I feel subaltern because I don’t have what I need, which is a lot of consciousness

The family keeps itself as a pet

[...]

The family is small like a fast food restaurant at the train station

– Elfriede Jelienek

She howls herself out from stillness. A sudden violent movement to get out of the chair. “I’m leaving and I’m never coming back,” she says. The hubris is a way out of lethargy.

But he says nothing. He gets down on his knees, into prayer. She gets homesick. They both suddenly want to comfort him. She’s the bad one, but it’s only her thinking that. He can’t see her guilt. She’s alone in it.

Shall we do something nice instead? He says. We can go and buy meat for your stew.

It’s sunny outside, they get pho on the way. The butcher’s hands are bloody and they get a heavy bag of meat. Now they are homesick.

She babbles: “I’ll tell you what I love. I love you, I love to sleep, I love wine, I love the day when I have slept ”. She wakes up in the night because it smells like bones, thinks of bones that crumble, how to strain the broth later, what to do with the leftovers. Strain and discard the fat. She thinks it’s good that he can help her with that.

She felt like an adult when he took her to a seminar where the lecturer said that nobody today is anybody’s first choice. That there’s always been someone before. She thought it could not hurt to think like that, about love. As part of a slightly larger pattern. A system where a relationship is liberation.

*

In Jon Fosses’ Dog Manuscripts, the dog Webster escapes from home. He is ashamed of his relationship with his owner, old Oline with her bubbling and gurgling stomach, hugging him in bed. When he returns, he’s cold, tired and hungry. Suddenly the big stomach has changed meaning: become a metonym for love, warmth and security. Love, love, love.

*

The hypothesis that sex draws nourishment from defilement. In order to be defiled, you must be clean to begin with. Have good posture perhaps. Is the family the right place to nurture that? They found each other resting, in that it was easy. That actions (posture, tone of voice, gaze) did not impose any implications.

To manifest my longing for the light, I say to the one I know best: I’m leaving and I’m never coming back. So that my actions can acquire implications. The assumption that you can change how you are towards the world but not how you are with the people at your kitchen table. Can’t you look at me creatively, like I were a movie or an acquaintance, he asks. Is that a loving look? I reply.

*

I cried a cry I had cried before, flowing through already torn up rivers. Sometimes you cry redemptively, when a new insight separates the old, but not today.

Stiff as a family. Sticky papier maché that has solidified. My grimacing face covers the memories.  

Outside, I got the feeling that there was something I have not understood about life. Life is not as I describe above. It is a worthy place for a soul.


Text: Fredrika Flinta
Image: Lisa Vanderpumps Rose by Fredrika Flinta

The Music

What do you mean by that? You said I was joking about your new shoes. Why does the person who knows you so well say you’re a cheater? I’m a man who cares about you. I think you’re my dear darling. Something surprised me today; you came to kiss me on the mouth. You put your dick in my hand and called me your little shepherd. What are you looking for? I’ve met the other men and they say you’re okay. Stop cheating. If so, maybe it’s time to divorce her and move on. You personally inform me that your wife will send me an email to educate me. Please, tell me that story again. The Burning of the Red Lotus Temple. You’re just like that. You treat me like your very naughty child. 

My God, what a mess it is to follow you all around Berlin. My poor legs always yield to your ways. I want to tell you about all the bad things you do. I tried to do it once, on the side, after work. I hold on to Jesus and flee. I see you’re an idiot. What can I say about you? What example can you set for married men? No example. Could love be more beautiful than people consent to make it? You ask what has happened to my attitude. I’m still the same man who dies for you. The other people see us. I’m not lying to anyone. Why are you sending me an email saying you’re just kidding? Not to mention that your wife is in the hospital. You’re doing a terrible thing. You’re doing something wrong. 

The matter is set before your eyes. The matter was with the roses. The fire broke out, and you almost had us killed. The matter was settled for you to follow. Why are you with your back to me? The politics of the world has no place here. The word, the word is used interchangeably with the word. You are a swindler. Peace be upon you. In the game of, in the face of promiscuity, your hands are pale, and the bells are ringing. Why aren’t you listening to me? Some of these musicians, they become our lovers even before we meet them. Now imagine sitting in a pub somewhere in downtown Nairobi, watching him dance. 

All childhood memories come up in these songs. I was 7 years old. I wanted to quit school because of these songs. I forgive you everything when the music starts to play. That is why you want me to visit your wife in the hospital, the one with the newly installed music system. Music heals the sick you explain to me. You say you are not well briefed, so telephone me. I’ll speak to you and brief you completely until you understand. My God, I don’t know what to do. Your name is Yatsko. Have you ever heard of a man called Yatsko? Your middle name is Fabrice, so that is what I call you. You tell me you are from Venice. You say you will take me there one day. I know you are from Granada. Stop lying to me, Fabrice.

You act as though you are fighting with Napoleon. Why did you deceive your wife? You started yelling at me. Who were you challenging? I decide to leave you and you turn ill. Your complexion is now similar to that of a banana. I don’t think I’ll ever see you again. The only sorcery I have known has been to pray. You search for my replacement in vain, my dear. I hear your wife is doing better. Thank you for the photos you left me. I have certainly come to live the experience. Always faithful to your hunger, you’re still hanging around town. The taxi drivers always know where to pick you up. Having once satisfied all of your desires, in the bars that you always like to visit, the walls still report to me what you do. Good luck, Fabrice. Find a way to forgive me. 

You were not easy to deal with, but I’m the photocopy, very much your boy. What use is beauty to me when there’s no one around to admire it? You used to film me and all the funny things that I normally would do. Someone told me you were making a movie. I anticipated the situation by calling the producer at 6am to ask him if he could burn the film. He did. You want to hang me for what I’ve done, but it doesn’t matter, I already have everything. It is useless to try and remember me. My mother calls me everyday to ask me how I am doing. She makes sure that I am home by that time to answer her calls. Have you quit smoking? Are you drinking less? Are you studying? My dear son. Will you be okay? Are you still hanging around with that man? Do you need some money? I start to laugh. Don’t worry about me. Rumors.

I turn myself into a ship captain and dock at every port, where my lovers are waiting for me. We almost started a riot in Porto because we were carrying guns inside our shopping bags at the Castelo Vermelho. Big mistake. The courts will close during the day. Many people thought they would die. They saw we were looking for violence. Their hearts were pounding for us to love them. They were not afraid to eat of their love. If I love them, and they love me, where will we go for all this love? The real thing is what wonderful people they are here. The men are drunk, their brown eyes shine with… I decide to find out. It would be a crime not to go dancing with them. There’s something about his nose. I look back to the past. He reminds me of Fabrice. I push forward. The music moves me. I reach out my hand. The music moves me to do stupid things. 


Text: Ian Memgard
Image:  Juliusz Lewandowski

Incel mind tricks

om man hatar sig själv kan man förälska sig i någon i hoppet om att de ska erkänna något i en som man inte vågar tro på.

sök folk som väcker en känsla av mindervärde i dig, så att deras kärlek för dig ska visa, bevisa ett värde. men det blir aldrig så, för vem vill älska någon som uppvisar en uppenbar känsla av mindervärde? bara psykopater vill vara med någon som uppenbarligen ser sig själva som mindre värda än dem själva.

och om de älskat dig – då frågar du dig vad det är för fel på dem, om de är villiga att förnedra sig till att älska dig, en värdelös person.

man sätter en fälla för sig själv – och det är också tricket. att skapa situationer som aldrig kan lyckas. uppfinner ekvationer som oavsett hur man löser dem alltid slutar på noll. 

de som fått en att känna sig värdelös, dem älskar man mest och alldeles förtvivlat., för i ögonblicket ens ego krossas får de ett enormt värde som de enda som kan sätta ihop det igen.

du ser dig själv som svag och du föraktar de svaga. du slår dig an de starkares sida. du blir mobbad och du önskar att du vore en av mobbarna. du vill varken hjälpa eller bli hjälpt av andra som lider. deras lidande gör dem svaga och fula i dina ögon; lika svaga och fula som du själv, lika hjälplösa.

man förstår inte gränsen mellan sig själv och andra. tror att andra människor bevisar något om en. att en snygg flickvän bevisar något om en: att man är den sortens kille som har en snygg flickvän. eller den sortens tjej som den sexiga killen vill ha, mycket mer än vad han vill ha andra tjejer, fastän han kan få andra tjejer. 

om han inte kan få andra tjejer, vad är han då värd?

vilken sorts kille hade behövt vara med dig? inte en kille som vore värd att ha. 

de som är värda att ha, de vänder sig bort… mot andra vyer du inte kan se men desperat vill blicka; vyer utan dig, oförstörda snölandskap utan smutsiga mänskliga fotspår.

du vill inte ha den tjej som är nördig och osäker som dig, du vill ha den tjej som den killen du önskade att du vore som har, för då hade du varit som honom, utvald av den kraft som skapar och formar världen. 

du ser tjejer eller killar som är som dig och du vämjs, du äcklas, det är som när man hör sin egen röst inspelad för första gången – låter jag verkligen sådär? ser det ut så när jag skrattar? fruktansvärt. man vill inte känna igen sig själv, man vill bytas ut. det man saknar söker man i andra. 

och vad är det de har som man själv inte har? det där undflyende ljuset. du, som för alltid går bort ifrån mig, du som aldrig kommer. det som skiner, kraften att revolutionera världen. guds andedräkt, skönheten. att inte bara känna den utan att vara den. att vara den utan att veta att man är den och leva i evig nåd.

