To Siberia

To Siberia by Per Petterson Read Free Book Online

Book: To Siberia by Per Petterson Read Free Book Online
Authors: Per Petterson
Tags: Fiction, Literary
squints at me. At once I start to run, hit her with my shoulder, and knock her backward into a snowdrift. I give her a thorough ducking. She may be the headmaster’s daughter, but no one makes game of me. No one.
    There are several big houses on Rosevej. When my mother goes out for a walk that is where she often goes, down the road and back again, and I know what she is thinking. She’s thinking what a good life the people there enjoy. They must be happy. To live so well. Once we went out together, my day was aimless anyway, nothing but empty hours one after the other until darkness fell and my body getting in the way wherever I turn. We walked past one of the houses and looked into the yard. It was a big yard, and in the middle of the lawn a young girl sat in a wheelchair. It was summertime then, her face was in shadow and she wore a red dress with a ray of sunshine over her chest. My mother turned and said:
    “There, think of that. Better to be poor and able to walk than rich in a wheelchair.”
    But she is talking to herself. What I see is a girl without a face in a red dress, often at night when I’m asleep, and at first there is just darkness and then the red comes and spreads until it fills everything and I have to wake up or explode, but I do not dream of being rich. My mother does that, somewhere behind the place the hymns come from.
    “Why couldn’t he at least have given us a house,” she says when we hear Grandfather has not left us anything. The Aftenstjernen had taken its share and the house we live in is not our own but belongs to the Baptist church next door. My father is the janitor there. The only thing we own is the carpenter’s shop, and though it may be true that my father is the best joiner in town he is not the best at making money. He has so many acquaintances, the town is too small for a professional. They come in from Danmarksgate, across the yard where the cobblestones are slippery with ice and into the golden light from the lamp above the workbench, throwing shadows over the sawdust and wood shavings and the piles of moldings along the walls. They stand fingering well-used yellow-brown tools, keeping at a safe distance from the bandsaw in the middle of the floor, chatting about the times that have never been worse, and my father nods and asks after someone’s mother and has she recovered from breaking her thigh and is the son better now? It’s not often that things are better, and my father nods again, he knows how it is. When they have gone away they leave a dusty emptiness behind them, the air is stuffy and lifeless like the bottom of a purse, and my father gets to work on the cupboard or the chest and shapes up and remakes and polishes and rubs until the surfaces shine with the glow that is at the heart of all wood, shining without any varnish and with handles of finely carved bone. After a few days they come to fetch it, and then the piece stands there in the center of the floor as good as new, better than new, and I have searched for the word year after year, looked it up in books and thought and pondered and found substance. They bring a wreck and leave with substance, and they see it and look dumbfounded and praise my father until his ears flame. When they have gone he has charged them the same amount as last year and the year before that and the year before that again.
    In the evenings he sits at the living-room table gazing at the bills with his pencil in his right hand and the rationed cigar in his left. There is rent for the Baptists and coke for the stove and gas for the kitchen range and a new blade for the saw. There is Jesper to be confirmed. Jesper doesn’t want to be, but he must. He will have his first suit and the whole family will be invited. My father sits writing down numbers on paper, he only takes every other pull at his cigar. He should have had a house built of wood that would smell like the workshop from floor to ceiling and not of mold as it does here after the

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