Friday, June 15, 2007

astrid & veronika

I'm reading a beautiful novel at the moment, Astrid & Veronika by Linda Olsson, fragile and simple and moving, about two damaged women who meet, by chance, in the Swedish countryside:

Each time she looked up, her eyes set on the other house. It stared back at her through the white morning mist.

Then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw a movement. In the bleak morning Astrid was slowly walking across the field. She trod cautiously, as if afraid of losing her footing. She wore the same clothes as the day before. Veronika didn't move, just sat and watched the slow progress until she heard the steps on the porch, followed by a hesitant knock. Two quiet taps, almost inaudible. And when Veronika opened the door, Astrid had already taken a step down, her body half turned away. She stopped in her tracks and slowly stepped back up onto the porch. She held her hands clasped over her stomach, twisting her fingers.

'I thought that perhaps you would like to come for coffee this afternoon,' she said, shifting her gaze from Veronika's face to the floorboards between them, then back again. 'I was thinking I might make waffles.' She paused. 'I suppose it's the same as pancakes.' She paused again. 'More or less.' She looked up, shrugged and smiled uncertainly. 'We used to have waffles for Marie Bebadelsedag, March 25. Annunciation Day. I don't know why, but people here always had waffles that day.' Another pause. 'I don't know why I came to think of that today. And you may have other things to do...' Her voice trailed off. 'Perhaps some other day.' She took a small step back, but Veronika stretched out her hand and held on to the old woman's wrist.

'I would love to,' she said.

'Three o'clock, then?' Astrid said, and when Veronika nodded the old woman turned and walked down the steps and back towards her house without looking back.
-pg. 40-41

The music had finished and when Astrid stopped talking the room was silent. Veronika blew out the candle and they were enveloped in the nebulous light that belonged to neither night nor day.

'Time. I don't understand it,' Veronika said. 'I think I have never grasped the essence of time. Memories seem to surface in no particular order, with no time attached. Yesterday can seem as distant as last year.'

Astrid did not respond, but stretched out her hand to pick up her glass. She took a sip and looked at Veronika.

'Some of my clearest memories are of the briefest moments,' Veronika continued. 'I have years of life that have left no traces, and minutes that are so ingrained in my mind that I relive them every day.'

'Yes,' the old woman said slowly. 'I think I said the same that first day by the river. I remember looking at those new buildings. To me, they were mushrooms, surprisingly grown overnight. The flax fields of sixty years ago seemed more real to me.' She sipped the liqueur, closing her lips tightly around a mouthful before swallowing. 'Telling you about that summer has given it back to me.' She bent forward a little, her hands on the table in front of her. 'It was never lost, you see; I just refused to listen. And now...' Her voice trailed off.

Veronika shifted in her seat, put down her glass and rested her elbows on the table, her chin on her clasped hands.

'My life now consists of fragments,' she said, 'where some are so blinding in their intensity that they make everything else indistinguishable. What shall I do with these glittering shards? There is no pattern; I can't make them fit. With each other, or with the whole that should be my life. It feels as if my existence was extinguished in a flash, and afterwards my universe became incomprehensible. Just shards and particles, which I carry with me wherever I go. They are sharp and they still hurt to touch. And they are so heavy. I know there is more--there are less intense fragments that I need to make it whole. I want to remember everything. But perhaps I need to give it more time. Allow myself some rest. Distance myself a little, to see if I can make out a pattern. And face the truth about what is really there.'

Astrid's face was a white mask and her hair a halo, Veronika's a wide triangle where the eyes were dark hollows, reflecting no light. The first stirring of the breeze rustled the trees outside the windows.

'When I met James it was as if a new time began. As if all that had been my life until then abruptly came to an end,' Veronika said, looking out into the night. 'And everything I had known before faded away. I was instantly transported into a world with brighter colours, sharper sounds, more intense flavours and smells. And for a time I thought it was mine.'

-pg. 75-77

For some reason, as I've been reading this book, I've had Blind Melon's Mouthful of Cavities running through my head.

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