är det inte underligt när man märker att någon projicerar saker på en? när de ser en är det som en månförmörkelse; något annat, mystiskt, rör sig över ens ansikte, i utrymmet där betraktarens ögon träffar det som strålar. där och då vet man: jag kommer att göra dig besviken, för det du vill att jag ska ge dig är ingenting som någon människa kan ge. 

allt jag kan ge dig är detta: att jag är den jag är, och att jag är det när du är med mig.

blir man väl älskad tänker man att man måste ha lurat dem. att man fått dem att tro något om en själv som inte är sant; att man är bättre än vad man egentligen är. och hur mycket man än har önskat att någon annans kärlek för en ska bevisa just detta – att man faktiskt ÄR bättre än vad man tror att man är – så känns beviset plötsligt falskt och opålitligt. och återigen måste kärleken bevisas, under svårare och svårare prover.

så du tror att du älskar mig? det tror du? men hade du älskat mig om jag var otrogen mot dig? om jag hånade dig framför dina vänner? om jag sårade dina känslor och ignorerade dig när du ville komma åt mig? är jag så älskvärd att jag är värd det? hade du älskat mig om jag sket på mig, hällde syra över mitt eget ansikte, blev nazist? nähä? då har du väl aldrig älskat mig. 

först vill man vara så vacker att alla som ser en måste älska en. sen säger man, sviket och misstänksamt: men älskar du mig bara för att jag är vacker?

den villkorslösa kärleken. att söka en kärlek som aldrig kan förnekas. man kunde kalla den gudomlig om man tror på att den finns. men

det är det som är grejen – hur många gånger nån än säger “jag älskar dig” kan såna människor inte tro det i mer än tre minuter. så de söker obesvarade känslor och dödlägen, för att vänta på frälsning håller hoppet om frälsning vid liv. de vägrar erkänna något så bräckligt och alldagligt som den verkliga mänskliga kärleken.

inte bara våra älskare eller kärleksobjekt får lida; alla andra våra nära får lida, eftersom de står nära oss och vi avskyr oss. hade du inte stått så nära mig och visat vart jag slutar, då hade jag varit oändlig; då hade jag kunnat vara det jag önskar att jag vore, men du, med din kärlek för mig och dina töntiga intressen och dina brister – du ringar in mig mig. 

visst är det sant att jag med djupaste desperation och förtvivlan älskar en värld som varje dag går förlorad, att jag älskar friheten när den slipper ur mitt grepp. men vad kan mina vänner råda för det?

är man inte den bästa, coolaste, mest åtråvärda, då måste man vara en total nolla. det kan inte bara vara det att man är normal, emotståndlig för många, för andra tilltalande nog. då vore man ju som alla andra, och det kan man inte tolerera; man måste bevisa att man är något mer, oemotståndlig, och om inte det, odräglig, ohjälpligt fördömd.

så tror man att man tar sin plats i himlen, bredvid upp-och-nervända helgon, som helgonet av den eviga förlusten. ett idiotiskt trick egentligen; att sumpa sin enda chans att uppleva, om bara för en kort stund, det som mest liknar paradiset på jorden. att aldrig ge sig själv den kraft som skapar världar.

vi tror att vi inte är älskade. problemet är inte det. problemet är att vi inte älskar andra människor. vi är inte villiga att ge dem någonting. visst, man kan tänka att “om de bara gjorde så och så, då skulle jag älska dem”, som att man behövde tillåtelse, men låt oss vara ärliga – hade de gjort som du önskade, då hade målstolparna ändå flyttats, tills de äntligen når det dödläge du söker, där ingen kan göra dig nöjd. man måste älska dem först. vare sig man vinner på det eller inte. som att vinst eller förlust skulle betyda något. vem eller vad räknar egentligen poäng? den enda verkliga förloraren är den som inte spelar.


Text och bild: Zola Gorgon

Incel Mind Tricks

If you hate yourself, you can fall in love with someone in the hope that they’ll recognize something in you which you don’t even dare to believe in. 

Seek out people who trigger your insecurity, so that their love for you will show and prove your value. But it never works out, because who wants to love someone who obviously sees themselves as inferior? Only psychopaths want to be with people who see themselves as less worthy than themselves.

And if they do love you – then you’ve got to ask yourself what’s wrong with them, if they’re willing to degrade themselves enough to love someone like you – a worthless person.

You put a trap for yourself – and that’s the whole trick. You put yourself in situations which cannot go well. You invent equations which, regardless of how you solve them, always come out to zero. 

Most of all and most desperately you love the ones who made you feel worthless, since the moment they crushed your ego, they gained immense value as the only ones who can restore it.

You see yourself as weak and you despise the weak. You take the side of the strong. You’re bullied and wish you were one of the bullies. You neither want to help or be helped by others who suffer. Their suffering makes them weak and ugly in your eyes; as weak and ugly as you, and no help to you whatsoever.

You don’t see the boundary between yourself and others. Think other people prove something about you. That a hot girlfriend proves something about you: that you’re the kind of guy who has a hot girlfriend. Or the kind of girl that the hot guy wants. Wants much more than he wants other girls, even if he can get other girls. 

If he can’t get other girls, what is he even worth?

What sort of guy would have to settle for you? Not a guy worth having. 

The ones worth having, they turn their faces away… towards other views which you cannot see but desperately want to catch; views that exclude you, untouched snow landscapes without dirty human footsteps.

And you don’t want the girl who’s nerdy and insecure like you, you want the girl that the guy you wish you were had, because then you’d be like him, chosen by the power that creates and shapes the world. 

You see guys or girls like yourself and you’re repulsed, like when you hear your own voice recorded for the first time – do I really sound like that? Do I look like that when I laugh? You don’t want to recognize yourself, you want to be exchanged. You seek what you don’t have in other people.

And what is it they have that you don’t? That elusive light. You, who always walk away from me, you who never comes.The shining thing, the power to revolutionize the world. The breath of god, beauty. Not just to feel it but to be it. To be it without knowing that you are it, living in eternal grace.

Isn’t it strange when you notice someone projecting onto you? That they look at you, and it’s like a lunar eclipse; something else, mysterious, moves across your face, in the space where the eyes of the observer meet that which shines. There and then, you know: I will disappoint you, because what you want from me can’t be given by a human being.

All I can give you is this: That I am who I am, and that I am that when you’re with me. 

If someone loved you, you’d think you must have fooled them. That you must have made them believe something about you which isn’t true, that you’re better than what you really are. And regardless of how much you wished that their love for you would prove this – that you actually ARE better than you think – suddenly the proof feels false and unreliable. And once again love must be tested by more and more difficult trials.

So you think you love me? That’s what you think? But would you still love me if I cheated on you? If I made fun of you in front of your friends? If I hurt your feelings and ignored you when you needed me? Would you love me then, still,would I be worth it? Would you love me if I shat myself, poured acid over my own face, became a nazi? No? You wouldn’t? Then I guess you never loved me. 

At first, you want to be so beautiful that everyone who sees you has to love you. Then you say, hurt and suspicious: but do you only love me because I am beautiful?

Unconditional love. Seeking a love which can’t be denied. You might call it divine if you believed in it. But —

That’s the thing – no matter how many times someone says “I love you”, people like that can’t believe it for more than three minutes. So they seek uncertainty in unanswered feelings and deadlocks, because being uncertain, awaiting salvation, keeps the hope of salvation alive; refuses to recognize anything so brittle and mundane as actual human love.

Not only our lovers and love objects get to suffer; everyone else close to us gets to suffer, because they’re close to us and we hate us. We think, if you hadn’t stood close enough to me to show me where I end, then I would be infinite: then I’d be what I want to be, but you, with your love for me and your lame interests and all your flaws – you’re the one who limits me. 

Admittedly it’s true that I, with deep desperation and despair, love a world that is lost every single day, that I love freedom when it slips out of my hands. But what can my friends do about that?

If you’re not the best, coolest, most desirable, then you’ve got to be a total nobody. It can’t just be that you’re normal, resistable to many, to some people appealing enough. That’d mean being like other people, and that’s impossible to live with; you’ve got to prove that you’re something more, irresistable,and if not that, loathsome, helplessly damned.

So you believe you take your seat in heaven, next to up-side-down saints, as the saint of eternal loss and losing. An idiot’s trick, really; to waste your only chance to experience, if only for a short moment, what’s most like paradise on earth. to never give yourself the power that creates worlds.

We think we’re not loved. That’s not the problem. The problem is that we don’t love other people. We aren’t willing to give them anything. Sure, you can think that “if they only did this and that, I would love them,” as if you need permission, but let us be honest – if they’d done what you wanted, the goalposts would be moved again, until they finally reach the deadlock you seek, where nothing can satisfy you. You’ve got to love them first. Whether you gain from it or not. As if gain or loss would mean anything. Who or what is even keeping the score? The only real loser is the one who won’t play.


Text and image: Zola Gorgon

How the sausage gets made

All my life I’d escaped, with a mix of effort and luck, from learning anything at all about what it was to work, but one day someone called me on my landline and told me my parents’ helicopter had had a critical error just at the border between Brazil and Argentina and crashed straight into the Iguazu falls. A final, extreme vacation experience, I thought, with a bittersweet melancholy. My parents had truly been crazy.

They held a closed-coffin wake. What actually had happened to my parents bodies was impossible for the human brain to imagine. Things like that you don’t even see in films. After the funeral, everyone mingled, eating bitter little biscuits and drinking coffe and speaking in quiet voices. My uncle, a pragmatic man who ran a little tourist buss operation, came over with a grim look on his face. He’d always had a kind of reserved distaste for me, since I didn’t work, but spent my time like this:

In the morning I woke up on my own, and left the curtains closed. Then I spent a good long time thinking about what I actually wanted to do with my day, because each day was like a jewel which someone had dropped into the palm of my hand without telling me anything about what they wanted from me in return.

Often I went onto the streets and walked without any particular goal until I found an old-fashioned, shitty bakery where you could buy a coffee and a croissant for less than two euros. I didn’t eat a lot, because I wasn’t missing anything, and I didn’t shop a lot either, so don’t think I was living in some sort of material luxury. I didn’t want anything I didn’t already have. I hadn’t developed the habit of craving.

My parents paid the rent for my little room like a gym membership they’d forgotten to cancel but never used. I really had no reason to complain, and every time a postcard from faraway countries turned up I felt wrapped up in a down duvet of their distracted, unconditional love. The closest I came to actually working was spending a few hours a week filling out and sending back the forms that various authorities sent to me, in exchange for them sending me money for croissants and coffee, besides which I was completely busy writing my dream memoirs.

I never looked at the clock.

I spent many, many years like this. If I wanted a vacation I just walked as far as I could without stopping in any direction. I had a lot of friends, and sometimes I ran into them on the street, drank beer with them and played pool with the neighbourhood. We found a lot of things on the street, furniture, books, porcelain, and sometimes we even found unlabeled VHS tapes, smoked weed and went home to the one who had a tape player and watched blurry figures move across the screen, guessing together what the film might be about. We helped each other with all sorts of things. Those who’d left the country sent me letters, and I wrote them letters back, long and descriptive, with illustrations, and sometimes they called me and told me about their lives through my white landline phone which had given me almost nothing but joy until the day it rang and ruined my life.

“I’m very sorry,” is what the person at the other end had said, “but I have to inform you that your parents passed away in an accident on the border between Brazil and Argentina, two weeks ago.”

“I forgive you,” I said. “I knew this day would come. Nothing’s for certain when your parents spend their time on extreme travel experiences, and besides they were both over 85.”

There I was – standing there at their funeral, when my uncle, the tour bus operator, came up to me with a little cup of black coffee in one hand and a bitter little almond biscuit in a napkin in the other one. “Terribly tragic, all of this,” he said, though his tone made it sound like it was my parents fault that they’d died, which in a way it was. “I can’t imagine they left much of an inheritance, either.”

