Friday, 3 July 2009

Inger Edelfeldt: "An Uninhabitable House" - 6

I borrowed Sofia's hat to put the cherries in, as I had thought we should have a bowlful of them to take home with us. I often want things. It's a kind of instinct. If I really had power, I would conquer whole countries and heedlessly colonise islands where there were spices and gold and precious stones. As it is now, I limited myself during our holiday to collecting fossils warmed in the sun, and just now, borrowing Sofia's hat for the sweet, round drops of blood with which Nature has decorated a mysterious tree whose sight made my body surge with the thrill of childhood.

Andreas didn't like the fact I'd borrowed her hat, perhaps he was afraid she'd get sunstroke without it. Or maybe he saw from my expression and my movements that I was thinking about something else while I plucked the ripe berries from the branches.

We returned, conversing politely. I had begun listening in on him a little. His head was, unfortunately, brim full of one wish alone, and that was to get rid of me. Nonetheless, he smiled courteously in my direction and put polite and insipid questions which I answered in a whisper.

What would be their next move? Sofia had no other choice but to take me into account.

I went to the toilet to give them a chance to talk. I looked at my eyes in the mirror. It always surprises me how staring they are, as if wanting to see everything.

I once heard the story of a German Jewess and an SS soldier. It was a woman I knew; she's old now, but has very open eyes giving you the feeling you are being confronted with something to do with the sea, if you can imagine the sea as a thinking being. Even then, as a young woman, she had these open eyes. And the SS soldier had told her: "You mustn't stare at me like that."

She had said: "I'm not staring, that's the way my eyes are."

Then he went up to her and cuffed her twice, once for each eye. That was his way of saying that there's a solution to everything.

I wondered whether it was my staring eyes that frightened Andreas so. He perhaps wondered what I could see. He perhaps wondered what those eyes had seen in their day. Or what they wanted to see.

Sofia, of course, has quite normal eyes, sparkling and, in a way, soothing. A gaze you can rest under without feeling challenged. They are holiday eyes, oasis eyes. A kind of infinite acceptance can be found in them, placid, safe indulgence: you carry on playing, children, I'll just sit here and be myself.

I tuned in again on her and Andreas. "Shall we meet up this evening?" he asked, meaning the two of them, Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, Donald and Daffy Duck. Sorry.

But Sofia knew what she had to take into account.

"You are welcome to come and eat dinner with us," she said and described how to get to the house we are renting.

What huge disappointment was seething within him; but what else could he do but accept? He was bemused, frustrated and almost becoming angry. Feeling guilty about his bad feelings, since Sofia and him hardly knew one another and of course she had her responsibilities towards her travelling companion.

[to be continued]

Translated from Swedish by Eric Dickens

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