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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Wait, Blink

A Perfect Picture of Inner Life: A Novel

Gunnhild Øyehaug; Translated from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson




Here we see Sigrid. It’s nine o’clock in the morning, it’s January, and the 2008 January light fills the room sharply, yet reliably, with a color temperature of 5600 kelvins, which is the normal color temperature for daylight, and consequently is the color temperature of the bulbs in the large spotlights you have to set up outside the window if you’re going to simulate daylight in a room in a movie, and then turn on so they’ll shine through the glass with a light that to those of us passing by outside, and who only see the spotlights and not the effect in the room, seems far too bright to simulate daylight. Well: Sigrid is sitting in this natural daylight, at a desk by the wall. The expression on her face is thoughtful, and her face is framed by hair, hair that she sometimes pulls, without realizing she’s doing it, possibly, as Sigrid’s face reveals that she is utterly absorbed by what she’s holding up in front of her, what she’s looking at: a miniature portrait of a man, in black and white, on a book jacket. When she’s engrossed like this, her face goes slack. It’s as if her eyes are what are holding up her face, wide-open and alert. And in the center of Sigrid’s eyes are her pupils; we are drawn in toward Sigrid’s pupils, which are black as ink and closed to us—like two periods!—even though we would have liked to imagine that we could stare our way in through her pupils, as if through a narrow black funnel, stare our way into her head and become absorbed, and become the thoughts in her head, like the water in the water, the air in the air, the flesh on the hand holding this piece of paper, or the wood in the tree outside her window that’s standing there shivering in the January air, and doesn’t know that she knows it exists!

* * *

Sigrid is twenty-three and studying literature at the University of Bergen. She’s the kind of literature student who has photographs of literary theorists on her wall, photocopied from textbooks and stuck up with Blu Tack, which shows through at the top of the sheet of copy paper. She’s also the kind of literature student who has a print of Van Gogh’s sunflowers on the wall because they mean something to her (there’s something about the yellowness, the grotesqueness, the newly opened and the withered, “life” and “death,” the hopelessness with which the sunflowers twist out of the vase and stand there hanging their absurd one-eyed faces). (There’s something about the way they’re so alone, and yet so grotesquely open.) And she has so much she’d like to tell to someone who’s willing to listen, naturally. She normally talks to Magnus about things like this, things she’s seen, things she’s read, things she’s thought, things she’s analyzed, pondered, and thought about and thought about as she brushed her teeth, went to bed, showered, and had breakfast the next morning, things that have expanded to be more than things, things that have grown inside her like a huge sunflower that now fills her entire being and stares at her from inside her head with its big one-eyed face, until she’s ready to burst and phones Magnus to tell him about it. But Magnus has moved to Oslo and gotten himself a girlfriend, and even though she’s sure that at one point or another they will split up, because after all, it’s obvious that she and Magnus are the perfect couple, she has a strong feeling that she’s lost again. Once again the world has put up its hand and said: you! you can get straight back into your own head.

* * *

When Sigrid was a child, she often became attached to things in nature for want of any feeling of contact with people. She became attached to the mountains behind the house and the stars, in particular, the stars over the mountains at night. She would sit on her bed, which was right by the window, with her chin on the windowsill, and look up at the mountains, which were often completely white, as it was usually winter when she sat like this and looked at the mountains that were almost bright white, and the Big Dipper that hung shining above the mountains, and moved slowly along the ridge. And she looked at all the other stars, how they sparkled and shone, as though they were alive. And Sigrid looked up at them and thought: you understand me. If no one else understands me, you’re always there! Sometimes it brought tears to her eyes because she felt the connection between herself and the stars so intensely. They were her, and the white mountains were her, and the black sky.

* * *

Luckily, every now and then, Jon English would lift her chin with his finger, and her head, which had been bent deep in thought, and her long dark hair (she imagined) were lifted slowly and full of promise by Jon English’s finger under her chin and she looked straight into a pair of eyes that were so clear and blue and full of love and understanding. His eyes shone in just the same way they did in Against the Wind. And Sigrid shone back. And one day, she thought, as she sat there with her chin on the windowsill, looking at the stars, this would actually happen in real life as well, she would be sitting with her head bent deep in thought like now, and someone would lift her chin with his finger.

