Sunday, 23 August 2009

Inger Edelfeldt: "An Uninhabitable House" - 9

Eric's been moving house. Hence the long silence between part 8 (13th July 2009) and part 9 of this tale. So:

The gallant knight left the picnic hamper where it stood in the corner forthwith, where the contents would go off in the sun. He didn't even choose to mention it! But I knew that somewhere inside him it would be standing there going off all day long.

I cannot in all honesty say that their trip to Visby was one unmitigated success. To keep myself amused, I began to set up a little artistic project there in the bedroom. I only listened with one ear to their conversation. He was speaking about how it was now time that old-fashioned architecture came into vogue once more and she about the fantastic acoustics of the Anthroposophists' brick meeting hall in Järna. Poor old Sofia, how she had to exert herself to say interesting things about houses. I know Sofia: she'd prefer not to have to say anything at all, since every word uttered is one more risk taken. It could just be the wrong one. Something she said could be misinterpreted as being an opinion. No, now I'm being unfair but I think I could be forgiven in the circumstances. I cannot control myself: I even think that Sofia would like there to be a phrasebook covering the Language of Normality. She believes every word she reads in books. She considers that the only things which are not true are her own ideas. She imagines that at the banquet in Heaven, where we shall all ultimately meet up beyond time, there will be a special table reserved for Philosophers, and that these will never become her drinking partners. For that reason, she doesn't even want to listen to them, let alone actually say something back.

She would like to sit on one of those small, finely crafted chairs at the table for Humble Women, where the candles match the serviettes and with a smile discuss whether it isn't dreadful for the King and Queen not to have private lives.

And sometimes she will sneak a peep over at the largest table of all, where God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost, served Mary in her humility, embarrassed at also having received a golden crown, talk to one another in a quite incomprehensible manner.

Maybe she is right; maybe I do think I'm God. Maybe I really am? Maybe we all are? Or ought to be. Forgive me: that's the way I am. My thoughts and feelings are uncontrollable, I know. That is why I'm sitting here in my loneliness.

A quaint little legend came to mind as I sat there bored with their conversation: once upon a time in History there was somebody, let's say a man, as a woman would just complicate the story; anyway, there was this man who thought he had found the Truth. He swathed himself in a cloak and found a knoll from which people were wont to preach. People flocked from far and wide to listen to him and his heart swelled with pride. He looked out over the multitude and said: "This is the unbearable truth you shall have to live with: never believe anything anyone says you must believe in."

And since they believed him, they turned and went their way, leaving him alone. He had expected a different reception, a group of disciples, discussing with fervour and respect.
Longtime he walked alone, filled with bitterness. Some while later he contemptuously clomb the knoll anew and preached in a voice filled with fulmination: "God consists of three potatoes and seven turnips which have been combined in an ingenious manner."

This gave rise to lively discussion and gave him a group of devotees who eagerly proceeded to interpret his utterances.

Was that a boring little truism, of no further use to anyone? I should have said something grand instead. That life is a tree or maybe a stream. That camels can get through the eye of a needle, if only they shut their eyes tight and imagine they are fleas.

But to get back to Sofia and Andreas. While I was painting, they paid their visit to the pavement café and then wandered around all the narrow streets in that fairy-tale city of Visby.
And as often happens in romantic films, fate looked down clemently upon Andreas. All of a sudden he caught sight of a notice saying: ROOMS TO LET.

When I tuned in on him, I discovered a great number of conflicting thoughts struggling for precedence within him. The thing was that there was only the tiniest shadow of ire. That was that picnic basket which you may perhpas remember. And all that chit-chat about Sofia's sister.

He wanted under no circumstances to become angry, but he was. And Sofia's anxiety to please had begun to make him unsure. He got just that tiny bit annoyed at her way of listening to everything he said as if these were words of wisdom, uttered by the King himself. He felt her to be evasive, like a phantom.

When he caught sight of that notice, a forbidden thought entered his mind: he wanted to rent a room for the night, even if they would only be there for a couple of hours. He would be the one paying.

The extravagance amused him, but what was worse, he also discovered that the thought of paying for what shall we call it, an hour of dalliance, a silly expression if there ever was one, the thought of buying such an hour made him grow all excited. And irritated as he already was, there was a certain aggression in this excitement. That frightened him, but the original thought would not be put off or gainsaid.

He was hoping there would be no free rooms. He was hoping Sofia would say a firm no to the plan.

But of course she did not, and even offered to pay her share. When she didn't get her way, she said she'd invite him to a slap-up meal later that evening. With our money! And there was me who had to buy new paints, especially crimson.

Anyway, things were at least hotting up a bit. I could see the little room in the pension in front of me as clear as day: white walls, a low ceiling, small greyish-green bedside tables, one sole chair and then one huge double bed under a gorgeous flower-patterned bedspread.

Sofia is sitting on the chair, pale and stiff as a schoolgirl. Andreas is standing at the other side of the bed, not knowing how to conceal his aggression; then his gaze falls on an old photo in a frame of a trotting-horse pulling a sulky. The picture is taken from the side, the eyes of the animal stare exaltedly, his nostrils are flaired, the muscles and tendons can be seen traced on the smooth body. And for the most fleeting of moments, Andreas imagines that his penis is the tautly reined head of the horse.

Andreas, you're such a romantic, not to mention a frustrated one.

Look at Sofia now, she's not at all on the same wavelength. She can't bear the thought that it's you who's paid for this little fling.

But what's she doing now? She's getting undressed. Compliantly and a little primly, as for a medical examination.

Aren't you going to stop now? It'll only end up being a fiasco.

But Sofia, who is filled with the thoughts she ought to feel, and cannot bear the thought of Andreas being frustrated, and who, if you'll forgive the expression, is driven most by the urge to be a real woman, takes those few steps up to the bed and lays herself on it in an inviting manner, her blond hair a golden swathe across the pillow, her graceful body quite still. She tends to close her eyes on such occasions and pretend she has swooned, that she has been swimming naked somewhere in a magic forest and that the first man to come by is a dashing robber baron, not a shitten woodcutter with scab and seven children. Sorry, there I go again.

[to be continued]

Translated from Swedish by Eric Dickens

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