* Stories by Kjell Askildsen in translation.
* Translation of “The Fiddle in the Wild Forest” Hans E. Kinck.
* ... and more
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I’ve kept myself busy translating some stories by Kjell Askildsen. He’s a contemporary Norwegian writer who claims to make no use of symbols or metaphors. Read exerpt of an interview here. I posted some short stories on the list Lit-Ideas, and they’re republished below.
* Kjell Askildsen: Chess
* Kjell Askildsen: Carl
* Kjell Askildsen: People in Cafés
* Kjell Askildsen: The Anchor
* Kjell Askildsen: Thomas
Recently I finished translating a novella by Hans E. Kinck, highly canonized, but yet interesting Norwegian author, somehow associated with the continental fin-de-siecle movement. Not quite homey, not quite international, Kinck tried to bridge the local and the global his stories.
* Hans E. Kinck: The Fiddle in the Wild Forest, part I.
* Hans E. Kinck: The Fiddle in the Wild Forest, part II.
* Hans E. Kinck: The Fiddle in the Wild Forest, part III.
For more information on the highly commendable Lit-Ideas, see my selection of links below.
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* * *
by Kjell Askildsen
The world isn't what it used to be. For instance, it takes longer to live now. I'm way past 80, and it's not enough. I'm too healthy, even though I don't have much reason to be. Life won't let go of me. If you have nothing to live for, you have nothing to die for. Maybe that's the reason.
One day a long time ago, before my legs were too fragile, I walked over to my brother's. I hadn't seen him for more than three years, but he stayed where I met him last. "Are you alive," he said, even though he was older than me. I had brought a lunch bag, and he gave me a glass of water. "Life's tough," he said, "it's unbearable." I ate and didn't answer. I hadn't come for an argument. So I finished eating and drank my water. He sat and stared at a point just above my head. If I had stood up and he hadn't moved his gaze, he would have looked straight at me. But he probably would have moved it. He didn't like to be with me. Or, more precisely, he didn't like himself to be with me. I think he had a bad conscience, or at least not a good one. He has written some twenty thick novels. I've only written a few, and they're thin. He's considered pretty good, but more than a little naughty. He writes much about love, mostly physical, wherever he might have gotten it from.
He kept staring above my head – he probably thought he could allow himself to do that, having twenty novels on his saggy behind – and I felt like leaving with my business unattended, but that would have been a little silly, too, after the long walk. So I asked if he would care for a game of chess. "It takes so long," he said, "I don't have so much time to take of anymore. You should have come earlier." That was when I should have gotten up and left – it would have been right on him – but I am too polite and considerate, it is my great weakness, one of them. "It doesn't take more than an hour," I said. "The game itself, yes," he answered, "but the excitement afterwards, or the annoyance if I should loose. My heart, you see, it isn't what it used to be. Neither is yours, I assume." I didn't answer. I didn't want to discuss my heart on his premises. So I countered: "So you're afraid of dying. Oh well." "Rubbish. It is just that my life's work isn't finished." That was exactly how pompously he expressed himself. It was nauseating. I had put my cane on the floor. Now I bent down and picked it up. I wanted to end his boasting. "When we die, at least we stop contradicting ourselves," I said, and it wasn't to be expected that he would understand what I was referring to. But he was too conceited to ask what I meant. "I didn't mean to hurt you," he said. "Hurt me," I answered quite loudly. It stood to reason that I got a little excited. "I don't give a damn about the little I've written and the little I haven't written." I stood up and gave him a whole little speech: "Every hour of the day the world rids itself of thousands of fools. Imagine – have you ever imagined how much stored stupidity that disappears in a day? All the brains that stop working, because that's where the stupidity sits. But then there's still so much left, of stupidity, because someone has written it down in books. And that's how it's kept alive. As long as people read novels there will be much stupidity. Certain novels. Those in the majority." And then I added, perhaps somewhat opaque, I must admit: "That is why I came for a game of chess." He sat silently for a long while, until I had to leave. Then he said: "That was many words of little use. But I will make the most of them. I will use them. I will put them in mouth of an ignorant."
That's precisely how he was, my brother. By the way, he died the same day. It's not unlikely that I heard his last words, since I left without answering, and he probably didn't like that. He wanted to have the last word, of course, which he got, but he would probably have wanted to say more. When I recall how excited he was, I can't help thinking that the Chinese have their own sign for dying of exhaustion during intercourse.
We were, after all, brothers.
