Alone in her lover's house
It was on the ninth of May, 1950, and during the two following days that it had happened. She had slowed down the car in good time before she approached Erling's house. She breathed heavily and her hands trembled. She carefully drove the car well off the road to the right and stopped; she had better collect herself a little, she thought. Erling was not home as yet, but someone else might see her emotion, one could never be sure. And now she was trembling as violently as she had done the first few minutes, eight years earlier, after she had revenged her brothers, with the informer lying dead at her feet. Now she was afraid she might lose control of the car; she felt her heart swell and press her lungs against the sides of her breast, she felt she was choking with joy and about to faint, she groaned in futile anger as she bent forward over the steering wheel and fought her emotion. She thought wildly and blindly that it must stop when the shaking of the motor was stilled and no longer could affect her, although it never had affected her before. She bent over the wheel, kicked with her feet, bit her lips until she tasted blood. Then it died down. She remained slumped over the wheel, her eyes empty, until she heard another car approaching. She started the motor again, afraid the driver might stop and ask if she needed assistance. When he had passed, she backed her car up the narrow road to the house, since it would be impossible to turn in the small yard when she was ready to leave. She maneuvered the car behind the house and turned off the motor. She sat a few minutes and looked in front of her. There stood the house, as before, and it was spring. A wagtail showed off in front of the car. Sixteen months it was since she had seen Erling. What had he been up to in Las Palmas? she wondered. She hoped he had been tempted by the cheap wine. Every day. Night and day. His letters had been neither so many nor so long as when he was at home. For a moment it struck her that they had seemed unusually sober, written by a completely sober person. His newspaper articles had been warmer, and suddenly her eyes were wet, and she saw the wagtail in front of her as if it were walking on the bottom of a clear, vernal woodland lake, below a surface stirred by a light breeze. She dried her eyes, and the wagtail walked there again as a wagtail should.
When Felicia had unlocked the door of the house she walked from window to window and opened them up, sending the blinds heavenwards with a bang. The dust rose and tickled her nose. Then she wound [p. 8] the clock and set it: a quarter to two. Erling would arrive by plane in Fornebu about five and he had promised to take a taxi from the airport directly home to Lier. He ought to be here by seven at the latest, she thought, even counting minor delays. What his house needed first and foremost was a thorough cleaning. Strange how a house could stand unoccupied and still accumulate dirt and dust.
She had had the electricity turned on and made sure the telephone was connected. Now she must fix herself something to eat, brew coffee. She carried in food from the car—bread, butter, bacon. Soon the smell of steaming coffee came from the kitchen.
Felicia had regained her good humor again; it was half past two when she threw the cigarette butt into the fireplace and cleared the table. First she went after the window frames and sashes with soap and water, then the panes; they were as dirty as those in a storage room. Then she scrubbed the hopelessly worn floor. This was really a job for a laborer. While working in the corner farthest to the right, she happened to push the brush hard against the wall and had a feeling that the lowest log moved a little. Just then she didn't think much about it, but a few minutes later she went back and pushed it hard with the brush again. Yes, it did move a little, but how could that be? She fell down on her knees to inspect it and discovered that the two lowest logs were sawed through, a yard and a half or so from the corner. Felicia was known always to have her eyes open and to draw conclusions from what she saw. It took her less than a minute to discover the mechanism and open the secret safe. One by one she pulled out eight bottles of whisky and stood them in a row. She straightened up as she knelt there and looked sadly at the bottles. Erling had arranged to have a supply ready—that drunkard had looked ahead almost two years!
She bent down again and pulled out some packages. "The Story of Gulnare" was written on one of them. On another, "Letters from Felicia." She pulled out all the packages, but no more had writing on them to indicate they contained letters from women. Probably literary works, all of them, even "The Story of Gulnare." She found again the bundle with her own letters and started to cry.
Then she put everything back where it had been and closed the door. The rest of the scrubbing seemed much harder but at last she was finished. She sat down to rest with a glass of vermouth. It was now four o'clock. The house smelled clean. Whistling gaily she went after the kitchen utensils, scrubbed and washed and put them in place, polished all the glasses and inspected each one against the light. Erling was no model of tidiness but he was one to observe and was always deeply [p. 9] grateful. It was ten to five, now he would soon land at Fornebu and have thoughts for her only. She hoped he hadn't taken too much on the plane. She wasn't afraid he would be drunk, that wasn't it, but it was never good for him to drink when they were to meet, and now when it had been sixteen months since . . . . The mattress was spread over the car hood, in the sun; she had beaten it soundly. Now she carried it in. She made the bed, with sheets she had warmed over chair-backs in front of the fire, found blankets and pillows and arranged them with quick movements. Felicia was efficient and it suited her body to be—she knew her value. She followed meticulously the order of Holy Writ not to put your light under a bushel.
Soon she had the table laid—she had brought most of the food prepared—and she looked at the result of her handiwork; now for a few violets, they were just what was needed, with the sun glittering over plates and dishes. She sniffed the air, everything smelled clean. It was twenty minutes after five. From that moment her heart was in her throat, for Erling had promised to call from Fornebu. How often had this telephone rung during these last sixteen months, rung in a silent and empty room with no Erling? Faithful, in this word's common meaning, she had never felt he was. The telephone had rung and rung, but no Erling had answered, and when it stopped the room had been more silent than before.
Felicia put her hand in the tub of water on the edge of the stove; it was no longer ice-cold. She locked the door, pulled down the blinds, and doffed garment after garment. She wouldn't risk smelling of cleaning-woman or kitchen-frau. She lifted the tub to the floor, but then she hesitated; she wouldn't wish to be standing dripping from cold water when Erling called.
In that very moment the telephone rang, a shrill, longed-for sound that startled her. Her hand trembled violently and felt clammy when she lifted the receiver. His voice sounded as though he were in the room. She didn't recognize her own, it reminded her suddenly of the screeching wild doves in the forest at Venhaug early in the morning. She continued to call hello a few times after he had hung up.
She wanted to see her own happiness and walked slowly across the floor to the tall mirror she had once given him (for her own vanity's sake). He had insisted on a curtain for it. This she pulled aside now, and looked at herself with eyes that appeared black. Her cheeks were rosy; she knew that only a minute ago they had been pale. She looked for signs of age—will he think I still look young? Her breasts stood out, big and firm; it was only a week since she had stopped nursing. Slim as ever [p. 10] around the waist . . . . She was thirty-three and sighed in gratitude at the thought that civilization had granted women perhaps twenty years more than their mothers.
Felicia washed and put on a change of clothes, a flower-patterned short skirt, a jersey, sport socks, and flat shoes. She glanced at the clock from time to time as she meticulously attended to her hair and face. The sun was falling in streaks across the floor but it was beginning to grow chilly; she threw a few pieces of kindling and wood on the embers in the fireplace; she listened for cars passing by on the road. At last one of them slowed down and came to a stop. She remained standing, completely immobile, in the middle of the room, and waited.
Copyright © 1958 by H. Aschehoug & Co., Oslo, Norway. Used by permission. English translation copyright © 1966 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. All rights reserved. Use of this material falling outside the purview of "fair use" requires the permission of the University of Wisconsin Press.
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