full story

the

full story

"To disappear into deep water or to disappear toward a far horizon,

to become part of depth of infinity, such is the destiny of man that finds its image in the destiny of water."

Gaston Bachelard,

Water and Dreams, 1942

In the year 1930 in the middle of Dalsland the third generation switchboard operator stretches out the window and calls on her loved ones with a melody reaching farther than the church bells. Be it cattle, cats or family members, they all respond to her calling by immediately heading home. A combination of heritage and training has made her exceptionally skilled in communication. She reads the skies like newspaper. She can interpret the background noice in the radio and understand the chatter of the birds while keeping track of the every week increasing amount of telephonecalls passing her switchboard. Records and forwards messages coming through the canal system, enjoying the harmony of the spheres. And every afternoon she stretches out the window to call on everyone she loves to come home. Only this time is different. Her husband and daughter who this morning went out on Laxsjön for the first time in the newly built rowing boat doesn't come home. They are nowhere to be found.

 

The boat was a steady one, built out of a special kind of soaked wood that had been found washed up on the shores around these parts for centuries. Her husband had been collecting bits and pieces ending up in the locks where he worked over the years, as had many others. In cottages and mansions alike people were fascinated by the unusual material although no one could really tell what made it so special. The crafty countryfolk had turned it into doorknobs, coat hangers, tabletops and whatnots. The canal company had even used it in the floodgates. Sometimes the findings were already something, though it was often difficult to tell exactly what they were. Strange tales around Laxsjön. People going insane. Music coming out of nowhere. The breeze sounding like breathing.

 

When her husband finally had enough material, he had built a boat. It was a good boat, no doubt. But there was something more to it. Neighbours would come by just to look at it. The count at Baldersnäs placed an order and payed well in advance. A simple rowing boat had not gone for such a generous amount around these parts before, but somehow no one found it unreasonable. This was a very special boat. And now it was gone. And he was gone. And their daughter was gone. She had told him to not go out on Laxsjön that day. It was just a feeling she had, maybe something she had heard. There seems to be unrest in the waters these days, she said. But he didn't listen. He was eager to find more material to start building the next boat, and he was sure to find it out there. It was like the boat in itself knew where to go. And he himself felt a strange attraction. His eyes constantly wandering to a spot in the middle of the lake. No different from any other, but somehow special, beautiful. And he wanted his daughter to see it too.

 

The search party goes on for two weeks, and then everyone agrees it's time to get on with life. Strange things had been known to happen on that lake. Our switchboard operator still calls her cattle home, but the melody is a far more melancholic one. She still overhears the birds chatter and listens to the background noise from outer space, but the swiftness and curiosity is gone. She stops talking. The only one she speaks to is her son. She tells him everything, even though he is too young to understand. She listens, and calls on her loved ones. The raven stops by on a regular basis. She keeps listening, recording, investigating. Building instruments to record and amplify the faintest signals. Life is very calm in the village during these years. No strange sightings on the lake.

 

One night there is a storm and the telephone cable breaks and drops into the lake. She receives a message. The next day she walks into Laxsjön to never come back.

 

No one really knows what to do with all the stuff in her home, all the documents and instruments and recordings. The boy is sent off to an aunt in Vänersborg. They automatize the telecommunications, bar the window, shut the doors and let it all sit there.

 

/

 

It's the day before midsummer eve and a ten year old boy is standing on the old, weathered pier down at the Långbro berthage skipping stones. He can make the rock bounce three times before sinking. He tries again. Three bounces and the rock sinks.

 

The boy looks at his watch, listens and climbes a tall tree from where he can watch the railbus ramble through Dals Långed.

 

It makes a halt at the Långbron station and a handful of tourists get off. Among them is an old man, crooked and scrawny, carrying a well worn suitcase. The railbus leaves. The old man gazes out over Laxsjön, sniffs, listens, hums to himself. He strolls over the canal-bridge at a surprising pace considering his age, crosses the busy road without looking neither left nor right, enters Kanalvillan, up the stairs, unlocks a door, slips inside and locks the door behind him.

