Jens Smærup Sørensen
Translated by Caroline Waight
pp. 7–24; 109–114
Like a landscape bared of vegetation and of water and soil and turned to desert, that’s Jens Kristian Jensen’s face now. The face that used to be so luxurious. The cheeks bulging and flushed. A full-blooded, muscular mouth covering the teeth; only lately has the disease begun to gnaw at it. Like a drought and a storm sapping the lush earth and tearing it up, to dust and to nothing. The raw rocky ground jutting forth. A thin layer of skin is tight around his jaw.
And it can take a while, sometimes, for fertile farmland to be plucked of all foliage and the last of the topsoil; even the hottest sky and tirelessly rasping wind can hardly finish the job in less than a summer. Of course, the disease, too, has been preparing for some time, blanching and shrinking Jens Kristian’s face; but it’s not been more than a few weeks since his Lise doesn’t really recognise him anymore.
She so wanted him home from hospital. Back to the Cliff; and after that it wasn’t more than a few days before she decided she wanted to be alone with him. Until it was over. As much as possible then, and with the exception of that woman opposite. But she did tell some of the other older people on the street, who had come and leant over his bed to wish him a speedy recovery.
They could see it for themselves. And he probably didn’t even hear them; they could simply leave again.
Oh yes, and she only had to let them know if they could help in any way.
A nurse still comes by four times a day with an injection. And Lise Jensen tries every hour and half-hour to get some squash down her husband. Every so often she thinks about what it will be like. Soon, well, in a little while, she will be able to arrange matters however she pleases. As quietly as she’s always wanted, simply letting the days pass. Nothing will happen. Although maybe, like when he used to travel a lot, she might want to watch a bit more of whatever else is on TV again, since otherwise it’s mostly football.
Still, day after day, she has to wash his backside. In the morning and again as evening comes. What little there is. What little of him remains. And all the time she keeps a damp cloth on his bedside table. The drought around his slack lips is endless.
His skull has been as good as stripped of his face, and it’s starting to look like that’s what it wants. As though it’s put behind it any attempt to keep the smallest trace of flesh, eager – beyond any disease and in its pure nakedness – to break into the light.
Lise puts her ear to his teeth again and again.
If he still draws breath.
The bell rang at number 7. He puffed over to the door and answered – there in front of him, on the mat beneath the porch roof, stood a woman with a crooked smile. It flattened then, a little. Half-curved again. The expression in her eyes found a corresponding level, in between: well, here I am, but I can be on my way again shortly.
I hope I’m not disturbing you, she said. It didn’t matter. It was past five. He wouldn’t be girding his loins to tackle another sentence now anyway, and she must be keen to come inside and get warm.
A damp, icy fog erased the world a few metres behind her. Only the spruce trees in the neighbour’s garden opposite were hazily visible. Still, he was sure now who she was. Yes, it was definitely her, those curly locks under the hat. He stepped backwards, holding the door. It was the woman with the rear end.
And he helped her out of her coat and edged around behind her – yes, indeed it was her. This was the woman he’d noticed around this time, when, on other days, he’d got tired and straightened up from his keyboard – it was her he’d caught sight of now and again. Watching her stroll, tramp, struggle up the road. While he sat stretching his fingers and rotating his muddled head – yes, it was her hair.
The long-locked medium blonde hair that folded over her shoulders or fluttered in the wind. But her face – no, he didn’t recognise it – in the mornings, when she might be coming down, he wasn’t at his desk in the bay window, or he didn’t even look up from his work. Her face he’d never seen before.
Only her hair and then that arse, of course, he’d come to know well through his window, at the edge of the screen, and once or twice he’d follow them both to the end of the road – until first the bottom and then the top of her slipped below the horizon on the other side of the hill.
Inordinately large it was not. He’d made up his mind about that ages ago; you couldn’t say that. It was more its vertical range that held his attention. As one buttock rose hastily upwards – higher and higher onto her back, so that her coat in this winter cold crinkled there – the other sank heavily, a good handspan, he guessed, beneath the level of her groin, and shifting a fraction outwards; and if, when the weather despite everything took a warmer turn, she wasn’t wearing a dress or a skirt, the left and right trouser leg took turns getting jammed and twisting into her flesh, a moment – just as, much further up, a roll or two of fat in her blouse delineated her waist only fleetingly, yet again and again, as she walked her customarily brisk walk. Yes, it was as though the impression of considerable fullness down over her thighs had no time to settle either side before it was scattered to the opposite corner of the world with a springy boost.
