WHETHER SKIING woodland trails, or hiking mountain ranges, Aunt Helga knew nothing if not to be the centre of attraction. For her it was the most natural place in the world. No sooner did she sprain an ankle, than a handsome stranger would pop up from behind a rock, or emerge from behind a tree. It was almost as though they lay in wait for her to chance by, just to lend a broad shoulder for her to lean on. Should she get lost down a maze of dark alleys in some far-off city, a chivalrous soul would soon materialise out of nothing and rush to her side. Conveniently armed with a handy map, he would offer to guide her back to her hotel, even when it meant going miles out of his way. If she dropped an earring, or key, in the middle of nowhere, some passing boy scout would surely appear, sink to his knees, and scrabble round in the mud, only for her to discover the missing item had been in her bag all along. And when she laughed at her own silliness the poor lovelorn never failed to laugh with her, despite his muddied trousers. With Aunt Helga life was one long adventure. She couldn’t help but steal the limelight. The moment she floated into a room all eyes would swivel in her direction. Men and boys alike, fell for her in droves. Yet she seemed totally oblivious to all.
Realising there was little point in trying to compete, women resigned themselves to basking in her shadow. To bathe in those faint rays of reflected glory was compensation enough. Far better to win her friendship than risk becoming an outcast. Besides, she was tremendously likeable, almost impossible to dislike. She was such fun to be with, so exciting.
There’s an old photo of her on the desk in my study. Straw blonde, eyes as blue as summer skies, beautiful in typical Nordic fashion. My mother stands next to her, smaller by almost a head. Yet to grow out of puppy-fat years, she looks a little plump. A similar picture hangs in the hall of my grandparents’ farmhouse outside Trondheim. Laughing country girls in flowery cotton frocks. Short socks and sandals. Hair falling in softly-permed waves. Rural Norway, 1962. From my mother’s dark tresses, and deep brown eyes, you could think they weren’t related. Two years separated them, Aunt Helga being the elder. Such blissful smiles. A perfect study in youthful innocence. But, like photos of victims in newspapers, viewed in retrospect, unforeseen tragedy was always there.
I’ve no actual memory of either of my mother or my father. Both died in a road accident while driving to my grandparents’ farmstead one Christmas Eve. The photo doesn’t predict that exactly. I was barely two years old. Roads even icier than usual, our car skidded out of control before plunging into a ravine. According to newspaper reports, that is. I can’t remember a thing. Plucked out alive, none the worse for wear, grandmother says. My images of my parents are composed from photos in family albums and tales grandmother tells me.
Endless looking at the photo tells me, while my mother remained petite, Aunt Helga grew from a straggly beanpole into a voluptuous woman. Mother looks very pretty in the photo. Though I know my wife will hate me for saying it, I think they look rather alike.
Aunt Helga is a little stooped these days. She walks with a stick since the premature stroke. But you can still see how straight and tall she was. It’s in her bearing. Some say the stroke was the result of an acrimonious divorce. Others put it down to the drink. In all probability they were inextricably intertwined. These things normally are. Though her hair has turned white, her eyes are still as blue as ever; her legs still long and slender. But the waist that arced so curvaceously has filled out. The breasts, once full and rounded, hang like tired balloons half-inflated with water.
After the accident I went to live on my grandparents’ farm. Though Uncle Ketil and Aunt Helga lived in Trondhiem they kept a weekend cottage on the other side of the valley. Whenever they were there they would pay us a visit.
Uncle Ketil worked as a travelling salesman for a large American publishing company, while Aunt Helga helped out at a kindergarten. They were childless for reasons they never went into with me. It never crossed my mind to ask. Even now I don’t really know. Fact is, it never even occurred to me they were childless. I suppose I was too young. It was how they were. Kids don’t think like that. But thinking now, it must’ve been the reason for her having such a soft spot for me. My little Lars, she would call me huskily. How I wished I could’ve gone to live with them instead of my grandparents. But I had to content myself seeing Aunt Helga the occasional weekend and on feast days.
