8. Recreation for a politician, successfully passing an election

Nature of the old school had entered a trade downswing, there was little to be done about it. Gorillas and tigers were on the verge of bankruptcy, rhinoceres, lesser white-fronted geese and californian condors would have to submit themselves to heavy-handed structure rationalisation. At the same time there were bright points: escaped parrots were establishing themselves in Metropolis and new queer fish were swimming in all waters. In due time these pioneers would be bound to divide up the market and niche themselves, nature would flourish anew.
Man was not entirely disengaged from this context, as Harry was well aware; that was where his soy beans came from. And there were objects which spoke to him, addressing him: sunrises, aged oaks, flying cranes, reminding him of old affinities. This in itself, the appeal of the natural objects, testified to an ongoing conversation with the universe. He could shut his eyes and still imagine this quiet exchange. If someone had thrown at him: A ship comes loaded with - Nature! He might have shut his eyes and have seen the parade of: sunrises, aged oaks, flying cranes. Or a place like the one surrounding him, the shore of a lake with trees growing all the way down to the water, a jetty, a rowing-boat. He might have imagined the ideal form of the funnel-shaped depression that encircled the lake. He might even have imagined something that was absent, lacking, some human creation, a complement. But above all he would have visualised that stable, preexisting form that went under the name of nature in the everyday supply of goods for consumption.
It wasn't about free associations, a flow of impressions, not where he was involved. The sun rose, followed some orbit across the sky, and set at a certain point of time, that could be predicted to the second. The cranes flew in a certain direction, with a certain purpose, you could follow their track to the edge of the wood and be certain that they would continue the course taken for a while after passing out of sight. A tree was crown, trunk and root, it stood where it stood; budded, turned green, blossomed, grew fruit, shed leaves. The set pieces of nature offered a degree of predictability that was pleasing, inspired a feeling of safety. And the sum of it all, landscape, was predictable in the same way, its perspectives were distinctly human, even its time-scale cyclical, repetitive. He went outside not to surprise the falcon in the act of striking, not to come across the ghost orchid in a glade, but for the sake of reunion. Stuck to his home ground there, too; to things he could think of as home and homeland.
He woke before dawn, brain full of prognoses and plans. He was the municipal councillor, the one who counselled in municipal affairs, sleeping was not an option on the first day of the new mandatory session, he had to be awake on behalf of the others.
A ship comes loaded with - Society! At first suggestions and pictures would mill in the hall, irresolute, society didn't speak itself as clearly or in the same way as nature, at least not in his experience. Society spoke with two tongues, three, four, the cleft tongue was its distinguishing mark. About society's time it could be said that it wore its way through the material, with ravenous appetite, offering surprise all the time. If you were careless, you might meet with old acquaintances there too, however, expose yourself to unpleasant reunions. (Society was the gravel-pit that had scarred the slope of the depression and now lay there deserted, with eroded walls, after the owner had fled the country, bringing all available funds with him. He was familiar with all turnabouts of the bankruptcy, the physical remains were poles in the flesh of the municipality.)
A ship comes loaded with - the mission of society! First thought: to level, bridge, reconciling interests. Covering up for the banking system when it had dropped a clanger. But more to the point: being there when temperatures fell below zero and it started snowing and blowing and two-hundred and fifty thousand souls were hit by power failure. By roundabout methods a possible physiognomy, describing the function of Society, stood out: it proffered its services as a diesel-fuelled power generator. Added: a unit distributing the power fair and square, for everyone to use according to need and receive according to ability. Society was there for the sake of weighing and measuring before distribution took place, it was the centre responsible for just distribution. (In addition there was a sideline: to tidy up after the negligent, you simply had to remove the stain over there by means of public funding.)
Comes loaded with - Nature's mission, purpose, meaning - no, that didn't take you anywhere, but maybe: destiny.
His thought orbited around some unknown attractor.
