The Light Comes Creeping In

Josefine Klougart

Illustration by Shuxian Lee

The light comes creeping in over the ploughed fields. Slabs of dark clay soil thrust up in disorder, bull calves fighting in the stalls, the thud of too much body in a space too small. And the snow, so gently it lies now, upon the ridges; upon the landscape, everything living and everything dead. A coat of cold, a deep, reassuring voice. The landscape, naked, unsentimental. Here is the feeling of missing you, though no one to miss.

A landscape of lace that is frost.

The landscape is the same, and yet the landscape is never the same. Where have I been, I ask myself. My lower lip has burst like the skin of a ripe plum. Falling on the patio, knees and the taste of iron; lying on the concrete behind the rectory, waiting for the tractor to return home with the first load; if we're not up and gone we'll be in trouble. The way they come driving; hunchbacked trailers. One afternoon we're friends enough to play; we leap among the stacked bales. Fall down in between and you'll die of starvation. Like the cat we find, but that's not until autumn. So it hadn't abandoned its litter at all.

The path leading off behind the rectory fields peters out at the boundary that cuts through the conservation area, the croplands, acreage lying fallow. So much depends on it. Order. There's always a man gathering up stones in the field; new ones always appearing, the earth gives birth to them and the piles grow large. Here and there, bigger rocks lie waiting to be collected by the tractor. When the time comes. Perhaps one of the boys will do it. Or perhaps the job is too big for them. The sun goes down behind the dolmen, which is older than the pyramids. So they say. How old is that, one wonders. Brothers have no age beyond the years that divide them. My sisters and I, one age; we become no older than we were.

The glacial landscape, the kettle holes where the ice forced the land into different positions.

I'm not sure. It felt like I was living out of sync, in every way imaginable. I've just fallen and already I'm on my feet, brushing the dirt from my sleeves, smiling to someone passing by, or to nature. It's only when I think back on something that I gain access to all that ought to be mine. You, for example.

I have returned. Something that was lies spread out across the landscape. A carpet of needles at the foot of the trees. A cape of snow, a forest of fingers, and a sky. Antlers of the red deer, Trehøje Hill, the last ten fir trees on its slopes, decimated by the wind, forlorn. This is what we're dealing with.

Oil on troubled waters.

An odd summer dress underneath a sweater and overalls.


It's snowing again. I think: when will I be able to leave, the roads are blocked and I'm stuck here. I lean forward in the windowsill, towards the pane. The marble of the sill is cold; the winter is. One afternoon in summer I put my cheek to the sill. My lips feel too big, my hands. I push aside a potted plant, I remember that. Climbing up into the windowsill, leaning my back against the sun and the window. The marble is cold; even though the sun has been shining in for hours, the marble sills are cold. Sticky thighs in the heat. Body longing for cold.

Or body longing for warmth.

My hands become, how should I describe it, violet; in the winter, my feet too. A colour that can remind me of something like: blue. This afternoon the snowplough went by every hour; with a weariness that had to do with something other than snow or no snow, it ploughed through the village, which parted obligingly. Two lengths of white. Black asphalt shining through a thin layer of mutilated snow. I thought of mutilated snow, the saddest thing I can think of. And now I think again: when will I be able to leave.

I'm saving up.

Something beautiful from which to depart, something beautiful to sacrifice. It remains nonetheless, left like a shadow, a heaviness in the images. What could have been. Love annulled.

Are we snowed in, I ask.

My mother is doing accounts, some receipts. Number forty-nine, she says, tying an end and looking up at me.

We look out of the window, our eyes coming to a dead end, like railway tracks in a landscape reaching the point where the workers went home and the job is left for some other time, tomorrow or never. There's a sense of: dead end. The railway tracks lying there pointing, turning the landscape into a basin or a picture you can: see.

She contemplates. I understand, that those kinds of thoughts exist. What exactly do I want, where am I going, am I able; and she asks me if it's a problem. If I can't get away, if I have to stay here, is it—a problem.

I shrug. I suppose not, I say. But both of us know it is; that it really is a problem.

Cooped up in here.

The winter shuts you in or shuts you out, that's how it feels, a sense of not being able to get anywhere. It's inside us both. No way forward and no way back. She wants to know if I can find peace here. You can't really find peace here. That's how she asks. There's a pause. Neither of us breathes. Again I shrug.

I can, I say.

But it's not about finding peace. It makes no difference, peace or no.

I'm in love, I tell her finally, sitting down at the table opposite here. Her eyes dart between me and the receipts; she thinks better of it and pushes them aside.

