A short story from Dockskåpet (‘The doll’s house’). Introduction and translation by W. Glyn Jones
What I am about to write might perhaps seem exaggerated, but the most important element in what I have to tell is really my overriding desire for accuracy and attention to detail. In actual fact, I am not telling a story, I am writing an account. I am known for my accuracy and precision. And what I am trying to say is intended for myself: I want to get certain things into perspective.
It is hard to write; I don’t know where to begin. Perhaps a few facts first. Well, I am a specialist in technical drawings and have been employed by Finnish Railways all my life. I am a meticulous and able draughtsman; in addition to that I have for many years worked as a secretary; I shall return to this later. To a very great extent my story is concerned with locomotives; I am consciously using this slightly antiquated word locomotive instead of loco, for I have a penchant for beautiful and perhaps somewhat antediluvian words. Of course, I often draw detailed sketches of this particular kind of engine as part of my everyday work, and when I am so engaged I feel no more than a quiet pride in my work, but in the evenings when I have gone home to my flat I draw engines in motion and in particular the locomotive. It is a game, a hobby, which must not be associated with ambition. During recent years I have drawn and coloured a whole series of plates, and I think that I might be able to produce a book of them some time. But I am not ready yet, not by a long way. When I retire I shall devote all my time to the locomotive, or rather to the idea of the locomotive. At the moment I am forced to write, every day; I must be explicit. The pictures are not sufficient.
Long ago I used to make my way to school via the railway station. I had a long way to go, and as far as I remember it was always terribly cold, but I went as slowly as I could because that walk was the best part of the day, the time when things were at their most real. I used to tell myself stories. And when I arrived at the railway station it was warm there, and so I used to finish off a chapter; that is to say I saved up a climax, a moment of intolerable excitement, right until the few moments when was waiting at the entrance to the platform and saw the locomotives before me. Then I let it happen.
They were enormous, coal black with brass decorations, green and red. Sometimes they would come in shrieking in a billowing plume of smoke, or they might pull gently away from the platform, get up steam and increase their speed, with their pistons going like mighty muscles. It was a splendid sight. Or they might simply stand breathing out their white breath in the cold winter air, gasping with exhaustion and satisfaction after their long journey. They were possessed of wondrous strength, but they were tired. Nowadays they have no fire inside them.
Of course, I must point out, of course I could have taken the tram to school, and my clothes were warm and well sewn. I was not badly treated, either at school or at home. But when I try to remember I can think of no other reality than the long walks on which I told myself stories and the enormous tension which reached its climax at the railway station. Sometimes I was the engine driver, driving thousands of helpless people through the night; I increased my speed, I stoked up like a madman and made the locomotive shriek here I am! And the passengers became more and more nervous, they staggered down to the conductor through the violently lurching coaches and shouted “What’s wrong? What’s happened?” And the conductor, very pale, answered, “God preserve us, the engine’s out of control, something’s happened to the brakes … ” Sometimes I was the captain of a ship and made the steamer strike a reef or an iceberg; everything and everyone on board trembled in terror for one single, fearful second, and with a dreadful rasping noise like metal being torn apart the vessel went on its journey, but for how long? Only I knew that. I was the imperator and had the power of life and death. I closed schools, I forbade the entire population to beget children. It was a splendid game, a game for the mornings and for when I was walking home. Everything else passed with passing time, I have no clear memories. But my games gradually became more and more sophisticated and at the same time simpler. No one knew who I was, that was extremely important. They never had any idea who was walking among them and doing the same things as they in the same way and at the same times. How strong I must have been! Now I will write no more today.
Later. I have a very fine flat with a living room, bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and work room. In my work room I have had some useful shelves built in for my colour plates, but it is not a studio by any means, that must be emphasised from the start. It is more like a library for technical literature. The word studio automatically gives the impression of something picturesquely untidy and romantic. Nothing is more alien to me. But a work room is simply a room in which you work, a place for your tools. I have never shown anyone my colour plates of the locomotive.
I eat out but make tea for myself in the mornings and evenings. It is very quiet in my flat. Occasionally, while I am having my tea in the evenings I have a strange feeling of not existing, almost as though I never had existed. It is one of the details for which I might be able to find an explanation by writing. I must write every day and all the time be meticulously exact. That results from my profession, incidentally. I have been accused of being impersonal, of never showing my real face. It has happened more than once, actually. And why should people see my real face? I don’t know what they expect of me; in any case they have no right to.
