2. A butterfly flapping its wings

Each day made it harder to persuade your self that it would come to terms with the world. Common sense was dwindling, all good intents pitifully cut down; anyone who pledged himself took the risk of staining his good name and repute. Even neutral and innocent support lent to non-combatants, like desert or rainforest, tended to run out in sand, go up in smoke. The active mind found itself trapped in a shameful intermediate position; there were no reliable levers on the outside, no safe core tower on the inside. The difficulties of intervention in turn made absolution a commodity in short supply for suffering consciences; growing was not only the despair of victims but the distress of the unaffected as well. This double want was more than could be endured. Efforts were called for, efforts to put things right, efforts at making existence bearable again. You simply had to do something.
Harry was covering his chin all over with foam, using brush and shaving soap: that was his personal contribution to an improved global economy. Suddenly he said to his image in the misty mirror: 'Soon we'll no longer know what to stick to.'
I feel pulled and torn in a thousand directions.
And the mirror-image answered, calmly and confidently (answering belonged to good manners): Well, we had better stick with the devil we know. Keep neutral. Hide our heads in the sand.
His was the grimace, he cut himself, his blood was running. He thought, with satisfaction: I cut myself, therefore I am.
The other was bleeding as well, he noted it with a sting of surprise.

Jenny was Harry's twin sister. She had been in a psychiatric clinic twice, as everyone was well aware. Came like a whirlwind through the entrance door, surrounded by an atmosphere of freshness and good spirits, that resisted even the odour of the mouldy house.
'The train was crammed,' she said, 'and opposite to me there was a mother holding a child. The compartment was as hot as a sauna, she was tired, and the kid was crying and making a fuss all the time, but she held him in a firm grip. As I was sitting there it struck me that a woman holding her child and waiting for her turn to enter the gas chambers must have looked much the same. I stood there, now hot, now cold, and suddenly I had to run to the toilet...'
'Air-conditioning of the new trains leaves much to be desired,' said Harry, not without an edge of blame, which he clarified by adding: 'You should resist when you have such visions.'
Her vision didn't fit in with the present time, didn't fit in with the present place. The precedent it referred to, or something similar, could not happen here, was not allowed to happen, this was a place Protected Against Evil. And maybe everything would come to a point where it hadn't happened somewhere else either. Common sense had tended to abandon the show, disappearing into the wings for long periods, that couldn't be denied, but if he had his way the Millennial Third Reich wouldn't even last for a thousand years in memory. At the same time he was worried, since his sister was part of it all. There always was a reason behind her visions, they were caused by a source hiding out there in the darkness, came about through some influence or other. The cause was in the world, he knew only too well. 'You have to try to look at things positively, and if reality doesn't hold up, at least you have to try to see how it could be positive. You in particular, Jenny.'
To himself he thought: Today people would be murdered in a much more effective way. Gas chambers are antiques, she doesn't understand that. Fashion-conscious exterminators would use neutron radiation, contact poisons. Next time we are in a real fix we will yearn for good old gas chambers.
'I'm sorry,' she muttered and touched his shoulder with tender hand. 'Some visions are scratched on wax, you know, gone next day, some are carved in stone. This was one of them ole stone carvings, the reason why I couldn't keep it to myself. Promise I'll produce something more edifying next time. Oh my, the councillor is getting grey hairs. Time to abdicate, or dye your hair, or you'll be sacrificed next midsummer and replaced by younger power. It takes so little to lose the game, a tiny change of colour, and you're done for! And he bleeds, look, he is made of flesh and blood!'
'I was cut by my mirror-image, that clot.'
She stroked the blood lightly with her finger, held it up as if pondering on it, nodded and confirmed: 'Thicker than water,' wiped it back, with more force than before, went to greet the children, embrace them, wrestle, chase and be chased. She had no children of her own, and he used to tell her: No man is mad enough to fancy you, Jenny.
He continued to think, in the vacuum created by her leaving the room: you had to try to see the positive. Reality was least of all positive, but with some good will you could make the balance of your mind tilt over, that was a start anyway, the first step on a laborious road.
She re-entered the kitchen, there was something unregulated about her being, her position could never be predicted to the exact point.
'Lars is nearly an adult, so full of secrets, ambiguous, evasive!'
'If that is what it means to be an adult,' Harry muttered in reply. 'I could think of adulthood as: clarity, openness, approachability.'
'And the 444 is still there! When are you going to fix it? It needs a face-lift.'
'There's no time. I don't have five minutes for my own projects.'
'Then sell it for scrap.'
'For scrap! Who sells the national regalia for scrap?'
'No, I think that has been taken off the agenda...' She changed her tone. 'I suppose you are going to recruit souls for that party all week. If you need some support, I can help handing out leaflets on Sunday.'
'Ah, we have hands enough. But of course, if you help you'll be invited to the party. I'll fix an hour for you.'
'You mustn't cheat me out of that! To be swung in a dance with two firm worker's hands around your waist!'
She rolled her eyes to heaven and took a few waltz steps.
'I don't want to disappoint you in advance, but I think you are more likely to feel bureaucrat's hands.'
'Huh! Do you not have proper workers in the cadres any longer?'
'I think you had better investigate how things stand for yourself.'
'Do you have a safety net, Harry, if the voters want to get rid of you?'
'The probability of that is negligible. In rare cases, if the worst comes to the worst, voters may recommend that we devote three or four years to reflection and self-criticism, but never more than that: the nation would collapse. This is purely the national instinct for self-preservation: the state, that's us.'
'Look at him, the expression on his face when he is saying a thing like that!'
Ruth entered the kitchen, let go of her shopping bags and hurled herself into the arms of her sister-in-law.
'I heard you from a distance!' She caught her breath, wiped her nose. 'The whole house was vibrating. I use to say to Harry that he cannot be that different from his sister, they're both chips off the same block. One day he is going to let off fireworks, that will put you in the shade, Jenny; the whole roof will lift!'
She giggled delightedly, Jenny tilted her head: 'I could reveal a thing or two from his wild years, if you're interested...'
'I am chastised by life,' Harry muttered, 'and besides I have to think of my solid reputation. There will be no fireworks before retirement, I can assure you of that.'
'Well, well, so much for that reputation,' said Ruth, hooking her arm through Jenny's and pulling her out of the kitchen.
Harry sighed, lifted the bags onto the table and began unpacking their contents. As he did so he noted price per kilo, packing date and other information that might be of use; you could keep yourself posted about the state of the world simply by sharing in the shopping. He frowned when he caught sight of the minced pork; Ruth had gone to the other side of town just in order to buy minced pork at nineteen ninety per kilo - and he had expressly ordered minced ham! Who could make eatable meatballs from that flabby sludge!
Just then, Ruth appeared in the doorway. 'Damn, you got there before me! Well: there was no minced ham, so I bought a piece of whole ham for the do-it-yourself man.'
Harry's excavation had reached the ham. 'Excellent! Now there will be good meatballs, lots of meatballs and meatballs in season!'
'What he says is just trickery and cheating,' Jenny objected, addressing the children. 'They sell minced pork that is better than minced ham and minced ham that is inferior to the worst of minced pork. There is a continuum of minced meat and not three peaks: minced pork, minced ham, minced beef, and he damn well knows it. Besides a good cook should be capable of making tasty meatballs from all kinds of minced meat.'
'Not true,' replied Harry, 'there are precise stipulations about what is to be contained in minced meat, therefore they are three and only three, like the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And when it comes to meatballs you know what they say: the proof of the pudding is in the eating. I will make a small batch of porkballs for Jenny - and don't forget to study her expression when she is chewing them, while we enjoy meatballs made from minced ham, meatballs that have a touch of the sacred spirit of cooking.'
'Blasphemy, blasphemy,' Jenny countered. 'And phosphates, mark my word: he is saying nothing about phosphates.'
'Everybody makes meatballs from minced pork,' Ruth objected. 'And isn't the National Meatball made from minced pork?'
'That's because little Grandma was saving her coppers by buying the cheapest mince, after that the whole clan got used to the taste. But the true meatball, in some near future defined by Swedish Gastronomic Standard, SGS, is based on minced ham, with allspice as the crucial seasoning.'
Such jokes were another kind of blasphemy, they touched upon serious things and emerged easily from him.
'But initially it was a question of pocket, of class,' he went on. 'Minced pork for the masses, straight from the mincer, minced beef for the wealthy. That's why the Party line is: the golden course of minced ham for all, we will fight raw minced pork till our last breath.'
'And sugar snap peas!' Jenny crowed, clapping her hands, but then she continued, shaking her head and pointing an accusing finger at him: 'No no, the witness is lying there.' This time Harry chose to bow and hold his tongue. You took your share from the one-armed bandit of existence, and to most people that meant minced pork and nothing else. And they didn't expect that politics could find a remedy for this state of things, the contemporary deadlock in the bog of Granny's historical minced pork.
'Mam is telling the truth, Aunt Jenny, the house trembles when you get going. It's smashing. You should live here all the time.'
'Oh my, you would soon have enough of me! A house that trembled, day and night, think of that! No human being would put up with that, in particular not Harry. A tiny, butterfly flap once in a while, but not a house constantly rocking the seismograph in Uppsala.'
Harry nodded meditatively but in definite confirmation. He confined himself to adding: 'You should never underestimate the possible effects of butterfly flaps, they may overturn large loads. I didn't invent that, look up the reference book for yourselves.'