His manifold impressions – there at the edge of the screen, which otherwise constituted his reality – had never been associated, of course, with any thought of touching. And he didn’t wish for a moment to dwell on the fact that such a thought had now crossed his mind, as he stood there hanging her coat on the peg and observing at close quarters the seat of her jeans at weighty and somehow meditative rest.
She hadn’t expected such a striking reception. She went to hold out her hand the moment she turned towards him, and as though her speed had surprised him his own movements faltered – his arms halfway down from the row of pegs, leaning slightly forward, one foot on tiptoes as he stretched upwards. Only his lowered gaze managed to hoist itself above her shoulder, while the rest of him somehow stiffened. It seemed a long time, several seconds, before he wrenched himself out of that position.
Like a hunter, it struck her. As though, standing in a forest, he had glimpsed some especially desirable colour slipping among the trees and wanted to be sure – listening, entirely noiseless himself, for his quarry. If it really was there, and would manifest itself by rustling, by appearing clearly just there – at her throat.
Or was she simply bewildered by herself, that she had let herself be invited this far in, and he was just strangely awkward. His hands not really in something that might look like trembling readiness for battle, as they remained hanging by his hips, but preparing to clutch in resignation at the empty air. And she took the left one in her right.
She squeezed hard with her cold fist. Enough, in any case, to bring him back from any potential hunting ground.
My name is Sigrid, she said.
And you live further up the road, he said.
Sigrid Bisgaard, from number 14, yes. And it’s as your fellow resident, or whatever you’d call it, that I’m here.
Come in! Sit down. Can I get you anything? A cup of tea, or since it’s – he shot a symbolic glance in the direction of a grandfather clock – a glass of wine?
No thank you. She had to keep going. A couple of house numbers, at least. Before she had to get home and cook for her boys. Anyway, she’d only come by to ask if she could persuade him to attend a residents’ meeting.
Tell me about it, he said, bidding her with an obsequious movement of the hand to take a seat in an armchair.
And yes – she would like to sit down. Yet she remained standing by the door, inspecting – nodding, as though out of some kind of politeness – the rest of the furniture.
I know your parents a little, she said. But I’ve never been in here before. It’s absolutely lovely!
Well, I could do with a glass, he said. Hang on a minute. And do sit down!
Maybe he wasn’t even annoyed anymore that she had come. Four or five steps down the basement stairs, he took two or three up again to reach the light switch. After all, it wasn’t like he had to perpetually screen himself, literally, behind his computer, or half asleep in front of the TV. Confronting himself a couple of times a day at most with a flesh-and-blood person, a person who was in fact just him; though by now that was as good as any other – the image in the mirror could do a pretty convincing “who’s-that-guy-over-there” illusion after he’d been living alone for a month.
Still, there had been evenings, or moments as he washed up after his frugal evening meal, when he felt himself on the verge of dropping in on one of the neighbours. One of the old ones. Birgitte next door, of course. Several of them he could remember from his own time. Some he felt sure were still alive. Three or four he’d been able to make out by their post boxes. One or two more couples in their cars.
It never amounted to any more than that. He hurried off in his own car. Or he bolted, walking swiftly down the path to the beach, where of course as he walked along the water’s edge he at least indicated a willingness to greet anyone he met. Not many came by that early in the morning: a lone jogger or dog-walker, perhaps, every second or third day, and it might be one of the ones who’d moved in sometime in the past few years, and he nodded and cleared his throat, as though gearing up for a good morning, showing himself ready to stop, in fact, if it came to that, and exchange remarks.
I’m just here to work, he said to himself out loud in his pantry. The way he’d probably say it if he was asked down there one morning. As though apologising at the same time for his unsociability. Appealing to their understanding of what the wheel demands nowadays of its hamster.
A small brief smile, and now he was searching for a bottle that couldn’t, surely, have turned to vinegar quite just yet. Even though most of the ones on the shelves could do with a bit of dusting. Scraping, would probably be more accurate; they must have been left over from his father’s fiftieth. He’d be better off breaking open one of the boxes from the reception when he turned sixty. Or maybe even from when he sold the firm. He’d not been able to go. Not able to handle it. And he’d had no idea about the number of gifts. There was a stack of crates containing whiskey down here too. And cognac and what-not; he’d probably have to nip into the workshop and find something, a strong screwdriver maybe.