 

The room is dark. The old man smells it, sniffing, almost tasting it. He walks up to the window, pulling up the blinds with a rattle. The sunshine sifts in through the dust and illuminates the tiny room. From floor to ceiling the walls are covered in bookshelves, the entire space is enclosed in the spines of old books with writings in languages both familiar and unknown. A miniature Alexandria.

 

The rest of the room is covered in yellowed sheets. He thoroughly removes and folds them one by one and reveals a small divan, a windsor chair, a small desk with a typewriter, pens, notes, blueprints and a magnifying glass with lighting. A pipe is resting on the edge of a crystal ash tray and in the ceiling a big electric chandelier. The magnetophone stands on a stool under which is the box with the collection of microphones and cables. He takes his time. Enjoys it. Stacks the sheets in a neat pile and continues. The filing cabinet, the card-index with the cards meticulously filled out, the little wayward german safe, the entire room appears to come from a different time.

The last sheet seems to cover a cupboard or perhaps a small piano. Carefully he removes it, lets it fall to the floor, and exposes an old switchboard, with cables and buttons, switches and lamps, the headphones and the classic funnel-shaped microphone. The old man takes a deep breath, closes his eyes, lets his hands follow the shape of the beautiful apparatus, fondles it.

 

He starts to slightly shiver, retracts his hands, heavily sighs and coughs. Waves his arms as if to fan away smoke, hurries up to the window, opens it and inhales the smell of summer. Turning around he accidentally stumbles on something that tumbles across the floor. He is startled. It's not supposed to be anything there. With great effort he bends down to see what it was. On all four, feeling with his hands, he finds something and looks at it with fascination. A small locomotive, beautifully carved from wood, hardly bigger than his little finger. It looks brand new. It is as if the wood is glowing. He studies it with his hands, reads it with his fingertips, closes his fist around it and mumbles:

I can't see you, but I know you´re here. I can sense it. I wish I could see your face, look you in the eyes and tell you how good it is to be here. There is so many nice things here. But you are not here. I am here. I wish you were here.

 

He searches his pocket and finds a little wooden locomotive, exactly the same, but worn and darkened by time. He holds them right next to each other. They are completely identical and a whole world is passing between them. The old man closes his eyes, listens. There is a womans voice:

 

There is a frequency to everything in the world. Every thing sings. All matter vibrates. Waves meet and merge and affect each other.

 

The voice fades away, but echoes in the room. Waves meet and merge and affect each other…. affect each other…. The old man holds the two locomotives as close to each other as if they were one. He closes his eyes and listens, breathes deeply, slowly, focused.

The voice continues:

 

“Several thousand years ago, in prehistoric times, deep down in the salty ocean, a creature with exceptional sensitivity to soundwaves and an insatiable longing for beauty, heard something it had never heard before. Up on the surface, a ship had just left shore, embarking on a ceremonial journey to celebrate a wedding. It was the crown princess in one of the most notable civilisations of prehistoric times who was about to be married, and in those days a union between a princess and her prince was concern of all the potentates and leaders of the known world. All of the most prominent members of all important guilds and fields were present at the ceremony to bless the royal couple with their gifts. With hoisted sails and all flags fully flown the ship steered above the oceanic abyss. An orchestra of 24 masterful musicians set to work with trompers, clavitars, rumbleboxes, feebleswitches and gongs. The music was breathtaking, even to the creature who usually only needed a breath every ten years or so. The creature followed the ship on its way. Swimming just below, hearing the music mix with laughter and cheering, it was filled with a warm and calm feeling.

 

After a long journey, in the middle of the ocean where no land could be seen, the music stopped. It was the wedding night and a lingering and meditative ceremony to secure the succession was to begin. The creature was aghast by the sudden silence. It slapped the ship, as you would a broken radio, to make the sounds start again.”

