White smog floating, stinging. Ding. Shattered ticket machine. Kale salad and pumpkin seeds. Enter. Ctrl-alt-delete. Enter. Canisters and bricks on disgorging streets. Sun’s lacerations. All you fight fans. Ctrl-alt-c. Ctrl-alt-p. Ctrl-alt-delete. Gleaming structures, towering shadows, shuffling reflections. Dash. Sandy sweat, glittering water, swam so far everyone’s a speck. Dash. Adapted to survive hostile environments. These coffee rings, I just can’t read. Meat cleavers? Ctrl-alt-c, ctrl-alt-p, ctrl-alt-delete. Bleeding Newsfeeds. Ding. They just like to play. Crazy baby girl, there ain’t nothing. Parry. They use us to play each other. Dash. Catch me if you can. Keep it Simple, Stupid: don’t take street fights to the ground. Better go now, curfew in an hour. Ding. Philosophical questions: What’s a red line if it only wobbles? What is another word for fear? Dash. Ghosts layered on ghosts layered on ghosts. Dash. face so pretty you don’t see a scar. Which proves. Ctrl-alt-delete. Dash. Saw you on the other side of the carriage. Ding. You looked smaller than I remembered. Dash. Like the Wizard of Oz behind curtains. Dash.
This gorgeous, gleaming, electric city.
And everyone got what they paid for.
Shadow boxers and entwined torsos.
Toes darting, ropes bouncing, bodies capsized. Mouthguards in. Me against me. Arms up. Thuds and tussles. Taste of metal. Tap. Purple elbows. I said tap. You against me. Two. One. Three. Three. I’m the instigator. One. One. Don’t let him take your back. Psshh. Clanging barbells, swinging bags, bloody knuckles. Keep moving. Psshh. Psshh. Gloves dripping. Twisted firestarter. Me against me. tap. Bodies in motion. sideways. Sprawl. Sprawl. Hands off his t-shirt. Sinews gleaming. Tires hurtling. Get him to the ground. Plates crashing. Me against you. I’m the detonator. Easy. Oss. Head high. One two. Fake. three. Push kick. Push kick. Stop. Hold. Swivel. Side mount. Trap his ankles, trap his ankles. Fingers wrapping forearm. Forearm pressing bicep. My boa constrictor body. Elbow pushing elbow. And squeeze.
tap. I said tap.
Once upon a time Sigrid went to school. She didn’t really like it very much, mostly because it seemed like all everyone wanted to do was talk at her, and she found this tiresome.
Sometimes, when she sat in class, especially after she’d claimed her spot in the back row, she would close her eyes, hold her breath and pretend she was diving. She once did this for so long that her ears nearly popped and she gasped out loud. Those strange students looked at her strangely, like she was the strange one. Hans even took his finger out of his nose, which almost never happened. This was one of her fondest memories from that time.
Once upon a time Sigrid went to school, but she didn’t know why she did that, and spent a lot of that time wandering through the hallways feeling like an alien lived in her stomach. Not an actual alien. Just the sensation of an alien pressing its frog-like hands against her intestines like they were a remote control. She was obedient to it.
She was obedient to a lot of things, really. Not so much the teachers. They mystified her. But the chalkboard squeaks that made her go diving. The sound of too many children’s footsteps trailing her that had her turning corners she hadn’t planned on turning. The look of shame on her sister’s face. The alluring smell of paint in the janitor’s closet. The birr at the tug of her uncle’s old chainsaw. All of this had its hold on her from time to time, prompting those imaginary diving expeditions whose only downside was if she went through them too often what was real would start to feel imaginary, and the imaginary real. And this didn’t seem right at all. Once upon a time Sigrid watched her sister through the small window on the door of the music room. She thought she might stop to say hi, but the alien told her to keep walking.
Once upon a time there was a Sigrid before the Sigrid we are hearing about now. She lived in the same town as Sigrid does now, however this Sigrid lived a couple of generations before our Sigrid. The older Sigrid had no chalkboards to avoid or paint fumes to inhale, in fact she had none of these luxuries to squander at all. We do not know much about this Sigrid at all, just that she is said to have gone through four husbands and was very bad. She had more babies by more men than anyone was supposed to know about. In her photograph, she wears a dark corset and high collar. Her hair is pinned up high on her head, pulling tightly at her forehead. She stares straight into the camera, her hand rests on her sister’s shoulder. If she had her own alien, it was also invisible.