But the woman, Sigrid. Why did he want to drink wine with her? he wondered on his way up, and he’d been narrowing in on the question even as he struggled with the still-pale panels of a wine crate. As he cut the lead capsule off a bottle. As he drew the cork. As it went pop – he had to go all the way back upstairs before he could make up his mind to reject the question: there wasn’t any reason. He was offering her this expensive wine for nothing.
In any case, he certainly didn’t want to make her – and above all himself – think he was interested in a closer acquaintance. He was purely taking the opportunity to act like a friendly neighbour for once. But even then, was he really obliged to be offering her wine? It still begged the question. Maybe because she’d mentioned her boys? That she had them, and was single. If she was. If that’s what she had wanted to make him aware of. Like a public service announcement about her marital status. And she really did have a very nice smile.
A pair of clear eyes. Warm. Intelligent. He’d leave it at that for now. Because if they had been in town – who knows. Here – while he was staying at home near the fjord – he didn’t want to get mixed up in anything out here.
Oddly enough, she was perched in his armchair just as he would have preferred: quite far forward, at a slight angle, her back a fraction stooped. Making no attempt to settle in for more than a moment.
We heard you were their son, she said, all the same. The Jakobsens’. It was them, wasn’t it, or your father who had Q8? Down on the corner by the station – next to Lidl?
He took glasses from the cabinet. He poured. She was right. But there had been a bigger workshop too. Where Lidl is now.
Yes, he was a mechanic, my dad. And then he became a Citroën dealer. Now they spend most of their time in Spain. Maybe you heard that too?
Right, and Henry and Bitten, those are their names, aren’t they? They’re obviously very – what would you call it. Well liked. People say they were always the ones who fixed up the street parties. We don’t do those any more. And what about you?
I’m just here to work, he said. Thinking he ought to try it out in the real world. And thinking, then, that it sounded awkward. She must be laughing on the inside. Probably why she fixed such an earnestly interested pair of eyes on his.
You’re a writer, aren’t you? Or, sorry – I might have just imagined that. Or did I hear wrong?
At that he raises his glass and tells her. He studied Danish at university, becoming especially interested in grammar. Then, through that, in other languages as well. And he ended up working as an interpreter for a while, and then – long story short, the computer – he got the coding bug. He started working with language technology. That’s what he does. It’s his job. In Brussels. Where he normally lives and works, with machine translation and stuff like that. Robot journalism and so on. At an office whose biggest client is the EU, and he’s now working on a project to do with prepositions. Domesticating prepositions, you might say. Yeah, a kind of reining-in, well, or mooring, in a sense – he hopes to get it done this summer. That’s why he’s here. He needed a couple of months without any disruptions. Needed to get cracking with those little guys. To say nothing of certain adverbs.
So no, he supposes, you can’t properly say he’s an author. Well, occasionally something along those lines, perhaps. Successful code can be a bit like poetry. The way it hangs together, with absolute necessity. And definitively explains itself.
Nah, all that’s just bragging, of course; he gives a faintly apologetic laugh. As though he’s seen suspicion in her eyes. No, if he could actually write code that was even able to just translate a poem – shit, well then he probably wouldn’t be sitting here.
And if she really wants the truth, then he isn’t writing much original code any more. He adjusts. He corrects. Picks up and weaves loose ends. And they keep on being very long, and they intertwine and tangle.
It’s endless. Language is a jungle.
She listened. And she watched his mouth and brows. The small jerky openings and contractions across his whole face: a certain eagerness to present himself, as though here and now he was meant to sell what he was and could do. Yet just as obvious, in the snapping energy of his voice, was a contrary movement: a desire or a compulsive urge to immediately shut back up.
But he couldn’t bring himself to. One moment he might have been hearing himself for far too long, and in the next be compelled to babble on, if she was going to make sense of any of it. And she wondered, at the last moment, whether he was the only one sprinkling gravel into his linguistic machinery, or if it rather had something to do with her. Some involuntary expression of waning interest?
That sounds amazing, she said. And he raised his glass again.
You said something about a residents’ meeting?
Yes, of course! I won’t keep you. Cheers, and thank you!
I’ve got plenty of time. And I’m sure I’ll come if I can. If I’m around.
She tells him how the sea wreaks havoc at the very end of the fjord. How the cliff is in danger. How the stormy breakers gnaw deeper and deeper into the naked clay slope, having taken a sizable bite out of it not long ago. Especially up by her end. More than her old neighbour could remember. Jens Kristian Jensen. Right around eighteen months ago it had happened. There had been a record storm.
