Sunday, 28 June 2009

Inger Edelfeldt: "An Uninhabitable House" - 2

As you can well understand, I too have such a feeling. I therefore felt great sympathy with the young man, who also happened to be good-looking. And when it comes to the crunch, he wasn't all that young. He had just gone and admitted that he was thirty-four.

When I first homed in on them, he was sitting there talking about himself. He was the kind of young man who had tried all sorts of different jobs and training schemes, and was at present reading architecture.

"Can you picture the house of your dreams?" asked Sofia.

A good move there: avoiding having to reveal the fact she knew nothing about architecture. That she, in fact, thinks it is the dreariest of subjects. Without trying to be too nasty, I feel I ought to slip in the odd explanation about Sofia: she is interested in cosy evenings at home, watching videos and buying clothes. Now and again, she reads a book, preferably one with a happy ending. Her favourite colour is forget-me-not blue. She works in a day-nursery and her usual reply when someone asks her about her job is: "You feel so inadequate."

That was what she said to him too, and a sceptical look crossed his face. I could see what he was thinking by the look in his eyes. That her mere presence was enough to heal any wounds.

That is, then, Sofia's main asset: looking a certain way. Something similar to what geishas have to learn. Like them, she can also force herself to make conversation about any topic under the sun, even subjects she finds pretty dull. If she had met an agronomist, she would have asked him: "Can you picture the agriculture of your dreams?" and if it was a therapist, she would have said: "Can you picture the therapy of your dreams?"

If you were to ask Sofia what her own dreams were, the reply would be: finding a man to live a normal life with.

I have to say this: Sofia is merely a decoy. In the guise of a motionless swan she rests on the mirror-like surface of the water.

Back to the outdoor café and the ageless young man. Did I mention that his mouth was attractive? A mouth that can make you wild with desire, awakening that sinking feeling of painful covetousness inside you; lust that surges through you like a small earthquake? And his eyes, they had the gaze of someone who had been waiting for years. The languishing eyes of someone who has pined since the creation of the universe. Or rather, eyes which, on account of purely hereditary factors, happen to be of a certain shape, have a certain lustre. But what does lust care about that; it dreams its dreams all over the place.

As for Sofia, she was sitting with her head cocked to one side, looking cool in the heat, the heat wave. It was me who was sweating away here in this hot little house, knocked out by the thunderstorm in my head.

The young man, whose name was Andreas, revealed to Sofia that the house of his dreams stood out on a naze. With many windows, masses of weatherboarding and whitewashed stone. A house which breathed and sang, quiet but full of surprises.

"Well how strange!" exclaimed Sofia. "Just the sort of house I've always dreamt of!"

And she added the furnishings, the earthenware pottery, the bouquets of flowers, the stylish furniture and the ornaments, each with their individual stamp. All straight out of Femina weekly.

He smiled and told her about the Renaissance architect Alberti; something about a house of perfect proportions which in some way or other had been inspired by the spirit of God and thus had become a living being. Something about people as houses, and houses as people; I'm not entirely sure he himself quite understood what he was talking about, but Sofia's look of interest did not leave her face for one instant. In her time, she has listened to detailed descriptions of football matches, the plots of films, the history of Gnosticism, the pros and cons of Sweden joining the EU, evidence for the existence or non-existence of God, a review of idiosyncrasies of Finnish grammar, and how you should boil eggs in the proper manner; but Sofia has a very poor memory, which is often the case with those who have a one-track mind.

"A little habit of mine," said Andreas, "is to imagine people's homes and what they look like. Homes of the people I pass in the street - I imagine all those things with which such people can surround themselves. Here, a terraced house, there, a dreary bachelor flat, or a boudoir with red plush curtains."

I was beginning to think that this young man was really interesting.

[to be continued]

Translated from Swedish by Eric Dickens

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