Kalli Sandfeldt by Kormákur Bragason
John had enrolled in the Reykjavik Gymnasium right after finishing junior high school. He was industrious and always got the highest grades. Some in his family said that John did not have a very high IQ and certainly one much lower than his friend and classmate, Kalli Sandfeldt, had. However that may be, John got higher grades than Kalli Sandfeldt who just barely scraped through despite a high IQ. On the other hand, this IQ business was a little mysterious. No one had seen it on paper, and no one knew where it came from, much less how high it was. When Kalli Sandfeldt was asked what his IQ was, he smiled and said that he did not put much stock in such nonsense. Nevertheless, it was a fact that at the same time as Kalli Sandfeldt got 2 in Latin and 5 in History, John got 8 and 9. Those who speculated about IQs and such concluded that Kalli Sandfeldt goofed off in school and was, more or less, chasing here and there after girls. John, on the other hand, worked purposefully to prepare himself for life–go to university and take over the prosperity for which his father and grandfather had laid a foundation.
One spring the students from the Reykjavik Gymnasium went on a school trip to the Thorsmörk recreational area. John and Kalli Sandfeldt sat together as was to be expected. In the seats in front of them were their classmates, Bertha and Joka. Bertha's actual name was Sigurfljod Elisabeth Riis, but she was generally called Bertha. Joka's name, on the other hand, was Pauline Paulsdottir, but she had gotten her nickname from being in the play Joka at school last winter.
There was a lot of chit-chat and singing and joke-telling and laughing, and soon after the bus was up in the Hellir Pass, the kids started handing around little flasks. Some flasks were passed back and forth between two individuals; others were circulated among four, or even more. About when John and Kalli Sandfeldt had polished off more than half their flask and had told some ten jokes and laughed unbelievably much, the girls in front of them had become restless. Finally Joka could not stand it, turned around and said: "You certainly are no great gentlemen." The guys stopped talking and looked at the girl who was looking back with an air of mischievous moralizing. Suddenly they burst out laughing, and Kalli Sandfeldt put his hand on the girl's shoulder: "My dear Joka. How can we be such oafs?" he said handing her the flask which she quickly raised to her lips.
"You don't have to finish it off," said John, laughing heartily.
"Bertha, dear, you take a swig too," said Kalli Sandfeldt about the time that Bertha got the flask up to her lips.
Bertha wore a white lopi sweater that reached down below her hips. She had on tight, black pants and laced hiking boots. Joka also had on laced hiking boots, but she wore a reddish brown lopi sweater with a pattern in red and green that went well with the henna color of her hair, freckles and red lipstick.
Very likely these kids' friendship began there in the bus. Anyway, it turned out that they got their diplomas from Gymnasium together and enrolled immediately next fall at the University. John and Kalli Sandfeldt went into engineering; Bertha started in business; and Joka enrolled in theology. After that she was called Rev. Pauline. As fate would have it, though, Joka, that is Rev. Pauline, never got a degree in theology. Instead she hurried off to London to study drama. Two years later she returned home and started to work in a bank. She lived by herself in a friendly, little garret up on Freyjagata. Bertha began to work for an accountant after she got her degree, but John and Kalli Sandfeldt went to America for graduate studies. John got an advanced degree in civil engineering, and Kalli Sandfeldt specialized in undersea engineering.
Before they went to the United States, they had deliberated a lot about the future. John had been the prime mover in this, and Kalli Sandfeldt's parents were grateful that their son had a friend like John. It was so strange with Kalli Sandfeldt: he had such difficulty keeping to his studies; something always interfered.
One day he came over to John's to tell him about a girl who had completely bewitched him: "Her name's Didi Stina. Just think, Didi Stina. You should see her. She is tiny and smiles with her eyes. Her toes are so beautiful that the could be in a collection. She has a high arch and heel and completely wonderful legs, strong and plump muscle below the knee, and if you go a bit above the knee, you get the impression you're doing something crude. I know you won't believe it, but although you see only a little bit of thigh, you get in a strange state: you get the feeling that looking there is banned."
"You don't say."
"I am crazy."
"So, what happened?"
"I asked her to marry me."
"Are you crazy?"
"I truly am."
"You've screwed her?"
"John, don't talk like that! I worship this woman."
"Yes, I guess so."
"I got to touch her thigh with my hand and look at it–a long time."
"Did you ask permission?"
"John, stop talking like that."
"Who is this woman?"
"She's an angel."
"I guess I knew that."
"She's an orphan."
"She's what?" said John, starting to laugh.