Nature didn't lay down purpose of its own, creating meaning was society's privilege. There was no levelling, bridging or straightening authority among cranes or oaks, at least he could not discern it. Everything went its own way, in a swarm of shapes and antagonisms, there was no concentration, no focus, nothing that could make purpose emerge. To his eyes everything in nature was divergence, and nature itself was divergence, lack of purpose, an alien country; known and well-known only if this central quality was considered.
A little boat comes loaded with politics.
With the meaning of politics, its task, its purpose.
Provided that wouldn't be too heavy for the boat. Or worse still: too little.
He had been confident about politics, youthfully confident, and later on in life this confidence was substantiated when he saw that political actions had results, in turn calling for new and more audacious objectives to be named and launched. Politics was the factory of the future. The so-called collapse of utopias hadn't influenced him in this aspect, in the end the outcome was merely one species of politics substituted for another, and the unearthly cuckoo's nest was a master at disguise, fond of masquerading. If anything, events like yesterday's had struck a rift in his foundations: the experience of dissent among his own voters, a dissent that had difficulty in finding its voice. All assemblies seemed to contract towards smaller units, in the end towards the individual body; citizens huddled up in a sort of autistic protest. The dissatisfied mind sought other roads than the broad one leading through parliament: narrow roads, stealthy paths, back streets.
All sounds were amplified in the parabola of the valley, resounding quite close to his focus; not even the smallest queak from the surrounding slopes escaped him.

Now, toy with the idea of Harry Jönsson fishing from a rowing-boat in a small lake (as a matter of fact it was little more than a duck pond) being a parable to his position in the world, his duties and the setting of these duties! And go on by raising the possibility, that Harry Jönsson on this particular morning was consciously staging the scene in order to attain some perspective on himself and his prospects. What profit could he extract from this amphitheatre?
This can be said of him with certainty: he didn't differ from other politicians in finding the ideas of most opponents absurd, their capacity minimal, their strength feeble. But what about the voter who turned his back on politics, should he be teamed up with the inferior opponents and drawn with horns and tail as well?
Here was a snag: the prevailing utopian construction put the verdict of voters on a pedestal, even when it thwarted some good idea. Or worse still: in the prevailing utopian construction the blind consumption of the mob could be the hearth on which major political attitudes were simmering; still it was his task to extort maximal function from this deplorable state of affairs. A contemptible idea, an insane project gaining majority support, or just major adherence, must be taken in real earnest. There was no way round it. At the same time: what would remain of politics if it was all about the launching of despicable notions, dangerous tendencies, if it courted lack of realism and refusal? Were you not bound to insist that certain ways of approaching the real world were more rewarding than others, didn't a few guiding stars outshine all others? The honourable way of politics had to involve - some choice.
No, no, he must not indulge in doubt and remorse, and he never did for long. After five minutes he rebuked himself: Enough is enough! There had been self-tormenting doubt among politicians in all time, still the world moved ahead. The Party had been active in the nation for one and a quarter centuries, for every single second of this historical eon it had been relegated to the dump of history by its opponents. And look: there it stood with a nice election outcome in its pocket, ready to hold in trust its own and the nation's assets for another four-year-period! The Party had rooted itself in the consciousness of the nation, and this must be bound up with some superior voicing of central needs and demands, period. The Party and The Nation were the High Couple, united in an eternal matrimony, that would only become stronger with time.
As long as you knew that you were shut in from all sides, with minimal space for manoeuvring.

On the bottom of the boat lay twelve perch, one pikeperch, one eel. The pikeperch would be roasted in an oven, served with chervil sauce and mashed potatoes. The eel could be smoked, the perch were destined for a stew.
The boat bumped into the jetty, he made it fast, hoisted the fish in a wide arc. Then he caught a glimpse of the car among the trees, noted the feeble glow from the headlights. He had forgotten to switch them off. He was surprised that he hadn't noticed or even thought about it when he left the car. In the early morning hour the fog had been so dense, that he probably wouldn't have seen the lights from the jetty, but he should have seen them as long as he was close to the car. In one stride he stood on the moist jetty and hurried up the trail. Both doors were locked. He unlocked, put the key in the ignition and turned it. The starter clicked, but it didn't turn.
