Category: Extract

An excerpt: Scenes from a Childhood by Jon Fosse

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An excerpt from our latest fiction title, Scenes from a Childhood by Jon Fosse, translated from the Norwegian by Damion Searls.

IT’S MAYBE FOUR O’CLOCK

It’s maybe four o’clock when Trygve and I go out to the old barn. My grandfather built this barn but now it’s fall- ing apart, the unpainted planks in the walls are rotting away, there are holes in the wall you can see through in some places and a couple of roof tiles lying in the net- tles, three more sticking out of a puddle of mud. A rusty hook is hanging from the door-frame. The door is hang- ing from the door-frame too, attached with hay-baling cord, swinging crookedly. A warm summer day, after- noon. Trygve and I sit on a large round stone a few yards from the barn. There are plastic bags under our legs with our lunches inside, slices of bread with brown cheese, we each have a soft drink. It’s hot. We’re both sweating. Mosquitoes are buzzing round our heads.

 

I JUST CAN’T GET THE GUITAR TUNED

I just can’t get the guitar tuned and the dance is about to start. There’s already a big crowd in the room, most of them people involved with the event and their friends and girlfriends, but still a lot of people, when I look up from the shelter of the long hair hanging down over my eyes I see them moving around the room. I’m bent over my guitar, turning and turning a tuning knob, I turn it all the way down and the string almost dangles off the fretboard, all forlorn, and then I strum on it while I turn the knob up, up, I hear the tone slide higher, I strum on two strings, now is this right? no, it always sounds a little off, doesn’t it, and I turn it more, I turn and turn, up and down, I turn it and turn it and the drummer is pound- ing for all he’s worth and hitting the cymbals and the bassist is thumping too and the other guy on guitar is standing there strumming chord after chord and I just can’t get this damn guitar in tune. I turn the knob more, and the string breaks. I push my hair back and shout that the string broke. The others just keep the noise going. I unplug the guitar and go backstage, I have spare strings in my guitar case. I find a new third string. I change the string, turn the knob until the string is on. I walk back onstage. I plug the guitar in again and start tuning it. I can’t hear anything. I shout for the others to stop play- ing. They stop. I try to tune the guitar. I can’t do it. I ask the other guitarist to give me the note, he plays a G on his third string. I turn the knob.

Little more, he says.

I turn it a little more. I look at the other guitarist and he shakes his head a little. I turn it a little more, strum the string. He looks up, stops, listens.

Little higher, he says.

I turn it a little higher and strum.

Little more, he says.

And now it starts to sound right.

Almost there, he says. Maybe a little more. I turn it a little higher and strum.

Little lower, he says.

I turn it down slightly and strum.

Damn it, he says. Take it all the way down, we’ll try it

again, he says.

I turn the knob all the way down. He plays the open

third string on his guitar. I start to turn the knob up. I hear it getting closer. It’s getting closer. I see the other guitarist nod. I turn it a little more. And now it sounds right, almost perfect.

Almost, the other guitarist says.

I turn it a little more and now it’s off, I turn it more and I hear it getting closer again. A little more.

Careful now, the other guitarist says.

I turn it a little bit more. And I hear the string break. Fuck, I say.

Go get another one, the other guitarist says.

I go backstage again and go to the guitar case to get

another string. But I don’t have any more third strings. I shout and say I don’t have any more third strings, I say I need to borrow one, and the other guitarist goes to his guitar case and looks for a string. I see him put one knee on the floor and dig around in his guitar case and look for a string. He looks at me.

I don’t think I have one, he says.

He digs around in his guitar case some more. He gets up and shakes his head.

Nope, he says. No G string.

Then I guess I’ll have to play with five strings, I say. That’ll probably work, he says.

People are already here, I say.

That’ll work, he says.

 

THE AXE

One day Father yells at him and he goes out to the wood- shed, he gets the biggest axe, he carries it into the living room and puts it down next to his father’s chair and asks his father to kill him. As one might expect, this only makes his father angrier.

