A dictionary of human destinies

31 March 2001 | Fiction, Prose

Short stories from Av blygsel blev Adele fet (‘It was embarrasment that made Adele fat’, Söderström & Co., 2000)


It was embarrassment that made Adele fat. It wasn’t from hunger that her fridge-fumbling fingers began to grow nimble, but from confusion. And it was never knowing what her tongue ought to say that led her to the concrete business of the fridge. Her tongue certainly knew all about tasting. It could feel her teeth chewing even if it didn’t know how to speak. It became a better and better judge of brussels sprouts and speckled sausage. The rest was just good morning and thanks, thanks and goodbye and nice day.

It took her ages to get fat. She didn’t have a sweet tooth so it was a long time before any increase in size was noticeable. She was forced to take the longer route via salad with dressing and egg mayonnaise, but she did get there in the end. She reached her weight in gold, which was exactly the same as her weight in accumulated silence. Seventy-eight kilos to the gram. She felt liberated. Now she was real, and she began to glow. It was in men’s eyes that she first noticed this. And when they placed their hands on her she realised she’d become a sort of Midas in reverse. Men who touched her turned to gold. Poor starved wretches. Now her body and spirit were one, soft yet at the same time firm, cosy, silent and purposeful.

So there would never be any tragic tale of loneliness and obesity. Adele’s expeditions to the fridge led to sex.

Egil and Folke

Egil and Folke are standing on the platform at the railway station. They’re standing under a clear sky. They’re standing under a wonderful sky. Each is holding a pair of skis and has a plump nylon sportsbag between his feet. It’s cold. The platform’s crowded and noisy, but Folke and Egil have their own niche of fresh air which belongs to them alone. Folke is wearing a red cap and Egil is deliberately smoking in short puffs like a foreigner. He thinks it’s rather a pity in a way that Folke doesn’t smoke, it’d be so nice to offer him a manly, foreign, comradely cigarette here on platform seven among all these waiting people who know nothing about Egil and Folke.

And who know nothing about how to wait.

Egil’s wearing a new pair of braces but you can’t see them just at the moment. Folke will have a chance to see them later.

Folke looks at his diver’s watch, it’s five to eight, and the deep is already ticking in Egil. ‘Which is our coach?’ asks Egil, wanting to hear Folke say thirty six, we’re in number thirty-six. ‘Thirty-six,’ says Folke. Abruptly. Abruptly but not so harshly as to make Egil doubt whether they were right to come.

Everything’s going as smoothly as if oiled. Everything’s fine and a bit risky too. Folke has said almost exactly what Egil expected him to say, and in no time at all the train comes in and it’s a reassuringly long way to Lapland and there won’t really be any risk till they get there. Late in the evening. To the cottage they’ve rented, Folke and Egil; at work they’ve already had a look through the brochures, Egil and Folke, so these are expectations they’ve already been nurturing thoroughly for a long time.

Egil and Folke’s journey will take them further than either of them has ever been before. A journey that will take them nearer what’s dangerous. They don’t yet know how far they’re going to go. They’ll only know that when it’s really happening. Over a drink by a log fire in the dark Lapland evening. With all the unspoken things, what Egil is hoping for and Folke is hoping for, what Folke in dreams almost secret even from himself hopes that Egil, that Egil too – but so far they’ve only talked about skiing and who’s going to carry the binoculars and whether they’ll be able to get the canned food they’ll need after they arrive.
They haven’t discussed who’ll take the first step.

But they’ve already taken the first step: they’re on their way to Lapland to ski.

Here comes the train. It’s blue. Folke in his red cap has a business diploma. Bareheaded Egil has an economics diploma. The sky high above the station is wonderful. Two good-looking chaps, Folke and Egil. Both over forty now as they stand there for the first time with their skis in those cloth covers that are so easy to take off.

Egil stubs out his cigarette.

‘Let’s go then,’ says Folke.

Olsson and Paula

They’re sitting on a bench. A green-painted bench in a small town in Alsace. The Rhine is flowing in front of them and past them. They’re disagreeing with one another. They’re supposed to be friends but at the moment they’re not in agreement and in any case their friendship has never been much to write home about. They never phone each other when they have nothing to say, never blame each other about private matters and most definitely never borrow each other’s clothes. Olsson’s large with reddish fair hair and Paula’s nothing special. Just an ordinary ash-blonde a little below average size. Olsson smokes cigarillos. She has brown teeth and there’s a whiff of calvados about her. At this particular moment Paula’s sniffing a flimsy daisy she’s holding in her hand, but it smells of nothing at all as she knows very well.

‘Shall we walk a bit?’ she says.

‘Haven’t we done enough walking?’ counters Olsson. Her feet are hurting her and she’d like to just sit and simmer gently but Paula’s always so restless. She always has to be doing something, though she doesn’t want to go to a classy restaurant this evening. Despite the fact that it’s something they’re now in a position to do and the place has several stars in the guide and Olsson’s feeling extravagant. It’s really too bad.

Paula’s all right really, but you’d never call her the life and soul of the party. A bit on the dull side and always clutching a guidebook. Olsson thinks it’s not chic to let people see you’re a tourist. She would like to feel at home everywhere and Paula never understands the meaning of the word discretion. For instance, Paula’s just met a man; this is perfectly obvious even though she hasn’t said anything and Olsson has no intention of asking. Oh no my dear, this bloke won’t do, thinks Olsson who is pretty sure that Paula wants to be pumped for his name and age, plus what’s his job and when are you going to meet again.

