By Edy Poppy
Translated from the Norwegian by May-Brit Akerholt
For my husband, who has given me everything, even what I didn’t want.
(He is now my ex-husband)
JOURNEY TO THE END OF THE NIGHT
It’s late. We’re hungry. We catch a bus in the direction of Kentish Town. I run up the stairs, while the American buys tickets. I’m lucky, find a couple of empty seats at the front. I throw myself down. Buses make me nauseous. Almost seasick. But it’s fine here. I unzip the American’s wet summer jacket. The material is dripping, like drops from a gutter. It is the thought that warms, I think, and get lost in my dreams.
I like that the bus is driving on the left side. That the traffic is opposite, “wrong.” I still notice things like that. Like the red phone booths, the red mailboxes, the comic policemen: bobbies, with their funny helmets . . . No matter how long I live in London, I’ll always have a touch of the tourist in me.
I close my eyes. Look. I think that it’s important that I write about the atmosphere, the sounds, generally, about the smells and the stink. This mixture that is London. The dirt in the streets, in the people. All these things. The decadence. The decay. The birds that stop flying in certain areas. Where the sun isn’t accessible. The rain. The wind. Places without trees. The lack of greenery, but also the abundance. The many parks. How to express all this, capture the atmosphere, lock it into words? I want to describe the smells, the smell of a polluted city: exhaust, smoke, garbage, piss, vomit. Things like that. The smells of rotten meat, overripe cherries, dog poo, grass, trees, flowers, bird shit, summer sweat, rain, water, fruit, vegetables, baby sick, the smell of love, of sex . . . Natural smells, smells accompanying the sounds. The mute sounds. More like noise, or lack of silence, lack of stillness. The everyday in suicide, murder, abuse. The screams that follow such actions, the tears . . . The sound of something pouring. But also the twitter of a few birds. Yes, that, too. The sounds of wind, of leaves falling from trees, insects, people whispering . . . Shy sounds. Like combing your hair, the eyelashes whipping your face, laughter, smiles. Things like that exist as well. A certain beauty.
I open my eyes. Can’t see anything. Or . . . yes . . . the American: finally. He sits down next to me. I hold him in my arms. Hold him hard. Warm him. I want to wring him, like I would a wet cloth, squeeze out all the drops, all the tears, all the dirt, all the filth that is in all of us. So that only what is beautiful is left.
We lean into each other. We don’t talk. Don’t exchange a single word, only stillness. We sit in stillness and wait, in motion. I put my head against his stomach. I listen. Want to know how the piece of music is growing, developing. Sounds from the bow. Vibrations. “Good vibes,” as we say. Want to listen to the rain outside and the cello playing inside him. We swap positions. I ask him to listen to my story. Feel how it’s growing. Inside me. I admit that there’s nothing I would rather than him inspiring me and filling me with life. Fertilizing me and making me pregnant. With music. He nods. We want the same thing together.
The days pass, the nights disappear. The woman and the man remain a mystery I avoid solving. Their clothes in the hallway. An unwashed teacup. I ignore it all.
“Your husband is like the birds, like the trees, the wind, the sea,” the American says. “He’s part of nature. He is. That’s why I accept him as part of you, Vår. The other side of the medallion, the price to pay . . . I want you, I’ve made up my mind about that, so I suppose I’ll have to throw him in for good measure.”
“That was nicely put,” I say.
We’re lying in the park in Primrose Hill, five minutes from the house, five minutes from the red door, halfway up a slope. We’re waiting for the woman and the man to finish their evening meal, watch TV, chat, listen to music . . . We’re waiting for them to go to bed. From where we are, we can see when they turn out the light. We can see the window that sooner or later will be dark. The grass is tall. We’re almost invisible. In the background, London hangs like a stage curtain, a prop for our romance . . .
We have walked from park to park all day. That’s the sort of thing you can do in London. In Lancaster Gate we bought ice cream, fed the birds, and dropped in to The Serpentine Gallery to have a look at Louise Bourgeois’s exhibition, Recent Work. Afterward the American drank coffee and I a glass of white wine at The National Film Theatre Cafe on South Bank, while waiting for the film Sweet Movie to start. At six p.m. we ran into the cinema and watched “The most bizarre images ever caught on celluloid.” Afterward we hurried down to the opening exhibition at The Photographers’ Gallery, where Joel Peter Witkin was showing his grotesque and beautiful black-and-white photos . . . And the day passed like that, until evening.
Now a homemade paper kite is flying in the wind. The most spectacular thing of all is nature, because no matter how desperately we try to imitate it, it wins. Art imitates life. Not the other way around, I think.
We find the Big Dipper, the Milky Way, a black hole . . . We want to disappear into it. Be weightless, disappear, together, and never return. We look at the stars. We see many billions of years back. Something that no longer exists. An optical illusion. A delight. For our eyes.
Isn’t it incomprehensible, this thing about light years, that time is distance? I wish I could fly into space, I think, know exactly where to stop, so I could play this scene, the two of us, tonight, over and over again, for the rest of my life. Just by walking slowly backward, like a moonwalk.