The past is a dream
Felicia dozed off for a moment but awoke with a start at the sight of some devilish figure which might be the gardener at Venhaug, Tor Anderssen. He was stooping over her as if ready to sink his sharp claws into her breast. She pulled up the blanket and shuddered.
"Did you fall out of a tree?" asked Erling. "It's supposed to be race-memory—the ape-child dropping from the tree."
"Perhaps a still older memory," thought Felicia. "Our fall from the Tree of Knowledge."
"Or a dream of being caught while stealing apples?"
"Well, it's the same thing, isn't it?"
The gardener had been that wolf with iron claws one sees in old church paintings. Felicia had not been the first to see the semblance of a wolf in Tor Anderssen; Aunt Gustava had said as much when she visited Felicia once and the gardener happened to walk by: "Down in Kongsberg I saw a wolf once in a four-wheeled cage, a sort of circus wagon, and when Anderssen came here it was exactly like looking through the bars again."
Felicia had great respect for Aunt Gustava's gift of seeing. Tor Anderssen had the head of a wolf and he snooped about the farm with the same lurking, restless movements as a wolf. She had told Jan how she felt but he had smiled and said, "Tor is from Østerdalen; they walk that way there. Observe his long, stealthy steps. He comes from an old hunting-people who can scour for miles. An Østerdal man is as much at home in a mountain as a Nordlander is in his boat on the Lofoten Sea, the same indefatigable self-assurance. And, Felicia dear, wolves do not have mustaches."
The gardener had a walrus-mustache. For some reason it looked like a false one, but whether or not wolves have mustaches, Anderssen's made him look even more like a wolf. And when he shouldered a gun at Venhaug, he was a wolf. Sometimes he could look like a ragged, unsuccessful Nansen, a sort of Nansen who would never have dreamed of crossing the Polar Ice when there was no moose to kill, a Nansen without fire, envious-looking, a nitwit Nansen, a parody of the real Nansen, a miserable, doomed-to-failure attempt by a devil to pretend he was Nansen. "The Østerdal men walk like moose," said Jan. "Don't you recognize that shuffling, from the moose you've seen?"
Well, as a moose, then, she had thought, what's the difference. He is [p. 24] like a forest animal. But he shed the forest-animal when you came close to him and looked into his narrow, rather miserable eyes, and when his mushy, common voice spoke of carrots and beets. Anderssen was quite orderly, as one might expect of a good gardener, but not one ever to offer any suggestions; what he had learned he knew by rote. His mental capacities were limited, his imagination meager, and one had better not be ironic or ambiguous in conversation with him: Anderssen did not understand such, and his face would assume the stiff mask of a wholly humorless person, promising no good. Then his hands might begin to tremble; he could never forget what his wooden head once had understood to be an insult; in May 1940, some German soldiers, quite humanly, had happened to laugh at Tor Anderssen when he skidded on something on the sidewalk in Kongsberg and had to dance about and flail his arms grotesquely to regain his balance. This he had never forgiven the Germans; Tor Anderssen became an avenging angel, completely heartless, strong as a pile-driver, and with the courage of a pile-driver. A little mess on a sidewalk, a few thoughtless German boys laughing, and Tor Anderssen was at the throat of anything German as long as the war lasted. It probably never entered his head that the Germans had put him in a perfect wish-situation: to gain praise and honor for acts of vengeance. Perhaps he was the only one in the whole resistance movement who felt no relief when peace came; but then, strictly speaking, he had been on the wrong side. Neither Jan nor Felicia—Erling was somewhere else—had had the slightest doubt during the war that Tor Anderssen was the born Nazi; through a ridiculous incident he had become furious with his brothers under the skin. Tor Anderssen had not crossed the border into Sweden when he no longer could show himself anywhere, as other resistance people did; he became a forest-runner and his own private army for more than two years. He tramped into Hamar in a rather tight and lumpy German uniform, most certainly taken from a dead Nazi, when he saw that the Norwegian flags had gone up at the farms in the neighborhood. His revenge didn't seem to have been sweet enough. At least he was as sour and sulky as before and glared suspiciously when the crowd greeted him as a hero. He was and remained an uninteresting lone wolf, and one who never in his wanderings had had a mate, but looked at all females with belligerent suspicion. What were they giggling at? Him?