"Will you quit clowning."
When John looked his friend in the face, he saw how much he had on his mind: "You don't mean to tell me that you're giving up all your plans, that you're dropping out of school, just for a girl; I don't believe it."
After they had discussed the matter for a while, John was convinced that Kalli Sandfeldt was seriously in love. He had even planned for the girl to move into his parents' home; it was decided.
"Have they consented?"
"Have they seen her yet?"
"They'll meet her tonight."
This surprised John. He could expect all sorts of things from Kalli Sandfeldt, but this took the cake.
"Are you engaged?"
"You could say that."
"Have you slept with her?"
"You've just touched her thigh, that's all, and looked at it?"
"You don't have to make such a joke of it."
"This is a joke. You peek under a woman's skirt and go crazy. I've never heard of such nonsense."
"John, I'm in love with the woman!"
"Yes, that's terrific."
And it happened just as Kalli Sandfeldt had hinted. Didi Stina moved in with him, and about the time he flew west over the ocean, she had a lovely bulge in front and paraded on high heels down Laugavegur and Bank Street and all the way to Slum Square. When she sensed that men were looking at her, she waggled her ass and smiled teasingly at them.
Didi Stina, however, was no welfare case. Not at all. When she had had the baby, it was decided that she would go to nursing school. Mother-in-law was so fond of the baby that she could hardly contain herself, and father-in-law said that meeting Didi Stina was absolutely the best thing that had ever happened to his son. This certainly entailed some expenses since Kalli Sandfeldt had to zip back to Iceland every now and then to look at his love. So, it worked out that about the time Kalli Sandfeldt returned home with a doctorate in undersea engineering, Didi Stina had become a registered nurse working the Department of Surgery at the National Hospital.
A year later John came home from America, and Kalli Sandfeldt went to the Keflavik Airport to pick up his dear friend and classmate. When they came into town, they went straight to Freyjagata to Rev. Pauline who took them with open arms. She stood at the top of the steps and kissed John and stroked him all over:
"Oh, you've gotten terrifically cute, dear boy. Let me get a look at you."
Kalli Sandfeldt had gone into the kitchen to pour himself a glass of Jack Daniels that stood on the kitchen table along with other kinds of alcohol that Rev. Pauline had bought for the occasion. When he came back into the hall, Rev. Pauline was still in throes of joy over seeing the traveler from America.
"What savoir-faire, man."
John soaked up the flattery and affection. Rev. Pauline was unique. She could have been his sister, cousin or even mother. Although she was the same age as the guys, she was more mature and full of motherly love, the best examples of which are found in Iceland's country women. Although, nothing was farther from the truth than likening Rev. Pauline to a country woman. She was a citizen of the world, a snob for art, and never had had a child. The likelihood of having a child was less and less, and it was very difficult to imagine Rev. Pauline in the role of mother. Her motherliness manifested itself in caresses like the ones she readily gave John.
"And how can you wear these bright red pants in public. You don't need to tell me. They are like that, the Yankee Doodles. I also don't get how you could go to America. Don't you think Europe was closer with its culture. That would've been smarter."
After Rev. Pauline had finished looking at John and stroking him all over, they all sat down in the living room and drank Jack Daniels.
Kalli Sandfeldt had got on the phone and was talking to Didi Stina, his dearly beloved. Shortly after he started talking to her, he closed the doors so he would not be disturbed. A little later he came out in the living room, his face red, grinning. He fiddled with the glass of whiskey in his hand: "Madame Didi Stina and her husband, Kalli Sandfeldt, invite you to a party tonight, in honor of John, the world's slowest tortoise, having finally gotten his degree from the distinguished Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, where The Grand Old Opry reigns supreme, and Dolly Parton and Elvis Prestley are the first citizens." Rev. Pauline smiled with pleasure as she lifted her glass.
"What is this, Kalli. You can't do this to Didi Stina on such short notice."
"My dear girl, stop this whining; Didi Stina has been preparing this since yesterday."
By the time for the party, John had changed clothes, gotten out of his red pants and put on shiny, new American-style clothes and a very starched shirt with a large, plaid bow tie. He even had gone to see his parents. Now he had stood for a long time talking to Bertha, his classmate and friend. By nature, Bertha was shy, blushing for the least reason, and she was attractive to men without realizing it. Bertha was rather tall and thin with a mild, graceful smile that she kept behind her eyes. She never used make-up and used only a special cream soap when she bathed to keep her body soft. Bertha, however, was also neurotic. She feared death more than anything and was completely at sea in spiritual matters. There she was completely lost. When it came, on the other hand, to women's rights, she was really with it. She was an energetic supporter of the women's movement. She was insulted at the least provocation and then, usually, became speechless and broke into a sweat all over. All discussions in which Bertha took part ended up as discussions about women's rights, the cause of peace in the world, the freeing of political prisoners and regular convicts, the fight to protect whales and the battle against rapists.