Once upon a time Sigrid went to school but failed all her exams and didn’t feel like going back anyway. The alien made her write down all the wrong answers. Looking back, there were only two things she would miss. The way the janitor would leave clementines for her by the tins of paint he knew she was tucking into, and the sound of her sister’s arpeggios spilling into those echoing hallways whenever that soundproof door opened and let the outside world in. Like Sigrid, Jo had discovered diving routes of her own. Lucky for her, her method of transport was one that met widespread approval.
A stuffy basement office with one flickering light.
A man in a misshapen brown suit and loose tie stares at his keyboard, intermittently pulling out and examining crumbs.
He has yet to complain about the smell today, the one permeating next door. Something’s up with it. Someone’s up to something over there. Something dodgy involving rotting meat. Something someone important sitting upstairs should probably be told about for the fifth time this week.
His eyes rest briefly on the receiver to the right of his monitor, his hand hovers over it for a moment until he hears a gentle tap on the door. He starts, and then pushes his specs up his nose though they promptly slide down again.
“Who’s there?” he says, which isn’t really office protocol. He’s supposed to welcome all sorts with no questions asked. Office protocol doesn’t seem too bothered by the risks he takes just existing. There are all sorts of sickos out there. Many would gleefully take an axe to his head. The career consultant is a rare and targeted breed.
“I was told you do walk-ins,” lisps a voice barely loud enough for the sound to carry.
“Yes,” he says. “But who are you and what do you want?”
He is not adhering to anything approaching company standard today, not even trying. But the fact is that his mind is filled with worries of contamination from next door.
He once braved making an inspection of it, was careful to disinfect himself fully afterwards and felt sick the whole way through examining everything with a magnifying glass he’d picked up from Woolthworth’s (which work refuses to reimburse.)
He covered his nose and mouth with a dishcloth, gulping down breathe at frightened intervals.
He couldn’t find anything incriminating unfortunately, just some traces of fingerprints, bad paintwork, and what looks like a seemingly shimmering dampness seeping through a crack near the lower hinge of the door that otherwise looked just like his.
Silence. Time suspends and then reinstates itself. The lilting voice returns, this time at a pitiable high pitch.
“It says here your business hours are 9 to 18 hundred. My name is moth and I’d like a consultation.”
He leans back on his chair from which a creek emanates, briefly drowning out the sound of the fan overhead.
“Well come on in I haven’t got all day.”
The door is slowly pushed open and a shadow appears on the other side. Moth steps into the room and examines its contents. So many cubbie holes stuffed to their brim with scrunched up bits of paper.
Some of the files have been stashed upside down. One of them reads: Action-based Language Without Action. Another: Statements that Show You Care (in an Abstract Way). One more: How To Fill Out Important-Looking Forms.
His immediate space is a halo of gleaming order, a desk behind which he looks rather small and which plays host to no object other than the absolute essentials; a ballpoint pen and a packet of Kleenex.
A dark shape steps into the room and out of it the shadows. It blinks. That is, she blinks, a waif-like shoeless creature barely five feet tall wearing an eggshell coloured dress chinked at the waist with a string of paper clips.
At her hip dangles a dainty bag woven with a straw-like material. Silver tresses flow with relative freedom from her scalp, some of their strands entwined with what looks like toothpick-sized twigs. In her left hand she holds a pink selfie stick.
Her cheeks have almost grayish sheen to them, large eyes like a cow stare into his. She delicately closes the door and takes one hand in the other, rubbing the dry skin of her knuckles with her fingers.
Time suspends itself again. He reaches for his ballpoint pen and breaks eye contact to stare at his blank computer screen, wondering whether it is likely she had any close contact with the goings-on going on next door.
By his feet lies a bottle of disinfectant he considers spraying in her direction just to be safe, but assumes doing so might lead to the initiation of a complaint procedure. He briefly ponders with some regret contemporary society’s lack of basic liberties.
“So what brings you here,” he says.
She takes her little bag in her fingers and pulls out a folded piece of paper, stepping towards the desk and placing it next to the Kleenex.
“I would like to make a career change and understand you are my only hope.”
