When Gustav got in the newspaper
Erling received a letter from Elfride. She pleaded with him not to tell Gustav she had written, almost as desperately as she asked him to pray to God. Elfride was not a letter-writer, but he understood it was most of all an appeal not to burden them with more unhappiness. The letter was spotted with tears. "If you only had some permanent place to live," it came at last, "and some steady work, then we would not be exposed to so much evil."
The happenings at Venhaug had struck them like an earthquake. Earlier, they must have had their speculations, but they had never heard of Venhaug, and all they now read seemed to them as from some land or some place one might see at the movies but never quite believe existed. Erling realized how much it must have aged Gustav when, on top of everything, he too "got into the paper," in the very headlines: Erling Vik's Brother Believes Him Capable of Almost Anything. Well, yes, Gustav had talked to a man who asked one thing and another. Nothing but talk. And Gustav had said nothing, except what rightly and truly was the case, that Erling—well . . . . Yet, the headlines announced it like the end of the world. There are ways and ways of saying a thing, and he had talked, but—
During the following night the mountain-blaster came close to praying to God. Pray God that his brother actually was the murderer, so that [p. 346] Gustav's words would prove truthful. But thank heaven he was too stubborn to turn to Our Lord, for they had soon been informed by the radio that the police had let Erling go. The police chief must be stupid. The only comfort to Gustav was that he hadn't made himself ridiculous before Our Lord, by praying for something he would not have been granted; now on the day of judgment he could meet his maker with a proud look.
Gustav and Elfride understood only that they had been shamed in the paper, regardless of whether Erling was guilty or not. Nils, Uncle Oddvar's son, had been in the paper when he was killed in a drunken brawl. Erling had been in the paper many times without being shamed, but others had been in his stead. That should have been enough. Now Gustav too had been in the paper, exactly like murderers and authors and drunkards and whore-bucks. It was insufferable, and Gustav had only told the man—
Gustav had gritted his teeth. If Erling ever dared knock on his door again—
Elfride cried when alone; there must be something good in Erling. She could remember, now that she really thought about it, that he had never insulted her, and never tried to act uppety with her or hurt her. She had been able to confide in him that she liked to go to meetings; they had talked about it at length, and she had seen no sneer on his face, however crazy he otherwise might be.
Her hands trembled at the thought that she too had once been in the paper, and she herself had caused it. If Gustav ever knew—but that was as far as she dared think such a horrible thought. Oh, when she had read the Question and Answer column all these years, how she would have liked to participate. It was like a cozy family circle, so warm, they asked if anyone remembered the beautiful song about Mother, the one that started so and so, and always someone came up with it, and Elfride cut out such songs and kept them.
She had fought with herself many months, almost a year, and then she had written. A few fearsome days had followed, almost two weeks, while she suffered and lost weight; they didn't pay any attention to her letter, she should have known.
One day it was printed. She would never forget that day. She was one of them. It was like having a hundred brothers and sisters. She would die if it ever came out it was she; they might not then count her as one of them.
And they would discover that after all she was not attending meetings. They would see her as she was. She must never let them know she had [p. 347] stolen into their circle, with a contribution. Her cheeks flushing she would feel under the sheets and pillow cases in the drawer: she must read it once more. (How many times had she read it!) It was two years now since she had written in the paper, the same as Erling:
WHY SO LATE?
It is now usual with meetings 8 o'clock in the evening. Don't believe people who have to get up early in the morning can go out so late. And not at 7:30 either. The time should not be later than 7 o'clock.
Something else while I write. Please put up boxes for suggestions outside the meeting halls. How often have I carried home my suggestion because my courage failed.
Elfride hid her relic again. Through a veil of tears she read the announcements: Society for the Lonely, cozy meeting for women. And there was Hebron, missionary party tonight. South American Missionary Society, no, America wasn't quite up her alley, and she had always supposed before that they were baptized and confirmed in America. Hope Fredrik wasn't married to a heathen. No, she remembered he had written about baptism, praise the Lord. The Society for the Lonely, cozy meeting for women, how lovely it sounded; but she wasn't alone and might not be admitted. She couldn't lie outright at the door. Fearfully she could picture Gustav: first astonished if she told him she wanted to go out, and what a fury a moment later! One read in the paper about people who said they were taking a walk. Erling might say, "I think I'll take a short walk by myself." On the other hand, his wife had left him and he needn't tell anybody he was taking a short walk, he only went. It must feel funny to be so footloose. She wondered if it was really legal, when a person wasn't a widower or something.
Elfride dried her eyes and spotted a match on the floor. Well, who would have thought—! How lucky she herself had spotted it. Not that Gustav would, he never saw anything. But suppose anyone had come, she thought with a shudder, as she carried the used match out to the kitchen where her polished garbage can stood behind its flowery curtain in the corner. With some hesitation she placed the match in the can, went back to the room again to try the radio, but there couldn't be anything this time of day to put one in good humor and help one shed a few tears over one's dissolute brother-in-law. Elfride dreamed him young [p. 348] and kind again; then he could have lived with them and had his steady work, and they would have found a girl worthy of him. Instead, it had turned into a frightening world they had better stay away from—all those distant, horrible goings-on that now almost lurked at her door, divorces and such, and terrible murders, much worse than two drunkards fighting and killing each other, and she shivered in horror at the thought of that woman from an estate named Venhaug, with an un-Christian name, a regular Babylonian harlot, the preacher had said, according to a neighbor's wife.
Elfride sat down and cried again; she managed anyway, without the music.
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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