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Through the Night

Through the Night

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Through the Night

288 página
3 horas
Jun 18, 2013


Dentist Karl Meyer's worst nightmare comes true when his son, Ole-Jakob, takes his own life. This tragedy is the springboard for a complex novel posing essential questions about human experience: What does sorrow do to a person? How can one live with the pain of unbearable loss? How far can a man be driven by the grief and despair surrounding the death of a child? A dark and harrowing story, drawing on elements from dreams, fairy tales, and horror stories, the better to explore the mysterious depths of sorrow and love, Through the Night is Stig Saeterbakken at his best.
Jun 18, 2013

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Through the Night - Stig Saeterbakken




Grief comes in so many forms. It’s like a light being turned on and off. It’s on, and it’s unbearable, and then it goes off, because it’s unbearable, because it’s not possible to have it on all the time. It fills you up and it drains you. A thousand times a day I forgot that Ole-Jakob was dead. A thousand times a day I remembered it again. Both were unbearable. Forgetting him was the worst thing I could do. Remembering him was the worst thing I could do. Cold came and went. But never warmth. There was only cold and the absence of cold. Like standing with your back to the sea. Ice-cold ankles every time a wave came in. Then it receded. Then it came in.

While I stood there, the sun went down, and night fell, and it’s been night ever since.

I didn’t do much in the days following the funeral, apart from watch TV. As though in the hope that if I just sat like that, without moving, wholly concentrating on what was happening on the screen, that the pain would disappear after a while, that I’d become part of that second reality, where pain doesn’t exist. One night I watched a Pink Panther film. It was the one where Clouseau (Peter Sellers) is questioning a well-to-do English family and he gets his hand stuck in the glove of an old suit of armor and turns the sitting room into a disaster area before bringing his Poirot-like summation to a close. And suddenly I couldn’t contain my laughter. I, who was certain that I would never laugh again, I laughed so hard it felt like an animal inside me was trying to eat its way out. Finally, I had to turn off the TV; if I’d watched the film until the end, I would have burst.

That goddamned fucking TV! One night I was standing outside smoking during the commercials between two series I’d started to follow, when I saw Eva’s shadow passing across the yard like an apparition. Then I heard a clatter from the garage, but didn’t give it much thought. When I came back into the living room, the TV had been destroyed, an axe handle sticking out of the screen, which resembled a treacly black pulp more than shattered glass. She was standing in the middle of the room wheezing, as if she was having difficulty breathing. Fortunately—or unfortunately—Stine was there, sitting with her arms wrapped round her knees, crying, so there wasn’t any question of me doing anything more than what little I could in order to calm her down. While I held her, I thought about how it had been one of my recurrent complaints over the years, all the hours Eva spent in front of the TV, how it had gotten on my nerves so often, the lack of initiative it testified to, this perpetual pastime she justified as relaxation, vital, if I understood her correctly, between one office crisis and the next, as if her job was the only thing that was real, the remainder of the day not good for anything other than gathering your strength so as to be able to return to it again, as if she’d given up being who she actually was when she was at home together with me, together with us, that her self was something she saved for when she was at work; just like it wasn’t necessary, apparently, to make an effort with me anymore, that the work on me was finished, as opposed to the work on everyone else in her life: All these thoughts could well up inside me at the mere sight of her stretched out on the sofa with her face bathed in the all-consuming glow of the TV screen.

After the TV was destroyed, long walks took the place of CSI Miami, Dexter, and classic movies on TCM. On the whole, I preferred routes I hadn’t taken before, and even discovered some trails I hadn’t known about. On some of these I got it into my head there hadn’t been people on them for years, branches hung in the way and slapped against my jacket as I passed. Sometimes, when it was dark, I could catch sight of a light, several lights, made tiny by the distance, but visible all the same through the countless breaks in the foliage. A car’s rear lights appeared right in front of me, for instance, and after that, a traffic light changing from yellow to green, far off in the distance.

Every time I got home, I stood for a moment in the hall listening before I went in, to hear if anyone was crying.

