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Copyright © Iben Mondrup & Gyldendal, Copenhagen, 2012 Published by agreement with Gyldendal Group Agency Translation copyright © by Kerri A. Pierce, 2016 Originally published in Denmark as En to tre - Justine First edition, 2016 All rights reserved Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data: Available. ISBN-13: 978-1-940953-49-6 Open Letter is the University of Rochester’s nonprofit, literary translation press: Lattimore Hall 411, Box 270082, Rochester, NY 14627 www.openletterbooks.org Contents Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen Chapter Sixteen One An orange spot in the dark. A meteor has fallen. I head that way. Toward the heat. And the house. The flames are orange. They stretch up in the sky red licks the wood burns. My house is burning. People are here. They’re standing around the house that’s mine, and they’re watching it, or are also just now arriving. They shout. They draw, push, urge me forward. I’m standing next to the hedge. The flames leap hop, hop, hophophop from wall to roof to bush. My phone’s in my pocket. I can’t get it out. I think I’ve forgotten it’s there. No. I have it. And here comes Vita. She has a phone. She’s dialing. She says: Hello. She says it. My house is burning. The flames are black, leaping. You can’t save it, Vita says, she says: What’ll you do? Dry-powder extinguishing. Then the workshop collapses. It groans, cants outward tumbles inward. Settles onto the lawn pumps embers onto my hands. A child screams and cries. Mom screams the child screams for a mom. And there she is. I can see her. In flames. The fire devours a breast and an arm melts down to fat. Bent Launis shouts. They’re coming, they’re coming. The sirens seethe of wheels. A massive firetruck. A massive firetruck is coming. Firemen spring out, spring over great gaps, pull out the hose, turn o; n the spigot, pull on their masks, pump water onto the house and onto the workshop. The farmhouse roof squeals, bows, is warped, is coming down. Snaps. Falls. Ends. First there’s a headache and a throat and a person prone on a couch. They belong to the hands, which hurt. It’s me. It’s me that is me. I’m sure of that now. A growth on the couch, a cushion-wedged tumor. I’ve woken up on Vita’s couch, still in my clothes. I reach for something. A bottle maybe. No. A body. I reach for a body. I’m in Vita’s house. It’s Vita’s body I’m reaching for in the light from the window. Morning falls onto my boots. I lean forward to loosen the laces and see that there’s mud on the floor. Or vomit. My fingers won’t, and the laces snarl. Now she comes from the bedroom, parts the drapes with her hand, steps in or out. It’s not a Dream, it’s Reality in a shirt she looks like a young girl who fibs. Or a ghost, the way she blends with the drapes. “I’m here,” I say. “You’re here,” she says. “Indeed.” “Indeed.” “You need to sleep.” “I need to wake up.” “You stink.” I’ve got a uvula in my mouth and a tongue that’s swelling. I can barely get Vita down, it’s so crowded in there. She’s almost transparent with her eyes she’s seen my house. “Let’s go down and see it,” I say. “I’d like to see it, too.” “It’s not going anywhere,” she says. “In any case, you should do something about your hands first.” I’d like to go to the bedroom with her. She’s probably going to change clothes. Oh, won’t you stay with me? Go down to the house with me, won’t you? You and me. C’mon. I head into the hall and look at myself in the mirror. Strange. My head looks too small for my shoulders. Shrunken. My mouth looks like an asshole. Is that really me? Yes. You. I splash some water on my face. It’s so still around my face soaks the liquid up. Vita is somewhere else in the house, I don’t know where. “I’m doing it,” she says from that place, “Now I’m really leaving.” She evaporates. Three two one. I think. Water has scattered the pebbles. It flows out of the yard and turns into mud. There are trenches where cars scraped lines in the puddles. Grandpa’s gate is gone. I can walk right in. It crunches, I scrape the surface with my foot. Bitter is how it smells. Small is what it’s become. Flat under the open sky. In the kitchen, pipes stick out of the earth. The sink hangs counterless. My armoire is gone, yes, gone plain and simple. Grandpa’s armchair is just a jumble of springs. Plastic glasses are black clumps. No walls, and the worskshop roof is still on the lawn. The workshop itself, and everything it held, is gone. No walls prop up no works among shards of pots and glass, wood, paper, leather, brushes, sketches, cloth, and there’s the nail gun in a mess of rock wool. The neighbor’s tin shed has acquired a black façade and a fig bush with the fruit dripping syrup. Now Bent Launis comes. “It’s just awful. And all your things,” he says. He looks like he’s about to . . . no, Bent, don’t cry. “And your grandfather . . . it was one of the society’s finest houses,” he says. I see the house as he sees it, an afterimage between us. In the absence of red, it looks green, almost turquoise. “Of course we’d all like to see the house rebuilt. It was one of our gems. You’ve got insurance, right?” he says. “Just stop,” I say. “Just stop. Don’t you see it’s all red and burnt? I’ve got blisters on my hands—they burned inside, you know.” I hear myself shouting, and I hold my hands out to him. Bent takes them and says: “Well, for a start let’s go and put something cold on them.” He opens the door and pulls me inside. “Sit down there,” he says and wraps, wraps, wraps, and cools. “What were you just talking about?” he asks. “What did you say? There wasn’t anyone in the house? Oh hell, there wasn’t anyone, was there, Justine?” “No, no, no,” I say. “Who said that?” “Well, you did.” And then he wraps some more and nods. Avery young policeman takes down the report about the fire and the house. It’s all minutiae. He’s only asking the standard questions, he says, and then he explains the investigative process. It’s important, he says, to find the cause of the fire so that they can rule out criminal activity. Generally, though, that’s just important for the insurance, he tells me, and asks do I understand? Yes, I understand. Am I insured? I am. Who owned the house? I did. Where was I when the fire started? I sit on my side of the table and look at him and wonder if he knows it was Grandpa’s house that burned. How would he know that? He definitely doesn’t know that I have an exhibition in September, and that the artworks I was going to show were in that house, packed away in the plastic and cardboard that burned so beautifully. Actually, I was just waiting for the movers to come and pick everything up. “I was at the pub and came home and saw it burning,” I say. I wasn’t there celebrating, there hasn’t been anything to celebrate in a while, Vita doesn’t want to be with me anymore, and so I left. I just left, it’s been a while, a couple of weeks at least. Or was it just the other day? Last night? What’s happening? She was right there, now she’s not, and anyway, I think she was there this morning. I watch the officer, he’s so blue. He watches the paper and the pen as it wanders the spaces. He flips the page over and continues writing on yet another clean surface. Vita didn’t want to go to Iceland with me. She didn’t want to go anywhere with me, she said. Why should she? Hey you, it’s over. Now she’s sitting at home and waiting. The policeman has finished writing, there are no more questions. He says: “Well, that’s it then. Goodbye.” She’s not here. And every last bit is burned. I try to remember whether I locked the door before leaving. Why should I? I never do. Anyone could’ve waltzed in and poured out a gas can and set it ablaze. She could’ve grabbed a bottle of alcohol of the shelf, and then voilà: fire. But who the hell would come up with that idea? Am I losing it? I feel something in my pocket that sends a tingle through my gut, a key. No. Two of them. Vita still isn’t home. Jens and Lisbeth and Peppe are sitting beneath the flagpole in the Society’s park. They’ve raised a T-shirt that’s currently flying half-furled and they call: “Justine. Hey girl. What happened to your place? Grab a beer, tell us all about it.” I grab a beer from the cooler on which Peppe sits. They’ve figured out how it’s all connected, they’ve just been discussing it, Peppe says. They’re certain someone’s after me, and I’m pretty certain of it, too. That’s what I say somehow or other. “You can always come down here,” Lisbeth says. “I remember your grandfather well.” Her legs are swollen, taut and glossy with a bluish tinge. Peppe cuts in. He says that he also remembers Grandpa. Actually, he owes Grandpa a favor. I can stay with him and Jens. They haven’t seen Vita. They don’t notice when I leave either. Beneath a piece of particle board at the fire site is the door to the small earthen cellar. There’s still a package of butter, a chunk of cheese, and an open milk. I wander around and try to comprehend it, find a banana-shaped sneaker, sink down under the apple tree, puke. Never again will I hear Grandpa growl his irritability about this, that, or the other, snap at him, apologize and sympathize and move on. I inherited his burned house. He wanted it that way. “It’s mine,” he said. “Hell, I built it. And now it’s yours. Basta. And yeah, yeah, yeah, I know that it’s worth millions out here, but you just go on and try to sell it, my girl. You just dare to.” He died and it still isn’t right. Not on the inside. Grandpa built the house for Grandma. They had a little apartment in the city and needed some fresh air. All the Amager Allotment Society had was a tool shed. Grandpa worked the earth. Good, slow vegetables, he said. Healthy. And free. He got the land right before the war, but he only built the house after the war was over. A wooden house. Forty square meters. With mullion windows and a blue door. Ample, he said, big enough. When Grandma died, he moved out there, and after he had emptied the house, he converted the place to a studio. All the furniture and miscellany disappeared. Paintings and siccative and French turpentine moved in. I did the extension myself. After he died. Now he’s died all over again. The extension became a workshop, which ate up a good part of the garden, though he would’ve been fine with that. He would’ve had a good laugh if he’d known just how much being insured meant. After all, it’s just clean air and a good idea some suit dreamed up, just a swindle, what a humbug, he’d say. You’re responsible for what’s yours. Why invest in misfortune? No. You’ve got to be careful with fire, that confounded woodeater. I know it. A bitter experience dripping with syrup. If the house burns, you can always build a new one, right, Grandpa? It’s not the easiest thing in the world, and certainly not the cheapest, but in any case you can get it done. That’s how you’d look at it. “Don’t come here blabbing about money,” you would’ve said. You’d do it yourself for nothing, your muscles all supple, just nail some boards and go to town on the rest, and saw, hammer. She’s such an ass. No. Not an ass. She’s the hole. The asshole. No, that’s way too kind. A shit. The shit that comes from the asshole, that’s her. Schluck, she hits the floor, splat, and, god, what a stench. Maybe she’s back now? She’s obviously been at work in the herb garden. There are the tools leaned up against the side of the house. The straw hat hangs provocatively on the pitchfork and wants to lift off in the breeze, but it’s still here. Vita really is no place at all. She lives in the Society’s sole brick house and that amuses her. To be suburban amid sub-urbanites. I piss on the potatoes outside the bedroom window. That’ll make them stink. She hasn’t put the extra key back in its usual place beneath the pot on the steps. I’ll check again. Nope. She’d already removed the key the day after we quit. She said that’s what happens when someone splits up. What a shitty thing to say. “We’re not splitting up,” I said. “When you split up, it’s much more official.” At that point she took the key. “Is that official enough for you?” she asked. One might’ve expected her to make an exception in this type of situation. Nope. Her key is still in my pocket, and there’s also one to Ane’s studio. They jingle. I look through the kitchen window at a box on the kitchen counter. Green tops stick out. It’s Thursday and she’s obviously not been digging in the garden. Today she’s at the studio minding the sensitive casting process, as she calls it. Anything can go wrong at this point. Vita is a sculptor. With a large sculpture at the Kastrup