(The Watchers Ability to Interfere)

Part I

Chapter 2

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:

The room filled with the gray light of morning as Peter floated several times up towards the shimmering plane of consciousness, which, through its ripples, gave a twisted image of the woken land. His numbness could be felt all the more clearly: how his skin chafed against an edge of the bedspread, how his throat burned, and how, when he brushed with his hand against his thigh, it felt burning hot. He didn't need to be fully awake to realize that he had gotten sick. He arranged his pillows so that he had an overview of the room. Aha, he was in a hotel in New York and he was sick.* [Link to note: Peter had a special relationship to disappointments: they were, quite simply, the natural state of things. When they weren't present there was something wrong, a canceled train that would soon be replaced by an extra, and once in a while, when fate went stubbornly against him, he was able to calmly adopt an attitude of pleasant surprise. But now it was different. This was the natural state of things.]

The icy gray sky filled the entire window; on the round table stood a glass with a drop of whisky left, capturing the faint light* [Link to note: On this new day the ceiling lamp seemed to be meaningless - an absurd party decoration from another country which some ethnologist had ripped out of its context of "merry but resolutely dancing men in embroidered pants", now the symbol of a dead ceremony.] which shone a dull yellow: the liquid absolutely still. Peter reached for the cigarettes. It would of course taste bad to smoke but it was absolutely necessary to feel that distaste. The sick predicament had to be allowed to completely conquer the healthy case. He smoked slowly and bitterly.

His cold was, perhaps, not so bad that he could not venture out. Shaking, he rose up out of the warmth of the bed, shuddered, and felt taller than usual. His head was sensitive as the bubble in a spirit level. He covered his goose bumps with his well-traveled shirt and went into the bathroom.

At first the pipes spewed out air, but then water gushed, in an even stream, out into the built-in, yellow-stained, tub. He let a small stream of hot water run and leaned back, sighing as the water rose millimeter by millimeter up around his legs. The warmth comfortably increased and soon his knees were covered except for a small spot the size of a quarter, the water tension and oil from his skin making the water pause before that final island, too, was suddenly flooded. He no longer felt cold.

He had a slight fever, probably a degree or so above normal. That this minimal shift could have such tangible effects on both the body and the psyche!* [Link to note: As a child, Peter had been filled with wonderment over the fact that body temperature was measured in the anus. That forbidden, unclean opening was suddenly, in the same way that it was otherwise a medium for waste products, now an indicator for the whole body, where messages could be read from a lubricated thermometer. After the indicated time, during which the mercury column had risen in all secrecy inside there, mother had come and pulled it out, scrutinizing it and ascertaining "one-hundred point seven" or "one-hundred point two", pronouncing it like the name of an old acquaintance. If one dropped a thermometer onto the floor, the dangerous contents ran out and acted like material from another world; soft, shiny metal balls which rolled around on the linoleum, crashing and splitting into smaller, poisonous and increasingly treacherous drops.]

The water compactly surrounded him as if he lay in a plaster cast, walled into the structure of the hotel itself, and if he sank down, putting his ears under the surface, he came into direct contact with the entire building's plumbing system: the clatter against pipes, the gushing of faucets and a faint buzzing sound; he became almost omnipresent in other guest's bathrooms. High up, the shower aimed its perforated mouthpiece at him.

Peter didn't want to lay there so long that the tips of his fingers became wrinkly. This was an unpleasant reminder of the murky amphibian past in the species' developmental history.

The important thing now was to get going. It was already one-thirty. He dried himself off, searched for some aspirin and took two*. [Link to note:...two, three, four - the pill covered conveyer belt at a pharmaceutical factory where Peter had once worked. In proud formation they had wobbled forward, a stream of coated cures, to each and every one its own illness.] He then dressed in clean clothes and went out, dragging himself through the corridor and across the soft carpet, feeling a resistance as if walking through tall grass*. [Link to note: Across fields shrouded in evening fog, the clamor and commotion of people who were enjoying themselves, could be discerned.] He hoped that he would avoid meeting anyone since he wasn't feeling his usual self. The motion of the elevator, which he felt in his stomach, was a clear argument against taking any sort of nourishment. Shortly thereafter, he sauntered out into the lobby where people were sitting in armchairs, standing and conversing, or looking at postcards. They seemed to be positioned in an almost staged manner, posed with an indolence which could be supposed to arise from a carefree existence filled to the rim with leisure time*. [Link to note: Like a cork, the words "casualty markers" floated up to Peter - for just as in civil defense exercises where extras were carefully made up, equipped with fake wounds and simulated hand-grenade splinters and positioned in pedagogically correct spots in the terrain to simulate a frozen moment of a war situation, here too, he thought, all the people had been positioned to denote "hotel life".]

