Gone with the Woman, by Erlend Loe (10-18)

swimming goggles

10) I started going to the swimming hall. It was the only sensible thing to do. A little time to myself. I even bought a subscription. A nice punch card made of white plastic with my name written in pale letters. Went there every day after work and struggled to develop an agreeable relationship with the strange atmosphere down there. I sat for hours on end in the sauna and read. You’re getting so thin, said Marianne. And I was thin.

11) For a whole week I was pursued by an elder man with a big belly and a navel that was sticking out. In the shower, in the sauna, in the wardrobe, under the hair dryer, he followed me everywhere. It was oddly striking. One time our eyes met, in the sauna. I had finished my book and looked up. Our eyes met through the steam and it was not the kind of gaze I had expected. Calm, assumption free and almost perished. I went to the shower. He caught up with me again while I was tying my shoelaces. We both tied them, in silence. Eventually he said something, that I should get myself a pair of swimming goggles and he quickly mentioned several possible brands. It was certainly something to consider, he said, so that I could avoid getting my eyes so red.

12) Marianne was almost always in the apartment when I got home. I told her what the man with the navel sticking out had said. She inhaled a little with her nose in my still wet hair and said that it sounded like a great idea that I should not wait for long to put into practice. We agreed to meet in the city the next day. She wanted to come along and help me select the goggles, she said, and emphasized that they had to be the best. Yes, we have to make sure not to get deceived by appearances, I said.

13) I took an early lunch break and went to meet Marianne. Have you been waiting long? She said yes, but that did not matter because she had eaten a very big and delicious ice-cream. What! I cried, in October? How come, in October? Ice-cream, I said. How come, ice-cream? For fuck, Marianne, have you really eaten ice-cream in October? Of course I have eaten ice-cream in October, she said, and moreover I eat it whenever I feel like it. I have to say I don’t like this at all! I yelled at her. There is a time for everything, Marianne! And you know just as well as I do that October is not the season for ice-cream! It is too. No, it isn’t! Is too, she said. And I howled again, right in her ear canal; no, it is fucking not! And it fell silent.

After a while I said I was sorry and that I had looked like a fool. I might have lost it completely. I was a jerk. And extremely remorseful; can you forgive me, Marianne? Yes, she simply answered. We hugged each other, then she took my hand and led me straight to the shop. This is it, I said.

14) They had almost an entire wall full of swimming articles, out of which there were tens of different types of swimming goggles. The overwhelming sight made me nervous. I stretched out my arm and fetched a pair labelled Speedo. They had clear glass and black rubber. I realized it later that, yes, I had fallen for them. Moreover, it said Super goggles on the package and on the back an introduction under the title “Caring for your goggle”. And what does “goggle” mean, I asked. Goggles, said Marianne. Great, I’ll take these then. You will do no such thing, she said. Easy now. And she took a step back and stood still for a long while.

A store clerk began circling us, discreetly. Marianne stared at the goggles while I trotted lightly around her and said now listen here. Just then the clerk was next to us and said hello, hello to you too, said Marianne. Maybe he could help? I nodded eagerly and Marianne said a firm no. We stood alone and stared a little more. These, said Marianne, eventually. These and no other. Red rubber and dark glass, Champion goggles, and with ultraviolet protection. The most expensive. What should I do with such great goggles, I asked, but Marianne took me aside and said that I should listen here, boy, had I bought myself a subscription to the swimming hall or had I not? And she also said that I should buy a nose clip. Specifically Speedo stainless steel rubber dipped nose clip with elastic band (one size fits all). My heart sank at the prospect of humiliation if they still weren’t right, but Marianne looked at me and nodded quietly yeah, come now. I paid 108 kroner. On the way out, we kept round each other and I thanked Marianne for making sure we didn’t allow ourselves to be deceived.

15) It was often that we sat at home in the evening. Marianne and I. My skin smelled of chlorine and she commented on this. Sometimes she would ask me to go get my goggles. Nooo, I said and exhaled shyly through the nose. Come on now, you look so tough with them. But it’s so late, I tried. Stay up, she said. And I put them on. It turned her on. She wanted us to lie next to each other on the couch. Give in, I said. But she started talking about how good it is with the bodies, our clumsy bodies that can make us feel so good. I looked at her lips, and managed to meet her eyes every time she searched for mine. Then back to her lips. Pale pink on the outer edges against her skin, darker red inwards, and it is very important to develop an easy going relationship with one’s body, she said. I nodded. And within the next sentence she had taken off all of her clothes (don’t just stand there, she said). And I finally realized that she was lovely, and that she thought I was lovely and that maybe there was nothing more that was needed. Look at me through the swimming goggles, she moaned. And I looked at her.

16) Marianne bought a bottle of red wine. It had cost more than a hundred kroner and I thought she had been lavish. That you have no means to think, she said. But we did not find the corkscrew. I said that was unbelievable. Where could it have gone? And we searched for a long time. Opened all the drawers several times. The truth was that I had no opener. I never drank wine. But Marianne had a method (look here, she said). She squeezed the bottle between her thighs and hit as hard as she could on the bottom, for well over ten minutes. What should happen? I asked. She did not answer. She only asked me to hold the bottle, so that she could put all of her strength in the stroke. Nothing happened. You, I said, if you think that the cap will eventually pop out, you are wrong. It is not possible, as the wine doesn’t contain any carbon dioxide. But she thought it would. She had learned the method from a Pole. Was he able to do it? I wondered. She hesitated. You have been fooled, Marianne.