He sighs, reaches for the piece of paper, unfolding and raising it towards the light. What appears in front of his eyes is a page of nonsensical text written almost entirely in the Wingding font, except for the small signature in the bottom corner, which reads -- in rainbow-coloured comic sans -- “very truly yours, moth”.
He squints and scans the page once more, before looking up to meet the gaze of his most peculiar visitor.
“Is this some kind of joke?” he asks, waving the page in front of her expressionless face as she blinks.
“Yes, a cosmic one,” she replies.
A spark of light flashes from the egress window, followed by a boom of thunder and a heavy patter of rainfall crashing down outside.
He scans her up and down, and feels deeply distrustful of the whole shebang. Perhaps she has some connection to the rotting meat situation next door? Consciously or unconsciously. In following her truth or her untruth, she could be tarnished by the kind of thoughts that smell like rotting meat, and sound like action?
If she is, then he better not let on that he’s on to her. Better to play her at her own game.
He blinks right back at her, and gently places the sheet on the table, pointing at the first line of Windings.
"So tell me, is this really the truest assessment of the situation, or can you express it in a more authentic manner?”
She takes a deep breath, and places her index finger on the edge of her lip, looks to the ground and says:
“Hum. Let me see. Scissors. Glasses. Bell. Bell Bell. Thin arrow pointing up. Skull. Microsoft logo. Scissors. Clock reading 6. Clock reading 6. Um. Telephone. Tick. Tick. Telephone. Er--”
He waves her aside.
“Speaking plainly, Ms. Moth, you appear to have some trouble in communicating your beliefs and values in a way that truly resonates with the requisite audience, would that assessment be correct, Ms. Moth?"
She blinks, and cocks her head sideways. If she were an actual cartoon her eyelashes would be much longer than they currently are.
I apologize if I speak quite candidly here but in my considerable experience I’ve found that honesty really is the best policy and I’m truly as honest as they come.”
He scans her up and down, trying to glean whatever else it is he can about this strange creature in the off chance that he might in fact be in considerable danger. He makes an inventory of the possible weaknesses available to exploit should there be a need to.
Should she, for instance, feel inspired to enact a seditious gesture of some kind, capsizing him from his chair so he winds up on the floor with his arms outstretched, twitching like a bug.
He envisions her wrapping him in the sellotape stolen from his top draw, pictures his limbs immobilized, with a strange, villainous imp standing gleefully over him, her tiny fist held up in the air.
Still, he is not entirely helpless. He takes in her meatless frame and pathetic, impish dishevelment, and breathes out slowly.
Moth shrugs and looks down at her toes.
More meaningful thoughts: Perhaps Moth is in fact a helpless, wondrous and lovable creature after all, vulnerable enough that it might make sense to actually help her, though of course not enough that she could ever achieve the stature of the fearsome capsizing creature of his vision.
“Clock. Clock. Bold tick. Star of David. Book. Postbox with the dial turned up. Postbox with dial turned down--” she speaks slowly and contemplatively, and he cuts her off.
“Well, quite. We all feel misunderstood and misrepresented sometimes, Ms. Moth, the point is not to let it get you down or hold you back in realizing your very unique vision."
moth starts swinging her selfie stick at her side.
"You see we are all possessed with unique visions and anyone who articulates otherwise is only allowing themselves access to an aura that is not theirs to take however it might very well be theirs to coopt should that be their particularity in any case as in your case I wonder if the point we’re both trying to make is that while you most obviously have this bright and shining energetic system that beams outwards, a ray of white light that is so resplendent as to be blinding, it also clear to see that what you truly lack is trust."
At this point he stands up, assertively slides the Kleenex to one side, and places both hands firmly on the table, leaning towards her and fixing her to the spot with the intensity of gaze he normally only uses on the crows who accost him on his way to work with all their usual complaints.
"Trust in yourself. Trust in others. And (pause for emphasis!) Trust In Me."
Moth's arm stops swinging and she let's out a little cough. No one is surprised to see the air she expends sparkle.
"Can I level with you here?" he continues, his gaze gathering the kind of hardness required to stare a red traffic light into going green from sheer force of will.
"I won’t be able to help you just one jot if I don’t have your complete trust and your complete honesty, if you can’t truly let me in, if you can’t truly allow me access into the inner workings of that fantastic mothy mind of yours, then our time here, together, at this unique point, in this special moment, is meaningless and will remain lost in the auspices of auspices of all time," he says, gasping in her sparkles and nearly choking on them.