[Translation of Kjell Askildsen, "Chess", first published in Thomas F's siste
nedtegnelser til almenheten by Torgeir Fjeld. Translated from the collection En plutselig
frigjørende tanke, Oslo: Oktober, 1991, 185-187. A Sudden Liberating Thought available from
http://www.amazon.com/ in Sverre Lyngstad's translation.]
* * *
by Kjell Askildsen
While my wife was alive, I thought that I would have more space when she died. Just imagine all her underwear, I thought, it fills three drawers. I can put my copper coins in one, my matchboxes in another and the corks in a third. As it is now, I thought, it's a complete mess.
And then she died. It's a long time ago. She was a demanding person. But, peace be with her, she finally gave me peace. I emptied drawers and shelves and cupboards of what she had left behind. It turned into lots of empty spaces – more than I could make use of. So I demolished a couple of cupboards. But then I was left with an emptier room instead of two empty closets. It was quite thoughtless of me, but, as I said, it's a long time ago. I was much younger then.
Well, a few weeks, or perhaps months, after I had committed this inconsiderate extension of the room's emptiness, I had a surprise visit from my second oldest son, Carl. He wanted a scarf from his mother. He wanted to give it to his wife as a memory of his childhood. When he realized I had gotten rid of it he turned cantankerous. "Do you hold nothing sacred?" he yelled. And that came from him, who is a businessman and lives off buying and selling things. I felt most like cutting him short, but I refrained. I am, after all, partly to blame for his existence. "What was it that was so special about the scarf?" I asked instead, conciliatory. "Mother knitted it while she carried me. She was particularly fond of it." "Oh, I see. It came into being at the same time as you did. Perhaps you were her favorite son?" "I was, incidentally." "Oh, hardly incidentally," I answered. I began to loose patience with him. He was like her to the dot, and he would be as incapable as she was of discovering the regularity of existence. "Well, the scarf is gone and it will remain gone," I said. "You'll have to find comfort in that we only own forever that which we've lost." Admittedly, it was a nonsensical statement, but I thought he would like it. But I was wrong. For a moment, I had forgotten that he was a businessman. He took an almost threatening step towards where I sat and rambled angrily, but boringly, about my insensitivity. He ended by saying that sometimes he couldn't see how I could be his father. "Your mother was an honorable woman," I answered, but he didn't get the point – why have I been given such dense children. "You don't have to tell me that," he said. His face had turned quite red by now. It suddently occurred to me that he might suffer from a weak heart. After all, he was sixty years old, and, so as to avoid a potential accident, I said I was sorry about the scarf, and that if he had come earlier he would have been given everything his mother left behind. I still think that was a very conciliatory statement, but his face turned redder still. "Are you saying that you threw everything away?" he yelled. "Everything," I answered. "But why?" I didn't want to tell him, so I said: "You would never understand." "How inhuman!" "On the contrary. I acted on a decision of the will, and such acts are almost the only things that make us specifically human." It was, of course, splitting hairs, but it seemed as if he hadn't even heard what I had said. "Then I have no business in this house," he yelled. He had gotten into the habit of yelling, indicating that his wife had turned deaf. My hearing is very good. Sometimes it's truly painful. Some sounds have become much stronger than they used to be. Also, new sounds have been added, from pressured air drills, and those kinds of things. I wouldn't have minded being a little deaf. "I hear what you're saying," I said, "but I don't see anything coming of it." Then he finally left. It was about time, or I might have lost my patience. I certainly have more patience than I used to. It must be the age. Old people have to endure much.
[Translation of Kjell Askildsen, "Carl", first published in Thomas F's siste nedtegnelser til almenheten by Torgeir Fjeld. Translated from the collection En plutselig frigjørende tanke, Oslo: Oktober, 1991, 185-187. A Sudden Liberating Thought available from http://www.amazon.com/ in Sverre Lyngstad's translation.]