This way of approaching Harry Jönsson; in front of his shaving mirror, or head buried in the shopping bags in the kitchen, may seem trivial, disrespectful, intrusive. But no disrespect is intended, and if the approach is questioned in spite of this, it could refer to a precedent that permeated all esteemed expression in Harry's own time: everywhere some invisible editor tried to extract the commonplace, already-known content from people and events, and the whole thing was done with the best of intentions. Promoted in this way, triviality turned out to have an unexpected potential, it was expansive, one is tempted to say: hegemonic; each and every day its interpretors uncovered some new and unexpected facet. So, a certain degree of acceptance might be expected from most objects of interrogation on this point, and even some complicity in the search for points with desirable, modern-repetitious content. (At the same time the rejection of minced pork hoists a warning flag; a man who speaks such harsh words of minced matter is not entirely of his time).
'Here we have meatballs, Mum's and Dad's meatballs,' the councillor declared, pointing. 'And here we have porkballs, or rather the meatballs of 'Beelzebub' or the Great Satan.'
Jenny answered with an indulgent smile: 'It doesn't sound quite kosher when you put things like that, but I'm going to taste both sides. Then I'll tell you exactly what you want to hear: never anything but minced ham as far as I am concerned.'
'Beware,' Ruth said, 'and don't trust him. I think he wants to test us. Let me taste first, he can't fool me.'
'No, no, no,' said Harry and shook his head, 'no cleft tongue on this dish. If I say 'A', then A is on the dish. If I say 'B', then B is on the dish. Porkballs on this side and Dad's meatballs on that side. Bon appetit!'

16 kB, last corrections 19.1.07, 27.11.08.

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