Those feast days. At parties she was never without an invitation to dance. Men would queue to take her hand. No primadonna, Aunt Helga would dance with all-comers till fit to drop. At which point, collapsing onto the nearest sofa in a heap of exhausted giggles, she would protest: “One more dance and I will surely die.”
If Uncle Ketil noticed all the attention, he never let on. He’d stand in a corner by the drinks table with a male friend or two, glass in hand, laughing and joking about past hunting and fishing trips.
Yet there was always one last dance left in her. As the music slowed, and the party began to draw to a close, my beautiful aunt would glide across the room in Uncle Ketil’s direction, misty-eyed. Clamping her hands behind his neck she’d draw him to the dance floor. Cheek to cheek they’d float on a carpet of air in a world of their own, long after the music had ceased. I’d gaze at them longingly from the other side of the room, unseen. Even though she was my aunt, I was no different from the others. I had been besotted with her since she first dangled me from her knee. Such memories.
It was my twelfth birthday. Grandmother had arranged a party for a few school friends and I. We were just about to tuck in as the door flew open. Aunt Helga blew in like a summer storm, charged with electric allure and a hint of imminent danger. Forkfuls of cream cake and spoonfuls of jelly paused between plate and mouth as childish babble ceased in one collective intake of breath. The whole room fell into silent adoration. Birthday momentarily forgotten, my schoolmates and I beheld the delicious vision of loveliness before our popping eyes. She wore a flimsy chiffon frock, through which, a faint silhouette of seductive female form could be discerned. Lifelong friendships turned to enmity as she strode up and planted a kiss on my cheek. I blushed scarlet with a mixture of pride and embarrassment.
As a special birthday treat, she announced she was taking me to Spain the following month. It was high time I had a foreign experience; high time I learned about the world that lay beyond the shores of Norway. In that way I became her chosen companion on a holiday to the seaside resort of Santa Catalina. My first trip abroad. I couldn’t have wished for a finer birthday surprise.
Better still, Uncle Ketil wouldn’t be joining us. Even though his work often kept them apart for days on end they nearly always took their holidays separately. She went abroad, either alone or with a girlfriend, and he went fishing with a pal or two on the fjords. Or hunting in the mountains. He insisted nobody need leave Norway to have a good time as we had all we could wish for right on our doorstep.
That night my imagination raced into overdrive. Aunt Helga had been prey to my juvenile sexual fantasies long before her announcement. The prospect of us spending fourteen days together was almost overwhelming.
From then on I couldn’t help picturing us lying side by side on a Spanish beach. She in her bikini, me in the pair of bright red swimming trunks I set my heart on in the window of a Trondheim store. I had visions of her coming into my bedroom at night to initiate me in the rites of lovemaking. I could almost feel her soft wet lips on my mouth as I kissed my pillow make-believing it was she. It was around that time my grandmother started making roundabout references to the state of my pyjamas and sheets each morning when she made my bed.
She must’ve said something to grandfather. For one day, taking me aside, he started muttering something about strange feelings boys experience when they get to my age. He kept making nervous little coughing noises. Said the feelings were nothing to worry about; they were only natural. But they did have to be kept under control. At first, I hadn’t the faintest idea what he was bumbling on about. When it finally dawned on me, I felt the blood rush to my face. The feelings were a special gift from God, he struggled on, and had to be respected as such. I blustered I had some homework to do, but he wouldn’t stop. If a boy gave into them all the time, he risked becoming a lifelong servant of the devil, he said. Then, putting his arm round my shoulders, he gave me a reassuring hug, and suggested it might not be a bad idea if I started going to church again. I had stopped some months previously to teach God a lesson, after having trouble reconciling his munificence with the premature death of my parents. He and grandma would be going as usual the coming Sunday, and they would consider it an honour if I went with them. I didn’t have to, but praying often gave us extra strength in times of need. I went, of course.
Yet, even with my grandparents’ knowledge of the satanic rituals I was practising under the bedclothes, I couldn’t prevent myself continuing to take the risk of becoming the devil’s lifelong servant. However, the moral dilemma posed by the incestuous nature of my fantasies started to cause me tremendous guilt.
