(The Watchers Ability to Interfere)


Part I

Chapter 1


When the bus reached the crest of the hill, the gigantic, shiny aluminum airport terminal building with its sign "ARLANDA INTERNATIONAL," spread out before the gaze of the passengers, taking form just as a drop of mercury that stabilizes, becoming completely still within its surface tension; it was like a topological crescendo,* [hyperlink to note: This landscape, which had for centuries consisted only of agriculture's ever-changing fields of color, of sharp bands of green forests against the horizon or, in the most dramatic of cases, perhaps a red painted barn, had now been graced with a gleaming collection of matter, which most closely resembled a hole.] a culmination of brass and cymbals in a chord that held both harmony and dissonance in unison. Peter already had the foretaste of homecoming; with recreated eyes he saw his hometown from the viewpoint of an experienced traveler, and this feeling was as encompassing as the sheets of rain that the bus produced during its quick, routine passing of other vehicles. 

Peter retrieved his luggage from the back part of the bus and walked towards the automatic doors, feeling a hindering impulse in his spinal cord, a reflex from, genetically speaking, the oldest parts of the body. As an individual he was at once enticed to enter this aeronautic temple and submit himself to its officiants, but as a member of a species he was repelled: he wanted to depart on this trip but he objected to its character of escape or - flight.

At the check-in counter he closed out the din of his fellow passengers by concentrating fully on the incredibly casual woman in the blue* [hyperbook function: a random association to the word "blue"] uniform, who exuded the kind of false maturity found in imported fruit that had ripened in domestic warehouses.* [link to note: A sort of eroticism that had been deep frozen through habitual smiling and a servility, combined with the authority accorded to a clearly defined area.] When he handed over his ticket he had the same feeling of standing naked before her as he had when a bank teller inspected his identification card photograph.* [link to note: During his school years he went through several health examinations, with all of the boys lined up alphabetically, confronted by a female doctor of Slavic origin, who always ended her cursory examinations, almost absentmindedly - as if by chance, so as to seem discreet - with a finger in one's undershort's elastic, for a quick exposure of any eventual pubic hair growth. They all extracted secret information about him by putting two and two together from the various data in his documents.]

Unresistingly Peter allowed that which happened to happen, he passively let himself be conveyed with the flow of directional signs, over the stone floors, past the glass enclosed shops and food stands. It invoked in him a sort of tenuous peace, the sort one experiences when a long expected catastrophe finally happens, allowing one to calmly wander into comforting darkness, without the need of any form of intervention, because an attempt to that end would already be too late. His actions had nothing to do with an urge to travel.

With disgust, he allowed himself to be sucked through a door which, with mechanical hospitality, opened when he pushed his foot against a rubber pad. Inside this luxury convenience store people crowded, plastic shopping baskets in hand, all with the look of having cajoled extra rationing coupons under a system of rationing. Here, in this special zone, a completely different legislative climate prevailed, a local high pressure of freedom on parole. Peter walked passed the cognac shelf and didn't even look at the good wines; he refused to acknowledge these good friends in such company.* [Link to note: A similar mechanism had once forced him to leave a theater during the screening of an interesting movie, because the audience and its reactions degraded the experience.] With a bottle of whisky, two hundred cigarettes and a package of marzipan filled chocolates, he passed through the checkout counter, relieved.

Peter sat down in a red armchair which was secured to the floor. A clock showed twenty minutes past eleven. He pulled out a marzipan chocolate. With an almost inaudible metallic rustling, like a ridiculous imitation of the sound that is made when automotive sheet metal is compressed at a scrap yard, he peeled off the purple colored tin-foil.* [Link to note: This association was one aspect of the longing a child can feel in front of a dollhouse with its proportional miniaturization, where the lack of perfection - which makes the silverware grotesquely large in comparison to the little kitchen table with it's match stick legs - conveys the very essence of play. Or perhaps it was similar to that dream which, in secret, pervades the whole being of an engineer who collects exotic postage stamps: the strive to completely merge with an image, which was both comforting and hopeless because it is unattainable The station house that father and son had just completed for the model train set, including the platform and rain shelter made from plastic, as well as the brick building in central European style with hints of the cornerstone reliefs protruding from the molded casting, and the quarter inch high mailbox which had been glued to the wall - how they longed to really be there, putting in letters. How hungry one became, as an imagined night wanderer, at the sight of the inviting light in the windows of the train station restaurant - despite the fact that the panes were made of yellow paper and the light inside emanated from a pitiful battery powered light bulb.]