17) Eventually we managed to push in the cork with a ballpoint pen. See that! Cheered Marianne and clapped her hands. I picked up the glass and we sat on the sofa. What do you think? She asked after the first sip, obviously excited. About what? I said. She pointed irritated at the bottle of wine. Oh, that…, yes, very good. Really quite special and very, very good. It sort of creates a good feeling in the mouth and throat. Of course it is good, said Marianne: but did I not have anything more? More? I said and I made an effort to have something more. I thought of what could be better than good, but found only super and some other words that resembled it. Heavenly, I said after a short pause. Yes, said Marianne, but something more even. Even more…? I really didn’t know. Couldn’t she tell me what it was? Yes, she could. And she explained that we drank a wine with a great personality. It wasn’t enough to state that it was good. It wasn’t enough at all. Why not? I wondered, but she asked me not to interrupt. The wine was graceful and voluptuous, she thought, it was top quality, it stood out and it was certainly not a wine of the evasive or shy kind. Marianne was happy with her wine, I understood. She sipped and took a deep breath and said that it was long since she had drunk a wine that was so eloquent. Not only that, but quite rude also. We drank a rude wine.

Rude, yes, I said and took a long sip, mm, and said that boy, was she right. It’s as if it’s trying to hide its own secret, continued Marianne, it disappears quickly, trying to evade our judgement. She had never known, by the way, the likes of cowardice in a wine from this district, she said, ugh, she was quite a palate coward here! I should know, probably (and she pressed her glass against my lips). I knew very well and said that she was right, that it was as if the wine tried to make itself more ephemeral than it already was.

She looked at me sharply. Idiot! She simply said.

18) The next day we bought a corkscrew. An old model that could just as well have been mine since the early seventies. I put it in the back of a drawer and found it randomly when I fried fish balls in the afternoon. Hey! I cried, see here! It must have been here the whole time. Yes, it’s no wonder with things that disappear and reappear, Marianne laughed. Totally crazy, I said.

Mergînd pe stradă

talk to me

Stăteam amîndoi pe o insulă pustie. Eu într-un capăt, el în celălalt. Nici eu, nici el nu știam cum ajunsesem acolo sau ce ar fi trebuit să facem. Pluteam bezmetici prin vegetația deasă, măsuram cu pasul plaja nesfîrșită și priveam îndelung întinderea de apă, ca și cum am fi așteptat ceva. Nu aveam habar ce, firește. Zilele erau fie sufocante și interminabile, fie ploioase peste măsură și apăsătoare. Plîngeam amîndoi cîteodată, eu pe partea mea de insulă, el pe a lui, neștiind de ce plîngem și aruncam cu nuci de cocos cît colo ca niște maimuțe neputincioase și strigam cu glas aspru și răgușit. Nopțile ni le petreceam ascunși în copaci, îngroziți de foșnetele și de trilurile animalelor sălbatice. Eram, de altfel, aproape tot timpul speriați și dezorientați și sufeream de constipație din pricina lipsei de ciorbă. Ne temeam de insulă, ne temeam de ocean și priveam cu reținere cerul, neînțelegînd care era treaba cu el. Dimineața sorbeam apă de la izvor, culegeam fructe și semințe și ne întrebam cine suntem și de unde venim (nu țineam minte să ne fi născut vreodată). La prînz, prindeam pește sau broască, dormeam la umbră și ne gîndeam la lucrurile pe care am fi putut să le facem dacă nu am fi fost atît de constrînși. Seara, înainte să urcăm în copaci, ne uitam în gol la foc și ne curățam mintea de toate gîndurile. Atunci, lucrurile păreau să aibă cel mai mult sens. Atunci, aveam, vreme de cîteva clipe, senzația că totul e firesc.

Prima dată ne-am întîlnit într-o dimineață senină, în pădure. Pornisem amîndoi în explorare, vrînd să cunoaștem cît mai mult din insulă (cu ce scop, nu știam). Am tresărit ușor cînd l-am văzut, dar nu m-am oprit din mers, tot așa cum nu s-a oprit nici el. Ne-am privit pentru o fracțiune de secundă cînd am ajuns unul în dreptul celuilalt, apoi am plecat capetele și ne-am văzut de drum.

A doua oară s-a întîmplat pe plajă, chiar cînd mă spălam. S-a apropiat de apă și m-a întrebat pe un ton politicos dacă nu cumva știu cît e ceasul. Părea pierdut. Mi-am dus mîna la frunte și m-am uitat la soare. Să tot fie trecut de doisprezece, am zis. Mi-a mulțumit, s-a uitat la mine cu niște ochi în care se putea citi o frică veche și surdă și a plecat mai departe.

A fost ultima dată cînd ne-am întîlnit.