Yes, she says.

In a way, I can't stand to be anywhere, I say in a voice that sounds brittle, dry, combustible. A ray of sun in a glass would be enough; it would break, and it could happen any time. A threat. Because in a way I've already seen too much. An odd sense, all of a sudden, of things being arbitrary. That it's not my dead man who's important; suddenly it's someone else, the new man, on whom my life depends. I think: can I never just be in one place. Without that magnetism. That's what the snow does. Or that's the illness the snow cannot cover up, cannot heal; the snow as salt falling upon injured raw thoughts raw emotions. When did it happen. In the night the snow comes, the magnetism wells up in me, I wake up magnetic, and as a magnet: held back, bound up, the entire space between me and this new man vibrates like that. A disconcerting tension. Movements drawn in the air, movements revealing themselves—the second before they exist: then perhaps amounting to nothing. Distress at what could have been—so precious.

I think: this is anything but precious.

It's foreboding, the way a house can be when you arrive at a late hour and the lights are out. Or early, and: the lights are out. I think I'd rather be in an unhappy relationship with someone than this: to be without someone. Without those eyes to—well, what, exactly. To give me life. All the time to bring me into being, with just a glance. Rather come into being as a stranger, someone else, than this, not to exist at all.

I am in love with the wrong man. And constantly I am leaving someone I love. A person can come unstuck, but I didn't come home for comfort.

It's about the apples. It's that.

You have lost everything.

Nothing is like you remember it, and everything you encounter clutters your picture of how. Nothing remains of the world you remember; moreover, it's impossible, it cannot ever have existed. It's something other than love, something other than an absence of love. It's the picture that arises when the two things are placed on top of each other. A blurred picture in which all faces become strangely open and desolate, run through by—well, run through by what, exactly. Time that won't; a room that won't.

And the grief on that account.

The illusionist.


I fall and remain lying in the grass. Lying the way I fell. Late August, a tractor idling in the field out back. The door of the cab is wide open, abandoned, mid-sentence.

There is a lack of movement in the landscape.

As though the day in fact is night; as though the sun in fact is a rice-paper lantern suspended from the ceiling, as though someone just wants to make sure everyone is asleep. That no one is reading or talking or fondling each other, looking at comics. In other words: foolery.

But then nothing but foolery exists: all of a sudden foolery is the only thing there is.

Are you asleep, I whisper to my mother.

There's no answer. The words linger, an echo from before, my dead man's voice; are you asleep, he asks.

And I was.

Or else I was playing dead.

The knots in the ceiling planks resemble almost anything. A five-legged deer. A half-moon, dripping. Something a person doesn't forget in a hurry. An apple tree with red apples in a corner of the garden, those kinds of remains; summer in mid-winter. It's still snowing.

As it has snowed all day, it snows.

As though the snow wants to prove something: that the composure with which snow can fall never has to do with fatigue; the snow is not sedate, it is simply inhuman. Like the winter this year, inhuman in every respect. Going tirelessly on, repeating itself in patterns no one understands. The dark is pale from the brightness of snow. Every now and then a red apple falls through the grey darkness into the snow, here beneath the tree's basket of a crown, black bark. A snap as the apple strikes the membrane of hard ice that came of the change in the weather that never materialised. Other than as a moment's hesitation in the winter, a sudden mid-winter assault of: summer. At once the frost came whistling. Then a hard casing of ice, fifty millimetres thick, now with a coat of new snow. It's alright, I say to my sleeping mother, whispering the words in the dark, sleep now.

It can be as simple as that, too.

That you can lie quietly together and be somewhere else, alone.

Yes, says my mother, awakening with a start.

Where have you been, I ask myself, what was it you needed to finish.

Can't you sleep, she asks, turning in the bed. I think: what am I doing here, in my parents' bed. I'm far too old to lie here; have always been.

Everything is the opposite. The snow whirling up, vanishing into a cloud that cannot be distinguished from a sky. I whisper to my mother, yes, I whisper; go back to sleep. She sleeps at once, without transition, departs the room, lying so completely still. For years you don't notice, but then it becomes so clear, death in one's own mother; you see your grandmother in her, her own mother in her. And in fact another face still, recognisable, and yet unfamiliar. A disconcerting face, this third one.

Then she turns over onto her side and sleeps on.

Then turns and sleeps again.

More than once: a face, my mother's face, disappearing. And the third face that can only be my own, the only explanation, mine.

Inhumanly tall grass.

