The underground demon
After Erling left Venhaug it would be about two weeks before Felicia again turned her greenhouse into a stage for something more than her daily chores. Her desire to face the beast would come over her early in the day, and before leaving for the greenhouse she would have been burning with restlessness for many hours. Only during the first few minutes would she make the feeblest attempt to resist, then she gave it full sway and let it rage at will. She did not notice that Julie was particularly observant of her those mornings when no news of a visit from Lier was forthcoming.
When it came on her strongly, Felicia simply followed her impulse to have another "private séance" in her greenhouse; in dark joy she delayed it as long as possible. There was only one aspect of this thing that worried her: it very seldom happened that she waited in vain for the underground demon, but when this did happen she grew so depressed and icily miserable that the others noticed there was something wrong with her. She herself felt it was contrary to her nature that she should react this way; she dared not look herself in the mirror, felt like a haunted, disgraced sister of Cain. It was worse because she could not accept her reaction, couldn't stand feeling inferior, it mustn't be acknowledged that it was shame she felt. She would escape from it, never participate any more, but after a few moments she was unable to get any farther than to abuse Tor Anderssen to the best of her ability and enjoy her knowledge that he too suffered; when he failed he would have to pay dearly.
There had been a wave-like rhythm over the years, not unlike a marriage that after many tribulations finds its form. Her werewolf might for long periods be almost discarded, as a woman in a depression can grow tired of her husband and view him with the same disinterest as others. Then it would come on again, she would stumble and go under, as if bathing in an open sea and unexpectedly being washed over by the breakers. If he was with her then, peeking through the ventilator, all was well; if he didn't happen to be in the vicinity to grab his chance, she felt as if she were again going through those heart-tearing weeks at Slemdal when she had realized she would not see Erling Vik again. Her thoughts [p. 165] were smothered like a tree under the burden of snow, her head swam. Then one time she was possessed of an idea. She went to Oslo where she first sought a gynecologist and then a psychiatrist. Could she have reached the menopause? Neither one of them thought so. They consulted and said definitely no. She told the psychiatrist about certain fantasies that pained her, holding nothing back. He did not think this was particularly disturbing, which pleased her very much; but when he suggested she take up some work as a counterbalance, she became disturbed again. "I work sixteen hours a day," she said, "and I need six hours sleep." That she was married to an estate-farmer he hadn't somehow connected with work. Now he laughed good-naturedly and apologized: "Well, anyway you're healthy in body and soul, and your fantasies are rather moderate. If you became apprehensive it was just because you are so terribly healthy."
She returned home. Whether it had anything to do with the doctors or not she felt completely indifferent to Tor Anderssen and all that. One month later, however, she was in the midst of it again. And it was rather amusing when she didn't—when she didn't fail in her lust to lure the moth to the light. Surely he would come when he had the chance? After all, he had other things to attend to, just as she did.
It had been rather calm for a time now. We've got past the honeymoon, she taunted herself. But she was excitedly happy when she went to meet him, and it ran its course as all the successful times had and the way she now thought it would always continue. She had perfected some practical details that would make the disappointments more rare (besides they were no longer quite so horrible when they did occur). The greenhouse had many lights to stimulate the growth in there, but now she also placed a lamp and a reading table in front of the heating plant. She was careful to turn it off when she left, but as soon as she entered she turned it on. Tor Anderssen soon noticed this and followed the signal. She invented some other signs as well, and consequently she could have him waiting at the ventilator whenever she wanted him. Thank God she wasn't too often in that humor, and really, it didn't interest her whether he peeked or not.