"Let me in, Moth,” he says., with low grade breathlessness. “Let me in.”
Moth pauses for a moment, slowly raising her gaze to meet his.
“Yes, Moth, yes,” he replies, beaming, holding out his hand to take hers.
He quickly checks the top drawer of his cabinet. The heavy-duty stapler is still there. He reckons if any funny business starts here, he could use it to knock her out cold.
From the beginning, Lukacs’ interpretation of Marxist theory was free-wheeling, speculative
He reads those words over and over, but they can’t really sink in, it feels like watching clouds or something and not being able to figure out their shape. Clouds that might easily darken, get heavy and dense, start spewing splashes of a silver something over his head, iron filings or whatever, they’d get stuck all over him, they’d sink into his ears, come in through his nostrils and his mouth, get stuck in his brain, make everything even more confusing than it already was. Make everything too heavy and dark.
He’d once tried to explain this feeling to his sister, she said he still had to read more if he wanted to understand anything and if he wanted to learn how to express himself properly like he said he wanted to. He hadn’t seen her in weeks, and she was the only one who he could talk to about some of the deep and scary stuff that wandered across his mind sometimes like those dense clouds.
He likes to sit on her bed since she’s been away, scan the room, she has these dark pink curtains, what’s the material, linen, and thin, so some of the sunlight comes in even when they’re drawn, making the room more orange than it normally would be, leaving barely golden shapes on the walls.There’s a flowerless plant on the nightstand by her bed, when she was here it looked alright but now she’s been gone all these weeks it’s begun to wilt and turn yellow and its earth is so dry it almost looks like sand. The bed is made, lilac sheets are a bit creased from him sitting on them, sometimes he takes her pillow and puts it on his lap, doesn’t really know why he does that.
There’s a pile of books by the nightstand, many more on the shelf opposite him, where she’s left behind a black jewelry box that plays music when you open it, just a nice little melody that goes around in circles the kind that a toy ballerina would slowly spin to, you’d open and close that box and get the music and get her dancing again.
He liked the idea of that, the power it would give him, to make that little thing dance at will. Power and relief. He’d like to have something like that. It wouldn’t leave him alone like this with his own thoughts, his own quiet confusion about everything.
The book he has in his hands looks really old, she probably got it secondhand, the cover is a beige that’s turning brown, there are what look like traces of fingerprints on them and the corners curl outwards, the font on the cover has a groovy vibe, orange and navy blue, the words printed sideways across the page. Against Interpretation. Looks like the whole book is interpreting stuff though, which is weird. He doesn’t like that, feels like a joke he doesn’t get. He flicks through it, someone’s underlined parts, maybe his sister, maybe its previous owner, on the back cover there’s a picture of a woman, black and white.
The woman’s hair is neat and short and dark, she looks sideways. He can’t figure out what to make of that, how he feels about her and the fact that her gaze is somewhere else. She has a nice smile, just a slight one, the corners of her mouth curled, she has big lips, not like a porn star or anything, just natural.
The more he looks at her face, the more it occurs to him that there is nothing at all wrong with it, everything seems perfectly in the right place. The eyes are a nice size and a nice shape, the eyebrows look like half moons. They don’t have that arch to them that some girls have. He liked eyebrows like these a lot better, like there were two very small hills sitting above her eyes, hills that would be quite nice to walk over, like a pleasant stroll. Imagine that as a pick up line. The look he’d get, The way the girl he’d have approached would turn away and roll her eyes at her friend.
No, talking never did him any good. A woman like this would definitely roll her eyes. This serious woman with her eyes looking elsewhere. He still couldn't figure out how he felt about her. Guess it depends on what she would say when she opened that big (but-not-porn-star-big) mouth of hers.
He closes his eyes now, and, as a thought experiment, tries to imagine her talking to him. He kind of knows how she’d speak because of all the words in the book, many of which he didn’t understand. Would she use those words with him? What if she didn’t? What if she was a whole different person with him? What if she took off that elegant scarf? What if she took off that tailored jacket with the collar turned inwards, looked at him and tossing her hair back, knowing that he was watching her, then saying something that wasn’t like something she’d written in this book. Saying something just for him.