Later. Perhaps I ought to make use of the third person singular instead. ‘He’ is more factual than ‘I’. Or so it seems to me. So, he had never shown anyone his own pictures of the locomotive. As a result of his work as a secretary and draughtsman at Finnish Railways (now I am repeating myself, but it is on purpose), and of attending meetings, delivering drawings, partaking in lunches etc., he came into contact with quite a lot of people, often folk who knew how to talk and had plenty of time. He quickly noticed that in contrast to himself they were not afraid of revealing their true selves either, and as time went on he discovered that their openness could be used. Later, when he got home to his flat and continued with the work which he called his own, the pictures of the locomotive, it was easier to portray strength, movement, the independence of the engine.
At home, of course, he never had any visitors; the flat was his and his alone.
At first he would listen, very carefully. Later he learned to ask the right questions, to induce those speaking to talk of what was the most important thing in the world to them. In general it wasn’t difficult, especially after a lunch or a reception given by some company. He waited patiently. He put his questions and quite soon discovered what they were really interested in, what they hoped for or were afraid of. With infinite care he led them on. It was a sort of game, or shall we say a hobby. And excellent material to work on. The moment they revealed their real selves he used to call the idea of the locomotive. As they approached the moment of revelation he would carefully observe their expressions and gestures, their intonation and their pauses; far more than words this gave him a sense of restrained power, and that was just what he needed for his work. The innate, restrained power of the engine. Moreover, he had always considered faces and especially hands to be painfully naked. Something else which even more unconsciously betrays people is the way in which they hold their bodies, in particular their backs and necks. I once looked in a double mirror, deliberately fixed outside a shop, and saw myself in half profile, from the back. It was extremely unpleasant. I am wandering from the point. Wait.
So he made use of their intensity of feeling wherever it happened to be concentrated, sometimes in the most ridiculous hopes and inclinations; he recharged himself and went home and could often work for many hours as a result of his perception of the perfect engine. He loved engines, their strength, their perfection, their independence and indifference. While human beings talked on until they revealed their manias or, let us say, their driving force, he carefully avoided being drawn into any kind of relationship at all. He approached them, though evasively, and he never tried to get into conversation with women. As time went on there were some people who avoided him, but they had already been used. Now I am tired. I will resume later.
There were the dangerous ones, and the unapproachable ones, but there were also those who were confused, innocent, those who were manic and those who were kind because of their very helplessness. In general, what an enormous amount of power is lost! Of course, categories are always over-simplifications; as far as people are concerned, they are as easy to distinguish as for instance the few recurrent nightmares which disturb their sleep (I shall come back to dreams later, in particular the one about the locomotive. Am I going into too much detail? There’s a lot here that ought to be left out).
Another day. Sometimes I become terribly tired in the evenings. I put down my work because I can’t draw the perfect engine and at the same time make it move, rush, dash, throw itself forward, and my head feels like a lump of iron, weighing down on one side, but most tired of all are my hands, which feel as heavy as a whole world at the side of me and sink further and further down.
I don’t like shaking people’s hands. And the expression ‘to give someone a hand’ is one I find unpleasant as well. Why should I
Now I’ve lost the thread.
While listening he sometimes imagined that these people were about to embark on a journey, always by train. They begin by talking about trifling matters, tiny little things, just as you do before the train leaves, absent-mindedly and hurriedly. But the moment the train starts to move they come out with what is important to them, the dangerous things, the hopeless things, as in the postscript to an impeccably cautious letter.
And they disappeared; he let them disappear and withdrew from them, walked away in safety on the platform which was quickly sliding away from them, and went home to work.
What restrained power is liberated in a release of steam. How glorious you are, the locomotive of my youth, with your prolonged whistle expressing the expectation and fear inherent in all things rising straight up to the soot-covered domes of all the world’s railway stations! Your pistons begin to move and majestically you, the locomotive, leave behind everything that can be left behind, pulling your coaches away from the dismal platform dotted with all those people who have said too much or failed to say anything!
It is you I am trying to portray!
I shall have to change all this, it is too personal. Watch it.
