Authors: Thomas E. Kennedy
For Daniel, Isabel, Søren, and Leo
And for the Mademoiselle
And with deep and sincere thanks to
Anton Mueller, Helen Garnons-Williams,
and all their colleagues at Bloomsbury
and to Nat Sobel, Judith Weber, Roger Derham,
Alain de Botton, Junot Díaz, Andre Dubus III,
Duff Brenna, Bob Stewart, Walter Cummins,
Greg Herriges, and Gladys Swan
Words, sounds, speech, men, memory, thoughts,
fears and emotions—time—all related . . .
all made from one . . . all made in one . . .
Thought waves—heat waves—all vibrations . . .
A Love Supreme
That silence is loud.
Friday Bluett follows desire, abandons his work, escapes to the wild.
He takes the train from Copenhagen Central Station to Hillerød, and catches the four o’clock north from there—“the Prairie Express,” Benthe called it, and he can see why. There are only two train wagons, and they clatter across the flat, mid-January fields of north Zealand through the falling snow. His car is empty and cold. Bluett hunches in his leather coat, black wool Kangol pulled low on his forehead, long gray scarf knotted at his throat. This winter has been the coldest he’s seen in twenty years of Denmark. Beneath his black jeans he wears flannel pajama pants, his feet shod in engineer boots over thick wool socks.
He stares out the window at the snow sketching down the already dark, late winter afternoon, and remembers his Discman, clicks it on and hears the formal opening phrases of Coltrane’s
A Love Supreme
, which swell his heart with acknowledgement of his existence.
That I exist is acknowledgement,
he thinks. He feels good. Free. His ex hated jazz. Lately he has been trying to listen through all the way to the end of that symphony, but somewhere Trane loses him as he approaches the point where the music dissolves into pure vibration. When he gets there this time, he clicks it off, removes his earbuds.
He lifts the little
bottle of snaps from his coat pocket, screws the cap off and tips a third of it into his mouth, slips it back, with his knuckle wipes the under edge of his mustache.
Looking out at the countryside, foreign as it is, he realizes that he feels at home now. Earlier, too, when the train from Copenhagen traversed a long, gently winding street of yellow brick apartment buildings, darkened by automobile exhaust—which once had seemed so foreign to him, so unfriendly, especially in winter—he felt easy. Now he knows the place, knows where it is in relation to other parts of the city and the country, knows how to negotiate the geography by bus or train or on foot, even by bicycle. He left the car with his ex. He doesn’t need a car. She has the house, too, and he is happy to be free of it. All he wants is his apartment. He feels at home here now, despite the fact that he is divorced, faces the future alone. Not alone. With his kids. Who both live in Copenhagen and have started at the university. When he was married, he and his wife didn’t do anything. They worked, visited her family for birthdays, Christmas, Easter, took vacations in the parents-in-law’s summer house. The calendar of their years was irrevocably filled. They didn’t go anywhere,
anything—but get on each other’s nerves.
Now he is free to explore, to adventure. He is discovering his new city, his new country, and he likes it. Now he has a future. Not just more sameness. As he looks out at the snow blowing across the flat landscape, he realizes that once forty-three seemed old to him; now it just seems adult. He remembers once as a young father of thirty dancing with an “older” woman at a party who pressed against him, looked into his eyes—how old she seemed.
At the same time, he halfway wonders what he is doing; why is he taking a series of trains to go up into the northernmost reaches of Zealand to meet another man’s wife in the hopes of—and he is quite certain this will happen—what is the term? Fucking her? Mutual seduction. The woman he is meeting is extremely attractive. They have been flirting for months, but he wonders if it is good to allow himself to be carried on the tide of his desire like this. With the secretary of one of his most important business contacts to boot.
He thinks about her face, her body, her eyes, her sexy mouth . . . Well, who could resist that? Why should he?
The conductor steps through the car, checks Bluett’s ticket, and Bluett asks him in Danish to be let off at Halvstrand.
“You don’t want Hundested?”
Bluett smiles secretly, tickled by the word. Hundested means literally Dog Place. “No, Halvstrand.” Which means Half Beach. Everything means something in this country.
“That’s a summer house area,” the conductor says. “Nothing there.” He has a series of tiny yellow warts that wiggle on his cheek as he speaks.
Jeg skal mødes med nogen,
” Bluett says. I’m being met.