Felicia was standing at the ventilator, waiting expectantly. Now it began, as she had so often seen. There was a slight motion among the silver-tipped spruce, a few branches were cautiously pushed aside, she saw his eyes, staring at the ventilator. His mustache hung down over a twig. He straightened up and looked about, slowly like an animal on the scent, then stood still for a long time. Both the animal and the hunter know that a motion is more visible on a landscape than an object. For a [p. 166] few minutes the man stood immobile, then he turned his head imperceptibly, looked at the ventilator. He was pale. He was always pale when he stood there. She read in his eyes the same fear she had often read there: Is anyone watching me through the ventilator? Now he looked at the greenhouse corner and took the path which in the shortest time would hide him again. She studied the lean, greedy apparition as long as he was within her vision, then she ran soundlessly along the walk between the flower boxes. The birds fluttered about her. She picked up the watering can with the thin spout which could so exactly direct a stream of water between leaves and flowers without hitting them, and watered the roots of each plant. She stopped in front of the heating plant and lit a cigarette. She knew she was attractive in her tight yellow sweater and the full plaid skirt that made one think of a dancer. She blew a few smoke rings against the ceiling before she laid down the cigarette and loosened her belt. When she stood with the skirt in her hands and folded it neatly over the back of the chair, she lived in the dream that never could become a reality, the one Erling once had taken from her. It wouldn't have mattered that he took it from her if he only had been faithful to her, if he only had kept his appointment and become her lover. Chaste Felicia had nourished what she called the dream of her wedding night—that silly girl-dream she sometimes laughed at when it came to a grown woman and gave her no peace. It must be the right man, she thought, the absolutely right one, the one she had never made a clear picture of in her daydreams. Then came the night when they were alone. She called it the wedding night, and well it might be, anyway the night when they met to make love for the first time. He was in bed waiting for her. She sat on the edge of the bed, undressing slowly, not a little afraid, until he pulled her down beside him and spread the blanket over them with his other hand. Farther she never could go, because she didn't quite know how it would continue—and what had happened that evening with Erling was not conducive to a prolongation of her dream. She didn't get a clear picture, it was rather fuzzy, and the bliss in the dream had not been realized. No reasoning had helped her later and she knew no dream could be a fulfilment. She knew that every anticipation is a mistake—but often provides more than anticipated if one is lucky. She knew one couldn't plan another person's behavior in advance and figure out so and so must happen. This was unrealistic; unexpected details would intervene which no one could have anticipated. Such was life. It was so obvious, so clear, so incontestable, so well expressed in the old anecdote about the deaf man whittling an ax handle. The replies this simple man gave were in response to questions [p. 167] asked him by wanderers along the road, but since he could not hear the questions he replied to questions he himself would have put, had he been passing by. But the questioner was always someone else, not at all interested in the ax handle. Felicia needed no one to tell her her dream had been an ax handle, and so she had shed many tears over this fallacy. She would have liked to die with her dream. She had been cheated of understanding and attention when she had made the great surrender to a man. For he had flung her down on the bed, pulled off her clothes with too experienced hands, and taken her like a wolf-man, she hardly had known what had happened. Afterwards, however, he had been considerate and she regretted nothing; she had even regained enough courage to ask him to stay a little longer when he said he must leave; and he had stayed a while and they had talked and been cozy, even though she was rather torn and frightened. They had parted at the foot of the steps, she was crazy from happiness, cried and laughed and couldn't let go her hold of him. When she went upstairs she had looked at herself in the mirror—she was white like chalk, her hair hung like a drunkard's.
Perhaps she would never again have thought of her dream if he had come as he had promised. Probably she would have laughed at it: That was how I used to dream until I met Erling Vik! But he never came back. I must have been a sentimental fool, she thought as she pulled her short, transparent underskirt over her head. What a bandit he was!
Nothing had helped since, nothing could replace what she had lost, no one could help her turn history back twenty-three years, let her be seventeen once more and meet Erling Vik better prepared. Meet steel with steel when a rather intoxicated Erling nonchalantly tried a sort of rape—and kindly explain to him that such behavior did not suit her.