Remove it or explain why. But I don’t know why.
A locomotive pulling all the uneasiness of the world back and forth over the continents must get rather tired.
Note: I have always been extremely reticent with women. You can’t rely on them.
Sometimes he might play with the idea of making friends with one of those journeying. To Journey, a lovely slightly old-fashioned word. He thought of making friends, on the surface and without obligation, with someone embarked on a long journey. It could be a pure and unhindered launch into a sense of devotion, a longing, which need never be tainted and never too demanding. The click of the wheels over the joints in the rails sounds like heartbeats, a rhythmical pulsation in the diaphragm and the stomach, receding into the distance, at last a mere vibration: the tracks are empty and clear, and then there is silence and a sense of liberation.
He had never been in a train, he didn’t want to.
The experience can never be the same as the anticipation. So he believed.
Railway station is also a beautiful, solemn expression. Even now he was middle-aged he often went past the station and stayed for a while. But at night – and this is where we come to the recurrent dreams – at night he dreamt of real locomotives. He was in a hurry, a terrible hurry; the train was due out and he hadn’t packed, he couldn’t find his passport and didn’t know where he was going, but it was important, fearfully important and he rushed between the tracks and had forgotten which train he was to take and when it went and from which platform … It was too late, everything was too late. The only person who had ever noticed his existence was to leave never to come back again, the only person whom he hadn’t despised and who couldn’t be referred to a single category. Now the locomotive whistled; again it shrieked and he ran and jumped between the tracks, and with a great metallic rumble the locomotive came closer and closer and drowned and overwhelmed him in its infinite independence and indifference, he caught hold of an iron rung, anything he could hang on to, and the air whirling around him was hot, fearfully hot …
I know other people also dream about trains, but not as I do, not in the least. They are simply afraid of missing them, it is as straightforward as that. They don’t suffer as I do.
I will try to explain my pictures. I bring all powerful colours together in the locomotive, deep Prussian blue, coal black and in the blackness glimpses of red and white fire, the eyes of the engine, wide open and magnificent, but with no trace of menace, completely indifferent to everything that might get in its way and to everything winding along on the same track, those anonymous coaches which are constantly being emptied and filled afresh, they are of no consequence. They are like women.
Now I’ve read through what I’ve written. I wonder whether it makes things clear enough or perhaps even too clear. I have been accused of paying far too much attention to detail, but it is for that very reason I am such a good secretary. A long life has taught me to note and appreciate precise detail, I very seldom make a mistake. Now I’ll try to go on.
His plates depicting the locomotive were done in water colours, Indian ink and that transparent ink used for colouring photographs which is as bright as Bengal lights. Of course he was aware he was not the only person to be interested in the idea of the locomotive. Turner, the painter, has quite convincingly depicted the breathtaking speed and power, but it’s as though he hides the face of the locomotive in steam and smoke: we know but we do not see. His painting of the speeding train depresses me. He only portrays himself, not the locomotive.
I will wait until tomorrow, I won’t go on just now.
It was a Sunday. He got up very late and sat at his work table. He didn’t like easels because his hands and arms felt so heavy and they needed the support afforded by the table. If you happen to rest your head on your arms for a moment it is of as little consequence as the fleeting half-dreams which punctuate a sleepless night. He spoiled an important surface which could not be repaired either with water or poster paint or a razor blade. He sat and looked at his drawing for a long time, and then he put on his overcoat and went down to the railway station. It still happened that he went down there when he felt upset. There were several trains in, but he ignored them and went to the restaurant and ordered a beer. There was someone at every table, strangers to each other were sitting together either trying to look past whoever was sitting opposite or peering down at their plates. They were eating hurriedly and had put their parcels and bags close to them under the table legs. There was no room to move, and the smell of food was stronger than usual.
He drank his beer and despised them; at that moment he despised everything and he had a pain in the small of his back. That is where it hurts when you come to the end of your tether. Opposite him there was a thin woman in a black coat; she had been eating cabbage and sausages and now she took out her cigarettes and began searching her handbag for matches.