* * *
People in Cafés
by Kjell Askildsen
One of Thomas F's last visits to a cafe was a summer Sunday. He remembers it well, because almost everybody was dressed casually, and he thought that perhaps it wasn't Sunday after all? And producing presicely this thought makes him remember it. He was seated by a table near the center of the room, surrounded by many people who were eating cakes and sandwiches, mostly by themselves. They seemed lonely, and since he hadn't spoken to anyone for a long time, he wanted to exchange at least a few words with someone. He considered how to proceed, but the more he studied the faces around him, the more difficult it seemed. It was as if everyone had lost their sight. The world had certainly made a depressing turn. But since he had gotten the idea into his head that it would be nice to have someone talking to him, he continued thinking about it, which was his only aid. After some time he realized what he had to do. He dropped his wallet on the floor, as if unawares. It was lying next to his chair, clearly in sight to those around him, and he observed several guests peeking down on it. He thought that one or two of them would have picked it up and give it to him – he was an old man – or at least yelled something like "You have dropped your wallet on the floor." How many disappointments one would have been spared if one only could cease hoping! Finally, after several minutes of peeking and waiting he pretended that he suddently discovered that he'd lost it. He didn't dare to wait any longer, afraid someone would grab the wallet and run off. It could be some money in it. Sometimes old people are not poor, they might even be rich. That's the way the world is. Those who plundered in their youth or in their best years are paid in their old age. That's what people at cafe have turned into. That's what he learned. We learn as long as we live – whatever that's supposed to mean – when we're about to die.
[Kjell Askildsen, "Mennesker på kafé", first published in Thomas F's siste nedtegnelser til almenheten. Reworked from the collection En plutselig frigjørende tanke, Oslo: Oktober, 1991, 191-192.]
* * *
by Kjell Askildsen
A few months ago the new landlord made a visit to Thomas F. He rang three times before Thomas F made it to the door, even though he walked as fast as he could. He didn't know it was the landlord. Visitors are so rare and almost all of them represent some religious cult asking if he's been saved. Thomas F derived some pleasure from it, but he would never let them in. People who believe in eternal life are not rational – one never knows what they might be up to. But this time it was the landlord. Thomas F had written over a year ago to notify him that the railing in the stairway was broken. Thomas F thought that was why the landlord came by, so he let him in. The landlord measured the flat with his eyes. "You live comfortably here," he said, and it was such a presumptious statement that Thomas F was put on his guard. "The railing is broken", Thomas F said. "Yes, I saw that. Is it you who've broken it?" "No, why me?" "You must be the only person who's using it. Apart from you it's only young people in this section, and it doesn't break by itself." He was obviously an unreasonable person, and Thomas F didn't want to enter into a discussion as to how and why things break, so he said quickly: "As you wish, but I need that railing and it is my right." The landlord didn't respond to that. On the contrary, he said that rent would increase by 20 per cent from next month. "Again," Thomas F said, "and by 20 per cent. That's quite a lot." "It should be more," the landlord said, "the building is running at a loss and I'm loosing money on it." It was long since Thomas F had stopped dicussing matters of economy with people who say they loose money on something they could get rid of – it must have been 30 years ago, so he didn't say anything. But the landlord didn't need a response to continue. He was the kind of person who could run by his own steam. He elaborated on how all his other buildings were also running at a loss. His speech was a misery to hear. He must be a very poor capitalist. But Thomas F didn't say anything, and finally the lament ended – it was about time. Instead he asked, apparently without any comprehensible reason, if Thomas F believed in god. Thomas F almost asked to which god he was referring, but settled with shaking his head. "But you must," the landlord said. So he had let one of them into his flat after all. He wasn't really surprised. It is common that people with much property believe in god. He didn't want to let the landlord have a go at another topic – he'd referred evangelists to the crack of the door once and for all, so he wouldn't let him go on. "So rent increases by 20 per cent," Thomas F said. "I think that's what you came to tell me." Resistance must have taken the landlord by surprise, because he opened and closed his mouth two times without a sound, and Thomas F imagined that that was highly unlikely behaviour for him. "And I hope you make sure the railing is fixed," Thomas F continued. The landlord's face turned red. "The railing, the railing," he said impatiently, "what a fuzz you're making of the railing." That was a dumb statement, Thomas F found, and was slightly stirred up. "But don't you see," he said, "that sometimes the railing is my only anchor in life." He immiediately regretted having said it. Precise statements should be directed to people of reason, otherwise it turns into a mess. And it was a mess. Thomas F can't remember exactly what the landlord said, but it was mostly about the next world. He ended up talking about standing on the grave's edge – he was referring to Thomas F, and then Thomas F got angry. "Now you must stop bothering me with your economy," Thomas F said, since that was really what it was all about. And when the landlord didn't leave immediately, Thomas F allowed himself to beat his cane in the floor. Then the landlord left. It was a relief. Thomas F felt happy and free for several minutes afterwards, and he remembers saying to himself, silently, of course: "Don't give up, Thomas, don't give up."