Nevertheless, no sooner had Grandpa and Grandma waved their goodbyes at Trondheim airport, than I slipped a hand into Aunt Helga’s, the way I thought a lover might. Gripping it tightly, she smiled down at me. We boarded the plane hand in hand. She gripped it even tighter as the plane took off. I gazed lovingly across to see her eyes firmly closed in bliss. At last, we were heading for the heaven of my imagination. One long fortnight. Fourteen whole days.
Santa Catalina sits at one end of a gently sweeping bay on the Atlantic coast of Andalucia. Viewed from the beach, it appears in the distance as an untidy pile of white cardboard boxes of varying sizes with tiny rectangles pencilled in for windows.
We stayed at a little flat on two upper floors overlooking a courtyard nestling in one of the many narrow streets of the old part of town. The dwellings so close you could hear the smallest noise the families in the other flats and houses made. Clanking pots and pans, gurgling babies and whimpering toddlers; radios and TVs blaring; voices singing, whispering, laughing and shouting. All hours of the day and well into the night. I liked that. It was such a change from the world I was used to. Apart from the sounds the animals made, my grandparents’ farmhouse was always so quiet. This was like being part of a great big, noisy family, something I’d never known.
Our bedrooms were next to each other, with our beds abutting either side of the same wall. I could scarcely conceal my joy at the arrangement. It was almost like being in the same bed. Apart from the wall.
As soon as I’d unpacked, and before we had a chance to settle in, my excitement took over. Dropping the aunt bit, I asked ‘Helga’ if it was all right if I went for a walk down to the seafront. To my mind we were adults and adults had no need for childish handles or formalities. If she noticed the omission, she didn’t mention it. She told me it was my holiday and I could do exactly as I pleased. How I loved to hear it.
Right by the beach, a huge red and white striped marquee was being erected. Just like the one I remembered from an illustrated storybook Aunt Helga gave me one Christmas. A Big Top. A circus was in town. I could hardly believe our luck. Gangs of shouting men paraded round with metal poles and rigging. A pair of jugglers rehearsed in a barely-formed ring. Lorries and caravans everywhere. There were half-dressed clowns tumbling about. Coloured lights being strung up by men the size of children on high ladders. I spotted two large, brightly-painted trailers standing near the roadside, a little way off. The first was divided into cages. Five in all, each housing one big cat or more. There was a lion, four lionesses, a tiger, a pair of spotted leopards, and four lion cubs. Two of which, looked scarcely a few weeks old. The second trailer housed a huge Indian elephant. After half an hour wandering about gazing in awe, I ran back to the courtyard to tell Helga.
“Aunt Helga!” I shouted, reverting to the childish form of address in my excitement, as I burst through the door, “There’s a circus in town! I’ve just seen it! There’s a Big Top. And lions, and tigers, and clowns, and everything. They’ve even got an elephant, and tiny men that look like dwarves!” Aunt Helga sat before a mirror, towel wrapped round her head, drying her long, blonde hair. She stopped, and stared at the floor.
“A circus with animals?” she asked. I nodded, my face beaming. “I can’t believe it,” she said
“It’s true!” I said.
“Fa’en!” she cursed, and started drying her hair more vigorously again. “And I thought we’d seen the last of those in Europe. My God! That’s typical of the Spanish. They’re so kind to children, but animals, animals, well, they, they… they treat them like animals.” I stood in my tracks. “What with bullfighting and, and… and now you tell me this. Poor creatures. It shouldn’t be allowed. It shouldn’t. Someone has to stop it.” She seemed to have forgotten the book she’d given me as a child. A tale of a little boy running away from home to join the circus. I still had it. It was one of my most treasured possessions. I’d wanted her to get as excited as I was and offer to take me. Now I knew she wouldn’t.
“Yes,” I agreed in as convincing like manner as I could muster, adding: “And the lions are kept in cages with hardly enough room to move.” Barely able to contain my disappointment, I watched her pause from rubbing her hair a second time. She looked up, her eyes suddenly alight. Maybe she’d changed her mind.