"How is America?" asked Bertha. She looked at John. A slight blush colored her cheeks when she spoke.
"America is tops, the best."
"But what about crime?"
"Right, crime is a big problem."
"Don't they have too much freedom?"
"Where freedom flourishes, there is the best of everything. There's no place like America. I could consider settling there. I'm just such an Icelander, I guess."
Berta switched topics: "Don't you think Didi Stina's done a great job?"
"Sure, that goes without saying. She is a housewife through and through."
"I could never settle for being a housewife."
"You would be an exemplary housewife."
He lifted her chin with his hand and kissed her lightly on the lips.
"That's old-fashioned. It isn't like that anymore. It's a new age."
"I hear that you haven't changed."
Her face flushed, and she started to stammer: "John, everyone acknowledges injustices against women. We have to employ certain measures to set things right."
"Women have started to stream into all the most important offices in the country."
"We've a long way to go."
Kalli Sandfeldt had been half-listening to their conversation when he got into the discussion: "Dear Bertha, you're still grinding the same ax." He was feeling his cups. "If you weren't so silly, you would have been married long ago, mother of a large brood as pretty as you are now." He glanced at John. "Don't you agree?"
Then, he continued, holding John's shoulder with one hand and hooking the other around Bertha's waist: "I have a strategy." They showed their host all due courtesy, although they knew from experience that this would be a long speech. Some of the guests perked up their ears:
"Laws should be passed to solve all women's rights issues. We have to put a stop to women being stuffed into responsible positions just because they are women. This is in their own interest and, at the same time, in the interest of the whole nation. If women have talents, then OK, but if they don't, then not OK. It makes no difference whether almighty God created man or someone else. The fact is that women are different from men; they are different inside. Nature has created women to bear children, carry them in their bodies for nine months and take care of them with the mother-love given to them. In other words, women are designed with a special, limited goal in mind. She comes thus from Nature, or from the Creator if we prefer to express it that way. For this reason it is clear that a woman does not have the same flexibility as a man to establish herself in the business community. For this reason I say again and again: the Government should pay every woman, from birth, a special benefit from the treasury to compensate for the biological hindrances with which women are created. We can call this women's compensation."
At this point in the speech, Bertha had escaped from her host's embrace and disappeared into the bathroom and later into the kitchen where she stood sweaty and flame-red in the face and denounced Kalli Sandfeldt's fanaticism.
John secretly got a kick out of this, but pointed out to Kalli Sandfeldt that he should not speak that way to little Bertha, their classmate and friend.
Although Kalli Sandfeldt had had a hard time getting through the Reykjavik Gymnasium, he steadily picked up steam which indicates that he actually had as high an IQ as people said. Now Kalli Sandfeldt had three children with his Didi Stina while John who at that time was already married to Violet and had only had one. Didi Stina blossomed. No matter where you looked, she was a model person–a complete genius and a bulldozer in getting things done. As a registered nurse, she was number one in the Surgery Department, and if friends or relatives got colic, they called Didi Stina. If someone had to give a party, they yelled for Didi Stina. Then there were the children; they always looked as if they came out of fashion magazines. And their behavior–yes, indeed!
Kalli Sandfeldt had started working on undersea research in Helguvik. There was an interview with him on television when the research began. It was newsworthy that an Icelander, Kalli Sandfeldt, directed the research from a mini-sub which had been imported especially for the purpose.
Madame Sigrid, John's mother, felt compelled to call Didi Stina to say that she and her husband had seen the interview with Kalli Sandfeldt on television.
"Isn't that dangerous," asked Madame Sigrid. "Heavens, I'd get claustrophobia. Stein says that it's like being in a space ship."
"It's all perfectly safe," said Didi Stina, "and he also has experience from his stay in America."
"Isn't he the only one in the country who knows how to handle such a thing?"
"He's writing an article that's supposed be published in an international journal of science. He's also supposed to give a lecture at the University of California this fall. And he's been urged to apply for a professorate at the University of Iceland. The one who is quitting genuinely wants to get Kalli. He says that Kalli is a world-class scientist."