He ate up the piece of chocolate and looked at his sticky fingers. Suddenly he suspected he had done something conspicuous, so he changed positions, not losing control for a second, however, of where the sticky hand was in relation to his pants. He observed with distaste the brown sticky mess of melted chocolate on his large, white fingers, but at the same time experienced a remarkable feeling of complacency.

Peter peered up at the large clock on the wall* [Link to note: In the completely secure world of an airport, time exists only in relation to the timetables and the airborne vehicles whose maneuvers are overseen from a glass tower with many telephones; every load of passengers also arrives with their own time, their own solstice, transported in pressurized cabins from other airports where time is apparently different.] and simultaneously, in a kind of thoughtful manner, he wiped his thumb and index finger off on the seat of the chair. He then took out a clean, white cigarette and lit it.* [Link to note: The first puff on a cigarette was always a sort of replica of that first deep drag he had inhaled. Almost the same giddy feeling as then of forcing something foreign into one's body.]

The identity of an airport can be defined only by establishing which newspaper is foremost arranged in the piles at the newsstands, he thought, or by which accent the bartender reveals when saying "whiskey sour", or by the interpolation that is possible to make out of place-names and times on the monitors listing take-offs and landings. While travel had become ever faster, the departure itself had become muddled and clumsy. An entire indoor city had been constructed with inhabitants so transient that their only habitat were the stiff plastic chairs of the food stands or the departure area sofas; complex delay mechanisms were activated so that after endless preparations, one could intersect this foreign ether as quickly as possible, high above treetops and roofs.

"Why did the most trivial things become so interesting if only one visualized them as if they were a movie?" thought Peter. The sterile, boring hall in front of him, with wandering, commonplace people; all one needed to do was to form a rectangle with one's thumbs and index fingers, observe the surroundings through it, and then imagine that the buzz of voices, the dry echo of clattering hard heels, the droning of the floor washing machine (which left a slippery snail's path behind the man in blue overalls) and the distorted voices coming through the loudspeakers, that they all came from a tape recording - then at once everything gained an air of dignity with a mysterious purpose, which could no longer be ignored, but rather demanded attention and interpretation.* [Link to note: Was this impression strengthened by the fact that airports were of the same era which brought forth photography; that they were built from the inside out, based on functions such as intake, flow through, registration and resolution, just like the camera?]

On the other hand, he couldn't think of any situation where reality would surpass its own illusion of not being real. The unnatural awakens the notion of the natural much more effectively than the natural itself. Peter much better enjoyed sitting in a cozy movie theater watching movies with exaggerated color saturation from the jungles of Africa or from Antarctica or the Sahara desert; places he could tearfully long for in front of the screen, but which, in reality, he could not survive in for many hours. The slightly false colors, the corona that adhered to the edges between extremely light and dark areas, together with, in the best of circumstances, a musically sensitive film clipping technique - these were what made this rhythmized reproduction so extremely seductive. But it was an advertisement for a product that Peter would never buy.

Peter was one of the very last ones to walk down the swaying steel ramp towards the curved door which the stewardess was already starting to close. Peter was not afraid to fly. But he was deathly terrified of take-offs and landings. Now he would be forced to experience four such operations, since his flight didn't go directly to New York, but rather required a stopover in Frankfurt to change planes. Now he was sitting, securely fastened, in an aisle seat in the middle of the full-booked plane. Next to him sat a man who smelled of aftershave but, through that camouflage, one could detect an acrid smell of sweat. The plane rolled out towards the runway with slight rocking movements which had the effect of making the wingtips, seen from the perspective of the cabin windows, oscillate around the horizon.* [Link to note: At an airport one was really just as far away from all places. Kastrup was just as far away from New York as it is was from Copenhagen, Arlanda was just as close to Stockholm as to Tokyo. Airports are a medium, geographical processors, that connect fish and fowl, foot and eye, and the heard with the seen.]

