Friday, 4 November 2011

Godfather

From Godfather [Gudfar], by Dy Plambeck


BANG! What a day to be at a cycle race! It was 1953, August, the time shortly before the turn, when the beech tree changes colour and the cycling season ends, and the rain was falling heavily. But it wasn’t one of those days when late summer puts a lid on, when the clouds draw together and the sky closes in like the dough round a baked pie. There was a brief, intense rain shower that made everything look stronger and more radiant, the way stones look brighter when they are wet. Then the sun broke through the clouds over Ordrup Track, and when Tenna noticed it she looked up at the sky. She had just fired the starting pistol to begin the race. It hadn’t been the original intention that she should do it. It was the job of Annalise, loved and admired, at least for her name. She was the daughter of Keller, the Track’s director, but she could not be said to be a great beauty. She was a small, slender woman with the shape of a pheasant. Only because Annalise was sick had Keller asked Tenna if she could oblige.

Tenna was twenty-nine years old, an hourglass-shaped girl with a big bosom, big brown eyes and big jet-black hair that fell in soft curls over her shoulders. She was slim, Gustav could have reached his hands around her waist, yet even so there was something full-bodied about her, something the police described in her dossier as stout, perhaps because everything about her was plump, her bosom, hair, lips, her large square nose, her puffy cheeks, her bushy eyebrows, pretty wasn’t the right word for her, more distinctive, alluring. She watched the riders as they raced down the straight. She loved fast cycling, a points race on the Track, the most exhausting kind of speed test. It was a pure war of nerves. The rider waited only for his opponent to lose concentration so he could attack. Only a moment’s inattentiveness was enough. No circuit race required the same raw strength and self-confidence.
  The start was crucial, the first turn of the pedal, all one’s strength had to go into it. The riders drew up parallel on both sides of their handlebars in order to set off in a straight line, and there was Erik-Frank approaching with his passionate face and elegant style. With his all-crushing ride. Tenna knew him from Pinden, the pub where she worked, the cyclists’ favourite watering hole, when he came and bought draught Tuborg. Tenna waved, Erik-Frank rode past her, and eight years earlier, in 1945, four days after the liberation, drove an open lorry through the old marsh district, Bringemosen, Møllemosen, Bundmosen, that surrounded Værløse camp, and continued across Måløvvej to fetch Tenna and Gustav from their bakery in Knardrup.
  It had been Gustav's dream to expand the bakery. He decided to raise the capital, he had the German discipline, even though he could hardly be called German. He was born in Flensburg, Germany’s Scandinavia, but had been naturalized and received Danish citizenship long before the war. He was seventeen years older than Tenna. One of his distant relatives knew a German officer in Værløse camp. It was through him that Tenna and Gustav came to manage the canteen. That way they could earn a bit extra, put money aside for Knardrup’s first patisserie.

The Germans took charge of Værløse camp from day one, on the very day of the occupation they shot the Danish army’s nine Fokker XXI aircraft to pieces. The Germans knew what they were after, how strong the fighter planes would make the Danish forces. As for the buildings, the Germans left them intact. They could use them. They hoisted the swastika over the camp and set up a shooting academy in the barracks where German fighter pilots from the front came to train. It was not the fighter pilots but the Danish workers at the camp whom Tenna had to serve in her canteen. She served breakfast porridge, sandwiches and leftovers of pastry from the bakery. She was a terrible cook, but the porridge and bread were not too bad. That was the extent of her abilities.

At Ordrup Track there were unparalleled crowds, people jostling in and out between one other, a tumult of shouting and roaring from the loudspeaker which told of the day’s programme, and there he was again, Erik-Frank. Tenna thought it inconceivable that he could ride any faster, but he could. In one single flash he was at the head of the field. It was suicidal to try to get ahead of him, the jet fighter, as he was called. In the first minutes of any sprint, no one could touch him.

As the freedom fighters stormed into the private flat above the bakery in Knardrup, a loud whining rang in Tenna’s ears. Her teeth were chattering. A freedom fighter pressed his submachine gun into her back, jabbed it and threatened to shoot if she did not stop crying. Her knees knocked together. Was it because Gustav was German? It had never even crossed her mind that she and Gustav had been picked up because of her work. While it was true that the canteen was in the workers’ barracks, it was the Danish workers that it served. She had never thought there was anything unpatriotic about working there. Nevertheless that was one of the points in the indictment. Tenna was arrested, forced to get into the back of a lorry and driven away, even though she denied ever having been a member of the DNSAP, the Danish Nazi Party. She had had no connection with the Wehrmacht, the German police, German organizations or the German intelligence service. She didn’t understand why the freedom fighters were asking her about it, didn’t understand what was happening, no, she had never given information to anyone in the service of the Germans, she had never been issued with weapons.


*


With his delicate face, broad cheekbones, black, brushed-back hair, dimples and athletically trained body, Erik-Frank was the Adonis of Ordrup Track. Tenna watched him as he tore into the bend of the track. He had a nice smile, his teeth were more or less perfect. Gustav on the other hand had had teeth like lumps of amber and was shaped like a cigar. Low-voiced and round he was, and ever so withered to look at. Tenna met him on a staircase. He had been on the way down, she was going up. It was pitch dark. She couldn’t see him, but she liked the sound of his steps. His heavy, shuffling tread on the staircase made her smile. She stopped him. Nine weeks later they got married, it was 1940, she was only sixteen, they needed a royal dispensation.
  In the six years of their marriage Tenna never went anywhere without Gustav, to parties or coffee mornings, and anyway where would she go? They didn’t associate with anyone in Knardrup. Circle of acquaintances: None. That was what it said on their police dossier in black and white. When they were picked up by the freedom fighters and taken to the detention centre in Frederikssund they stood side by side on the back of the open lorry in their fancy dress costumes. They had been on their way to the carnival. Tenna wore a gown that was trimmed with imitation fur and had large tufts of feathers for buttons. Gustav was a negro. He had made a large hollowed-out head of papier mâché which he had put on top of him. It was brown with large, fleshy lips and a broad flat nose. On the head he wore a hat that was too small. In front of them stood a man who had been fetched from his wedding reception. He wore evening dress and had a carnation in his buttonhole. People in the street ran after the lorry, beat on it, spat and screamed: Folk like you should be put in a slicing machine and cut into slices!


Dy Plambeck, Gudfar [Godfather], Gyldendal 2011

translated from Danish by David McDuff

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