They’d share their own, secret language together, a way of communicating that no one else understood. There would be an intense feeling between them that was only theirs. She’d understand him perfectly, he wouldn’t have to say anything, he wouldn’t have this feeling he has now, staring at this book trying to figure out his thoughts on things. She could figure them out for him, and maybe he’d have his way of helping her out too, tell her she didn’t have to always look so serious like that, serious and distant. Sometimes she could relax a bit, let that neat hair get a bit messy.
He wonders about that distant look she has, like she’s with you but not really. Could he figure out his feelings about that? Part of it made him like her even more, because she was cool. She didn’t care what anyone else thought of her. Except him. She’d have to care what he thought of her. That was the whole point. That’s what made her look so special. It showed that she didn’t like many people, that there were a lot of people she just couldn’t be bothered to look at. But that she’d look at him, obviously. Because what he thought about her mattered. He had that power over her, she could be his toy ballerina. But instead of a music box he opens and closes her book.
He feels a buzz in the pocket of the jeans, pulls his phone out holding his breath. Nope, still no response from his sister. Just the pizza delivery guy.
My name is Agnes. I’m sixteen years old and I help my mum run her pickle stand on evenings and weekends.
During the day I go to school, I have a couple of weeks left until exams start, and it’s so hot I can’t concentrate in class on anything except the sweat running down my back. I’m trying to study now as I sit here waiting for customers but I honestly can’t even remember what chapter we were on. I think we were doing some kind of history review but I’m not sure. Chapter after chapter is all the same though, we valiantly fight some war that we end up losing.
Maybe I don’t have to study too hard after all, sometimes I find our tests easier to manage if I’m winging it, not trying to force everything I’ve learnt onto one little text box, and instead just play around with really emotional words like noble and courageous, chivalrous, maybe even throw in something a little bit cheesy like ‘mighty’-- the mighty Hungarians this, the ‘noble’ Hungarians that -- and that’ll encourage the examiners to ignore some of my glaring omissions, like important dates I can’t really remember, or some spellings of names.
I read somewhere, I think maybe in a marketing book I bought when I was working on the Instagram account of my mum’s pickle stand, that the most important part of the writing process is keeping your audience in mind at all times, and what it is you are trying to sell them. I think I do this quite well in exams. I’m not one of those kids in the front row in class, you know, with their five thousand multicoloured pens and all their little notebooks and their hands up in the air all the time, they come in at the start of class pull out all these extra books no one told them to read and just arrange them at the front of the desk so the teacher sees them and is so impressed that they spontaneously combust in the presence of such brilliance. These kids only really think about themselves. They aren’t engaging empathetically with their readers. That’s why they’re always a little bit disappointed with their grades where I’m always pleasantly surprised with mine.They’re just trying painstakingly hard to squeeze every pointless fact they’ve remembered onto a piece of paper that they’ve completely forgotten the whole purpose of this exam affair; to entertain and beguile a very bored and potentially very unhappy, uncomfortable and most definitely overheated examiner who more than anything just needs some kind of pick-me-up besides their afternoon shot of cherry schnapps and their evening palinka. And that’s exactly what I do. Who needs facts at all when you can dazzle with fancy words, when you can sell dreams.
Still there’s a lot at stake with these upcoming exams, my mother says if my grades aren’t anything but excellent she sees no point in my continuing my education, said I’d learn far more useful skills working the pickle stand full time, or starting up a pickle stand of my own in the town next to ours where we sometimes go on weekends and where there’s always quite a lot of demand, especially for our homemade stuff that I would go so far as to describe as legendary. And when I say legendary I mean that there are at least fifty people in the world who would opt for our homegrown pickles over anyone else’s.
If I’m honest, I prefer the ones we ship in from Poland, that also do pretty well, they’re sweeter than ours, more vinegary, too, they’re preserved in a solution that I’ve tried to make myself but can’t seem to get right. For our own pickles, we use a tried-and-tested solution that has been in the family for decades and that’s pretty formulaic; we mix together dill and garlic in the brine, some secret spices I of course won’t bother you with, and two slices of stale bread perched on top. It works all year round but we’re especially busy in the summer months when we’re harvesting our own crop that we’re especially proud of as the land in which we grow them has been in our family for quite a few generations, and everyone knows that, and knows that when they buy our pickles they are buying into our beautiful history, too.