Airport outside terminal three. She entices everyone. She rolls out distance like a carpet that can’t be stepped on. Ane doesn’t answer. I let it ring a time or two. She said that I should just let it ring. If that doesn’t work, I should call again, because now that she’s nursing she can’t always reach the phone. She sets it down in various places. That’s mommy brain for you, she says. C’mon. Pick up. Now she’s picking up. Nope. That was just the answering machine. Now she’s picking up. She’s spent the day with the baby, who got through an entire feeding without any problems, she says. Now he’s down for a nap. I tell her I’m in the city nearby. I don’t mention the fire. At the door she already notices my hands. “Oh no,” she says. “You’ve burned yourself.” She’s been waiting for tragedy to rain down like fire, and now it’s happened. “I can’t help it,” she says. “All I really want is for you to have a chance at a normal life. Why did something like this happen to you? Honestly, Justine. Can it get any worse?” Now we’re in the kitchen of her apartment. The baby is awake and on its stomach across her arm, she rocks it soundly up and down. “I just don’t get it,” she says. “It’s just too disturbing. Let me see your hands. They’re completely burned. Who wrapped them? Don’t you think you should have someone look at them?” It’s not all that bad. In some ways, it’s actually quite wonderful that my hands hurt. “Could someone have done it on purpose?” she asks. The baby closes his eyes. I shouldn’t have come here. I knew that beforehand, and now Ane tells me that Torben is on his way home. He had a gallery meeting. “I mean it,” she says. “You can stay at The Factory for a couple of days until you find some other place. There’s a kitchen in the hall where you can cook.” “Star-crossed love is a costly thing,” I say. “She disappears, before long she’s completely white.” “That’s a strange thing to say. Why did you say that? Did something happen with Vita?” she asks, putting a hand to my cheek. I’m not a little child. Take that hand away, no, leave it there. Ane disappears into the bedroom with the baby. She peppers me with questions while I sit in the kitchen waiting on answers, on her, on an exit. “Thanks for not asking if you can live here,” she says, handing me a sleeping bag. It’s Torben’s. “You can have it. He won’t need it anymore. After all, he’s a father now.” Two The Factory is enormous. Its roof resembles a toppled Toblerone piece. I’ve been here before. And this is the first time. That doesn’t sound quite right, but that’s how it is. I’m the selfsame who’s different now. Here mid-break there’s no one, or hardly anyone, around. Light streams into the expansive hall through skylights high overhead. On the floor is something that might have been a wooden sculpture, now sawed to pieces. The chainsaw is still plugged in. Crates and pallets are scattered around, angular islands in the large space. Ane occupies a long hallway with studios to either side. Here it is. She’s propped her works against the wall with the backs out so they’re not in the way. All the paintings and drawings that she’s still working on. Empty spots along the wall show where the paintings were hung, and long runnels of paint merge together on the floor. The idea was for her to escape the baby when the time came, so that she could get some work done. The time never came, the baby cried and had an upset stomach. He always had to be on her arm. Torben didn’t want to hear her say it was colic. Recently, he looked at me and said: “Well hell, all babies cry.” She’s prepared the space for me. The broom is against the wall in front of a pile on the floor. The table has been cleared and there’s a mattress leaning against a file cabinet. I unroll Torben’s sleeping bag. What a smell, I can’t sleep in that. I try the mattress out in the middle of the room and also next to the door. It’s best beside the wall, I think. From here I can survey the whole future. It casts itself rather unsteadily down to the corner store with beer thoughts that make my teeth water. The Factory is still deserted. I’m a small body in a large building. My hands are unwrapped now. I thought it was worse. These are just beer-filled blisters. I light a candle and lie down. Now I’m lying and falling, touching upon dream, reality, dream, reality. What’s the difference? It’s dark. Am I asleep? There’s Grandpa’s house in flames again anyway. And here I come dancing along the rooftop, devouring red wood, licking the paint off with a bubbling tongue, window panes shatter. And now I hear it. Yes. It’s really there. An itty bitty voice. I press my ear to the wall. It’s just the flames’ crackling, rather like suppressed laughter. Justi-hi-hi-hi-hi. Ouch. It’s growing hot. It bites my flesh, I turn and run and run and of course don’t get anywhere. So, it’s a dream then. Now I wake with my eyes. Light. Am I really awake? Oh; one of the candles has tipped over next to my head. Is it burning? The flame plays with paper sucks in wax, Torben’s sleeping bag crackles. Holding the pillow before my face, I slap at the flames with a cushion. Black becomes gray, and now it’s turning blue outside. Behind a wooden board in the hall are several large photographs. A girl I don’t know well, her name is Helene, has taken some self-portraits. She’s a painter. In these pictures, though, she’s obviously the photographer. Anyway, she’s the one in front of the mirror. She’s in her underwear. One hand holds out the camera that’s taking the pictures. The flash is a white sun burning a hole through her body. She’s unconcerned, her face beams. There are quite a few photos, a whole series of them, and in each one Helene is thinner. The bright eyes disappear in picture No. 7. She’s standing in front of the mirror and looking at herself in obvious disbelief. In No. 12 and No. 13 she’s holding a piece of paper with a date on it. No. 14 was taken on May 4, 1998. Here a sallow-skinned Helene leans against the wall inspecting a rump that’s no longer a rump. Then comes the last picture, which was taken nearly six months later. Here Helene is different. She’s in the same pose on skinny legs beneath an enormous body that hangs over the waistband of her panties like over-risen dough. She’s smiling. A terrible smile. That smile gives me a bad feeling inside. I let go; the pictures smack against the wall. That smile’s a state on the brink. And horribly, it reminds me of something else, Eske from the academy of arts, the guy with the depressed dad. His dad isn’t all there, he calls Eske at home and leaves messages on his answering machine. Every single day. When the answering machine picks up, he describes how he’ll take his own life. He’s come up with any number of ways to do it. He’ll hang himself from a tree. He’ll eat caustic soda. He’ll go straight out into the water and drown himself. Farewell. Eske had an exhibit for a time with a white box you could crawl into. When you were all the way inside, you could press play on the answering machine and listen to his father’s messages. “I’m going to do it. I’m really going to do it . . .” I’ve been in that white space. “I’ll do it soon. I’ll take my belt. The narrow leather one. I’ll fix it right up for you all.” Ane and her paintings fill the space. My person is broken down to small fragments, flitting around, colliding with everything that isn’t me, but rather her, and coalescing into a body. Finger. Print. That’s always the gist of us, right? One of Ane’s paintings is a paisley landscape without up and down, near and far, or horizon. She’s made a rip in which the colors blend in spirals inside the brain’s winding coils, and amid a flock reminiscent of thought, an underwater life of seaweed. Fish with bird heads, birds sporting arms, little girls with bare breasts and rough hands, boys without legs, some laughing, some bleeding. Three girls in French braids display their buttocks, spreading their cheeks to show their deep assholes. A boy combs a longhaired cat, and in the midst of it all a dog-ape hybrid is shaving its legs. I say it now: I think I’m some other. Or how should I put it? I’ve become some other. That other hasn’t become me, though. She didn’t exist before the fire. Or did she? She’s a new condition. At once definitive and boundless. I have no clue where we’re off to now. To the bathroom, where all is gray, and I inspect her in the mirror. She looks like me. She holds the large scissors in her hand lifts a hunk of hair. It’s my fingers that are chopping, my hair’s a hunk that falls. I’ve kept my hair this long always it’s lived a slow life together with me headed down toward the ground, ready to take root below. I cut again, graying the water, I keep cutting until I’ve come full-circle. The exact same woman in the mirror has an uneven pageboy. We’re different. And now what we want is to fuck, not cut. The place is deserted. He approaches from the front, a young man, well, a big boy really, with a smile on his open face. He approaches me and angles his head back so he won’t get cigarette smoke in his eyes. Then he places the hot water kettle and cups on the table and extends his hand through the barrier of air. With a squeeze he says: “Bo.” Now he removes the cigarette from his mouth. His hair springs in large curls away from his head. He’s sunburnt with eyes that are white in the white. “You’re the one who made that video of the woman doing the drum dance, right?” he asks. He rummages about, not just with his hand, but with his whole arm, no, with his whole body in my space. “I don’t think so. I’m some other.” “Some other? How can you be some other? Other than who?” “Than myself.” “I’m pretty sure it was you, and . . .” “I don’t think so.” At this point, I’ve turned around and left, because he can’t help it, after all, he’s just that open, pure and simple. But he’s unconcerned and on my heels, I can hear him, now he’s reached the door, he collides with it, uses a hip to push it open and enters the workshop balancing two cups, “coffee,” he says. His voice is so wry and he’s asked for it now. “Do you live out here?” he asks. The coffee makes a thin stripe down his hand and there’s a nimbus around him. Youth, I think, and inhale, a distinctive odor, sharp and dry. “I do, too.” He takes a chair, places his arms on the rests, brown and hairy, and asks if he can smoke. Apparently, it doesn’t faze him when I say no; the hair surges from his armpits like crimped fur. “Wasn’t it you in that video? But you don’t want to talk about it, right?” Now he stands up. Is he leaving already? No. He begins to flip the paintings. “Stop that,” I say. Now he’s leaving. No. He’s giving me a wry look. Like he thinks he’s got me figured out. Let him think that. I can tell he assumes things with me are off-kilter. Now he’s leaving. He draws a current of air behind, sharp and dry. You’d almost think nothing had happened. Kluden is right where it’s always been and Kelly is behind the bar. She’s working the night shift, just like the night before. She opens a beer as soon as I walk in, sets it down in front of me, and pronounces a name that could be mine, I recognize it in any case. “Well now,” Per Olsvig says, “you again?” He’s sitting at the end of the bar. “He hasn’t gone home,” Kelly says. “Sure I have,” Olsvig says. “I went to my fucking job.” It’s the same conversation about paid work, which is a necessity, even if you’re an artist. In a moment he’ll tell us everything he can’t recall saying before. That’s memory-slinging for you. They land on Kluden’s linoleum floor, back in the corners and beneath the bar stools, where they stick. “I was doing my thing at the grocery store,” Olsvig says. “See, that’s honest work with honest people. None of that pretentious piss you all go around and do.” Olsvig drains a shot and orders another on tab. He’s so gray. No. Now he shifts slightly and the light from the lamp over the bar falls red onto his face. In a moment I’ll buy him a beer. I feel like I’ve missed him, even though he’s so crass. There’s an open place right beside him. “Do I know you?” he asks. “Nah, I’m just ribbing you, Justine, come here and sit next to me.” We know each other as well as the song pumping through the room: “Stairway to Heaven.” The sound is like the smoke was massive. Searing. His hooded jersey is thick with grime and old paint, but I can’t detect an odor, and my head rests comfortably on his shoulder. He sucks heavily on his cigarette, then stubs the rest into the ashtray, taps the rhythm with his finger on the counter. The door opens, we don’t see who comes in, if they know us, it’ll happen. Olsvig lights