There’s nothing beautiful about her, and she has no control. She can’t control her eyes, which dart around or roll up into her head, so that only the glistening whites are visible. Or her body, which does what it likes. Her skin is stretched tight over her joints, the veins giving her a greenish pallor, and she’s as thin as a small bird. Children shouldn’t look like this. Children should be plump, pink and warm, soft as rubber, and full of sparkling life. I assume her condition was caused by an injury during birth.
She’s about nine or ten and confined to a wheelchair.
Her mother calls her Miranda, a stupid name. Well, in my opinion anyway. Her hair is very fine and fair, and gathered in a knot at the top of her head. Her hands move around restlessly — white, claw-like hands that are incapable of doing anything. You’d think she was attached to an electric current. That someone was switching it on and off, sending shocks through her delicate body. I get very twitchy watching little Miranda. Worn out by all these spasms — this constant agitation — I feel like screaming. If she really were powered by electricity, I’d want to pull the plug. I’d enjoy seeing her jerking body relax.
Miranda can’t speak. She only makes noises and unintelligible exclamations; I can’t understand any of it, even though I’ve had plenty of experience with all sorts of helplessness. I’ve worked in nursing homes for more than seventeen years.
I often see Miranda here, because they come to the park by Lake Mester every day without fail. Like me, they follow a routine; they need something to cling to, a groove that feels safe. The young mother takes care of the little thing; she hasn’t any choice. One heady moment with a man has turned into a lifelong burden. If anyone else comes into the park, she glances up quickly, but without any anticipation of adventure. What kind of man would approach this pair and willingly take on these problems, the ever-present child, ceaselessly gesticulating and yammering all day long?
Carrying the child around.
Wheeling the child around.
Never watching her run across the floor.
I go to the park at various times of the day because I work shifts, and I’m often free when others are at work. I’ve been coming here a long time, and I take note of all the other people who enjoy sitting on the benches admiring the fountain and its splashing water. The sound of the water has a strangely analgesic effect. For those of us who live with pain. I don’t sleep much, and the nights are long and agonizing. I try to maintain my grasp of reality; I don’t think people notice anything peculiar about me, either here in the park or where I work at Løkka Nursing Home. My manner is calm and friendly, and I do what I’m told; I simply mimic the others who stay within the norm. It’s easy. I talk like them, laugh like them, tell funny stories. But with all the feeble elderly people under my care, things often slide out of control. Especially for those who can’t speak, or haven’t the strength to complain.
Maybe they think: I don’t want to live, but I don’t want to die. Life becomes so impossible as it nears its end. They just lie there clutching at a duvet, sightless, voiceless, and unable to hear. Without any desire for the dregs of life, and full of fear for death.
I like sitting in the park and watching the people. They look so vulnerable on the green benches in the sun, with their eyes fixed on the lovely fountain. Three dolphins, each spouting a jet of water from its mouth. The park is small and pretty, quite intimate in its way, but the benches are hard and have armrests of cast iron. I almost envy Miranda her wheelchair and the pillow at her back. And the rug over her legs in the evenings, when it gets chilly. Her mother chain-smokes. She throws the butt on the ground and immediately lights another, inhaling so hard her cheeks are sucked in. She, too, is fettered to that chair with its large wheels. But there is something between them, I think, as I watch them surreptitiously. A frail bond, because it’s needful — they have to fulfill these roles, play this game, mother and child.
Sometimes I go to the park and find it deserted, but I love sitting there alone on my green bench. The park is my own little kingdom then, and I’m in complete control. I’m responsible for everything. I make the water tinkle, I make the flowers bloom, and if I wish, I make the birds sing. I force the wind softly through the leaves; I chase the clouds across the sky. And if I’m in a good mood, I add a butterfly or a woolly bumblebee.
I think about Miranda’s mother a lot. Occasionally she glances at me, entreatingly, like a beggar.
Take me away from all these problems, the glance says. I want a different life.
That’s what everyone wants, surely.
At the entrance to the park, just as you turn along a narrow, paved path, there is a beautiful sculpture. Woman Weeping.
I’m not well traveled, but I’ve never seen anything like it —
never seen anything so lovely and so riveting as this sculpture. I’ve never seen anyone cry the way she’s doing. She’s on her knees; she’s succumbed to it completely, weighed down with suffering and grief. Her hands hide her face, her long hair has fallen forward, and her shoulders are hunched in hopeless despair. It’s heartening that an artist has got to grips with the anguish we all feel. Our sorrow about life itself and the torment of existence, braving each of its seconds and minutes, tolerating the gaze of others. There are plenty of other wonderful sculptures. Beautiful women with outstretched arms; athletic men; chubby, laughing children.
But give me Woman Weeping.
Give me the truth about human beings and life.
She’s cast from gilded bronze, which has a lovely luster. When the sun streams through the leaf canopy, she turns warm and golden like an ember. In winter her body is as cold as ice, with its round shoulders and the narrow back, through which vertebrae protrude like marbles beneath the skin. When no one is looking, I stroke her slender body, her long legs, her slim ankles.
But my thoughts constantly return to Miranda.
She needs help with everything all the time. I often think about that — help from morning to night, every hour, around the clock. Help when she’s thirty and when she’s forty. At some point, her mother won’t be there anymore, and who will look after her then? It’s just this sort of helpless case that ends up at the nursing home where I work, that ends up at Løkka. Then they’re handed over to me with all my quirks and fancies, my outbursts and attentions. Within me lurks an evil little devil who occasionally asserts himself. He’s impossible to avoid, because sometimes the temptation is too great. I’d never have believed it of Riktor, people would say in all their ignorant innocence, if they knew the truth about me and the things I’m capable of. I can see right through people. I can see what’s concealed in their innermost, shadowy recesses. And when it comes to evil, I can believe anything of anybody.