That had been a warning, and when would the next one come? It wasn’t a question any more of “if”. It was happening more and more frequently now. And she talks about climate change, global warming. She mentions the Anthropocene.
Human beings are creating the weather now. We create our whole world. Storm floods, at least. Anyway, over a year ago now she’d called a meeting, where they’d taken stock of the damage. Unfortunate as the circumstances were, of course, there were hopes it might breathe new life into the community his parents had upheld with their street parties. A committee had been set up. She mentions its members, the numbers where they live.
Camilla Thomassen next door here. And Morten Skovby, down in number 2. Yep, that made three, including herself, oh, plus someone else from this side of the road. Sadly it was starting to fall apart a bit, the committee. It’s not easy, sorting out some protection for the coastline, even just obtaining permission. Now she wants to get things going again.
Despite everything, she sent in all the applications to the state and the council, that was done ages ago, all the relevant authorities and administrations. And she reapplied, and reapplied again, and just over a week ago she received the latest and final rejection. It contained more or less the same routine justifications as all the previous ones. She won’t bore him with the details. But that’s why she wants to get started again. And she’s hoping to present the whole issue at a new residents’ meeting.
She understands, of course, that there’s no way he can have kept up to date with their little problems out here. But now that he’s started – this is her impression, anyway – to stay here for longer periods at a stretch?
She really hopes he will come to the meeting. She’s sure his participation, especially, will be very valuable.
Then he’d gone into the dining room, where he’d set up to work, because without his phone he couldn’t say which days he could do, and she thought it would take two or three weeks before the meeting would be held – simply to find a free date in as many people’s diaries as possible. Anyway, it would be best if they all had some time to figure out what they wanted and didn’t want, and if so how much they might want, and in what way.
Sure, he’d nodded as he got to his feet. One could only hope. He’d already understood that there was no chance of public funds, and that the local residents would have to dip into their pockets. And he’d also noticed, of course, when he was here and taking his long walks down the beach, how far it had cut into the landscape, and the idea of coastal protection had crossed his mind too, and here and there he’d caught snatches of the discussion about it. Enough, in any case, that she didn’t need to explain much further; he knew people were getting rebuffed by the council left right and centre. Not just when you asked them to carry out the work first time round, but even afterwards, when you were only begging for tiny sums. You had to pay yourself.
If, that is, you got permission to do anything at all. For once one stretch of coastline was protected – so went the standard argument – the other areas were even worse off than before. And that, without doubt, was indisputable.
And if they did get permission here – he scrolled slowly over the coming days and weeks on his phone – then they’d be looking at limited intervention at best. No gigantic rocks or blocks of concrete, nothing like that, and breakwaters were out of the question. Extra sand, lots of it would be needed, and every year, and that would be pricey. Although they might be allowed to reinforce the foot of the cliff with something – he thought he’d heard something about coconut matting.
His calendar was completely empty, obviously. Just as empty as he’d cleared it – he had absolutely nowhere to go in the coming weeks. He was going to be sitting here. A reflex it had been, checking, or because he’d needed a break, and he put the phone down then picked it back up, following yet another meaningless but insistent impulse, and brought it back to her, picturing the happy smile all over her face.
She was bound to be delighted, getting him on board like this straight away. It was really only the neighbours across the road – for the first ten or twenty years, anyway – who had especially pressing reasons, property-related reasons, to fork out much cash.
And she smiled. And by now she had finished her wine, and he reached for the bottle to pour another, narrowly avoiding spattering the fingers she hurriedly held over the glass. As though he were planning to get her drunk.
Thanks, she said. I’ve got to drop in on at least one more of your neighbours. Any minute now the boys will be sitting there with their jaws wide open, waiting for spaghetti bolognaise.
He wasn’t sure then if he should sit down. If she was getting up again in a moment. He asked how old they were, her boys. And sat down, because at that – answering: sixteen and thirteen – she slid her rear end, not especially sensational in the chair, a few centimetres back.
Maybe I could lend a hand, he said. Going round. And getting people to come. I still know a few of them on the street.
You don’t need to do that. But thank you very much. You know, sure, that might be good. If I’m having trouble.
I can imagine it might very easily come to that. If not all of them have stopped caring about their savings in their old age. I mean, I suppose they’re looking at forty or fifty thousand straight off the bat, aren’t they?