The engines revved up to high speed, the whole body of the aircraft braced itself against the wind behind it and, for a fraction of a second, nothing at all happened as if all the physical forces involved were trying to achieve eye contact so that they could simultaneously roar, "Now!". And then, all at once, the heavy plane was pressed forward, forward, forward. Inertia made the whole hull shake, and finally, after several hundred yards, it was taken with hesitation, almost grudgingly, by the power of the wind and an invisible, steep slope conveyed them up into the heavens.

In that moment of concentration, anxiety and invocation, Peter noted the smallest movements of the plane, and he couldn't relax until all the vibrations had ceased and they entered that remarkable state where one seemed to floate, completely still, at the same point in the sky, like a model airplane that hangs on a string in the storefront window of a travel agency.

Now he was finally safe, safer than in an observation tower. He recalled what his uncle had said to him as a ten year old when he was going to fly, for the first time, in a single engine propeller plane which was to take off from the small rural town's overgrown airfield, with its strange wind direction indicator fluttering like a giant sock on a pole. "One never gets vertigo in an airplane," he had explained. "To get dizzy you need contact with the ground, for example in a tower or on the roof of a high building."

Peter came to think about the study trip he recently made, for the purposes of his novel, to the Varta Gasworks,* [Link to note: During a nightly walk several years earlier, the mysterious appearance of the gasholder had captured Peter with the power of a several thousand year old sacrificial offering place of a foreign culture. He had walked down a hill and with every step he took the tower, from his perspective, had risen ever higher out of the greenery, all dark and hollow, majestically mute, in the unnatural glare of the street lights which also illuminated parts of the treetops. Together with the deep blue night sky, the whole environment took on a supernatural aura, in fact, the situation had all the qualities of a film. This certainly contributed to his strong desire to write the story of the gasholder and to write to such an extreme degree that not a single bolt, not even a welded seam would be unimportant in the overall context. It would be a sort of word-oriented revenge on the photograph, which he, deep down, hated since it tempted him to be unfaithful towards reality.] going up onto the 107 yard high roof of the gasholder, where he had looked out over Hjorthagen, Gardet, the Kaknas Tower and the harbor's cranes and oil cisterns. Straight below lay, embedded in the thick foliage, the gasworks' various brick buildings, long ago inaugurated by the King, who rode there on a special train from the Stockholm Central Station. Peter had felt dizzy when he stood up on that enormous cylinder and every step he took in the direction of the roof's edge felt potentially disastrous.* [Link to note: The engineer who had guided him had been employed at the gasworks for thirty years and yet never once been up on the roof of the gasholder, but that day he had finally gotten an excuse for such an unnecessary adventure, taking with him his camera, an old twin-lens reflex. The faithful old servant had looked happy when he handed over photocopied details of the gas tower's volume, the piston stroke, and the constitution of the twenty cornered cylinder's surface.]

Presently, two flight attendants, one blonde, the other dark haired, began to distribute coffee and tea from a narrow serving cart. Nothing more was offered on this leg of the journey. One had to wait until after changing planes in Frankfurt for the rationally prepackaged, industrially prepared fare which was served on plastic trays with small compartments.* [Link to note: The art of cooking's recent equivalent to the art of book printing.] The blonde flight attendant had to break her routine to fetch a pillow for a woman who did everything she could to appear older and more frail than she really was. A smoker just ahead and to the right, on the other side of the aisle, spilled ashes on his pants and tried to brush them off with his hand but seemed, rather, to further press the evermore finely ground ash particles into the material. Peter thought that every single moment should have its own significance which set it apart from other moments. Nowhere, however, did he find anything that seemed to distinguish this particular flight.