“Excuse me,” she said. “But you don’t happen to have a match on you?” He pushed the box across to her and decided to go. She remarked, “You’ve got some paint on your face.” The tone of her voice was quite matter of-fact, as though she had said, “Your attaché case is open,” or “You have a wasp on your jacket.” And she immediately looked away again without smiling. Her discretion was unusual in a woman and in order to show his appreciation he politely asked where she was travelling to. She replied, “Nowhere. I don’t like travelling.” And a few moments later, as though she had found her reply unnecessarily brusque, she added, “I come here occasionally to watch the trains.”
That caught his attention, and he became as alert as a hunter. He asked why she was interested in trains, in what way, and had she really never travelled. No, she simply liked watching trains.
Before this, while he was trying to get closer to people’s innermost ideas, he had never bothered with women. It’s possible, indeed probable, that they could have given him even more useful material, but an unfailing instinct warned him off. They can make great demands on confidentiality, it’s best to avoid them. Now he looked at the woman who came to the railway station purely and simply to see the trains come and go, and he wondered whether it was possible, whether at last he had found someone he could talk to and who would understand him. He asked earnestly, “You’re fascinated by the locomotive, aren’t you?” She shrugged her shoulders and replied, “I’m not quite sure. Trains, that’s all. Trains.” She was quite an ordinary woman, perhaps a little over forty. Only her idea distinguished her from other people, except perhaps her broad eyebrows. Now she stubbed her cigarette and got up to go. With a brief nod in his direction she made her way between the chairs occupied by people eating and proceeded into the waiting room, a strikingly tall and angular person who almost made you think of a crow.
After this he thought of her for a long time. Never before had he met anyone who was obsessed with the idea of the train, only people whose work was connected with the railways, or who had insisted on talking of their journeys. In the case of this woman it was obviously not a question of the locomotive but rather of the coaches, a naturally female stand: to follow, to accept, to be swept along, so to speak. And an important detail: she had never been interested in travelling. She was not filled with the usual urge to visit warmer and more beautiful places or for an easier or more exciting life; no, she loved the train as such, as a phenomenon. Did she see the beauty of a train? Or did she have any sense of the freedom from responsibility resulting from a train journey? To embark on a journey, to travel away, far away … And while you are carried further away on your journey everything behind you is irrevocable, definitive, and what you are approaching has not yet made its demands. You are a traveller, and for a brief space you are free.
It struck him as extremely important to talk to her. He went back to the railway station almost every day, but she wasn’t there. He tried to remember what she looked like, but the only thing he could remember was the broad eyebrows and that she was tall and dark and thin. The winter dragged on, as cold as ever. He worked on at his colour plates in the evenings and considered including glimpses of people in the carriage windows, but the result wasn’t satisfactory, and he rubbed them out again. He met people but no longer tried to get them to talk about themselves, and he passed the railway station at less and less frequent intervals. But his thoughts centred constantly on the woman who liked trains. She became a game. He endowed her with qualities, characteristics, experiences, a job, even a childhood; he made her strong, brave and mysterious. It was the first time in his conscious life he had been interested in another human being.
One evening he could work no longer; he had arrived at a very dangerous stage. What had to be added was so important, so delicate, that he had to wait. I have never been able to make up my mind whether these last all-important lines or brush strokes should be done with conscious effort or whether perhaps it would not be better if they resulted from a powerful momentary impulse, I don’t know. You can destroy so much or you can win untold qualities-but there is nothing of the gambler in me. My principle has always been to go carefully. I search all the time, and time passes; soon I shall have no more time. Strange, isn’t it, that it should be just the locomotive which was to become the motive (haha) for this particular artist.
Wait a little.
He went out, to the railway station. And there he saw her standing on the platform. She was taller than anyone else waiting there, but what most distinguished her from the crowd was her shoulders and the way in which she held her head, an immobility which showed that she was not there to meet anyone, she was only waiting for the train. It came in, slowed down and stopped; the platform was filled with people hurrying towards each other and past each other, but she didn’t move. When it was almost empty around her she turned to go back. Then he went up to her and asked whether she recognised him. She nodded. Her face was quite pointed; for a moment he was confused because she didn’t look like the picture he had formed of her. Only the eyebrows were as they should be, very broad and dark; beneath them her eyes seemed strangely uncertain. She looked away.