 

IT HAS STOPPED SNOWING

It has stopped snowing. Geir and Kjell are out in the new snow but they’re not going skiing, no they’re busy with their snow shovels, pushing the snow around and beating it down flat and hard. I’m standing at my win- dow spying on what they’re doing out there. I ask my mother if I can go outside and she says OK. I bundle up, gloves and everything, and go outside. I run over to Geir and Kjell and ask them what they’re doing and they say they’re going to play car and make streets and a tun- nel and everything in the snow. I run home and get two cars. I come back and Geir and Kjell have finished with the snow shovels and they’ve already started working on the construction. And then Geir and Kjell and I build a tunnel, and a garage, and a house. This is going to be great. Geir loads snow onto the truck with an excavator. Kjell drives the snow in the truck, then dumps it out. I build a road. We are working and building. We don’t know what will happen next but we crawl around in the snow, humming and whistling, driving and dumping. Snow is falling steadily on us, light and white, so that the road has to be cleared again and again. We work and build and clear the road. Time passes, but we don’t notice. We plough the road and gravel it with the light- est new snow. We don’t notice that some slightly bigger boys, boys we barely know even though they live only a few houses away, have come walking up to us through the yard. The boys don’t live far away but we don’t know them. They stand and look at us. They ask what we’re doing, and we say we’re playing car. They ask if they can play too, and we hand them our cars, our excava- tor. Then we stand and watch the other boys play. They yell louder and push the wheels down into the road, they laugh and shout.

Crappy road, they say.

You can’t fucking drive on a road like this, they say. They have to repair the road, it’s a bad road, Geir

says.

You can’t fucking repair a road like this, they say. These road workers are useless, they say. Making such a crap road, they say.

I want my car back, Kjell says.

Your crappy car, they say.

That car’s useless too, they say.

It’s all a bunch of shit, they say.

What’s that? they say.

A car park, Geir says.

Huh, a car park, they say.

You can’t park there, they say.

 

Brother in Ice

Alicia Kopf for Granta
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An excerpt from Alicia Kopf’s Brother in Ice (translated from the Catalan by Mara Faye Lethem and published by And Other Stories) is featured in Granta 142: Animalia.

Research Notes I

PENGUINS

The penguins of the Antarctic were a new discovery for the explorers, who began filming them in the early twentieth century. Everyone was soon taken with the sweet creatures; people wanted to see images of the playful penguins. But if you’ve seen Encounters at the End of the World, by Werner Herzog, you’ll know that sometimes a penguin will voluntarily separate from the group and head in the opposite direction, away from the sea, toward its death.

 

SOUTH POLE

There’s a store downstairs on the street level that sells frozen foods. The cashier is tall, blond, stocky. He reminds me of Amundsen, the explorer.

 

PEAKS AND POLES

The Sherpas and the Inuit have similarities. The former reach the summit every day, the latter helped everyone discover the North Pole.

 

NEWS

The mountaineer Ferran Latorre gave up on his ascent of Everest in order to rescue a sick Sherpa.

 

THE WHITE RABBIT

When I was little, my mother worked in a small-town school. Its playground was the woods. Once I saw a bunny nestled among the roots of a tree. But it wasn’t one of the typical rabbits that camouflage themselves amid the brown tones of the Mediterranean landscape; it was a white rabbit. When I got closer I saw that it was quite big; stock-still, it stared at me with its red eyes. It let me pick it up and I realized it was panting. I decided to take it to the vet, but on the way there, in the car, it died.

 

WHITE DEATH

Death by freezing is called sweet death, or white death. It is somehow linked to sleep, because of their apparent likeness, as opposed to the violence of a death by fire. Those who’ve seen it up close say that there’s nothing sweet about an icy grave; freezing is as terrible a death as burning.

Yet ice retains the body’s shape the way images do; it is like photographs. Photography is to its subject as ice is to the interred explorer: a thanatological process that presents us, abruptly, with a body from the past.

(…)

 

An extract: Arkady by Patrick Langley

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An extract from Patrick Langley’s debut novel Arkady, published today.

I. ANOTHER COUNTRY

A fan stirs the room’s thick heat as the officers talk. Jackson wags his legs under the chair and watches his shoes as they swing. The officers speak about beaches. A pathway. Red flags. The story does not make sense. When they finish it, Jackson looks up. The door is open. It frames a stretch of shrivelled lawn and a column of cloudless sky. Colours throb in the heat.

‘Do you understand?’ the woman asks.

‘We are sorry,’ says the man.

Blue uniforms cling to their arms. Black caps are perched on their heads. Jackson peers into the caps’ plastic rims, which slide with vague shadows and smears of light. The officers mutter to each other and swap glances with hooded eyes. The breeze through the door is like dog-breath, a damp heat that smells faintly of rot.

‘Where’s my dad?’ asks Jackson.

The man’s thumb is hooked through his belt. He stands like a cowboy, hips cocked.

