Yelena

 

They started walking. »Do we have any genuine chance of returning and finding the others in this soup?« the Vicar asked. »I still think we are - nowhere.«

»That reminds me of Valdemar,« the Author sighed. The Philosopher looked at him. They could do with a story. »Would he be another of your former school mates from around here - supposing we are still in the outskirts of Slagelse?«

»Yes, he was.«

»Was his name really Valdemar?« the Vicar asked, sceptically.

»As a matter of fact,« the Author said, »his name was Valdemar Jensen the Third.«

»He was royalty then?« the Philosopher suggested.

»You could say so. Have you ever heard of Valdemar Jensen's trouser clips for cyclists? In that case you have a serious gap in your knowledge. For more than a century, the name Valdemar Jensen was almost a synonym of trouser clips. It was a real dynasty, you see. Like Carlsberg.

Actually, I'm surprised no television series was made over it, now that the Heroic Worker has been replaced by the industrious citizen. The firm was founded by Valdemar Jensen in 1899. His son, Valdemar Jensen, took over its management at his death in 1951. It's actually a fascinating story.

Valdemar - the First that is - is said to have been a co-founder of the Conservative Party in 1915. Since then it became a family tradition to vote Conservative and attend church on Sundays. One day Valdemar purchased a painting by Niels Larsen Stevns. I believe it was View From the Living Room. From then on he stoutly defended Stevns and his Impressionist colleagues from reactionary Skovgaardians, just as his son was to defend the same picture from entartete admirers of Palle Nielsen.

Unfortunately, he was forced to sell the painting during the sixties depression, replacing the original with a print. However, the family never abandoned the dream of one day repurchasing it from the State's Art Museum.«

»I thought the sixties were characterised by an upturn in the economy,« the Philosopher mumbled.

»On the contrary!« the Author replied. »It was one of the darkest chapters in the history of trouser clips.

Everyone was getting a car! Fortunately, the seventies brought respite with the advent of environmentally conscious rif-raf. But the upturn did not generate sufficient revenue to reconquer the family treasure. As you can see, Jensen was a family with proud traditions!

Valdemar - the Third that is - was certainly a bright little fellow. There was nothing he did not know about trouser clips! He also knew his maths. It would have been most embarrasing had he not, for our maths teacher made it no secret that he wore Valdemar Jensen trouser clips.

Now there's destiny for you, Vicar! Unlike Johannes, little Valdemar harboured no ambitions of upstaging his great ancestor. How might such a thing be possible, anyway? Trouser clips had already been invented.

The boy could hardly wait to follow in his father's footsteps, and his old man had already initiated him into the mysteries of trouser clip manufacturing. When Valdemar reached the years of discretion, his father grew concerned for him; the nineties was a wild and lawless time, with manifold temptations for a young man. Neither he nor the original Valdemar had even considered marrying before their fortieth year.

However, in these uncertain times, Valdemar senior was worried his son would fall into bad company if he did not soon find a wife. Not that the choice was a hard one: Hansen had a nice daughter, just the right age, and the Hansens had manufactured bicycle pumps for three generations. This was a great advantage, because it meant that the young couple would have something to talk about.

Valdemar and Sofie were already acquainted. When their parents met to talk shop, they often sat in the sofa a few metres apart, looking alternately at each other and out of the window. They were not to know it then, but this would turn out to be valuable practice for when they got married.

Because - of course - they did get married. Not many years later, Sofie bore her husband a healthy boy whom, after joint deliberation, they decided to name Valdemar. Their marriage's harmony was in no way inferior to that of the print hanging over their sofa. In a sense it was all too good to be true. Envious gods do not allow mortals such happiness. They plan for the moment to crush it with a well-aimed thunderbolt.

Such was the destiny of Valdemar Jensen. He had an errand at the Central Railway Station. I don't remember what, and he himself forgot it. Maybe his wife had sent him there to get something she had forgotten to buy, something which was not available at the local corner shop. And then, all of a sudden, there she was; neither Skovgaard nor Stevns, rather more like Beardsley.

Her hair was raven-black, her eyes black. This was just about all he could make out of her, because the rest of her body was carefully camouflaged by a pair of worn-out jeans, an almost luminous orange jacket and a huge rucksack towering above the delicate girl, like the house of a snail. But it was enough.

He stood there, pinned to the ground, suffocating like a white mouse alone in a glass cage with a boa constrictor, her unearthly beauty penetraing his body, all the way to a sore big toe. She met his gaze and smiled. After only once diverting her gaze to the multitudinous chaos of the station, she walked over to him.