Maybe you could tell me something about them? Where you think will be most difficult. The ones I know best are the people who moved out here roughly the same time as we did, or afterwards.
I’d be happy to tell you everything, he said, reaching once more for the bottle: Are you sure? And she got to her feet with a very determined mouth, and he poured himself a sip: Maybe in return you could tell me something about the more recent arrivals?
It’s a deal, she said. Come and have dinner with us one evening! Tomorrow, no, why don’t we say Friday? Or on Saturday – that’ll just give me time to think about – anyway, is there anything you don’t like?
He couldn’t think of anything. And he’d love to bring a bottle or two.
She decided to put her coat on by herself. It was quicker that way, she really did have to be off. She’d felt it on her way out into the hall; he couldn’t think of anything else to say, and she couldn’t either. As soon as he’d ground to a halt it was like she had to think of something at any cost, but what on earth could it be that wouldn’t launch them into something completely different, something that would be way too much or simply stupid?
She decided to give him a hug. There was no form of verbal farewell she could feel sure of. That wouldn’t be too impersonal or too much of herself. Whatever that might be.
Luckily he responded to her arms with a reasonably solid grip. Friendly, you could safely call it. If she chose to interpret his mouth on the underside of her jaw as accidentally misplaced. Maybe because she’d ended up craning her neck.
She smiled, in any case, in the doorway, as though in heartfelt gratitude for anything that might have occurred during her visit.
And the prepositions are swinging like merry monkeys through the vines, he says to himself. For now that Sigrid Bisgaard has gone he’s sat down to work after all. One of the rare emails from the office has come in, with everyone saying hello and sending words of encouragement and best wishes for good luck. Especially when it comes to staying celibate. He thanks them for their touching – albeit not strictly necessary – concern.
Now he just has to work. For an hour, anyway; no, it will have to be longer, it’s necessary now. He has to discipline himself. The extent of the disruption in his head and its emanations throughout his body are forcing him. He has to collect himself. Collect his prepositions, but above all pull himself together. No more sitting here wondering what have I got myself into, which he started doing the moment she was out of the door. Which he continued doing while he stood at his desk and watched her unusually elegant walk up the road.
He was going round to dinner at hers. And that was that. Tonight he just had to keep on working till he dropped.
They hadn’t been lying in her bed for much more than a couple of hours before they’d started telling each other everything. About their former marriages at least, their marriages/divorces, and it was Sigrid who kicked things off. Martin, his name had been.
His name was Martin, and she hadn’t got over it. She’d thought she had, but now as soon as she started talking about it she got angry again. It took her by surprise; it wasn’t like she thought about it every day. She hadn’t done for ages.
She’d been thinking for years now that it was done and dusted. And it was. Things were going pretty well. He was getting easier to deal with, in a way, and that was why she was getting so angry again now. That he was capable of acting decently. That he could do it, and hadn’t while they were married. He could never be counted on, Martin. You could never arrange anything with him, because there was always, and always at the last moment, something else he had to do. But of course, that was his job: he had to travel a lot, he just never let her know. He didn’t give a shit about her, and that was how she’d felt. Worn out and soiled, with her own job, with her studies, with the boys. They’d had them when she was very young, and suddenly she was always alone with them, never knowing if he was there or be away how long. She’d got so tired. She’d felt like she was being taken for a ride, because there were other things besides being a housewife that were really important to her. She’d reached the end of her tether. And it was mainly that – feeling let down, feeling exhausted – because she didn’t think she could remember ever being so angry with him, not like now. Like now; or like yesterday, come to think of it, when he’d called and said he couldn’t meet her after all. When he’d actually apologised to her, even. It got to her so much. That he was capable of saying it. Made her so angry and sad that he knew how he ought to behave. Even though maybe he was just being polite, giving these apologies now, and anyway she didn’t care how much he might have been unfaithful, and maybe he hadn’t been at all, she had no idea, and frankly she’d been no angel herself, and it was because she’d felt so certain he didn’t give a toss about her, so she’d just wanted revenge, just to be on the safe side, really, and so she’d found someone to look after the boys and gone into town, maybe a couple of times. Not much more than that, and it wasn’t worth talking about, and now, things were working out now in spite of everything. The boys were thriving. They were doing great. Both of them. Of course they wanted to see more of their dad from time to time, but on the other hand, when had they ever? They’d never seen all that much of him, and the thing that bothered her far worse was that when they came back from seeing him, there was sometimes an air of scepticism about them. At times she was almost afraid that he had somehow been slandering her to them behind her back. That he still hadn’t got over his hatred of her. He hadn’t wanted to get divorced, Martin. Not that it lasted very long, the odd slight misgiving she sensed in the boys and saw in them when he brought them back, their way of looking at her; they were soon themselves again, and the worst thing really was when they tried to hide from her that their father obviously meant something to them too, meant a lot. When they thought they had to say they were fine just being with her, it really was like a knife being stabbed through her heart, and to be honest she deserved it. She hadn’t been all that great herself, she really hadn’t; she hadn’t been as she ought to be. As she’d wanted to be. She’d played a part in, well, no, not in ruining their childhoods – no, but in causing them so much pain. She had, all that deep hurt was her fault, so now of course there was no point acting angry again, because that was probably what had come over her here, in this moment. In this moment, tonight, getting worked up about their father this way. As though she could free herself, at long last. Free herself of all guilt, in this moment with him – with you, Jeppe.