[Kjell Askildsen, "Holdepunktet", first published in Thomas F's siste nedtegnelser til almenheten. Reworked from the collection En plutselig frigjørende tanke, Oslo: Oktober, 1991, 196-198.]
* * *
by Kjell Askildsen
I'm getting terribly old now. Soon it will be as difficult to write as it is to walk. I'm slow. I only get a few sentences down a day. A few days ago I fainted. So the end is getting closer. It was while I was solving a chess problem that I had a sudden sense of loss. It was as if life itself was coming to an end. It didn't hurt, but it was a somewhat unpleasant feeling. And then I must have fainted, because when I woke up, I had my head on the chess board. Kings and pawns lie scattered around. It was just the way I wanted to die. I guess it is too much to ask – to die without pain. If I would get sick and in grave pain and sense that the illness and the pains have come to stay, it would be good to have a friend to help me into the void. It's banned by the law, of course. Unfortunately, laws are conservative. So doctors will prolong the pains of a person, even when they know it's hopeless. It is called doctors' ethics. But nobody laughs. People in pain usually don't laugh. The world has no mercy. They say that during the great clean-up of the Soviet Union, those who had been sentenced to death would by killed by a shot it the neck on their way to death row. Suddently, without a warning. I find that to be a streak of humanity in the midst of all the misery. But the world screamed out: at least they should die face to face with the execution squad. Religious humanism is more than slightly cynical – oh, any humanism. But I awoke with my face among the chess pieces. Other than that, it was like waking up from an ordinary sleep. I didn't know what else to do than to put the pieces back in their places. But I couldn't concentrate on solving the puzzle. I was just about to move over to the window when the door rang. I won't answer, I thought. It's probably an evangelist who wants me to believe in eternal life. It's been many them lately. It is as if superstition has made an up-turn. But then it rang again, and I started to doubt. After all, they usually only ring once. So I shouted, "one moment," and went to open the door. It took a while. It was a boy. He sold tickets for the local school band's lottery. The prizes were an unintended mockery of old people – bike, backpack, soccer boots, and those kinds of things. But I didn't want to come across as discouraging, so I bought a ticket, even though I don't like brass music. But I had my wallet on top of the drawers, so I had to ask him to come inside, or else the wait would have been too long. He walked behind me. He'd probably never walked so slowly in his life. On our way inside, I shortened time by aking what instrument he played. "No, I don't know," he said. I thought that was a strange answer, but I assumed he was shy. I could have been his great grandfather, which might just have been the case. I know I have many great grandchildren, but I don't know any of them. "Does you legs hurt terribly?" he asked. "Oh no, they've just gotten terribly old," I answered. "Oh, ok," he said, probably relieved. We had reached the drawer and I gave him his money. Then I had a fit of sentimentality. I thought he had spent such an unreasonable amount of time to sell that one ticket, so I bought another one. "It isn't necessary," he said. Just then I had a severe spell of dizziness. The room started sailing about. I had to hold on to the drawer, and then I lost the open walled on the floor. "A chair," I said. When I got it, the boy started collecting the money that was scattered all over the floor. "Thanks, boy," I said. "You're welcome," he answered. He put the wallet on the drawer. He gave me a serious look and said: "Can you never go out?" And then I realized that I'd probably been outside for the last time. I can't take the chance of fainting out on the sidewalk. It would mean hospital or retirement home. "Not anymore," I answered. "Oh," he said, and the way he said it made me sentimental again. I've turned into an old fool. "What is your name?" I asked, and the answer only made things worse. "Thomas." I didn't want to say that I had the same name, of course, but I was put in a strange, almost solemn, mood. Oh, it's not so strange. The bells had just chimed for me, so to speak. Then I suddently got it into my head that I wanted to give something to this boy that would make him remember me. I know, I know, but I was somewhat put out. So I asked him to get the carved owl that was standing on the top of the book shelf. "You shall have it," I said, "it is even older than me." "Oh, no," he said, "why?" "For nothing, my boy, for nothing. And thank you so much for your help. Please lock the door behind you." "Thank you very much." I nodded to him. Then he left. He looked happy. But perhaps it was just a show. I've had many spells of dizziness since. But I've placed all my chair at strategic locations in the room. It makes the flat look sadly messy that way. It gives an almost uninhabited impression. But I'm still living here. Living and waiting.