The chagrin was hard to bear, to the extent that he felt almost nauseated. Nothing influenced him more strongly than having things cease functioning for him. The very thought of it affected him as much as thinking of his own death. He wanted the electric razor to start humming when he switched it on, wanted the water to come gushing at once when he turned on a tap. A light bulb going out, a fuse that was blown could provoke a rush of adrenaline, followed by extended, feverish irritation.
He wanted things to work for him, and for others as well. He always wanted to be able to take the short step from Cause to Effect. If he worshipped anything, then it was the driving force promptly converted into function.
Now he was obliged to seek assistance.
What was so bad about that? Humans lived for each other, didn't they?
There he stood, in the very middle of the world's fog, stranded, without light.
A ship comes loaded, with something that makes you lose your composure, Harry Jönsson. What kind of ship is that?
He had to look for help.

The woodland surrounding the lake was barely two kilometres wide. On one side of the lake the grounds were ditched and planted with larch, on the other elder and birch reigned over a realm that never knew chainsaw or ditching machine. The deserted gravel-pit lay at the transition from wood to farmland, as he was well aware; he had had official reason to study maps of the area. Where dense wood turned into pasture and fields there was also a cluster of buildings, a whitewashed dwelling-house with broken ridge, two byres, a red barn. He had driven by the place several times with his car. Humans had never been seen, but a furious spitz, occasionally rushing up the approach road, was evidence that the house was inhabited.
The whole settlement was marked by poverty of the kind that never renounces obsolete property, scattering it in ever wider circles, in case a use might be found for it in times still to come. The roofrack of a windowless Saab served as outlook for two wagtails, rusty haymakers stuck out their seats like fruiting bodies from the grass, the air was saturated by the stench from rotting straw bales. Bricks, broken and unbroken, tiles, hollow concrete blocks, reinforcement bars, a stack of glass panes for coldframes, empty oil drums, a tar kiln, large-mesh wire netting irreparably pierced by dewberry tendrils, a conveyor belt with rubber track, and a monster that must be the remnants from a locomotive steam-engine, a steam-tractor: all these things self-contained and still coherent markings of a territory of misery, worn out articles of everyday use, waiting for restoration or resurrection. By all likelihood the foundations in the waterlogged ground, that carried the buildings, consisted of older layers of the same solid state compost, dating back to time immemorial.
The spitz hadn't appeared, he was glad of that. He circled the buildings, looking for signs of life, came to the rear of one of the byres. Rustling of straw and subdued bleating revealed that it was occupied, by sheep or goats. He went on, turned another corner and found himself confronted with the reek from an enormous dunghill. Yellowish water leaked from its base, by way of a tiny furrow heading for the meadow behind the byres; the hill was definitely not designed and managed according to regulations. Running in that direction the leaking water would reach the lake, sooner or later, causing oxygen deficit and fish mortality before the summer was fargone.
Next he saw the woman. She was naked, her back turned to him and her legs parted, as if removing a diaphragm or wiping herself after urinating. She was stout, her flesh quivered with the movement and her hair fell over her shoulders when she bent herself.
He stopped as if some paralysing poison had reached his centre of motion. His visual sense took command, reining in and bridling his will. A wise man would have turned around and left as quietly as he got there, but first he wanted to see her turn around. Thoughts and imaginings crossed his mind, pushed by the throbbing pulse: American presidential candidates with their compromising skeletons in their cupboards, there might be a man in the house, in another moment he might come out and start a quarrel (he could be killed here because of a woman). She might make an outcry when she detected him and wake up people inside the house. He thought more, and imagined. Stood where he was, unmoving, wanted to see her turn around.
Death, woman, urge, and that close to the surface, all at once.
When she turned around at last, a shiver went through his body, as if some burden was at once more than he could carry. She was quite young, not more than twenty, her dark warts and her black triangle terrible signals. The fact that her face was so ugly was hard to stand; she looked like a troll, with coarse and bloated features. He met her gaze, she tossed her head, and the gesture spoke to him as clearly as words would have done: What are you staring at? This was unexpected, everything was unexpected, nothing went the way you could expect. She made no attempt at hiding her body, this fact turned the whole world upside down, he suddenly stood there feeling as if she was watching his nakedness through her screwed-up eyes. At once he felt unable to take any more; he turned on his heel and left with long strides, didn't reduce his pace until he was embraced by the protective wood.