a new cigarette. “Ahh,” he says, “what a day.” The beer is cold and curative. Right now I need Kelly, Olsvig, and “a Tuborg Gold,” I say, “no, two!” He kisses my forehead. Now I want his short arms around me. “Forty-two,” Kelly says. “Put in on my tab,” Olsvig says. His cheeks are lightly swollen with scattered stubble. I couldn’t care less, I want to be inside his body, behind the bluster and gestures, back behind it all, away. Somehow Per Olsvig just couldn’t help it. He graduated from the academy of arts about a year ago, and before that he was already selling his paintings. I was actually there the night it began. Olsvig owed a gallery owner some money, and instead of taking his money, the gallery owner told him he could display a couple of paintings and see whether or not they sold. Before half a day was gone, the gallery sold the first one and the second one shortly thereafter. The owner was beside himself. A mass of drinks were had at Kluden. He wanted everything in Olsvig’s studio, all that came from Olsvig’s fingers was pure gold, at least for a while. Until it stopped. Bo left a coffee cup and a stain. Vita notices of course. She notices everything, but acts like it’s nothing. Right there, that’s where she entered. Wait, didn’t she just wander in through the wall? “Why didn’t you use the door?” I ask. Obviously, she’s not going to answer. She’d rather talk about something else. That’s unusual. She wants to talk about “sex . . . you know exactly what I mean,” she says. “You head to the sack as soon as you meet someone. Do you even think about anything else?” “What do you mean by sex? He was just sweet,” I say. “I didn’t do anything. Where’s all this coming from?” “Who isn’t sweet?” she asks. “Who isn’t sweet and lovely in your eyes? Who isn’t so unbelievably wonderful that you just can’t help ripping their clothes off? And you know exactly what I mean.” “That’s the way people meet,” I say. “To claim otherwise is wrong. First there’s sex, the naked and the raw. And everything else comes after that. Besides, he knows he’s sexy.” “Oh right, you’re so smart. So in touch with yourself,” she says. “Could be. But do you really have to spit like that?” “Hey, I thought you liked secretions.” “I don’t get you.” “Obviously, he knows he’s sexy,” she says. “He has you right where he wants you. As usual, you think you’re in complete control. But you don’t control anything. You’re so transparent. So is he, of course. I give it two days before you’re swapping spit.” “Nothing happens. Sometimes it just up and happens,” I say. “Don’t go thinking that you’re the only person capable of being attracted to someone else. Actually, we’re all capable. But that doesn’t mean that we just run around and do it with anyone. We stop ourselves before it comes to sex.” She walks through the wall. “That’s pretty smart,” she says, looking down at herself. “Smart.” Three Ane came all the way out here while I snoozed, right through the door, no slipping through the wall like Vita. Her timing isn’t the best, I was in the middle of a party at some other allotment society, Våren, I think it was. Bo was also there, in shorts. His legs stuck out the bottom with crinkly hair and large, well-trimmed hooves. He was confiding something and was leaning over me with his entire weight when Ane came bursting in with the baby in a sling on her chest. “How wild, Justine. You got a haircut. It looks wild. Why did you do it?’ I shake my hair. “Well, it’s weird. But somehow it fits you.” She unfastens the child and puts him in the stroller. “I just came by to see if you had enough room.” Her gaze sweeps the space, moving from paintings to work table. “You can stay here as long as you want.” In one smooth motion she’s at the table, rummage, rummage. “So, is there anything new on the fire?” She flips papers, takes something out, covers it up, rolls it all together. “Do you need the studio?” I ask. “No, not at all. I’ve already told you that.” She gives me a look that implies both consideration and vexation. “How are you doing?” She turns her back to me and tries stuffing the roll into a cardboard tube, but it’s too loose and bursts apart. I make for the elsewhere of the kitchen and wait a bit before returning. She’s finished packing. The baby is awake and the pacifier slides wetly in and out of his mouth. “I finally got him to take it. Did you see?” She bends aside so I can see the baby’s face. “It’s funny,” she says. “It really does seem to help a bit.” Now it’s choking him. She pulls on the pacifier to persuade him to take it again, but he refuses. So she steps over the mattress, takes a seat at the table, and starts liberating her breasts. “There’s been a lot of turnover out here lately,” she says. The boy’s big irises scream: Help. With a hand she supports his head and forces it onto her breast. He has no choice but to accept the nipple that’s swollen and pearled white. The boy coughs and milk streams out. “But you’re next to Trine Markhøj. You know Trine pretty well, right?” Burp. Ane holds the baby out from her, milk splatters the floor. “Take him,” she says. She tucks her breasts back into place. The boy’s a disaster, a baby elephant that’s shat itself. “It wasn’t your fault,” I say. He goes back in the carriage and Ane starts rocking. “You have to do it with some force. That makes him fall asleep faster,” she says. Back and forth, back and forth, she doesn’t take up much space without the kid. Her gaze makes a final sweep and lands on me. “I should go.” Good. When did the whole thing with Ane and Torben start? Let’s see, it was probably back during the Berlin trip with Ole Willum, a teacher at the academy of arts. We were staying in the academy’s apartment on the attic floor of a large estate out by the Spree. The gable fronting the water had two large glass doors, but the balcony itself was missing, all that remained of it were the iron fittings to which it was once attached. Torben leaned carefully out and groaned. He was afraid of heights, he said, and didn’t want to get too close to the windows. When it came time to choose where we’d sleep, he chose one of the other rooms. Ole Willum had a show at a small gallery in the city and we were supposed to head out there after unpacking. Torben, a couple of other guys, and Rose, she was always hanging out with the boys, turned up quite a bit later than the rest of us. They were already in high spirits, and were carrying two bags of Weißbier bottles. Ane and I each grabbed a beer and went outside. With a loud laugh, Rose swung her bottle so that it splashed Ane. “Oh, sorry, little Ane,” she said, giggling again and shoving Torben who shoved her back. Inside the gallery the rest of the students were walking around and experiencing the installation. Willum had created three universes that he’d taken from Björk songs, a red space, a blue one, and a white, each equipped with diverse effects, furniture, and some curtains. Ane gave Rose a dirty look. “So, aren’t you going in to see the exhibit?” she asked. Rose didn’t hear her, but kept fooling around with Torben and the others. Willum said our task during the trip was to create a book. The actual content could be whatever we wanted, but the point was to translate an art project onto the books’ pages, just like he’d translated Björk’s “All Is Full of Love” to the show’s white space and her “Come to Me” to the red. That evening Willum invited two of his friends, an artist couple, to the apartment. The woman, her name was Leise, had done several art books. She showed us her latest, a print series that more or less gave the identical impression of being somewhat dark, somewhat moist, somewhat hairy, somewhat bulbous. The book was entitled Durch. Leise explained that the impressions had been taken the moment a baby emerged from its mother’s womb. She’d attended twenty-five births, and the instant the baby bubbled forth from between its laboring mother’s legs, Leise had pressed the paper to its bloody cranium. Torben, who was well plied with Weißbier by that time, bent over and inspected the book. “Does it smell?” he asked. His nostrils vibrated. Rose snatched the book from his hands and tossed it onto the sofa. He headed for the bathroom and Rose followed. After Leise and her husband left, Willum and some of the others sat in a circle around a candle on the floor. Outside was blue black. A tall girl lay with her arms hanging out the terrace doors. Suddenly, someone was shouting: “It’s Torben, it’s Torben.” Rose pointed out the slanting roof window and we took turns peering out. There on the neighboring roofline a figure was hunched against the sky. It was crawling along the roof’s long ridge. “No fucking way, that can’t be Torben,” Ole Willum said. “How the hell did he even get up there?” “He crawled out one of the attic windows,” Rose shouted. She forced her way to the window and opened it. “Torben! Come back in! Right now! You’re going to fucking fall from way up there! You’re drunk!” The shadow that was Torben continued along the roofline until it reached a point directly above a window bay and stretched itself to full Torben height. Abruptly, it slid out and down, landing on the bay. Rose shrieked and raced through the attic to the window out of which Torben had first disappeared, flailing and kicking to get her shoes off, and was on her way out when Willum intervened. “I’d never actually tell anybody! I’d never do that! I was just talking!” she yelled to Torben. Torben was slumped against the bay window. People on the floors below were hanging out of their windows, some hollered that they’d call the police if it didn’t quiet down. Willum shouted back that it was all under control, just some performance art. Two hours later Torben was back. Rose had finally persuaded him to crawl in and climb onto the sofa with her. She lay there with a beer. After announcing that he wasn’t taking responsibility for someone getting hurt, especially not while they were plastered, Willum went home. Torben sat nodding with a cup of coffee in his hand, and Rose fell asleep on the couch. The others went to bed. Ane and I had planned to sleep on the floor next to the doors facing the river, where it glistened, but Ane wanted to help Torben climb into his sleeping bag first. The next day Torben was up first, he poured coffee into two vases. Rose was still asleep in her clothes on the couch. Ane wanted to head out immediately. She was going to do something with animals in her book and had bought herself a weekly zoo pass. Before I’d even finished brushing my teeth, she’d left, and she’d taken her sleeping bag with her. Rose woke up and called for Torben, but he was already gone. He’d taken both his sleeping bag and his backpack. Rose popped open the last beer and lay back down. “Fuck, he’s not too bright,” she said. “He has no idea what he’s doing when he’s drunk. One time he almost jumped from his workshop at the school.” “I thought he was afraid of heights,” observed the tall girl who hadn’t started on her book yet. “I have no fucking clue what his deal is,” Rose said. “But anyway, he can’t control himself for shit. Did he say where he was going?” I packed my bag with a camera, some India ink, and a pad of paper. The only thing that came to mind when I thought of my book’s pages were bloody cunts and bloody craniums. That’s the exact project that I wanted to create. Unfortunately, my ink was way too blue. I made a mass of doodles, sheer nonsense. That evening Willum asked how our first day in Berlin went. Rose said that Berlin was boring, and she thought she could work at home as well as here. “So work here,” Willum said. Rose snorted and lit a cigarette, apparently unconcerned that we’d all agreed to smoke only in the kitchen. It got dark and still Ane wasn’t home. Rose lay on the couch with a cigarette stub hanging from the corner of her mouth. Torben wasn’t back either. “Wake me up when he gets here,” Rose said and fell asleep. On the water the sky sailed past in gleaming patches. Ane finally turned up on the third day. Torben, too. “We were in the Tiergarten,” she said. Torben flipped through the pages that would eventually make a book. “Show them to Justine,” Ane said. Rose, who’d decided her book would just be an ash tray, lit a cigarette and stubbed the previous one out on a piece of paper. Torben handed me a pile of drawings. “Assholes,” he said. “And eyes,” Ane added. They were done in pen, hairy, wrinkled, protruding wreaths. “Gross,” Rose said, standing up from the couch and leaving. Willum flipped through the pages. “What the hell’s wrong with her?” he said. “These are really great. Just stylized