There was, to be sure, one thing that cast a shadow on Kalli Sandfeldt's climb, at least in Didi Stina's mind. The assistant. Kalli Sandfeldt had hired an assistant who played a key role. It was not possible to operate a mini-sub without an assistant. Kalli Sandfeldt actually had been working several days in the mini-sub before Didi Stina discovered that the assistant was a woman. Her name was Pia Leifs, and she had recently completed training in handling mini subs.
Madame Sigrid had heard about Pia Leifs and the mini-sub, but said nothing about it to Didi Stina. Director Stein and John had joked about it one day when they met for afternoon coffee. As they put it, Kalli Sandfeldt had gotten a mistress, a mermaid, with whom he had a rendezvous at the bottom of Helguvik Bay. Then, there was no help for it. Madame Sigrid had to get more information about this mermaid. From that moment, everyone in the family knew about the adventure of Kalli Sandfeldt and Pia Leifs. Violet said: "I don't believe it." Bertha said: "He's like that, Kalli Sandfeldt. Yes, I swear. I think so. Naturally, he's immersed in this mini-sub business." And Solla friend said: "It's just so." When Rev. Pauline heard the story, she said: "Boy, are you childish."
A little later, Didi Stina paid Violet a visit: "You know what, Violet, Kalli is having an affair!"
"Yes, I'm sure of it."
"You know he's has this mini-sub down South in Helguvik."
"So what do you think?"
"I know you don't believe it."
"He has got a woman next to him–in the mini-sub."
"Well, I never."
"They sit there side by side like in a luxury car, but that's not enough. They can recline the seats. They could, for all of that, go to sleep."
"Have you seen this?"
"I should say so–I've been there inside." Didi Stina was really steaming. "I think it's gross."
"Have you seen this woman?"
"Woman? She's a girl."
"Is she something to be concerned about?"
"Violet, don't talk like that. You know how men are."
"It may not be what you think."
"Of course it is."
"Have you talked to him about this?"
"What are your plans?"
"Well, what can I do, really?"
"I'd talk to him straight out about this."
"Does he seem to feel differently about you?"
"Yes, by God, I think so."
"Do you think that he is fooling around with the girl?"
"I wouldn't trust her for a nickel–and not him. This sure is a pickle. If this doesn't scream affair, then I don't know what."
But there was no solution. Didi Stina continued to be jealous, and Kalli Sandfeldt continued working in the mini-sub with Pia Leifs at the bottom of Helguvik Bay. So the summer passed.
One day when Didi Stina had a day off at the hospital, Maggi, the fisherman, came by with some fish. She called him Cod-biter and thought the nickname was terrific. They had known each other since they were kids. He grew up with his mother who lived directly across the street from the house where Didi Stina's foster parents lived. He was always a bit of a boozer, splendidly careless, but otherwise a fine fellow. He quit school before finishing compulsory education and worked here and there. Then he got married–divorced–then married again and divorced again.
He had met Didi Stina downtown just after Kalli Sandfeldt had come back from America, and they had moved into a new, sunny house in Fossvogur. Then Cod-biter, that is to say Maggi, Didi Stina's life-long friend, had gotten a job on a trawler. She invited him home, and from then on, every time his trawler docked in town, he brought her some fish. Then he usually had some Icelandic schnapps (brennivin) in the inner pocket of his overcoat. Usually he sat with her in the kitchen and mixed the brennivin with black coffee that was sweetened with some sugar. He always drank this out of a glass–never out of a cup or mug.
He was big, a real fisherman, with a slightly ruddy complexion, and he did not have a trace of inferiority complex. After divorcing his second wife, he was foot-loose and fancy-free, a little crude, and he always smelled a bit like a fisherman.
Didi Stina sat on the kitchen counter and listened.
"If I'd only gotten a wife like you."
She laughed at him and swung her feet in and out from the kitchen counter where she sat.
"Boy, are you pretty," he said.
She laughed and enjoyed his lines. She had a small glass that she sipped from.
"Do you know, Didi Stina, I haven't had a woman in a whole year."
"What's the matter, man, are you sick?" Then she laughed and swung her feet in and out.
"Some say I'm crude. Not true. Inside I'm very sensitive." He had stood up and was looking at the woman where she sat swinging her feet. She was blushing a little.
He walked right up to her there on the counter and put his arms around her.
"Whoa, now. No monkey business," she said and tried to push him away. He pressed her against him and tried to kiss her.
"Cut it out, now."
It was always this way when Cod-biter came to visit Didi Stina.
"I am so lonely, you know?"