“No,” I said.

“Then of course there’s the trouble between you and your half-brother, the lawyer costs…”

“Yes, indeed.”

“Sure seems like you’re all alone in the world now,” he said, and I sensed a certain hint of schadenfreude in his voice, which he’d had the opportunity to develop and perfect during his 40 years in the tour bus industry and which now had its chance to shine. “Oh well, I’m afraid you can’t have fun forever, not in this world. Party’s over! Time to learn how the sausage gets made, isn’t it? Nothing to do about it!”

How the sausage gets made… already as a child I’d suspected from the intimations of adults that sausage, something very tasty, on another level was very, very nasty.

It was something to do with the way they made it. Nobody wants to know how the sausage gets made. Later I heard it was made from the parts of the animal you wouldn’t have wanted to eat if you’d known what they were, assholes and things like that, ground down and pressed into intestine tubes. But there must be something more to it than that, something in the sausage’s very creation that people really shut their eyes to.

“Yes,” I said meekly. “Now it’s time for me to learn how the sausage gets made.”

I’d been orphaned, only 43 years old. My uncle was right – it was time for me to learn how the sausage gets made. But how? I didn’t have any work experience, and I didn’t have a real education either. Of course I had a close communication with the Job Center, but the Job Center felt pretty far away from everything to do with work, and besides I found that their letters to me had developed a sort of demanding, threatening tone lately which I didn’t appreciate in the least.

One day, during my anxious evening walk, I happened to come to a stop in front of the lit up window of a butcher shop. What had caught my attention was the cheerful and plump little porcelain piggies standing in the window and who, wearing chef hats and aprons, offered passers-by kassler and ham on silver plates. I contemplated them for a long time, raised my gaze and saw a piece of paper where someone had written:

THE SAUSAGE FACTORY IS RECRUITING
NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY
CALL NOW

and a phone number, which I wrote down on my hand and called as soon as I got home. Even at night they picked up. Perhaps they took calls 24 hours.

“Good evening,” they said, “how may I help you?”

“I’m looking for a job,” I said. “Are you the ones who make the sausage?”

“That’s us! Actually, we’re famed for our sausages. We have some of the biggest factories in the country. We make everything from cocktail wieners to chorizo, sucuk to kielbasa, blood sausage and bratwurst, halal and haram, kosher and kashrut, pork sausage, chicken sausage, soy sausage, christmas sausage, breakfast sausage, wedding sausage… well, not all in the same facility, of course.”

“No, of course not,” said I, who didn’t know much about the sausage industry.

Even before you reached the factory, you could feel the smell of smoked meat in the air. In a little concrete building by the entrance a man in overalls smoked cigarettes and read a porn rag. He opened a squeaking gate for me, and I walked onto an enormous space where grim-faced workers loaded dozens of trucks with sausage deliveries. The factory was as wide and solid as a romanesque church, with high, narrow windows and three chimneys spewing smoke.

“We had a lot of applicants, of course, but when we heard about your education we felt you would have potential in the role of project consultant. Well, it’s a junior role, of course, but it’s nothing to sneeze at. You can get far in a career like that. Not a lot of people with a family background like yours look for a job at the sausage factory.”

“Oh, really,” I said. My education had only covered post-colonial South American literature. Would I have to prove that I knew something about sausage manufacture? I examined my memories for information. A pale childhood memory came back – how my parents maid, Marisol, ground meat in great grinder and used another machine where she put pale white intenstines over some sort of metallic mouth and filled them with meat slop. How could I demonstrate this knowledge, which was really only a picture in my mind?

“How did your parents make their money?”

“In oil.”

“Doing what to oil?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Of course background’s not the only thing that counts,” the interviewer said. “We’re looking for somebody who’s team-oriented but simultaneously explosive. Solution oriented. Good at thinking quickly under pressure. Creative. Passionate. Are you someone with a great passion who’s on fire for managing projects and solving communication problems?”

“Oh, yes,” I said, “I burn with a great passion.”

“That’s wonderful to hear,” the interviewer said. “It’s all about one thing – to take passion and turn it into sausage.”

He explained to me several times the function of my position, something about group-oriented problem-solving, but I was distracted by the heavy, grinding noises coming from the factory equipment, grinding away in in a room I hadn’t been allowed to see. As soon as I came home, the phone rang. Could I start the next day?

“The thing is…” I said, looking for an excuse and not finding it.

“Or have you got other plans?” said the voice on the other end of the line, through so much static that I couldn’t tell if they were male or female.

“I… no,” I said, and had a sad vision of croissants, wine glasses, and pool tables fading away in the distance.

“We’re pleased that you’re so flexible. Could you be there at eight in the morning?”

From that day on I had to get up early in the morning. I didn’t remember my dreams anymore, but turned into one of those people with dark rings under their eyes on the underground. It was like travelling between two fish bowls, office and bedroom, where I fell into a shallow sleep, dreamless besides the deep grinding pulsations of the factory and a vague sense that…

Those who actually made the sausage apparently tended towards laziness, because someone had developed a system to analyze how productively they worked, how many sausages were made in how much time, when so-and-so was sick or home with a sick child, who took toilets breaks the most often and how long the toilet breaks lasted.

I hadn’t seen the production yet. I sat alone in an office with frosted glass windows and saw the silhouettes of the big machines like dark ghosts on the other side and I heard them grinding. I looked at a screen with different numbers and tried to interpret the numbers and how they related to the people who worked on the other side. Some numbers meant something good and some meant something bad; I noted all of the ones which stood out.

I basically never met my colleagues, so I was surprised when my manager gave me a Lidl gift card and said, “Great work- we’ve managed to make this factory a lot more efficient, thanks to you. You’ve really picked up your education. Are you ready to take this to the next level?”

“The next level?”

The next level was for me to not only point out the people who would be fired but to actually fire them myself. Now I saw the sausage makers. They came into my office like nervous chickens. I’d have liked to crack open a beer with them, but that wasn’t my job. And I said, “According to our productivity data this would be a more efficient factory if we optimized away your job,” and so on; sometimes they looked hateful, sometimes they cried on the way out of my office.

“I don’t understand why you have to fire me,” one said. “I’m here on time every day and I work as hard as I can. The sausage does get made. Why does the work have to be optimized?”

“I don’t understand why I have to fire you either,” I said. Regardless of how many people got fired, work on the whole didn’t seem to go any faster. The longer people were there, the slower they began to work; sooner or later they made a mistake, fell ill or were late, except for when someone had just been fired and fear whipped everyone to work as hard as they could until they couldn’t anymore. Then a new person would be hired, and with time the new would become just like the old, and then they were replaced too.

“Then why are you firing me?”

“I’m not firing you, it’s the computer,” I said.

“What cowardice!”

I could only agree. The machine stood on my desk and sometimes bleeped angrily. What could a machine really do to me? I was a human and mightier than it.

Sometimes I took a wrong turn in the subway and ended up in filthy tunnels which smelled like human feces where rags littered the ground and where people lived in filth and garbage, people who were superfluous. How could I be happy about anything when people were just about the same as old clothes which were left on the street and pissed on by dogs until there were nothing left but rags? Croissants and wine all turned to dust in my mouth, it was hard to look people in the eyes, I kept the radio on while I was falling asleep.

I started ignoring the numbers on the screen and for a while my life was full of a sort of peace. I drank machine coffee “with white” and peered through the break room window, onto the parking lot covered with rime where an anxious sinking sun slipped beneath the houses. Perhaps nobody would have to be fired again. In which case it was lucky that they hired me, instead of someone more dedicated, who could have effectivized away dozens of people in the time it took me to go to the coffee machine, put in a coin, and press the button.

My manager called me to him.

“How come the effectivization process has fallen behind?” he said.

“People have become a lot more efficient,” I said, “everyone works as hard as they can.”

“I just can’t believe that,” he said. A thumping sound came from the great room behind him. “We haven’t raised our productivity at all in the last week.”

“But we’re already productive.”

I might as well not have said anything. He said, “We’ve looked into your numbers and unfortunately we can tell you haven’t been efficient enough in the effectivization process to justify your position.”

“I thought perhaps we were done effectivizing.”

“Of course we’re not done effectivizing,” he said testily. “Not only that, but your inefficiency has already slowed us down massively; now we’re a whole week behind. We do, of course, take that seriously. But don’t worry, we found a replacement for you already. I’m sorry, but we have to ask you to go.”

“You don’t at all have to ask me to go,” I said, “you’re the one who decides.”

“Don’t be naïve,” he said. “It’d look terrible for my own stats if I let you keep on like this. You think nobody’s got their eyes on me? No, it’s not an alternative.”

“So what’s the alternative? I do need a job.”

“There is no alternative,” he said. “Well, besides…”

“I have a wish,” I said. “Let me know how the sausage gets made.”

They let me into the thundering heart of the sausage factory. The smell of smoked meat made my eyes tear up and my cheeks itch; the smell of sewage and menstruation; rails in the ceiling where lumps were moved from one side to another; an inside with a ceiling as high as a train station, where metal beams disappeared in a rust red fog and yellow lamps blinked like malicious stars; no sky visible outside the window.

I thought I heard a woman singing, in Spanish as it’s spoken in El Salvador, nothing is more beautiful than the eyes of my true love, his arms are like… but then I couldn’t hear anymore, not over the noise.

“As the farmer slaughters his pigs, one must slaughter ones desires,” a voice said. Who? Who said that? Who whispered into my ear? Nobody led me anymore; the hand on my shoulder was gone, but I went forward anyway. Everything around me moved; the workers at their stations, with lowered heads and plastic covering their faces; they didn’t see me, and before I could recognize a single face they’d gone; in the other direction, high above, lumps of meat were jerked back and forth, pigs and cows and horses and other animals I didn’t recognize, meat juice dripping from the ceiling and rising again like steam, sticking to my hair. The grinder excreted an unrecognizable pink mass from its enormous holes.

Everything in my life had led to this, the rail and grinder and assembly line, behind the line another line, above the manager another manager, behind the grinder another grinder, and above the grinder a platform where a pig sat, larger than a human, with four legs and four arms, a bloody apron and a chef’s hat in gold. It sliced off its own legs with an electric knife, but immediately the spurting stumps grew back, and the severed limbs ended up in the grinder. The pig held plates with fat, swollen sausages in two of its other hands, and with the fourth arm it constantly stuffed its mouth, chewed and swallowed, crying and laughing on a throne of pigs and humans.

Now I knew all about the world.


