— Soren, the bread is hot. Can you deliver it?
I get on my bike, the hot hood on my frail shoulders. As I pass the window of Karyn’s clothing store, I feel ashamed. I clutch the letter I wrote her last night to my chest. I brake abruptly only at the approach of the evening, in front of the pontoon.
Below, the sea is agitated by violent jolts. Its violet hue is hypnotic. Does the raging swell want to confide me a secret?
Too bad for the bread, that I wedge behind the bike at the stop. I run down the stairs to the small beach and dip my forehead in the sand. Where is Karyn, what is she doing?
The last rays of the sun make the ghosts of Copenhagen beach appear. I start to dance between them, I try to take the hand of a woman in a transparent corsage, but the ghosts cross me like fleeting ideas.
Where is Karyn, what is she doing, this thought alone obsesses me.
I return to the road that leads to the city center. The clock is ticking and I haven’t delivered anything yet.
Take a human. What are his motives? Why does he survive? What’s stopping me from throwing my bike over the low granite wall? What’s stopping me from taking advantage of this beautiful summer day for a swim?
I was thinking about why a man gets up every morning to go lay cinder blocks, when a rock grazed my temple. I put a hand to my ear, it was bleeding. The children, yes, that’s it, the children, his family, that’s what motivates the man. And more distantly, before these children start to destroy the quietness of the cities, it is love that pushes the man to desire the hardness of the existence.
Love is the invisible star that guides us at every moment. And in the night that has buried our days under mechanical gestures, it is the feeling of passion shared or not that offers a haven to our breathless souls.
Where is Karyn, what is she doing? My God, I don’t think she will ever love me.
I live on the island of Amager, in Copenhagen. The place is famous for having the highest crime rate in the Danish metropolis. That night I delivered all the bread.
I rented a small room to a retired couple on Islands Brygge (the Icelandic bridge, literally). The lady is always elegantly dressed, she wears a different color kerchief every day. Today she is wearing fuchsia.
I tie up the bike in the courtyard of the building. Then, I look at the inky night while my landlady smiles at me to welcome me. I have to pass through the couple’s living room to get to the stairs that lead to my little room.
I am exhausted from the bike rides. My hands are shaking a bit while I drink a decaf. Jytte (that’s my landlady) was kind enough to put some rolled eel wrapped in foil on my table. I eat while looking out the window. A sound of breaking glass startles me. It is already midnight when I finish a book by Edgar Allan Poe. I hear an old record player (probably Jytte’s husband’s) crackle, and I fall asleep.
Why does the man wake up at the same time every morning of his life? And what is Karyn doing?
I am on the beach in Skagen, 130 kilometers from the center of Copenhagen. I am dreamily riding my bike between the houses with their bright yellow walls and characteristic rusty roofs. At the same place where my parents met – at least that’s what they told me. I stop my bike. I tie it to a shiny pole and sponge my forehead. The day is clear, but the city is deserted. In the bright light of the seaside town, I see a dark dress. It flies towards me. My former life is now a distant memory. Karyn will never love me. On foot, under the invisible stars of daylight, I try to touch the dark dress of the spectre that flies towards me.
The ghost has my mother’s eyes, and a knowing smile. I walk behind him, trying to blend into the wind that blows harder and harder. But already the hours are ticking and Skagen is filling up with onlookers. While I follow my pretty ghostly ingenue, some laugh at my hurried pace, and some children throw stones at me.
Finally, the ghost stops running. I approach the ghost of the young girl. We are in front of the spectral and bluish expanse of the North Sea. I take her hand and whisper my name. Her name? I don’t know it. I just know that she is the moment of life I was waiting for. But how do I talk to a ghost?
I wake up sweating at six o’clock. Jytte has prepared my breakfast, oatmeal with a little beer. I am shaking with all my limbs my lips soaked in foam. An icy wind rushes into the room and shakes my sheets.
What was this dream? And what is Karyn doing at this moment? I am unable to say and it drives me crazy.
Jytte has prepared a hood full of rye bread orders for me. With a heavy heart, I get on my bike and distribute all the deliveries. But my heart is still filled with the dream of the previous night. In the evening, I walk at a snail’s pace to avoid the smile of my landlady. Without eating, without talking to anyone, I lie down in the pink linen sheets and close my eyes.
This time, she is waiting for me on the beach of Søndervig in the Jutland region. The place is named after a brave people, the Jutes, who used their weapons to colonize England in the 5th century.
I squint my eyes thinking of all the wars I have not known, and at this moment love seems to me like an exception in front of the surging wave of death. Where has the girl disappeared to? I was only distracted for a moment, and already she escapes me. I start to run and the clouds catch me and make me fall on the fine sand of the beach.
There is a lighthouse sinking into the sand. The top of the building is painted a vibrant red, so boats can spot it from a distance. I see the only window open. The girl beckons me to join her. I run out of breath, but the steps I climb lead to heaven, and that gives me momentum. She is waiting for me on the top floor. A blue sparrow on her shoulder, she says something. And I enjoy every moment of my dream.
When I wake up, it is still dark. Love has made me lose sleep. But I bow to every person to whom I deliver my bread. Love is poetry, a handful of sand, a dream that no one can take away from me
Gradually, the dark circles under my eyes cross, and my skin loses its tanned hue. I am disappearing. I am about to join the world of dreams. And I know this is what I always wanted since Karyn won’t love me.