 

Wait, wait! The old man springs up with surprising suddenty, completely dazzled he sits down by the typewriter and carefully puts the locomotives right next to it. Then it is like he almost rushes the keyboard with extraordinary anxiety. He takes no notice of the boy who is hanging in the branches outside. The boy who elegantly climbes in through the open window. The boy who settles himself in the window frame as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

 

The old man pulls the paper out of the typewriter making the cylinders screak, puts his hand over the words, hums, and within a few minutes he is consulting three dozen very thick books, scrutinizing old notes, scribbles down signs, numbers, sketches and lines. Approaches the safe and tries with a combination of digits, but to no use. His eyes fall on the boy. They look at each other for a moment and then the old man continues.

 

Alright, where were we… yes… hmm…

 

”The creature was aghast by the sudden silence. It slapped the ship, as you would a broken radio, to make the sounds start again. It was rather a failure, and instead of singing there was screaming. Panic struck the passengers, but panic also struck the creature. To make the awful noice stop it grabbed the ship, with lovers, guests, servants, orchestra and all, and pulled it down in the depths.

 

You would think this would be the end of the lovely music, and that the creature certainly made itself a great disservice. But the thing is: all matter vibrates. During the festivities the entire ship had absorbed the entrancing harmonies, changed its frequency to that of the music, and as it sank the water amplified the sound and suddenly the creature was soaked in a symphony. And with that a thousand year old kingdom was submerged in oblivion.

 

Years passed and the creature dozed happily, embracing its ever vibrating bundle of music, vibrating alongside it, floating with the streams, not noticing how the temperature started dropping. The ice nibbled on the creatures extremities, slowing its bodily functions down until it unknowingly fell into deep hibernation, safely packed in thick ice. Now, instead of floating with the streams, it travelled north with the ice.

 

Eventually our earth turns warmer, and the creature with it. The ice melts and piece by piece it drops whatever it's been carrying. Pinecones, pebbles and creatures with ships are all left behind in lakes and gullies. Still in a peaceful numbness the creature feels the need for air and stargazing every now and then. With no fear and not aware of the risk of being seen it floats up to the surface humming along with it's beloved ship, inhaling the fresh foggy air, smelling the pines, nodding to the raven. Still to this day people around here talk of gigantic vessels coming out of the fog, faint melodies and deep sighs.

 

Until one day, about 150 years ago, a deafening silence woke the creature from it's sleep. The ship was gone, and instead of a vast vibrating ocean the creature found itself in a narrow pond, hardly bigger than a puddle. There was great confusion in the creatures mind. Confusion and disappointment. How could it have lost its beloved ship? Where was it now? Was it stolen? Dizzy with grief and fury it rambles over the floor of the lake. A clutter of noices, sounds and signals besets its sensitive membranes and cause them to shiver rather than vibrate. The creature without its singing ship is homeless, alone in the world. And knowing that it has really only itself to blame for the loss makes it even worse.

 

Years of brooding, self-pity and longing follows for the creature down in the mire. It longs and listens and lures. Listens, tunes the waves, seeks the frequency of it's lost ship, tries to set its own membranes into a familiar vibration. Now and then a recognizable signal reaches the creature, but it can't locate the source. It calls. At first desperate shrieks, after some time patient, constant, obsessive humming… not yet… soon... Searching for a resonance among the chaotic cluster of soundwaves rushing through the waters. It can wait. It has time. It has nowhere else to be… not yet… soon... “

 

The old man turns silent, stretches out his crooked back, gazes out the window, past the boy who until now has been breathlessly listening. He hasn't heard this story before. He asks the old man about the rocks he has just thrown into Laxsjön. Is the creature still down there, and in that case, was it hit by the rocks? Maybe they hit its head and now it's angry and want revenge?

 

The old man twitches as if he just woke up, pulls himself together and calms the boy saying that the water will slow the rocks down and if they would hit the creature it would hurt it no more than raindrops.

 

© Copyright 2015; Björn Fast Nagell

and Annika Wahlström.