There was so much I didn’t understand. The brutality of everything: in a store, the way people shoved their way around with their shopping carts, the way they rummaged through the frozen foods and then stood around by the fruits and vegetables talking loudly, as if nothing had happened. Out on the street, the infernal traffic, motorists taking their lives in their hands, blowing their horns as soon as the car ahead of them took just a bit too long to advance after the lights had changed. Schoolchildren who moved in great herds and looked like they could almost burst with happiness. Noise everywhere, cars driving along, people talking, loud music. All to drown out the vast abyss of silence that would have opened up if everyone stopped what they were doing. People talking, but not one of them about Ole-Jakob. Goddamned fucking bastards. How was it possible? What did they have to talk about, now that he was dead?

The world mocked us. It mocked Stine, who should have been a member of the teeming multitude, who was supposed to have been part of the great scheme of things for many years to come, but who had barely gotten started when she was excluded. Although I knew that in time she would join the herd again. And that in all probability things would work out, given time. Given time: what a mockery. The idea that it would all be okay. That she’d pull through. That it wouldn’t be too long before she’d get back into the swing of things, laugh and smile, joke around, wholly adjusted to the endless nonsense of a life among people of her own age, the games of which it was supposed to consist, as though an essential part of her journey, on the way to her adult self. She’d return to all that, buoyed up, it was only a question of time. She’d shake off what was weighing her down, perhaps not completely, but enough for her to be able to continue on, living among her peers—enough for her to get back into the swing of things once again.

She didn’t say anything for the first few days. What was there to say? Every time Eva or I, both fearful of how she was doing, tried to get anything out of her, her expression stiffened, hard as stone, or she began to cry, which eventually made us more frightened of trying to reach out to her than of what we’d find out if we succeeded. When she finally did break her silence, it was nothing but invective and profanity. GODDAMNED FUCKING SHIT was the first thing I heard her say. She sounded just the same as Eva, their voices almost indistinguishable. The undertaker had been to the house to discuss the final details. I’d just closed the door behind him when I heard Stine from the kitchen. GODDAMNED FUCKING SHIT! I felt a pang of happiness. The first sign of life from someone we’d thought was lost to us! I went in to them. Stine was on her feet, the words just poured out of her, as though she were throwing up, one obscenity worse than the next, the accusations rained down. Eva reached out and just about managed to get hold of her before her hand was pushed away. I looked at them and I saw how alike they had become, mother and daughter. Stine more beautiful by a hairsbreadth, as if she had taken Eva’s face and perfected it. And I thought about how often she, when she was smaller, had sat listening quietly to her brother while he held forth on everything under the sun, how she sat and observed him and admired him, how she left all the talking to him, sent him out into the world ahead of her so that he could tell her about it.

There wasn’t a moment during which I wasn’t trying to think about something else, but I couldn’t manage, my concentration failed, my thoughts were like bad drawings, they had to be torn up right away.

Eva didn’t begin to cry until several weeks had gone by. But one day, when I came home from one of my goddamned fucking walks, I heard the sound of the vacuum cleaner from the living room, and there I found her, in a heap on the floor, sobbing, as if she’d already cried out everything in her and didn’t have any more to give, but still couldn’t manage to stop. I lifted her up, she was as heavy as a well-built man and she was holding the vacuum hose in so tight a grip that I had to pry each finger open one by one in order to get it away from her. I managed to get her onto the sofa and laid her head in my lap. There were large wet patches visible on the floor where she’d been lying. I stroked her hair and made a hushing sound. There, there, I said, as if to a child. We’ll get through this. We’ll get through this. But no sooner had the words left my mouth than I sensed the hollowness of it, the hollowness of what I’d just said, of what I’d persuaded myself to want once more—just like the time I’d returned from my fairytale fling—the hollowness of everything that had been, everything that was, everything that would be. And I knew that no matter what I told her, no matter what I might once again make her believe, that sooner or later it would be revealed as an empty promise, as a pledge without payment, without any relation to the reality that would always return to ruin things for us yet again. She lay there, still, without a twitch. But I felt how her body tensed as I held her and the vacuum cleaner continued battering the walls with its feral roar. What will we do, I wondered. When this is over. When we’re finished with all the grief. When we’ve gotten through it, if we get through it, what on earth will we do then.