It was not without reason that Erling, when he met Tor Anderssen at Venhaug, began to compare him with his brother Gustav. They were both men who were sufficient unto themselves. Gustav had indeed married, but actually he had swallowed his wife and digested her. It was obvious that Gustav did not miss his son who had run away to America. [p. 25] He was only mentioned as some vague figure who had refused to become absorbed.
The sun streamed into the room where Felicia and Erling lolled in bed. She turned on her side and put her arms round his neck. "Erling, I'm thinking about that business, falling down from the Tree of Knowledge. I played with you in my daydreams, Erling, from my seventeenth year until Norway came into the war. Especially the first two years after I had met you. I imagined you would roam the roads in the neighborhood, hoping I might pass by. As this gradually seemed less and less probable I grew more courageous in my dream; I made up that you must have hid in the garden to get a glimpse of your princess. Perhaps you remember—no, I'm sure you don't—but my room was on the second floor, opposite a little hill in the garden, maybe fifty yards away. From this knoll one could see into my room when the light was on. I went up on the hill myself to make sure."
Her voice grew unsteady; even though it had been so long ago she relived the shame she would have felt then had her love-play been discovered. "Sometimes I almost persuaded myself you were there; then I would pretend I had forgotten to pull the blind; I took an extra long time at undressing, and then I walked about in the nude, picking up things, straightening up, until, very deliberately, I would put on my pajamas and go to bed. A moment later I would appear really shocked at discovering someone might have seen me, and I would jump out of bed and pull the blind. Those were the things I was remembering when we were together our first night in Stockholm."
She was lying with her head in his armpit while her thoughts wandered home to Venhaug where she enjoyed the pleasure of playing with a man, conscious of his presence in the garden, watching him wait expectantly, or seeing him look out of his window hopefully. Or, best of all, letting him sneak up to the ventilator-opening from the outside only to discover that she had closed it from the inside; then his disappointment and his fear that she might open it again and discover that he was trying to peek in. That must never happen; she had no intention of unmasking him and ruining the whole set-up, but Tor Anderssen couldn't know that. She was always careful and made sure that he had stepped aside before she opened the ventilator. Many a time she had stood there, listening, conscious of his apprehension which reminded her of an animal's—afraid someone might come and catch him there. She enjoyed the game passionately with this impotent Cartesian devil whom she could make jump up and down at her bidding. She visualized him standing in line outside the ventilator, eager to peek when she was [p. 26] undressed, a whole long parade of Tor Anderssens, from the greenhouse all the way back to the grove of silver spruce, and still far, far back through the land of Norway, an endless line for the whorehouse. Let them stand there and shiver in the cold; this was not the day the courtesan Felicia received. Until she began this game she had never derived any pleasure from playing with anyone. Practical jokes had always seemed pure stupidity to her; but she liked to torture and degrade Tor Anderssen and watch him play the fool. Her blood would throb, she would smile enchanted, and her eyes would glitter from something akin to hot, selfish evil, while standing there only a foot from him, on her side of the wall.
Such was one of her games. Another one happened at longer intervals. Like a few days ago. Tor Anderssen had appeared among the silver spruce and stopped still. No one could see him from the main house standing there so immobile, scanning about. No one except her, who was watching him through the greenhouse ventilator, dressed in nothing but her flat shoes. She had just been on the point of closing the ventilator, for he must not spy on her except when she was aware of it.
As he began to move and cautiously approach, she pulled back her lips like a snarling dog, but only for a moment; then her face froze to a mask as she watched him moving closer step by step, soundlessly, his eyes riveted on the ventilator.
Strangely enough, Felicia had never seen the connection between the young girl waiting for an Erling Vik who never came, and the black game with the gardener at Venhaug. It wasn't that she didn't try to find an explanation, but the completely obvious she did not see. Not even though the one game always reminded her of the other.
As a wise and experienced person she knew well enough that the ghost of one's painful past will appear on dark paths, cloaked in black joy-dreams. But not even Felicia remembered this when it was vital to her. For her, as for everyone: always much later, some other time, too late, or never.
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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