Ada and Even found each other at the cafeteria where the company’s almost two hundred employees had lunch every day.
They first pretended not to notice them , the sparks. But they saw each other without seeing each other. The moment one came into the cafeteria and the other was already there, they knew it in a kind of hot flush down the neck and spine, now he came, now she came.
They were both married and not with each other.
Together they had five children, two cars, a black poodle, a housemaid, a detached house, a four room apartment with a balcony and a prefabricated hut in the mountains.
There was, for example, something with her hair. The way it became foxtail red when the winter sun slipped through the cafeteria window and reflected itself in it. She also had a certain way of walking, something of a soft forgiveness. He liked looking at her when she came with the tray from the counter and gently passed by the others. She smiled at him, skewed, half-sceptical, half-jokingly. There was a violet crescent-moon shape on the cup made by her lips.
He and Helga had it going rather well.
They discussed newspaper articles and agreed with the way of behaving with the children. Helga also agreed with the hut in the mountains, though she preferred the sea.
Several times a year, they loaded the car with food and sleeping bags and propane gas tanks and secured the skis or the prams to the roof.
He once again attempted to find the half-forgotten joy of being a small boy and going through the heather and moss, fishing in mountain lakes, sitting quietly on a rock and listening to the small chickens’ dry and scared wing strokes. But something was like clay around him, a dead layer of skin. He knew that he was boring himself. That the sleepy surface of the mosquito infested lake was boring, that the birds were too, that the heather and its apricot colour as well. He went in up to his boots where Helga was picking cloudberries in a honey box. Her hair was warm and wet around her neck, he snapped her down in the heather and had her with a desperation he did not know where it came from and the cloudberries rolled silently out of the honey box and disappeared as soft golden beetles in the apricot coloured marsh hollows. She looked at him as if she wanted to comfort him. Say something, he prayed, say something, he begged. She stroked his back and face, looked up to the slow cotton clouds and closed her eyes.
They went to a concert. Helga sat silently next to him. Her profile was calm and emotionless. Occasionally she put her right leg on top of the left one, sometimes the other way around. There was a slight screech whenever she did it and he felt a little icy swirl down his spine. The violent symphonies drowned out something in him, gave him a mild faint. For few precious seconds he was far away from himself.
He drove Ada home from the office, put the engine in neutral and his mouth appeared on her neck. Rough chin between the soft sweater breasts and played with the tip of the tongue in the hollow of her neck. She ruffled his hair slowly and said he had to get up.
Ada went in at Hans and the children and the maid who would leave as soon as she had washed up after dinner. The smallest children sprang towards her in the hall and fought over whom should hug her first and the black poodle wreathed thrilled between her legs. She said hello to the eldest and to Hans. They ate. Then the eldest got a krone for playing with the little ones while she and Hans rested for half an hour. She said she had a lust for him, he smiled surprised and asked her if she wasn’t tired. While they did it she felt, with her eyes closed, Even’s lips on her skin.
Keep me well, said Hans, you are like a fiery crater. She acted as if it amused her.
But he heard something in the laughter, something strangely sore. He thought of the idea that in the recent years had followed him as a faithful but obscure shadow: I don’t know you. And he knew he couldn’t do anything with it.
Later Even drove her home more often.
She called it overtime and sometimes evening work and when they laid on Even’s blanket and pillow in Even’s car and he loved her, everything was as fresh clean water between them. The words flowed in a rapid of murmurings, was in a hurry, for they had a lifetime of longing to tell each other and themselves. He knew the dead layer of skin turned open the warm cracks. They found themselves covered from inside with one another, they experienced the grandeur: not to be alone. And it was like a soothing painful crucifixion, which they clung to each other in the white Saab’s front seat.
She knew she loved him. She cried for a long time and he kissed the inside of her palm.
Afterwards they drove to the centre, she rested her head against his shoulder. He could see the red hair in the blue afternoon spring light that filled the car and felt the light touch of insect hair against his neck, felt it as something divine, as if there was a secret power in it, that spread deep into him.
He drove for a hundred and twenty kilometres, beyond road signs that stripped off the cries they would not hear. He smiled crookedly and asked if they should drive themselves to death. She gazed through the dusty windshield and thought it would be good. She calmly shook her head. He asked if they should get a divorce. She calmly shook her head again.
Why should this happen, she said.
Because it shone in your hair. Because you are you. And I myself.
Because we cannot be together, she said.
But they felt close to something, something they perhaps knew, but something that they had never believed in and which they had to reject.
They didn’t cry when they said goodbye and knew it was time to do so. Yet grief lay as a hard coral reef inside them, they knew they would scrub themselves raw against it when they dared to feel. They could not be weak now, together.
She went inside to Hans and the children.
They had waited for her.
Dear Lord, she cried. She looked at the small people she had placed in the world and at the man who gladly and trustful emptied his seed in her. Dear Lord, she felt how many long gone and unused words she held inside, help us through all of this –