assholes.” “And eyes,” Ane added. She collected the sheets and tied a string around them, readying them to be glued and covered. “Can I see what you did?” she asked. “I didn’t do anything.” “You didn’t do anything?” Of course I did. For instance, I wondered where the hell she might’ve gone. I’d gone to Tiergarten, and naturally there was no Ane, neither the kiosk woman nor the people standing at the entrance had seen her. It was all a load of crap. Berlin. Willum and his installation, too. And myself. I was also a load of crap. “Those are some fat assholes,” I said, pointing to the elephant’s iris. “We slept in a forest,” Ane said. Torben and Ane stayed in the apartment that night. They put their sleeping pads on the floor beneath the window. Later that night, after everyone had gone to bed, an extremely drunk Rose appeared. She kicked the kitchen chairs and shouted at Torben. “What do you want?” Ane asked. “Can’t you just leave him alone?” “What the fuck do you know about it, little Ane? Why are you getting involved anyway?” “Well, I know he doesn’t want to be with you.” “He doesn’t want to be with you either, you idiot. You insane little idiot. Sweet, stupid little Ane with all her sweet little stories. If you think he wants to be with you, you’re completely fucking wrong. You don’t know shit about him, do you? No, why should you? One woman’s not enough for him, capiche? He can’t keep his dick in his pants. Not that he goes around bragging about it. At least he’s smart enough for that. And that’s a whole lot smarter than you are.” “Yeah. Well, and you, too,” Ane said, vanishing into the attic and slamming the door. On Friday we set out our books on the floor and went through them. In terms of melancholy, Rose’s book was the best, and Willum admitted it was good, even though he thought it’d been an arrogant way to complete the assignment. Willum was also extremely pleased with Ane and Torben’s book. You just couldn’t tell, he said, if it was an eye or an asshole staring you down. Torben is big. His body, his mouth, all of it. He majored in graphic design with a group of guys who sought, sought, sought toward the extremes. It has to be about men, they said, and established an artist group. Their first show featured some paintings they’d schlepped to a barracks out in Slagelse. Once there they’d laid them in a pasture so a private could drive over them with a tank. The exhibit was held in Kolding. At the opening, they sat in the gallery around a card table playing poker, drinking whiskey, and smoking cigars. Torben got so drunk that he shit his pants. In the wee hours of the morning he traipsed around the city wrapped in a T-shirt with shit running down his legs. The rumor made it around the whole school, but Ane, of course, didn’t believe a word. After that it was exclusively about pushing limits. At one point the group ingested everything it could get its hands on, everything that could be introduced into the human body with reasonable ease. One guy got addicted to some particularly hard stuff, and eventually he was thrown out of the academy for putting the fancy chairs in the banquet hall up for sale on eBay. After he left, the other guys started shooting at themselves with various implements or cutting themselves. Or they had the others cut them while they taped it on video. Ane could watch an entire self-torture video to end without blinking, and there was one episode she found especially appealing. It featured Torben sticking a nail in his hand. He did it over and over again, even after he’d made a large, bloody hole. “I don’t know why,” she said. “I can’t seem to get it out of my head.” She considered switching to graphic arts, since she thought it would be fun to be a girl surrounded by that sort of guy. I asked: “What sort of guy?” “Uncompromising,” she said. “Wild.” However, then she attended one of the department’s get-togethers and the professor didn’t so much as acknowledge her presence. There were other new students that he questioned about this and that, including their interest in graphics. One of the other aspirants had brought along some photographs that he’d taken the liberty of hanging around the room before everyone arrived. The pictures were taken one night when, returning from the city drunk, he’d danced around his bedroom before the camera in a pair of ridiculous underpants. The guy was chubby and pale, anything but a Chippendale, and the harsh flash only made a hapless situation worse. Despite the fact that there were some really raw pictures, and much was said about loneliness, self-exposure, and sex, the professor failed to see the quality in them. The guy, who was as deft at clarifying his work as he was at being his work, couldn’t make any headway. It was unbearable, Ane thought. At first Torben wasn’t particularly interested in Ane, who bustled around in her rather overlarge smock and talked shop. However, his indifference, which persisted even after our Berlin trip, actually attracted her. He didn’t want to tie himself down, she said, and you know, she liked that. It was only following the Christmas party during our second year that she seriously managed to pin him down. Some girls from one of the painting departments had transformed the party’s setting into a three-dimensional work of art. Cheeses hung against a black wall like pock-marked planets. Torben got extremely drunk after bragging that he could down a flask of schnapps in less than half an hour. In the middle of an anthem he fell off the table and split his chin. Later he tried kicking out the DJ because he thought she was playing shit music, but before he could accomplish the task, a pair of the DJ’s friends came along and threw him out instead. They dragged him out the door and down to the plaza and only let him go when they’d gotten quite far away from the party. When he made his way back to the academy, Ane was there to collect him. She found him in the courtyard and put him in a taxi and and took him back to her place. Right after that he moved in with her. He’s wanted to pulverize her from the beginning, to move in and force her out. I’m not just imagining it. Perhaps he doesn’t even know it. But I’m certain. Eventually, it’ll become clear. He’s together with her so that in some insidious way he can squeeze her life out. Four Now. Vita’s towering up. She’s standing tall and white. From below, her face looks like two nostrils and a chin, and her breasts are two sacs with raspberry nipples, ripe for the plucking, they almost tumble into your hand, plop. They’re visible because her stomach is flat, her tuft of hair smooth. Vita stands directly over my head with legs spread and opens her mouth, dribbles silence. If she could just relax a little. If she could just relax, she’d see it. Vita still has something we can share, but she tramps around my face and shoves all else aside, everything that I should reasonably be thinking about, everything that needs to be done, works that never even existed as ideas yet. Every time I think of something concrete, my thoughts stall, and there she is again. Her body. Her leg hair. She has goose bumps. She wants to be bitten on the thigh. She says: Bite hard, that’s what I want. Topple her to the floor, screw her and her head on the floor, screw her hard, spread that flesh, woman, find that finger, rub oblivion into the juicy wound, suck, soothe. Vita. I know what she means. No use in pretending otherwise. Take, for example, what can I say, take . . . that day at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. Vita and I took part in a big exhibit there that featured art from all over Scandinavia. She’d been looking forward to the evening, the lawns, the view over the water, stemmed glasses, and distinguished words about what makes art space a community. It was very evocative and solemn. We knew most of the guests, so there were plenty of people to talk to and plenty to talk about. Vita had a sculpture out on the lawn reminiscent of a steel top tipped over. We watched out the glass corridor and saw how people couldn’t help but stop and touch the gleaming metal. Important individuals came by, we chatted with them, had our glasses refilled, and toasted almost light-heartedly. It’d been a while since Vita had wanted to go anywhere with me, but since the exhibition was at Louisiana, and since we were both showing pieces, she thought the night might attain a certain level of class. “It’s going good with me,” she said, and that was good. I made a point of talking to Lars Henningsen and his wife. Henningsen had been a professor at the academy when Vita was there, and now he sat on one of the major foundations that purchased art. She’d been one of his best students, he confided in me while Vita pretended not to hear. The purchasing committee was going to come and see the exhibit again later that month, they were looking for a sculpture, preferably a large one. “He has the lifelong grant,” Vita said after Henningsen and his wife had gone. “But I don’t think he does anything anymore. He’s almost blind.” “Do you think he’ll buy your top?” I asked. “Obviously,” Vita said. “Well, couldn’t he also decide to buy my work? Does he know who I am?” “Who?” My contribution to the exhibit was a self-made video, a Greenlandic drum dance and some singing, five intense minutes of it. I installed the video in a white room together with three tubs of fish, and it was, for all intents and purposes, impossible to watch the whole video without feeling sick. “Did you plan on selling the work?” Vita asked. “I don’t care about money.” “Then what do you want with Lars Henningsen?” “I was just curious if he knew who I was.” “Next time I’ll introduce you,” Vita said, no doubt certain by that point that there wouldn’t be a next time. She was good at talking to people when it suited her, and that night it suited her. Wine flowed into our stemmed glasses and from there into us. Vita fell into conversation with a female sculptor who lived out on Malmö. They knew each other from the Department of Sculpture at the Academy of Arts and talked in a way that was light rather than deep, with emphasis placed on the known and the forgotten. Well, I forgot Vita and grew ebullient. It was the wine combined with the nice weather. Vita talked to an art critic who wanted to write something about her decorations, a whole square out in front of the black monolith-shaped financial center that she was in the process of designing. I circulated and saw that my video was impacting the senses. The evening wore on, people were leaving. By that point I’d joined a cluster of people who were all complaining about the same thing, and Vita’s brows had acquired their furrow, perhaps because she knew I had no immediate plans to leave. Then I suggested that we go. “Are you sure you want to?” she asked. “Yes, yes, come on,” I said and headed toward the exit. And there stood the rest of the group. One of them, Johannes, was a wild-eyed, good-looking Swedish guy I’d talked to earlier. The group bemoaned us leaving, they wanted us to head into the city with them. Vita was like a person who’d expected to conquer a mountain, only to be confronted by yet another peak, and so she climbed into a taxi. I sent Vita away with Johannes’s eyes burning a hole in my neck, and it didn’t take too many negotiations before we were standing in a gateway. He took me with huge, scallop-shaped hands, pressed my flesh, marked my skin, supported me with his stalk, and pumped so hard my head grated the rough wall. He came in cascades, filled me with his tenderness, made canine sounds. Afterward, his soft parts withdrew and he became gentle. The eyes, the look, the beast with the gash of a mouth and saliva beneath the chin, he made me want to howl. “I’m not sure I completely understand all that with the fish,” Johannes said later when we were sitting at the bar. “But who gives a fuck. The film is awesome.” “Do you want to know? Do you really want to know?” I mumbled. “Of course I do, man. Tell me.” “They stink. That’s why they’re there.” Johannes was an artist from the academy of arts in Stockholm, but he didn’t understand what I meant. “Doesn’t matter,” I said. Maybe the fish weren’t such a good idea after all. Maybe they were actually there in Vita’s honor. They were glossier than steel, they were far steelier than steel. I could tell that she hated them, even if she didn’t say it. I had Johannes’s full attention. Until I became too drunk to talk and took a taxi home to Sønderhaven. When I returned home like that at night or early in the morning, she was a coldness, a distance. Her body said: Tell