Gone with the Woman, by Erlend Loe (1-9)

erlende loe

1) It was at that time she began to come more often. In the evening, just before I went to bed. She stood beside me and chattered. All the time about how much she loved silence, about how good it is to be alone. Talked and never finished talking. Sometimes I would fall asleep, lost in small moments, but she didn’t notice. I would wake up every time with a little jerk, and sometimes with a sound from the throat.

When I could collect myself, I discovered that she was still speaking. About the wonderful silence two people can experience together, about the infinite sensitivity humans are capable of showing each other. She spoke of harmony. Communication. But she talked so fast. And I found myself so rarely to say I beg your pardon, what is it that you said? I sat quietly and nodded, somewhat emphatically, apparently listening intently. Yes, certainly, I would say and nod my head, with long strokes up and down, yes, of course. And I looked at her, at her legs and her lips. Her very beautiful lips. And I knew exactly when she would come to seek my gaze straying far from her stream of words. In those moments my gaze was there, facing her, still. As if waiting. There were long intervals between each time she looked at me for confirmation to go on. I learned those intervals. She did it maybe five times a night. Actually, I did not count.

2) One evening she came later than usual. I had already gone to bed. I quickly put on the first underpants I could find. It proved to be the most treacherous pair of undergarments I owned. Almost no elastic around the thighs, just like a skirt. I always had to get it to fit, sit in certain positions, make sure I didn’t get up suddenly. I found putting on long pants to be even more unfortunate. She would interpret this as a sign that she could stay, that I wasn’t even thinking of sleeping and that my night was without limits or end.

It struck me how right this decision was, and I realised at that very moment that the difference between a man in underpants and one in long pants is huge, almost incalculable. With long pants one is aware of everything. No action is unthinkable. With underpants, however, man is free.

It would be difficult for example to convince a man in underpants to go for a walk in the middle of the night, something which otherwise wouldn’t have surprised me coming from her.

She sat in her usual chair, always the same one. Nearest to the ashtray. First she said as usual that she was so happy with silence, that it meant so much to her, probably considerably more than I could understand. I nodded. Afterwards she started talking about her father. The two of them had such a bad relationship, she said, and she told me what her father had done and said and didn’t do and didn’t say throughout long periods of her adolescence. I must have fallen asleep (it’s always so hard for me between two and three in the night), as I remember that I was awakened suddenly by a momentous episode from her childhood. She had reached to the very core of the problem.

What she said shocked me and, glad to finally be able to give her an answer, I said that it was the worst thing I’d ever heard and I advised her to take it up with her father immediately. Tell it to him straight. My God! She was a grown woman, I said, she had to deal with that man who was her father once and for all. I thought she should contact him right away, absolutely so, maybe even the following day. What was she waiting for?

After that we looked at each other for a long time. I had talked, got my self-involved. There was no getting away with it. I wondered if she thought I had been cautious.

3) Next day at work I received a call from a mister Slind-Hansen. And what can I help you with? I asked. I am the one talking here, he said. I said that I could hear very well that he was the one talking. And suddenly, and a little too late, I understood that it was her father. He was outraged. I had to hold the receiver far from the ear. He said that Marianne (for that was her name) had sought him early in the morning. She had scolded him to the skin and threw his breakfast on the floor (the soft boiled egg, the cup of coffee, the gooseberry comfiture), and told him she had finally met a man (me) who understood her and who had awakened her.

She had left him to understand that she would never want to see him again. Then she turned the ceiling light on and off so many times that the bulb went out, all this while she was screaming the entire time that he had turned her childhood into a desolate period, that he had ruined everything for her, that it was only his fault, everything, blame, guilt, guilt, only his, everything.

I tried to encourage the poor man by saying that despite all she had said about hating him, everyone gets a blowout now and then, that it will be alright again, didn’t he think the same thing as well? But no. He didn’t think the same thing. And he thought I should be careful. He said that many times (you should be very careful, you cheeky, cheeky man). And he could not begin to think how a damaged man like me could bring himself to get around with his (only) daughter. He said he could hear by the sound of my voice that I would be his daughter’s end.

The seriousness of the situation finally caught up with me and I tried to explain that I simply had not encouraged Marianne to break up with him, not at all, I said, it was never my intention. He cut me off and said, quivering, that if at any point he should get a hold of me, I should not by any means ignore the fact that he was going to hit me hard in the face.

4) And Marianne kept on coming. If possible, with more enthusiasm than before. She began to bring small things to my place. Orange tea, a cucumber one night, now and then plastic bags filled with chocolate that she got from a lady friend who had diabetes and a part-time job at Nidar-Bergen. Yes, she only worked part time, Marianne explained, and it was clear as day that I was supposed to ask why she did so. Oh, yes, this Nidar-Bergen worker was a single mother and she furthermore found it a little hard to wake up in the morning, Marianne said. And then she laughed her little stubby laugh and rolled her eyes as if we were both thinking how unpleasant it was to get up early and agreed with it. I nodded and rolled my eyes. Rolled them empathically.

5) One evening she wanted to kiss me. She must have felt it was the right moment. I saw clearly that she took a deep breath, closed in her trembling lips. Bent forward. Do you want some orange tea, I asked (I have honey). Oh, yes, have you got honey, she said slowly.

6) We went to the cinema. A terrible movie that almost ruined me. The protagonist jumped off a cliff at the end. I cried and wanted to go home. We went to a café. Marianne wanted us to drink some beer and smoke and talk about the movie. It took two pints to tell me how happy it had made her. And she especially liked the ending. She felt certain that the protagonist had grown wings and flew, and she completely denied the possibility that perhaps he had died there at the foot of the cliff. No, he had flown up to the sky to thank humankind for his life. Look here, I said, we did see that the man jumped, he disappeared, Marianne, he jumped to his death. First a bit down, yes, she said, but then he flew up. How could she know? (the movie ended right there, dammit). But yes, she just knew it.

7) I would simply look away to avoid looking at her. I stared for a while at the ashtray. The score was 2-2, but in reality I was ahead, as I had thrown the first butt out the window.

8) Marianne called me at work. She had a light and happy voice. It was so nice that I had agreed, she said. I tried to remember what we had said the night before. I couldn’t remember a thing. But only when you come, she said. I nodded into the handset and said yes, just come, it’s fine.

9) She moved in the same evening. With twelve medium sized cardboard boxes and a yellow dresser.

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