Text: Zola Gorgon
Image: Pieter Aertsen, A Meat Stall with the Holy Family Giving Alms

Bladee

Marknaden var kaotisk och suddig. Men även på en sådan plats hade de handlande människorna en viss definition. Fastän de uppenbarligen existerade i samma utrymme som jag, så verkade de alldeles för vackra för det. Marknadens verklighet kom endast till mig när jag prackade på människor andrahandsteorier jag snappat upp från böcker som “Marknadernas historia” och filmer som “Markus på marknaden”. Marknader är som egna moderna samhällen i miniatyr, tänkte jag. Och i dagens samhälle ansågs jag vara en lite tråkig person. Jag hade varken modet att röka cigg på toaletterna på rasterna, eller att shotta tequila med resten av mina kollegor på våra after work-fester. Kanske hade jag bara nyss fyllt 20, men jag förstod redan att saktmodets dygdighet var en ren och skär lögn. Vilken sorts framtid väntade mig om jag redan, även i detta miniatyrsamhälle, var helt oanmärkningsvärd? Omkring mig gick coola unga par runt och letade efter retromöbler att fylla sina vackra lägenheter med. Vad gjorde jag egentligen här? Vem var jag? Min föraning om att jag skulle komma att leda ett fullkomligt trist liv fyllde mig med en förtvivlan bortom alla ord. Jag skulle precis bege mig tillbaka hem, när jag hörde någon ropa mitt namn.

De säger att livet är en slump, men jag tror att mitt möte med Cameron den dagen var del av något mycket större än vi två. Man hade kunnat säga att det var som det efterlängtade svaret på mysteriet Julius Ceasar viskade när han blöd ihjäl på senatens golv. Eller var det mer som svaret på Sphinxens gåta? Jag antar att det inte spelar någon roll. Du förstår, om jag var tråkig, så var Cameron spännande. Det roliga och det skrattliga vandrade vid hans sida vart han än begav sig. Som om han rest världen runt växte Cameron upp och blev den starkare, mer solbrända, och betydligt mer självsäkra av oss. Folk tyckte att han var sexig, och han sågs alltid med ett leende på läpparna. Det blev vår plikt som bästa vänner att undersöka alltingtillsammans, att dra varje värja som gick att dra. Men var det verkligen en bra idé?

En viss “Bladees” uppdykande hade fångat mina vänners uppmärksamhet den sommaren. Han var det enda de pratade om, och det enda de lyssnade på. “Så imponerande är han faktiskt inte,” brukade jag säga, för att övertyga både mig själv och mina vänner, men sanningen var att jag var mer än imponerad. Jag…

Jag…

Jag tolkade helt enkelt Bladee självständigt, och observerade honom från andra, mycket märkligare vinklar. Kanske var det fånigt at mig, men jag fann honom fascinerande. Jag minns en kväll på en hemmafest, då en vän till mig satte igång låten “be nice to me”, och en underlig röst i mitt huvud svarade, “det ska jag.”

Bladee var så fri… fri på ett sätt jag inte var. Skulle jag någonsin bli så fri som han? Jag måste försöka. Han som är fri från rådande moral och förnuft kan åstadkomma vadsomhelst. Precis som Marquis de Sades hjältinna Juliette, måste jag befria mig själv för Bladee.

Natten innan jag stötte på Cameron på marknaden hade jag det galna infallet att be till Gud innan jag gick och lade mig. Hur går det nu igen? frågade jag mig själv, men sen kom orden till mig.

“Fader vår,” började jag, “helgat varo ditt namn. Må ditt rike komma, må din vilja ske…”

Vem kan säga vad som hände sen? Allt jag minns är att jag hörde samma fruktansvärt underliga röst som på hemmafesten. Den verkade komma från inuti mig.

“I anden! I kroppen! I ögonen! I båda händerna! I blodet och andedräkten! I klingan!” ekade den genom min själs kammare. Min hjärna tömdes och jag störtade ner på sovrumsgolvet i djup sömn. Jag minns inte vad jag drömde den natten. Bara den där rösten – den där underliga rösten… Oskyldigt undrade jag om orden fortsatte att formas inom mig. Märkliga tankar och vansinniga tankar och allegoriska tankar spred sig. Om jag bara vetat vad som väntade.

“Hallå, Ilia!”

Jag vände mig om och såg min bästa vän, lika munter som alltid.

“Hej Cameron,” sa jag, “hur är läget? Jag skulle precis gå.”

“Redan?” sa han besviket. “Jag skulle ha älskat att hänga med dig, bro. Jag letar efter ett uråldrigt svärd att hänga på väggen i min nya lägenhet. Du är alltid så bra på att hitta sånt.” Sen lystes hans ansikte upp. “Du kommer aldrig kunna tro vad jag ska göra ikväll!”

“Vadå?” frågade jag. Cameron gjorde många otroliga saker och det verkade troligt att vad han skulle berätta för mig, vad det än var, faktiskt skulle låta trovärdigt. Men vad han berättade därnäst var verkligen förbluffande.

“Jag har biljetter till Bladee-konserten,” sa han.

“Du skojar,” svarade jag, och min hänryckning måste gjort intryck på honom, för han bjöd mig direkt att följa med.

Den kvällen, när vi förfestade hos Cameron, så insåg jag att det var ödet snarare än slumpen som fört oss samman, och med samma människor som jag mött hundra gånger förut, på andra hemmafester och häng. Alla verkade ovanligt intresserade av att konversera med mig, mycket mer än vad de någonsin varit tidigare. De kommenterade till och med min utstyrsel, och sa, “du ser jättebra ut ikväll, Ilia!”

Om det fanns en gud som slängt mig, så var detta en gud som plockat upp mig igen. En gud som förstod mig och mitt djupa behov av frihet. Av att vara fri för Bladee. Var det samma gud som besvarat min bön natten innan? Vad den rösten än var för något så bestämde jag mig att tro på den. “Ubern är här om fem minuter!” sa Cameron. Brum brum – så var vi på väg.

Jag minns inte mycket av konserten. Vem skulle kunna minnas sådan ekstas efter att den är över? Men efteråt, när konserten var över, så la Cameron armen om mina axlar och viskade i mitt öra: “Det finns en överraskning åt dig. Gå upp för trappan och knacka på den gula dörren.”

“Vänta, varför det?” sa jag, men Cameron bara blinkade åt mig.

Vad överraskningen än var, så lydde jag. De väntade på mig i mitten av ett enormt rum med en underbar utsikt över natten. En stilig kille i en röd tröja erbjöd mig den ultimata frestelsen. “Bladee är här. Du måste ge honom ditt hedrande.”

“Du vet vad du måste göra,” uppmanade hans följeslagare mig.

“Snälla!” svarade jag utan att tveka. “Jag ska göra det.”

Bladee, du kan komma in nu,” sa en av de unga männen på svenska. Jag var stel av förväntan. En minute senare kom Bladee in i rummet.

Ibland sägs det att vissa kändisar är “trevliga och jordnära”, men nu förstod jag vad det verkligen betydde. För i hans ögon såg jag inte den trendiga unga stjärnans kyliga glans, utan värmen som återspeglades från ögonen hos de ödmjuka kor som hans förfäder en gång måste ha fött upp, i sina små stugor, i det lilla kalla landet så långt borta.

Det måste vara du som är min väpnare,” sa Bladee (på svenska), och jag nickade eftersom jag förstod av mig själv vad han menade, fastän jag inte förstod hans språk. “Men även den mest trogna väpnare förtjänar en dag att själv känna riddarens vansinniga beslutsamhet.” Jag knäböjde framför hans klappstol och förberedde mig på att ta emot hans svärd, som skulle dubba mig in i hans värld. I andra ord så sög jag hans kuk. Och när han kom i min mun, med ett stön som verkade komma från själva djupet av hans varelse, så fylldes min hjärna av ett bländande vitt ljus; där var det, klarhet, intellektuell och spirituell styrka, som om varenda hudcell – inte bara i min kropp men även i min själv – plötsligt hade blivit fullständigt återfuktad. Och då visste jag det. Att jag aldrig skulle vara tråkig.

Jag såg upp med tacksamhet och torkade mig om munnen. Men vad hade hänt med Bladee, plötsligt så tömd på kraft? Han såg fullständigt utmattad ut när han lutade sig tillbaka igen mot stolen, oförmögen eller ovillig att resa på sig igen. “Tack… och varsågod,, sa han, och när han talade verkade han kollapsa in i sig själv, som en ballong några dagar efter festen. Och precis som en ballong tömdes han plötsligt på luft och skjöts genom luften, ut genom det öppna fönstret och in i den stjärngnistrande natten utanför. Jag tappade hakan för andra gången – denna gången av vördnad. Skulle han någonsin synas till igen? Kanske skulle hans resa fortsätta på en annan plats, i en annan stad; kanske på en annan planet. Allt jag visste var att min resa bara precis hade börjat. 

text: Ian Memgard & Zola Gorgon
översättning: Zola Gorgon
bild: Ian Memgard

Bladee

The market was chaotic and blurry. But even in such a place, there’s a certain definition to the people buying and selling things. Even though they clearly existed in the same space as I, they appeared to be too beautiful for it. The reality of the market was only provided to me by cornering people with second hand theories I had picked up from books like “A History of Markets” and movies like “Markus at the Market”. Markets are like self-contained, modern societies in miniature, I thought. And in today’s society, I was considered a somewhat boring person. I didn’t have the courage to smoke cigarettes in the restroom during breaks, nor to do tequila shots with the rest of my colleagues at our after work parties. I may have just turned 20, but I understood that the idea of meekness as a virtue was a bold-faced lie. What sort of future could await me if I was already unremarkable even in this miniature society? All around me were cool, young couples looking for retro furniture to fill their beautiful apartments with. What was I really doing here? Who was I? My premonition that I would lead a totally boring life filled me with a despair beyond words. I was just about to head back home, when I heard my name being called.

Life is said to be a coincidence, but I think that my encounter with Cameron that day was part of something much greater than the two of us. One could say it was like the long awaited answer to the mystery whispered by Julius Caesar as he bled out on the senate floor. Or was it more like the answer to the riddle of the Sphinx? I guess it doesn’t matter. You see, if I was boring, Cameron was exciting. The fun and the laughty stayed at his side wherever he went. As if he’d travelled the whole world, Cameron grew up to be the stronger, more tanned, and significantly more confident one of us. People thought he was hot and he was always seen smiling. It became our duty as best friends to investigate everything together, to draw every blade there was to be drawn. But was this really such a good idea?

The appearance of a certain “Bladee” had caught the attention of most of my friends that summer. He was all they would ever talk about and all they would ever listen to. “He’s just not that impressive,” I used to say, trying to convince both myself and my friends, but in reality I was more than impressed. I was.. 

I was.. 

