Then she went in.
Some of the smoke inside the hall had dispersed, so it was possible to see the kitchen door, which was still closed, and the living room door, which was wide open. She ventured a few cautious steps across the floor. On all sides she was surrounded by roaring and cracking, but it was upstairs that she was heading. Every forward movement was accompanied by a stab in her lower abdomen. The knife was wrenched out and thrust in. She grabbed the banister and hauled herself up until she was on the landing between the rooms on the first floor. She opened the door to what had been Kåre's room, and inside, everything was as before. There was his bed, white and neatly made, the way it had been for all the years since he died. There was his wardrobe, the chair on which he had rested his crutches, the picture of the two children playing by the waterfall and the angel of the Lord hovering above them, they were all there. Her bag, too, the one containing three thousand kroner. It was in the top drawer of the dresser, which was still full of Kåre's clothes, and the moment she caught sight of one of his old shirts it was the one with a little tear above the chest she felt she no longer had the strength to make her way back down. It was as if she suddenly gave up everything at the mere sight of the shirt. She dropped the bag on the floor with a thud and sat down gently on the bed. She sensed the mattress springs and the old, familiar, comforting creaks beneath her. The smoke was rising through the cracks in the floor, collecting and advancing to the ceiling. In front of her eyes a serene figure of smoke appeared to be slowly taking shape. It had arms, hands, feet and a hazy face. She lowered her head and mouthed a silent prayer with no beginning and no end, a couple of sentences, nothing more. But then there was a loud, sharp report from directly behind her, and it was enough for her to forget all else, jump up and beat a hasty retreat. She was back inside herself, the smoke wraith had gone, the room was totally befogged and it was hard to breathe. She snatched the bag and ran onto the landing. Hurried down the stairs and descended into a thick, acrid blanket of smoke that stung every part of her face. She realised it was coming from all their clothes in the bedroom, which were smouldering and on the point of catching fire. Her throat tightened, she felt nauseous, her eyes streamed, but she knew exactly where to go to reach the door. For the last few metres she fumbled blindly, but of course she had been this way so many times before and she found the door with ease. Once on the steps outside she felt the heat seeming to press her from behind and push her several paces from the house. She filled her lungs with pure, fresh night air and sank to her knees. I have seen her in my mind's eye, kneeling in the grass surrounded by light that changed from yellow to almost white, to orange and almost red. She knelt with her face in the grass as she gradually recovered her breath. At length, she dragged herself to her feet, but by then neither Olav nor anyone else was anywhere to be seen. She scrambled up the slope to her neighbour's house, which was now fully illuminated by the fire. Her neighbour came charging out before she had time to knock. It was Odd Syvertsen. He had been woken by the light. She grabbed his arm, either holding him tight or supporting herself so as not to fall. All she could manage was a whisper, but he heard every word.
'I can't find Olav.'
Excerpt from Before I Burn. English translation copyright © 2013 by Don Bartlett. Copyright © 2010 by Gaute Heivoll. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.
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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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