The occupation of Gotland
The following day they had been sitting out-of-doors on the sunny side of the house against the wall, talking a little but mostly dozing in the sunshine, lost in their own thoughts. The sun was high, there was a smell of earth and growth. The telephone rang a few times; Erling let it ring.
He was thinking of Gotland where he had never been, but where Felicia had. She and Jan had gone there with their daughter last year about midsummer, and she had written him four long letters while they were there. Jan had suggested the trip after the spring work was over, she had written. Erling knew she was expecting a child at that time and surmised there was some connection. It wasn't like Jan to suggest journeys anywhere; only reluctantly would he leave Venhaug. Happiness, reward, or what? he had thought, as he sat under the awning with the letter in his hand.
Those four letters had given him an impression of a fairyland Gotland which he wouldn't wish to destroy by going to see for himself how it really was. Only now was he beginning to realize this. It was something he had experienced this one single time only; any other time he had needed to see a country to gain an impression of it, even of its most elementary geographical features. Perhaps it is so with everything, he thought. My eyes must absorb it before it is mine. I will have no God until I stand before his throne, but due to one of God's most important edicts, I will never be permitted near him. Why this difference between our senses? "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear," it is written, but we who instead have eyes to see have no chance. No wonder I have always been afraid of losing my sight. It's strange that only teachers and [p. 11] preachers are created in God's image, and then they demand that we must believe in them too, apparently for no sensible reason. The world I see, in that same moment it is mine until my light is forever extinguished. Until that happens no one can rob me of anything in this world. As far as I understand not even in hell. I must be one of the world's richest men, one of the few who owns all he has seen. There is very little of Norway that isn't my personal belonging, I own forests and fields and whole cities, besides half of the West Indies, great parts of America, a bit of Morocco, places in Portugal, Spain, Italy, all of Copenhagen, Stockholm and three royal palaces, all of the wine-monopoly's shops, the Norwegian Folkmuseum, the Vatican, the whole heaven, the University Library, the sun and the moon and all the stars, and something of Felicia.
On top of everything, Felicia, most generously, had presented him with a Gotland, a Visby, and other fairyland objects. How had this been possible? She never formed her sentences particularly well when she wrote, and most of all it annoyed him when she put a full stop in the middle of a sentence and kept on writing about something else, which entirely pushed out the beginning of the sentence. Truly, she expressed herself in writing like a child in the third grade—when she wasn't angry. When angry she expressed herself with the most uncomfortable logic. He glanced at her legs, so Nordic May-white, and felt for a moment he was even with Felicia for at least some of her angry letters. Then his eyes came to rest on her hand—and the memory was still with him, now and always like a birching across his face: a peevish, dirty old man, without hands, except for the two last fingers on his right hand which uselessly reached out for nothing. How often hadn't he thought, figuratively speaking, to hurl this man, with his stinking clothes and stinking beard, in Felicia's face!
During the war he had been to the other big Swedish island in the Baltic—Öland—and that island had become his in the same way as he annexed all geographic entities when he had seen them long enough. Gotland he had seen only as a blue shadow far out at sea more than forty years ago; yet perhaps no other place had become his so deeply and intimately as Gotland. He would tell this to Felicia sometime. Not now. Some other time.
He had mused that she was the goddess who created Gotland through her four heavenly decrees. When he sobered up he soon realized this could not be so—Gotland had been there before Felicia's visit. Then it must be that her four letters were inspired by some secret power who had decided that now the truth must out. The Inscrutable One had chosen as [p. 12] his herald a woman of mature age, superior in every way to any other woman on Gotland. Unsuspecting, she had written it all down, in the four letters, like four original creations, and at the High One's bidding she had sent them to Las Palmas to make it easier for the sceptical recipient. Obviously they must be sent to a man who considered it nothing less than a miracle that an actual piece of geography could be created within him in spite of the fact that he had not seen it.
Already after the first letter Gotland had assumed vivid contours, and after the second he had recognized this island he had never seen. But after the fourth letter Gotland had been created for a second time—and Felicia had not described it, only mentioned casually some facts about the house where they were staying, the view over the sea, and such. Most of what she had written had been illuminations about himself, with the final confession that in spite of all she loved him.
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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