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The Literature Collection

Sandemose, Aksel, 1899-1965 / The werewolf; Varulven (1966)

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The game with Dummy

Erling strode across the floor toward a shelf but hesitated a time or two in his walk. Then he shook off his indecision and took down a flat wooden box about a foot square. He blew the dust off the lid and placed the box   [p. 83]   on a table near the fire. Then he placed chairs opposite one another at the table, set out two wine glasses which he filled with whisky. Finally, he slid back the lid of the box and set up the contents for a game of checkers.

The circular wooden pieces were almost half an inch thick. Long ago they had been in two colors but after many years of use they were now difficult to tell apart; to make matters easier he had pushed thumb tacks into half of them. He picked up a Swiss franc from the box, threw it against the ceiling and watched it land on the table. "I start today," he said.

Dummy lost the game; he always did. Once more absolute honesty had been defeated. Erling leaned back in his chair and, as he had done many times before, thought it over. As he must every time he also emptied Dummy's glass (Dummy's defeat was always overwhelming). It makes no difference how you play or how much you think you act impartially and decently toward Dummy, you must win. It is, and remains, under any imaginable circumstances, impossible to lose a game to Dummy without cheating; as impossible as it is to jump leapfrog over oneself, or thumb one's nose at God and not consider oneself almighty. The right and duty to win is always on one's side. In spite of your good intentions, your good will (speak of freedom of the will!), your honesty—you still win the game. It might take a few moments to realize where one cheated or made the one move for Dummy he shouldn't have made; but whether you think it or not, one never doubts deep inside that one did cheat him. To find the formula for squaring the circle, to construct a perpetual motion machine, to see ghosts at high noon, to frighten one's great-grandfather, to tell all to one's beloved, to lose against Dummy—these things are all impossible. The founder of the Oxford Movement played in a quiet moment with Dummy and discovered in him a clever trader who at the last minute advised him to get rid of some dubious holdings. Dear God, where can we find a humble heart when you never punish blasphemers except between the covers of the Bible, but instead let them get by on the advice of a shrewd counselor? Teach me to lose against Dummy, so that perhaps once in the distant future, just once, I might have the experience of behaving justly to another creature.

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