“You needn’t worry,” he said. “I only want to talk to you, talk about trains, about travelling …”
“I’ve never travelled,” she replied. Then he tried to explain: “That is why I must talk to you, I never travel either, but I’m fascinated by trains just like you …” She began to move towards the waiting room, she didn’t understand. It was a ridiculous situation, she had long legs and walked very quickly, he was almost forced to trot along.
“Only a moment,” he begged. “You don’t want any coffee, do you? No. But we can sit in the waiting room if you’ve got time. Surely you must have a few minutes?”
They sat down on a bench and she lit a cigarette. Of course he had imagined an easyflowing conversation comparing their views on the symbolism of travel and of the train, certainly nothing personal, but her compact silence, the feeling that at any time she might get up and go made him unsure of himself.
For the first time in his life he was incautious and gave himself away. He told her of his colour plates, of his dream of one day finishing them and publishing them in book form. He told her what trains had meant to him when he was a boy… Now and then he was silent and waited, but the woman beside him said nothing and went on smoking. And finally, driven on by her silence, he humiliated himself by talking of his terrifying dreams of trains when he always came too late, he spoke more and more quickly and couldn’t stop. From time to time people passed quite close to them with their bags, the loudspeakers announced departures and arrivals, he raised his voice and tried to force her eyes to meet his, and finally he took her hand and shouted, “Do you understand? Do you understand what I mean? This is deadly earnest to me, it’s important. Don’t think I’m a maniac, if you saw my drawings you’d realise that I really know what I’m talking about and that I’m perfectly well balanced. In fact, I’m almost a pedant!”
“I understand,” the woman replied seriously. “I understand what you mean.” She seemed to be searching for words, in the same haphazard way as she was constantly rummaging around in her handbag, and finally she repeated her words, “I understand.”
He was very tired. They went into the restaurant.
Now, afterwards, it seems incredible that I had no idea what was going on. When a woman says she understands it simply means that she is getting away with the least possible exertion. She, this particular woman, couldn’t find the words because she had nothing to say. But over a long period of time I had formed my impression of her character and ascribed certain qualities to her, and in her silence I saw only a quiet strength, an independence which prevented anyone from approaching too close. It’s incredible.
She’s coming tomorrow. So I shan’t be able to work, I shall only be conscious that she is present in the flat. But before she comes a lot of things must be attended to, I must go through what I’ve written and check it, but not just now.
Watch out for repetitions.
He had engaged her as his housekeeper, she was to come three times a week to prepare his food, do the cleaning and so on. The woman was called Anna, let us simply call her Anna (a name as colourless as milk). Why did he do it? It’s incredible. Why did he let her in? Was it because she, this woman Anna, was the only person who knew about him, she became important to him and couldn’t be allowed out of his sight? Was that the reason? The first time she came she was wearing a white apron under her coat and was carrying a box which obviously contained what she needed for her housework. She was very correct and made straight for the kitchen. But as Anna – I must try to use her name, although I prefer to think of her as the woman – as Anna had now become the person closest to me personally I suggested that she should look around the flat. She went with me through the rooms, and while she was seriously and carefully looking at the things I am used to having around me, for the first time I saw my rooms through her eyes, and they struck me as being strangely empty. She said nothing. How can I know the reason for her silence? She was intangible, distant, impossible to reach. Of course, that is why I was able for so long to believe in her hidden strength, the strength which my dream had ascribed to her.
We went into my work room. Naturally I had put my colour plates of the locomotive out of the way, and only a few drawings of engines were out on the table. She looked at them and then at me, a kind of hidden look of understanding, and she smiled; for the first time she smiled, but it was a frightening, intimate smile. She hadn’t forgotten. No, she hadn’t forgotten what I had revealed of myself. And she thought these drawings of engines were my pictures of the locomotive! That is when I ought to have dismissed her, but I didn’t. She continued to come, and she did the cleaning and prepared my food, and all the time I was afraid of her sudden silent smile and that quick look of understanding. Not a smile of having something in common or sharing an important secret, but rather of sharing a sense of shame, a shameful act which she could excuse but never take seriously.
Perhaps throughout my life I have needed someone who is very strong and can tell me what to do.
It was not she.
She was not even a passenger.
Now I’m very tired. I’ll wait.
So she smiled and went out into the kitchen.
She comes every third day. I count the days according to her, the woman Anna. She possesses everything I have ever allowed to pass the barrier of my reticence, my dignity, my secret feeling of independence and indifference.