"Stop crushing me, man," she said. By then he usually got down to business–the same as he tried every time he visited Didi Stina. First, she had thought it was funny, but the time came when she began to find it uncomfortable: "Just the tip–just once, then I'll never mention it again–I promise."
"Jesus, cut it out!" she usually said, or something like that. Finally, though, he got to kiss her on the cheek and a little on the mouth. Then he said good-bye and left. When his ship came in next, this was repeated–he brought her some fish and drank brennivin in black coffee with a little sugar.
Director Stein was among the fourteen Icelanders in 1985 selected to receive the highest honor in Iceland, the Knight's Cross. In the evening there was a party at the Director's home. Besides the regular guests, there were a few well-known individuals from the ranks of the employers, two bank directors, four board chairmen for government companies and two or three minor politicians.
Didi Stina had been recruited to oversee the open-faced sandwiches and, therefore, stayed mostly in the kitchen where she managed two serving maids who brought the open-faced sandwiches to the guests. Solla friend had assumed responsibility for the spirits, but beforehand had gotten detailed instructions from John. According to his own account, John was a specialist in mixing the most popular cocktails such as vodka and ginger ale, Cuba Libre and whiskey in water on the rocks. Besides those drinks, the trays held wine and non-alcoholic beverages.
The guest of honor, Director Stein, who was also the host for the evening, had, for some time, been preparing the manufacture and export of a fish processing unit which he himself had designed. This equipment skinned, filleted and packed headed and gutted fish. The trial production was finished, and the unit had gotten rave reviews at a big trade show held in the Sports Stadium and at two trade shows abroad in Germany and Holland. Director Stein had spoken of little other than this equipment, and marketing was the major current issue.
Among some thirty applicants for a private secretary's position under Director Stein was none other than Miss Sigurfljod Elisabeth Riis, that is to say, Bertha, John's friend and classmate. She was the only applicant, whatever this meant, who was at the party to honor the Director on the occasion of his receiving the Knight's Cross.
Bertha was therefore very much at home and took advantage of her situation to the fullest. After she had maneuvered the Director into one of the small, inner rooms toward the back of the house, it soon became clear that her chances of winning the position had increased considerably. When the Director stood up and pressed a lengthy kiss on her lips, it was clear that the position was filled.
Madame Sigrid was not happy with this. Although Bertha had been one of John's favorite friends since they were classmates at the Reykjavik Gymnasium, there was something mysterious about her that was difficult to pinpoint. Director Stein, in fact, was much older than Bertha; he was 62, and she only 26. The age difference was 36 years. There was, on the other hand, a widely held opinion that Director Stein was quite a lady's man, though discreet. And then Bertha's closest friends knew that she had always been attracted to older men, not least men who projected an air of great calmness and physical ability. Director Stein did both; there was no mistaking that.
It was also news at the party when Kalli Sandfeldt showed up at the party with his assistant, Pia Leifs. This surprised several guests and resulted, among other things, in Rev. Pauline seeing a reason to take Kalli Sandfeldt by the arm and push him into the bathroom where she read him the riot act.
"You just don't do such a thing," she said, but Kalli Sandfeldt did not seem to grasp the seriousness of the matter.
"Kalli, you're such a child, "she said. "And you see how the girl is dressed–and with her bird legs. You just don't do something like that."
Although Rev. Pauline and several others were outraged at this behavior, it was as if Didi Stina thought everything was fine. She was completely occupied with open-faced sandwiches until late, and when it got past midnight, she zipped home and dressed to the nines. When she got back to the party, she whirled in wearing her smartest party feathers, and many could not help noticing her. She went straight to Kalli Sandfeldt and sidled up to him with all her feminine charm. In a wink Pia Leifs was alone and forsaken.
When Violet walked up to her and introduced herself, Pia Leifs immediately began to feel better. She smiled and began to tell Violet about the research she and Kalli Sandfeldt were doing in Helguvik.
John's birthday was on Iceland's Independence Day, June 17. Then Violet held a dinner party, always inviting the same guests: Didi Stina and her husband Kalli Sandfeldt, and John's parents, Madame Sigrid and Director Stein.
Somehow the tradition had developed that at the end of the dinner party, John and Kalli Sandfeldt took a walk up to Freyjagata to Rev. Pauline. After the appropriate kisses and signs of friendship which always accompanied a visit to Rev. Pauline, they settled into the living room with a drink, and Rev. Pauline spewed cigarette smoke into the air.
