"I had been told as a tiny maid—"
Sunday morning Felicia, Julie, Jan, and Erling had been visiting in the living room, while the children as usual were noisy outside. They seemed to be enjoying a skiing race. Felicia went to attend to something, and when she returned she was dressed for a walk, in ski pants, sweater, boots, but nothing on her head. The pale sun fell across the floor. "How nice you look!" said Julie.
Felicia smiled pleasantly. "That's always nice to hear, especially from a girl. I'm going to fetch the mail—I'm curious about a letter for me."
Only seldom did they fetch the mail on Sundays; Felicia felt they should not disturb the postmaster then. Now Julie asked if she couldn't go instead, or at least keep company. Felicia hesitated a moment. "No," she said, "this is one of those days I want to walk alone. You stay here and keep the men company."
No one thought about it then, but many were to ponder those words later. They hardly expressed anything except a person's desire to be by herself for a short while, and this was nothing unusual with Felicia. Yet, for months those words would be quoted, searched, analyzed.
"It's going to snow again," said Felicia.
Jan looked out. "It seems so. The sun shines only through a little hole. Well, it is snowing already. That's sad for the fruit saplings. It looks like a lot of snow—the whole world has turned gray. Well, now the sun is gone."
Felicia thought she would have coffee before she left; she sat down and poured herself a cup. Erling was stretched out in his chair, nursing a drink beside him. "Felicia, I've often wondered how you, a society girl, with such polished speech, could marry a horrible farmer with a rustic accent."
"I'll tell you why. The accent suits Jan well. The minute I laid eyes on Jan I knew how he would talk, and I must say I grew warm when he started caterwauling; I felt so embarrassed for him."
"I consider his accent something especially Jan-ish," said Felicia. "A sort of personal beacon for women in distress. I don't like to hear a [p. 328] country accent from anybody else; it should be Jan's private tribal call; it should be reserved for him only. We would never have had any children if he hadn't seduced me with his accent. I almost laughed myself to death, and that's good for the offspring. And that time he was quick as lightning. At any other time I wouldn't compare him with lightning; nobody can take his time the way Jan does. No matter what might happen Jan would begin to build up again and would give himself plenty of time for it."
"Well, I'm gifted with that sort of patience," said Jan.
Erling thought of Jan's relationship with the girl called Vigdis: Jan had drawn the logical conclusions from his experience with her, and had built something that stood up better. Like an architect, he had seen mistakes in the old building and not repeated them. He had not repeated the jealousy.
Jan and Felicia exchanged glances. Erling moved his eyes to Julie. How strange, he thought, when Julie uses her hands, especially when she reaches out to pick up something, she acts like a left-handed person. She uses her right hand as sparingly and awkwardly as if she might be; it reminded him of a baby flexing its little arms without having control of them. Julie used her right hand as others use their left. He was always conscious of it. But only now it dawned on him what had taken place; she had gone through her own torture. Why hadn't he ever thought of that before?
"Julie," he said, "were you left-handed as a child?"
She looked at him, hesitated a moment before she realized what he had asked. She blushed suddenly as she almost whispered, "Yes."
"You get that from me," he said, and looked away from her. "They forced me, too, to use my right."
At last Erling felt he had discovered a clue—the first. The nice hand and the ugly one.
He had stuttered as a child. He knew that the left-handed stutters in his indecision. Julie had stuttered a little even when she came to Venhaug. Like him she hadn't been quite sure of the difference between left and right, choked with that crushing: No! not that one! That one—or?
Now there was some understanding that one could not overcome left-handedness, only transfer it to something else. But was it known that a schizophrenia resulted when a child hesitated as to which hand was which? It was well known that there were people so strongly split that the one ego wasn't aware of the other—had it been established that such [p. 329] people were born left-handed and had grown up with a demand to switch their two brain-halves?
He was interrupted, for Felicia was ready to leave.
They were to remember her as she now, for a few seconds, stood in the doorway, half on the veranda where the snow whirled against the windows. At home around Venhaug she went bare-headed in all weathers. The last they saw of her was her happy, wise look, her hair like a silver helmet, the brown, shiny sport boots, the tight blue pants, her living body, her breasts proudly expanding the sweater.
They heard her call out something in the yard. Later, at the investigation, it came out she had called to the children, saying as she had said in the doorway that she would be back in three-quarters of an hour. As she left the yard she met Tor Anderssen and asked him to confer with Jan about some seeds. The gardener had come in just as Felicia had left. They were to be pressed hard on that point. How long after, had he come in? Perhaps five minutes, Jan had replied. Julie thought it was only a couple of minutes, after they had heard Felicia call to the children. In any case not many minutes, Erling replied. The result was that all three could say not ten minutes had elapsed. It also came out that the children had seen both Felicia and the gardener, and the latter starting on his way to the house and entering. Nor was there any motive. He had been offered coffee and a drink, and none of the four—the gardener, Julie, Erling, or Jan—had left the room until they started to wonder what had become of Felicia.
By then she was dead. Their thoughts remained on the picture of her as she had stood in the door, her hand lifted, ready to leave—a picture burned in like an etching.
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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