The one who wants everything he sees
Felicia was lying in bed, her hands behind her head, thinking about this: When Erling gave that lecture on sexual excesses and a kitchen maid from Rjukan, two of my girl-friends were in the audience, Meanwhile, I was sitting with a glass of soda water, being insulted by the personnel in a cheap restaurant, and I walked crying the whole way back to Slemdal. I dared not take the chance of letting anyone see my face, not even a taxi driver. Of course, I thought also I was pregnant. I, Chaste Felicia, had not painlessly got over having lost my maidenhead; it still hurt when I walked. My own little girls won't have a similar experience, nor even Erling's own daughter, that much sex education I got at least. My two girl-friends kept talking a lot of nonsense I didn't understand. But they had been greatly entertained, not realizing how much scandal it caused, that lecture. They knew nothing about my experience with Erling, and I don't think anyone except the two of us knows about it to this day. Well, Jan knows there was something. Steingrim knew also. Only that it was something. In those days I was afraid he might expose me, but I don't believe he would have. Then it struck me Erling couldn't talk about it because he must have forgotten all about it—that was a week later and then I closed up like a clam. It was a misfortune that had struck the brat called Chaste Felicia, a truly great misfortune, and worst of all, perhaps, that he had forgotten everything.
I was terribly afraid I might meet him and perhaps see a grin of derision, or hear him say something degrading; he was said to specialize in that kind of treatment. I can still vividly recall my fear in those days, yet it is more than twenty-three years ago. I was hopelessly in love with a man I should have despised, detested, forgotten. I don't set any store by good advice about divorce and God knows what when a woman is stuck with a hopeless man. Or vice versa. I would rather see all the busybody advice-peddlers hanged. They come running in droves too when there is a doomed man to be helped to his death. The only ones who can really give advice are those who have lived through the thing themselves and know what they are talking about.I got it into my head that I had not come up to expectation, stupid, [p. 161] ignorant girl that I was. Stupid and green he must have decided I was.—Enough of her! Next, please! "She was useless," it said in Hans Christian Andersen about a drunken washerwoman, and I could hear Erling say, "She is useless." It was a humiliation that smarted and smarted: I was useless to the one I loved, so being useless I wanted to die. When we kissed good-by we agreed to meet; I was so happy I almost fainted. Then he called a taxi, walked out, and forgot the whole thing.
I was right. Anyway, that was just about the way it had been. I felt misused, beaten, degraded, unable to mobilize any pride. I could have cried my heart out, year after year until the war came. Then I banished him, because "something is bigger than you and you must fight for it." But he was only banished to a dark closet; I couldn't banish him farther. And then one day at a meeting everything was turned upside down when Erling's name was mentioned. Some caustic remark escaped me. The room was very small, I sat in a corner pressed against Steingrim. A few flinched but pretended not to have heard, went on to something else. But Steingrim pulled out a little black notebook, wrote something on a leaf, and let me read it: "Do you know that E is Brekke's golden boy, that it was he who liquidated Hartvig Lien?" I sat with my mouth open, staring at the page, which Steingrim took from me and pushed resolutely into my open mouth, saying, "Some people eat the prescription when they can't get the medicine. Swallow it now!" And I chewed on the dry paper, it stuck in my throat, I could taste it for at least an hour before I got some water to wash it down. Our group had nothing to do with Brekke, and ought not to know anything, except for information that might be useful to us, and what Steingrim had done was wrong—but from that evening I felt more of an equal with Erling. It was quite complicated; I became his equal because of something he had done. Suddenly I was no longer the little girl he had laughed at. That gave me courage to walk up to him in Stockholm, but also the courage to move in with Steingrim the same day. From being an equal I rose far above a sick man that day in Stockholm, but fortunately I soon was on equal ground with him again—he saw to that. But it was too late. And then, that depressing Stockholm crushed what could have been between Steingrim and me. Since then Erling and I have played on a sort of seesaw, and neither one of us knows why.
I remember how I used to walk about Oslo to catch a glimpse of him—and was scared to death I might. I saw him many times quite closely, usually with that dark, distant look of his, but also a few times when he was pure sunshine. My heart hammered each time I saw someone in the distance I thought might be he. I didn't give up until, [p. 162] after many complicated difficulties, I had learned the name of the woman; she was married to an engineer named Skog and her name was Cecilie. I didn't mind her being called Skog, but Cecilie! I felt as if I had imitated her name: Cecilie, Felicia. The two i's in the names, the same number of syllables, accent on the same syllable. I felt small and mistreated that people might think I had tried to imitate her and that someone might recognize it.
