The Sleepwalker

Issue 1/1984 | Archives online, Drama, Fiction

We print here an extract from the radio play Somngångerskan (‘The sleepwalker’, 1978). Walentin Chorell himself said that he felt this genre to be the closest to his heart, and his radio plays are perhaps the element of his work that has contributed most to his reputation in Finland and in the rest of Europe.

As the play begins, we sense night in the old, rambling log house, with a clock ticking in the background; the sound comes closer, intensifies, and then dies away again. The clock strikes three; its works are old and complaining. Long silence.

Then the silence is broken by the loud and happy laughter of Jerine, the sleepwalker. A flock of gulls is heard calling over the beach; there is a gentle summer breeze, and the waves are lapping against the boulders on the shore.

FIRST VOICE (=the mother, frightened)

What’s wrong? What have you wakened me up for?

SECOND VOICE (=the father)

It’s Jerine. She was laughing in her sleep.

FIRST VOICE

What? Jerine! O no, she mustn’t …

SECOND VOICE

Hush! Not so loud. We mustn’t wake her. You must never waken them.

(We hear a door being opened. Soft footsteps)

FIRST VOICE

Did you hear? She came out of her room. Listen. She’s out there in the hall.

SECOND VOICE

She always goes the same way …

FIRST VOICE

… and stops outside the nursery door …

SECOND VOICE

… and rummages among the toys … And listens …

(The change to the sleepwalker is always indicated by the same effect – some clear notes on an oboe. We hear her taking something from a drawer… Jerine is humming a nursery rhyme.)

FIRST VOICE

The doll! She’s always got to take her doll in her arms.

SECOND VOICE

… She’s going down to the veranda door … Now she’s opening it.

JERINE (sings quietly to her doll, then laughs again)

There. There.

FIRST VOICE

She always goes the same way – down to the beach …

SECOND VOICE (in a whisper)

And waves to someone on the lake … Listens …

FIRST VOICE

… and then comes back and walks up and down with the doll in her arms, holding something in her hand… and points to the flagpole and the well … And takes something off someone or other.

SECOND VOICE

But then she gets frightened when she is coming up the stairs again. She cries out in her sleep… She is cold…

FIRST VOICE

No, no. Don’t go near her … Leave her to finish her dream.

MISS SALMÉN (increasingly worried) Don’t show him your mother’s and father’s room. Don’t take him into your own room.

JERINE (as though the lady of the house)

This is the hall. That painting’s of my grandfather. He was a master mariner. The stairs need painting, but father said we couldn’t afford to do them this summer, as he had to buy a new car. And here – this is where Mummy and Daddy sleep, and that’s my room … I tidied up in the doll’s house yesterday …

THE BOATMAN

You’ve got lots of dolls.

JERINE

I’ve got eight, but it’s only Lilian that …’ And he will stretch out his hand to take hold of the doll, but his fingers will brush my arm, and then I’ll be frightened …

FRIGHTENED! FRIGHTENED!’

(She is a child starting to cry in panic. Her cries become louder and more uncontrolled)

FIRST VOICE

This is when she’s frightened by something… SHE’S BITING – SHE’S BITING THE DOLL’S ARM …

JERINE

This is the first summer I’ve had a bikini. I’m big enough now, Mummy says. ‘He climbs out of the boat and gets into the tram and sits on the seat behind us, but we’re not allowed to turn round and look at him. (Gaily) This is where we get off. The tram stops right by the veranda steps.’

JERINE (cries out in her sleep)

Always the same way and the same beach and the man in the boat, and the great yellow tramcar, and on the lawn behind us there’s the stand where they sell all those baskets. And the woman selling them has to say:

STALLHOLDER

Good morning. This is Moses’ basket.

JERINE

‘… from when they found him in the bulrushes.’ And THE ONE WE ARE NOT ALLOWED TO LOOK AT – NEITHER ME NOR LILIAN – STARTS LAUGHING ALOUD. He’s got white teeth like a little dog. But it’s Miss Salmén, our Sunday school teacher, that’s selling baskets. There are baskets on the steps to the veranda and on the stones round the flagpole. And in my hand and in …

THE STRANGER (laughing aloud now) I’ve rowed a long way to see you and I’m a bit thirsty. Could you give me a drink of water or a glass of juice?

JERINE (in a grown up voice)

Do come in. How nice to see you. It’s a bit untidy yet, because we overslept this morning.

THE STRANGER

Are you at home all on your own in this big house?

JERINE

No. Miss Salmén’s asleep under the clock outside Mummy’s and Daddy’s room. She read me five verses of a hymn, but she dozed off before the sixth. Do you like Coca-Cola?

THE STRANGER

Aren’t you afraid of me?

