Translated from Danish by Michael Goldman
The nice thing about Kelstrup is that nothing ever happens here. Now that summer is drawing to a close, the straw is burned off, and duck hunting season is over, here I sit peacefully at a well-set table with coffee and a plate of crepes, celebrating that Marius and Laura have their own running water and that in addition there is nothing bad to say about Johannes Jensen’s dowsing stick, even though they had to dig for over a week to find the water vein. My thoughts wander to a summer evening in Kelstrup, a typical one, for example, when nothing happened.
My neighbor, Frede, had said that I should go over to their garden and pick a cauliflower for my dinner. But while I was standing there about to boil the head of cauliflower, I discovered that I actually wasn’t the least bit hungry, but sad instead. So I said to myself, “Why don’t you go down to Laura’s and ask her to help you wash windows and clean next week.” When I made my way out of the old school and across the schoolyard, Frede, who was sitting in his yard after work, sees me and yells, “Hey Suzanne, would you get me a cigarette?”
“Sure, if you let me have an apple juice.”
I go inside his house to find his cigarettes, and down to his wife’s grocery cellar to get an apple juice. Frede is sitting there talking with a blackened mechanic who happened to come by.
“I was actually on my way over to see Laura,” I said, while the talk fell on a man from this area who recently drove into the woods and took his life because of taxes.
“You could also turn it around and think of suicide as a way of taking yourself way too seriously,” says Frede, adding philosophically, “considering that we are ninety-five percent water.”
The mechanic wipes off the opening of a fresh beer with the pad of a finger. He doesn’t really know the story, but he isn’t too reticent to add his two cents: “Yeah, it’s just like that one time…” and he starts telling us about an incident when he was plastered. To him, any story is an excuse to relate something about getting drunk someplace or other.
The mechanic swallows the last of his beer and leaves, and I have to go see Laura.
“No, you don’t! You have to come down to the bog and feed the calves. Grocer woman!” Frede shouts for his wife. “Are you coming with us down to the calves?”
Karen is a bit bewildered because there’s no way she can leave the store at ten minutes to eight when God and everyone else knows that the store closes at eight on Fridays.
“Close it!” orders Frede, and we close it because Karen is used to obeying her lord and master – when she wants to. Then we cross the fields with three buckets of mixed grain and vitamins and with the hunting dog Jeanette at our heels. The aroma of newly cut hay gets Frede to declare that he has to put a haystack together soon for himself and Karen. He has been working on farms since he was twelve, so he has a thing about hay.
The calves are beside themselves, about to knock over the buckets with their snouts. Jeanette scampers around restlessly, looking uncomfortable and insulted. She hasn’t been herself, hasn’t accepted the situation, ever since Frede bought the calves while he was drunk. Frede picks up the scythe he had hidden in the high grass so that the children wouldn’t run off with it, sharpens it once and starts cutting grass for the young cows. He will never have the heart to slaughter them, not the way he talks about their personalities – especially the bull calf Leo’s personality he understands. Only the bull calf has been named; the females have to go nameless because Frede says that “being female is a collective term.” But it’s one of those loaded statements because now he stands there stroking the girl calf’s back: “See, you women only have a tiny triangle while she has fur everywhere.”
“No one is keeping you from going to bed with the cows,” I reply, perhaps a bit too quickly because I’m not sure Karen agrees with me.
We also have to go down and look at the ducklings he has put out on the pond. He bought them when he was drunk, too – on Whit Sunday. Actually, he had bought all his animals when he was drunk – including Peter the Pig – “because that’s when my natural instincts come out,” he explains.
On the way home, I pass Laura’s and Marius’s house, and that’s where I need to go to talk about cleaning. Marius is already standing at the gate with his cap slid back on his head and his thumbs in his suspenders because he has already long before figured out what was going on –that we were on our way, the calves had been fed, and he was not going to miss out on a perfect chance for a random conversation.
But I needed to go in to see Laura.
“We need to go in, too,” say Frede and Karen. “Time for coffee. Laura! You can put the kettle on.”
Laura immediately lays a white tablecloth, with ironing folds, on the table, and puts out cookies. Frede complains about not getting served strawberry tart.
“I would have made that if I knew you were coming.”
We get to talking about a fire five years ago when a whole breakfront with glass and porcelain were saved without any of it incurring the least scratch. The wife of the farm had no clothes left except the nightgown she was sleeping in, but then she came over and had some coffee to get over the shock. The animals weren’t harmed, and that’s the most important thing.
Then we went outside to look at the yard and praise the flowers. Marius gave me a bouquet of thyme because they never use it anyway, except for with yellow peas. I said to Marius that he could spread some of his yellow poppies over into my yard. Then I felt like swinging on their swing – but gently, so as not to frighten the wood pigeon that was nesting in the tree. When I was done swinging, Marius cut a big yellow rose stem to give to me at the gate.
“Thank you so much, Marius!”
“Don’t mention it!”
No one in Kelstrup can do without Marius because he runs errands for all of us on his motor scooter after all our little shops have had to close due to development. He is the one who does away with all our extra kittens for a pack of blue-label North State cigarettes. Plus, he is the one who takes care of the school grounds and decides what shall live or die – pretty weeds, for example. I have no say over my yard, and Marius thinks that’s a good thing.
When it’s time to go home to my head of cauliflower, Frede, Karen, Laura, and Marius want to come too, to see for themselves how the painter did the walls in the main room.
Thank goodness they were happy with the result.
“Well, what are you going to have with your cauliflower?” asks Frede, after having seen the garden and praised the flowers.
“Oh, a bit of bread and butter, I guess.”
“What a shame for such a nice head of cauliflower. You should have a good piece of pork with that.”
Since we were all agreed that I should have boiled pork with it, Frede and Karen and Laura and Marius and I walked over to the grocery store to get some from her larder. And now I was getting hungry.
About the Author
Author of 25 books, journalist, essayist, novelist, playwright, and poet Suzanne Brøgger (b. 1944) has made a career of challenging western societal norms, especially with respect to gender, love and sex. Her 1973 book, Deliver Us From Love, has been translated into twenty languages. She is a member of the Danish Academy and a recipient of a lifelong grant from the Danish Arts Foundation.
About the Translator
Over 120 translations by Michael Favala Goldman (b.1966) have appeared in dozens of journals, such as Harvard Review and Columbia Journal. In fall 2019, his translation of Dependency by Tove Ditlevsen will be published by Penguin Modern Classics. His 12 books include works by Knud Sørensen, Cecil Bødker, Knud Sønderby, Benny Andersen, and others. www.hammerandhorn.net