Monday, 13 July 2009

Inger Edelfeldt: "An Uninhabitable House" - 8

After the meal, Sofia asked whether I couldn't get out the Tarot pack. Telling fortunes with Tarot cards is a pastime of mine for the simple reason that I am fascinated by the beautiful designs, plus the power I feel which is without obligation. I have to admit that I make rather loose associations around the cards in order to awaken admiration, fear or hope in those whose fortunes I'm telling, especially if the person in question is new to the game.

It goes without saying that Andreas only agreed in order to be polite. Words such as "superstition", "mustiness" and "old hat" swelled up in his indignant mind. But present too was a tiny particle of nervous curiosity. Perhaps I should have mentioned to him that Alexander the Great had his fortune told from goats' livers. But it is always easier to laugh at the eminently human hope that good fortune may follow a plan, rather than laugh at our contemporary hopes on the same theme.

I spread the cards out across the table and let him pick three; one for the past, one for the present and one for the future. He picked three cards from the Major Arcana: the Hermit, the Sun, and the Tower. The fact he got the Sun for the present was a great relief to me, since a pair of twins are depicted there, standing under the shining orb of the sun. I saw him start inwardly at the sight of the man falling from the lightning-struck tower, amidst flames and rubble.

Before I said anything, I indulged in that moment of unease deep inside him.

"The past," I whispered, "was a time of ripening, spiritual clarity and wisdom. That is good; there is a time for wisdom. But to be true, wisdom must constantly be crumbling away, its place taken by something new. Uncertainty is the only certainty. The only truth lies embedded in those steps taken from one place to the next. The staff you lean on is that of questioning, the lantern sheds the light of hope; and you must light it yourself."

I knew he was thinking: Do I really want to become an architect? This exhilarated me. But the question which most preoccupied him was: How will me and Sofia get along?

"The Sun," I said, "is a card representing power, but the twins are there to add: duality must be acknowledged. You cannot have the one without embracing the other. Power is only self-evident at source. Human feeling, however, must live in a force-field between two poles, otherwise it cannot flourish."

He was now wondering what all of this implied, but was too proud to ask. He sat there, smiling politely. "Aha," was all he said.

"Finally, the Tower," I whispered ominously, "need not be such a negative card." I looked him straight in the eye. "Within us we have many unnecessary bulwarks constructed as protection against an enemy that perhaps no longer exists. A fall is necessary before we can rise again and see the world through new eyes. Strength can be a weakness, and weakness a strength. There is a law which states that all shall fall."

Here, I could see that I was having an influence on him. For the first time the forbidden desire to yield to me awoke in him. It amazed and disconcerted him. Immediately, he covered it up with contempt. But Sofia had already picked this up and grown afraid.

I withdrew immediately, sat alone and enjoyed my progress, letting him and Sofia go for an evening walk and kindle romantic feelings, while I sat and listened in on them. As they were sitting in each others' arms down by the the sea shore, he came with the suggestion that they could go on a trip the next day. Just him and her. Poor old Sofia didn't have an easy time of it.

"You know how difficult it is to be parted from Carmilla," was what she said. "It can have dreadful consequences."

"You mean she might go and drown herself, or something?" he muttered.

"No, no, not at all. Carmilla is obsessed with staying alive. That's what makes everything so impossible. She feels she ought to get everything, and be everywhere, and live everybody's lives for them. She has no humility. Sometimes I even begin to wonder if she doesn't think she's God," sighed my poor sister. That vexed me a little. Humility is a fine word to bandy about, but what does it really mean? Has it maybe something to do with sour grapes?

"But surely you can't go on living together all your lives?" he asked. "You can't simply go and give up normal life for her sake." And he put his arm around her.

At this point Sofia went quiet and looked out over the dark sea. Poor Sofia became so uncomfortable that she didn't even enjoy the kiss he gave her. I could just imagine her disappointment at the fact that this appeared to be no more than a thorough examination of her oral cavity. My dear little sister Sofia, give your twin sister an answer in her thirst for knowledge: what is normal life?

This morning, as soon as I was awake, I knew what had gone and happened. Sofia was up and the bedroom door was shut. I knew she had locked it while I was asleep. On the floor lay my paints and brushes and on the bedside table the Tarot pack, so I'd have something to occupy myself with. There is only one little skylight into the bedroom to let the light in. I called out to her as best I could with my hoarse voice. She came and stood outside the door.

"Andreas and me are going on a trip," she said. "I don't care what happens. I must be able to have a bit of fun now and again."

"Love is not 'fun'" I hissed, pressed against the door. "Use any other word you like!"

"You know we don't agree about that," she said. "What if everyone were like you?"

And with those well-thought-out and highly original words, she left me. Rage was pounding inside me, but with the years I have learnt to control myself a little. The best I could do in my captivity was to home in on them so as to at least be able to share him; even if their tLte-B-tLte would hardly be any more exciting than an American love story.

One thing that did begin to become just a little interesting was the fact that it was now easy for me to tune in on him, even at a distance. In this fashion, I already knew that he had begun to grow a little irritated with her. A little frustrated, a little desperate. Everything had begun to feel less sacred. He no longer felt himself to be quite the instrument of God and Love. They were just two people now: a man and a woman. And as a tribute to Man and Woman, he had packed a picnic hamper, since the Man had intended to have a little trip to a deserted beach along with the Woman.

But when Sofia came up to him in her childish flowery dress, she wanted to go in to Visby instead. She wanted to eat saffron pancakes at a pavement café in the sun, and she wanted to look round the shops.

[to be continued]

Translated from Swedish by Eric Dickens

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