By Simon Fruelund
Translated from Danish by K.E. Semmel
He’s bought himself a moped, and every morning he travels across the hilly countryside, through the local villages and along the endless stretch of villas before reaching the train station in Kalundborg.
He’s fifty-three and getting a divorce.
He’s staying in his family’s summer cottage on the Røsnæs peninsula and has stayed there since October.
He’s chopped three cords of wood.
He’s established an Internet connection and downloaded more than five hours of porn.
An old lover came to see him.
They ate flounder and fucked and drank three bottles of wine, and since then he’s had no desire to see her.
He’s the one who wants the divorce.
He’s had five affairs in eight years, and when he told his wife about them, she said:
—And your point is?
He knows the other commuters by sight.
Some of them nod when they see him.
There’s the shorthaired woman with her brisk stride and gray leather jacket.
There’s the sixty year old man wearing Docksides and a down jacket.
There’s the small woman with the dark curly hair.
There’s the woman who’s always reading.
There are around thirty of them in all.
And then the outliers: This morning, a short, muscular man with an intense stare and an army-green backpack, a young girl with disheveled hair and smeared mascara.
It turned out that his wife had been fucking his best friend and his boss.
—Out of boredom, as she said.
She works at Jyderup State Prison.
She has three children, a husband, and a dog, and lives in a single-family home on the eastern edge of Kalundborg.
She sits in her usual seat.
It’s unseasonably warm, but the darkness of winter is the same.
A man walks along the tracks, swinging a lantern.
Behind him she sees the refinery’s lights.
It reminds her of an event she and her two eldest children attended a week ago.
All the lights were turned off, and everyone played badminton with a glow-in-the-dark ball.
When she was fired from the ferry, she began taking courses in preparation for a career in corrections.
The drug dealers are pitiful, and the language is horrible, but at least she doesn’t have to mess with the deep fryer, listen to people complain about the coffee, or smile when someone says something stupid.
The She-wolf, they call her, but she’s learned to ignore stuff like that.
When he and his family moved away from Copenhagen, he made an arrangement with his employer:
He telecommutes from home two days a week and works on the train back and forth.
He checks his e-mail and does some programming.
He has been with the company since Hitman 1.
His wife is a biologist and works for Engineering and Environment, and they have two boys.
It’s now 7:10.
He overslept, so now he has to ride the local train.
With a little luck he’ll reach Kalvebod Wharf by quarter past 9:00.
He can see all the semis waiting at the dock.
The fjord is just visible behind them.
The train begins to rumble forward, and the gray-bearded conductor who often works this route climbs aboard and starts punching tickets.
They pass the industrial part of town with its enormous oil tankers, and like that they’re already rolling across the countryside.
Sometimes, he plays a round of poker in the morning.
Last week he won $1,300, the week before that he won $800.
If things continue this way, he’ll be able to live off his winnings soon.
The money is deposited into a bank account he set up with Butterfield, in the Cayman Islands.
He hasn’t told his wife about it.
It’s not that he’s trying to cheat her, he just thinks it’s nice having something for himself.
She’s on her way home to Holbæk. She spent the night with a guy she met at The Harlekin Night Club a week ago.
He’s nineteen and lives in a studio apartment.
She’s a boarding student at Stenhus School and didn’t make the last train.
There’s only a slight chance that the rector overlooked her empty bed.
It’s the first time she’s broken the rules, so it’s possible she’ll be allowed to stay, but they’ll certainly contact her parents.
They live in Barcelona.
Her father’s the supervisor of the local Vestas office there, and her mother writes serials for Home and Family under the pseudonym Jutta Federspiel.
The protagonists have names like Victoria Bak, Jack Holt, and Kassandra Bilde, and there’s no limit to the suffering they must endure in the name of love.
A few hours earlier, she lay against an ice cold wall observing the sleeping carpenter’s apprentice and his tattooed arm, the first man she allowed to penetrate her.
She’s lived at the boarding school for six months, and no one has bothered her.
No one has reversed her room while she was out partying.
Nor has she gotten the car wash everyone talks about.
They tie you down in an office chair, then push you back and forth through the showers, under alternating blasts of hot and cold water.