“I have an idea,” she said. “We can try to stop it. We can make some placards and form a picket.” No! God, no! That was the last thing I wanted. Not one of Aunt Helga’s demonstrations. Not with everybody looking. The last one she dragged me along to was bad enough. A protest against whale hunting. In Norway, nobody outside Oslo opposes whale hunting. It’s not patriotic. I only opposed it because Aunt Helga did. If you don’t agree with it, you keep your mouth shut. The further north you go the more impolite it’s considered to talk about it. Up there, whales are hardly ever mentioned. Unless they’re on the menu. We were the only two that turned up. I’ve never been so embarrassed in all my life. Especially, when a couple of friends from school came by purely to snigger. No, I’d have to refuse to go on a picket. I stammered something about it being rather hot to stand around in the sun all day. And what with the circus people looking a rough lot, they might not appreciate a couple of foreigners demonstrating against their craft.
“You might be right,” Aunt Helga conceded. “It is their country, after all. And we are on holiday. We’ll just have to put it from our minds, this time. We won’t let them spoil things. So let’s not mention it again, eh? Let’s just pretend it isn’t there.” Thank God I hadn’t blurted out it was an Italian circus, for they were just as foreign as us.
After that, I sneaked off to the animal trailers whenever I could. If I wasn’t going to watch them in the ring I would see them in their cages.
Aunt Helga had a point. They looked bored stiff confined to such small spaces. When they weren’t lying down staring morosely through bars, the big cats paced restlessly up and down their cages. Many of the Spaniards who came to see them seemed to do it simply to tease them. Some even poked sticks through the bars to taunt them. But the cats seemed used to it and took no notice. At times, I wished they would break out and maul their persecutors to death.
I felt particularly sad for the elephant. It was such a lonely-looking creature. Without enough room for even one step, whenever it got restless, it would sway its head and trunk from side to side. The trailer would heave so much I feared it might topple over. Beneath its unpenetrable eyes, dark stains ran down either side of its cheeks. My childish imagination deemed them elephant tears, from crying itself to sleep each night. Just as grandmother told me I’d done the first few months after my parents died. It tore her heart out to hear me.
With the circus out of the question there wasn’t an awful lot for a boy to do in Santa Catalina.
Each morning, Aunt Helga and I would head towards the beach after breakfast, before the sun got too hot. Our walk taking us right past the Big Top, where we kept our eyes fixed firmly front.
Her routine was always the same. At her chosen spot, she’d dump down her bag, kick off her sandals, roll out her towel, and spread it on the sand. Unfastening the zip to her slacks, she let them fall about her feet, before stepping out, picking them up and folding them carefully, making a neat little pile beside her towel. Sitting down, she’d peel off her T-shirt, fold it, and place it on top. Beneath her clothes she wore a bikini. After smearing sun cream on her face, arms, legs and front she would ask me to spread some on her back. How I loved creaming that beautiful, warm skin. Caught up in visions of a prelude to sexual adventure – my first with someone other than myself – I had to rush just to stop myself getting an erection. She always asked had I missed a bit if I ceased too abruptly.
Lying face down, she’d untie the strings to her bikini top, to sun her back. The best bit came half an hour later. Cupping the bikini to her breasts, she turned over to sit upright. Peering round to check there were other topless female sunbathers, she’d remove her top completely. Her magnificent breasts would burst from their constraints like a pair of desperate jailbreakers. No matter how hard I tried to feign a lack of interest, I could never resist peeking. In all truth, it was damn near impossible not to stare. She would sort of fluff them up with her hands to air them. Brown nipples, textured like goose pimples, wibbled. When she lay back they would sink onto her chest with the rest of her tits to resemble a pair of beached jellyfish topped by a couple of, well, a couple of dry cat turds standing proud of a dried cat splodge. That aside, the sight of them drove me to distraction.
