Excerpt of It's Fine By Me by Per Petterson
(Page 2 of 4)
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'Are you sure those scars are so terrible?'
'They're so goddamn terrible,' I said. His hand moved
towards my glasses and I took one step back and raised my
fists. It was instinctive. Then he lowered his hands.
'You'd better mind your language,' he said, 'we don't
want any swearing here.'
I said nothing, and we walked to the very end of the
corridor where he stopped, knocked on a door and opened
it, not waiting for an answer. He held it open and waved
me in. They all looked at us. One girl giggled. I sensed him
breathing down my neck and braced myself in case he
should try anything stupid.
'This is Audun Sletten, the new boy I'm sure you have
heard about. He's come to us from the countryside so please
give him a warm welcome. He, too, likes the Beatles. Don't
mind the sunglasses. They're glued to his nose.'
The girl giggled again. She had black hair down to her
shoulders. Before leaving he stooped and whispered in my
'I will call your mother about the scars, don't you worry.'
'We don't have a telephone,' I said aloud, but by then
he was gone.
'Well not everybody has one,' the teacher said, 'but thank
you for telling us.' Half the class laughed.
'You can have the vacant desk by the window.' He had
gold-framed glasses, his hair was thinning at the front,
but he looked as if he kept in shape because his shirt was
tight round his chest and his biceps. I walked in front of
the class, past the dais and along the row and sat down
at the desk by the window. I hung my bag on the hook at
the side. It had stopped raining. The sun cut through the
clouds and the light turned the playground into a lake,
and there were rafts on the shiny water, and fishing rods
and a dam like the one up by Lake Aurtjern, and you could
stand there and cast your line where the fish hugged the
rocks. As I turned to face the blackboard everything went
dark and it took some time before I could see through my
sunglasses what was written there in chalk. WELCOME!
it said. I ducked under the desk and folded my boots down
The bell rang and I was the last to leave, I didn't want
anyone at my back. The teacher's name was Levang. He
wanted to shake hands and be nice, so I shook his hand
and mumbled something even I couldn't make out, and
headed off. I crossed to the other side of the playground
and leaned against the wire mesh. There was a football
pitch beyond the fence, but it was deserted now, the dark
shale steaming. To the right of me by the prefabs, kids were
chasing each other, playing tag and splashing water. To the
left, by the main building, the older ones were standing in
clusters talking. A few girls were skipping rope, and coming
straight towards me was a boy on crutches. I had seen him
in the classroom, on the right, a little closer to the blackboard.
I glanced left and right, but there was no one else
by the fence. He had dark, curly hair and boots like mine,
with kinks written on the one and hollies on the other.
They were English pop groups, but I did not have any of
their records. I did not have any records at all. We just had
Jussi Björling, the Swedish opera singer, although I did have
a transistor radio that I listened to in the night.
He stopped a few metres away from me, leaned on his
crutches and smiled.
'Cool shades,' he said.
Cool crutches, I thought, but I didn't say it. They were
cool in a way, like an extra part of his body he took with
him everywhere, he didn't even notice, they were just there.
'I'll be rid of them in two months,' he said, following my
gaze. 'I've had them for a year. They don't bother me now,
but I can't wait.'
Per Petterson. Excerpt from It's Fine By Me. Copyright © 1992 by Forlaget Oktober, Oslo. English translation copyright © 2011 by Don Bartlett. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org