[Kjell Askildsen, "Thomas", first published in Thomas F's siste nedtegnelser til almenheten. Translated from the collection En plutselig frigjørende tanke, Oslo: Oktober, 1991, 204-206. Available from
* * *
The Fiddle in the Wild Forest, part I
by Hans E. Kinck
Suddently they heard an ugly howl; it came from below the lakes.
The sixteen-seventeen year old son Torstein slipped out of the living room, into the pitch-dark night. The wife, slim and bright, took to her belly and said "Jesus".
It was just before Christmas. Her husband came home to the mountain farm Vasslid from the parish; he often howled like this in the dark nights on his way home; ugliest when he'd stopped by the grocer's and had a drink, – but at other times, too.
She stood up from the spinning wheel, stood by the coal oven, though and shivered in fright: it was like taking a wild animal in her lap straight in from the wild forest when he came home like this... This large man, hair and beard black, and with black eyes hurling around in sharp glimpses.
His old mother, sitting white haired by the oven, looked up at his wife, – her eyes widened, and a strange bright light came over her wrinkly brown face from a distant fire. She still made a bait, and it was her who had spoiled the wife, people said, when she finally married the boy at Vasslid.
The son slid down the hill; he had to get out each time he heard his father howl, he couldn't rest before he'd done it. But this time something else bothered him, too. – Everything was black out here; the mountain was black, the air and the mountain side, and the long, broad forest below the lakes was black. He stopped by the barn and started to howl, as bad and sharp as he could. The he held his breath and listened to the silence that followed.
It answered from beyond Trollberg.
And Sella in the barn, the farm girl, sounded louder and louder; she was frightened, he thought.
The son came back uglier; the mountain threw it back badder.
'Cause he would teach his father to shut up, – he came home ever so often, frightening Sella and frightened his pale mother! ...
Uglier and uglier came the howls between father and son. The pitch darkness, the forest, everything around them was filled with ghosts and monsters; it sparkled from eyes, it padded from paws.
And the hook of the barn door came on; she sounded more quiet in there. She was frightened in another way as well; – his father had been there at least a couple of times already, when he came home at night, she complained.
He howled, as ugly as he could: ho, tonight he wouldn't stop for long down by the barn door! He would be so scared that he would be glad he made it inside the house. He should go home – he was married, the old man! ...
Time and again he howled; but now only the mountain answered. His father was silent; he probably approached from below Trollberg now, – and there the ghosts were, so he probably kept his mouth shut.
The son was quiet, too, listening to the winds of the forest, to the rivers running around him, angry and large after the last bout of bad weather; ... listened for Sella, who stood dead quiet at the barn floor. –
His father breathed over the mound, and slid past him in the dark; he moved swiftly tonight. There, someone took the barn door; it was closed from the inside. He knocked once. Sella didn't move. One more time.
Then he slid back and past him up to the main building.
His son heard him tuble around in the hallway up there; heard his strong voice; saw the uneasiness of the candle. He filled the living room entering like that, sweeping with him all the monsters of the forest until every corner moved and grinned and mother and son lay frightened all night long. He never hit them; only clamped around in large boots, breathing heavily.
Torstein shivered; he knocked on the barn door. She opened.
– Have you got the milk? he whispered.
– Hurry up, then!
And she hurried up to the main building with the milk while he sat on the barn stool in the pitch darkness, waiting.
She was quick; – she'd just put the milk inside the door and hadn't strained it, she said. – He took her fur light, got the fiddle that was hidden under the rafter out in the hay barn. He had traded it for a sheep he'd told his father had gotten lost in the mountains.
He didn't utter a word when she came back, just nipped the strings and listened, put it between his knees and bent over; bent more and more, until his overgrown carcass was shaped like an arch. She watched his narrow neck carressing the fiddle with his black haired head.
The cows moved their ears, listened and shook their horns.
Someone opened the door up there. An ugly howl to the forest. Sella put her hand on the hook of the door and pushed it down. Torstein stroked the strings once; his soft-lipped, broad mouth squeezed shut. An uncontainable fire sparkled behind his dark, dark brown eyes. It was his father’s stare. But the skin of his face was fair – it was his mother's.
It howled again, closer this time.
– Jesus! Sella said and lifted her lids, which lay half way down her large gray- yellow eyes.
Then something slid past the door, breathing; Torstein paused the bow and stared at her. Then it passed, padding up the hill. Sella let go of the hook.