Felicia was all the time fully conscious of the demon's eyes on her. It is like a movie, with a wedding as the happy ending, she thought. It isn't decent to play it to the end. The peeker is a decent person too; he doesn't spin out the film all the way into the bed, either. His love is chopped off on the edge of the bed. He goes courageously forth to his wedding night fifty, a hundred, many hundred times, but there it ends. It might happen he is satisfied with one peek-bride, like my wolf there at the ventilator. I offer him a sort of ventilator-relationship. It is a kind of marriage, and I've seen worse. He stands out there and sees me prepare myself for our wedding number fifty-three, or is it thirty-nine. Even in our marriage it sometimes happens that the wife is difficult. Or that the husband has gone out for a beer. This kind of marriage between a peeker and an exhibitionist is no more remarkable than conventional ones. The wife must not know that the husband peeks, for that would not be chaste of [p. 168] her, and the husband must not know that she is undressing before him for her own pleasure, for that would be less chaste. You men are such silly apes; even if you stood with your head in a sewer you would babble about woman's chastity.
That business of undressing, or dressing, she thought, too often degenerates into something unattractive, either because one is alone or else because one gets careless when with a too well-known bedfellow. To undress in front of a peeker is like a lesson in a charm school. She wondered if Tor Anderssen suspected that she knew he was there. She didn't think so, and it didn't matter as long as he never could be sure. Men tried not to believe that women were up to tricks. They invented stories to the contrary, but that was something else. They wanted to believe that only they were interested in shady things, because the woman must be pure. Under no circumstances would they give up this sick notion of theirs, and if something occurred to make them disbelieve it—well, that only happened once, and the culprit should be punished, preferably beheaded. They had made nakedness a sin to enjoy, eye-lust at ventilators and keyholes, but what sort of sin and lust would it turn into if the woman inside knew, and perhaps sneered? Such they would have no part in. To a born thief there was no excitement or value in receiving a gift. The woman must definitely be peeked at without her knowledge, otherwise she wasn't chaste.
Felicia had known many men, but she was aware of no woman of her age who had had so few. She had learnt that surprisingly many attempts at rape were actually expressions of morality. It was assumed that the woman enjoyed it, but her honor must be kept intact, and this was accomplished by hitting her in the head with a hammer or whatever was at hand. One man had once tried to tie her down on the sofa they were sitting on—he had a cord with a loop ready. She had neutralized him immediately because she thought he intended to strangle her. She became quite speechless only when he said, "Silly—I wanted to make sure you were not to blame!" Men spared no pains in defending woman's chastity, not even when they took it. She had actually been asked if she would like a strap around her wrists so as to feel helpless. Felicia was forced to wonder how often rape was an act of morality. With a crushed skull no one could sin. Artificial insemination was the latest attack on the sixth commandment, and it must have been a blow to the medical chastity-preachers when a British court called it whoring.
Felicia was naked. She pushed her feet into her shoes and started to water her flowers while the birds fluttered about her. She chatted with the finches while her thoughts were with the man chained to the [p. 169] ventilator. In a moment like this he shared her greenhouse world. She had entered the mountain of the underground demon. This might be any man with an inclination for peeping, and when he was the demon himself she could not resist him.
When she returned from a journey where she had met Erling she did not for some time hear the call of her demon, not even at Venhaug if Erling had been there recently. Erling was the antidote; she didn't know why, but she wanted him to stay at Venhaug.
Felicia pretended to talk to her birds but the words were ironically directed to Tor Anderssen who stood outside, swallowing her with his eyes. "Our marriage is a complete harmony because you're so stupid. And because neither one of us peeks anywhere else. We're faithful, you and I; we can't get a divorce and marry other peeping partners. If we don't have each other any longer we must live peeking—chaste to the end of our days. That would be something for Erling to write a tragic poem about.
"I might have myself analyzed. For Tor Anderssen's sake of course. If he didn't like peeking so well."
She thought she knew the peeker Tor Anderssen thoroughly; he had never had a woman although he was almost fifty. If it had at some time been in his thoughts it wasn't any longer. What he saw in the greenhouse must persuade him that no woman was obtainable for him. A woman was an illusion. However much alive this illusion was before him he would never be able to think it was real. He was a man of the type who constantly must have proof that women exist also without clothes, yet each time he went away equally dubious. Each time he stole away from the greenhouse he must be seized with the same sober feeling one has in the street after leaving a movie: outside it wasn't exciting at all, and inside it hadn't been true. Indeed, it was more convincing in the movie than it was in the greenhouse; in the film no rich, elegant lady walked about in the nude, three or four yards away from him, birds on her hands, flowers in her hair. It didn't even touch his consciousness that others might have seen Felicia like that also. It was a secret—amazing, terrible, besides not being true. Each time he was equally overwhelmed at seeing the unbelievable once again. He had nothing to compare it with except a ragged old magazine with blurred pictures of naked girls who weren't entirely naked at that. And that was only on paper.