Even with my eyes shut tight I could see those breasts. Those nipples. Desperate to touch them, they gave me such a hard-on I had to lie on my stomach to conceal it. Sometimes, I spent the entire morning that way for thinking of them. Aunt Helga kept telling me to turn over and sun my front, or stay out of the sun. If I wasn’t careful I’d get sunstroke. I shook my head saying I wanted to get my back nice and brown. After a day or two, despite lashings of full strength sun block, it became so red it was almost indistinguishable from my trunks. And incredibly sore. As though I’d spent entire mornings flailing myself in penance for my unworthy thoughts. Meanwhile, Helga was baking a beautiful, golden brown.
With her bed on the other side of the thin wall, I was afraid to do anything to relieve the pressure, I felt building up in my gonads, for fear of being discovered. If we could hear a mouse scurrying across a floor on the other side of the courtyard, then it was certain any thrashing sounds I made would be heard in the bedroom next door. The thought of Aunt Helga hearing me masturbate was unthinkable. The bed springs would creak and I might let out a scream of joy at the point of ejaculation. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t. It’d be far worse than being found out by my grandparents. Not only that, but my back was so sore I couldn’t lie on it.
At times my balls ached so much I had difficulty walking. There were moments I had to adopt the bowlegged gait cowboys get from too many years in the saddle. What with that, and my sunburn, the birthday treat was turning into a nightmare. I couldn’t sleep. If it wasn’t the soreness of my back it was the pain in my bursting testicles. How hard I tried to conjure up thoughts of more mundane things, yet visions of Aunt Helga’s naked breasts always crammed them out. I sweated not to think of those nipples. Indeed, I’d become Satan’s lifelong servant. Yet the opportunity for devil’s relief never seemed to come. If only I’d listened to grandfather.
When my back began peeling sheets, and I started to suffer headaches, Aunt Helga suggested I stay out of the sun. And miss her magnificent breats? No way. When I finally vomited over my breakfast she dragged me bawling to a doctor. Unsurprisingly, he diagnosed sunstroke. My aunt was not best pleased, telling him she’d told me so, but I wouldn’t listen. Confined to my bed for a few days with a temperature, at least I got the chance to thrash my gristle red raw till my right hand trembled, and my underpants could stand in a corner unaided.
Meanwhile, Aunt Helga continued to go to the beach each morning. At midday, she returned looking even more tanned and beautiful; her hair bleached almost white. A light tray lunch was served in my bedroom with her sitting on my bed, plate on lap. Then she took a nap before going to the beach for an afternoon session. Shortly before sunset, she’d return once more to prepare an evening meal. Just for me this time. For, after showering and changing, she’d go out to a restaurant. How I yearned to join her for those evening meals, quaffing wine like a man, while gazing into those sparkling blue eyes. All through my fever, I lay awake each night, listening for her return. It was usually well after midnight before I heard the key in the lock and footsteps on the stairs.
I lived in hope she might pop her head round the bedroom door in her nightdress to check how I was. And seeing me awake, slip between the sheets to comfort me. I longed to feel her body next to mine, for her thighs to wrap my hips.
One night, after lying awake much longer than usual, I finally heard the key turn, the door open, and breathed a sigh of relief. It was short-lived. There were two voices, one the familiar tones of my aunt, the other that of a man. She was not alone. Whispering loudly, she shushed someone to keep quiet while trying to stop herself giggling. She wasn’t speaking Norwegian. I heard the rush of water and the clank of the coffee percolator being placed on the hob in the kitchen; the bleeps and bloops of the radio being tuned to a station playing soft music.
For an age I listened out for the noise of the door again; the sound of someone leaving. It never came. Eventually, the radio went silent. Everything became still as death as my ears pricked up the more. The only noise I could hear was that of my young heart hammering against my ribcage. I dare not move for fear of missing something. After another half-hour had dragged itself through eternity, I heard my aunt’s voice again. So low it barely chafed the air.
My ears marked two pairs of footsteps climbing the second flight of stairs that night. Followed by the door to Aunt Helga’s bedroom creaking open. I heard the pad of bare feet on ceramic tiles as someone went to the bathroom, then someone else. The toilet flushed once, then twice. The sound of running water; the tiny splashes of hands and faces being washed; the spits of teeth being cleaned. More pads of naked feet. I heard the unwelcome rasp of the door handle to her bedroom turn once more, and the uninvited squeak of hinges. And then, the stark finality of steel clinking upon steel, as each tiny ratchet tumbled in the ancient bedroom lock, and the point of no return was reached.