She asked him in broken English where she could find something to eat, and he pointed vaguely, following her into the restaurant. She looked at him and frowned. But something about his face, about the expression it wore, smoothed her brow once more.

In the meantime, Valdemar had woken up just enough to ask her what she wanted to eat. She began to talk, and he joined in as best he could. He learned that she was Polish, had just arrived from Stockholm, and was on her way to Paris. Her name was Yelena. She wanted to see Europe, she said, quite in the same way as Sofie went window shopping. Valdemar's English was not brilliant, but he had paid attention at school, and held a Berlitz diploma in business English.

He now commenced to talk as if his life depended on it. He too had always wanted to travel. He talked and talked, and her smile broadened ever more, allowing him a view of the raw onion between her milky white teeth, and forcing her to dry ketchup from her even redder lips with a finger. In the end she asked him if he wanted to come along. Money wasn't a problem, she said. She lived on writing articles for the papers of the cities she visited, and on washing up. Well, mostly on the latter. It was at this point that Valdemar Jensen the Third's heart left him.

First it jumped into Yelena's rucksack. It sniffed about for a while between her notice books and sensible Eastern European underwear. Then it bounded joyously out of the restaurant and onto the platform, following the track west and southwards, eagerly gesticulating as it halted to give the other organs time to catch up. Back on the chair with its four metal legs and rounded plastic seat, Valdemar sat, feeling in his jacket pocket for his calculator.

He cast a sidelong glance at the clock. At this moment Sofie would be at home looking at her watch, which ticked in time with is. Tomorrow morning his father would look at his own version, seeing it show a quarter past nine and half past nine. Then, with a melancholic air, he would set up the parade of trouser clips without him, and Valdemar Jensen the Third would be the first Valdemar to disappear into the black hole he had always feared.

And what for? To be made a fool of by Yelena's piers? To be abandoned on some European halt with no train running one way or the other? He had been sick with the flu before; you always thought you were going to die. Three minutes after leaving the station he would have forgotten the whole thing. But if he joined her, each minute would lead him towards an uncertain future. Once he had made this decision, Valdemar became his old self.

He galantly refused the young girl's contribution to the bill and offered to carry her heavy rucksack to the platform. He stayed for the last agonising moments, waving for two hours, for this was how long it seemed for the train to disappear in the distance.

He climbed the stairs, three at a time, laughing and sobbing from the depth of his heart. For his heart had returned at last, its tale between its legs, slanking shamefully after him down Vesterbrogade.

But it was an unwilling companion, and he had to halt at every corner to wait for it. A piece of it had apparently got stuck in the harmonica doors and was seeing every tree and hearing every signal in Zealand, which as usual had no idea what was going on.

The street door was almost impossible for him to open. He looked up the staircase as at an unclimbable mountain. But Monday would come. And Tuesday. And then Monday again. That's the weird thing about funerals: the wind still touches the tree tops. It's a most strange feeling when it's over: the sun burning in your eyes and the gravel crunching in your ears.

But the days were dead, apparitions of themselves. Sofie had also changed. She became nervous, deranged. It was that thing at the factory. He didn't quite know why, but he had been sent on a long holiday, which kept getting extended. Things could not continue this way.

Sofie's facial skin was as tight as the upholstry of a sofa when she told Valdemar to say goodbye to Valdemar, the Fourth to the Third, that is, and promised to write. Valdemar closed the door behind them as you would dress a wound, and discovered that the apartment was not actually any emptier than before.

He attempted to make himself comfortable on the sofa as he was used to. But all of a sudden the view from the living room was nothing but fog and a train howling in the background. Then he walked down to the Central Station.«

The author smiled craftily. »So. Now you know.

I mean, you've probably passed the benches often enough, with their shifty-eyed inhabitants holding a solitary beer bottle. They're always there, at least until they are thrown out, only to follow a perfect semi-circle to enter through the back entrance.

What are they waiting for? What are they doing? Well, now you know: they're waiting for Yelena to return.«

 


 

Excerpt from Erwin Neutzsky-Wulff's novel, Death (»Døden«, Borgen Publishers 1997).
Translated by Robin Wildt Hansen
All Rights Reserved
First published 1991 by Borgen Publishers.
This text may under no circumstances be resold or redistributed for compensation of any kind, in either printed, electronic, or any other forms, without prior written permission from Borgen Publishers.
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