Friday, 6 November 2009

A War Story - 1

By Ólafur Gunnarsson


I

If there was anything positive about the whole affair it was mainly the fact that whoever had got his daughter pregnant, it wasn’t one of the soldiers. It was one of the members of the jazz band that now entertained the soldiers downtown. The boy, strange child that he was, had actually been conceived well before the war.

The boy was now seven years old, and he had always been strange. But the day before, when the man was dining with the family, the boy had really surpassed himself and made his grandfather uneasy. The boy had suddenly looked up from his plate and pointed to the window and said, “I saw a lady in the sky last night!”

“A lady?” his mother asked.

“Yes.”

“And was she out in the street?” the grandmother asked.

“No,” said the boy. “She was up above the rooftops. In the sky. She was flying.”

Now the boy’s mother had one of those crazy, explosive fits of laughter that were the hallmark of her temperament. “A lady in the sky! Flying. Now that beats everything!”

“Tell us more about it,” the grandmother said.

The man felt sudden irritation. Anything out of the ordinary made him uneasy, and his grandson was most certainly out of the ordinary.

“Well,” said the boy, ”the lady was very beautiful and she was all dressed in blue and holding a yellow harp and she was looking at me. She stood still in the sky for a long time. Her enormously long gown moved in the wind. It moved softly," he added. "And then I just went back to bed.”

“Oh, she’d just come down from the Almighty to tell you that you’re going to be a great musician like your father,” was the mother’s response. “That´s why she was holding a harp”. She was still laughing, but the laughter now verged on hysteria. “Oh, what a funny boy you are,” she gasped.

“No, I don’t think that’s why it was,” the boy said solemnly. “I don’t like it when you try to make me play an instrument. I like drawing better. I thought you knew that.”

By now the boy’s grandfather had picked up a newspaper, he was trying to read something but could not find his glasses, he patted his breast pocket, but the glasses were not in their usual place there.

“But what were you doing up in the middle of the night?” the grandmother asked. “Did you need to go to the toilet, maybe?” She had infinite love and patience for the boy.

The boy looked at his grandfather. “No, I was just very sorry because I’d got butter on the wallpaper and wanted to see if the mark had gone away.”
“Well, that explains it all,” the grandfather said, greatly relieved.

The day before the grandfather had papered the living room walls. The new paper had strange designs that nevertheless seemed to reveal a regular pattern, and as the boy had been admiring this he had, quite by accident, put a spot on the wall and been scolded for doing so.

“You only woke up because you felt sorry about the spot, and you dreamt it all,” the grandfather said.

“No, no, I didn’t!” the boy shouted suddenly becoming very excited, and there was an edge to his voice, something close to outrage. “There was definitely a lady there.”

“Yes, yes, that's right,” the boy’s mother said. “Let’s not talk about it any more.”

“Are you taking him to school tomorrow?” the grandmother asked.

“No,” the boy’s mother said. “I have business to see to.”

The grandfather abandoned the newspaper, looked at them all, and before he could be drawn in to whatever was in the making said: “I’m off to work.”

“It’s all right, dear,” the grandmother said to the boy. “I’ll take you.”

“Yes,” the boy said nervously. “It's a big day and I don't want to go all by myself.”

The grandfather was out on the veranda now, and the rest of the conversation was lost to him. He looked at his car and somehow felt a sense of relief at returning to the normal world. He was a taxi driver, and was duly proud of his car. It was a 1940 Chevrolet Sedan.

(to be continued)

Note: this is an original edited text, not a translation

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