me, woman, what actual power do you think you have over me? Her work occupied more time than it usually did, even though she didn’t have any particular projects she was supposed to be finishing. She took off to Jutland for the weekend without telling me, maybe she had a friend with her, maybe a colleague. They were going to see a burial mound, she said when I asked. I pictured her walking beneath the winter sky with a red nose and mittens together with Harriet, another sculptor, who’d also developed a sudden interest in antiquity’s monuments. All I could do was lay there at home alone and think about things, twist and turn them, look at them from various angles. I was certain she knew everything. Or did she? Vita said nothing. She was just distracted and distant, if not downright departed. One time she called me from the central station and asked if I wanted to travel with her to Odense. She was going to an opening at a sculpture park where some of her sculptor friends had fashioned two new bridges, but the trains had been delayed, and then it occurred to her that maybe I’d like to come too. I only needed to pack a couple pairs of underwear and some clothes, she said, and we’d stay at a hotel. Some clothes, some underwear, and some water from the kiosk. No word about that which also has a name: infidelity. Ooh. Ahh. I’ll fuck you up. How could you do that? You’ll fuck me up. I don’t ever want to see you again until I actually want to see you again. I attempted an excuse. I said: “I’ve thought about it . . . that thing that weekend . . . it meant . . .” I thought of something Ane had said, that I acted like an animal, a filthy, ass-sniffing male dog. Vita put up that expression: Just tell me, bitch . . . There was nothing to talk about. I love her. I already loved her that New Year’s Eve when the light had long since departed, everyone had gone home, it was only us tough dogs left. We dragged the old Christmas trees to the fire pit to celebrate, and oh, what a party. It took an entire can of kerosene to start it, but then the fire took hold. The needles sputtered and rose aloft, and suddenly there was Vita holding a bag against the flames. I shouted for her to come away from there, my voice was rather shrill, more so than I would’ve thought. It was the sight, she was so beautiful, like electricity. Sparks leaped off her hair and forehead as she stepped away from the flames, and stars and needles burned an image in my mind. Vita had a workshop in Valby, I knew, and one day I sniffed my way there. It was late on one of the afternoons that Valby’s galleries hold their openings. I found the address on a side road with pitted asphalt, and a bell next to the gate. After a while Vita emerged from a flat building. She was wearing a shirt and overalls. “Did you get lost?” she asked. “I don’t think so,” I said. “Which opening are you looking for?” “I don’t actually know,” I said and giggled. The little hall was tidy. Light streamed through a series of small windows set high up. There was a compressor in the middle of the floor, and some tarpaulin covered sculptures farther back. “Now that you’re here, you might as well see them,” Vita said and began removing the tarpaulin from one: a white cylinder like a medium-sized wading pool, about a meter or so high. The cylinder’s circular surface was bowled, and to one side of the depression was a sphere: an over-dimensional pea paused on its rolling trajectory to the plate’s bottom. “I’ve never seen that one before,” I said. “Well, it’s only been shown once.” “Now I see it.” I circled the sculpture. “It’s quivering,” I said. “That’s because the depression is cut asymmetrically, so it appears to be sliding. Let me show you the other,” she said and withdrew the tarpaulin from the other sculpture, this one light yellow. The bowl on this cylinder’s surface was bubbled, the surface tension of a water droplet right before it bursts. “I see a boob,” I said. “I think I’m about to finalize an agreement to place both,” she said. We went out into the winter garden behind the workshop. Here there was a bronze drop. There was also a bench. Vita’s energies swirled around the glass conservatory, they flowed from her in tingling streams. Her strong, clean hands, the pale nape beneath her hair, the way she avoided touching me, reached for a watering can, dusted the sand off her hands. We sat side by side. The ease of her movements and the weight of her gaze. I thought that now I nearly had her, and yet I didn’t have her at all, but sat blanching instead in my workshop. I began to bike the opposite of my normal route, but I never saw her. She works a ton, I thought. Finally, I called her and asked if she wanted to go out, I don’t know, somewhere or other. Vita didn’t have a lot of spare time. She was so smooth. One day when I saw that her windows were lit and was certain she was home, I simply went back with a bottle of wine. She opened up and . . . oh, but she was beautiful. The evening ended with us coming over to my place and looking at my things. Vita wanted to watch the video that had gotten me into the academy. We laughed together. At the video. She was impressed and astonished. She thought I was tough. And absurd. Right at the tipping point between the two, she said. We watched more of my videos. And the more we watched, the more serious Vita became. “There’s really something here,” she said. “You obviously have a special force.” She compared me to a smoldering volcano. “No,” she said. “You’re potential energy. You’re . . . you’re . . . You’re right beneath the surface.” We drank red wine with flushed cheeks. Vita leaned back her head, arched her throat. “God, it’s late,” she suddenly said, standing up. In a moment she’ll turn around and come and sit down again. Then I’ll put my arms around her. Then I’ll draw her to my chest. Her first steps were backward out of the garden while she held my gaze with her body. When she rammed into Launis’s hedge, she turned and giggled. She left. She came again. She came again and she came. The small breasts, two drops on a body of desire. There. Slap me right there, she said. I slapped, and the drops trembled, caught her fast with my hands around her throat. Her fingers gave again. Those fingers. Modeled my body without and within: Here’s a hill, a ridge, a hole, she said, cylinder, triangle, and cube. A nest, a slit, a grave, a grotto, I said, piss on me, a pot. She combed my hair with sure strokes, brought my locks to general order. I grew canines. Her firm, white body. The cleft. The tightness. Eat me. I wanted to suck her tiny toes always and hear her shout in earnest that I was just as encompassing and just as insistent as the most complex work of art. Of all my things she liked, those that behaved like a mass in space were what she liked the best, and it turned out that she was even well acquainted with some of my work. In all the time she’d lived in Sønderhaven, she’d known that I was an artist. She mentioned a work that she immediately proceeded to connect to other artists’ works, an American here, and a German there. Vita was a sculptor because sculpture was related to the body and to philosophy, to the world and to phenomena and all that, she explained. Just like many others in her class, she’d been obsessed by the French theorists that we, who attended the academy later, became familiar with as aftermath. Vita said outright that sculpture was the only true art form. All else was derived from the sculptural. A lesser form of statement. Back when my works existed, and that wasn’t more than a couple of days ago, you know, there were three large papier-mâché rocks and a small one, a tent made of hide, and a turf hut you could enter. The plan was this: Four days a week settlement life would take place in the X-Room at the National Gallery of Denmark, with soapstone lamps, cooking vessels, and bone-carving. It would be like a time machine: enter the museum’s elevator and then, whoosh, back to settlement life in the 1200s. A father and a mother and a child would bustle around and do what people did back then, it would be a living installation. The soapstone lamp and the turf hut turned out great. The hut was frothed up and cut from insulation foam, and then painted gray, black, green, becoming brown turf grass. The soapstone lamp was a tin alcohol burner. Jens from the park would play the father, and one of his friends, someone I didn’t know, would play the mother. Launis’s youngest daughter would be the child. She’d sit and sew on something gray. The father was just returned from the catch. He would sit and carve a bone, or something resembling a bone, but that wasn’t so solid. The mother would tend to the cooking. There would be the odors of leather and dried fish. Now the whole is black and leveled. I whisper it way down where no one, not even myself, can hear: That’s good. Shhh. Marianne Fillerup was crazy about the settlement. She’d been on a tour I’d conducted at the National Museum of Denmark back when she’d just become inspector for the National Gallery of Denmark. Fillerup followed what was moving and shaking, she said, and it was high time the National Museum showed something like this. I had an interesting and unique way of working, she thought. I explained the piece to Vita, of course, the individual details, the whole shebang. I was ready to haul over some of the figures I’d carved out of ivory-colored wax, I thought she would like them. It was almost like sculpture. “Haven’t you gone far enough with ironic distance,” she said. “It’s no joke, Justine. You’re exhibiting in the X-Room. People don’t buy just anything.” That thought hadn’t even occurred to me. Anyway, the point wasn’t to have them buy something. What joke? Five Grandpa was trained as a building painter, but that didn’t interest him. Art, however, did. He and my grandmother lived in a ground-floor apartment in a building in the outskirts of Copenhagen. When the building was undergoing renovation, Grandpa finagled the basement spaces and outfitted them as a studio. “Painting, my girl, is wisdom,” he said. “Mark my words. If the brand is good, that is. And, unfortunately, that’s not often the case.” For Grandpa it was all about the body, about its majesty and its deterioration. That meant figure studies of men and women en masse—not to mention meat. He’d stop in the middle of the street and stare intensely at some passerby, evaluating the random person’s potential as a nude model and forming an impression of the covered body’s lines and crevices, the skin’s tactility beneath the clothes. Was it pimpled? Was it smooth? Maybe scarred? Grandpa was productive and affiliated with an art association that had a couple of permanent exhibitions a year, and so he showed for a loyal audience in an Odense gallery. “That’s enough for me. I don’t want any more attention than that. Why would I need all that hullabaloo?” he said. He worked in the basement together with me. Instead of knocking on the staircase door, I called to him from the sidewalk beneath the window. We took the back way, down into the dark, and we closed the door behind us, him unpacking his brushes while I uncovered the paints on the palette. Together we said: “Ohh, this is peace.” Every time he needed a new color for the palette, it was my job to find it in the tube box. “Zinc white!” he’d growl. “Carmine!” I organized the tubes according to shades, naples, indigo. I’d browse the rainbow and find the exact reddish-blue tint for which he asked. Sometimes he’d use me as a model. I had to sit completely still while he sketched the motif, and while he painted, a stone was I. Afterward, when I saw the finished painting, I didn’t recognize myself. My head was red and blue and pink with greenish shadows. My mouth was violet and white, and my eyes glinted yellow. Grandpa explained that that’s what the colors’ nuances looked like in the light. Nothing is what one imagines. Skin color, red or white, colors themselves don’t exist, they must be seen in context. “Now take a look here,” he said. “Next to light green, gray looks light red. Can you see that? And next to violet it becomes yellow. Pretty unbelievable, huh?” Colors are unstable, always ready to surrender. His face lit up when he talked about them. When he looked at me. When his gaze swung between me and the canvas, and brushes and spatula went to work. One afternoon I came home and found Grandpa extremely excited. Before I could call to him, he’d already rushed down the stairs and stood at the door. “We have to go to the basement right now, right now, come on, come on,” he said. “What about Grandma?” “Why