Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Nude Painting (A chapter from the autobiographical Novel: Faces.)

At this point, when I was about 14 and my father was the guest of the Swedish penal system, I unexpectedly became the housemate of my Faeroese stepmother, a woman eight years older than I was. Since she had come to Sweden, she had held body and soul together by working at the exhausting trade of sitting as a nude model in the art schools in the area. She had purchased an oil painting of herself, which had somehow found its way into a second-hand shop, and had hung it up in her living room so that anyone who entered the room could see her just as God had created her. God had done some of his better work on that occasion, and the painter had taken care to praise the both of them through his art. It gave me a weird feeling to sit there with this person I hardly knew and take in the painting and the woman by turns. Sometimes it seemed as though the woman were nude and the painting were wearing her clothes.
My new housemate read nude magazines before she went to sleep at night, and from time to time I pinched them from her bedside table. These bizarre literary magazines had the strangely bureaucratic name of Rapport. I still remember the masterfully written short stories they contained. They generally told the story of a young and beautiful woman who lived in despair because no one loved or cared for her in this harsh harsh world, and who threw herself into all sorts of unbelievable adventures in the hope of finding just a glimmer of affection somewhere in an otherwise perverted existence.

On one occasion, for example, she is riding on the bus when an exquisite-looking prince of a man strides toward her and sits down beside her. She doesn’t dare look up but quietly breathes in the heavy scent of his masculinity. She glides into an idyllic dream where the two of them are naked in a magnificent bedroom, and she feels how the vibration of the bus helps her to lose herself entirely in the images of love.  Soon a white-hot fire pulses through her body, and she can’t hold back a soft sigh. Startled, she blushes bright red and opens her eyes in shock. No one seems to have noticed anything. The bus continues on its way as though nothing has happened. She feels a little better then, knowing, at least, that the fire of love lives and thrives within her. And then the stranger in the seat beside her leans over to her, takes a deep breath, and whispers, “Was it good?”

The poor girl flees the bus in a panic. Her eyes flood with tears as she runs down the sidewalk. Why in God’s name couldn’t he put his arm around her when he saw how she felt; why couldn’t he escort her out of the bus and invite her out for a cup of coffee?
In the next story, we find this unlucky nymph roaming alone down the beach in the Swedish Skargarden, looking for a place to sunbathe. Suddenly she sees a man in a yellow swimsuit lying and reading a book. As she draws closer, she realises that he is her girlfriend’s father, a man she has always had a bit of a crush on. She doesn’t dare speak to him, but he calls out to her, asks her what’s new, and invites her to have a seat. The girl is wearing nothing but a bikini and tries everything in her power in order to elicit a tiny bit of warmth and attention from him, but he talks of nothing but the book he is reading. She starts slathering suntan lotion on herself in the hope that he will notice her body and considers it a good sign, at least, when he falls silent. His breathing becomes heavier, and she senses the heat coursing through her as she feels his silent eyes on her while she rubs lotion into her thighs with a firm, rhythmic motion. Surely something will happen now; otherwise she will explode from lack of love. Then something occurs to her, something that will guarantee her the touch of his strong hands. She lets her bikini top fall and asks hoarsely, “Could you put some on my back?”
No answer. She looks at him. He’s fast asleep. On the verge of tears, she seriously considers taking her things, running away, and flinging his book into the ocean. If only he weren’t so goddamn masculine. But now she can look at him without shame or shyness, let her eyes roam anywhere she likes, without his noticing anything. She lets her hands float above his body, feels the heat rising from his skin and feels his hair tickle her palms. If she could only touch him, take a double handful of the hair on his chest, and feel for a single moment that she isn’t alone in the world. But she doesn’t dare.
Suddenly she notices a fundamental change. The yellow swimsuit begins to swell. She can’t believe her eyes. He’s so cute, lying there snoring. By the time the bathing suit looks something like an Indian tepee, the girl is in agony. She’s suffered before, but never as much as at this moment. She bites the back of her hand, chews her fingernails, dries the tears from her eyes. And finally, she can’t resist taking a tiny peek under the swimsuit to see what’s going on. The man doesn’t move a muscle as she pulls his bathing trunks down just an inch.
Now she really feels cheated. Standing there right in front of her is that tool, that insatiable thing that can’t be stopped or contained, the thing that is the root of all evil in the universe — and it doesn’t do so much as make a move toward her. If it had been wearing a hat on its head, it surely would have removed it, bowed low, and said a polite “Good afternoon.”  She is infuriated by such rudeness. After all, isn’t she an attractive young woman who deserves her fair share of harassment from these bastards! In a fury of revenge, she rearranges her bikini bottom and sits on the monster.
Soon she feels that same white-hot fire welling up through her, the one she felt that day in the bus so long ago, but the man sleeps through it all. When he wakes up, he apologises for having dropped off in the middle of a sentence and says he must be a lousy companion for a young girl. She feels guilty for having taken shameless advantage of this nice man. Did I do something wrong? she asks herself.  But it was so incredibly good. I want more, much more. She feels that her need for care and love is bottomless. What should I do? The poor girl is desperate.


As I sat in the living room with my new roommate, beneath the portrait of her, I studied her expression and asked myself, Does she suffer from lack of love in this world?
It didn’t appear as though she did, no matter how I searched her strong-boned face for a sign of privation. Something was rotten in the State of Denmark.