Letters from Klara

Issue 1/1992 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

A short story from Brev från Klara (‘Letters from Klara’, Söderström & Co, 1991)

Dear Matilda,
you are hurt because I forgot your ancient birthday: that is unreasonable of you. To put it bluntly, you have expected my particular devotion all these years merely because I am three years younger. But let me now at last tell you that the passage of the years An Sich is no feather in one’s hat.

You pray for Higher Guidance – excellent. But until you receive it, it might perhaps be as well to discuss certain bad habits which are, as a matter of fact, not foreign to me, either.

Dear friend, a thing one ought to keep in one’s memory is, if at all possible, not to whine, for then they at once get the upper hand. I know that you, thank your good fortune, are surprisingly well, but you have a unique ability to give those around you a bad conscience by whining, and they get their own back by becoming jovial and turning you into something that is no longer of any account. I have seen it. Whatever it is you want or do not want, could you not raise your voice, stir them with a few powerful words that will liven them up and in the best instance make them a little frightened? I rather recall that you are able to do it, there was nothing acquiescent about you at that time, oh no.

And that bit about one not being able to sleep at nights, presumably because one takes a cat-nap eight times a day? Yes, I know; the memory goes into reverse at night and gnaws its way through everything without sparing the least little detail – that one did not dare, that one made the wrong choice, was tactless, insensitive, criminally unobservant – and these calamities, these blunders, irreparable, idiotic statements which everyone except oneself has long ago forgotten! Is it not unfair to be endowed like this, so late in the day, with a lightning-clear memory, but in reverse?

Dear Matilda, write to me and tell me what you think about these delicate matters. I promise to try not to be a Besserwisser, yes, yes, do not deny it, you said that, but I should like to know, for example, how you behave when you cannot remember how many times you have told the same thing to the same person? Do you manage by leading in with ‘Well, as I said… ‘ or ‘As I have perhaps already said’ or… Have you other suggestions? Do you simply fall silent?

And do you allow a conversation to go on over your head? Do you try to find a judicious comment and notice that now they are already talking about something completely different? Do you get yourself out of it by saying they are talking a lot of nonsense about things that do not matter? And are we, really, interested? Curious? Say that we are!

Now if you write to me, do not use your antediluvian fountain pen, it makes the words illegible and is moreover hopelessly unfashionable. Get them to buy you felt pens, medium point 0.5 mm, they are to be found everywhere.


Read somewhere that writing in felt pen becomes illegible after forty years or so, what do you say to that? Good, really. Or do you possibly contemplate memoirs? You know the sort of thing: ‘to be read in fifty years’ time’ (hope you think I am amusing).

Dear Ewald,
It really was a pleasant surprise to receive a letter from you. How ever did you hit upon such an idea.

Yes of course one could meet, after such a long time, as you say. Sixty years, or thereabouts.

Thank you for all the nice things you wrote to me, perhaps a little too nice, my dear friend. I hope you haven’t gone sentimental, have you?

Yes, growing roses is an excellent thing, in my opinion! There is, I believe, a very sensible programme about gardening on the radio every Saturday morning, repeated on Sundays. Listen to it.

Ring when it suits you, and it may take a little while until I come to the telephone. Don’t forget to tell me if you are still vegetarian, I plan to make us a rather special dinner.

Of course you must bring your photograph album, I hope we can deal with those inevitable ‘do you remembers’ in tolerable fashion, and then talk about whatever comes into our heads.

Warm greetings

Hello Steffe!
Thank you for the bark boat, it is very beautiful and I was pleased. Tried out the boat in the bathtub and it kept its balance perfectly.

Don’t worry about that bad report, tell Mummy and Daddy that it is sometimes much more important to be able to work with one’s hands and produce something beautiful.

I am sorry about the cat. But if a cat lives to be seventeen years old it is probably quite tired and doesn’t feel well. Your epitaph is not bad but you must watch the rhythm. When we see each other we shall go into the matter more closely.

Your godmother

Dear Mr Öhlander,
According to your letter of the 27th I am supposed – clearly without justification – to have in my possession one of the works of your youth which you consider you need, as quickly as possible, for a retrospective exhibition.

I cannot remember having, on a visit to your niece’s son, ‘cajoled for myself’ the painting in question; it is more probable that he, without any misgivings whatsoever, desired that I should take it with me from his flat.