Torstein sat down on the stool, striking the strings heavily. He stomped so the barn floor shook; the bow travelled faster and faster. It was as if a waterfall poured down with everything of the world and the strings couldn't quite hold all the sounds.
– You're frightful tonight, Torstein! Sella said, – the flame in his eyes was shining straight on her.
He didn't listen.
He didn't know what he played. It wasn't any of the country songs he'd learned; he played of people on long journeys, played of broad, sunny villages in summer weather; he played of large steam boats in frothed chase on a shining sea, of the foam of broken waves at the outermost rocks; he played of tall, enormous churches with the sun baking quietly on a wall painted white...
– You sparkle, Torstein! she said, shielding her eyes.
He jumped up, wrapped his arms around her.
– Well, do you want me then! he cried and squeezed.
She fought him:
– Oh! You frighten me, Torstein!
– Well, do you want me, then!
– Oh... be careful, then!
He let her go, sat down, made loving strokes with the bow. He bent more and more sharply over the fiddle; she squatted in front of him and looked at his face. It almost disappeared in the weak glow of the fur light, which was almost out.
...Soft tones, curling and sweeping the fiddle's body until it was shaking and shivering roughly in there, from below them, sliding futher away. It was like frost being dressed and warmed up. He lay over the fiddle, then he accompanied slowly:
Oh, the fiddle sang in the wild forest,
Yes, the fiddle sang.
And noone heard and noone saw
And noone cried and noone smiled,
No, noone cried.
Oh, the fiddle sang in the wild forest
Yes, the fiddle sang
His hands searched for his knees, to find the fiddle box.
– Oh, yes, the fiddle sang! he whispered again, dropping the fiddle. He grabbed her hands, pulled her shivering to him and over to a pile of dry leaves in the corner of the barn.
The candle in the fur light made a last breath. It rustled in the heap of leaves. The bell cow lowed slowly, intrigued.
Someone opened the house door again. An ugly howl to the forest.
Torstein jumped up, fumbled through the darkness and found his fiddle.
Sella after, holding him, begging:
– Oh, Torstein! ... Torstein –! Don't you want me, then!
He didn't answer, flung the hook open, rushed out, and stroke the strings heavily. This thing inside him would find its way after all: His madness would have to live! ...
She followed him across the mound. His father howled at the courtyard.
The strokes more heavy on the strings. He played of different things now: of long lakes at dark, stormy seas, of dead wilderness in the fall without a path, of deep canyons in the wild mountain, of dark nights in the forest...
She tore at him, wanted him out of it. She knew the wild whistle from the fiddle, taking him away from her.
– Torstein, don't you want me, then!
He didn't answer, but kept playing.
It didn't do with these strings anymore. What he saw tore the fiddle out of his hands. He threw it agains a pile of rocks, making it sing and break. Long moans and strings breaking! He heard it dance down the mound. He saw how keenly it flew away in the dark, as if caught in a fire, discharging trolls and witches – they snook under pine roots, hid in heaps of rocks – ugly, strange, soft bodies. And then – pitch dark silence.
He laughed ugly.
– So you don't want me, then! she said softly, letting him go.
He didn't give an answer, only drew his breath heavily. He saw a long, quiet glow over the pine forest, – and inside there were broad, green villages bathed in sun, and grand cities with house upon house.
– We shouldn't have done this, then! she whispered.
– No. No. But only then could I feel how frightened you were, he answered quietly, disappearing in the darkness towards the house.
She walked past the heap of rocks, felt along the mound and found the fiddle. –
But the next day Torstein ran off to the village and took the steamboat to town. He had to get out there to see what it was in the glow over the long, wide forest.
* * *
The Fiddle in the Wild Forest, part II
by Hans E. Kinck
He was away for 15 years, having been far and away, and a jack of many trades. He started as a driver in the city, and went on to be an apprentice with a band – he beat the drums.
For a while he travelled the Eastern vallies with an accordion, in the company of a vagrant wiman, who played the triangle and sang. Lately he'd spent most of his time in the Northern country, participating in the winter and summer fishing.
He'd seen big cities where armies played under tall trees, and coffin dressed people drifting around, and broad villages, without a ray of sunlight. He had seen foam at the outermost rocks and long waves drifting towards the ocean without means or ends.
But everything was different now than it was under the glow past the wide, long forest.