Inhuman nights. I think—I have been so spoiled. Never wanted anything I couldn't have. Now there's only one thing I want, him, and I can have everything I don't want.

Peace and stillness.


All the time I had the feeling there was only one thing left keeping me in this world. But then one evening we parted. And the morning after I'm still here, alive regardless. I wake not, for I never slept. You have walked home to Frederiksberg, where you now live. You have a room in a large apartment, and you sleep in the same T-shirt as when you slept with me. You are deceased, and yet you are there, alive and well.

Without me. There in that way.

The morning slips in with the sun, that's how I imagine it; that the morning begins somewhere beyond the ice-cream kiosk and the fishermen on the far spit on the other side of Langelinie, that it enters the city, passes through Østerbro. The sky is poorly sealed, the sun thin and liquid. It pours into the streets from the bottom end, pushing cars and people in towards Rådhuspladsen, out across Amager, Islands Brygge.

I don't know what you thought you had done that evening, lightened your heart, I suppose, but then it was all so much heavier than before, your heart included; that's how it must be. You think something will last, you endure, and somehow: live with.

I think there is a friend, but then there is none.

I thought I knew there was a mother, always, but then perhaps that too has been crossed out.

I climb into the bed, pull the duvet over my legs and put my arm around her. Now I have returned to the landscape I thought would always be there.

Is it still snowing, my mother asks me.

I nod. Yes, it's still snowing.

Did you feed the birds.

Yes, I fed the birds.


I sit in a corner of the living room, and yet in the midst of it all. I can sit like this, here on the white sofa, and all the time I am somewhere else. My mother walks past again, a shadow falls across the room, it's mid-afternoon. The shadows play on the walls and everything else. The gardens are asleep; there is unease because everything out there is wrapped up in snow and cannot breathe. The snow has fallen, upon all that is alive and all that is dead; the snow makes it all the same. All that is buried suffocates and rots, or grows and expands beneath the blanket of snow, the snow; a skin becoming thinner and thinner, pulled taut. The snow creaks, the vice that grips the plants, the shrubs, the tree stumps. My mother looks out of the window. She has a feeling of having lost contact with a part of her own body, an arm that's asleep. She picks at me with her eyes, pinches me to get in. All the time the sense: that her daughter resides in another world. The calamity that resides in that. Being alone, or at least without.

Shut out of one's own house.

A room in the family, a room in the narrative, a former colony now suddenly standing alone and yet still resounding from something like: a narrative.

She can't understand how I can do it; but then she doesn't really know what it is I'm doing.

She leans forward over the sofa, places a hand on my knee, retracting it almost immediately, as though the knee were wet, as though it were on fire. Unreal winter, light and howling. Dressed landscapes. The snow remembers every wandering that passes through it, a trace that cannot be wiped away; the snow remembers; the body does. But this winter is perhaps different. This winter, the snow is continually blown into drifts; it snowed again, and again it snowed. It's impossible to remember anything, and yet one cannot be in any doubt that something was forgotten beneath the snow, something that would be found in the spring. Beneath the layers of remembered footprints, forgotten, yet as recollections they remain, a latent illness that may return at any time. Awkwardly in spring, awkwardly in a broken face.

I look up at my mother.

Yes, I think, this is a broken face. If you dig with too much abandon, if you dig like a person possessed or don't know when to stop. And my mother's face, my grandmother's, and this third, strange and yet familiar, which is, what else: my own. A feeling of having returned too late, rattling a locked door and knowing your bag is inside. So we share this too, the puzzle of arrival, the eternally postponed arrival at something—well, something what, exactly; still, perhaps.


When I think back on the days in the summer cabin they seem oddly architectural. As though in recollection they share something in common with structures and exact drawings. They are not allowed to be simply days. In recollection they become: the days when.

The days surrounding.

These are the days before, these are the days after; they fall like thick hair on each side of a broken face: how long have you known, I ask. My mother phones; I am still in bed, now I sit up.

I am not breathing.

How long have I known, she repeats, buying time.

There's a feeling of sitting on the back seat and being in my parents' hands. Planetary coercion. The sky that hangs above the fields is dirty. The trees stand clustered like animals in the fields.

I've known for almost a week, she says.

I nod.

I'm sorry. She apologises. She didn't want to get in the way of my work. She thought it best to wait. I think about what she imagines I'm working on. Do the others know, I whisper.

Are you there, she asks. I clear my throat. Do the others know, I ask. Again. I think about my sisters.

Yes, she says.

So I'm the last, I think: So they all know, I say.