Actually she’s in love with a boy in her class who plays the sax, and actually he was at the night club that night.
Instead of approaching him, she started talking to the two guys beside her.
She pretended to be drunker than she was—a trick she learned from one of her girlfriends—and when one asked her if she wanted to dance, she said yes.
She positioned herself so she could see her classmate, but in between two songs, the carpenter’s apprentice said something that made her laugh, and when she looked over there again, he was gone.
At least she can say she did it before she turned sixteen.
She’s never been a morning person.
She’s fifty-seven, and a professor of Spanish.
She commutes to the University of Copenhagen three days a week and typically uses the train ride to read.
This morning she’s too sleepy to read the dissertation lying in her lap, and she reaches for the free newspaper on the seat opposite.
It’s from the day before.
On the back page there’s a small notice about a cat in New Zealand that disappeared from a summer cottage yet found its way home to its owners ninety miles away.
She’s not the sentimental type, especially when animals are involved, but there’s something about the cat that causes her to wipe at the corner of her eye.
She’d lived in Gentofte and in Frederiksberg her entire life when her husband suddenly, last summer, suggested they move.
He’d been reading the newspaper on the patio at their summer cottage, and she’d heard him talking to himself, but couldn’t make out what he was saying.
This was something he’d begun to do after the kids had moved away.
He’d become restless.
He talked, sometimes even conversed, with himself.
—Look, he said. We can buy a quadrangular farm with a house, three barns, thatched roofs, and fifteen acres of land for two thirds of what our apartment’s worth.
They went down to see it and found hollyhocks and granite boulders in the courtyard, windows painted robin’s egg blue, white lawn furniture, fruit trees, a view of rolling fields, and, even better, water.
They put their apartment up for sale and purchased the farm, and he decided to take an early retirement.
The property was officially theirs on September 1st.
The late summer was hot, and in the beginning they went swimming at a nearby beach whenever they needed a break.
They razed a wall, laid new flooring in the dining room, built a new bathroom on the first floor, and painted everything white.
There’s a view of the sea in every room, except for the broom closet and the entryway.
He suddenly looked at her in a way that made her head spin.
They made love in the middle of the day, and if she straddled him, she could see the sea.
Then fall came, and it was unlike any fall she’d known.
She was used to going to the art museum wearing a cotton coat and carrying an umbrella under her arm and then, afterwards, going to a café for a coffee and calvados.
Now it was clogged rain gutters, sixteen-foot wide water puddles on the dirt road, and the west wind blowing into their bedroom so that they, for the first time in their marriage, had to wear pajamas to bed.
Her husband resembled a little boy in his PJs.
He talked about insulating the house.
He talked about installing an extra wood stove.
They walked around wearing wool socks and sweaters and thermal vests, and she had trouble keeping warm when she sat reading.
When the frosts came, they began to sleep in thermal underwear.
They started to argue.
Now, when she has to get up early, he stays in bed.
He’s been unemployed for a year and a half.
He spends his time at the gym and volunteering for the Danish Home Guard on the MHV Holger Danske.
He follows a blogger by the name of Fjordman, and he’s read Anders Behring Breivik’s 2083 manifesto in its entirety.
“Before we can do anything, there must be a we,” it reads somewhere.
He lives in a two-room apartment in St. Olaiparken.
He’s been a member of Conservative Youth and the Danish People’s Party, but never really felt that he belonged in either.
Things aren’t much better in the Home Guard.
In 2083 there are a number of “controversial principles” for a new national conservatism.
The two most important are:
*Revolutionary; believes in the overthrow of all multicultural European governments through armed struggle.
*Supports the deportation of all Muslims from Europe.
He agrees with Breivik, but not with his method.
If it weren’t for Breivik, Lars Løkke Rasmussen would no doubt still be prime minister.
He’s managed to get hold of a blue burka.
It covers everything, even his eyes, and lies neatly folded in his little backpack between his feet.
Today’s just a reconnaissance mission.
- Getting inside
- Getting out again.
It’s fine with him that the nation’s two largest newspapers, Jylland’s Posten and Politiken, have merged in the same building.
He’s got a Saab 9-5, but drives it as little as possible.
