Erling had never forgotten Felicia Ormsund. She had been in his thoughts many times during the eight years that had passed, and he had often wondered what had become of her. In Stockholm, when he espied her at the little refugee restaurant, he felt paralyzed. This was for several reasons. He was miserable because of his broken marriage, he had been drinking more than ever for a whole year, he was sick, he avoided people, he was in a sort of male menopause. He both felt and was considered hopeless.
First of all he must find out if she was married. He asked guardedly from a Norwegian sitting at the next table: "That girl back there, at the pillar, I seem to recall her—what is her name?"
"Yes, of course, but that was her maiden name. Hasn't she been married?"
"Not that I know of, but then she's only twenty-five or twenty-six. There's been no lack of suitors, though."
Erling looked down. She seemed almost as young as in 1934, during their intermezzo. She could still have been taken for a teen-ager, except for the eyes and her experienced bearing.
He realized she had recognized him at once and that her eyes returned to him again and again. How fortunate he hadn't been caught unawares. People walked about from table to table and talked to each other, and through the corner of his eye he saw that she sat alone at times. But he couldn't make up his mind if he should go up to her. Many persons in here knew both of them, and he had no idea how she might receive him. The way he had treated her at seventeen was hardly to his honor, even though there were excuses enough—if Cecilie could be considered as an acceptable excuse to Felicia.
And then there was his fear of everything—of everything, which again rose within him violently, and he looked in various directions for an escape before he would have to greet her.[p. 147]
She rose, approached his table, and stopped short in front of him. He looked up absent-mindedly and played slowly at being surprised: "Well! if it isn't—"
She was looking down on him and said, "How are you?"
Her look was searching, observant. She must have heard all sorts of gossip about me, he thought, fury rising, while he was torn by a mixture of shame, misfortune, childish pride, and explosive anger.
"Don't look as if you intend to swallow me," she said amiably. "May I sit down a moment?"
"Of course!" He became eager and courteous. "Sit down, my dear Miss Ormsund! How are you? When did you come across—Felicia?"
He felt he shouldn't have been so formal—as one refugee to another. He became gloomy and on his guard. He saw that she was not so pale as at first: so she had felt nervous!
That gave him courage again, and he began to talk rapidly, the words stumbling over each other. He saw her lean back in her chair, saw her astonished gaze—
He suddenly stopped talking and his hands searched about for nothing.
Felicia had slowly risen to her feet. In his abnormal fear and suspicion he could read the thoughts of others better than a normal person—and he could hear Felicia's thoughts, as she stood half-turned away to leave but with her eyes still on his: He is not drunk. He is sick, he is very sick.
He dared not raise his face as she left but his eyes followed her quick footsteps. Passing by her table she picked up her handbag and left the café. He sat petrified and dared not move. Self-pity overtook him: Isn't there one single soul who can help me? Why doesn't anyone care for me?
It was then that his brilliant idea had come to him: He would in secrecy go to some place where no one knew him and have his face lifted. Hadn't he from day to day observed how his features more and more resembled congealed lava? There was the solution! Become young again!
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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