I was simply interpreting Bladee independently, observing him from other, much stranger angles. Maybe it was silly of me, but I found him fascinating. I remember how one night at a house party my friend put on the song “be nice to me”, and a strange voice inside my head answered, “I will”.

Bladee was so free… free in a way I was not. Would I ever be as free as him? I had to try. He who is freed from existing morals and reason can accomplish anything. Just like the Marquis de Sade’s heroine Juliette, I had to free myself for Bladee.

The night before I met Cameron at the market I had the crazy idea to pray to God before bed. How does this go again? I asked myself. Then the words came to me. 

“Our Father,” I began, “hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done…”

Who can say what happened? All I remember is hearing the same terribly strange voice I heard at that house party. It seemed to come from inside me. 

“In the spirit! In the body! In the eyes! In both hands! In blood and breath! In the blade!” it echoed through the chambers of my soul. My mind went blank and I crashed onto my bedroom floor, fast asleep. I don’t remember what I dreamed that night. Only that voice – that strange, strange voice. I wondered innocently if those words were forming within me even after. Strange thoughts and mad thoughts and allegorical thoughts scattered themselves. If I only knew what was to come.

“Hey, Ilia!” 

I turned around and there was my best friend, as cheerful as ever.

“Hey, Cameron,” I said. “How’s it going? I was just about to leave.”

“So soon?” he said, disappointed. “I would have loved to hang out with you, bro. I’m looking for an ancient sword to hang on the wall of my new flat. You’re always so good at picking out things like that.” Then his face lit up. “Oh, you’ll never believe what I’m doing tonight!”

“What?” I asked. Cameron did many unbelievable things and it seemed likely that what he was about to tell me, whatever it was, would, indeed, be believable to me. But what he told me next was truly astonishing.

“I’ve got tickets to the Bladee concert,” he said.

“No way,“ I replied, and the rapture on my face must have impressed him, because he invited me to come along.

That night, after pre-drinks at Cameron’s, I realized that there was fate, more than coincidence, entangled with our encounters, the very same people I’d met a hundred times before at different house parties and hangouts. Everyone seemed oddly interested in making conversation with me, more than they ever had made known to me before. They even commented on my outfit, saying, “you look really good tonight, Ilia!”

If there was a God who had thrown me away, here was a God who had picked me up. A God who understood me and my deep need to be free. To be free for Bladee. Was it the same God who had answered my prayer last night? Whatever that voice had been, it was a voice I decided to believe in. “The Uber is here in 5 minutes!” said Cameron. Wroom wroom – and we were on our way.

I don’t remember much of the concert. Who could possibly recall such bliss after it’s gone? 

But afterwards, when the concert was over, Cameron put his arm around my shoulders and whispered into my ear, “There’s a surprise for you. Head upstairs and knock on the yellow door.” 

“What, why?” I said but Cameron just winked. 

Whatever the surprise was, I obliged. They were waiting for me in the middle of a huge room with a wonderful night view. A handsome guy in a red shirt offered me the absolute temptation. “Bladee is here. You must pay him tribute.” 

“You know what to do,” his companions urged me. 

“Please!” I answered them without hesitation. “I will do it.” 

“Bladee, du kan komma in nu,” said one of the young men. I stood frozen in anticipation. A minute later, Bladee entered the room.

People sometimes say that certain celebrities are “nice and down to earth”, but now I truly understood what that meant. For in his eyes I saw not the cold glint of the trendy young star, but the warmth reflecting from the eyes of the humble cows that his ancestors must once have reared, in their little homesteads in that small cold country far away.

“Det måste vara du som är min väpnare,” he said, and I nodded because I understood intuitively what he meant. “Men även den mest trogna väpnare förtjänar en dag att själv känna riddarens vansinniga beslutsamhet.” I kneeled before his folding chair and prepared myself to receive the touch of his sword, which would dub me into his world. In other words, I sucked his dick. And as he came into my mouth, with a groan that seemed to come from the very depth of his being, a blinding white light filled my brain; there it was, clarity, strength of spirit and intellect, as if every single skin cell – not just in my body but in my soul – had suddenly become perfectly moisturized. And I knew it then. That I would never be boring.

I looked up in gratitude and wiped my lips. But what had happened to Bladee, suddenly so drained of his power? He looked completely exhausted as he fell back against the chair, unable or unwilling to rise again. “Tack…. och varsågod,” he said, and as he spoke he seemed to crumble into himself, like a party balloon left out a few days too many. And just like a balloon he suddenly deflated and was propelled through the air, through the open window and into the starry night outside. My mouth dropped open for the second time; this time, it was with awe. Would he ever be seen again? Perhaps his journey would continue in another place, in another city; perhaps, on another planet. All I knew was that my journey had just begun. 

text: Ian Memgard & Zola Gorgon
image: Ian Memgard

Dinner time

Dinner time is gray, restless, birthing evil
carrying the day you wanted to clean but instead fill with sausage, wine, cheese
at dinner time it’s really time to starve
shut up and pray for forgiveness

I fall asleep but I think of breaths in the night
on porches
america maybe

who can sleep me
me, I can sleep
though I think about how restless they are on these porches
once this restlessness pulsates through me
only once
then I fall asleep

Text: Fredrika Flinta
Image: Vera Nilsson, Sagor

cradle

to be born into the grave
not willing, nor able
the lilacs growing eventually in spring

lulled gently by the cradle
the rotting carcasses of unfulfilled wishes tipping over the edges,
growing like mold

it didn’t have to be that way but it was
and it became the march through the night all of us
like the dance macabre
became morbid figures
dancing the night away

it wasn’t like we had a chance to become
ourselves or anything
after all,

a birth rooted in death is, figuratively, an preemptive strike

living
like burning candles in the wind
not really understanding the meaning of heat

it is fragile

Text: Beate Björkengren
Image: Alexander Norton, “Was ist loss?”, 2015

The Horse Girl

I just loved to ride… and I loved nothing besides.

I didn’t think of anything but horses.

Meticulously I sketched naturalistic horses with long slender legs and thick manes.

That Friday, I drew horses straight onto my school desk. “Ida,” said my teacher, “if you keep on destroying your desk, we’ll ask your parents to pay for it. You don’t listen.”

I drew on my binder instead, and in the textbooks. In books, horses always had names, but I didn’t name my own horses. Wild horses living in nature and who would have let me ride them only because of our special mutual understanding. The other girls they’d have thrown off and flung into the mud, rich girls with baby blue fleece jackets and horses which they named and owned.

I put my cheek against the cool wood of my desk and dreamt the same dreams I dreamt at night before sleep. Swiftly, I rode over an endless meadow. Rain was in the air. The clouds broke, thunder split the sky, lightning caught a tree and the tree caught fire. Below me the flank of the horse was warm and the sky black. I rode bareback, like an extension of my own body. As if I wasn’t there at all. Someone behind me made a sound. I woke up and heard the boys laughing.

“Look,” someone whispered, “she fell asleep on her desk and you can see…”

“Hey, Ida,” one shouted, “don’t you know people can see your underpants when you lean forward like that!”

There was something special in the air at the end of a school day, trembling moist freedom, especially on a Friday. Yes, I was happy running out of the classroom. I unlocked my bicycle, still a child’s bike, and the drizzle wet my cheeks. My life was rich, because I had one great love.

“Those things just make girls asocial and strange,” my dad said, “when they put their emotional attachments on horses instead of on humans. Horses aren’t pets, you know, they’re investments, people trade and sell them. And I certainly won’t be buying you any horse, so I don’t see why you need to learn how to ride. You’ve already been doing it for years, and it’s hardly going anywhere.”

I stared at him with pure hatred in my eyes, and when he noticed, the corners of his mouth started twitching with mirth. 

“Well, little Ida,” he said, “that’s the way of the world, I’m afraid, and since there’s nothing to do about it, maybe you ought to get a cheaper hobby. Orienteering, perhaps?”

But I absolutely did not want to orienteer with the girls who crowded in the thickets of the woods in squeaky windbreakers, eating sour green apples with their crooked teeth, struggling with some lame terrain map. I wanted to be with the horses. The closer I came to the stables, the more my breast filled with a sensation of peace and joy; the wheels of my bike crunched against gravel, and the birch trees lining the road still had their leaves. Nothing but lone farms out by the stables, perhaps a tractor driving on the field and the adults living here were generally quiet, if they saw me they only waved, and I waved back.

A hobby, they said. A hobby wasn’t what I had.

The riding school rested on a hill, willow trees dipping their branches into the earth, beech trees swaying in the wind, and only a few employee’s cars parked outside; an adult woman crossed the ground in a norwegian sweater and muddy rubber boots. It had paid off to bike there quickly; nobody else my own age was there yet. They were waiting to go home, eat something, get picked up and delivered to the riding shool by their parents; only I went there straight after school. The stable had thirty horses, and twenty ponys, and indoors the air was heavy with their warm animal smell. And the stable cat, who came up to me and rubbed himself against my legs, and I squatted down and petted his little head, as smooth and hard as a pebble.

“Hello, Ida,” said a riding instructor, who’d caught sight of me. “Here again?” Little Ida is what people called me when I first started riding, because back then I was little, but now I was grown and nobody called me little Ida anymore.

I just turned up, and they didn’t shoo me away. It was as if adults, as soon as they saw me, immediately repressed the knowledge that I was there.

“Yes,” I said. It was hard to think of what to say when people adressed me. “Here I am again.”

I used to think the horses looked a bit like prisoners, where they stood in their boxes, especially when they stuck their heads out to see who was there. While the little children rode, I did everything I could in the stable. I cleaned out the boxes. I groomed backs and withers. I carefully brushed great foreheads and around eyes, I cleaned hooves, untangled manes with my fingers, I wiped great nostrils clean.

After the little children had finished their lessons came the ones my own age whose voices made me shiver. I myself became quiet like a shadow. What envy I felt when I saw them riding, and then leaving the stables and heading out for the countryside; to where I couldn’t follow them, because I didn’t have a horse.

I was as good as them or better, and I never cried when I got thrown off the horse; I wiped the dirt or blood off my face and I got back in the saddle. I didn’t cry. Some bawled like babies. They were scared of the horses. Scared of getting hurt. Not me. One time my mouth bled. I swallowed the blood so no one would see. Along with the blood I swallowed something hard and sharp. A splinter of my front tooth. I got back in the saddle.

That particular day I stayed until the night fell, and actually it happened that all adults were sitting inside the big farmhouse, where the windows were lit up, drinking coffee and eating biscuits and petting the cat and gossiping in their slow country voices. A class returned, horses filled the empty boxes, girl’s voices chattered, and sooner or later a rush of motors and cars would come bringing back both girls and voices in the night, to houses which I imagined full of those little porcelain figures, with plastic landline phones constantly ringing with someone’s desire to speak to them.