At least, that’s people who like us think at any rate, not everyone does, some families are jealous of the success our pickles have had through the years, and these people leave unfavourable reviews about us online, sometimes spreading lies that our recipe was stolen or that that our cucumbers have unnatural things like chemicals or even that we actually swap the labels around on the jars to pretend that these German pickles are actually ours, which is total nonsense but is the kind of gossip that people just love to spread around because it’s the sort of thing people really get emotional about.
I guess the topic moves people especially because I redesigned our labels so that the Hungarian flag merges into what is supposedly our family crest perched on a very lovely-looking pickle. It’s the sort of thing that stirs a lot of feelings in people around here. But anyway, the thing is I don’t understand why our enemies would work so hard to make up lies about us when there’s plenty of family scandal to go around, especially given that there’s no way we would be able to make ends meet if it weren’t for my uncle subsidising the business with the help of his stolen car business and the pedigree cats we illegally breed in our basement and sell on Craigslist.
That, and the fact that we might be facing criminal charges for the fact that the postman may or may not have been attacked by the less-than-welcoming alsation we mostly keep chained to the hut outside our house, the one my uncle brought round after my Dad left, as way of calming his own nerves around the prospect of two unprotected females left alone to guard the family’s small but noble and mighty pickle empire from intruding forces.
It was a thoughtful gesture but the problem was that none of us got around to training the guy so he’s pretty feral and dangerous and if left to it, would probably kill all but two people in this world. As I said, we keep him chained at all times, or at most times at least, but you know the postman got too close said he had a way with animals, said he’d watched some video on Youtube about how to get crocodiles to trust you, I’m not sure why but he seemed to think that the same rules would apply with mad dogs but apparently they don’t and he’s in a cast now and trying to suing us even though neither of us told him to get that close, and I can prove that with the video he made me take for his Instagram page that obviously he now won’t post because he just looks like an idiot. Still, the problem is the dog’s a psycho and it’s kind of our fault we let him get that way.
We’re waiting for my uncle to get back because he has more experience with these sorts of complicated matters and I am sure has some kind of solution up his sleeve, because he can just about get away with everything, actually I’m looking forward to his visit whenever it is he never tells us, but I might ask him to help convince my mum to let me stay in school even if my grades aren’t that great, and that’s the thing I don’t even know what she means by excellent as she doesn’t like clarifying points like that it always depends on her mood, it drives me a bit nuts if I’m honest, makes me feel like there’s no point in even trying to be one of those kids in the front with all their pens and their debates and all the books they read that they don’t have to read at all they just do because they want to. Sometimes I walk quietly behind them and hear them talking about leaving town and university and all that stuff and I hate them. Sometimes when they come to my stand I switch labels around so they’re eating Russian pickles they thought were Hungarian.
My name is Sigrid. I was born on this side of the Sjerstad Fjord, and have lived here my whole life. I am seventeen years old.
I work as an apprentice to a carpenter called Trond, a job where I do most of the carrying and lifting and have done since I first started there part time two years, which conveniently coincided with an ‘incident’ Trond won’t divulge any details on but which has left him with quite a bit of back pain, which he manages with the help of a cocktail of booze and barbiturates.
As a boss he’s otherwise fine and even quite indulgent, provided I get everything done and keep the customers away from him. He says weird stuff sometimes, because he’s almost always out of his mind– which puts people off. But I think he’s quite funny, and he has good taste in music and in books.
Obviously my first edition copy of Bukowski’s Crucifix in a Deathhang was a gift from him. A thank you for the time I lent him money to bet on a horse he ‘had a good feeling about’ that came out moderately successful –the ‘proudest moment in his life’.
It’s a bit of a dreary read, but it’s a good enough collection of poems. I’ve had to hide it from my mother, though. Wouldn’t want her to think that I’m harbouring any intellectual ambitions.
‘Keep expectations low and people won’t bother you’ Trond always says when I am taking an order. It’s a good piece of advice, and certainly a half decent business approach in a place where our one competitor is a ferry ride away and is as unambitious as we are.
I read recently in the newspaper, though, that at some point people will get used to ordering things on their computers from anywhere in the world. I mentioned this to Trond, but he brushed it aside and told me to stop reading nonsense.
