooth. We had spent the last half of the afternoon at home on the floor, talking and joking. I wasn‟t feeling well, dizziness or nausea, when we got off the bus. We were on our way to visit some friends to watch a film that the hostess had made during a trip to South America. —Is something wrong with you? —Yes. My stomach. I think I need a little fresh air. —Let‟s sit down. There is a bench over here. —You can just go on to Dagfin and Karis‟s. They‟re expecting us. —No way. I‟m staying with you until you feel better. —Just leave me alone! 32 I had shouted the last sentence. I could hear the words rumbling out of my mouth. I was just as surprised as Elvira. —I guess … you‟re feeling worse than you want to admit? —No. Just go. Please? Give them my regards. Tell them I‟ll come later. I just need some air… Finally I was allowed to be alone. I got up, started walking aimlessly about, and finally stood in front of the music hall. Several rooms were illuminated and music poured out. There was a communal performance in one room. Several people were enjoying themselves loudly attempting to get their instruments to play together, at least a little. There was no one I knew in the room. In the room next door, there was group dancing. Older and especially young people hopped and jumped around the floor and tried to follow the same patterns. Their efforts exceeded their enjoyment. You could hear many more groans and complaints than bursts of laughter. Once all of the dancers had passed me, I went on. I had to go up one floor. There was couples‟ dancing here. I went in hesitantly. It was the last room in use. When I caught sight of Maya, I was thrown off balance. She was dancing in the middle of the swarm, cheek to cheek with her husband, I assumed. He had curly hair and appeared very vigorous and intense. Maya‟s eyes were closed and she looked content. I turned around and left. On the stairs, I felt sick again. I had to sit down. My hands seemed numb, cold. It was strange. She was wearing the dress that we had made together. She must have kept it for … I tried to count the days, but couldn‟t keep track of them. Around a week, I guess. A week ago we were married. It felt almost as if I had said something tactless or done something thoughtless. One day, a week ago, that I threw away without a second thought, let slip away, instead of holding on to it. When I had caught my breath, I stood up and continued down the stairs. Now I was having trouble getting my legs to move. I was about to stumble and had to cling to the handrail. Two women, wrapped around each other, caught up in each other, passed me on the stairs. They sent me a friendly glance, but continued on without comment. A sense of gratitude made me turn around and follow them, maybe to thank them for having left me alone. But before I reached them, they had already flowed out onto the dance floor. I didn‟t want to bother them by looking for them. There was a table with refreshments. Around it stood several people who needed some space. I stood with my back half-turned to the dance floor and took a couple of cookies. I had caught a glimpse of Maya, now with her sulky expression, dancing hand in hand with the same man as before. When I looked back in her direction a little later, she was laughing and telling her partner something. Hopefully she didn‟t see me. The cookies and a glass of fruit juice had made me feel better. Without looking back, I left the room and went down to the street. Here, I hesitated, wondering whether I should take a bus or walk over to the home of the friends who were expecting me. Before 33 I had made up my mind, a bus stopped. I decided to let it go by, but regretted it the next moment because I wasn‟t actually in the mood for walking. While I stood there and thought, Maya suddenly came storming through the door. She stopped abruptly, probably shocked to see me. I noticed a communal bicycle that I hadn‟t noticed before. I looked it over. Taking the bike gave me another option, but there is often something wrong with them, so I wanted to make sure that there was air in the tires and so on. —Elef, she whispered, as if she was having difficulty remembering my name. Very much against my will, I turned toward her. —Hi …it‟s Marianne … wasn‟t that it…? —Maya. Something about the way she held her mouth made me feel sorry. —Well, hello Maya. You haven‟t … changed much, I found myself saying. Fortunately, she didn‟t take offense. Instead, she smiled slyly. —Surely it wasn‟t that long ago. —Do you know how long? We both shook our heads. Suddenly there was nothing more to say. I was about to turn back toward the bicycle. —You‟ve grown a beard since then! —You told me that I should. Of course, calling it a beard is generous. —I stroked it to determine its length. —About a week, I think. It‟s amazing how the days fly by. Now she was about to turn away, toward the door. Naturally she wanted to go back in to her husband. They had danced … —I‟ve thought of you. I would have shouted it, to stop her, but it came out as a whisper. If she didn‟t hear it … I could already feel my nausea returning. Perhaps it would go away if we stopped chatting. She must have heard something because she stopped and came closer to me. Questioningly. —You … kept