This was the night a girl got badly injured. I followed commotion to the manege, and saw the girl lying on the gravel with a face white like a mask. 

Even the proprietress of the riding school, rarely to be seen, was there; she had long white hair and had always scared me, because she really looked like a witch. Everyone feared her, because she had a short fuse and could berate students until they started crying in front of their entire class, and none of the other teachers dared to stop her. They said she grieved bitterly, because her man had died in a hunting accident, and that now she patrolled the countryside with his gun. She was, like all adults, busy explaining things to other adults, to the ambulance personnel and to the parents, when they came in their cars to pick up their children, and by the way everyone said everything would be fine you could tell something terrible had happened.

I was happy that attention was directed elsewhere, and in the stable it was actually completely quiet, besides the sighing and snorting of horses, and me alone with them and in peace, when I noticed someone had left the door in the back open.

A wide door made out of concrete, moulded into the wall. You might have guessed it was a fire door, but it couldn’t be an emergency exit, because no one had seen behind it, and behind the house was nothing but a big hill, like the kind where they buried bronze age chieftains.

Even I had never really thought about what might be behind the door, that’s how inconspicious it was, so closed and innaccessible.

But now it was open, just a crack, and I went through the crack. Then I groped in the dark until my hands found an old fashioned light switch; a click lit a row of naked bulbs hanging from the walls, casting a pale yellow light like they hadn’t been changed in decades.

It smelled like the crypt where they baptized my cousin, soil and cold and untouched things, but a different smell came through, warm like feces and with the iron quality of blood, a blood smell I hadn’t yet at the time gotten to know.

I’d expected a storage room or something like it, but the concrete floor turned into trodden soil in front of me. I went down the tunnel. Could this be a grave?

The animal smell grew stronger and stronger. Not just the smell of animal, but the smell of a filthy animal. I sniffed. It wasn’t a horse, not quite; I knew the smell of horses well, but something about this one wasn’t right; it was as if it had changed shape with another smell which I did not like at all.

I came to a rotting old wooden door and opened it without hesitation, and the smell that hit me almost made retch and fall back.

At first I thought there was a dead horse lying in the dark, a stillborn foal, a youth.

Then I thought I saw a dead child, with long slim limbs, thrown out without clothes like garbage.

My eyes were confused; I thought it was a doll, a doll in real size.

It wasn’t possible to understand what I saw.

But it wasn’t dead, it was alive, because its limbs were moving.

Human arms with human hands as well as hooves.

And some kind of head, covered in thick horse’s hair, a tangled mane.

Then two round shiny eyes in the dark looking at me, a long face.

And I looked into them and we saw each other.

“Who are you?” said the thing living down there. “Please don’t leave.”

I’d never heard a human speaking in that way.

“My name is Ida,” I said. “Who are you?”

“I’m one that hasn’t been baptized,” said the living thing.

I noticed a little TV was on in a corner of the room, with the sound turned very low; it cast cold light over the dirty hay. I looked from the TV to the one I was speaking to. And I saw it was neither human nor horse, but something inbetween.

The lower body was essentially that of a horse, but thinner, and only in patches covered with a very thin fur, the neck long and sturdy and with long thick hair. And at the top of this long, sturdy neck, a head, a face… like that of a human, with large teeth, nostrils flaring when she breathed. But there was no doubt about the eyes: they were warm and filled with a horse’s endless sensitivity.

“What are you doing down here?” I said and crouched down next to her.

“I don’t know a lot of other places,” she said. It was like she had to think between each word, and actually she furrowed her brow in confusion while she spoke. “Or where I would be if I wasn’t here.”

“Have you been here for a long time?” I asked. “Did someone lock you up?”

“For a long time,” she whispered. “Yes, I think a long time has passed.”

Now I saw that her front legs didn’t end in hooves, like a horse’s, but in human hands with very thick nails and palms as thick and rough as the soles of feet. The back legs, on the other hand, did end in hooves, and both of them were overgrown, without shoes. And under the sparse fur I saw the ribs and the lungs rising and falling under the skin.

“You’re not scared of me, Ida,” she said.

“No.”

“They said people would be scared. If they saw me.”

I thought about it. “They probably would,” I said. “Are you in pain?”

“Why?”

“There’s something wrong with your hooves.”

“Pain. Yes. I’m… in pain.”

“They don’t let you trot?”

“Trot… sometimes I trot in here. But it hurts.”

“It’s because your hooves are overgrown.”

She was silent. Tears as big as bilberries formed in her eyes and rolled down her downy cheeks.

“I’m born from a terrible sin,” she said. “People aren’t supposed to see me.”

What terrible sin? I decided not to ask.

“Don’t be sad,” I said, “I’ll help you.”

“How?”

“I can file down your hooves, so it doesn’t hurt when you walk. And then we can…”

“Trot?” she said.

“Ride?” I said.

“Ride is… when the human sits on the horse,” she said, almost like a question. “I’ve seen it over there.” She meant the TV. “But doesn’t it hurt?”

“No,” I said, “it’s wonderful.”

“I mean for the horse.”

“I don’t know. Horses can’t speak. But I don’t think so. I wouldn’t do it if it did.”

She sniffed with her big nostrils, and her eyes widened.

“What is it?”

“You have to hide,” she said.

Quickly I crawled across the muddy floor and rolled into a ball between a few bales of hay rotting in a corner. I hugged my knees tight and did my best to breathe slowly, hearing boots treading the ground.

“Back already?” the horse girl said.

“I forgot to lock up,” a human voice answered. I peered over the hay bale to see what was going on and saw a middle aged woman with long white hair hanging down her back. It was the proprietress of the riding school! She stroked the horse girl’s mane. “I had to come down to make sure nothing had happened to you. Imagine if someone had come here to hurt you!”

She spoke the way you speak to a child.

“No one comes,” the horse girl said.

“No, and they won’t, either,” the proprietress said. “No one knows you’re here, and they won’t ever know. So don’t worry. It’s just your poor old mummy being fussy. Now be a good girl for me, and eat plenty, okay?”

“Yes, mum,” said the horse girl, but her mum must have been mad, because everything down there had rotted and neither horse nor human nor inbetween would have wanted to eat it. 

The proprietress left. I crawled out of my hiding space and my clothes were caked with sour mud. 

“You’d better run away from here before she locks you in,” the horse girl whispered. The truth in her words hit me immediately and I moved like a rat in the darkness, quick and quiet and desperate.

They hadn’t closed up yet, but it was quiet in the yard; almost everyone had gone home, and in the dark office I found the key and hid it in my pocket. But when I came to my bike, a chubby riding teacher was standing there with her hands on her hips, watching it thoughtfully.

“Oh,” she said, when she saw me. “There you are, uh…” then she was silent for a while; she probably tried to remember my name, but failed. “We’re closed, you know.”

“I know, I know,” I said, “I’m very sorry.”

“The horses need their rest too, you see.”

“I understand,” I said. “I didn’t mean to stay for so long.”

“Fair enough,” she said and laughed. “Wow, you must have worked hard! You look like you’ve scrubbed out the stables with your very own clothes.”

I laughed along, then jumped on my bike and rode away with my heart beating hard.

My parents were watching an english crime show when I came in, and my mum frowned.

“You stink,” she said.

“Yes,” dad said, “it’s like a whole little cowshed’s come in.”

“Mum, dad, can you make a copy of my bike key?”

Then they turned their heads and actually looked at me. I must have been filthy.

“I mean, what if I lose my key! I actually love biking!” I said passionately, as if I already blamed them and as if I was ready to start bitching and fighting.

“Well, I guess it’s good for you to be interested in something besides those fucking horses,” dad said.

“Johan, you don’t have to curse in front of the child,” mum said.

“No, sure, of course,” said dad.

“I’ll put the key here,” I said, and left the key to the basement on the coffee table, next to his feet. He snorted, but actually did make me a copy, and just two days later I was back at the riding school and the original was back in its place.

I felt like a god, everything was with me.

Nothing could go wrong now that I had a purpose.

The next time I came down she raised her neck and pointed her ears like she was preparing to flee. She sniffed the air, and breathed out quickly.

“It’s just me,” I said, “My name is Ida.”

“Ida.” She nodded. Her eyes were big and shiny in the darkness, and in the background the TV was on, silently, sending a cold flickering light over the filthy hay. “You came back.”

“Yes, and look here,” I said.

That time I brought a proper flashlight, a packet of oat cakes, tiny green apples from my garden, and a magazine about horses.

I also brought a file, desinfectants, and eye drops.

We watched TV together and I took her hoof carefully into my lap and started filing it down while she ate oatcakes. Sometimes she looked at me, but usually just at the TV. That day they were showing a rerun of Xena, Warrior Princess. The horse girl told me, she measured time by what was on TV. Reception wasn’t the greatest in the basement, sometimes gray lines filled the screen, and if you turned the sound on there was static noise like a different reality wanted to break through. “After the Xena rerun there’s Survivor,” my friend explained, while she passively watched the screen and ate oatcake after oatcake. “And after Survivor, the other one visits me, and then you’ll have to leave. But of course she doesn’t turn up every day.” Then I felt her disquiet. “You don’t think she’ll notice that you filed down my hooves?”

“Tell her you’ve done it yourself, that you’ve been scraping them against the floor.”

She snorted, but just as quickly looked cheerful again. “Do you know, after Survivor they send some really exciting shows. Programs where people die. And you can watch them have sex and stuff like that. Sometimes. I like the one with the vampire guy.”

“It’s a pity I can’t stay that late.”

Yes, it was a pity. But I came back as often as I could – almost every day. The only difficult thing was not to get noticed coming or going. But on the other hand, there was nothing I did better than not getting noticed. I hadn’t talked as much in all my life as I did with her, told her things about the world, the wide open meadows and forests, and we fantasized about riding there together; my best fantasies yet.

She said, “Ida, what do you do when you’re not here?”

“I’m usually here,” I said. “When I’m at home I lie in my bed and read. Sometimes I look at different web pages on dad’s computer.”

“On the internet?” she asked. I guess she’d never used a computer.

“Yes, but just in the evenings. Dad says it’s too expensive otherwise.” While I pretended to do my homework, I learned things about horses instead. If I knew enough maybe they’d let me work at the stable one day, or as a vet. If I could make myself essential – surprise them one day, with the depth of my knowledge – they’d say, “Oh, Ida, how could we make it without you! Stay as long as you want!”

There were even pages where you could write with other girls who liked horses. But I never dared to register there. Because what if they…

“And in the daytime?”

“I’m in school during the day,” I said, and tried to sound neutral, but it was pointless to try to hide any feelings from her. She knew what I was feeling even if I never said it.