A beautiful woman in a thin dress and high heeled shoes with thick, jet-black hair made her way down the narrow aisle with the typical combination of elegance and jerkiness that characterizes a woman used to walking in close fitting skirts and is therefore always forced to move her knees in small half-circle motions.* [Link to note: Unwillingly, Peter followed the contours of her body down to her shoes, that were so low cut one could glimpse the cracks between her toes, which was slightly obscene, like seeing the cleavage of breasts in a low-cut neckline.] There was a slight rustling, as she passed by, when her dress brushed against the nylon cover of the seat in front of him. She was obviously on the way to the toilet in the stern of the plane, a fact which made her appearance even more physical since Peter, in this way, seemed to become part of a very intimate secret.

He leaned back and looked straight forward. It was like sitting at attention together with all the other passengers. In this respect he seemed to escape responsibility, even for the most private things, for example whether or not he should read something or what he should do with his hands, and in this way he avoided lighting up a cigarette. He closed his eyes and, for several minutes, tried to suggest to himself that the sound of blowing air was really the sound of blood rushing through his body; he tried to imagine how it was forced out into all the branches, like in a tree, out to the very smallest twigs, out into the network of leaves, out to the head's smallest capillaries, where it rushed like a fall wind.* [Link to asssociation: The sigh of the forest was the sigh from 1902.]

Peter put his hands over his closed eyes and far within, in the deepest of darkness, conjured up on his retina - the spots! Unbelievable, yet there they were, the spots he used to see when he was little! When he went to sleep, he always saw those small dots, each and every one surrounded by a small ring, closely aligned in a solid, even pattern that covered his entire field of vision. If one concentrated on a single point they disappeared.* [Link to note: It was a perfectly coordinated swarm of mosquitoes, which continually moved across the field of vision, as if a prickly veil had been pulled over his face. Strangest of all, however, was that these movements, in that eye's own night sky, allowed themselves to be controlled through willpower. Peter had only needed to think "upwards" and the downward gliding particles had obediently, almost graciously, turned around and began wandering upwards until he finally decided "to the side." Peter had thought that the spots belonged to childhood, but now they were here: with a demonstrative boisterousness they rushed endlessly upwards, exactly as when he was a boy (in their flickering, rebellious swarm they reminded him of something, was it the throngs of people, seen in film clips, storming the Winter Palace?), and Peter thought with great concentration, "downwards, downwards," and the spots slowed down (weren't they similar to the hundreds of men's hats on Wall Street, photographed from a birds-eye perspective, during the great stock market crash?) and then set in motion in the opposite direction.] That this mechanism was still alive in his body after at least twenty years, during which time he hadn't given it a thought, came as a shock. One could usually look back on mystifications from childhood* [hyperlink to the random of four glimpses from memory] in the comforting assurance that, had one been confronted with the same problem as an adult, there certainly would have been possible to find some rational explanation. But now the phenomenon was still there, just as uncompromising and unexplainable.

As if to underscore that something forgotten now called for revaluation, a golden sun beam crept in through the hazy blue safety glass and panned like a small spotlight slowly across Peter's knee, down onto the floor, wandering jauntily across the aisle and was just about to climb up on a backrest when it was brutally cut off and extinguished. The sun beam left behind a slight warmth in the cool plane.

Over the loudspeakers it was announced that right now they were flying above an overcast northern Germany, a message the passengers received with disproportional invigoration.* [Peter tried to imagine that he had northern Europe beneath his feet, a rather imperial metaphor, a turn of phrase from echoing elementary school classrooms, filled with floor wax aroma, which reduced this incomprehensibly vast area to a fathomable abstraction, as convenient as a school atlas with its glaciers, rain forests, deserts and cultivated areas, over which a dreamy pointer finger once slowly glided with the same ease that the airplane now seemed to scan the European continental shelf; and despite the fact that this took place at very high speeds it seemed to go unendingly slow, and the plane undoubtedly lost the race against the forward creeping finger from the geography lesson - just as Achilles lost to the tortoise.

SUMMARY: At last Peter arrives in New York. He checks into a hotel near Times Square, thinks about what it means to be in America, the country that is so mythical in Europe. He watches the black and white TV in his room for a while and goes to bed. And he wakes up the next day.


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Karl-Erik Tallmo, 1994, 1995
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