Now I have carefully studied the signatures on those works I have around me and can, with difficulty, make out something that might originate from you. The picture possibly represents something in between an interior and a landscape, with a tendency towards the quasi-abstract.

The size, which you did not mention, is the classical French one, 50 x 61.

I shall send your work by return of post and hope that in future it will find its place in your collection.

Klara Nygård

Dear Niklas,
I doubt if you will be back from your ‘unknown location’ (which I strongly suspect is Majorca), be that as it may, I have been thinking of making a slight change in my will again. Do not sigh, I know that deep down you are quite amused by all this to-ing and fro-ing.

Well, I am thinking of giving a fixed annual sum to the Old People’s Home of whose services I shall gradually be availing myself. But they will get it only as long as I am alive, please observe that. I mean bank and bond interest and whatever else I can do without – you know better about that. They can deal with it all as suits them best.

You will surely understand the idea, clever as you are; with this income in prospect the home in question will try to keep me alive as long as possible, I will become their mascot and will be able to take certain obvious liberties for myself. What is left when I die is to be divided up as has previously been settled.

By the way, I am in excellent health and hope that you are too.


My dear Cecilia,
So nice of you to send my old letters, a dreadfully large box, did you at least have someone to help you to post it? I am quite touched that you have saved them all (and even numbered the letters), but my dear, that business of reading through, you do understand what I mean? The stamps cut away, no doubt for some stamp-collecting child. If you have any more sets of correspondence from the beginning of the century, you must save the whole envelope; it will be much more desirable for a philatelist, for example, and you must be particularly careful about blocks of four.

I assume that you are making a clean sweep of it, a most natural and praiseworthy occupation. I am doing the same, and have been gradually learning a great deal, among other things that young people are offended by these treasures one wants to give them. More and more polite and more and more offended. Have you noticed it, too? Do you know, they have a fleamarket on Sandsvik Square just now, open Sat. and Sun. What do you say to that? One may go and find things for oneself without anyone needing to be hurt or grateful. Very good idea.

You write that you have become melancholic, but Cecilia, that is normal, that is nothing to be worried about. I read somewhere that it is a physiological phenomenon, doesn’t that sound comforting? So, one becomes melancholic, one sits down and thinks, aha, this doesn’t matter, I can’t help it, it’s just how it is. True, is it not?

What else shall I tell you – yes, I have freed myself from my pot-plants and am trying to learn a little French. You know, I have always admired you because you speak the language perfectly. How does one say that elegant thing at the end of a letter – Chère madame, I enclose you, no, me, in your – you probably know what I mean.

I am just at the beginning.

Chère petite madame, I miss you sometimes –


Dear Sven Roger,
I noticed with gratitude that the stove is working again. If those authorities come back and say that it is against the law I plan to turn to my lawyer; the stove is Historic, something we are indeed aware of.

When you return from your vacation you will find that Mrs Fagerholm one floor up has had a more than necessary attic clearance, but she put her unmentionable possessions outside my attic boxroom, for which reason I naturally moved the whole lot out into the passage.

In the courtyard, next to the rubbish bins, I have, remembering that you once expressed a desire for indoor plants in your summer cottage, displayed my collection for free choice, let what is not required go into the bins. I shall, to be on the safe side, water them in the evenings until further notice. As an explanation for my seemingly heartless behaviour I would mention that these pot-plants have involved a lifelong responsibility; either they get too little water or they get too much, one never knows.

By the way, I think we can wait with washing windows, they have a light and attractive mist on them just now, which ought not to be disturbed.

With friendly summer greetings,
K. Nygård

P.S. Say nothing to Mrs Fagerholm. I really quite enjoyed myself when I threw out her rubbish.

Camilla Alleén, Between Us Women
Dear Miss Alleén,
Thank you for your kind letter. But it is probably the case that I do not consider myself in a position to, as you say, participate in the questionnaire concerning the problems and joys of old age.

One could of course say that it is difficult but quite interesting – but why note down obvious strokes of misfortune, and to attempt to put the interesting into words is a task that strikes me as belonging to that private sphere which is foreign to definitive statement.

My dear Miss Alleén, I fear that you will you will not receive very honest replies to your questions.

With friendly greetings,
Klara Nygård

Translated by David McDuff

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