The battery had recovered and the starter turned at once. The objects had changed their minds and were serving him again. He had reached the main road before he remembered the fish on the jetty. They would be prey for the crows, or the gulls, nothing in the world could make him turn back at this point, he just wanted to return to the place he thought of as and felt to be home.

The municipal councillor had consecrated a basement room to electrical trains, the tracks ran on four levels and were able to accommodate ten different trains at one time. The whole installation had been put together over a period of twenty years, in present money value it couldn't be procured for less than the annual income of an industrial worker. The keys to the room were well guarded, the children were allowed in only in his company.
Once in a while he entered the basement room on his own and locked himself in. From the outside the rest of the world could hear the slow overture when a single engine checked that the tracks were clear, next the rising rattle when train after train evacuated engine houses and sidetracks, finally the crescendo when everything mobile was contributing to his railroad symphony. Afterwards he appeared from his den, smooth-faced, relaxed and available. Ruth called the room "The Holy of Holies", regarding it as a reserve for a kind of irrational behaviour in demand amongst men, not women and children.
The stations were the jewels in the crown. He went to great trouble to have lifelike fronts and lighting on all buildings, they were the subjects of this vast, complex organization, and trains were the messages, passing from mouth to mouth. For some reason his compassion was for the whitewashed buildings, firmly rooted in the overall system of movement and permutation: junctions of the time table, semaphoring, blocking, shunting and sending away, but coming to naught when disconnected from their original context. Their value, their justification was situated outside themselves. Without trains they would fall into decay, or have new functions, as he could see happening everywhere in the real landscape, reproduced in his own panorama. Maybe it was this serfdom on the part of the stations, this slavery under function, that he made up for by entering the holy of the holies and letting all trains circulate at the same time.
(Second act of the morning's performance, time to drop the curtain).
Then, suddenly the actor on the stage was pulled into an event without manuscript or synopsis or time table, a scene that still seemed to contain repetition, and touched the self in an immediate way. A picture, carved in stone, or maybe covering some older picture of its own kind. Should he tell Ruth? He made a point of confiding in her, sometimes confessed some trivial glance, a secret reaction, when he felt that the boundaries were closing. But how about this morning's event? He might be well-advised to wait and mull over the whole thing, turn and twist his internal picture. Not even Jenny would do, in their eternal twin's fight she wouldn't miss the point, if there was one.
There was a knock on the door. He opened, Ruth stood outside in her dressing-gown.
'I heard you were up. Do you want some breakfast?'
'I will come at once.'
'Weren't you going to fish?'
'I went there. A mink had been at it and pulled the line into the reeds. I didn't want to deal with the mess, felt like returning home.'
She clicked her tongue and frowned a little: 'Does that mean the end of the fishing?'
'I will tell the gamekeeper to put out a trap or two. It's a passing disturbance, there is a remedy.'
The dungheap runoff running into the lake was a problem of quite another magnitude.
'Do you really want breakfast? Maybe you would rather go back to bed and try to get a couple of hours' extra sleep.'
Her way of leaning against the door-post made him think that she was naked beneath the gown.
'No, it won't work if i try to fall asleep now. I will be with you in five minutes, just going to restore order here first.'
'Harry, I forgot one thing yesterday. An elderly man, who said he had been your teacher was here, he wanted you to give a talk.'
'Anton Hellberg.'
'The person in question.'
Harry sighed. 'Hellberg... I've told you about him. He was the light of my school years. I'm under a sort of obligation to him. Still my flesh crawls when I have to deal with him nowadays. Isn't it terrible: the way people can change key signatures?'
'It happens.'
'But in this case it's particularly bad, since he is a sort of martyr for public education in an environment where most people are totally negative about his project. In such cases it is particularly important not to let him down, you feel like a traitor if you do.'