Seized by a panic I’d never known, my body felt as though someone was tearing at my intestines. I desperately wanted to know what was happening; to get out of bed and knock on her door. To pretend I was frightened, in order to confirm I was mistaken. But I was too afraid. Next, I heard the belying whispers of voices lowered in conspiracy; giggles being suppressed. I swear I even heard the muffled, but somehow deafening, sound of clothes hitting the floor. I heard the bed groan once, then twice, as two bodies clambered in. The mere thinness of the wall between us, they could’ve been climbing into mine. Then I heard the worst of all: I heard my aunt’s entreating whimpers. Pulling the pillow over my head I stuffed my fingers into my ears to shut it out. But still it came. The low grunts of male lust being sated; the soft moans of female bliss. Through feather down, through flesh and bone, the heavy breathing, the tiny squeals, faster and faster they came, the moistened slap of sweaty flesh on sweaty flesh until the whole climaxed into mutual cries of ecstasy. I stifled the scream of angst deep inside me by stuffing a corner of the duvet into my mouth. The price of my sins had been extracted by Satan himself.
Next morning, the man was gone. Just as though he’d never been. As though it hadn’t happened. But I knew it had. Gripped with conflicting emotions of love, hate and jealousy, I could hardly bring myself to talk to her. My aunt had slept with another man. Some devil stranger. He’d fucked her. Not only had she been unfaithful to her husband, my Uncle Ketil, she’d been unfaithful to me, her dear, little Lars.
Through guilt, she tried to be kind. Instead of going straight to the beach after breakfast, she hung around the flat finding little things to do. Coming to my bedroom from time to time asking me if I felt any better. She put a hand my forehead to see if I had a temperature. The same fingers that had touched that man’s rod. How disgusting. I writhed away, moaning loudly, crying for her to stop. I couldn’t wait for her to leave me in peace. She brought me little treats, and asked if I felt well enough to go out. I lay in my bed and groaned. After a while she gave up, and went to the beach alone.
No sooner had she left than I jumped out of bed, grabbing my shirt and trousers. I had an idea. I’d go to the circus. That’s what I’d do. I’d buy a ticket for the matinee performance that very day. To spite her more than anything. I’d watch the big cats being taunted and laugh. I’d hoot at the elephant’s tears. That’d show her.
But when I arrived at where the Big Top had stood, it was gone. And with it all the animals. In its place, a market selling clothes.
With nothing else to do, and the stall awnings providing welcome shade, I wandered aimlessly through the crowds. Then I spotted a group of young girls. One in particular caught my eye. She was pretty. Dark hair tumbled about her shoulders; shy, brown eyes sparkled. I overheard another girl call her Carmen and felt an overwhelming urge to talk to her. Carmen. To take her by the hand and saunter the streets. To put my arm about her waist. To kiss her on the mouth. But most of all, I wanted Aunt Helga to see me. I wanted her to feel the cruel spike of treachery pierce her heart, as I had felt it pierce mine.
I followed Carmen and her friends at a discrete distance, wondering what to say. Without a word of Spanish it was going to be difficult, the chances of her speaking Norwegian being nil, English was the only language we might have in common. But it wasn’t my strongest subject at school. I cursed myself for not having paid more attention. Distracted by these thoughts, I failed to notice the girls had stopped. Up until I almost bumped into them.
They were standing by a stall selling underwear. Swiftly turning towards it, and without looking, I picked up the first thing that came to hand. Meanwhile, the girls were moving once more. My senses honed this time, out of the corner of an eye, I saw them pause yet again. A little further ahead. One turned to stare in my direction. Moving a hand over her mouth; she began jabbing an elbow into Carmen’s side while pointing to where I was standing. I’d been noticed. My heart skipped a beat. And almost stopped. Carmen was looking straight into my eyes. My chance had arrived. Just as I arranged my mouth into a smile, she burst out laughing. Soon they were all laughing. They were laughing at me. The blood rushing to my face, I swiftly turned back towards the stall. Raising the item in my hand, I began shaking it vigorously, vying for the attention of the stallholder, as if I wanted to buy it. Only then did I see the reason for their laughter.