Just a moment. I’m writing too quickly, I’ve lost the thread again.
Well, he tried to put her in her place, but she always escaped him, and sometimes as she passed him she would give him that peculiar smile, that shamefully conspiratorial smile. But she looked away again, and she never acknowledged the smile to be hers.
I had believed that at last I had found someone who journeyed, someone who travelled in her thoughts, in her dreams, in her room, far more than those people who are for ever going from one end of the world to the other. I thought that she could have understood those great catastrophes of mine which never harmed anyone but forced me on their attention and made them notice that I existed and that it was I who had saved them. I could have shown her my colour plates of the locomotive. But I waited. I had lost confidence in her.
We usually had our meals together, and then she took off her apron.
I was in a state of excitement all the time, perhaps of anticipation and perhaps of fear; I didn’t yet know whether the woman Anna had brought me closer to my dream or destroyed it. It was impossible to talk to her, not only because her vocabulary was unusually limited, but also because I was never sure whether she understood me or not. Nevertheless, I couldn’t be silent, I spoke incessantly, helplessly, I could be seized by an overwhelming need to take back all I had said, deny it, erase it, but even more powerful was the urge to confide still more in her, to go into details, to shower her with everything that had been and could have been my life. I went into the kitchen with her and talked and talked about myself, leaning against the drainer, against the work top, I couldn’t help it! And when finally I had executed myself she would smile and suggest going for a short walk. She insisted on helping me on with my overcoat and made sure I hadn’t forgotten my scarf. She possessed me, she had devoured me. She was a kind of monster, believe me, a monster. We always went to the railway station, and when the evening train pulled into the platform she grasped my hand and pressed it in secret understanding, and each time a curious hot wave passed through me; it was a powerful feeling, as powerful as when I was a boy and saw the train coming in and felt that now I must take off the brakes and drive the locomotive straight in over the platform and into the people and everything on it, straight on! Cut that out later.
I am often very tired nowadays, although I don’t work more than necessary. Have I been able to explain everything that happened? Or do I go into too much detail? I must go through it all again very carefully.
One Sunday when the weather was mild and spring-like she suggested that we should go to the botanical gardens instead of the railway station. Why? Well, because the woman Anna liked looking at hothouses. We went. And when we were standing in the over-heated, humid glass-house, looking at static greenery, she took my hand in the same way as she was accustomed to doing as the train came in. She pressed my hand and gave that terrible smile. We went home. We walked side by side, and I knew that this woman walking beside me carried in her everything that was me, that it didn’t concern her in the least and that she understood nothing.
We continued our daily life, a life in undisturbed tracks of repetition and considerateness, tracks which wore deeper and deeper. Can you imagine a track, a groove, which is gradually dug so deep that no one any longer can scramble over the edge, only go on, go on walking, running, rushing in the same direction… I began to hate her.
Not immediately. But instead of keeping her at a distance, forgetting that she existed, I was aware of her every moment of my waking life, and at night she devastated my dreams.
What was I waiting for? There was no more to wait for. We had nothing to share but these meals, during which I usually read, and her awful walks. Every day I decided to dismiss the woman Anna, in a very friendly way, to give her a sizeable sum of money, every day I decided at least to be silent, to say nothing, and every day was a miserable failure. And in the end I was irrevocably driven to showing her my own work, the locomotive in its headlong rush forward.
“But where’s the platform?” she asked. “Isn’t the train in the railway station?” And I saw, through her dreadfully naive eyes I saw that the locomotive was standing still. It wasn’t moving. I turned the picture to the wall and went over to the window to avoid seeing her. For a moment there was silence. Then she came up to me from behind and put her arms around me. For a moment her tall hot body was pressed against mine; it was horrible. She said something, I don’t know what she said, I don’t know what happened except that I suddenly ran down the street towards the corner where I usually buy my newspaper. Incidentally, have I mentioned that spring was on the way.