Ever since Kalli Sandfeldt was in the Reykjavik Gymnasium, he wanted to be in a men's choir. He had tried to get into the Reykjavik Men's Choir and the Foster Brothers Men's Choir, but he had never really pushed to get in, or he was turned down. Whenever this topic came up, Kalli Sandfeldt would say that the fine and highly regarded country and western blues musician, KK, had said that he, Kalli Sandfeldt, was the most musical man that he had ever met. He said this in a party out in Gardabaer where they had started to sing in harmony right after midnight and kept it up until morning. Then KK had declared that every person could be an opera singer if he wanted to; talent and singing voice had nothing to do with it. Man was first and foremost an instrument, and to be able to play an instrument, you had to learn to play.
"I have that from KK direct. There is no such thing as a beautiful singing voice or an ugly one. It is, on the other hand, possible to coax beautiful or ugly sounds from a violin string or vocal cords. The most important thing, and that which makes one singing voice distinct from another, is the texture. It's the same with painting–the texture, the brush strokes on the canvas."
Whether Kalli Sandfeldt had a high IQ or not, everyone agreed that he often talked about the strangest things, which ordinary people, educated or even completely uneducated, never considered discussing with friends. This seemed extraordinary, not the least when you considered that he had a doctorate in undersea engineering, was a prospective university professor and, last but not least, as Didi Stina maintained, was a scientist of international caliber.
After Kalli Sandfeldt had made his long speech, and the others had listened patiently without saying a word, he stopped talking, lifted his glass and proposed a toast: "So, shouldn't we switch to a lighter vein?"
Rev. Pauline had all her guns loaded, and Kalli Sandfeldt probably had started to feel that the atmosphere in this friendly apartment of hers was laced with treachery. He looked at her and waited for her to speak.
"Well, Kalli, what's with this girl?"
"Ah, Joka, my dear, you're always nagging about Pia."
Rev. Pauline expelled smoke and rubbed her hands across her bare arms which were white like marble with little reddish-yellow spots that formed whole clusters in some places. She wore jewelry and used brightly colored lipstick. She blew smoke and tried to form smoke rings. She looked at John, and they silently agreed that it was best to give Kalli Sandfeldt a chance to unburden himself.
"So what? Life is like that. We're born and live and die just like the grass growing in the dirt that tomorrow falls before the harvester's scythe."
Rev. Pauline had been thinking about something, and when Kalli Sandfeldt reached for his whiskey and took a sip, she said, looking at John: "You know, John, I am nearly certain that Kalli hasn't touched the girl. That's the reason I find his behavior to be in such poor taste."
Kalli Sandfeldt had swallowed the whiskey. He wiped the back of his hand across his mouth: "Dear Joka, you don't know what's going on; this isn't your field. And I can tell you straight out that Pia Leifs is no girl. She's a well educated woman–in fact, brilliant. She is a superb person. And whether we're having some kind of affair or not, that's our business."
Then a short, decisive question came from John:
"Are we what?"
"Having an affair."
"Kids, kids. What kind of conversation is this? I can say this in this circle, my closest friends, that of course Pia Leifs and I are not always doing research. We have to relax. And it's no secret–I tell only you without worrying about it being spread all over town–that I find it amusing to play with her."
"Ah, there it is," said Rev. Pauline. She slumped back in her chair and lifted her glass: "So, you are with her!"
"And what about that?"
"I don't know if I believe you. I know the damned macho inside you. Maybe you've never touched her."
She looked at John:
"Have you seen the legs on her? They're like saplings. And she dresses like a glamour girl–a total Twiggy."
"Let's talk about something else."
But Rev. Pauline was not finished. She still had a few heavy rounds left. She looked arrogantly at Kalli Sandfeldt:
"What do you hear about Cod-biter?"
"Cod-biter? Who's that?"
She glanced at John:
"You know him, don't you?"
"Not personally," answered John as he looked at Kalli Sandfeldt: "Isn't he a friend of the family?"
Rev. Pauline added: "Don't pretend, Kalli. You know the chap who brings you fish."
"Yeah, that bastard." He looked at them in turn and smiled: "What'd you call the guy?"
Rev. Pauline looked threateningly at Kalli Sandfeldt as she said: "Didi Stina calls him Cod-biter."
A little after John and Kalli Sandfeldt had left the dinner party, the Director and his wife thanked their hostess and went home. Violet and Didi Stina were left alone to drink coffee and cognac. They liked each other. And as was to be expected, Didi Stina immediately started to talk about her marriage.
"Of course he's playing around; everyone in town knows it. It won't be long before there are stories in the local tabloids."