He’s a medical director at Holbæk Hospital and has seen too many car accident victims, especially from Skovvejen, to think driving is worth the risk.
He keeps an old black Raleigh at Holbæk Station.
Now and then his wife suggests they buy a villa down by Isefjord, but he prefers sea air.
They live in the first row, close to the Coast Hospital, and have lived there for twenty-nine years.
In the early days, he would browse articles in Medical Weekly or Politiken, but now he just stares out the window letting his thoughts wander.
The sun has yet to rise, but it’s slowly getting lighter.
He can see the cars out on Kalundborgvej.
He can see three windmills in a field of winter wheat.
He can’t see them, but he knows they’re there: Saltbæk Vig, Alleshave, and behind those, Vesterlyng with all the free-range cows and horses.
When he considers the afternoons he and the children rode their bikes out there, he feels that life has treated him well.
None of his children have become doctors.
He has his wife to thank for that.
She’s a high school teacher and very interested in modern art.
He doesn’t understand (or like) all of it, but they each own a sea kayak, and during the summer they make regular evening trips along the coast out toward the tip of Røsnæs.
He’s stopped smoking.
He’s thirty-six and a truck driver for a company in Svebølle.
He’s got three children and a wife who teaches at a daycare center.
She’s never smoked.
She’s badgered him for years—for the sake of the children, herself, him.
He’s not exactly sure where she got the idea, whether it was in a magazine or something the teachers discussed at the daycare center, but when she came to him and offered him sex every day for a month, he jumped at the opportunity.
Now he hasn’t smoked a cigarette for three weeks, and though he still has that craving in his gut, he doesn’t have the desire.
He doesn’t have any desire for sex, either.
His wife, on the other hand, appears to want to fulfill her end of the bargain with greater and greater zeal the more her plan seems to be working.
The world’s turned inside out.
He’s considering smoking again, but who says they’ll go back to once a week?
Maybe it’ll be every second week or every third?
“Next stop: Svebølle,” says a voice through the loudspeaker, and he glances at his watch.
The time is 7:20.
He’s got three hardboiled eggs in his bag, which he prepared during the night while his wife slept.
He once heard that they’re good for the libido.
She’s a part-time music teacher at a school in Mørkøv and the lead singer of the Kale and Burgers.
They play at silver anniversaries, birthday parties, street concerts, and port and city festivals—and they’ve been doing it for more than fifteen years now. The band stopped practicing long ago, and they only see each other during the week if they bump into each other in the supermarket or down at the Sea Cat.
She’s given up her dream of a record deal, but her daughter just got one.
The daughter lives in Copenhagen, and that’s part of the explanation.
Nothing ever happens in Kalundborg.
Her boyfriend—who is not the father of the girl—plays drums, but in another band.
He’s a shipwright and lives on the Reersø Peninsula.
They’ve discussed moving in together quite a bit, but can’t agree on where they should live.
It’s pretty on Reersø, but it’s a long way from everything.
From her apartment in Kalundborg she can at least watch the ferries come and go.
She can hear the train.
King’s Pub and the Sea Cat are nearby.
Through the years she’s come to resemble one of the refrains that people know how to sing along with: small and chubby with dark and curly hair.
It doesn’t bother her.
Her boyfriend likes having something to clutch onto.
He still stares hungrily at her breasts when she removes her blouse.
Simon Fruelund is the author of six books, including, in English, ‘Civil Twilight’ and ‘Milk & Other Stories’. His work has been translated into Italian, Swedish, and English, and his Pushcart-nominated short stories have appeared in a number of magazines across the U.S. His most recent novel is ‘Pendlerne’ (Commuters).
K.E. Semmel is a writer and translator whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, World Literature Today, ‘Best European Fiction 2011’, and elsewhere. His translations include Karin Fossum’s ‘The Caller’, Jussi Adler Olsen’s ‘The Absent One’, Erik Valeur’s ‘The Seventh Child’ and, forthcoming in 2015, Naja Marie Aidt’s ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’.
Editor’s Note: ‘Kalundborg 7:11’ is the first chapter from Simon Fruelund’s novel ‘Pendlerne’, and appears here with kind permission from the author, the translator and Gyldendal.