Friday, January 17, 2014

17 January 2014

Halldór Laxness [heimur]

from Halldór Laxness’s Independent People:

The first thing that this midwife mentioned on entering Summerhouses was the smell; the stalls beneath were offensive with the damp of earthen walls and fish refuse, while the room upstairs stank of death, and a reeking lamp, the wick dry again, the last flame guttering, ready to die. The housekeeper demanded fresh air. She spread a coverlet over the corpse in the empty bedstead. Then she turned her attention to the child. But the dog refused to leave it, nursing it still; a mother, thirsty and famished, and yet no one thinks of rewarding an animal for its virtues. The housekeeper tried to drive her away, but she made as if to snap at her, so Bjartur had to take her by the scruff of the neck and throw her down the ladder. But when the child was now examined, it showed no signs of life whatever. The woman tried turning it upside down and swinging it in various directions, even taking it to the outer door and turning its face into the wind, but all to no purpose; this wrinkled, sorrowful being that so uninvited, so undesired, had been sent into the world appeared to have lost all desire to claim its rights therein.

But this housekeeper, who had been widowed when young, refused to believe that the child could possible be dead; she herself knew what it meant to be confined when blizzards were raging in the dales. She heated some water on her oil-stove, the second time that preparations were made to bathe this infant, and soon the water was hot, and the woman bathed the child and even let it lie for a good while in the water that was much more than hot, with the tip of its nose sticking up. Bjartur inquired whether she intended boiling the thing, but apparently she did not hear what he said, and as the child still showed no signs of life, she took it out and, holding it by one leg, swung it about in the air with its head downward. Bjartur began to feel rather worried; he had followed everything with great interest so far, but this was more than he could stand, and he felt he had better ask mercy for the unfortunate creature. “Are you trying to put the kid’s hips out of joint, damn you?” he inquired.

Whereupon Gudny, as if she had not been aware of his presence before, retorted sharply: “That’s enough. Be off with you and don’t show your face up here again before you’re asked.”

That was the first time that Bjartur was ever driven out of his own house, and had the circumstances been otherwise he would most certainly have had something to say in protest against such an enormity and would have tried to drive into Gudny’s head the fact that he owed her not a cent; but as it was, nothing seemed more likely than that he had been provided with a tail to trail between his legs as in utter ignominy he took the same path as the dog and crept down the stairs. But for the life of him he did not know what to turn his hand to down there in the dark; a completely exhausted man who had never felt less independent in his heart than that night; who felt that he was almost superfluous in the world, felt even that the living were in reality superfluous compared with the dead. He pulled out a truss of hay and, spreading it on the floor, lay down like a dog. In spite of everything one had at least got home.

The crying of a child woke him next morning.

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