are you always so concerned about her? I’ve taken care of her already. What did you think? That she was just sitting up there waiting?” Down in the basement Grandpa switched on the ceiling bulb, and a couple of steps later he was at the padlock to the studio. “Now you’ll just see what I’ve got. You won’t believe your eyes,” he said, opening the door. A cloying scent filled the basement hall. “One, two, three,” Grandpa said and drew a paper bag off a large pile on the work table. “What do you say to that?” On the table was a heap of bones with flesh and tendons bared. “It’s bones. Horse bones, my girl. Horse bones.” Grandpa lifted a pair of the naked limbs, he rummaged around in the pile to bring them entirely to light. “See, aren’t they wonderful. Just take a look here.” He held out a shank. “And I got them for a song. Down at the butcher’s, you know, the one right across from the station. It was pure luck. It was only because the guy the bones were meant for didn’t want them. His dog died, apparently. Of course, there’s dogs and then there’s dogs. It was a Great Dane. That’s a little dog-horse right there.” I had no idea what to say. I’d never seen so many dead animals before in all my life. Grandpa grabbed me. “Time to paint, Justine! By the devil, it’s time to go to work!” Grandpa began his flesh-and-bone painting process. From every side and angle, with and without the meat, he painted those bones, and as time wore on, in the various stages of decomposition. The smell in the cellar transformed from a sickly odor to a stench no one but he could tolerate. The police came and kicked the door in, thinking there had been a crime. Fortunately, Grandpa was done by then. It might’ve been difficult to convince him he was disturbing the peace with his nonsense. The paintings were there when I moved into the house two years ago. They stood in the garden shed on the shelves he’d built for them. Height, width and depth designed to fit the formats. I opened the shed and stepped into my grandfather’s mind. There were paintings from back before I was born. My grandmother was there. She was naked. She was dressed in blue. She glinted red. Once upon a time she was a woman with friends and occupations, my Grandpa said. It was only after my mother was born that she changed. She began speaking in tongues at the onset of labor. The birth was long and it stalled several times. Each time the contractions returned, Grandpa said, my grandmother thought the devil had come to rip her guts out. Help me, kill him, she shrieked. Help me, kill him. Grandpa’s voice rose to a falsetto whenever he mimicked that terrible shriek. Finally, she was so exhausted the doctors began to doubt she could have the baby, but then my mother came out, a prodigious child, blue-violet, almost five kilos. Grandma looked pretty in the soft colors of the painting. That’s how she looked, Grandpa said. In the first months after the birth she slipped in and out of her fantasies. Finally, they engulfed her. She grew disinterested, Grandpa said, taken by a disease that had always dwelt within her body, but that had only emerged when she became a mother. My grandmother couldn’t do it, so Grandpa was a mother to my mother. When my grandmother came home after three months in the hospital, he cared for her, too, as well as minding his own work. Grandpa had explored the same color spectra over and over in his paintings—pink, and the way gray becomes green. I borrowed a cart and hauled the paintings to the bulk waste. The next day I retrieved them again. It was beginning to rain. They hung in the heat from the wood stove and reeked. They stood in a row along the wall, lay in a pile on the floor, and then were packed in bubble wrap with protective corners and placed in Ane’s attic. All the self-portraits Grandpa did from the torso up, the cadaver paintings, and many, many studies of a child’s skin went to the gallery in Odense on the condition that they transfer some money to me whenever anything sold. The first time I took him to the academy was because we were going to see the school’s June exhibition. The summer day was dry and hot with plenty of sun and ease. The neighborhood around Charlottenborg, a sixteenth-century palace, and the streets behind it frothed with activity as people swept back and forth with works meant for display. Grandpa hobbled along. On the way up the stairs leading to the studios we were bowled over by a girl who then collapsed forward onto the pavement. “She ate a pot brownie,” her boyfriend mumbled, glancing at Grandpa. The girl pushed herself up and stumbled over to a gate and vomited. “No, I’m not going in there,” Grandpa said and halted. Finally, we succeeded in forcing our way through the people crowding the stairs. We’d nearly reached the top and stood at the entrance to a space created by tarpaulins from a surplus stock. Beneath the canopy were pillows and blankets. “Come in, come in,” a young man called through the odor of incense. “There’s just enough room for you here.” Ravi Shankar’s sitar thrummed from between the pillows. “You’re not going in there,” Grandpa said, grabbing my arm. Farther back in the large apartment, on the other side of the chill-out space, Ane stood and waved with some of the others from our group. They were drinking red. A pair of girls squeezed past us, drawing Grandpa in with them. The painting students had divvied up the place so that each person had his own space. The paintings hung in rows along the newly primed white walls and resembled something from an expensive gallery. Grandpa wandered the spaces and occasionally halted before a canvas. And then he rubbed his thumb over the surface or scratched at the paint. “Acrylic,” he growled and it was a curse word. “What do they want with all that junk?” he asked when we again stood out on the street. He was an old man, one meter and sixty with his cane and a well-worn cardigan dating from the seventies, self-patched with large stitches. “Nothing much.” “I didn’t mean you.” “I’m not interested in what you meant.” I took Grandpa down to Nyhavn and bought him a whisky, but somehow he’d become stuck in the pillow room, he simply couldn’t leave it. “It smelled strange. Didn’t you think so, Justine? What were they doing in there? Do you think they were smoking weed?” “How should I know? I never even went in.” Before I applied to the school, I went around and saw some studio spaces together with Anders Balle, a guy I barely knew. He’d entered the academy of arts the previous year. The first half year he couldn’t produce anything, he said. That happened to a lot of people, but now the floodgates were obviously open and things were gushing with vigor. We headed to Charlottenborg a Saturday evening when we were certain to be alone. All the students were gone, but their works had been left behind in the large rooms with wood floors, high panel-walls, and windows facing Nyhavn on one side and the inner courtyard on the other. “So. Have a look around and we’ll meet up again in an hour,” Anders said as he disappeared around a corner. I took a kind of running start and sprang out, or maybe in. The first space was filled with thread. Yarn and fabric were suspended from the lofts, were stretched between the walls, creeping between the various planes like cobwebs. Sacks of clothes lay spread across the floor. There were glue gobs, there were boxes and an old loom. In another room someone was in the process of making an air balloon from some gray stuff that stank. I tried to find the door from which I’d entered, for some reason I just really wanted to see it, and suddenly there were two doors. I opened one and stepped into a new room where walls, windows, posts, chair, and table were covered in spray paint. In a corner were three paint buckets and some jam jars. Beneath a sink there was a box of jam jars. In the sink were some jars without lids. I was reminded of the girl who won admission to the school after sitting for a couple of days in a large wooden box among all the submitted work. Her box sojourn was itself the work. It lasted until she was up before the admissions committee. Then she stepped out of the box and read aloud from a diary she’d kept. The girl had pissed and shit in some jam jars. She left them standing behind. I stuck as many of the jars into my bag as would fit. I hated the fucking place. And all the fucking, jar-shitting artists. I didn’t hate them. I loved them. No. That’s not how it was. I hated the ones I loved. I also wanted to be just like that right there. In that exact spot. It was cold when I began to create my work. The cold stood right outside the windows. On the floor the paper stretched and readied itself. I wrote in sprawling letters. In Greenlandic. Burned the letters into the paper with a spirit marker and drowned them in lacquer. The alkyd flayed the letters to dun. Everything snarled and sweat stood out on my skin. I removed my clothes and opened the windows. The panes broke. The lacquer was yellow and smelled like piss. First the surface received a coat, then the deeper layers. The wallpaper disintegrated and curled and dropped off. The wind started in. In February it snowed on the floor. I drank whiskey from jam jars and tossed them out the open windows. I turned on the video camera and made a song. I moved my body in dance. I delivered the pictures, the song, and the dance to the listed address. Grandpa took it in stride when I told him I was going to attend the academy. Actually, he didn’t react. But then he heard about Ane. “What did she do?” he asked. “She filmed herself kicking a goat.” “Ane?” “Yeah.” “A video? But what did she kick a goat for? Never mind. And she taped it?” Grandpa looked disgusted. “It was no big deal, Grandpa. She borrowed a goat from one of the other families. Then she tied it to a tree, so it couldn’t escape. Then she took the video camera and filmed while she kicked it, I mean, kicked, that’s not really what she did, she just poked it a little, you know: tap, tap. It didn’t take ten seconds. No one could come and say it was animal abuse, Grandpa. The goat’s fine.” “But can’t you see it for yourself, Justine?” Grandpa asked. “That’s a damned insane thing to do. Kicking a goat? That’s never been art.” “Grandpa, trust me. That’s art. I could try and explain it to you, but I don’t think it would help much. You’d still think it was ridiculous.” “You can damn well try. In fact, that’s the least you can do. You can’t just say it’s art, and that’s that. Tell me, Justine. What is it that makes kicking a goat a work of art?” “Mainly because Ane says that it’s art. And because she’s going to the academy, of course.” “But how did she get in?” “With the goat, Grandpa . . .” “That’s completely absurd. Can’t you see that? It reminds me of those idiotic videos where people film each other in all sorts of stupid situations, like when they fall on their ass or get their pants soaked or something. That’s just as idiotic,” said Grandpa. “But you don’t make things like that, right?” The new students gathered with the old in the academy’s banquet hall with its gold chandeliers and antique plaster friezes. The rector talked about art’s necessity and about the great masters whose steps had graced the courtyard’s cobblestones. It was a great honor and a great responsibility to be a student in the castle. We were already becoming a part of history. Grandpa thought it was all a lot of snobbery, he couldn’t care less about the overblown place, he said. Nothing good would ever come out of it. But we who were released into the castle’s corridors hurried to find the place that would be ours. I had nothing on me but some India ink, and I wrote my name on a piece of paper and stuck it to a wall. A moment later Ane appeared and staked out a spot next to me. In reality, she said, she’d mostly done drawings and watercolors before applying to the school, but when she was working on the application piece she’d talked to one of the academy’s professors a friend of a friend had put her in touch with. The professor had said she shouldn’t apply with her paintings. They were too emotive, he thought, and way, way too nice. They lacked bite, distance, that something that gave them artistic legitimacy. Ane thought she’d fooled him, and she enjoyed the fact that she was now free to drop goats and videos and continue with the paintings she’d always done. We flowed together. The whole studio flowed together. Things whirled around. They entered through doors and windows. Boxes, tables, chairs, more boxes, buckets, pots, jam jars, lamps, paints, stands. It wasn’t too long before