What took place in the greenhouse made him dizzy. He had dreamt all a man can dream, and that isn't little, not even for a stupid, unimaginative man, but it only further persuaded him that the miracle in the greenhouse was unreal. It was the princess on the glass mountain he saw—even though he hadn't earlier imagined she was naked—and he [p. 170] dared not appear as the knight. He would never be seized with such daring. His consciousness was filled with vapors—were women really created like that? (He must peek once more.) People had children, one couldn't get away from that fact. It was recorded that he himself had been born. In his cottage he sat down and looked at his parents' pictures which hung on the wall above some pussy willows he had picked for Easter. He didn't think they looked like that, either one of them. He tried to visualize his mother in the greenhouse—if she had still been alive—but it was impossible. She would never have looked like that. The explanation must be that there were many kinds of people. His thoughts roamed helplessly to Zulus and Chinese. It must require special gifts to be intimate with another kind of person; perhaps kings or presidents might have a lady like this one. Perhaps if he hit her on the head, or made her drink some potion—but he couldn't think what sort; all he had was spraying fluids for the garden—something to make himself invisible, and her unconscious. He had studied closely how one would go about undressing her. He found a piece of paper and drew the contours of a woman's body. (Felicia was sure of this.) Then he dressed the body from the inside out and indicated with arrows garments, buttons, and other details, as if he were going to the saddle-maker in Kongsberg to order a new harness. Now he could follow the description if there was any trouble putting on such funny things. It mightn't be a bad idea to get hold of a few of those garments. For training. Then he would have to go farther away than Kongsberg; he was known there, and he didn't want to make himself ridiculous. Perhaps he could steal some garments. But he had only stolen during the war when it was allowed. It hadn't been so bad in those days.
To walk about in the greenhouse and securely enjoy the other one's fear—a fear not unlike the troll-king's who dared the sun and the daylight and church bells and left his mountain hall to see a woman, who used him for what he considered a great sin against her; how many times had she dragged him here, he without a will of his own. She was inclined to forget that she also acted with no will of her own; the difference was only that she was secure.
In all kinds of weather he had stolen along this same path. The year round one could see how well used it was from the spruce grove to the greenhouse gable. In winter the snow was tramped down and Tor Anderssen had long ago given up hiding his tracks. He must live in permanent fear of someone noticing them and thinking: Who walks here every day on what errand? Jan, for example, who never missed a sign of animal or human being, even of Tor Anderssen himself, wouldn't [p. 171] he ponder why a well-trodden path led to no reasonable goal? He would immediately investigate, not suspiciously, only curiously; he would discover at once that it led from the gardener's cottage to the ventilator, and he would check if one could see into the greenhouse, into Felicia's holy of holies. She would discover an annoyed pull at the corner of his mouth; he would immediately figure out the best way to correct this business. The ventilator would stay where it was, but the capable Jan would in fifteen minutes have invented some means of closing the view from the outside. He would say nothing to the gardener, perhaps not think much about the incident. But what would Tor Anderssen do? Move away without any noise?
Only children at play would come back there. No one when snow covered the ground. But there was a pile of junk in the clump of spruce. One day Jan would need a piece of metal or something from the discarded machinery, that was all it was good for. Or perhaps he would hit on the idea of selling the junk, to get rid of it. Tor Anderssen could be in no doubt that something of the sort would happen one day and he might be caught in the act. Felicia, secure and unsuspicious, would be inside among her birds and her flowers; no shadow would fall on Caesar's wife, and the troll-king would be unable to get to his mountain again. No one would ever know how she had lured him and sent out her silent calls.
And perhaps it would be well if someone came and tore asunder this bond, and if she too were stopped by a closed ventilator.
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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