“You don’t like it.”

“No,” I said bitterly. I didn’t want to think about school in that moment. Gastric acid rose in my throat, visions of endless desks, endless empty hours filled with hate.

(And in the night. In the night I rode or ran naked through dark forests in my dreams. The branches of birch trees whipped my thighs, dew and fog wet my face.)

“I thought maybe you had a boyfriend or something?” she said, with a note of hopeful interest. She seemed a lot more keen on that kind of stuff than I was, but then she was a bit older than me, too, that was obvious.

“No,” I said.

“Why not?”

“I don’t need a boyfriend.”

“Oh,” she said scraping against the floor. “You don’t want one? But it looks so fun on TV.”

“Yes, but it’s not like that in reality.” Guys were so nasty, I avoided them, especially the older ones, because there was no limit to their sadism. One time a group of boys stood in my way when I was leaving the sports hall. They’d found a condom in the bushes and showed it to me, and then they turned it inside out and rubbed it against my sports bag. I don’t know why I didn’t run away, I was so blank, and afterwards scared to death that my parents would se traces of sperm on my gym bag after I put it into the wash, that they’d angrily confront me – what kind of filth have you been up to?

Sometimes I saw girls in my class with boyfriends, how they put on a show for them. Would I ever be one of them? It seemed unlikely. There was a boy once who was nice to me, we played together in the grove on the schoolyard, where we pretended to fight invisible monsters. But nobody played anymore, and he’d changed classes and disappeared in the crowd. “Guys are mean in real life,” I said. “Only stupid girls run after them.”

The horse girl pondered this but didn’t answer. After a few minutes she said, “I still think I would have liked to have one, if I could.” Then she looked at me in a way that made my heart hurt, and I felt stupid and selfish, who had access to all the things human beings can do, but still couldn’t.

My eyes burned when I thought about it. It was terrible that someone as lovely and kind as her would be stuck down here in the dark, while those who roamed the surface were so awful.

What did they even do? Talked loudly, ate with grinding jaws, watched TV, tackled each other in football, injured each other.


I lay in my bed staring at the plastic stars glowing on the ceiling, waiting to hear my parents leaving through the front door.

Images appeared before my inner eye in sudden clarity because the dreams were not far away. I didn’t want to sleep before I’d achieved my goal, so I pulled a book from the pile next to the bed and tried to concentrate on it. The book was about a blond girl who rode in a stable somewhere – it must have been America, since the girls were named things like Ashley and the guys were named things like Clive. Even though Ashley was the best rider and had a very special connection to horses, she didn’t have her own horse, only the mean rich girls did, who neglected their horses and left her to take care of them in an emergency and then they were ungrateful too. But by the end of the book things would work out for her… I knew that. I’d read a lot of books that were basically the same and they all ended in basically the same way.

Actually it was a bit childish, and I’d outgrown childish dreams. Instead I now dreamed my reality. In my dream I was the one who rode… then caught sight of something so vile that I woke with a horrified start. I wasn’t supposed to sleep.

It was quiet on the ground floor.

Hard to imagine either of my parents checking to see if I was still home.

I biked the whole way to the stable and entered the way that only cats did.

“Ida!” she whispered when I entered the cavern. It always took me a while to get used to the smell. I think she saw the way I flinched, that it hurt her feelings, but she never brought it up. “How fun that you’re here so late!”

She let me climb onto her back, and we made a few slow rounds around the cavern.

I said, “Does it hurt when someone rides you?”

“No,” she said, “I wouldn’t say it hurts, but at the same time I can’t say why I would want it.”

“Should I get off?”

“I mean, I want it, but I don’t know why I want it.”

“They breed horses to want those things,” I said.

“What do you mean, breed?”

I blushed. “Well, when they make them mate with each other, they pick horses who do things you want them to do, you know, horses that are friendly or fast or…”

She slowed down, taking all of this in.

“Why do I exist?” she finally said. “Could somebody have… wanted this? But in that case, why…”

“I don’t know. But it’s lucky that you’re born with the legs of a horse and the face of a human, because if it had been the other way around, if you were a human-body with the head of a horse, then we couldn’t have talked to each other, or have ridden.”

The horse girl started to cry. “All you think about is different ways to use me.”

“That’s not true,” I said, horrified. “I just want to help you. I’d have tried to help you even if you’d had a human body with a horse’s head and forelegs. I thought this is what you wanted. We can do something else, if you want. Whatever you want.”

“How am I even supposed to know what I want, if the things I want are things I’ve been bred into wanting?” She turned her face away and stared at the wall. I just saw her sturdy neck and the long mane. “Most of all I’d like to fight vampires like Buffy does on TV.”

“Nobody really does that,” I said.

“No?”

“Not here, anyway.”

“I think that’s what I would have wanted. So why do I want that? Do they breed humans to want things like that?”

“Nobody breeds humans,” I said and finally slid off her back, faster than I’d intended to, and landed with a thump on the filthy hay. “They just…”

“When they want to.”

“I guess so.”

“But why do they want to?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I wouldn’t have wanted to.”

“So what do you want?”

“I want to… I want to learn enough about horses,” I said, embarrassed, “that if I’m here, helping, then maybe I can help them when they get injured or, you know… that I can help take care of the horses enough that I can stay here.”

“In big cities,” the horse girl suddenly said. “What happens there? Is it more like on TV? Do Backstreet Boys live there?”

“Uhhh,” I said. “I guess they must do?”

“And big stores with beautiful clothes. Like Destiny’s Child wear. And high schools.”

A sudden anger rose inside of me. She wasn’t like me at all. If anything she was more like the dumb girls in my class who wrote in each other’s diaries with worthless tiny golden locks. Giggled and looked out for boys and started doing their makeup age nine.

I ought to leave her to her destiny, because what she wanted she’d never get. 

She must have noticed, because she flinched. “Ida?” she said anxiously. “You’re not leaving, are you? And if you’re leaving, you’ll come back, right?” Every time I left she said the same thing. She said, I hate to be alone, you’ll come back soon, right? And I thought she had a need for me, and I promised her I’d return, and always hurried back. But she didn’t need me at all. Or rather, I wasn’t the one she needed. Anyone would have served the same purpose as long as they didn’t leave her on her own.

I had tears in my eyes. “You’ll never have a boyfriend, whatever you do, wherever you go! Don’t you understand that?”

“Ida, what do you mean?”

But something animal had come into her facial expression, an uncomprehending fear and rage. She got up on her misshapen legs and backed into the wall and a sound came from her throat that no human being could make.

Suddenly I felt scared. I was alone down there with an animal larger than me, an animal that could kick or bite, an animal with big round eyes in the dark.

I stood up to leave and when I’d started to walk I broke into a run. I got on my bike, on my way home, and a lone late night car, with yellow headlights, failed to see me and got so close I had to brake, lost control over my bike, thrown sideways into the gravel, face first. I glimpsed a woman with white hair behind the wheel. The car drove another twenty yards or so and came to a stop. I heard adult voices:

“… hit something?”

“I’ll go outside and check,” said the white haired woman, and slammed the car door. The headlights made apparent the silhouette of a woman in riding boots. She was holding a gun!

I crawled into the ditch like a bug and made myself as small as possible, covered by ferns and undergrowth. Moisture sucked into my t-shirt. It smelled sour, like still waters. I heard her stomping around. An injured animal on the road must be put down with a shot. That must be what she was searching for. A gross beetle crawled over my shoulder. It crawled across my face. What if it tried to crawl into my mouth? Into my ears, my nose? I held my breath. The car door slammed. The engine started, the wheels began to roll, and the sound became more and more distant. I got out of the ditch and watched the car drive up the same hill I’d just biked down. Maybe they were heading to the riding school. But this late at night?

It must have been the proprietress!

Close call, I thought. The light on my bike had shattered during the fall. I biked through the thick velvet night, with just the moon leading my way, and now and then a lit window in the low dark farmhouses beyond the fields. Finally I returned to society and to the house my parents lived in. Blue light flickered from the living room window.

This must be the time when the exciting shows were on – the ones were they killed each other and had sex. Did she watch the same ones, down there in the dark, with her mouth half open in awe? And concentrating on shaping the same words, with lips that weren’t made for them. There you are. I was looking for you all over, babe. You’re the one that I want.

The side of my body was soaked through and covered in strands of grass. I’d better get out of my clothes quickly, I thought, but the thought was no help because my mum turned up in the living room doorway, backlit by the television. “Ida!” she said. “What happened?”

And my dad, who sat on the sofa behind her back, turned his head. “What’s she done now?” he said distractedly, before he got a proper look at me. “Oh, what the hell…”

“I had an accident on my bike,” I said.

“You can say that again,” mum said. “You’re bleeding!”

I looked down. Blood had run down my legs where I’d scraped them, and down my arms. Bits of gravel were still stuck in my skin. I couldn’t think of anything to say about it. It was one of those things that just were. Now I’d be expected to react to it. I could see it in their faces. There was a reaction you were supposed to have, but I did’t know what. I must have missed my chance already.

“What’s the matter with her?” my dad roared and got out of the couch. “There’s always some fucking shit going on! Don’t you know how to ride your bike?”

“Not the first time you’ve come home covered in blood.”

“And you’ve torn your shirt. What the fuck do you need to go biking at night for?”

“Why can’t you just stay home? Can’t you go to a friend?”

“Don’t you have any friends to go to? Doesn’t anybody want you?”

“Isn’t there anyone who can bring you along, so you don’t go biking through the woods at night, every night?”

“Isn’t there anyone to protect you, take you into their warmth?”

“Isn’t there anyone who wants to share their secrets with you?”

“Isn’t there anyone to whisper, whisper in your ear…”

“Isn’t there anyone to hold your hand and ask you to follow them over the meadow…”

“Isn’t there anyone to hold your hand, and ask you to come into their room?”

“Isn’t there anyone who presses your hand in their hand and looks you in the eyes and says that they want you, isn’t there anyone who wants to share their food with you, isn’t there anyone who wants you to be there?”

“And when you walk into the darkness, doesn’t anyone cry out for you?”

I was terribly tired. I lay down between sheets of comforting cotton and thought I’ll never return to the riding school its holes and hidden corners and the smell of horse piss and sour hay I’ll never feel again. And what remained was unknown to me because I slid into dreams entirely empty without the least trace of horse nor human and neither moon nor wind-swept woods.

Then I woke up naked in sheets sticky with blood because I’d menstruated during the night. It wasn’t like I didn’t know what had happened, but there wasn’t a chance I’d ever turn to my parents for help. My mum had a few pads in the bathroom cabinet, not many, and I stole one of them and put it down my underpants. I didn’t cry until I was sitting on the toilet. But it’s like with deaf babies that scream and don’t hear themselves screaming, sooner or later they stop, because what’s the point?