* * *

In other words: Sigrid also shines brightly, her inner life is luminous, only not many people have seen it, her secret, sparkling light. Definitely not Magnus, that’s for sure. And she’s completely forgotten Jon English. But right now, as she sits here holding the book with the photograph of the author, she gets the strange feeling that perhaps it doesn’t matter, the whole thing with Magnus. The other day she went into a bookshop, as she normally does when she’s got nowhere to go and doesn’t dare go to a café on her own because she can’t face giving herself a pep talk before she goes in and then having to encourage herself every second that she sits there, because it’s quite obvious that she’s not there with anyone; she went into a bookshop instead. It was one of those days when she felt like the white mountains and the stars and the dark, dark night. Which no one, no one saw. She wandered between the shelves, took down one book after another, and then randomly she pulled out a book that had the fantastic and hopeful life-affirming title An Empty Chair. The very thing she was looking for. Somewhere to sit, in life. Someone who wanted her to sit there with them. When she turned the book over to read the back, she met the eyes of the author, Kåre Tryvle. Yes, that was exactly what happened, she felt that he met her eyes, Kåre Tryvle. She stood there looking at his face. She thought he was very handsome, of course, he was dark and there was something Jon English–ish about his square features, a more distinguished Jon English, but it was the eyes that kept her transfixed. It was as if they saw deep inside her, as though all the time she had been wandering around feeling so infinitely lonely, these eyes, which saw it, which saw her infinite loneliness, had been there in the bookshelf. Eyes that seemed to say: hello, you. It could well be that she felt like this because of the illusion that’s created when the subject of a picture looks straight at the observer (painter or photographer): no matter where you place yourself in relation to the picture, you seem to have eye contact. And it might well be the tiniest bit nuts to feel like that, that he saw her, but Sigrid didn’t reflect on it at all, she just felt a sublime and stomach-lurching oh, and took a step back as a result, which meant that she reversed into a stroller that was coming toward her and she had to say: sorry! to the mother pushing it, and the mother said: no worries, there’s not much room here. And then, because Sigrid had fallen into a kind of trance, which meant that she’d forgotten that she was still part of the world’s everyday movements, like stepping aside if someone wants to get by with a stroller, the mother with the stroller had to say: do you mind moving a bit, so I can get to the end of the alphabet, which made Sigrid blush, and look at the book she was holding, and say: yes, of course, I’m only at T, so sorry, and then she had to move out of the way so the stroller-pushing mother could get past to the end of the alphabet, and she turned away to hide her redness, a blush that wasn’t only caused by this end-of-alphabet situation, because wasn’t that just incredible? Symbolic, in a way, that she had been standing here with the book in her hand, with the eyes that had somehow been there waiting? Surely it was destiny? That on a mountain and star day like today, a stroller came and bumped into her at just that moment?

* * *

And when she got home later and read his poems, she felt that his poems were just like his eyes. That they saw right in. The poems were clear: “Sit here,” she read, right after the book had quoted César Vallejo: “Beloved the people who sit down.” Her eyes welled up. Beloved the people who sit down. She could look at the portrait and stroke the book and think: we understand each other. But you don’t know that. You, Kåre, she thought, even though she noticed that when she thought his name, it somehow didn’t feel quite natural. She tried to say it out loud now and then, re, but her voice sounded distorted whenever she said it, it wasn’t a natural name to say. She’d even looked it up in a name book, to see what it meant, and it didn’t mean, as she’d hoped, “the seer” or “protection” or “home,” or anything profound like that, any symbolic indication that he was in fact the one she had been searching for. Kåre just meant “the one with the curly hair.” But it didn’t matter, after all, it didn’t change the deep mystic bond that she felt between herself and his eyes on the back cover of the book. It was as though she knew who he was, as though it was real.


Yes, who are you, Tryvle? Here we see Kåre Tryvle. Not in miniature, but full-sized. And where is he? In Bergen. In Bergen, Sigrid’s town. In the same town where a girl of twenty-three is sitting in a room where the sharp January light comes in through the roof window, looking at a miniature portrait of Kåre Tryvle with the feeling that he represents hope in life, that very same man is standing, at nine o’clock in the morning, in front of an audience of about two hundred men and maybe thirty women, all dressed in suits, at the Hotel Norge. They’re at a business conference in Bergen, and Kåre has been asked to provide the morning’s entertainment. Kåre stands in front of his audience, dressed in dark, worn jeans and a hoodie, with a pair of new blue Adidas sneakers on his feet, and we can tell from his mouth that he’s talking, and it’s almost possible to see from the lines around his mouth that he’s saying something funny—et violà: the audience laughs. He holds up a book and says: it’s true, you can read it for yourselves, here. You have the perfect golf swing in you, you just need to find it. The audience laughs again. So there you have it, Golf Can’t Be This Simple, Kåre says. But, he continues, life is not always as simple as golf, unfortunately. And then he picks up a novel “that I have written myself,” as he says, and starts to read.

* * *

So, who are you, Kåre? If we look at him, knowing that he’s forty-three, and see that he’s wearing jeans and a hoodie and new Adidas sneakers, we might think that he’s trying desperately to seem younger than he actually is. Or we might think that he doesn’t care that he seems to be trying desperately to look younger than he is; he likes wearing hoodies. He doesn’t give a damn that this might make it look as though he’s having a midlife crisis. Hoodies reflect who he is and always has been. He doesn’t wear a shirt and suit. It would never cross his mind. If that means he has to go to a funeral in jeans and a hoodie, then so be it. It should be noted that the new Adidas sneakers are not quite in keeping with Kåre’s image; he prefers for everything to look used and worn. His hoodie is a little frayed, his jeans as well, dark and kind of rock ’n’ roll. He’s flung his big black down jacket on a chair behind him, the kind of down jacket with a fur-lined hood (only he’s taken the fur trim off, so it looks more like an anorak), and some headphones with a skull logo are sticking out of its pocket. They are quality headphones; Kåre wants only the best when he’s walking through town listening to music. They have to look cool too, which Skullcandy headphones most definitely do. If we were to turn on the iPod in his pocket, we’d hear what music he was listening to on his way to the Hotel Norge and discover that he’d had to stop PJ Harvey’s beautiful song “This Is Love” just as she sings: “I wanna chase you round the table, I wanna touch your head,” one of Kåre’s ten all-time favorite lines from pop songs, because of its simplicity and directness. That is to say, he’s shouted I wanna touch your head! many a time over a table in a bar late at night, even when he wasn’t coming on to anyone—though, to be completely honest, he’s shouted it when he was coming on to someone too, and it actually had a positive effect (after he’s touched the person he’s shouted at on the head)—but the main point for Kåre is the quality of the sentence, the simple straightforwardness of saying, I wanna touch your head. Kåre believes that every sentence should be like that, be it pop or literature, and that is the primary reason he shouts I wanna touch your head! over pub tables.

Copyright © 2008 by Kolon forlag