It was a sound to everything he saw, a whistle so strong it went too far. He couldn't follow. It was like the time home at Vasslid before he had the fiddle, – when he was inside during winter nights listening to the storm from the North throwing itself around the house from the mountains, or when he lay in the sunny hills on Sundays, staring along the carpet of pine tree tops or along the flower covered mound. What he was felt was a knock in his soul, wanting to come along outside, wanting to whistle and fill the forests. A whistle came from him instead, so he couldn't feel what he saw. And again he was back on the ground, bored and empty. – That's the state of what he'd seen the last 15 years. It was like at Vasslid before he'd gotten the fiddle. –
Then one day in the Northern country he heard his father had died, and that his mother considered selling the farm. He travelled south on the first fishing boat. He had to get back to Vasslid, because it only paled him, this flight of the mind that was always, always going further. He knew it now. It wasn't a fiddle big enough in the whole world to carry what he felt inside – further...
His mother moved down to her family. Torstein wanted to be alone in the mountains in winter. He's start over again, howl ugly to the wild forest, see the monsters' eyes shine in piled up rocks and under pine roots.
A dark night in fall he lit up the barn with his light, figuring out if the hay would last. Under the rafter he saw something that was gray with hay dust and spider webs.
It was the fiddle.
Recollections ran through him as tingling shivers. He recalled that fall night when he played Sella away from him. He was startled, weighed the fiddle with his hands, thinking.
Then he shook it off and walked quickly to the barn. No, women wouldn't be allowed on this farm! People in general weren't worth much, those he'd seen, – but least of all women, because either they were frightened of him, or else they were just a piece of wild meat shivering for his embrace and no though for anything else. No, he wouldn't have women on the farm! So he took care of the cattle himself...
But the strings seem to have gotten back on the fiddle. He realized it – and a long, warm stream flowed into his mind: Sella had found it down by the piled up rocks then, – and she had put the strings on it, – and she had stuck it under the rafter, 'cause it was only she who knew where it belonged.
He plucked the strings, felt the fiddle's body over and over again, caressed it, sat down on the barn stool. He tuned it. The sound was fractured, the body was cracked. A yellow ribbon was tied around it, holding it together. But he swore to himself: Women would not be allowed on this farm! ...
He stroked lightly with his bow.
Something was released inside him. Things started floating in a thousand blinking brooks; he saw blooming mounds of grass in humming games of bumblebees; he saw shimmering sun on bays blown blue; saw steaming dew among the swaying white cotton grass. He closed his eyes and saw the finest and softest things of the world.
It increased; it plunged: Now it was brown fall at the grass mound, breaking ocean waves entering the bay, a flurry of snow on icy mountain marshes...
The cattle twisted in the barn to see, shook their horns, and the bell cow made a long, inquisitive low.
The door opened quietly; beings scurried from the dark fall night, one being after another – hairy, frozen beasts, filling the barn with shivers from solitary mountains.
It was a voice in the darkness; he listened.
Oh, the fiddle sang in the wild forest,
Yes, the fiddle sang.
He raised his eyelids and peeked carefully outside; in the glow of the light a pale girl's face peered in.
And someone cried and someone smiled,
Yes, someone cried,
it said again and came further in.
The torrent over the strings slowed down. Something sucking and wild in her eyes out there overtook him, a strange far-sighted longing, like a winter's sun in a frosty forest, – paralyzed the fingers that held the bow.
He knew that people said that Sella-girl hadn't been right the last couple of years; she could run off to the forest from her masters in the dark night and only return in the dark of night.
She slid onto the barn floor, watching him.
– Should I help you with the milk? she said.
– You'd better do as you'd like, he said.
He words were cries scraping like needles through his whole mind.
She grabbed the bucket and squatted under a cow. He stared in her direction without looking at her, listened to the sound. Playful splashes of milk against the bucket bottom; then the cuddly embrace in a foamy depth... And the fiddle silently followed the sound.
After a while she took the bucket and the light without a word; he saw that she was done; got up and joined her.
– You'd better restrain yourself, Tostein! she said in the darkness outside; it was as if everything they should say dared to come out here.
– But I'm not fit for it, he said.
– Otherwise you might play yourself away, – away from yourself.
– Would you hide it, then?
She didn't answer, but took the fiddle box and the bow. –
Torstein and Sella's marriage was proclaimed three Sundays in a row. They were married in early winter.
And the winter days at Vasslid were bright as a softly shimmering mountain sun in small windows. One day slid past after the other, and months slid past. Year by year slid past, quietly, like her chest's sleepy breath, rich as the shelter from warm sheets.