"But, Didi Stina! You're no angel yourself."
"What do you mean?"
"You know what I mean."
"No, what do you mean?"
"Didi Stina! You don't have to pretend with me."
"Do you mean Cod-biter?" She looked at Violet who indicated that the guess was right. "You don't think there's something between us?"
"People talk about it. They're laughing about this in town."
Didi Stina's face had reddened:
"Where have you heard this?"
"You don't have to get excited. I can tell you that John and father-in-law laughed a lot."
"And what is so funny?"
"They think your nickname is hilarious."
"It's just a joke."
Didi Stina stood up and looked at Violet.
"I heard this talked about in the beauty parlor; Rev. Pauline knows and Solla friend."
Didi Stina had gone over to the mirror to pat her hair. When she came back, she smiled and seemed to think the situation was amusing. She sat down: "And Kalli?"
"You mean he doesn't know anything?"
"There isn't anything to know." She had started laughing.
"Isn't he jealous?"
"That's least important."
"You've told me about this fellow; he's after you–you can't deny it. And this nickname is the best way to call attention to it and make it laughable."
"I don't understand why people find this funny."
"People talk about everything."
Didi Stina went over to the table, added some cognac to her glass and poured more coffee into hers and Violet's cups.
Didi Stina, gazing at empty space, said: "I wonder."
Violet watched her.
"Can you give Solla friend a call?"
"I just thought of something."
"Do you want me to ask her over?"
"Yes, why not."
Violet called and after a few minutes Solla friend came, dressed up and smiling.
After a moment Didi Stina asked: "Say, Solla, have you ever heard that I've got a lover?"
The question took Solla friend by surprise. She looked at Violet, read the expression on her face and smiled: "Do you mean Cod-biter?"
It had never occurred to Kalli Sandfeldt that something was wrong with his marriage. Didi Stina certainly had pestered him because of this rumor that he was having an affair with Pia Leifs. And although he had been pinching the woman a little down there where they worked underwater, it did not seem much of a reason for risk to his marriage. It was not until Rev. Pauline, on John's birthday, had raised the possibility that Didi Stina, perhaps, had gotten tired of him and, for that reason, had taken a lover. Kalli Sandfeldt always had regarded that as a completely remote possibility. It was more accurate to say that it never had occurred to him. He had half-listened when Didi Stina was joking about her friendship with Cod-biter, but that anything serious lay behind it, that was ridiculous.
When Kalli Sandfeldt began to think about it, he began to suspect that he perhaps did not know Didi Stina as well as he thought. Perhaps there were sides to her that he had not grasped. It could be that her jealousy toward Pia Leifs had caused her to want revenge by having an affair with–what's his name–Cod-biter.
He had come home from work to talk to Didi Stina: "Now, I want the cards laid on the table," he said.
She looked at Kalli Sandfeldt and was surprised at how nervous he was.
"All right, Kalli. First you. Lay your cards on the table." She suddenly felt a surge of strength and had the feeling that she was the strong party and he the weak one.
He looked at her and felt he had painted himself into a corner. "People have started to drop hints about this–this relationship of yours with this buddy you call Cod-biter. Are you amusing yourself by making us a laughing stock?"
Didi Stina seemed to have grown taller when Kalli Sandfeldt looked at her.
"Is there anything to this?" he asked.
"Even if there was anything in it, I wouldn't admit it."
He was speechless for a while.
"Are you telling me we can't reach any conclusion?"
"You put your house in order; then I'll put mine in order."
After they had talked a bit, Kalli Sandfeldt stormed out the door, slamming it behind him.
That evening when he came home, he took Didi Stina out to a restaurant. "There is nothing between Pia Leifs and me. You know I love you and can't think of being with any other woman."
He talked a long time, but when he finished, Didi Stina took over and told the main points of her relationship with Cod-biter.
"I think it's gross to let him get away with this bullshit of getting laid with you."
"You don't know him. I think it's funny."
"I don't think it's funny. The next time he comes, you call me! I want to talk to the lad."
Didi Stina looked at her husband steadily: "And how about Pia Leifs? What assurance do I have that you're not involved with her?"
"We have to trust each other."
"Then it's better that you don't give our acquaintances and friends cause for speculation."
"You know, I'm glad this came up. People have to talk to each other."
"Yes, people have to talk to each other," she said.
A few days later Didi Stina called Violet and told her what had happened.
"You know, Violet, I've been thinking a lot about Cod-biter."
"What do you mean?"
"He's such a good guy. I really want to do something for him."
