I went out there this afternoon, after visiting Grandma Bjørk. The house is still fully furnished, except for the few things that Jesper and Stinna had taken over to Bjørk in the nursing home. I immediately opened the big cupboard in the bedroom and, with my heart pounding, started rummaging through it. My intuition turned out to be right: I found the old letters that Grandpa Askild had written in Ramlösa. On the outside of the envelope it says: Please burn after my death. But Grandma never did burn them, nor did she ever imagine that I would go rummaging through their possessions in such an inconsiderate way. I also found the shitty contraption and a heap of painting equipment, which I took back to Stinna’s house. And I found the old childhood pictures of Dad. His ears aren’t just well-developed. They’re huge. I try to convince Stinna that they’re out of proportion with the rest of his head, but she’d rather hear my opinion about Grandma Bjørk’s condition.
‘So?’ she says. ‘What do you think?’
‘Doesn’t she belong in a hospital?’ I ask.
I was rather shocked at the sight of her. She was lying in bed on her back when I arrived. A long tube that ended in a little green hook under her nose ensured that she was getting enough oxygen. Her eyes were closed. Her skin was ashen. The air in the room seemed stuffy, and there was a faint smell of urine. I thought she was asleep, and I tiptoed as quietly as I could over to the bed to take her hand.
‘So you finally decided to come home,’ she whispered without opening her eyes. ‘I was beginning to worry that you never would.’
It had been several years since I had last seen her, and I should have been more prepared. After all, I had watched Mamma Randi live well past a hundred, but the effects of old age on Bjørk shocked me: the countless wrinkles, the bones jutting out, her trembling lips.
‘Why did you start again?’ The words burst out of me. I was referring to her stories. I had intended to ask her this some time during the next few weeks, but now it was the first thing I said. And my voice sounded both reproachful and strangely relieved.
‘Open the cupboard,’ she replied.
I looked around in confusion. There were several cupboards that could be opened, but I went over to the largest of them, opened it, and they all came tumbling out. There must have been thirty or forty of them in all: empty tins like the ones used for sardines. Glued to them were various aerial shots of Grandma Bjørk’s golden home town, and they all had the same caption: Fresh Air from Bergen. Norwegian stamps had been pasted on the back, and I immediately recognized Applehead’s characteristic handwriting.
Stinna has now told me that Applehead sends a new tin every week or so. Maybe he thinks it will give Grandma Bjørk a laugh, but she takes those tins very seriously.
‘Hand me one,’ she whispered.
I quickly realized that she wanted to take a sniff of the fresh air. There were three little holes on one side of the tin. That was apparently where you needed to sniff. I removed the oxygen tube, supported her head with one hand, and with the other held the tin up to her so that she could take a deep breath through her nose. After inhaling the fresh air, Grandma slipped back down in bed with a dreamy look on her face. And then the magic effect of the tin set in. All of a sudden she sat up.
‘It’s that splinter of ice,’ she whispered, putting her hand on her heart. ‘That cursed splinter of ice has plagued me most of my life, but lately it’s been getting worse.’
She talked a lot of nonsense. She repeated herself, couldn’t remember people’s names, and she kept being mesmerized by the big landscape painting that hung on the wall. But once in a while she was so lucid that I could coax from her important details and clear up various disputed points, for instance regarding the size of Dad’s ears. Even Grandma Bjørk insisted that they were absolutely huge.
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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