JERINE

No. You’ve got a cool hand, just like Mummy’s when I’ve got a temperature, and you speak quietly like Daddy when he’s reading fairy tales to us. (Screams) THEN MISS SALMÉN HAS TO SHOUT ‘DON’T GO INTO THE SITTING ROOM.’

A STRIDENT VOICE (=the stallholder)

DON’T TAKE THE BOATMAN INTO THE HALL.

JERINE

Don’t be afraid. It’s only the gulls scrapping over a fish. (Then her tone changes, and becomes monotonous, resigned) IT’S ALWAYS THE SAME WAY. IT’S ALWAYS THE SAME BEACH. And we walk on the beach and the sand’s warm under our feet. You and I. Me and my doll Lilian. ALWAYS THE SAME WAY AND ALWAYS THE SAME BEACH. And we have to stand near the water’s edge, so near that the waves almost reach my bare feet. WE ALWAYS HAVE TO STAND LIKE THAT AND WAIT.

(The cries of the gulls and the sound of oars)

And then the boat comes. Then someone comes rowing across. THEN SOMEONE COMES ROWING STRAIGHT TOWARDS OUR BEACH. (In terrible fear) ALWAYS THE SAME WAY AND THE SAME BEACH AND THE SAME WHITE BOAT THAT SOMEONE’S ROWING STRAIGHT FOR OUR BEACH. AND ALWAYS THE SAME MAN ROWING.

We have to say the same things. The same sentences. Fit the same words into the sentences. Speak to each other and say: ‘Lilian and I were laughing at the gulls when you came. And the clock in the hall said sixteen minutes to five – or six, as we laughed.’

THE BOATMAN, THE MAN – THE STRANGER

‘Your clock’s wrong. The clock in the hall’s just struck three.’

JERINE

‘That’s what he always has to say. Those very words.’ – Good afternoon. I’m called Jerine, and this is my doll, Lilian. Mummy and Daddy went to town on the nine o’clock bus, but they’ll be back at six. I only take out my dolls when Mummy and Daddy are out. You see, I don’t play with dolls any more. Who are you?

(Suddenly, the rattling and clanging of the old tramcar can be heard through the sounds of summer)

JERINE

… They’ll be coming on the bus, but today the tram goes right to the sauna. No one needs to drive the tram; it’ll find its own way. We’ll sit on the front seat, and you can sit behind us. Sometimes my teddy bear Mischka and my second and third dolls stand on the platform. They hold tight so they won’t fall off when the tram swings round the well – ROUND AND ROUND OUR OLD WELL.

THE STRANGER – THE BOATMAN

You’re beautiful, Jerine.

II

JERINE (The voice is that of a grown, but still young woman – monotonous, factual)

… It’s when the warm weather comes – during the hot nights at the end of July or the beginning of August. I always have the same dream then – the same dream that keeps coming back; it’s always the same things that happen … I’m…a child … a little girl … I get up and go to the dolls’ cot and take a doll. It’s always Lilian. Then I go downstairs … stop outside Mummy’s and Daddy’s room … go down into the hall and out on to the veranda … take the narrow path down to the beach. AND THE GULLS ARE SHRIEKING …

We stand on the warm sand, the two of us, and wait … the dream isn’t nasty. Not yet. We wait and listen and look at the gulls and the bay … and then we shall hear the sound of oars when the boatman comes. And our guest and Lilian and I all have to go back to the house. The tramcar always comes, clanging along the forest road, and Miss Salmén has to show off her baskets and shout to me …

I’m always a little girl in my dream – eleven or twelve years old, I would imagine … and the boatman is a grown man, not old, probably no more than twenty or twenty-five. He’s got a beard … Daddy said he was expecting someone to call, someone who worked for him and was to live in a cottage nearby. Perhaps that’s who it was … but that man never came back. Only in my dream.



There were a few years when the dream didn’t come: the year I got married; The year my little girl was born. I forgot I’d had a dream like that …

In the dream I’m only wearing a thin nightdress, but I’m never ashamed in front of the boatman. HE NEVER HAS A NAME – HE’S ONLY ‘THE BOAT­ MAN’. And I go down to the beach with Lilian, and we wait for the boat. Then we go up to the house, and then … we’re out on the lake. There’s something happens in the boat while we’re out rowing. Then … I wake up sitting on our beach weeping, and earlier … at first Mummy and Daddy used to be there to comfort me, to take me back to the house … NOW … it’s my husband. Sometimes I wake up because a little girl’s weeping. Then it’s either myself or my own child … They never wake me up when I get up and go out in the hot nights. Not Mummy or Daddy. Nor my husband. You must never waken anyone who’s sleepwalking, they say. And they … try to help me. They ask me about it. They ask questions, always questions:

FIRST VOICE (Mother)

But dearest child, can’t you tell us about it? … The two of you go out rowing on the lake … Is that where … DOES HE DO ANYTHING NASTY TO YOU?