I know that she nods. I picture her biting her lip so as not to cry. I bite my own lip so as not to cry, and I: cry. Aren't you upset, aren't you afraid, I whimper.

Yes, she whimpers back, yes, but I've cried and cried, I've no tears left, she lies. Maybe she thinks the distance makes me blind, makes us blind.

We've wasted so much time, I think. And the two of us, I say. We've spent so much time on . . . I come to a halt.

On what, exactly. Don't you think this puts everything into perspective, I ask her.

I'm not breathing.

Again there's no answer; there is noise and light.

Yes, she says at last, I suppose so, but I'm still just as . . . disappointed.

I wipe my nose on the duvet cover. Okay, I say.

Are you coming home soon, she asks. She's standing in the doorway in the kitchen, looking at the birds that keep the air moving so nature doesn't freeze up.

Of course I'm coming home, I answer. I'm not breathing.

The question is if the mother who is telling you she is ill in actual fact is the disease itself. If a person can survive that sort of thing: death entering the stage, a burglary in the home that is life, theft of everything you knew. When you lose your mother, not because she dies, but because she becomes death, the disease that is death.

The conversation ends not by our saying goodbye and hanging up; it's as though we simply become quieter, as though we're standing in an open field, walking backwards, away from each other, speaking with increasingly greater physical distance between us, and eventually we can't hear each other anymore, we put down our phones, each on its own surface. The sound of my mother's phone on the sideboard and the sound of my own phone on the dining table.

She goes out to feed the birds. I look out across the sea. I'm not breathing. Everything is still, or there is some other music, detached from the image. It's not music, it's a sound of something unfamiliar, something you don't really know anymore.


When I lie down in my bed at night I look like a woman lying down in the grass and becoming a heap, a dead calf. I lie down and think: have I risen; I'm in doubt. All that went before. The days. The ones to come. I sleep and do not dream; I am awake in sleep and tell myself a different story just to find peace. I tell myself about the vegetable garden at home, my mother presenting it with a pride more usually reserved for mountains; she tells me about the various varieties. There are four rows of potatoes: Secura, Sava, Folva, fingerlings. Half a row of them. She points them out, one by one. I remember the plan of the vegetable garden, the sheet of paper with four lines, one row of this, another of that:

The rows of potatoes run parallel with the hawthorn hedge. On the other side runs the willow she was going to make baskets from, but she never found the time. It became a kind of willow hedge instead. Not inferior, just something else. Another dream that never was. The fruit bushes, blackcurrant, redcurrant, hanging over the path like those standing passengers on trains. Calves and trees. Disappointment. She digs up a potato plant with the spade, squats down and inserts a broad silver spoon in between the small shiny tubers. The spoon is inherited and is black, its entire surface oxidised apart from the worn area on the underside of the bowl. The spoon makes the same sound as the spade—when it cuts through stony soil, washed in spirits.


You're crying, says my dead man, concerned and reassuring all at once, sounding like someone coming home to an unexpected table, lit candles and food full of promise. I try to smile.

Am I, I ask him in a voice that seems cleansed of all humanity. Or the opposite, a voice that is all too human, as though too much person is pressed into the sounds.

My attempt at a smile makes my face look atrocious.

It's evening. I haven't talked to anyone since I talked to my mother; I don't know what to say to my sisters. I'm not sure we have the same mother; I'm not sure we're a family anymore. When did it get to this, I think to myself, but maybe it was like this always. That we are neither one body, nor one family, or: maybe a family is not the same as a family. It's a construct; it's like that because we can't endure anything else. We excuse ourselves, saying some plants resemble others, that some animals do; we're a bunch held together by string; things becoming arbitrary when you least expect it; the stalks wither and the string becomes loose; when it rustles. Thoughts rustle, a home, the family, falters. A home revealing itself to be: something other than a home. Rustling. A place that is always a different place, a different light there; and then the clatter of homelessness, the body threatening to abandon thought; what remains then, one's good intentions.

And there you stand.

An idea of a home, ideas on the whole; what do we need them for. There are those who make it across with us, and those who do not. It can be as simple as that, too. No bus to pick you up, no bridge built yet, only later on. A fortuitous delay or a delay hardly fortuitous at all, the fatality of a certain hesitation that is thought's expulsion from the body or the blood, the fact that one might never arrive. Those who made it across, and those who did not.

translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken

This is an excerpt from One of Us Is Sleeping, forthcoming from Open Letter Books.

© Josefine Klougart and Rosinante/ROSINANTE&CO, Copenhagen 2012
Translation © Martin Aitken