I’m not used to writing, but I must get to the end of this account. The woman Anna began to call me by my Christian name. My nightly dreams were transformed, it was no longer the locomotive that pursued me, it was she. I ran across the tracks as before, I saw the railway station’s massive structure of glass and its metal skeleton outlined against the night sky, the trains were whistling far away on their journeys to distant parts, but she came closer, hopping like a black bird over the rails, she was hot and smelled of sweat and held her arms outstretched to take hold of me, and at the same time I knew that she already had me, she had the whole of me packed into her stomach, undigested and with no possibility of release. I awoke in indescribable horror and straight away wondered, is it today she comes, is it today or is it only tomorrow … Her days off were the most difficult; then she never let go of my thoughts for a second, and my hatred felt almost intolerable. I was tied to her as one is tied to a conscience, a shadow, a crime. She was never unkind to me. When I was sitting with my drawings of engines she could put beside me a tray with something she had baked, a dessert of some kind … a cup of coffee or a vase of flowers. She emptied my ashtray and went out into the kitchen and closed the door so quietly that it made the flesh creep in the nape of my neck.
I had other dreams, I dreamed that I turned towards her and shrieked and raised my hands to heaven in hatred and pursued her in order to kill her. Then it was she who fled over the tracks, it was she who gasped for breath and stumbled and looked over her shoulder and screamed when she saw me coming after her and about to clutch her in my claw-like hands! I awoke, I wept.
I strangled a sheet.
Anna bought vitamins for me, she thought I didn’t look well, that I was pale and ought to take a rest or go away for a time. She actually said “go away”. A little later she added, “We could perhaps both go away on a short journey.” I was silent and let her go on talking about Mallorca and the Canary Isles, conducted tours, she had saved up so and so much and wouldn’t be a nuisance. And if I didn’t want to fly, then a journey by train would be just as good, we could go north instead, perhaps to Rovaniemi where there is such a splendid hotel with reindeer skins and open hearths … She would invite me. She would really like to invite me on the journey, and finally she said, “It would be nice for you, when you are so interested in trains.”
I think that was the day I decided to let her die.
I prepared the journey very carefully, booked a sleeper in good time and reserved rooms in the hotel in Rovaniemi. I went about as though in a gentle haze, everything was indistinct and without clear outlines, and it felt delightful. The woman Anna prattled on joyfully, explaining again and again how right it was that we two, who had never travelled, should go on a journey together. She made pates, she prepared a food hamper, she was bubbling over with secrets and embarrassingly full of fun. I went out into the kitchen for some matches and saw a bowl of blood on the drainer, yes really, blood, slightly coagulated and with froth round the edges. She said it was for black puddings to be eaten cold with red whortleberries. On a night train. That was what she had thought up.
That bowl was horrible, I felt ill and went off and shut the door on her and thought I can’t do it, I can’t bear to see it. But you can take much more than you think, and everything has to move towards its inevitable conclusion, and there are cases where only a wealth of ideas and a strong will are sufficient … Wait, I was losing the thread again, but that can be seen to later, just now I must simply go on, I’m writing very quickly, well then, we arrived at the railway station and I helped her up with all her baskets and parcels and bought a carnation she wanted to wear on her coat and some women’s magazines and asked whether she wanted Coca-Cola or lemonade, and meanwhile the locomotive was standing patiently waiting for me and the hands of the station clock were moving with sudden jerks, every minute a little jerk and then she shouted if only there were someone with us, someone to wish us bon voyage! And when the train began to move forward along the track she leant out, grasping the door handle and waved and waved to people she didn’t know and leant further out as they slipped further into the distance and my locomotive was already gathering force and when she was caught by its increasing speed I gave the door a sudden push, it filled me with a sensation like fire and the door swung open with her and she disappeared in a shroud of darkness, a bird flapping its wings. No more than that. I had thought it all through so often and so meticulously that every detail was perfectly polished and dovetailed, every conceivable situation taken into account. Originally I had made the engine whistle, a long drawn-out cry as she fell, but I removed that.
Another possibility was to let the woman go into the compartment to arrange her parcels and pillows, presumably she would wave out of the window as the train moved off and would not notice me alighting on the other side. But my attention to detail was adamant, the doors are locked on the other side. So I decided to go and buy some cigarettes at the last moment, quite a natural idea. There she is standing nervously at the window, she sees me come running up and cries, “Hurry! Hurry! The train’s going!” But it’s too late. I slow down, I spread out my arms in helpless resignation.
I could also have waved to her and laughed. But that would have been almost too cruel.
Translated by W. Glyn Jones
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