“Ugh.” I try to make my voice to work. My tongue is just too big. “Not that I know of …. I mean, no illnesses that I know about.”
“Good. Come on, try to drink a little. Don’t worry — I’ll hold up your head.” The man lifts my head and holds a glass up to my lips, carefully pouring water into my mouth. The water is cold, but not too cold; it flows smoothly over my tongue, trickles down my scorched throat. Feels wonderful.
“What about blackouts — have you experienced them before?” It is the woman on the bench behind me who’s asking. “When alcohol is involved, for example … or at other times?”
Alcohol, for example!? What the hell does she mean by that, the bitch? Suddenly I can smell … something pungent, a spicy-sour aroma. Oranges. I turn my head a bit. The woman is sitting there peeling an orange. She’s probably in her thirties. The man by her side looks about the same age, maybe her husband. He’s wearing dark trousers and a smooth, light-blue shirt. A nice, decent person.
“Uh, no, nothing like that. It’s probably just … something with my blood sugar.” What else can I say? Can’t tell her I’ve been on a drunk for the past three days. Or was it four?
The woman comes over and kneels by my side, hands me a piece of orange. It feels hopelessly awkward having something in my mouth that doesn’t just go down all by itself. Still, my jaws start moving, my tongue and teeth working as well as they can, the sweet-and-sour pulp exploding in my mouth, clinging to my tongue, sliding down. The organ begins to play again from inside. The woman gives me another piece. I eat, one piece after the other, everything she gives me. And indeed, little by little, my energy starts to return.
“Thanks,” I say. “Many thanks. It’s already much better now. It must have been something with my blood sugar, clearly—when it drops too low, no? Really shouldn’t have skipped breakfast, ha, ha. Wasn’t really hungry, so I just wasn’t thinking about it …”
The stuff about breakfast wasn’t a lie, in any case.
… And a brighter Easter beam, On our longing eyes shall stream …
It smells faintly like chalk and old walls. And still a bit of orange. I drink some more water. Both it and the orange are staying down. I lie on my side, half-upright. The woman has sat back down on the bench again. A dark wooden bench that runs all the way around along the walls. Rows of hooks overhead… I spot my jacket. It’s lying on the bench, folded neatly. I almost didn’t recognize it, it’s lying there so nicely. They must have taken it from me. The light from outside falls in through the open door, creating a crooked rectangle on the stone tiles. I wonder if they’ve opened the door for me.
The man with the large glasses helps me up off the bench. My body still feels wobbly, as if everything inside has been shaken apart and hasn’t totally fallen back into place yet. Maybe I just need a beer. Still, I manage to sit upright. The walls remain standing, the floor and the seat beneath me stay in place. The woman is sitting a couple of meters to the left, talking softly to the man, who surely is her husband. She’s dark-haired, not bad, really. Someone I’d enjoy meeting under other circumstances. As another and better me. A more clean-cut me, in any case. As she sits there, her hands beneath her thighs and her upper body bent forward, I can just make out the pattern of her bra beneath her thin, bright-yellow blouse. A lacy number.
“The ambulance should be here shortly,” says glasses.
Alcohol, for example!? What the hell does she mean by that, the bitch?
Damn, the ambulance!
“Can’t you, um, cancel it? Just call and say it isn’t necessary. I’m doing fine now. Really. No problems, I’ll be moving on in just a little bit … The wife is waiting at home, you know—I really need to get my ass home. Just sit here and relax for five more minutes, and I’ll be quietly on my way.”
But they won’t hear of it. Best to get myself looked at for safety’s sake, check my blood pressure, take some blood tests and such. After all, they aren’t doctors — just ordinary people without any medical knowledge; the paramedics will have equipment and can better assess the situation.
I sort of suspected that, but still…. They really didn’t need to do this. They aren’t employed here — it’s not like they’re at work. They’re just everyday people, in church during their free time — for Easter service, most likely, and now they’ve spent most of Christ’s resurrection helping me stand up. A lovely exchange, ha.
The paramedics enter through the door, dragging a stretcher, for Christ’s sake. I assure them that everything is under control. I’m doing fine now, don’t suffer from any illnesses — just a little excessive thirst, but of course I don’t say that — just got a little nauseated, nothing to speak of, it’s over now. They don’t look particularly convinced. One of them is taking my blood pressure, checking my reflexes, measuring my blood sugar, blood-percent, or whatever the hell he says he’s measuring. Shines a light in my eyes with a little flashlight. Not a pretty sight, I’m sure; I’m glad I can’t look into my own eyes. The other one is squatting with a pad resting on his thigh, where he’s writing down numbers. Everything is about normal. That’s just what I said. By the time they measure my blood sugar again, it has already risen a bit. They seem noticeably satisfied with that. As if their measurements had made it rise.
Before they leave, they’d still like to know whether I’m certain that they shouldn’t drive me to the emergency room. Or home? Am I sure that I can make it home on my own? Do I live nearby? Is there someone at home waiting for me? Without hesitating, I say yes to everything. I can easily get home on my own, in fact I can use a little fresh air, and my wife Lisa is at home, I’ll be going in a moment, but thanks for the offer. My voice is totally normal now, as far as I can hear.
They finally pack up their things, hoist up the stretcher, and disappear out the door, with a wish for a good Sunday and an exhortation that I take it easy for the next few days.
Take it easy? Yeah, thanks, what do you think, buddy?
In a little while I can hear a car starting outside and wheels crunching on the gravel.
…Death’s long shadows have departed; All our woes are over now …
Unbelievable. Hasn’t that service ended yet? How long has it been? Feels like an eternity since I first set eyes on the church and saw people swarming into that hole in the white wall. But maybe it hasn’t been that long. I take my jacket and manage to mumble an awkward thank you to the woman and two men for the inconvenience. Maybe my voice has come back but now it’s as if the words have disappeared. Or maybe I just don’t know what it is I really want to say. They say there’s nothing to thank them for, shake my hand and follow me over to the door.
The light outside is overwhelming. I have to stop for a moment and squint. I guess I better try and find the bottom of Uglebølle and catch a bus home. I put one foot tentatively in front of the other. And then the other in front of that one. The gravel crunches beneath my feet. I’m walking. My legs feel as if they are just learning how to do it.
Damn, I think. I can’t explain what it is that’s so damned. Yet it’s the only word that comes to mind.
Henriette Houth was born in Denmark in 1967. Her publications include two collections of poems, two books on architecture and design, two collections of short stories, and a children’s book. Translations of some of her poems and short stories have appeared in German and American literary journals. The short story “Resurrection” is from her latest collection of short stories, ‘Mit navn er Legion’ (‘My Name is Legion’), published in Denmark in 2015. In addition to her part time job as a reporter at the Danish Parliament, Ms. Houth is currently working on a novel. She lives and works in Copenhagen.
Mark Mussari has his Ph.D. in Scandinavian Languages & Literature from the University of Washington in Seattle and has done translation work for numerous Danish publishers. He recently translated Eric Valeur’s ‘The Man in the Lighthouse’ (March, 2017). He has also translated such novels as Dan Turèll’s ‘Murder in the Dark’ for Norvik Press, as well as Morten Brask’s ‘The Perfect Life of William Sidis’. A scholar of Danish literature, art, and design, Mr. Mussari is the author of ‘Danish Modern: Between Art and Design’ (Bloomsbury Press, 2016). He lives and works in Tuscon, Arizona.
© Translated by Mark Mussari