:: Article

Long Live the Post Horn!

By Vigdis Hjorth.

The following text comes from Hjorth’s novel Long Live the Post Horn!, which was translated from Norwegian into English by Charlotte Barslund. The book is just out from Verso Books.

As I was putting away in my basement lock-up some saucepans that couldn’t be used with my new induction hob, I came across an old diary from 2000. The diary had been a Christmas present and I had written in it for a few months before I got bored. As I hadn’t thrown it away, might I have thought it contained something interesting I would want to read one day? I winced at the sight of it, but I still carried it upstairs and left it on the kitchen table. I did some ironing and continued to ignore it, but when I went to bed, I took it with me. I opened it and began reading; I had made entries almost every day from 1 January to 16 May. When I had finished, I felt so sickened I couldn’t sleep. I got up and opened a window to let in some air. I drank some water and paced up and down the living room before I went back to bed and opened the diary again as if hoping something had changed. January’s entries were about the winter sales and some guy named Per I thought might be interested in me. In February it was a guy called Tor and a Mulberry bag I’d managed to get half-price and a pair of shoes I should have bought half a size bigger. I appeared to have seen a lot of films I didn’t like, spent time with female friends who bored me and eaten a lot of rubbish. In between I had been to editorial meetings at Romerikes Blad and scribbled down my thoughts about people, but not once about issues; I had spent my Easter break somewhere hot so that when I came home I’d have a tan for this Tor who I didn’t know if I liked, I couldn’t remember him now, nor was he mentioned again after Easter. The names were interchangeable, as were the dates, there was no sense of progression, no coherence, no joy, only frustration; shopping, sunbathing, gossiping, eating – I might as well have written ‘she’ instead of ‘I’. And had anything changed, had growing older made any difference?

I tried to recall the spring of 2000, but failed. I had lived through it, hadn’t I? I had worked for Romerikes Blad where I covered sports events and local council meetings, only I couldn’t remember a single sports event or council meeting; had I kept any of my articles? I ran back to the basement as if needing proof that these events really had taken place, but I no longer recognised the basement lock-up or the boxes, perhaps it wasn’t my lock-up or my diary? I never found the articles, but came across some disconcertingly idiotic stuff which I was tempted to throw away or burn. Nevertheless I locked the door after me, walked back up the stairs to my flat and went to bed, but I still couldn’t sleep. I’m coming down with something, I thought, I’m getting a temperature.

I dreamt my recurring dream where it’s summer and I’m driving with the windows down and the wind in my hair, then I glance up at the rear view mirror and see my mother sitting in the back, as if saying: Yes, here I am. I’m always with you!

The phone woke me up. It was Stein wondering where I was. I was supposed to meet him at twelve noon in Norway Designs to help him choose a birthday present for his mother. I said I’d be there right away. I got up and I rushed because I felt bad about having forgotten about him and I knew the feeling would pass as soon as I got there, so I hurried so that it would pass, so that it too would soon be forgotten like all of 2000 and the years before that, so that soon everything would be shrouded in darkness as if it had never happened. Stein was waiting. How long had I known Stein? I couldn’t remember when I first met him; I thought hard and fortunately it came back to me, Trond’s fortieth birthday, almost a year ago, had I really been seeing Stein for almost a year now? Trond would be forty-one soon, one birthday after another, it was stored in my memory, all I had to do was retrieve it. Why was it so difficult and why did I need to remember what I had eaten, what I had bought, where I had parked the car, I parked in the multi-storey car park that was a part of the building where my office was and rushed down to the shop where he was waiting. We didn’t kiss – perhaps he was annoyed that I was late. We settled on a glass vase from Kosta Boda, it was nice, I even considered buying one for myself before I remembered my diary. All the times I had gone to Norway Designs to buy birthday presents, all the times in the future when I would stand in front of the till in Norway Designs to pay for birthday presents. Stein thanked me for my help and I worked out how old he would have been in 2000, twenty-eight, what was he doing in 2000, I’d never asked him, would he remember if I did? He was running late and had to go. That’s what we’re like, I thought, always rushing. I could stop by my office, I thought, seeing that I was already in town and had paid for two hours’ parking, then Margrete called and told me her period was late. I’m hoping I might be pregnant, she whispered as if someone might be eavesdropping. She asked if I would like to come for lunch tomorrow, Sunday lunch, she said, yes, I replied and walked down Stortingsgaten. I ought to feel a greater sense of awe, I thought. There was no substance in my diary. It was all about nothing. But that was my life and here I was. I decided not to go to the office after all, today was a Saturday, there was nothing that needed doing although it felt like it. My guilty conscience hadn’t eased despite the Kosta Boda vase. Should I buy a new diary and write something else? Invent substance and key events or write an entry about the Kosta Boda vase, I really am coming down with something, I thought, so I drove home and went to bed to sleep it off.