I had never tried to imitate anything in anyone, I had not chosen my name myself, and no one could talk about something they didn't know. I dwell on this little incident because I happened to remember my thoughts about it when I looked into poor Erling's sick eyes that time we met for the first time in Stockholm.
Cecilie Skog became my feared prototype, she who had removed me as if brushing off some fluff from her sleeve. I couldn't imagine measuring up to her. Now I know well that my obsession about having imitated her name came to me because I methodically tried to be a younger Cecilie Skog. Even later, when I heard of the drama that had taken place, when Engineer Skog had tried to throw her out of their fifth-story window and only by a hair's breath escaped being flung out himself—even then I dreamed that it was I. Perhaps not so strange, for I know there were other girls who identified themselves with her, even though they had never known the apple, shall we say, of the quarrel. We were so occupied with the doings of these amazing people in their amazing world that we envied them and never saw their actions as scandals. It was a wonderful play among the gods, and it was long before we were to understand that these stories represented the dubious sort of romanticism seen by a person who doesn't realize the actors are all plastered.
There was another story Erling was mixed up in which the police, thank God, never managed to solve. There were four of them, four men with a girl who sold beer in her apartment after closing hours. All went well for a while. Then they realized she overcharged them for the beer. So they rolled the girl up in a carpet and tied her with a curtain string and left her in a corner. Arriving on the street they espied a parked motorcycle. They carried this to the girl's room a flight up, and Erling had related what a job it had been; they managed to get it into her apartment, where they removed both wheels, tied the cycle to the stove, started the motor, and ran away. Everyone in the whole apartment house woke up, people gathered in the street, broke into the apartment, and found the girl standing in a corner rolled up in a carpet and the motor making an infernal racket at the stove, the floor littered with empty beer [p. 163] bottles. When one knows what real drunkenness is like, no stories are worth listening to. But we girls, living in our world of fantasy, identified ourselves with the girl in the carpet. When I myself did so it was with somewhat different feelings, since I was both the girl in the corner and the motorcycle at the stove.
I learned when it was over between Erling and Cecilie Skog, but for me there was never any hope. I learned much that time. First of all I learned to tell whether a man was going through a stage when any attempt to tie him would be futile. I observed that precisely when all attempts are senseless, then women want to be the saving angels. They get nothing but shame in return. Anything else is nursery tales. When a man is in such an orbit nothing can knock him out of it, not even force, for he starts whirling again the moment the ties are loosened. With Erling something remarkable has happened much later: he is the only one I know of who was weaned forcibly without knowing it was done with force, and when you don't know you can't fight back. He never stopped drinking, but without knowing why he suddenly stopped being a drunkard. Before the cure he was generally drunk, after it generally sober. This happened after I had met him in Sweden.
At home they never learned what had happened to me, but on my eighteenth birthday my father said that I suddenly was grown. One might well call it so, if the feeling of having failed to measure up, and all other feelings of shame, mean that one is grown. I read books on sex education; I did so with a good schoolgirl's studious thoroughness and discovered that I had failed on all points, and been both active and passive at the wrong time. This was not encouraging. O Lord! A few years later, it dawned on me that one who actually had been natural and honest as I had been with Erling, must never afterwards look into the records of double bookkeeping. For it is my candid opinion that many healthy young people grow up warped because they take the medicine intended only for the sick. It was part and parcel of those strange days that I wasn't satisfied to discover that the man had rejected me, and from this brutal fact fought through my pain. All search for explanations is futile because half or more of the answer can be sought in the man who has disappeared. It is not printed on the lower half of page 63 of some book, why he, instead of keeping his appointment, started to go with Cecilie Skog.
The strangest of all was that I seldom, perhaps never, gave a thought to his wife Ellen and the children. Strange? It is always so; his wife is accepted, not his mistresses. Men are equally confused; they accept their mistresses' husbands, no one else. Erling broke down when Ellen—she [p. 164] had never been faithful as it is called—made a clean break and married someone else. "The one who wants everything he sees, must often cry when others smile."
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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