* * *
The Fiddle in the Wild Forest, part III
by Hans E. Kinck
But then, one winter’s day four years later, a group a hobos came by the farm on their way to the next village across the mountains.
They pleaded, played accordion and sang. Sella went in and out of the house, found food and feared. But Torstein remained seated on the side of his bed in the living-room with them, listened to their talk and smiled strangely. It was as if the living-room was filled with the sun flicking in wide villages and the clatter of wagons in grand cities. Their eyes shone with mirrors of rich places.
They’d brought a deck of cards, and they read them. And the girl who sang looked like the one he’d travelled with along the eastern valleys many years ago. The same black hair, the same quick glances, the same cat-like twist to her body.
He sat on the bed-side for a long time after they left for the next village. He listened with a stiff smile. For it was that girl he’d travelled with in the east.
When darkness fell he started drifting in and out of the doors. Sometimes he would stop and stare straight through the wall. It was as if he heard something in the wind from the North, something chirping coldly around the house.
Sella gave him a quick glance from time to time. She’d never known he looked so much like his father. – The restless flicker of his black eyes increased, gained speed, looking for something far away.
She was frightened when they went to bed. His eyes were like desolate mountain lakes, his black beard like tangled bramble bushes and stiff straws of grass from below Trollberg. His breath was like a gust of marsh and darkness.
She dared not blow out the candle in the bottle. She lie awake, waiting in fear. This wildness would come out one day! ...
He knew it from the look in her eyes. It was his mother’s eyes when his father came home. They looked in fear for something to rest on. That stare told him somehow who he was. And it struck him so he couldn’t control himself. He ran out of bed.
– Where d’you hide it, then? he said. He said it in a low voice, but it still sounded like a storm over wild marshes.
– In the chest! she said, dared not otherwise.
He rushed up to the attic to find her chest and rummaged inside for the fiddle box. It was wrapped in a scarf. Then he barged down, stormed in and drew heavy on the strings so that it filled the living-room.
– Jesus! she said.
He played everything the hobos saw, roaming freely around the world, through bright valleys and in noisy cities. It grew to a whistling storm through the strings of the broken fiddle.
She turned in bed: Oh, Tostein! You’d better get a hold on yourself, Tostein!
He didn’t listen. He stomped the beat harder and harder, until the floor rocked like waves. Sometimes he groaned heavily. And she moan under the covers.
Suddently he got up, let out a wild roar and threw the fiddle at the wall so the scarf around if broke and the body shattered. He stomped on it and barged out.
At the courtyard he howled ugly to the mountains where the road led to the next village. Sella squirmed in the living-room, praying for her husband: well, Jesus, this was his father through and through! ...
He drifted along the mound. He didn’t know where – only away! And he couldn’t get far enough! ... He didn’t feel the sting of the Northern wind – even though he only wore underwear – as it swept down the hill with large grains of snow.
Over and over he howled ugly to the forest.
It whisteled through the pine forest, it murmured through the leaves, flickered in eyes, –flickers of lights from wide villages and grand cities, and of great sheets of sea turning in golden sun...
He didn’t know where he was, didn’t know anything when he sat down in the snow. –
Sella whimpered and prayed in the living-room. She heard the howls slide further away – the storm from north was as strong around the house now. The she leaped out of bed, out on the staircase and screamed “Tostein” with her weak voice that her fear had almost strangled. She didn’t stop screaming – but no answer.
She went back inside, put on some clothes, and grabbed the light. Then out to wade in piles of snow all night.
Under Trollberg she found her husband, frozen stiff, with snow in his black beard. Daybreak came when she found him. She kept staring at him. Her anger grew and widened until her chest was too small. But then it gradually froze. She didn’t make a sigh when she grabbed him under his arms to drag him home. The northern wind had reached into her very heart.
And the song from grained snow rattled along the plain, started to form waves. Now she saw what she hadn’t seen for an entire life: She hadn’t been able to catch the beast in him! ... It was like a whistle from many strings over a broken fiddle’s body – the same tune he’d made and played while he lived:
Oh, the fiddle sang in the wild forest,
Yes, the fiddle sang.
And noone heard and noone saw
And noone cried and noone smiled,
No, noone cried.
Oh, the fiddle sang in the wild forest
Yes, the fiddle sang
[Translation of Hans E. Kinck, "Felen i ville skogen," Noveller og essays, ed. Edvard Beyer, Oslo: Aschehoug, 1976, pp. 7-11.]
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