Eva had been in there and cleared out his room, I knew that. I hadn’t been able to bring myself to go in there, I don’t know why. For fear of his being there, among all his possessions? Finally it weighed so heavily on my mind that it felt like I couldn’t get on with anything else in my life before I’d done it. I waited for a day when I was alone in the house. Even then I stood in front of the closed door for a long time. While I stood there I realized how long it had been since I’d been in his room, not once since I’d moved back home, not once since I’d left them to go and live with Mona. I knocked first. Then I opened the door and went in.

But Eva hadn’t cleared it out. Everything was just as he’d left it, piles of clothes on the floor, headphones and towels and CDs and magazines and empty energy drink cans, cables, a deodorant, a spray can, the games console like a little rock in the middle of a whirlpool of clutter. The wardrobe was open, an underwear drawer pulled out. A group of uniformed skeletons lined up along the windowsill. Each one was hand painted, painstakingly so, each standing with a black, square plastic base under its feet—the only things, it struck me, that gave any impression of order. The cord for the games console was worn away right above the plug, and when I bent down to pull it out of the socket, some sparks flew from the tear where a little of the copper was showing. Startled as a child, I left it in.

I sat down on the bed. The duvet felt damp, one corner was discolored. I looked up at the ceiling. All the pictures and posters I’d once seen there were gone. But there was something written there, in marker, in thick block capitals: I DO NOT WANT TO WAKE UP TOMORROW. There was a sticker on the lampshade that had started to melt, the upper part had rolled up into a little pipe. I lifted the duvet. There was a chocolate wrapper and a sock underneath. I picked up the sock. It was white with a blue border around the top. The sole was black with dirt, and some grass still stuck to the fine-meshed fabric. I wondered how many times I had told him and Stine not to go out in their stocking feet. And I thought about something else I’d also said many times, that I’ve said it a thousand times, something they both loved to throw back at me. In this particular case, however, I’d been proved right. I held the sock up to my nose. The stink made me dizzy. I remained sitting and sniffed. I pressed the sock against my face and breathed through it. It felt like I was being pulled down by an undertow, like I was disappearing down into all his clutter. It felt wonderful.

One day I got on a bus and rode it all the way out of the city and back again. I dozed off for a little while; when I woke up I had no idea where I was. I sat with my forehead against the window, which shuddered faintly in time with the hum of the motor, and tried to keep my thoughts focused on what I was seeing, my eyes clung to the buildings and vehicles in the landscape that flew by and I made up impromptu stories about the people who owned them. At one place the bus had to pull out and pass a gray truck hauling a load of gravel. Then there was a moraine covering the top of a slope with roots crisscrossing it. A white sweater hung out to dry on top of a white sheet, which looked like an old face with tired eyes and a lopsided mouth. I saw a lot of fences and glasshouses as well, each in worse condition than the last, each built with the sole purpose, or so it seemed, of falling to ruin. But as we drew near the large housing developments again, it was like everything tightened up again, even nature itself, as everything—people, animals, plants—from there on and into the city made a point of trying to look its best. A young couple had taken the seat in front of me; the girl leaned her head against the boy’s shoulder, and now and again he turned his head and looked at her. I realized how deeply envious I was of him, of both of them. There was something so gloriously serene about them, carefree and installed in surroundings that couldn’t begin to break the shell of their love and happiness. Faced with these two, I thought, the world has little say. Nothing can disturb them. They are in balance. Love and desire divided equally, no questions yet about who loves the most. When I was getting off the bus, I turned to them and said: Remember this moment! The boy gave a start, he looked alarmed, and as the bus drove on, I caught a glimpse of them in the window, both sitting staring out at me as if at somebody who’d tried to pull something on them, without their understanding precisely what.