She was speaking plainly. He was in no doubt about that. He’d not doubted it for a second as he lay beside her, listening. She genuinely meant to tell him everything the way it was. The way she honestly and sincerely thought it added up, and he felt duty-bound to do the same. To sweep nothing under the rug, no more than she did, and whatever popped into his head he was ready expose – only, it was hard to think of anything.
Something worth bringing up. There wasn’t much to say about his own marriage. Apart from that her name had been Heidi – and that not long after the wedding he’d started to think about getting a divorce. A year had passed before they got it done. Before it could be done. And she had wanted to go along with it. After all, it wasn’t as though they’d had problems living together. There wasn’t really anything the matter. They just didn’t have anything whatsoever to say to one another. He hadn’t thought they did. And he’d realised that, and had been able to verbalise it to himself, more or less, at any rate, even before they got married. But by then both sets of parents were already busy with the arrangements.
He couldn’t wring much more out of it than that. It was so banal. And he needed to be close to Sigrid and her warmth again. To take her body in his hands, her skin against his mouth, and he rolled over towards her and put an arm over her breasts and shoulders.
Jeppe, she almost sighed – and now it sounded very different to the name she’d whispered to him a minute ago. Moving his arm away, she sat up in bed and pulled a corner of the duvet up to her chin.
Maybe we should leave it here, she said. And just be friends, I hope. And still keep working together the way we have.
He was about to ask her if it hadn’t been good for her. Or if she didn’t think they’d had a lovely evening together. Before he could get it out, he managed to understand her, he thought. Enough to keep his mouth shut – well, if she was disappointed with him, he could understand that. Disappointed that once again he’d shared so little of himself. No matter how much he’d tried.
Probably she’d not sensed that. That he wanted so much to open up, that he’d tried as hard as he could. But that he simply didn’t have very much to tell, because he’d not wanted to make more of his meagre little confession than it was. In that sense, maybe, being as honest as she was. He repeated it to himself: he’d been completely honest, in his way; and he really felt he owed her that.
It was fine, she said – evidently it wasn’t difficult to work out what he’d avoided asking. But don’t you think it would be stupid of us now to – well, you know, to begin a relationship? We’re so different, Jeppe, after all. It’ll just end up going horribly wrong, so it’s better just to – just to stop while the going’s good!
It was meant to be funny, that last bit. She wanted him to answer her smile, but he couldn’t. It went against everything inside him, and he got out of bed and found his underwear at the end of it. The one thing he wanted to do more than anything else was to leave immediately. Not to end it. That was a far cry from how he felt. But he had to go, because right now it was obvious they weren’t going to get anywhere. Tomorrow they could. He would come back tomorrow. Then everything could start again from the beginning. For real.
But she was looking at him as, tentatively, he darted her an affectionate glance, still fumbling with the buttons on his shirt – looking at him as though he was nothing more than the crumpled shirt, an entirely incidental cloth. And as though she’d also figured out that he was imagining this could continue, and as though he still wanted to imagine that he’d tried at least to open up, and that it was therefore necessary to talk to him in a way that could not be misunderstood.
I can’t get a sense of who you are, she said. It’s like you’ve turned into the thing you’re working on down there. A machine, isn’t it, that can talk. A machine that’s programmed to. That’s how I hear it, Jeppe, when you talk to me. You sound like a machine.