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The Literature Collection

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

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The identity

At last Felicia dropped her hands on her lap and looked at Erling. She didn't speak; people one knows well one doesn't recall from especially   [p. 114]   many situations, rather, one's clear impression is from a few. Erling was aware that Felicia had been sitting silent studying him this Sunday morning. She looked at him only to make sure he was still there, he felt, while she was pondering something she was unable to solve. She drew a deep breath and attacked the currant berries again. Julie was sitting with half-open mouth, breathing evenly and audibly. She never took her eyes from the currants. He looked at her with the eyes of an expert to whom nothing was surprising. He himself would have turned around to look at Julie. There she sat with her secret. And he returned to his own, the sneaking old feeling that he couldn't trust his own identity. For a moment his eyes followed Jan, who walked and walked, slowly but without stopping, as he had done at Old Venhaug also, as he had done during meetings in Oslo while the Germans were in the country, even if he only had a few yards of floor space. He had seen Jan continue his walking-motions when standing, unable to move. Many times he had had the feeling that Jan was walking away from his identity. That he wasn't there at all. Then his lower jaw might hang open a little, exactly as now. Erling discovered that Julie was following Jan's walking feet while she picked up cluster after cluster of currants.

Was Jan on his way to his Erlingvik?

I am one who doesn't know who the he is that I call me. I don't know, and no one ever tells me. In my dreams I am told to go home to Erlingvik—and there is nothing I would like better, although I am frightened when told so. I don't know when I gave a name to the place or the concept and dimensions of Erlingvik; I recall vaguely that I could get to it if it had a name, but even so I didn't find the way home.

"What are you thinking about walking there, Jan?" asked Felicia.

Jan swam unusually fast up to the surface and said, "I have just figured out that it is exactly thirty-nine and a half years since I made a slingshot. It was in the gable room back there at Old Venhaug."

He had been only thirty-nine and a half years away this time. Some other time he had returned from a star.

Erling was afraid of losing his present identity—even if it were a false one—and he remembered that for a while it had actually happened, while he was a refugee in Sweden. Looking back at it now, fourteen, fifteen years later, through reversed binoculars as it were, he felt that it had been rather interesting to lose a borrowed identity. If you lose your false passport you are in a difficult situation. He was on his way to pick up his new ration card at Vasagatan, and kept fingering his passport in his coat pocket until it was soaked with perspiration. He was moving slowly along in the waiting-line, more and more afraid he might shout   [p. 115]   the truth about his identity. Over an hour he had been standing in line and now there were only a few ahead of him, but he knew what would happen when he reached the window—he would lean forward and shout to the girl sitting there: I am not I!—He had had no choice except to leave the line and walk away, afraid of being apprehended before he could get out of reach. He managed it the following day—he had to have food even if he wasn't he—and then there hadn't been such a long line to give him time to work himself up, and the girl hadn't noticed him, hadn't seen that he wasn't he. He had felt himself to be like a circus artist forced to balance on the brink of calamity, and only his outside shell had walked about in Stockholm. He would never have got along at all if he had not for so many years been thought of as mad in the common everyday sense of the word—that is as one who might rise to the rank of genius when one of the senior geniuses died.

He recalled the dream now, the last one this morning, after which he was almost too frightened to go back to sleep. Indeed, they were two dreams, but he felt the first was only a sort of prelude to prepare him to dream on. A girl was lying on the floor and he had pulled up her skirt; between her legs she had a diminutive head of Molotov, who looked surprised. Erling had become confused, not knowing what to do next. Then the girl hid Molotov behind a hand mirror in which Erling could mirror himself, but the face he saw he did not recognize. The dream that followed had been worse. He had had a visit from the saber-toothed tiger. Someone pushed him through a door into a room where he was to be interrogated. An older man was sitting on a dais behind a pulpit. He looked like Hindenburg. Behind the dais was a dirty plank wall. Only the two of them were in there—the guards had locked the door behind him. He was standing before the judge who raised his heavy head and asked who he was.

"My name is—" but he started to stutter and continued with this until finally he spewed up a name. He spit out the last syllables of it and saw that they were covered with stomach juices and bile and something still worse, and he was afraid to wipe his lips for fear the judge might notice it. Then it was his height, color of hair and eyes, and a few more questions, and he replied as he always had, as could be read in all the passports he had had, but he knew he was lying, nothing had ever been correct. There were more questions, about occupation, parents, background. He replied in detail and truthfully to everything, with increasing fright, and tried to make himself believe he had nothing to hide, but the judge must have known who he was and knew every word he uttered was a lie; it was something he had invented long ago, and might as well   [p. 116]   not have done so, and he could have shouted out and demanded that the judge tell him who he was, and whose personality he had assumed and which he himself perhaps was now; or perhaps he was dead. He didn't know who he might have been. He guessed at two or three he had known, but didn't feel it could be any one of them, they were themselves and not him. Was he no one at all? The something that stood here and reported that he was, might be only a thin shell around something, a shell that said something that the shell at times had believed, but all was lies, even though he never had intended to lie about it. And there had been something about a mirror also. "Turn around and look at yourself in the mirror," the judge had said, in derision. "Then you'll see how well you fit the description you have given of yourself."

But Erling hadn't dared turn about, because he saw how the judge's heavy face began to change. If he too is someone else, then perhaps he is me, thought Erling, in fear. The judge looked down at the floor—perhaps he wanted to hide his transformation—his eyes grew so big Erling could see them in spite of his head being lowered, eyes which exuded something while they increased in size, and they turned and looked at Erling under the judge's gray hair. The eyes were still expanding and slobbered like the jaws of a beast. Lines and bags were forming in the cheeks, the underjaw fell down, the cheeks protruded. Erling wanted to shout that he would confess who he was, but he was unable to speak. He wanted to turn around and look in the mirror and see who he was before the catastrophe took place. He had not noticed any mirror when he entered, but there must be one there when the judge said so. He wanted to kneel and pray the judge to look in the mirror and tell him who he was, but now he had lost his voice. He gathered all his strength to turn about and look, but as soon as he managed to move ever so little, before he saw the mirror, he heard a sound from the judge's bench. He looked up. The judge had vanished, but from behind the bench the saber-toothed tiger was approaching him, its eyes like burning coals, the tusks growing down from the upper jaw, crooked and a foot long. The floor creaked and groaned under the heavy weight of the beast, but only a low whisper was heard as the soft cat-paws touched the boards. He cried out in terror and woke up. Not even much later, sitting in the taxi on his way back, had he got over his regret at not looking in the mirror to discover the solution of his riddle. The sound of running feet, many voices that were after him before he would be liberated from his dream, white, upstretched arms as from a cellar opening, a hand touching one of his ankles, and someone, far away but clearly and loudly calling: "The salvation is in Erlingvik! Go into yourself!"

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