‘Godmother,’ said Bjørk, ‘not God’s mother. There’s a difference, dear.’ But her daughter was so happy that Bjørk didn’t have the heart to insist on correcting her impression that on a brilliantly sunny June day in 1972 she was actually God’s own mother for a whole day. And as the child was christened in a church ceremony during which the parents were also married in order to prevent any further discord in the family, God’s mother beamed like a gigantic sun weighing 100 kilos because she stood there holding a new little nephew, a mini-version of her younger brother Knut. And this time he wasn’t going to be allowed to cheat her and run away to sea. A few days after the christening, she came knocking on the door of our house on Birkebladsvej, asking permission to take the baby out in the pram. And that’s how I took my first journeys out into the world: up the street, down the street, in all kinds of weather, pushed by a beaming mountain of fat. The Little Bitch (as we later dubbed her) and the
Bastard Boy (as I had been dubbed even before my christening) quickly became a familiar sight in the neighbourhood. She brought me anything I pointed to: earthworms, dirt, leaves, even cigarette butts and colourful flowers, which I contentedly consumed.
‘Tastes good,’ she would say, handing me the most amazing creations in the world as I sat in my baby pram. ‘Sweet, just like honey.’
At first, my sister Stinna didn’t feel like coming along, and that’s how it happened that I ended up visiting our grandparents’ house on Tunøvej more often than she did. Acrid turpentine fumes tickled my nose, and the sound of clinking glasses and the shrieks of a crazy parrot formed a background to the earliest years of my childhood. Bjørk’s gentle voice was also part of this as she sang songs about a brilliant future and chattered away about her enchanting childhood summers in Nordland – until Askild got too drunk. Then Bjørk would order Anne Katrine to take me back to Birkebladsvej, and we would arrive just before Dad came home for dinner. ‘Huh,’ said Stinna, ‘why is Asger always so lucky?’
In response to this unfair division of attention, Stinna began a silent protest: she started ripping up letters. Like a dog who lies in wait for the postman, she would stand each day at the letter box and grab the letters, newspapers, and advertising circulars right out of the hands of the startled postman, only to rip them to shreds and hide the pieces in various places around the house. ‘Stop that!’ my mother would cry. But once Stinna had worked herself into a bad temper, nothing could stop her. My sister’s letter-vandalism continued right up until she hit puberty, and it was a contributing factor to Dad’s growing problems with the tax authorities. He didn’t realize how bad the situation was until it was almost too late, because the friendly enquiries that were sent during the first few years had vanished into thin air.
‘The little vandal,’ Askild called Stinna the first time he witnessed his granddaughter’s peculiar bad habit, and he set about devising a secret plan. Early one Saturday morning in 1975, he took up position outside our front door shortly before the postman was due to arrive and stuck an empty envelope through the letter box. Stinna showed up at once. But instead of tossing the envelope through the slot, Askild pulled it back out so that Stinna’s eager little hands were visible in the letter box.
‘Aha!’ cried Askild, taking a firm grip on her left index finger. ‘Caught you! Ha ha!’
It was never his intention to sprain his granddaughter’s finger, but that’s exactly what happened. The Letter Vandal yanked back her hand and woke the whole household with her shrieks. That was one of the few times that Grandpa Askild was thrown out even before he had set foot in the door. Full of indignation, he went back home to Tunøvej, and it took him less than a morning to paint The Vandal Gets Stuck in the Letter Box. He was very proud of that painting, and rightfully so, even though it would always remind him that he had failed to put an end to his granddaughter’s bad habit.
Excerpted from Doghead by Morten Ramsland. Copyright © 2009 by Morten Ramsland. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Dunne Books, a division of St Martins Press, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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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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