The Half Brother: A Novel

Free The Half Brother: A Novel by Lars Saabye Christensen

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Authors: Lars Saabye Christensen
can break it open!” Boletta was already on her way to the kitchen, but the Old One managed to stop her and hold her back. “He’s probably up to the eyes with other things right now,” she told her. “But someone has to get that door open!” “Would you really want that nosy fool to see her like that in there? Naked!” Boletta was ciying now. “But what are we to do?” “Talk to her. Talk to your daughter!” Boletta took a deep breath and went back to the bathroom door. “Vera? Will you be finished soon?” But she wouldn’t answer. And all at once Boletta became aware of the clock in the hall and the seconds that were ticking away; it was as if the shadow of the clock face itself fell over her. “I’ve to go to work, Vera! I have to get ready or I’ll be late!” The Old One caught her arm. “Work? Today?” “Even though the war’s over, don’t you imagine people phone each other?” “No, in all honesty, I think they’ll neither think of it nor have the time.” Boletta shoved the Old One to one side. “Vera, love. Do you know what I thought we could do tomorrow? When I’m off? We could go to the hairdresser’s in Adamstuen.” Now it was the Old One who shoved Boletta out of the way. “The hairdressers in Adamstuen! What rubbish!” “Be quiet!” “Do you really think the hairdresser’s will have the time to be open? Not a chance.” “It was just something to say!” “Just something to say! You talked about nothing but hairdressers all yesterday!” “I did not.” “You said my hair was like a tramp’s. I won’t forget that!” “I said you looked like an old witch!”
    Then Vera began humming again inside, so low and softly it was all but impossible to hear her. Boletta went to pieces completely and had to be supported by her mother. “I’m so afraid,” she whispered. “Just so long as she doesn’t harm herself.” “Harm herself? What are you talking about?” “I don’t know what I’m saying any more!” “No, that goes for all of us.” The Old One turned to face the door and knocked on it hard, three times. “It’s my turn now, Vera. And if I don’t get in right away there’s going to be an accident!” But Vera neither answered nor opened the door. She just went on humming and humming. Three more times the Old One knocked on the door as hard as before. “You don’t want your poor grandmother to have to sit on the sink, do you?” They listened, the two of them, they stood with their faces close together, so close they were aware of the other’s breath, and suddenly everything fell silent inside once more. Vera stopped humming and there was no sound of water either. It was then the Old One went at the door at full tilt. There wasn’t much “tilt” to draw on, but she ran at the door with her shoulder nonetheless. It did no good, and so she tried again, her neck bent, her shoulders lifted, her head down. She was like a bull; the Old One became like a bull — it was as though an inexorable power rose within her, the muscles of grief, and she threw herself against the door so it broke open with a terrific crash. She all but pitched over onto the floor, but Boletta caught her, and together they stood there on the threshold beholding that which made them utterly terrified, terrified and yet at the same time relieved and thankful, for Vera was alive.
    She’s sitting in the bath, one arm hanging over its curved edge, and in the water, the dark water, a brush is floating — the floor brush from the kitchen. And Vera doesn’t notice them, or else she doesn’t want to look at them; she stares away somewhere else, just as she did up in the drying loft, and her eyes are far too large for her, they’re clear and almost black. The skin on her breasts, her shoulders, her throat, her face — is discolored and streaked, as if she has tried to wash it away to scour it from her body. And that thin body is trembling.
    Boletta knelt beside the bath. “My dear, beloved

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