The woman you gave me
After a few hours of fitful sleep Erling put in a long-distance call to Venhaug. It was Felicia who answered; yes, he could come. He said he [p. 84] would take a train that left Drammen about two o'clock, and she rattled on about this and that. It was wonderful to hear her voice. She thought Jan might be the one to meet him at the station, and Welcome!
He called Kristiansen's taxi and made ready. The weather was depressing, raining; there should have been sun today, with light in abundance. How fortunate that people like Torvald Ørje didn't know how much unhappiness they could cause by their mere appearance. Thank heaven! they were too stupid to know or they might encircle the house day and night. Anyway, now I'll have a few days with Felicia and Jan.
He made sure that everything was well locked up before he left, but only when he sat in the taxi did it strike him that in giving the door an extra tug to test the lock, he had again been thinking of that vermin Torvald Ørje. He felt relaxed as the car turned onto the highway to Drammen and increased its speed. The rain splashed against the windows. This gave him a thought—why not take the taxi all the way to Venhaug? Then he could be alone with his thoughts, escaped being jostled on a probably crowded train—
He leaned forward: "Mr. Kristiansen—could you drive me all the way to Venhaug? You know the road—"
"Yes, indeed," but then they must stop somewhere and call his wife so she would know in case someone else called for the taxi.
"Good enough! Will you at the same time call Venhaug, then they'll know—"
He wrote down the number and the message on a leaf in his notebook: Erling Vik has asked me to call and say he will take the taxi all the way to Venhaug.
He tore out the page and handed it to Kristiansen. The taxi stopped at a country store and Kristiansen took care of the matter. Erling felt a relief so great he must smile. He pulled out a book he had intended to read, but fell into thought and watched the rain. Once again he noted that he was content. Financially he wasn't well to do but he managed; he had never had any desire either to splash money around or to save a pile. He was satisfied if he could keep his house, and dress fairly decently so no one noticed him either for elegance or shabbiness. His children were not close by but he had a nice relationship with them. Ellen had found another husband while he was in Sweden; now she lived somewhere on Vestlandet but he never heard from her. She had been twenty-six and he forty-one when they separated. Now she is forty-one, he thought, the same age as Felicia, seventeen years younger than I. A woman must [p. 85] always be thought of as young if she was so much younger than oneself. The only thing that remains of that business, he mused, and smiled at the thought, is that I almost daily compare these figures, God knows why. What a misery it had been. The time spent in Sweden had been hard on marriages; couples separated, unable to handle the fact that Norway was at war; but then, perhaps those marriages didn't deserve to last either.
His thoughts raced ahead to Venhaug; he would rather they didn't. For many years it had seemed to him that all expectation was evil. For when anticipations were fulfilled, the real experience was already pale and tarnished, lived-up, drawn out in advance. One might make plans for the future, that was something else, but anticipation ought to be suppressed, or pruned as far as possible. Expectation distorted reality. In spite of his fifty-eight years he still hoped to squelch this parasite of joy-to-come. And to a degree he had managed. It was seldom that he looked forward to a possible experience; he felt that was adolescent, and he directed his thoughts to avoid such speculations. However, it didn't prevent him from thinking of Felicia, but mostly of memories concerning her. Thus the past was being widened, not the immediate future misused. In his youth it had been mostly erotic fantasies that had driven him, their slave, astray in an exotic jungle where the loved one was transformed into a hundred willing girls whom it was his greatest desire to make love to, and with the least effort, perpetually. He managed always to remember this form of youthful dreaming, because it evoked the most grotesque picture of anticipation's ruined reality which each time was turned into a futile repetition of the same dream.
He did not wish to think of the impending meeting with Felicia, because it was wisest not to put too great demands on himself; he might allow himself to think of her, but not in connection with their meeting today. Almost at once he was filled with this ever-returning secret wonder that he could meet the one-time Felicia Ormsund as an equal, and had done so for many years. He made himself comfortable in his corner and mused contentedly over this fact which couldn't be voiced aloud, because then he would sound like a snob. But snob or whatever name, it remained equally remarkable. How about attempting to classify the snobs? Or, for the time being, push aside the degrading implication of the word while investigating snobs in general and the problem of snobbery? No, that was too much trouble now; he just wanted to enjoy himself. Snobbery couldn't be viewed, objectively, except by non-snobs, and they wouldn't know what they were talking about. We cannot solve psychological problems of others, only our own.[p. 86]
I am thinking along the wrong lines, he said to himself. One mustn't start a trend of thought as if it were a school composition—describe a snob—in which case the subject of the composition is assumed to be well known to anyone able to write. I don't give a damn about behavior as such, I only want to see what lies under it. It seems the others, the ones I know among the so-called upper classes, do consider me their equal. Indeed, frequently I hear it said that I am their superior. Not that this makes me any happier. Having sown my wild oats, I have at least gained a sort of insecure balance, and do not feel at home except among equals—and by equals I mean those who have the same insecure balance as I myself, who are not stupid, who recognize the integrity of others, but who may otherwise possess any qualities or lack of qualities whatever, with age mattering not at all. They must be just as little disposed to feel inferior as to feel superior.
I am proud of Felicia, but most of myself who have her, and I can imagine, aside from the love, there is much that could be called snobbery. I'll try to draw a picture of her, as I see and feel it within me and impressed on the underside of my eyelids—a picture drawn in combat desire but also blind admiration, drawn by a boy standing below on the street, his head thrown back, ready to tell of the golden girl between the towers of Oslo Town Hall—drawn by Erling Vik, sprung from the last generation of big broods, fifth child of the limping village tailor at Rjukan and his deaf wife Pauline, both long ago laid to rest in the churchyard with some of their children. I don't remember if it is four or five of the thirteen we were when most numerous.
I again met Felicia Ormsund in Sweden, early in December 1942, about a year after I had escaped from Norway. It was on her first day in Stockholm, and she had been met there that morning by Steingrim Hagen with whom she lived for exactly one year. The city girl apparently had a taste for the farm-born. My connection with her dates from the time she was with Steingrim and has never ceased. Before that I had met her only once; that was in 1934, when she was seventeen. Then she was dark-haired but as can happen with coal-black hair, there were already streaks of silver; now she has for long worn her silver crown, without a touch of black in it.
When my thoughts are with her, this fanfare of hair always plays a part. Everyone recognizes her from a great distance because of this silver halo, which she never seems to worry much about. She probably does though.
Of Felicia I can't offer a description that could be used to identify a missing person. I only know the reflection of a reflection a lover feels.[p. 87]
Felicia can take the long view; during the war she often spoke of the seven-hundred-year suppression of the Czechs and anticipated we might have something similar; or a genocide. She acted accordingly. Now, during these recent years, there are countless people who are wise after the fact and who insist they were not traitors, on the contrary, they anticipated a Russian danger. Anyone expressing such a thought then, she sent packing with the statement that Norway had only one kind of suppressors, the Germans, and one must face events in the order in which they appear. She knew something of immediate demands.
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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