‘We don’t know,’ he sighs. ‘Our colleague saw him a moment after. We’re sure he’ll come back soon. You have a small brother? We take you to the place, and you tell him. Tell him your father is coming back. We’ll find him. I promise. Right now.’

 

They are staying on the side of a mountain, a short but twisting drive away from the nearest coastal town. The hotel is enormous. From a distance it resembles a castle, its high walls strong and stern, its red roofs bright against the mountain’s grey. The valley below is dotted with scrubby bushes and half-finished breezeblock homes. At its centre, a dried-up riverbed runs through copses of stunted trees: a jagged path connecting the hotel to the town.

Frank is in the crèche with the other toddlers. They crawl and stumble on the floor, slapping primary-coloured mats with chubby palms. Jackson glances at the sprinkler outside. Threads of water glitter like glass until they shatter and fall. He asks the woman when the children go home.

‘When does the session finish, you mean?’ she asks. She is English. Her eyes are the dull blue of cloudless skies. ‘Is everything alright?’

Jackson’s brother is in the far corner, a monkey teddy in his hand. He is wearing his robot pyjamas; his smile makes Jackson smile.

‘You can come back at five o’clock, if you like,’ the woman says. ‘We have a painting class. Do you like art? You could do a jigsaw?’

Frank smacks a beat on the monkey-doll’s stomach. Thump-thump!

‘The one in the corner,’ says Jackson.

‘You know him?’

‘He’s my brother.’

The woman smiles at Jackson, briefly narrowing her eyes. ‘He’s very good,’ she says.

 

The swimming pool is white and blue. It hurts Jackson’s eyes to look at it. In the evenings, before dinner, his mother will swim for a while and then relax on a lounger, sunglasses masking her eyes, and read a book while their father plays tennis, goes walking, or naps. Today a strange woman has taken his mother’s lounger. Her legs are bronzed and dimpled, with blue worms squiggling under the skin. Her lips are the colour of cocktail cherries, sticky and red.

‘You alright there pal?’

The man is on a lounger. Gold things shine at his knuckles and neck: he is either a king or a thief.

‘Here on your own?’ The man is from Jackson’s city. That voice. ‘Where are your parents?’ He is wearing skimpy Y-front trunks, the kind Jackson’s mother calls budgie smugglers. His tanned skin shines like oiled meat. ‘You speak English? Española? Where are your parentés, your grandays persona? Big people, you know?’ He chuckles. ‘Mum? Dad? Parents? No?’

A waiter appears with a tray. On his tray is a bright blue drink in a tall glass shaped like a space rocket. A wedge of pineapple, skewered on a toothpick, glistens in the sun. The woman places her hand on her heart and – ‘Ah!’ – her teeth flash as she gasps.

‘My man,’ says the man on the lounger, clicking his fingers. ‘Over here.’

The woman slips the fruit into her mouth.

‘Of course,’ says the waiter, smiling. The red splodge on the pocket of his shirt is the hotel’s logo: a mermaid sitting sadly on a rock. ‘Another beer, sir?’

Everyone smiles.

The budgie-smuggler shakes his head. ‘This boy,’ he says, ‘he’s been standing there for the last five minutes. Hasn’t said a thing.’

‘I see,’ the waiter says.

A crucifix hangs at the waiter’s neck. His nose is long and straight, like a statue’s. He is tall and strong and has very white teeth but his eyes are too close together. ‘Hey lil’ man,’ he says, walking over, smiling so wide the creases reach his ears. ‘You looking for your mother? You want me to try and call her?’

Jackson squints. Sweat pours down his forehead and stings his eyes. ‘She doesn’t have a phone,’ he says. ‘People call her all the time and she hates it. I went to tell Frank, but he’s playing with a monkey.’

The waiter frowns and sticks his lower lip out. ‘There’s no monkeys here.’

Jackson explains about the crèche.

‘Ahhhhh, sea sea sea – your baby brother! I remember now.’ Spanish people love the sea, they say it all the time. ‘Well, let me think.’ The waiter taps his chin with a finger. ‘Ah, I saw your father this morning. He bought a snorkel from Reception.’

Jackson nods. ‘That was before.’

When the waiter squats beside him, the muscles on his lower legs bulge. He smells of lemon peel, soap, and sweat.

‘Why don’t you come with me,’ the waiter says. ‘We’re gonna do a search. I’m sure she’s not far.’

(…)

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