In the meantime, I am spending my days getting this place in order. There is quite a lot that needs doing, I did not pay much for it. In fact, I had been prepared to shell out a lot more to lay my hands on the house and the grounds, but there was not much competition. I do understand why now, but it doesnt matter. I am pleased anyway. I try to do most of the work myself, even though I could have paid a carpenter, I am far from skint, but then it would have gone too fast. I want to use the time it takes. Time is important to me now, I tell myself. Not that it should pass quickly or slowly, but be only time, be something I live inside and fill with physical things and activities that I can divide it up by, so that it grows distinct to me and does not vanish when I am not looking.
Something happened last night.
I had gone to bed in the small room beside the kitchen where I put a temporary bed up under the window, and I had fallen asleep, it was past midnight, and it was pitch dark outside. Going out for a last pee behind the house I could feel the cold. I give myself that liberty. For the time being there is nothing but an outdoor toilet here. No one can see anyway, the forest standing thick to the west.
What woke me was a loud, penetrating sound repeated at brief intervals, followed by silence, and then starting again. I sat up in bed, opened the window a crack and looked out. Through the darkness I could see the yellow beam of a torch a little way down the road by the river. The person holding the torch must be the one making the sound I had heard, but I couldnt understand what kind of sound it was or why he was making it. If it was a he. Then the ray of light swung aimlessly to the right and left, as if resigned, and I caught a glimpse of the lined face of my neighbour. He had something in his mouth that looked like a cigar, and then the sound came again, and I realised it was a dog whistle, although I had never seen one before. And he started to call to the dog. Poker, he shouted, Poker, which was the dogs name. Come here, boy, he shouted, and I lay down in bed again and closed my eyes, but I knew I would not get back to sleep.
All I wanted was to sleep. I have grown fussy about the hours I get, and although they are not many, I need them in a completely different way than before. A ruined night throws a dark shadow for many days ahead and makes me irritable and feel out of place. I have no time for that. I need to concentrate. All the same, I sat up in bed again, swung my legs in the pitch black to the floor and found my clothes over the back of the chair. I had to gasp when I felt how cold they were. Then I went through the kitchen and into the hall and pulled on my old pea jacket, took the torch from the shelf and went out onto the steps. It was coal black. I opened the door again, put my hand in and switched on the outside light. That helped. The red-painted outhouse wall threw a warm glow across the yard.
I have been lucky, I say to myself. I can go out to a neighbour in the night when he is searching for his dog, and it will take me only a couple of days and I will be OK again. I switched on the torch and began walking down the road from the yard towards where he was still standing on the gentle slope, swinging his torch so that the beam moved slowly round in a circle towards the edge of the forest, across the road, along the river bank and back to its starting point. Poker, he called, Poker, and then blew the whistle, and the sound has an unpleasantly high frequency in the quiet of the night, and his face, his body, were hidden in the darkness. I did not know him, had only spoken to him a few times on the way past his cottage when I was out with Lyra most often at quite an early hour, and I suddenly felt like going back in again and forgetting all about it; what could I do anyway, but now he must have seen the light of my torch, and it was too late, and after all there was something about this character I could barely make out there in the night alone. He ought not to be alone like that. It was not right.
From Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson. Translation copyright 2007 by Anne Born. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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