My sister and her husband are outside, digging a deep hole next to the dwarf birch by my attic window. As they work their way down among the scrawny roots, the spade hits the earth rhythmically. They’ve been at it for more than an hour now. I lie motionless in my bed, listening to the sounds creeping up the thin walls of the house and into my room via the vent above the chest of drawers: the dull spade-cuts, the clanking of stone against steel, spade-cut by spade-cut down into the dry soil.
What are they looking for during this day that never becomes night? What’s their business down in the depths, beneath several layers of earth? They talk quietly, don’t exchange that many words. I sense a relaxed friendliness between them. Now and then they stop and fall silent. Do they sense me? The fact that I’m awake? But they only swap the spade in order to share the work equally.
As usual, they agree about everything, my sister, Ragna, and Johan.
For a while they must have gone. But then they come back, groaning and with shuffling steps. They’re dragging something – the sounds betray them. It must be heavy, what they’re carrying. I can see them in my mind’s eye: Ragna’s knitted brow, the dogged expression on her broad face, the thin arms that hold on to the load with a determined grasp. And her husband, striving to find a grip to cope with the weight. I picture him: his stomach’s in the way, bloated, as it always is. He has to move with his back bent and with small, quick steps to keep up with her – always keeping up with her.
The load is heaved into the hole. Earth is thrown over it.
Deep down there, in the black hole in the ground, lumps of stone and sand and earth land on something soft. I can say this for sure from the short, dull thumps. I can feel them right next to my ear as I lie here, thump after thump, until the sounds grow fainter and close around me.
I am tired, on the point of falling asleep. Far away, I hear the earth being tidied, then covered, probably with peat and heather. Soon I am dozing dreamlessly, just as hidden as the thing down there in the dark earth.
Imagine an attic. Not just any attic, but one in a remote spot in a northern, godforsaken part of the world.
Here too lots of things lie packed away: all the rubbish you don’t need, all the memories of a past crammed into boxes and suitcases, invisible to the outside world under a thin layer of forgetfulness and dust.
You go up there only reluctantly, and preferably not alone – it’s got something to do with the creaking of the staircase so narrow and steep that you have to climb up on hands and knees. It’s not easy to make it to the room at the top. And it’s even more difficult to come down.
As soon as you can straighten up under the rafters, you are enclosed in dry air, but in something else as well. You wonder if it may be the darkness, the particles of dust in the strip of light from the staircase. But when you stand there perfectly calm, you know it’s the stillness, the silence from the things that cannot talk, the past that lies gagged in the unceasing rush of life from the floor below and from nature just outside.
At the end of the attic there’s a door. A faint light comes from the keyhole. You advance cautiously along the widely spaced floorboards that are so dry the splinters would bore into your toes if you were barefoot.
You place your ear to the door. After a moment, you sense some sound of life, not breathing and movement, but a vibration of existence, an unrest that only life can produce. You bend down, press an eye to the keyhole. It is dark. You shift position a little, move your weight on to the other leg, then bore right through with your gaze. Deep inside, among dancing white spots, you can make out the contours of a body resting on a bed. And this body, this only just perceptible unrest – it is me.
And you ask yourself, as I have done so often of late: what am I doing in this room? What’s stopping me from being downstairs with Ragna and Johan? Am I being held prisoner? Am I seriously ill? Or is the being in the attic a creation of your own imagination, a frozen glimpse of the dread that chases up your spine, the fear of what you might see?
Most recently, I’ve had the dispiriting idea that I’m actually lying in an attic inside myself, that I am merelyan old, dusty thought about living, a hidden soul that has never been allowed to go downstairs to mix and have fun with people indoors and out.