On the third night, the ghost of the girl hops along the dirt path that runs along the Møns Klint. The chalk cliffs are soaked by the ink of the sea. I whisper a poem to my companion. She listens to me laughing and takes my hand to lead me into a forest of amaranth pines. I have never seen so many different orchids as in this wood. I pick one. In turn, the ghost plucks a white flower from the ground. Then, she starts to chew the petals.
It is then that I wake up, sweating in my bed. It seems to me that my body does not belong to me any more. But that’s what I wanted, isn’t it? So why this fear riveted to my chest?
Jytte knocks on my door repeatedly but I don’t answer. I get up and take a sleeping pill. Then I go back to bed. What’s the point of pacing the city to hope for a better future? My future I glimpsed in the black eyes of an angel.
God offered me sleep to compensate for the boredom of my days. In this mischievous dream that I repeat every day, I am the hero of an eternal love story.
The sleeping pill is working. I am now in the Danish desert of Råbjerg Mile. Forty-meter-high sand dunes loom over me. The sky starts to ripple and brings hot drops down on my face. What, it’s raining in the desert? And where is the angel? Is Karyn still sleeping in the other world? Does the sleeping pill have an effect on the atmosphere of my dreams? I walk painfully in the hot sand. A poem by Kærlighed Sophus Claussen comes to mind:
Tal ej om skuffet Kærlighed
Do not speak of disappointed love
og Hjærter, som er brudt!
nor of those hearts that are broken!
man gør sig lidt Besværlighed
to hurt so badly
og ta’r en ny til slut.
and finally change everything.
Tal ej om evig Kærlighed!
Don’t talk about eternal love!
vort Hjærte kun slaar Smut ;
our heart beats only in fits and starts;
and hopper let fra Sted til Sted
it easily explodes from one place to another
og synker træt til slut.
and so tired at the end that he drowns.
Suddenly, the sand starts to fly away in front of me. Large volutes escape from the ochre dunes and the white dress of the ghost appears before me. This time, her face frightens me. She has a few wrinkles at the corner of her eyes, she seems to have aged since our last meeting. But her physical appearance doesn’t take away the feeling that breaks my heart. I feel in love, and no matter what form the ghost takes, I will love her eternally and with all my being.
I will not work any more. I am unable to work a moment longer. I wake up, put a cheese and a rye bread in my bag and cross Copenhagen. Love has buried all my desires under a tight rope. I drive until I lose consciousness.
I have passed the southern harbor of Copenhagen. The stars already appear and their light pushes me into the bosom of the night. I try to see the ghost at every corner. But he only lives when I fall asleep.
What will Jytte and my clients think when they don’t see me again? At this moment, everything is indifferent to me. I had a dream, the dream of an expiatory love, and this dream was wonderful.
Still on my bike, under a light rain, I ride along the dirt path of Sydhavn Rundt, which runs along the river. I stop suddenly, out of breath, and look for the sleeping pills in my backpack. I lie down with my back to a rock facing the river after swallowing all the pills.
Then, I see the sun become a ball of fire and explode before my eyes. The night appears in its velvet dress and I smile. My ghost will soon leave my body and I will be able to join the woman I always dreamed of loving. But she is waiting for me tonight. I hear her singing softly in the darkness and I sing in my turn a classic Danish song:
Og hør, du liden Karen,
og vil du føje mig?
De sølverbundne knive to,
dem vil jeg give dig.
(And listen, little Karen,
Will you follow me?
These two silver daggers
I’ll give them to you.)
My breath is hot, and I can still feel the rock at my back, proof that the darkness has not yet taken me. What, should I have continued to deliver rye bread every moment of my existence? I prefer to give my soul to a passing light in my nights.
I too have become a ghost now. I wander around the fortress Kastellet in silence, my hand trembling and translucent in that of the unknown who took my life. The house of the commander is recognizable by its yellow color.
In the star-shaped military park of the fortress, I begin to dance. My arms embrace the wind. It seems to me that every drop of rain that falls on my body is a promise of happiness. But my body begins to decompose and I forget that I have embodied it. The blades of the red windmill of the fortress start to turn faster and faster.
And I dance, a frenzied round with the ghost who knew how to draw me into his nocturnal madness. The music is imperceptible and yet it devours the clouds. And we dance thus, our spectral souls melted in the wind until the first pink lights of the morning. And it is well so. The smell of warm bread comes to me and reminds me that I have had a hard working life as a man.
Why does man get up every morning? I do not pretend to give an answer to this question.
Hope, that great manipulator, may have something to say about our life’s impulses. But I did not know how to hope, I did not know how to wait for Karyn to join my dream. And when love came knocking at the varnished door of my sleep, I opened it with a smile, a glass of champagne in my hand.
From now on, forget about me. I am no longer among the people of the living. I will sleep beside Hamlet’s father and toast with Frederik III on the heights of Copenhagen.
The rain, the wind, the night, can do nothing against the will of ghosts. And if one day you ask yourself the same questions as me, passed out on the ground after a day of hard work, perhaps you will reach out to me through your dream. I will be happy to take you on a tour of Copenhagen. We will wander together in search of love in the ill-famed streets of my capital.
Come on, don’t be shy! All you have to do is to remember those you have loved without return. I will press your hand against my body without contours and I will deliver you from your false hopes.