Astas Shadow


II. 1881. During a spell of poverty and illness, I enter the world in a small, almost empty attic apartment on Fredericiagade, just as I write in The Tenth Muse. Or rather: I’m born on Gammel Kongevej in a shared loft that serves as home for us and several others.

III. The way it’s told to me: I was born without eyes. A large dark mane of hair curtains my face, and my mother gasps with fright. The midwife brushes the tresses to one side and my large eyes swim into view. When I lie in my baby carriage and people poke their heads down into it, they jerk back with a screech because of the huge eyes they encounter upon the pillows.

IV. Johanne, my sister, is four-and-a-half years older than I. She suffers from recurring rheumatic fever; a diffuse inflammation of the joints, heart, blood vessels, skin, central nervous system. Johanne survives childhood, but her heart valves are ruined. Johanne with the long fair plaits, her eyes blue, her face narrow, her hands strikingly beautiful. There are just the two of us, Asta and Johanne, but there was one who preceded us and died, the firstborn, whom we cover with lilacs each year on the anniversary of death, white, purple, fragrant. The lilac, my mother’s favourite flower; the grave, a black square in the ground.

LX. 1964. It happened unexpectedly, as if someone cut through time with a pair of scissors: my son-in-law, Paul, died. It was chance that took him, a traffic accident. Now Jesta sinks into a heavy depression. I cannot pull her up. She eats almost nothing. Three months after Paul was torn away, she takes her own life. She leaves me a short note:

“Dear Mommy, sorry, but I can’t go on.”

LXI. My flat is a lonesome hole. I can no longer tolerate light. The dark rooms are full of carpets, tall porcelain vases and figures, gilt-framed paintings, dark, heavy furniture, the lipstick at the base of the mirror still red, all of it looks like itself but everything’s altered, I cannot sleep, I lie there at night and imagine movie scenes with no sound. It’s always the same scene: a white chicken lies motionless on a tree stump, held down by a man who looks like one of Lotten’s many uncles. The large, coarse hands, the downy white body, the axe striking lightning in the chicken’s neck, the head falling, the red earth. The wings flapping, trying to escape, but they have the body in tow. Even though the chicken is dead, it flies nevertheless, headless, in among the trees.

Oversatt av Misha Hoekstra