I am not sure Trond has ever even turned our computer on. I saw him shouting at it once, though. Obviously I manage our accounts.
There’s a saying we have here: Women are as useful as empty bottles. He likes to repeat time and again, when he’s in a bad mood, and usually when I’m washing up his dishes. It’s weird though, because l’m pretty sure I am woman, and I am definitely not useless to him.
‘You’re not one of those women, I think he means,’ my friend Ole helpfully chimed in, when I spoke to her about this.
‘You know, lazy, precious and ungrateful –like me.’
Ole is kind of my hero. She’s an A-grade student headed for Bergen University who I think last opened a textbook about five years ago and has somehow since managed to trick her parents into financing all outsourcing of school work that got her to where she is now– our fjord’s golden girl.
She’s a budding business woman in her own right, earning around a thousand Kroner selling photos of her feet to a small but dedicated and generous group of fans. She doesn’t really need the money, though. She just likes the feeling of being a working woman, and of being needed.
Carpentry is my calling, and I am grateful for everything Trond has taught me from the comforts of his red-wine-stained sofa and to the dulcet tones of Immortal’s In the Heart of Winter. But I do have two other big passions: rowing into nowhere in my little boat, and cannabis.
My name is Ole, I am a girl even though I have a boy’s name. Don’t ask me why. Actually, you can ask me why. It’s actually quite an interesting story. My father had always wanted a son and to call his son Ole– named after his father– Ole Peterson. So when I was born they called me Ole, even though I am a girl and have always been a girl. I have no question about this and it doesn’t worry me.
Sometimes they say because I have a boy’s name I have a strong personality. When I was little I liked to walk up and down many stairs and I would cry if no one came with me. I liked to tell people what to do. When my mother held my hand, I would hold hers, they said. I would lead. Even if I didn’t know where I was going. My father gave me his father’s model airplanes. I found them boring.
I wanted barbie dolls instead, like Sigrid had. That is why I played with her then, maybe the only reason. She was so quiet and uninteresting. I still keep some dolls I never returned.
My therapist says I have no real friends –that I cannot call Sigrid a friend because I am not very good to her, even though I find her quite dependable and sometimes even quite useful. Sigrid has strong rowing abilities and a nice little boat passed down from her father. When it’s not raining and the sea is still and black like oil, we go out sometimes. I talk because it’s quiet and nobody but Sigrid and the seagulls can hear us. Sigrid listens with her eyes a little bit closed.
Sometimes she asks me to sit by the oars while she sits at the front, so she can feel more movement in the waves. So we swap places, I don’t mind. See, I am a good friend. It’s annoying that she does not have her own little engine, though. She can’t take me very far.
Sometimes we go far out enough to get to the little island Sigrid says no one ever goes to except her. I don’t think this is completely true, but I do believe her when she says she wouldn’t mind living here sometimes. There is only an abandoned boathouse with red paint that is going purple. We have to be careful not to touch any nails.
My mother finds it strange that I spend so much time with my strange little friend Sigrid. When I move to Bergen I am sure I will have a boyfriend.
My name is Trond and it is not short for anything. It is a fine Norwegian name. We have many famous Tronds. My father gave me the name because there is nothing complicated about it. That does not sound very interesting, but he was not that sure what else to say about it when I asked him. I live on the same street that my parents did when I was growing up. It’s a good street. There are no problems with it.
When summer comes the grass grows high, I can see the fjord from here but almost everyone can see it from everywhere. Once I went on holiday to London. I have also been to Paris and also Stuttgart. You cannot smell the sea in these cities. I do not think I’ll go back. I don’t like pigeons and all the dog shit. I like my bed here, it’s a good bed. I don’t see many people, maybe one or two when I cross the street, maybe Arthur sometimes when he comes over and we talk about the horses. Arthur says he always wins so much. I have not seen him win once. What is a friend who always lies to feel good? Sometimes I go to the pub but lately I feel like they look at me with a lot of judgement.
Sigrid tells me I should shave my beard sometimes cut myhair. I am going to be sixty next year what is a girl doing telling me how to look, a girl and my employee, sometimes I talk to her openmymouth but different words come out that I say come out don’tcome out. Sigrid is a good kid. Sometimes I go totheshop, come back with many little bags of sugar in my pockets, pull them out one by one give them to sigrid, a funny joke.