THIRD VOICE (A young man)

Dearest Jerine! Try to remember. The two of you go out rowing on the lake …

JERINE

We fly over the house and down into his boat.

THIRD VOICE

But something must happen while you’re out rowing. Did he do anything to hurt you? Did he try to … do anything he shouldn’t?

JERINE (laughs, trying to make light of her dream now)

The boatman says I’m like the song of a tiny bird early on a summer’s morning. Like the first chickweed wintergreen flowering on a spring day. We sing in the boat, but very quietly, so as not to waken anyone up. You are all asleep on the beach: Mummy and Daddy and you and the child. We mustn’t wake you up … then he plays some music, pretends to play a flute, and whistles, quietly … very quietly. I DON’T THINK HE DID ANY­ THING NASTY TO ME BECAUSE FOR A WHILE OUT THERE ON THE LAKE I AM HAPPY – I FEEL SOMETHING GREATER THAN MY LOVE FOR MUMMY AND DADDY – GREATER THAN ANYTHING I HAVE KNOWN IN ALL MY LIFE. I AM HOT IN THE BOAT AS THOUGH I HAD A TEMPERATURE, AND MY HEART IS RACING. It is as though I had never known that I had a heart before now. And I say to the boatman: ‘What is it? My heart is beating so. Just feel how it is beating!’ And he puts his cool hand on my heart beating under my nightdress.

THIRD VOICE

What then … try to remember. You row out. You are hot. You both sing … What then, Jerine? WHAT THEN? …

JERINE

In the dream … in my dream it is as though I were a child and a grown up at the same time. A little innocent girl, but a woman as well. And both … both are frightened and – happy. And Jerine the girl takes the stranger by the hand and they go into the house, through the rooms and up the stairs, and little Jerine … Jerine the girl … the girl I was once … the girl who once had a dream … and can’t free herself from it. Jerine the girl dreams the same dream, and it forces her to get up and walk on the same paths and say the same things … to EXPERIENCE the same events again and again …

THIRD VOICE

But Jerine darling. A grown woman must give up the memory of something that happened so long ago. Try to remember. YOU DO REMEMBER …

JERINE

Ssh. Ssh. Don’t waken her. Don’t waken the little girl who can’t forget. Perhaps doesn’t WANT to forget … JERINE (the child)

… and then you must ask me: ‘But where is Miss Salmén? She should be asleep under the clock, you know … ‘

THE BOATMAN

‘Where is Miss Salmén? She should be asleep …’

JERINE

No, not like that. You must look around and ask … and be very surprised when you can’t see her. Ask again …

THE BOATMAN

But where is Miss Salmén? She should be asleep under the clock outside your parents’ bedroom.

JERINE (the child) That’s right. Now you said it properly. (Half singing a tune from a recorder ) She runs away when she hears our steps … runs, runs, runs … look … look … look … can’t you hear her scuttling about downstairs … into the kitchen and down into the cellar … CAN YOU PLAY MY RECORDER – PLAY ALL THINGS BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL … We sang it on the last day at Sunday school … Those pebbles are all mine. We found them on a beach when we were out for a picnic, and Mummy says I can have them in the window … DON’T SIT ON THAT CHAIR, IT’S BROKEN, ‘CAUSE I FELL ON IT ONCE AND HURT MYSELF …

THE BOATMAN

You’ve got a lot of dolls.

JERINE

But I don’t play with dolls any more. Only occasionally when no one’s looking. I can’t play with them now that you’re here … WHAT’S THAT YOU’RE LISTENING TO?

THE BOATMAN

There was someone … walking about in the hall …

JERINE

Mummy and Daddy aren’t coming back until the six o’clock bus, and Mrs. Henriksson only comes twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays, and today is Wednesday … No one’s coming … and I’ve got to go and meet them from the bus … that’s a funny watch you’ve got on … It’s difficult to make it out… I got a wrist watch when I was eleven … Can I have a look?

FIRST VOICE

She’s reaching out. This is where she gets frightened …

SECOND VOICE

It’s as though … as though she’s a bit shy …

THIRD VOICE

You smile at the boatman and then … you begin to cry …

JERINE

My watch is ticking. Your watch is ticking … All the clocks in the house are ticking … ticking… louder and louder …

JERINE – THE WOMAN (terribly afraid)

He takes my hand and puts it to his ear and I SEE him for the first time, but not his face … only that he has a beard and white teeth and big eyes … that get bigger and bigger …

JERINE – THE CHILD (whispers)

… and then, as we listen to each other’s watches, I grow afraid of you … WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT? Don’t look at me. GO AWAY. (She begins to weep now) Go away. Row away … GO … I WON’T HAVE YOU IN MY ROOM – I WON’T HAVE YOU IN MY HOUSE… GO AWAY – GO AWAY – GO AWAY …

Translated by W. Glyn Jones

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