'He was thinking of the subject "From darkness we rise towards light".'
'Ho! Typical of him, of his idealist petrification. Do you see: if I were to do justice to such a subject it ought to be inverted: "From light we fall towards darkness". I might be able to add a few points worth considering to that topic, it would shed some light on the pronounced wish to travel in the opposite direction.'
'Can I tell him that you will do it? If he returns.'
'Of course I will. The ghosts of the past can always count on me, I am their most dependable supporter.'
'With grumbling and sour grimaces.'
'Oh yes, it's part of this talking business.'
Harry swung his head in confirmation, he would go back to his roots and give a talk, or he wouldn't. There was still an aspect or two advising against this task.

Here, where Harry Jönsson exits from his Holy of Holies in order to exchange words with his life companion, a warning and clarification is called for. In Harry's age and Harry's neighbourhood there was a widespread notion that words mirrored the soul and were the storm-petrels of action; anyone who overheard an exchange of words expected to be able to see through designs and anticipate coming action. The way you did in the television series, where villains stepped aside and muttered words in their palms before intervening with treacherous and deceitful motives. This breakthrough for inner monologue had paved the way for a firm belief in the importance of words: if you paid enough attention to the secret mumbling, you had some chance of understanding what was going on in the sidescenes.
Luckily, any experienced politician became immunised to such a childlike faith at an early stage of his career; knowing from dearly-bought experience how the seemingly most innocent commitment could counteract its intention. If he, to give a hypothetical example, had pledged himself politically at any point of time for reduced exploitation of popular food fish X, he would probably have experienced immediately how his action released an avalanche, including doubled trawler tonnage, four-doubled catching quotas and, in time, complete extinction of species X. In addition, ruthless exploitation began the very minute designs for conservation were announced, whilst political intervention always called for a certain amount of preparation. The mills of the world ground their flour this way, and their governing equations were completely invisible, with innumerable parts and unknowns. The only thing to be achieved by opening one's mouth was unnecessary and grievous defeat. This was the reason why sapient and experienced people did not commit themselves unnecessarily; promises, declarations of intent, threats were not even whispered in palms if it could be avoided.
Summing up: Harry hadn't committed himself to give a lecture, and no one could know for sure if he intended to. A commitment or a declaration of intent was little more than vibrations, carried by air, as empty of substance as a poltergeist or the invisible benefactor of a Hollywood film. Next, it was up to the counterpart to mark them, make them appear, and all tricks were permitted: tar and feathers well-known and tested remedies, the modern mind spraying with glue and showering with confetti. Harry had shown his outline, held out his surface, and Ruth had attached a feather to it, in order to know his position, approximately, the next move was up to Anton Hellberg, if he wanted a lecture.

For similar reasons modern people didn't volunteer personal information; the smallest detail could be picked up and abused by deft fraudsters. A citizen concerned with his safety and integrity no longer appeared in Who is who?, biographic invisibility joined doorchain and burglar alarm to build a firewall of everyday life. In no time a forced and somewhat desperate anonymity had established itself as a common virtue, and Harry and Ruth were no exception, moving with the current, chopping and destroying all account statements. On the whole an unpleasant, warlike state of preparedness, in turn paving the way for a sort of median blueprints, templates that were produced and printed in the local paper prior to even birthdays and after sudden deaths. Waffle cones, turned upside down, possible to press down on anybody's head. Ruth had one for her fourtieth birthday, making a secret of the fact that there was a shift of tracks in her past; at once she realised that this was the secret and somewhat shameful content of her biography. The fact of the matter was that she had been registered at the university for six years, started on her doctoral thesis and suddenly abandoned the whole thing. Without explanation, without slamming doors, accusing or making excuses. Thinking back on that period she remembered it as a painful adaptation, a continuous fight under conditions questioning, pushing, squeezing her. For six years she had felt like a submarine being pressure-tested before delivery, until one day she wriggled herself free from the grip of the system, surfaced and pulled a deep breath. It was like being reborn. The academy had been too unproductive, suffocating the spirit in its ritual idling. She quickly applied for vocational training and later on was employed by the social insurance service. Her road to responsible posts had been staked out.
