"With sorrow I lay down,
from tears was salt my mouth—"
The whole evening Felicia had fought to hide her feeling of depression. She had succeeded well. Erling had called from Oslo in the forenoon and Julie had answered. He had asked if it suited them that he come, he would just manage to catch the train. Julie told Felicia a little later as she returned from her greenhouse. Julie had wondered why Felicia had not shown happiness at the news.
A wave of hatred toward Tor Anderssen had risen in Felicia when she heard Erling was expected, a feeling she had not thought she would ever waste on the gardener. She had just allowed him to stand half an hour in the bitter cold and peek into the land that was not his promised one. First she felt paralyzed with a bitterness of having made herself unworthy, but then her hate for Tor Anderssen emerged, he who had ruined the [p. 324] waiting for her lover. Why couldn't Erling live at Venhaug! She knew that then Tor Anderssen would always find a closed ventilator, that devil would be cast out.
She knew this quite definitely but made no attempt to explain to herself how it was that she could supplant her longing for Erling by playing with a peeker. She knew that only two men had had her in their power; the first was Erling, whom she had succumbed to in absolute contradiction of anything she could have imagined herself doing before she met him. Chaste Felicia had been seduced by Erling Vik, a sexual tramp. In old-fashioned and poor taste she had let it happen. The second time, my will was broken by Tor Anderssen. I am seduced by no less than two men, the last one Tor Anderssen—with a wall between us. Why? I think it happened because then I could get all men through that stupid one—on the other side of the wall. In that greenhouse warmth I have been steamed in the whole male-world's lust. I have lived in an intense fever which I would begrudge no other woman, while my thoughts have run: Today he'll bring his gun and shoot me through the ventilator. More than once I've been on the verge of screaming: Aim at my head, you with your reputation of never missing! But perhaps he would miss, and maim me, with the ventilator between us, perhaps it's just what he would like to do. I have thought often I would so like to be shot with all men at the trigger, not by a single man, as it would be if Erling or Jan fired.
No one except Erling could liquidate and replace the peeker. She started in her chair as she thought of the word: liquidate. When Erling wasn't at Venhaug, she had orgies with a demon in a demonic game, but for her there was only this one demon. She had succumbed to Tor Anderssen's way of making love. If he should leave, or die, there would be no more fascination in this any longer. Then, to her, the set-up would only be stupid. Why was Erling the antidote? Was it the raw streak he showed in making love, which she grudgingly admitted she liked? And was it perhaps because—though it seldom happened any more—he could explode like a sort of mountain troll and lose consciousness when he culminated. She recalled her horror the first time this had happened in Stockholm and she thought she was lying with a corpse.
Today again she had followed her impulse toward this wolf-like, empty creature Tor Anderssen, succumbed like an animal dragged forth for fertilization, she thought in fury. But there must have been a fist in his stomach too when Jan knocked on the door today and came in.
Tor Anderssen was stupid. Not because he was a peeker, a peeker whose dreams had been fulfilled beyond the expectation of any peeker— [p. 325] he was stupid through and through. When one said a person was limited, one must mean his world had shriveled up. She had liked to have a limited person standing out there. It was the impersonal male sex that stood and peeked at the ventilator, as excited and as impersonal as a packed movie house—and as impotent and passively debased. The stupid man at the ventilator represented the whole world's maleness, with a brain the size of a dried-up walnut kernel, the male-world's collective phallus placed the way the men themselves had managed it—helpless and suffering at a stone wall with a peek-hole, helpless and scared, with weak desires relieved through sadistic dreams. That time in humanity's dawn, which Erling so well described, when some being, with the power of a nuclear bomb's mushroom-cloud, rose from the animal world and forever laid the beast behind him, then the love-call went out to the new being's eyes, and a person lived in the lust of the eyes, even when alone in the dark. Humans had been given a precious gift, neither deserved nor undeserved since nothing under the sun was either. They managed their gift poorly, like all their gifts. They made such a mess of it that the joy of hearing a call with the eyes was degraded to peeking—peek or be peeked at, naturally accompanied by a moral code that allowed all to speak of it in condemnatory words, because it must be aired. The transfer of sexual evaluation to the eyes had perhaps been the first germ of free will, which grew stronger as the individual was liberated from definite mating seasons. A will could raise itself above the mating-force. Individuals even appeared who could go without, something never before seen or imagined. They managed to get a great part of humanity to adhere to their idea, not because anyone outside the narrow circle of real ascetics actually wished to go without, they only thought it was a good idea to deny it to others, while they themselves always found some solution. It was as if all humanity landed in a sordid compromise. Some might get permission if they had a license. If they took a trip it was practical to bring along the mating license, which showed what partner might be used.
Felicia wished she had broken off the game long ago, or rather, never started it; but she had been tempted beyond endurance, and it was Erling's fault. When she reflected upon her dependence as a vice, her thoughts went to Erling's dependence on the bottle. For rather long periods she managed to keep the ventilator shut when she was in the greenhouse; but, not unlike the alcoholic, she found her way back, and did it with self-deception. And like the drinker she had compounded strange reasons. When, during the periods she called "weaning," she discovered that it also aroused her to know that that beast was closed out [p. 326] and suffered his agony, then she might as well let him peek. Her skin became red and warm when she knew that he stood degraded at a closed ventilator, and it must be more humane to relieve him. She felt a vague lust when Tor Anderssen, cheated and made a fool of, stole away behind the spruce trees, his mustache drooping—she must investigate whether it was false, as she was sure it must be, his stubble appeared so sparse and scraggly when he was pale.
Then today it had happened that Jan came and knocked. He did this very seldom and it had never before happened while she gave a séance to Tor Anderssen. She had gone to open for him at once, there was nothing else to do, nor did she mind. Jan had only stayed a few moments, it was something he wanted to ask her. When he was through talking he had stuck one on his hands into her silvery hair-halo and gently pushed her back and forth. She had stood with her arms dangling, looking on the ground, as he swayed her body. Then she had closed her eyes and thought: now in this moment that mountain troll out there must be bursting. Jan smelled of oil, he was attending to the farm machinery today. He took hold of her, and she felt his rough hands in the small of her back as he pulled her toward him and kissed her hard and long before he left. It was lucky he hadn't gone farther, she could have done nothing but let it happen.
Felicia did not get over her shame and depression until she had been with Erling for a couple of hours, and she lay down to sleep where she was. She had also felt something else. Was it sorrow, despair? She did not know. Before she settled down to sleep, she said, "One night recently it came over me that since I don't recall my mother's face, it must be because she is one who never will die, and has her face with her wherever she is."
Afterwards it struck Erling she must have had a premonition.
She had wanted to confide, surrender for once. When she awakened about three o'clock and was hesitating about going out in the intense cold, she thought about it again but felt it smelled too much of admission and confession—and what would he think and not say? He would have helped her over it, but she begrudged it him. And she was so afraid that if she brought it up she would be unable to refrain from saying that he could help her. And that she would regret. Erling must move to Venhaug for his own sake, not for hers; this she had once and for all fastened her mind on and would not change.
She did not manage to dampen either her stubborn pride or her worry over what Erling might think and not say.[p. 327]
Nor did she follow her impulse to seek help with Jan. The course of events could have been changed, but was not changed. To one walking in fog beside an abyss, not much is required for a change in direction. Nothing was done, and Felicia fell.
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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