It was just another humiliating thing that had happened and I was used to things like that happening.


That day was one of those endless school days that just keeps going and going and I’d kept bleeding. What I hadn’t understood was that you need to change pads pretty often and the one I was wearing stank. I didn’t get that what I could smell, other people could smell, too. The last class of the day was sewing class. The smell of rotten blood spread in the classroom. It was unavoidable.

“Do you smell that?” said one of the girls.

“Yes – what is it? What is it that smells?”

I didn’t say anything, but that’s when I realized it was me. I was sewing a pillow case. Perhaps they’d forget what they’d noticed.

“It really does smell,” another girl broke out. “Ugh, can you feel it?”

“But what is it that smells?”

“Doesn’t it smell a bit like a stable?”

“It smells like horse!”

I turned towards the last girl speaking, saw her thrilled, cruel face, and without hesitating drove my scissors into her hand, which rested on a piece of floral fabric.

“Oh my God!”

I wasn’t so strong that I did more than just sting her. But she screamed like she was getting murdered, and when I looked into her face I thought, she likes it, she likes that she’s the victim and I’m the aggressor. 

I dropped the scissors and left the classroom, ran across communal lawns and left the ugly brick buildings of the school behind me. Now I’d really fucked things up.

Aimlessly, I walked down streets, past one-floor villas with trampolines in their gardens, and in the windows, little porcelain dogs, on the lawns, barbecues. I saw letterboxes, I saw cars. I saw number signs, I saw balloons tied to a mailbox, half deflated on the ground. Some child must have had a birthday party.

The only thing I knew was that I’d be punished. I didn’t know how, just that it would be severe. Was I really supposed to turn back home? I couldn’t go back to school. But where was I supposed to go?

I thought about the proprietress, with the gun.


Late at night I returned to the riding school.

I’d pictured horrible things. That the proprietress came there to kill her, that that’s why she had the gun. I couldn’t compare this anxiety to anything else I’d felt in my entire life. Did I really intend to leave her to her suffering? If you don’t know that somebody suffers, then you simply don’t know, and then it has nothing to do with you, you’re not doing anything wrong. But when you know, you know. Then you can’t pretend not to know, and that’s what it really means to lose your innocence.

Until you know guilt, you don’t even know that you used to be innocent.

“Ida!” said the horse girl when she saw me, and opened her eyes wide. Someone had been down there, obviously; the hay had been changed, and there was a bouquet of flowers in a water glass on the floor. 

“I really hope you’re not mad at me,” I said, stressed. I’d succumbed to panic on the way there and biked like a mad person and now I was dripping with sweat. “I’m sorry about saying those mean things to you.”

“Yes, okay,” she said, hesitating. “I forgive you. I actually didn’t know if you would come back again.”

“Of course I came back,” I said.

“You sound different today.”

“Yes,” I said. I felt different too. I thought, a few days ago I was just a child, not knowing anything about freedom and responsibility. It was like my heart was gritting its teeth. “I came here just to see you,” I said. “I could take you out of here tonight, if you wanted me to.”

“What about the others?”

“There’s no one else here.”

“They’re not there at night? Mum said there were people there all the time.”

“Yes, but she lied,” I said.

“Okay,” the horse girl said and got up, slow and sleepy, until she was standing on all fours, with her odd human-like front feet pressed into the ground.

“I thought maybe I could help you out of here for good, somehow, if it’s what you want. I know maybe your life wouldn’t be as you imagine it. But maybe you could move across the countryside at night, eat grass and drink from creeks. See the moon and the stars, sleep all day! Spend the winters in abandoned barns. Uh, you can eat grass, right?”

She blinked slowly like awakening from a dream. “Yes. I can digest grass. But Ida, where will you go?”

Horses shouldn’t be alone. There ought to be a whole flock of horse girls like her who with their bizarre hands braided each other’s manes and gossiped with each other in their downtempo neighing voices. But there wasn’t.

“Please, let me come with you,” I said. “Because there’s no other place where I can be.”

“We can leave.” I didn’t often see her standing the way a horse is supposed to, because then she couldn’t make use of her hands.

I walked right by her and led her up to the stables.

Even before we came up we could feel how confused and upset they got and how they started snorting and scraping their hooves against the floor. Dear god, I thought, if you’re alive, don’t let them make a lot of noise. The strange, unreal smell made them nervous. The horse girl was nervous too. I put my hand on her withers and felt the muscles tense. Her eyes stared wildly around her. “There there,” I said, “don’t worry, it’ll all be good.”

Just the moonlight and the light from my plastic torch lit the space in front of us, full of great dark shapes moving, stinking of animal, worrying, smelling, sniffing, trying to understand what they were picking up on, neither like them nor like anything else. The stallions breathed heavily, stuck their big heads through the bars and stared at her, followed her with their eyes. Stupid animals, I thought, for the first time in my life, you don’t understand, why can’t you let her be? She tugged at me and I realized that she, despite her state, was stronger than me, much stronger. Take it easy, I whispered through grit teeth, and I did my best to calm my own self down so she wouldn’t sense my tension, think I was scared too, panic and bolt.

But as soon as we came into the moonlight, everything dropped. We stood all alone on the plateau, and had anyone looked in the direction of the riding school at that point, they would have seen us. But what would they have seen, how would they have interpreted it? A little girl with a strange little horse, a horse with a head the wrong shape but turned away too quickly for the viewer to understand anything about it. Just shapes in the dark, who silent and almost invisible disappear on the trail into the forest.

There were a lot of things she’d never seen before, and I thought she’d be more scared. But when I sat on her back and she walked slowly through the woods, nosing at shrubberies and the wounds in the trees where the sap ran down the trunk, she grew completely silent and said nothing for a long time. She must have felt the smell of things like wet cold moss, sweet dead animals rotting among the trees, shrooms pushing their way up through the ground. There were things I’d never know in the same way. All I knew was how it felt to be a human, to have a body with feet and hands, and to sit on somebody’s back.

In case we got lost I’d brought the atlas over Sweden that my mother used sometimes when she drove us far away to our summer cabin.I thought we could move along the side of the roads at night, steal food from the dumpsters outside the truck stops and gas stations that lined the big roads, and maybe we could go south, to Scania, and see the beechwood forests and the ocean, or go north, see the deep dark woods in summer, cross the border to Finland, and my hair would become long and tangled like that of a beast, I would become as tall as an adult woman and nobody would recognize me as a human. You noticed, during long night-time car journeys, that Sweden was nothing but little pools of electric light spread out on a big blanket of darkness and emptiness. Between these communities, these sparse human habitations, there was nothing; and this nothing took you into its mouth and swallowed you into the warm protection of the lonely.

We were at the edge of the woods and I whispered happily about all of this when I felt her grow stiff and all muscles froze, because of course she heard the voices of humans before I did. A terrible noise came from the stables. The breathing and neighing of horses. What did they sense that I did not?

“It’s my mum,” the horse girl said, “She always said, my little girl, I’ll always know where you are, if anything’s happened to you – such is a mother’s intuition.”

“Come on then, run,” I said, and in a cruel moment I wished I’d had spurs or a whip or anything really to drive into her flesh and get her to move. What’s wrong with a horse that doesn’t run away from danger?

“I can’t run,” she whispered, horrified.

“Come on, yes you can,” I said, because I heard the voices closing in and the blood rushing in my ears. “Please, please, just do it.” A shot rang out and now I actually panicked and kicked my heels as hard as I could into her sides. Shocked, she broke into a run, down the gravel hill, while I clung to her muscular neck and was thrown back and forth on her back.

I heard another shot, and at first I thought a stone had hit me on the leg, that we’d kicked up some pieces of gravel; I didn’t realize I’d been shot until another shot hit my friend in the shoulder and she whinnied and threw me off and the last thing I saw was how she galopped into the woods, before I cracked my skull open against the trunk of a birch tree.


I’m not one to say what happened after it all went black that night.

For several weeeks I floated in and out of pain and morphine highs at the hospital, dreaming long white dreams about sand dunes and dark waters and now and then people came to visit and talked by the side of my bed as if I wasn’t there, but there was no way for me to relate to what they said.

“… if she hadn’t…”

“… enough trying, we ought to…”

A sad figure looked at me; its body was that of a human, but its head was that of a horse, and it couldn’t say anything to me. The mist returned, the voices:

“… these women, you know what they…”

“… even if you explained, nobody would..:”

Now the proprietress of the riding school was sitting at my bedside. It was like I saw her in a dream. Like seeing a dead person who visits you to warn you. I don’t know why she appeared so clearly, when all the others were just obscure mumbling shadows.

“Little Ida,” she said. She sat stern and tall on the chair. The funny thing is, she was still in her riding clothes, even wearing the helmet, and her long white hair hung in a braid across her shoulder. She had a whip on her lap. “You might think I’m a vengeful person. That I’ve come here to threaten you.”

I couldn’t answer her, just lie in bed and stare. My body seemed to have become part machine, with all the tubes coming in and out of it.

The proprietress walked over to me and looked straight into my face. I saw her bloodshot eyes, the wrinkles around the mouth. She stroked my hair and her hand was cool and dry like paper. “There’s one thing you should know. There’s no need for me to threaten you. As soon as you try to explain to anyone what you’ve experienced, you’ll soon realize that what you’ve been through, no person will believe in. There are such experiences. Experiences that separate you from everyone else alive, because you can never share them.”

The next time I woke up there was an extravagant bouquet of flowers on the bedside table, dropping leaves and pollen onto the bedding. A card stuck out, and the card said:

GET WELL SOON IDA!

FROM ALL OF US AT THE RIDING SCHOOL.


Many years later when I travelled through Härjedalen with my research group to study bat migration patterns across northern Sweden, we came across a whole troop of riders on the road. We stood there in our windbreakers, wet with dew, and watched them trotting by, one after one; proud they looked down on us from the backs of the horses, girls in riding boots, with braids hanging down their backs.

What I felt then, I can’t explain. One of my colleagues muttered with a lowered voice, “Well well, you sure know what those women really do with their horses.”

“What?” I said, ice cold. “I actually haven’t got the faintest idea!”

and he looked away, embarrassed.

“Don’t take it so badly, Ida,” somebody said.

It was just because I used to ride.

Asleep in my single bed I gazed through the window and into the woods. I stuck my hand through the window, into the night. And under the palm of my hand I felt the manes of horses, horses riding free, free through the whole night, riding free through the country.


Text: Zola Gorgon
Image: From The Historie of Foure-Footed Beastes, Edward Topsell, 1607