These days, psychology, Nordic languages and literature passed in review before her in most particular versions, wrapped up in brown envelopes, with windows for addresses. Still she did not perceive the academic years as a waste of time in the new environment. As a matter of fact the perspective they gave her on verbal expressions of human distress, sickness, passivity and deceit was her strong point. She had a sense for shades. In a computerised environment she was unique.
Her alliance with Harry had caused raised eyebrows. She, a fighting spirit, one of the radical feminists of the university - had picked up something as trivial as an ombudsman, a person besides known as a political bulldozer! After some time - and with some pains, dualities were always a bit messy - those around them succeeded in turning an explanatory cone over this form as well; their alliance was kept together by one single, strong bolt, brought by both into the household: a devotion to the calm waters of harmony and a great talent for building and maintaining harmonic systems in practice. Ruth and Harry solved their conflicts (if there were any, no one knew for sure) between themselves and appeared in public with a united front. People around them sighed: here we are with our public squabbles, our open fights, our infidelities, the least secret of all, under eternal gale warning - and then there is a couple like Ruth and Harry. The national model, the party line, realised in matrimony - Harry might have used such an expression in audiences where a bit of rhetorics was called for. As a matter of fact he never did anything of the sort, some vague superstition made him maintain a wall of silence. Praising one's own harmony smacked of self-praise, poor cousin of hubris; that might awaken the gods, call down the wrath of the Olympus. Here was a new reason to hold one's tongue, not running risks with unknown, superior levels.
So, what could be said with certainty of harmony, the Jönssonian version, the national version and the ambiguous fusion between the two? It would be wrong and spiteful (but still in some sense true) to maintain that the nation was holding its breath while waiting for Jönssonian harmony to break down any minute, revealing its true nature: not A, but when it came to it: B. No more than the same nation was expecting one of its celebrated national teams to yield to a third-rate nation and allow five scorings in the first period. Still the latter event occurred at intervals, and there was a commonly accepted moral to it: the higher they go, the harder they fall. Under such times of national crisis Ruth's and Harry's entourage might venture the thought: Those two probably know the roller coaster as well as we do. But next day the national team pulled itself together and delivered a heroic game, and the neighbours (or maybe it was the whole nation) instantly sighed: If only we could have it like Ruth and Harry.
By this we are back to the original difficulty - nothing is known for sure - but this time we will venture a flat statement: Ruth's and Harry's true life was hidden behind its harmonic idol projection on the surface of their society. And they knew this, knew that their position was exposed, knew that some infamous, self-inflicted ideology had placed them in a perpetual cliffhanger, and they instinctively understood that they had to adopt the precision of movement of mountainclimbers if they were going to survive. From mere instinct of self-preservation no human being, no couple, no community should accept having such a label hung around its neck, and at one point Ruth and Harry had tried to stop adding fuel to the harmony fire. Don't give me that, Harry would say, sometimes we fly at each other, striking sparks. Ruth defended herself more ambiguously, it could be called womanly: You should see us at times, I'll say no more. All in vain, all too late. Lasting for a week or two, but never more than a short pulling together, an Ardennes offensive; after a while all counterattacks stuck in mud. Society wanted its idols, needed them badly, and it took them by force where they didn't volunteer.
Finally Harry waved a white flag: 'It can't be cured, so it must be endured. Society is permanently hidden behind its idol projection before our eyes. You don't even know where to apply if you want to change your address.'
That was a nice scholastic trick, turning the problem upside down and easing the pressure on individual minds. Uttered by a noted municipal politician it bordered on treason, however: a member of this caste shouldn't speak that way, even if he spoke straight from the heart.
Ruth corrected him gently, thereby turning the problem back on its feet: 'At least you know your own heart, and that way yourself.'
Harry was not stuck for an answer, he never was: 'Every heart knows how much it appreciates organised and settled living conditions. The individual as well as the social heart.'