the janitorial staff could no longer tell the difference between what was trash and what was important. “The difference between whoever made this piece and you is that you want people to experience something in particular. They just want to make you aware of the fact that you’re experiencing,” I said. “I never wanted people to experience any particular thing,” Grandpa said. “They can think and feel whatever they want.” “I don’t know how to respond to that, Grandpa. I actually think it has to do with the fact that at some point the brain simply stops trying to understand.” “What the hell do you mean by that, kid?” I slammed the door so that the window rattled in its frame. A moment later he came out into the garden. He took the deck chair from the shed and opened it next to the chopping block. “There’s enough wood for plenty of winters, Justine.” “Do you plan on moving any?” “Remember that I’ve got to be able to stack it.” “I’m not a child, Grandpa.” Grandpa sank heavily into the chair. “No, I’m well aware of that, Justine. I’m well aware. It’s just that I’m getting a little fucking old.” “That’s what I’ve been saying all along.” “But no one is going to fucking come along and tell me that my senses aren’t intact.” “All you’re missing is the metasense, Grandpa.” “What kind of sense?” Anders Balle was with me when I created my piniartorsuaq, my great hunter, a woman named Inngili. Inngili was me, and I was her, and it was great, we could simply inhabit the same body. Inngili and I accompanied Balle to Nordsøcentret in Hirtshals. We wanted to take some shots with animals, preferably seals. I’d arranged things with the aquarium’s head, and Balle had rented some camera equipment for seventy thousand kroner from Zentropa, where he had a contact. We were well prepared. Balle would take the photographs so that I could exclusively concentrate on Inngili and the animals. Bear skin trousers and a white anorak. I didn’t just look it, I was a real hunter. The seals reclined on the artificial rocks, there were quite a few of them, at least twenty. It was like the olden days, said Inngili, back when there were seals all over the ice. Lounging. Distending. I wondered if I would be able to instill life in those that were dozing, but then a pair of the seals glided into the water after all and frolicked about, barking. Back on land Balle got the camera equipment in place, and I climbed up to the highest rock and surveyed the landscape. A hefty sea dog yelped, rolled over to one side, and fell asleep again. Anders stood behind the camera’s eye and yelled that I should play a hunter on the way home with my catch. Ahh. I turned my weather-beaten face to the sun. It had been a bountiful day. In a pool surrounded by ice, the water still seethed with animals. On the ice, a bearded seal flock lay gliding along in the afternoon sun. Time to set for home before it got too dark and cold. The dogs jumped for glee at the sight of the catch and pulled impatiently at the sled’s traces, they knew they would get a share of the spoils, but they had to wait until they’d delivered it safely home. I tied the three seals securely to the sled. In the distance a snowstorm was brewing. Time to be off. “That was a good catch we made there,” Balle said on the way home in the car. “It’ll make for a good photo series. How will you show them?” “I can provide for an entire settlement if it comes to it. There aren’t many women who could catch three seals in one afternoon.” “Nah, you’re a cool artist.” “I’m hungry.” “I damn well bet you are.” Six Bo chews in his sleep. He’s back from a concert in Femøren. He bashed his forehead on the closed door. He collapsed onto the mattress. He was very drunk and very silly, he laughed and laughed and got stomach cramps and gasped: Oh, oh, make me stop, and then he laughed himself to sleep. That gold, taut stomach. The skin glitters beneath the pubic hair in a soft band up to the navel up to his chest. The slack body, the hard body, it rises, it sinks, the nipples float, come to rest beside his chest. Flesh. The carotid’s nervous pulse, thud, thud, thud. I’m Inngili. I can perch atop him and ride. In my hands he’s an animal I’m bringing down. I’ll ride him like he’s never been ridden, until he spurts, until he dies. I unzip his pants. There’s softness in the warmth between the hairs. I ride him with my hand. I transform him to a fountain that shoots high into the air. Oh yes. Rock that cunt, driver, bundle me tight, wolf. Now it’s morning. He scratches himself. Gives me a lewd look. “Keep your pants on,” I say. “Nothing happened.” Yelp. He groans, scratches himself a hundred places at once. Then he steps out and whistles while he washes. Aren’t you sticking around, man? Else, I’ll have to work. I don’t say it too loud. He doesn’t hear anything and leaves. I stick around. There’s a floating fuzz. It hovers, ascends, and moves straight to the right, ten centimeters, I think, maybe twelve, and then it hovers again. All of it. No matter how I approach things, it’s the wrong way. I blow the fuzz that takes a decent flight of more than a meter, and then I need to drink more. Thinking makes me so thirsty. I think so much I’ve perpetually got to pee. Yet again. Every time I sit a moment and am about to have an idea, that’s it . . . off to pee. I find my telephone in my bag and call Marianne Fillerup at the National Gallery. “Keep your pants on,” Inngili says in an authoritative voice, putting a lot of space between her words. The works are safe. They’re currently up in my friend’s attic. Fortunately. Marianne Fillerup groans. I hate the telephone, that shitty apparatus, and switch it off before I end up dialing someone else. I need to pee. Ane sits on a bench in Enghave Park. She was pushing the baby in the stroller, but every time she’d let go, he’d wake up. She didn’t get to do her shopping. Now she’s tired of walking and parks the stroller in the shade where she can keep an eye on it. Soon he’ll wake up, but that’s okay. “There’s really nothing to say,” she says, “about Marianne Fillerup wanting to see how much progress you’ve made. She’s responsible, after all.” And she adds: “I mean, you’re not all that bright. What are you actually going to do?” The last two sentences are the most accurate that’ve been spoken in a while. They’re true. And relevant. I’m not all that bright. And: What am I going to do. I isolate the sentences in order to remember them. “I’ll pocket them,” I say, “these sentences.” Ane’s at it again, in the process of lifting the stroller cover to peek. She says: “Now then, little man, you’re awake?” She removes the cover. “You’ve had a good nap, love. Are you hungry?” She takes out her telephone and checks the time. “You slept for two hours. That’s right, two hours,” she says, lifting the red-cheeked baby from the stroller. All in one movement. Now she fidgets the baby to her breast. “I’m moving to a hotel here in Frederiksberg,” I say. “What’s that? In Frederiksberg? Can you afford it?” “I can’t stay at The Factory another day.” “Yeah, I’m really sorry about that.” “That’s not what I meant.” Of course I can stay at The Factory, I just might have to. What I’m saying is: I won’t. I don’t know. I can’t. I can’t fucking do it any more. When I say that, I get a sense of deep, deep depth. Can’t is the empty space at the end of every branching possibility. She prattles about Torben everywhere, at home, on Nørrebro, on the Bryggen wharf, and now she’s talking about him again here in Enghave Park while she sits and nurses. He’s apparently fed up with his gallery. They want him to participate in a group exhibition themed around A Man’s Answer to Feminism. However, Torben doesn’t like working with themes that way, Ane says, he’s sure they’re just waiting for an excuse to get rid of him because they think he’s difficult. She’s annoyed on Torben’s behalf, and it’s made worse by the fact that his gallery has also contacted her now. She thought they wanted Torben, but, as it turned out, it was Ane they were looking for. The gallery owner would like to see some of her things, just informally, you know. “I’m telling you, Torben got weird when I told him that,” she says. She tucks away the limp breast and removes the firm one. “I just said I was on maternity leave. Obviously, I don’t want to be in the same gallery as Torben. Nothing good would come of it,” she says. Vita’s still not home, but I didn’t expect her to be, either. I chose this exact moment. The vegetables in the box on the kitchen table, they’re hers and where she’s still an absence, have grown brown tops. They hang over the edge along the table’s surface and yearn for water, which probably hasn’t run in days to judge from the sink’s dry metal and the calcium deposited there. And there stand the two glasses with their big, round red-wine bellies, their dark edges and the impression of lips and skin. The couch is waiting in the living room. I lie down on it, down among the cushions. Someone is rummaging around the fire site. I passed by and looked the other way. In reality the settlement, which should’ve been, but no longer is, and which makes my stomach flutter, is a continuation of the work I created for the National Museum a year ago. I received permission from the museum’s director to give a special tour four Saturdays in a row on the condition that I made it very clear that the tour was unaffiliated with the National Museum in any way. Before I began my spiel, that is, I had to remember to emphasize that it was an art project. That’s what the signs should say: An art project. The guests flocked to participate in whatever was happening with the Eskimos in the ethnographic collection. “My father’s mother, Inngili, was a great hunter,” I said, “and that was extremely unusual for a woman at that time. Back then it was mostly the men who hunted, but Inngili had made a pact with the animals: If they let her capture them, she would do it with hunting gear that was superb and beautiful. No animal likes being downed by inferior hunting equipment, and my grandmother knew that. Therefore, she made sure to adorn her harpoons and could easily come home with seven, eight seals in one day.” People peered into the bright showcases that displayed the harpoon with the decorated shaft; the wood and the bone trimmings glowed. It looked so splendid behind the glass, the way the halogen lamp was positioned, it was entirely perfect. Wood and animal grease. And the years layered in. “My grandmother’s harpoon was stolen from her by a whaler named Wilhelm Löwe. Löwe also stole a small ulo. You can see it over here.” On another wall hung the women’s knives with their handles of bone and tooth. “Herr Löwe sailed with a whaling ship from Holland. He was the ship’s captain and had sailed most of the world over. But he also came to Greenland, where the whaling was good at that time.” I drew the group over to the ulo display case and pointed out an especially beautiful knife with a fine tooth handle. “My grandmother’s knife,” I said, “shouldn’t be hanging here, but that’s what it’s doing, unfortunately . . . There was always a celebration whenever a foreigner came to the settlement where my grandmother and grandfather lived, and there was dancing and singing at my grandparents’ home. When Löwe landed, my grandfather was on a hunting expedition, so when Löwe fell for my grandmother, he had free reign. She was so clever and different, he thought, different than the other Greenlandic women. Löwe pursued my grandmother the two days his ship lay in the harbor. What exactly happened, she knows only, but when the whaler again pulled anchor, my grandmother’s ulo and one of her harpoons was gone.” The guests listened and nodded and saw Inngili before them, the beautiful Greenlandic woman with all her hunting gear. I told about my great grandfather with his bushy brows and grim words, he’d been a priest in the colony, hallelujah. Herr Löwe succeeded in raping a twelve-year-old girl before he scampered off with my grandmother’s possessions. Löwe had to leap from the edge of the ice to escape my superhero of a grandmother. She pursued him with my grandfather’s harpoon and struck him in the thigh. She was wild and frothing at the mouth. She wanted to murder him. The swine. Another time I said that Löwe had eaten himself sick on pickled auk. My grandmother had to care for him until he was recovered, at which point he hightailed it with the swag. Those tales were invaluable, more than priceless, they were . . . they were . . . indescribable. Vita came and spied me between the kamiks and the kayaks. She’d insisted on knowing when the