The conductor shrugs his shoulders and his mouth, warts bobbing, and moves off, but looks back again. “You speak good Danish. You American? Wouldn’t know it,” and he moves off to the other car. Bluett takes the
from his pocket again and burns his tongue agreeably. He has another, larger, half-fifth bottle in the other pocket of his coat along with another CD of
A Love Supreme
. House gifts for Benthe. And three joints purchased on Pusher Street in the Free State if she’s of a mind to smoke them with him. He drinks off the rest of the
bottle to still his nerves, remembering how her blue eyes met his as she said, “Henrik won’t be arriving until late Saturday afternoon. So why don’t
come Friday evening? I will meet you at the train if you call me from Hillerød.” Her gaze lingered on his.
He guesses she’s not quite ten years older than him, fifty, fifty-two maybe, and he remembers that “older” woman dancing at the party—she was even younger than Benthe. But Benthe looks sexy as hell, the secretary of his contact at the pharmaceutical firm that gives him much of his translation work. To his eye she looks just like Julie Christie looked in
. The first time he went to her office, she was wearing tight beige leather jeans, her bottle-blonde hair plaited into one long braid that hung like a plumb line down to her rump. She greeted him with a handshake but held his hand in her soft fingers and asked, “Should we call you Mr. Bluett or Bluett or Patrick?”
“Why don’t you just call me Blue—everybody does,” he said, thinking
You can call me anything you want
—which she must have read in his gaze because her smile stayed on him, her eyes moving to his mouth. “Your mustache is red as copper,” she said.
At that first meeting she gave him a company pocket Dictaphone. “For when we have rush work,” she explained. “You can just dictate, and I shall type it for you.”
As their ease with one another progressed and they spoke more casually, began slowly to flirt, he told her he read a lot, which seemed to impress her. Onto one of the little Dictaphone tapes, he recorded “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and told her, “I read a poem on this one. By T. S. Eliot.” She phoned him next day to tell him how beautiful she thought it was. “You read so well. I listened to it over and over. Even in bed. My husband almost became jealous.”
Not having considered she might be married (she didn’t act it), he blurted, “Oh! I’m sorry!”
“Do not be,” she said. “I like it. And I said
The little train slows and the conductor leans in, calling, “Halvstrand next!” Bluett wedges the empty
between the seat and the window and rises, lists across the rocking car. As the train pulls into the station, he watches his indistinct reflection in the window of the door. He should have trimmed his mustache. The gray hairs. It is still snowing, and she stands waiting on the uncovered platform in a long sealskin coat and fur hat.
“Do you mind walking?” she asks.
“Shouldn’t we take a taxi?”
Her laughter is musical. “There are no taxis here. And Henrik has our car in Copenhagen. I took the train up this morning. It’s only fifteen minutes of walking. I shall keep you warm,” she says and takes his arm, leaning into him with the whole side of her body, and he thinks it’s really going to happen, finally. He manages not to think of her husband. Clearly she’s not thinking of him.
The cottage is tiny on a broad, low property that extends to a tall, fenced-off cliff over the beach. Before they go in, she leads him against a heavy, whistling wind to the fence and they look down from the cliff to the sliver of strand, perhaps a hundred feet below. Moonlight filters through the falling snow and dark blue clouds, and he can see ice glinting on the sea, sand glittering silver beneath a layer of snow.
“God,” he whispers. “It’s so beautiful.”
She huddles against him, against the wind. Her face is very close. She looks at his mouth, and he kisses her.
“This is better, isn’t it?” she asks, and as he pulls her close to his body, she says, “Shall we not go in?”
They step through the deepening snow toward the door of the cottage.
“We are able to rent this because the owner cannot sell it; no one will buy it,” she tells him. “The property gets centimeters smaller every year. In ten years the cliff will be almost up to the cottage.” She shrugs, dismissing it. “I can taste you have been drinking snaps. I can taste it on your tongue.” Her smile is flirty.
“The train was so cold.”
“Well, we have things to warm you here,” she says. “I forgot to tell you Henrik’s sister Dorte is here.” Still with that smile, she adds, “She might want to warm you, too.”
Inside, they stamp the snow off their boots. The cottage room is very small. There is a wood fire in a black metal stove beside an alcove with a broad bed spread with a brick-red cover, a large faded red oil painting on the one wall, small white-framed windows, a broad red kilim, whose color has been walked pale. A woman rises from an overstuffed white sofa.
Must be Dorte
. She is tall and thin and extends her hand. Her fingers are knotted, the knuckles swollen. But she looks no older than Benthe, who leans to Bluett’s ear and whispers, “Dorte has not had a man in over a year.”