It sounded like the ending line of some election meeting, intended to bring refractory voters back to order. Ruth nodded and made the sign of the cross, she knew what it was like when Per-Albin pulled the grindstone.

The harmonic guiding star didn't imply petrification; winds still blew inwards or outwards from their centre, and at times one or other of them hoisted gale warning. No heart had ceased beating. Ruth didn't tolerate men arranging their lives with degrees of freedom that weren't accessible to women, and she fought for her convictions within a territory of several hundred hectares, had this thing very much at heart. In the office, in the neighbouring families, wherever it was called for, she would strike like a hawk at unequal and unjust arrangements. Men looked askance at her when confronted with this crusader quality, thinking in secret: what good does academic studies do for women other than putting fads in their sweet little heads?
To Harry everything wasn't equally self-evident. The traditional man's role could be comfortable at times, and as an elected representative he wasn't entirely unsympathetic to the thought of drawing on a woman, who sacrificed herself a little for the daily ground services, the same way a successful hockey player or car dealer might do. The matter was complicated by the fact that he had committed himself to an enterprise which, with some veiled expression, endeavoured to make the scales of society weigh less unevenly. This commitment had at least some theoretical ambition where gender was involved, and he couldn't duck out on that point, not with intact self-respect.
One single term decided the outcome of the equation: his respect for other subjects with strong convictions and delimited goals. He most definitely preferred a woman, who had her own views and fought for them, ahead of one who suited him in everything. He was sick of half measures, had seen too much hidden oppression and its results in the long run. The first time Ruth pulled a long face and darkened he sat down and thought things over, after that he complied with her central wishes. This was the birth of Ruth and Harry's harmonic system. Noting how he could change politics overnight without batting an eyelid, she immediately made up her mind and asked him to marry her. Nothing was easy for him in what followed, but he had laid the foundation of something that he valued highly: an attempt at reciprocity.
If difficulties still arose in the harmonic system, they had their origin in things left unsaid. Ruth was a speaking being, she leaned on the word and valued the ability of other humans to communicate with words. Harry also had the gift of speech, he could address an assembly, be witty and brilliant at a dinner table, give words to emotions over a grave. But half of his communication took place by way of gestures, demeanour and facial expressions, including pause and silence as much as airborne vibrations. He didn't trust the words, and as a matter of fact this feeling was shared by many around him. When it came to it he was better at listening and feeling than at talking, he was a human sensor. This way of being she found primitive and retarded and she confronted it where she could. But it was like fighting windmills; the dumb complied with her wishes for the moment, but evaded her and returned to their time-honoured ways at the first opportunity. Childish manners, she thought, tiring and strenuous, a way of putting the other party in a position where she was expected to hold back, wait for signs.
The limits of her influence over him lay there. He knew his feelings on that point, but was unable to speak them. When Harry hoisted a gale warning he was surrounded by dead silence; an uninformed observer might be tempted to believe that the wind had died altogether.

The municipal councillor had left, on the first day of the new mandate. She herself had taken a day off in order to be with her sister-in-law, but Jenny hadn't returned home, had spent the night somewhere else. Ruth wasn't worried by that, Jenny could take care of herself, she would show up sooner or later.
When she poured fresh water into the coffee maker a fuse blew and the lights went out in the kitchen. She went to the Holy of Holies, where the fuse cupboard was situated. On the tracks, in front of a station, Harry had left a lonesome engine out. He never abused order that way; engines were stowed in engine houses, carriages neatly lined up in rows in the depots. He was so orderly. She took up the thing, weighed it in her palm. It was heavy, if it was a message it was a message of some weight.
It had seemed so deserted where it stood.
Suddenly she had to repress a wish to throw it to the floor, demolish it against the hard concrete surface.
That would be, if anything, to violate decorum, break order, would be the hard and irreparable attack that was demanded by order itself.
She put it back on the tracks, gently, stroking its surface with the hem of her blouse, as if to wipe out the fingerprints of her impulse. Nobody spoke to her with locomotives, she had made that clear once and for all.

37 kB, last corrected 27.11.08.

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