"Where are you headed?"
"Don't laugh. Promise?"
"I'm all ears. Go ahead."
"Do you think that Solla..."
She could get no farther because Violet had started talking:
"I don't believe you."
"Do you think it's absurd?"
"No, I think it's funny."
"Can it be mentioned?"
"Yes, to her."
"Didi Stina, you're terrible."
Violet had started to laugh: "I can try. What precisely did you have in mind?"
"Violet, you don't have to pussy-foot around. These are grown people."
"No, not a chance. You have to do it yourself."
"Can't it be done somehow informally. I mean so that it sort of comes naturally?"
Violet doubled over laughing. When she recovered, she said: "Let's think about it. What I won't do for a friend.
The next time Cod-biter brought fish to Didi Stina, she called Violet and Solla friend. When they arrived, Didi Stina had told Cod-biter what was up. First, she strictly forbid him to lust for Violet; that would spoil things. Solla, on the other hand, was a single, upbeat girl whom he would certainly like.
At first Cod-biter was a little shaky. When alone with Didi Stina, he was sure of himself, but with these other two women around, he was insecure, and his self-confidence was at a low ebb.
After one smile from Violet, though, he immediately felt better. He was determined to respect his friend's counsel to steer clear of any ideas about Violet. It also helped that Violet could only stay a short time. She left, and Cod-biter stood up and watched her as she went.
"She's pretty, Violet is," said Solla friend, smiling at Cod-biter.
"I think she's very pretty," said Cod-biter as he sat down.
It was obvious that the atmosphere in the living room cleared up after Violet left.
"Didi Stina has told me a lot about you."
He smiled a little shyly and slid his eyes toward Didi Stina. She went over to where her friend sat next to the table and ran her fingers through his shaggy hair: "He's so cute, this guy." She pressed up against him and smiled at Solla friend.
"He doesn't look cute to me. He looks like a real fisherman."
Cod-biter laughed and liked her comment: "Didi Stina, how about some coffee."
He stood up and went into the entryway where he kept his flask of Icelandic schnapps (brennivin).
"He's a little different, the dear," said Didi Stina as she brought the coffee, sugar cubes and a water glass, and set them down on the table in front of him.
"We have to drink with the man; we're not letting him drink by himself," said Solla friend.
"I like that. You're fun. And your name is Solla."
Solla friend smiled at him and stood up to get a glass. Cod-biter watched her and slid his eyes toward Didi Stina who looked like a little girl next to her.
"Where do you work?"
"In Hagkaup in the clothing department."
"How do you like it?"
"I've actually just started there. I was in the meat section."
"It must be the store's good luck to have such a pretty girl in the clothing department."
"There's no lack of size," she said smiling. "A person should be seen."
He looked her over, put some sugar in the coffee and added some brennivin.
"A person also has to carry herself better to sell clothes. Then there was always this damned smell on you in the meat section."
"It is possible to take a bath," said Cod-biter, laughing.
"You know, it doesn't matter if you take baths; it's as if this smell of raw meat sticks to you. Otherwise, I thought it was generally more pleasant in the meat section; people told jokes, you know. But it's completely different in the clothing department."
"You could be a model with your figure."
"You think so?"
"Yeah, I'd say so. Don't you think, Didi Stina?"
"Yes, you're right."
A little later Didi Stina said she had to leave for an appointment at the dentist: "You can just be here."
When Didi Stina came back two hours later, they were gone.
About the time Didi Stina and her husband were getting ready for bed, the phone rang. It was Solla friend. She told Didi Stina that Cod-biter had fallen asleep.
"Is he there with you?"
"Yes, of course."
Didi Stina had gotten excited and started to smile. She signaled to Kalli Sandfeldt to come closer as she turned on the phone's speaker: "OK, let's hear."
"Shouldn't I just call you tomorrow?"
"What is this, Solla, you must have something to say."
"He could wake up. I'll talk to you tomorrow."
"Just one thing: how was he?"
"He says he loves you."
"What damned nonsense."
"No, I think he's serious."
This news hit Didi Stina badly, and Kalli Sandfeldt felt like a frozen fish, with a deep-felt anger boiling inside.
"Was he drunk?"
"No, stone sober. He says that he's never loved any woman but you."
"Is he crazy, the nitwit!"
"No, I don't think so. He just can't get it up."
"He can't get it up. I think he just talks a good line."
"I'll talk to you tomorrow."
"Take him swimming with you tomorrow morning; you say you've had good results at the pool."
Translated by Daníel Teague.