Even now, I suffer embarrassment to think of it. I was shaking a large, pink brassiere like a mad pervert. Throwing it back down on the stall, as if it was on fire, I dashed through the crowds and back to the apartment as fast as I could.
For the remainder of the holiday, I barely left it, preferring to read the four romance paperbacks Aunt Helga had brought with her, over and over again till I could almost recite them word for word. Aunt Helga remarked she’d never known a boy so quiet, and I should get out to meet some girls. I snapped back I wasn’t the least interested in girls. Besides there are far more important things to do in this world than submit to fleshly desires. People who gave into them took the risk of becoming Satan’s lifelong servant. She replied if she’d known I was like that before the holiday she wouldn’t have bothered bringing me. It was supposed to have been an adventure. Instead, it’d been a waste of money. If all I wanted to do was read I could’ve just as easily stayed at home on grandfather’s farm. I was just like my Uncle Ketil.
At long last fourteen days came to an end. As the plane took off back to Norway, Aunt Helga snatched up my hand, squeezing it in hers. I tore it away, squealing she was hurting me. She grabbed the seat arm instead. Gazing across to see her tanned knuckles whitening, and her eyes shut tight, I realised she was afraid of flying.
In my eyes, she never looked so beautiful after that holiday. Fools still flocked about her, of course. But I began to notice she courted their attentions in a coarse and suggestive manner. Usually when she’d drank too much at parties, which was nearly always. I saw faint lines starting to etch themselves round her eyes and mouth. Little pouches of cellulite forming on her waist and thighs. The fabulous breasts drooping a little. In certain lights traces of down on her upper lip could be detected. The beginnings of an old woman’s moustache.
That October, my grandparents and I were invited to her thirty-seventh birthday party at the weekend cottage. Apart from me, all the guests were adults. Bored to tears by the grown-up noise and drinking, I slipped out onto the terrace for a breath of fresh air. A beautiful autumn evening, the chill night skies shimmering zillions of stars. Gazing across the Milky Way, towards our farm on the distant side of the valley, something drew my attention further along the terrace. Two shadowy figures clinched in an embrace beneath the eaves. They were kissing. One stood straight and tall. A few strands of unmistakable long, blonde hair caught in light spilling from a nearby window, and I knew it was Aunt Helga. And Uncle Ketil, of course. I smiled, filled with unexpected fondness for them. And was about to creep up and surprise them, when something stopped me. I saw she had a leg wrapped round one of his thighs. The moment a little too intimate, I crept quietly back into the house.
Once inside, I saw Uncle Ketil standing on the other side of the room. In my confusion I had to double take. It was him, drinking and joking with a young man. His eyes glinting with excitement and far too much alcohol. Putting an arm round the young man’s shoulders, he pointed something out to him while whispering in his ear. They were smirking. I looked to see what had amused them.
At first, there was just a darkened window reflecting the room’s interior. I couldn’t understand what was so funny about it. My eyes adjusted. Though it was almost pitch black outside, beyond the reflection, I could just pick out the same two silhouettes still locked in an embrace. I glanced back towards Uncle Ketil. He was nuzzling the young man’s forehead. Then he kissed it. Sensing my gaze, he turned his head in my direction. Smiling broadly, he tipped a knowing nod, his eyebrows rising. In that instant, I left the innocence of boyhood forever. It was the saddest moment of my life. My aunt and uncle were living a lie.
For Christmas that year, Aunt Helga and Uncle Ketil gave me a book. As they presented grinning as though we three shared a special secret. Taking my hands in hers, Aunt Helga whispered it was about two teenage boys in New York who discovering their gayness. She winked. Next morning I took it, and the one about the little boy who ran away from home to join a circus, out into the snow. Grabbing fistfuls of pages I ripped them to pieces and made a little bonfire.
Copyright © 2013 Bryan Hemming
And then there’s the novel Pedersen’s Last Dream