I think it was the evening of the same day that Boris told me about the mysterious house, someplace in Slovakia, he didn’t know exactly, where if you contacted the right person and paid a sufficient amount of money, a staggering sum apparently, you were given a key and a scrap of paper with an address on it, as well as a time, down to the precise minute on a particular date, where you, if you were to let yourself into the house at exactly that time, would be confronted with your greatest fears. There were those, according to Boris, who claimed that they’d been there, seen what there was to see and had come out again with a lighter heart, relieved of everything that had been weighing on them, joyful and in high spirits, without a trace of fear left in their bodies. They’d seen the worst things imaginable, after which nothing could threaten them anymore. Others, Boris reported, had returned with hideous, contorted faces, so that even some of their closest family and friends had trouble recognizing them. One such individual’s skin had turned completely gray, after his visit, and his nose had been moved to his cheek, he never said another word to anyone, locked himself into a room in his apartment and stayed there until he died, which was just a few weeks later. Another man was said to have left home, headed straight for a railway line, and thrown himself in front of a freight train, which severed his head. And some of the people who’d been in the house for only five minutes were said to have emerged again firmly believing that they’d been locked up in there for years. There were others still who said they hadn’t noticed any real change until long afterward, when the full horror of the thoughts they’d had while they were in the house dawned on them all at once. And then there were others who said that the thing to do was to stay awake while you were there, that you could deal with it, the house, as long as you didn’t lie down and go asleep in it, but once you fell asleep, there was no way back, you were lost.

At first I thought it was something Boris had made up, some desperate fabrication to distract me from my grief, since he probably considered me immune to conventional forms of solace. I could clearly see, when he was with me, how he was always searching anxiously for something to say, something that, for a few minutes at least, could turn my thoughts from the one thing that occupied them—what a heartfelt desire he had to replace that one thing, just for a fleeting moment, with something, anything else, something that wasn’t stamped with the name Ole-Jakob.

, that you wanted to see the place where hope turns to dust. It sounded like the plot of a Boris Snopko novel. And deep down I thought that’s what it was.

He sat there for the rest of the evening fantasizing about what he’d be most likely to wind up with, if he should dare to enter the house of horrors. Under normal circumstances we would have tried to outdo one other here. Now, he didn’t even need to ask me. Which isn’t to say that he wasn’t itching to ask anyway. But since the answer was self-evident, it was probably no great sacrifice for him to refrain.

I was grateful to him for that. Not at the time, but since. For all his stories. I didn’t listen to him, I was impervious, he was right, but I listened all the same, as though a part of me was storing it away for later use. At the time, however, I found him so annoying that I had to restrain myself from throwing him out. Barging in like that and trying to take my grief away from me! He might as well have crashed a baptism. His nerve was an affront, his words of encouragement blasphemous. But a tiny part of me acknowledged his efforts and loved him for it, loved that he was bothering with me, knowing all along that none of it was getting through, loving that he both allowed me to remain ensconced in my imperviousness, while doing what he could, at the same time, to deliver me from it—that he both left me in peace and at the same time did not.

I thought about it afterward: he must have felt like he was visiting a friend in prison.

My copy of the only one of his books that had been translated into Norwegian had a fold in the top corner of page thirty something. The book was about a society where, as a consequence of overpopulation, a law had been introduced whereby everyone over eighteen years of age had the right to kill one person without fear of criminal prosecution. Later, when he’d switched over to writing in Norwegian, he’d tried to get his new work published here, but to no avail. Neither did he succeed in getting anything else that had already been published into translation. And when he, as a last resort, translated one of his Norwegian manuscripts into Slovakian, his old publisher didn’t want it either. I didn’t know if he’d written anything after this; in any case, since then it seemed to me that all his reserves of imagination had been used up inventing every kind of excuse on earth to explain his rejections. Besides which, he spent an inordinate amount of time running down every single other book that got published, those that resembled his own as well as those that didn’t. And if he was in the mood for it, he was only too happy to accuse those writers of having stolen his ideas, no matter how removed they might be from anything he would ever have come up with. It became something of an obsession for him. Because nobody liked what he wrote, he didn’t like anybody who wrote. And this with such sustained intensity that he probably didn’t have any energy left to produce anything. Though, if he did, and it ever saw the light of day, the unspoken condition he’d imposed upon himself, thanks

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