the dress? —I liked it so much. I didn‟t want to give it up before I had worn it a few times. I have even washed it by hand. In secret. At the same moment, someone came out the entrance. Automatically, we pulled back from each other, as if anyone could see by looking at us that we had previously been married. It was a couple, arm in arm. They were talking to each other, didn‟t even notice us, but vanished around the corner. —Should we … take a walk? My tongue felt so thick in my mouth that I almost couldn‟t get the words out. Perhaps I really was sick. When she didn‟t answer, my scalp got cold, as if my blood had abandoned me. She nodded, bit her lip, anxious about what she had let herself in for. I felt a powerful urge to comfort her, but was afraid to arouse greater anxiety by touching her. We walked beside each other. Into the City Hall park. I can still remember every step. We didn‟t speak. I was shocked but utterly indifferent to everything at the same time. 34 We stopped somewhere in the park. We stood a little apart, without looking at each other. The whole situation was so strange that I was unable to move. Here I stood with a woman I had already loved, ought to have assimilated into myself, ought to have been finished with. We ought to have repulsed each other like two identical magnetic poles. —What do you want from me? she asked sadly. —You know it‟s hopeless. —What do you mean, hopeless? We‟re here, together, now. This is a unique moment. —Like every other moment. Her mood was contagious. I felt heavy; the nearest hope was so far away. It was melancholy, worry, sadness—I knew the words, old, foreign, but it couldn‟t be anything else. —It ought to be possible to live a different way, she said. —What do you mean, a different way? —Crosswise, in context … I don‟t know. Not just day by day by day. I didn‟t understand her, not really, yet I did feel something deep within her thoughts. The mood was so heavy, painful that I had to break it, unable to bear it. —That‟s a lovely ring you‟re wearing. —My husband found it for me, put it on me. Suddenly, with an irritated gesture, she pulled it off her finger and flung it away. It rolled across the ground and disappeared into the grass. —Wait … you have to put that back. You can‟t just … —I don‟t like it anymore. I bent down, crawled through the grass and was soon fortunate enough to find it. —Here it is! You need to put it on. She shook her head. —Then I‟ll put it on you. I took her hand and felt a shock go through my body. Our fingers began to play with each other, rub, intertwine themselves, our hands … We looked at each other in amazement. When our eyes met, I realized it: I have a heart! I have found it. I have felt it myself. It pounded violently, making me dizzy. It was both painful and, at the same time, … a glorious feeling. As if it was about to fall to pieces and thereby become much lighter. I know the old expressions, of course, but had never dreamed that that they could be literally true. Slowly we kissed each other. Cautiously, then more and more passionately. We caressed each other, wildly, greedily, as if this were our last day. Later, she stood leaning against a tree. We looked at each other, touched each other carefully. Later I put the ring on her finger. —Now I‟m happy to wear it, she said. Later she suddenly said: —I have to get back … I went down to get some fresh air … My husband will move heaven and earth to find me. 35 From the edge of the park we could see her husband talking to three other people, probably in the process of describing his vanished wife. —He‟s definitely going to realize that something‟s wrong. But I don‟t care. —I can‟t hide it from my wife either. My heart is still exposed. As she began to leave the shadow of the trees, I fearfully called her back … It was fear, really fear that I felt! Fear that it would turn out to be a dream, fear of never feeling that shock through my fingertips again. Or fear of what? —Maya. You mustn‟t disappear. She came back into the shadows, to me. —Maya, I can‟t do without you. —You‟ll get a new wife tomorrow, you‟ll soon forget me. You will love me, be faithful to me, by being kind to each of your future wives. —Yes, that‟s the interpretation we hear all the time. That‟s what all of the song and Memories say. But that‟s not how it works. It‟s you, just you, that I want to be together with. As I was saying it, I could hear that it sounded abnormal. And Maya‟s expression showed that she thought the same thing. —I‟ll think of something… I‟ll do something. She shook her head doubtfully. —Will you go along … if? May I? She smiled, gave me a quick kiss and left me. Chapter 6 —You actually have to exert yourself not to feel happy? —That’s what it looks like. My life has been changed after the meeting with Maya. Her words about living a different way repeat themselves continually in my thoughts. Not day by day .. but how, then? I turn away from the woman by my side. Disgusted by the doll-like apple-cheeks, the elegant profile, or in fear of being tempted by her beauty. I can‟t identify my own feelings, disgust or fear. Why have I never learned to tell them apart? I had an insistent dream. It was a kind of party. Everyone else received gifts, unwrapped them, rejoiced over them.