tour was taking place, she’d love to see it. Ane was there as well, and the curator Ulla Lund arrived together with Marianne Fillerup. The words leaped and danced from my mouth, it was a song. I levitated, in front of those women I absolutely levitated. “You own the floor you’re standing on,” said Vita. “Thank you for including us.” Her gaze sucked me in. “You’re so radiant. And wonderful.” “Yeah, she’s good,” Ane said. “You should see some of the other things she’s done.” For the occasion I’d put a thick burgundy ribbon in the bun on top of my head. “Thank you for a fine performance,” Ulla Lund said. “Have you met Marianne?” “Where do you get your material?” Marianne Fillerup asked. “What were you thinking of in particular?” I asked. “Oh, all of it. But maybe we should get together some other time and talk?” she said. We arranged a meeting in the glow of Vita’s pearly skin, which radiated in my direction. Vita’s ankle-boot heels clicked sharply on the way to the bar where we were going to drink a celebratory beer. She slid on the cobblestones. I caught her. Ane and Vita seated themselves in a corner, they had no difficulty talking, Vita’s reserve was entirely absent. They chatted, laughed at the same things. Ane asked Vita for stories from her time at the academy. Vita was Venus. She placed her hand on my thigh beneath the table and talked about professors, about sculptors and materials and projects. Everything was in its proper place. Ane and Vita talked. I ordered beers. What I’d said during the tour and the reactions and the custodian who’d stopped and listened, and the light in the room, Lund and Fillerup and the sound of the floor beneath shoes, and the dry, stable air, and the perpetual awareness of Vita’s scent, it all came rushing back. The clock empties its contents into the streets and alleyways and into the factories. It flows away in the shape of hours and days, and nights are long, nailed in place, I watch time rise. Soon I’ll nearly be up to my neck in weeks, and everything has never been so far away. I’m drowning? Here comes the ivory-colored wax floating along. Past. And the true to life bones. Floating right past. And over there. Huts and blankets and skins are rocking in the water. Here the Eskimos come swimming. Their hair is matted in thick tufts. Their smell is harsh and strong. The women with hanging breasts and nearly toothless mouths paddle. The men stand further in along the coast, distant and perhaps hostile. Two children disappear over a field, race down to a river. The trout hover like torpedoes in the restless time between my legs. I step onto a stone. Day. The night has been reduced to a turquoise rim on the horizon. I focus intensely on the sky. Now shouts are sounding in the distance, numerous and piercing. The great hunters have returned home from the catch. The women are already dragging the fat seals along, laughing and shouting. The children come running with the great catch clapping on lines. They’re all together now. Inngili opens her mouth and shows her four teeth. She slices a strip of liver dripping red turning black. I chop the whole into small pieces and send it away with the stream. And here comes my great grandfather striding along, slightly out of chronological sync he marries ten wildlings at once and bids them welcome to Heaven. Tiny, bow-legged women and men. Turn around and depart. In the opposite direction. Away, Inngili. I can’t take anymore. I can’t take anymore. Farewell. Farewell? What remains, then, if not that which has endured so long it’s perpetual? What’s the alternative? Yes, who’s the alternative? The me that is now is formless, not exactly dissipated, but flailing around, thrashing, reflecting off windows and surfaces. Everything changes so quickly, I can’t grasp it before it’s gone. Is it just light and movement that speeds off to wherever? If I use aperture eight and perhaps attain a hundredth part, can I reach it then? I’d like it to see me. For it to position itself over there and tell me what it sees when it looks at me. I don’t care what I am. Just that it shows me how I am, from all angles, at all moments, no buts about it. Now I just need a camera. Seven Behind Ane, the apartment has a particular light. Umber. Sheets obscure the windows so that if the sun is sharp, it doesn’t hurt her eyes. She hasn’t been sleeping well at night, she says. Torben’s coming now, he forces his way past me and disappears into the living room, but he appears again in the doorway, shirtless and in his underwear gives me a look. “It’s in the kitchen,” Ane says. She’s talking about the camera I’m going to borrow, which she got from her father as a maternity gift. It’s already taken thousands of pictures of the baby who’s sleeping on her shoulder. “Let me show you how it works,” she says. “Do you have the manual? I can just read that.” She rummages around in her bag and hands me the booklet. Torben has put on a T-shirt, but he’s still in his underwear. His body cuts my body on the way out to the kitchen. “May I take a bath?” “Of course.” I stand beneath the showerhead. The fish odor persists on my skin, in the oil and the folds. I unhook the sprayer and stick it between my legs. “Are you almost finished, Justine?” she calls. “What are you doing in there?” “Bathing.” “You’ve been bathing for an hour.” “Thanks for letting me.” “So, Torben is waiting on me. We have to go. Can you just lock up?” He’s standing in the hallway outside the door and waiting on her—or on me? Under some ridiculous pretense or other, what does he want? I pull open the shower curtain and douse my lips, press the sprayer into their softness, rinse their depths of semen. The dog. If that’s what he wants, he’ll get it. He stands lurking in that despicable way, his eye against the hole, staring. The water flecks my body around the nipples that swell, my body is three pulsing buds. Bared. The apartment is empty. He wasn’t there at all. Or was he? I’ve got a camera now, it’s a good place to start. I feel like I’m on such secure footing, it simply can’t go wrong. Now I’ve just got to take the pictures. But before that: I need a tripod, then I can do it myself, do myself, timed release. Trine Markhøj sits in her studio among tools and wood and plaster and clay in plastic sacks piled around a square podium. On the podium is a plastic-packed figure on a modeling stand. I’ve just knocked, but Trine doesn’t look up. “It’s gone totally downhill,” she says. “It’ll never, ever amount to anything.” She leans on the figure that resembles a bowed body beneath the plastic. “Careful!” I shout. The small amount of pressure she’s applied to the body puts it on the verge of collapse. Now it’s happening, bending backward in a sluggish movement that accelerates abruptly until it topples onto the floor. “There,” Trine Markhøj says. “That’s that. What can I help you with?” She hunts for the tripod beneath the table and behind the cabinet. “What a good thing you showed up,” she says. “That was just the thing. The last little push. It never would’ve amounted to shit anyway. Just think, sometimes you can’t see it yourself.” She pulls out a wallpaper roll and a pair of fishing rods. I tell her to leave off looking, but it’s no problem at all, she says, and continues. “See, I also found my water hose.” She tugs the end of a green hose that proceeds to unwind. Beneath the cabinet she finally finds what I came for: the camera tripod. “If I need it, I know where to find you,” she says, and transforms to clay, brown masses fall and pile on the podium like a tower. Bo’s come. He asks if I want to go to Vega and hear some reggae, dry, sharp. “This tripod’s fucked,” I say. I fidget with and press on Trine Markhøj’s tripod, what a piece of shit. Bo grasps the tripod between his hands and unfastens the clasps one after the other, adjusts, twists a little lever with a gently rotating wrist. The base rises, shooting out of its cocoon. “So are you coming?” he asks. His body nears, wrestles the tripod into a relatively balanced position. Three legs and an appendage. I whack the appendage that dangles and droops. “Stop it,” he says. “I’m deciding,” I say. “Don’t you like reggae?” “Did I say that?” He leaves. I’m left with three legs and unsteady, limp hands turning a lever. Vita will not, she doesn’t want to, she simply will not answer the phone when she sees that it’s me calling. No. Vita. Why the fuck is she being so cold? I want to call and ask why, why the hell . . . I’ll think of something to ask . . . and then she doesn’t answer. Someone is knocking on the door. Ane walks in with the baby in a sling on her chest. He’s sleeping. “Torben’s application has been turned down,” she says, waving away Vita’s ghost with a hand. “We were really counting on him getting that grant. They know good and well we’re new parents . . . and how much the money means to us,” she says and starts crying. The baby wakes up. “Have you seen her?” I ask. “Who? Who are you talking about?” “Vita. I’m talking about Vita. Have you seen her?” “No. But . . .” Ane stops crying and that’s good. “Wasn’t she going on vacation? Wasn’t she just talking about that?” she says. “I don’t know what we’re going to live off of. I just don’t know.” The boy starts crying. “I just wish something in life was dependable. I can’t take this. Shit, we need something to live off of. What about when I finish up . . . we’ll just have nothing, I guess? Spit out into reality with no food and no clothes.” She’s taken the stroller and rolled home again, home to Torben. She’s left me with a dull feeling. I know she’s right, and she knows it, too, even though we pretend it’s nothing. It’s bad enough with Torben, he deserves to get the short end, but there’s an even bigger problem for Ane. Myself I don’t even want to think about, just forget it. We discovered it right when we entered the academy of arts, and now the smoke’s in the clothes. At one of our very first joint critique sessions, our painting instructor told us that it was likely that just one, maybe two of us, would ever amount to something, would continue doing art. But he said that he thought we should just drop it, quit for our own sakes, that it was a mistake that we’d ever entered this arena. He didn’t think it was possible for us girls to create anything truly interesting. It was always about womanhood, motherhood, or something else sweet and funny and cute, small animals with big eyes, fairytales and feelings. You’re terrible concept artists, he said, and meant it. It was a spoonful of flour in our mouths that we believed to be sugar. We sucked and sucked and thought we’d heard wrong. The instructor’s eyes swept over us while we stood pressed together in a workshop stall across from the five paintings that were being critiqued. The paintings showed a woman in different stages of dissolution. Mascara ran down her cheeks. The woman held a wine glass in one hand and a cigarette in the other. The painter in question had slack shoulders. But then the instructor said it wasn’t necessarily her he meant, she really was very sweet. Ane sat and pressed herself into a corner. A couple of weeks later she was scheduled for a critique session with the same instructor. It was already on the calendar. One Friday after a bunch of openings we had met our painting instructor in the city. He was standing at the bar together with a couple of professors drinking highballs with ice. “Bitches,” he called. Me and Ane and a girl named Katrine. “Girls, come join us for a drink.” The first professor downed his drink and had trouble walking away. Our instructor stared at us and called for the bartender to hurry and bring three double Havana Clubs. “You’re all three beautiful as goddesses,” he said. “Come on, girls, come, come, come.” He hustled us between himself and the remaining professor, who followed his colleague’s example, packed up, and left. “Hey, girls. It’s just us now,” the painting instructor grinned, guzzling his highball and ordering another. Katrine left on the excuse she was going to the bathroom. “Well now,” said the instructor. “Ane. When are you going to show me what you can do?” Ane blushed, but the instructor drew her closer and kissed her hair. “Fuck me, you’re so hot,” he said. I kicked him in the shin. He jerked back, still with Ane under his arm. His drink splashed over her and down my arm when my boot struck, and he stiffened. Ane twisted free and left. “Hey,” he said. “That wasn’t what I meant.” He set his glass down. “Excuse me,” I said. He looked completely off. I thought he was about to start swinging or shouting. “You’re welcome to see my things,” I said.