When I got up the next morning, I felt better at first. I turned on my computer to begin an article for the next issue of ByggBo DIY magazine, but soon started to feel unwell. The components refused to turn into finished houses, the happy customers didn’t seem happy, there was no joy in my language, perhaps there never had been? I opened old documents to find a reassuring piece of earlier copy, but found nothing that wasn’t lifeless. I turned off the computer; I really was sick. Even so I went to Margrete and Trond’s where Mum had already arrived. Margrete opened the door and held a finger to her lips; it meant don’t say anything about her period being late. We sat down to lunch as usual, to a meal worthy of a diary entry, I thought, roast lamb from Lom and organic potatoes. Nothing dramatic happened and yet my heart was racing. Should I ask them about 2000? I worked out how old Margrete was in 2000, twenty-three, she had yet to meet Trond. When did she meet Trond? I did know really, I just had to think about it. Why did I need to know? Because I wanted her to have a history. Because I wanted to have a history. There had to be a link between the past, the future and the present.

‘Lamb from Lom is always so tasty,’ Mum remarked; I visualised her in the back of my car, she hadn’t changed. We agreed, as we always did, that the lamb was indeed delicious. Then we watched the seven o’clock news in silence and I drove home.

Monday morning I got up as usual, made coffee as usual, switched on my computer as usual, and was about to get back to ByggBo when Rolf rang, he sounded strange and asked me to come in. I asked what the matter was, he wouldn’t say. I drove to work, he met me in the corridor, he looked grave, we went into my office. Rolf closed the door behind us and said that Dag had quit, then he handed me a piece of paper with Dag’s characteristic handwriting:

Hi Rolf,

I’ve had enough, am taking my boat and going away indefinitely, might return to Norway, though not to Kraft-Kom, I’m giving up the PR business for good, never should have got into it in the first place, tell that spineless bitch we’re in business with that I think everything she writes is shit, I’ve deleted everything on the computer so it’s ready for the next poor sucker.

Dag

It had to be a joke. I looked up. Rolf shrugged. He said he’d called Dag repeatedly, but Dag’s phone was switched off. He had called Dag’s ex-wife, who said it was just like Dag to leave everyone in the lurch and do a runner. Rolf said that Dag had struggled to cope since his divorce. That Dag was having a breakdown. Rolf had driven to Dag’s flat which looked abandoned, then down to Dag’s boat, which was no longer moored in the marina.

‘Is he serious?’

Rolf shrugged again. I looked at the note on the desk and gestured for him to leave, but he stayed where he was.

‘Ellinor?’ he said after a while and gulped. I flapped my hands again, he took a step back and said he would be in his office until five if I needed him. When his footsteps had faded away, I read the letter again. Had Dag been at the office last Friday? I checked my diary. No, he had said he would be working from home. Had he been in last Thursday? I tried to remember Thursday. After what seemed like forever I managed to recall Thursday, I thought I remembered him being at his desk when I left early in order to work from home, seeing his greying curls over the Mac and his glasses sliding down the bridge of his nose, but perhaps that was Wednesday? I hadn’t spoken much to him recently, was that why? Or the stupid row we’d had about IT? Kraft-Kom hadn’t turned out to be quite as lucrative as we had hoped, but even so? I tried to remember our last proper conversation, but it eluded me, he eluded me. I called Rolf to ask if he had seen this coming. He hesitated, which meant that yes, he had. I ought to be angry with him, I thought, but I couldn’t manage it. I ought to despair or weep, but I couldn’t manage that either. Would we be able to carry on without him? Keep calm, I thought, I went over to the window and asked myself what it meant in terms of the workload. Outside on the trees the yellowing leaves that had yet to fall were shaken by the wind, especially those near the top; it must be unnerving not to be able to choose your own ending, not to know which gust of wind will carry you off, not to be able to prepare for it.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Vigdis Hjorth is the author of over a dozen prize-winning and best-selling novels. Will and Testament was longlisted for the National Book Award for Translated Literature and won the Norwegian Critics Prize for Literature and the Norwegian Booksellers’ Prize. She lives in Oslo.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, September 15th, 2020.