Absolute rubbish.

Paula stands up. She goes and throws her daisy into the Rhine. Slowly but surely it drifts away on the stream. She’s running out of travel money and thinks her period’s about to start. She’s looking forward to a quiet evening but Olsson wants to go out and Olsson’s Paula’s oldest friend. They’ve been going around together ever since they were at school – not as a couple inseparable as clay and straw, as the saying goes, but as one wallflower with another. Which is not the worst of starting-points. With time they’ve grown close and Paula values Olsson’s matter-of-fact manner. They have a matter-of-fact relationship, she and Olsson. No nonsense, more like two men. They go to museums together and now and then on a trip and when needed Olsson helps on shopping expeditions to restock Paula’s fridge and carries humus for her little patch of garden. In return Paula asks Olsson to dinner when long public holidays loom.

Much of the time Olsson’s on her own.

That’s just the way things are.

Olsson’s sitting red-faced on the bench in her ancient jeans. She’s taken off her shoes to reveal toenails flaking after some forgotten attempt at vanity. Barges come and go. A yellow dog nearly drowns itself in the current and everything settles down. Goodwill feels good. They go for a walk and stop for a calvados and in the evening Olsson invites Paula to the classy restaurant. Feeling slightly tipsy and in a generous mood she has come to the conclusion that perhaps this is the point where her shoe’s been pinching.

Between the fourth and fifth course Paula, eyes shining with wine, tells Olsson as if in passing that she’s met some idiot but it certainly won’t lead to anything.

‘Don’t say that,’ says Olsson with easy generosity, knowing that Paula’s right. ‘When are you going to…’

‘…meet again, you mean?’

And Paula goes into the details while Olsson lights another cigarillo and the restaurant staff restrain themselves from wrinkling up their noses. Both Paula and Olsson are going all out to enjoy themselves. It’s going to cost a lot of money but it’ll be a memory for life.


At night she often can’t sleep. She sits at the kitchen table and soon gets through all her ordinary thoughts. At night she’s in constant need of new things to think about because she’s in constant need of luring her body into thinking of something else. Tonight’s subject is the back legs of dogs: are dogs right-legged or left-legged?

Male dogs, that is.

Their back legs, that is.

Are there some who always lift their right leg to urinate while others contrariwise can only ever contemplate raising their left back leg when they want to throw water at various posts and walls and car-tyres? And if this is so are their owners aware of it? And can it be detected? Has anyone done any research on the matter?

Or is it just accident and chance? There must certainly be many factors involved. Does it depend on which leg is nearer to the object at which the dog has decided to aim, on which side of the animal’s body its owner happens to be, or on how the lead is stretched in relation to the primary purpose of Canis Familiaris?

There are certainly many factors to take into account in making one’s calculations.
After three cups of mint tea she makes up her mind she doesn’t know the answer to the question and that the domestic dog is first and foremost a companionable animal rather than a problem. She has herself enjoyed the company of the domestic dog and its back legs for a long time now. She’s twisted and turned over the problem, collected its various aspects together and dispersed them again, gone backwards and forwards over it without making any progress. In a case like this it’s hardly possible to conduct empirical research. And the reality of the moment hasn’t been much help: looking out of her kitchen window she’s seen nothing but three bitches, which of course works out at one bitch for each cup of mint tea.


And a new idea, an idea to be gratefully taken into careful consideration: is it possible that bitches are over-represented in her own particular district of the town, and if so why should this be? Or is it simply that bitches go out at very different times from dogs and if so is this regulated by the animals’ needs or by their owners’ needs?

One day and night contain many dog-hours.

Not yet time for the pain-killer.


Walter should have kept his zone-therapy appointment at one pm today but halfway up the stairs to the therapist’s room he turned back and made his way instead to one of the city’s most famous restaurants, because after all hunger was real, while zone-therapy was presumably just as mystical as it sounded, even if his wife had spent the whole morning trying to persuade him of the opposite. It was she who had arranged everything: time, place and therapist – a woman, an unknown woman – for Walter had suffered from tension in his muscles and been stupid enough to complain about it.

‘You won’t have to do anything at all,’ his wife told him just before he went out. ‘Just lie there and enjoy it.’

The only zones Walter knew anything about were war zones (apart from a few erogenous ones), while ‘therapy’ was something he associated with the soul and problems.

Now he was sitting in the restaurant enjoying steak à la Tauno Palo with onions and a bottle of beer. Tauno Palo had been a legendary actor, one of the greatest macho figures in the history of Finnish film, in a class of his own as a logger or vagabond, and it felt good to tuck into a steak named after him. A little blood trickled out of the steak on to the plate and mingled with the cream sauce and Walter felt his muscular tension relax with every bite he took.

It was also good to sit in a place where you were allowed to keep your clothes on, good even just to sit rather than have to lie stretched out helplessly with no idea of what was going on.

Walter was in no sense a mucky man but that afternoon, in the light tobacco haze of the restaurant, he felt almost indecently clean. He’d spent half an hour scrubbing his feet because his wife had told him that they were what the therapist would concentrate on most. He’d put on the new underpants he’d been given for Christmas and last thing before leaving home he’d done a quick job on his ears with cotton buds. And to be on the safe side, he’d washed all his body’s private nooks and crannies.

‘You won’t have to do anything at all’? ‘Just lie there and enjoy it’?


Wives have a very strange idea of what’s easy for a man to do.

Translated by Silvester Mazzarella


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