Everything seemed, somehow, to be too perfect: such nice people doing so many different things, were usually found only in advertisements meant to show all the advantages of visiting a certain hotel, resort area or luxury cruise ship. The lively din of the hotel lobby was no longer his, and the dining room had long ago stopped serving breakfast. Peter made a cocoon out of his illness to huddle inside of, returning quickly to his room again.

SUMMARY: So, Peter is sick and stays in his room all day. He has not seen much of New York yet, only what could be seen from the cab when he came from the airport. He studies maps and brochures about New York and watches TV.

The next day he hopes to be well enough to get out on the streets. He dresses, has breakfast and walks to the entrance door. And he stands there, paralyzed. He realizes that he is not well enough yet. And in that way several days are spent - Peter is also (as Joanne was in the prologue) confined. And the general idea with these chapters is to illustrate Peters distance to the world, how he rather studies maps of New York than studies the city itself. Small mystifying events happen. (If you have seen the movie Barton Fink - by the Cohen brothers - you may get a hint of what I mean.)

Accidentally one day Peter sees a blond woman in the elevator. A chapter later we find out that this is actually Joanne on vacation from her problems. Peter is not overwhelmed to meet a fellow countryman (or is it -woman?), but rather embarrassed, it's like being cought in the act of a crime.

But they meet of course, and at the end of the week she succeeds to rescue Peter from the cloud of kleenexes he is sitting on in the bed and they visit a restaurant in Chinatown. Joanne is not very happy with Peters choice of cuisine. She seems to bear some dark secret related to China. But Peter is very enthusiastic and even makes an interview with the Chinese chef, who tells them about a fantastic revival of the Imperial banquet that took place in Hong Kong in 1952, and where the chef participated. The reader also gets to know that one of the western guests at this banquet died the day after - but this is only mentioned "en passant".

Joanne is in NY also to check out the possibilities to study at School of Visual arts. A teacher and film editor from that school has invited her to his and his wife's home in New Jersey. Peter comes along too. At their postmodern house some strange scenes take place between the americans. Something is very wrong with that couple.

Part I of the novel ends with Peter back in his hotel room again after the evening in New Jersey. Is he not a little attracted to Joanne? Nah! Never again a relationship, he thinks to himself, before turning in. Never!

Part II, of course, begins with Peter waking up in Joanne's bed back in Stockholm. She is already out on a job and Peter lies there remembering some erotic moments from the night before, and he also contemplates his new situation. This was not supposed to happen!

As Peter's and Joanne's relationsship goes on, they discover differences between them. Peter has som interest in catholicism, while Joanne is allergic to that, because of her mother. The mother nurtures a strange drawing towards that religion, since Joannes dead father was a catholic. And Peter is searching for some sort of conviction, though he actually hates believers. He wants knowledge and will not settle with faith only.

(At one point in the book J and P discusses the ceremony in the Vatican during the opening of the Holy Year when the Holy Door was opened with three blows with a silver hammer, held by the Pope. This was televised, directed by Franco Zeffirelli and when the door fell down, from one side the illusion was complete. But when the cameras moved away the watchers could see the whole mechanism of tackles and men sweating. This is the sign for Joanne that this religion is all phony. The mystery does not exist.)


But Joanne has a mystery of her own that DOES exist. We don't get to know too much about that yet, but there are clues here and there in the text, which makes the novel something of a detective story if you will.

Peter discovers new sides of his sexuality too. It is not very clearly outspoken, but Peter takes on a dominant role and Joanne submits - she likes it much more than Peter really wants her to. And he becomes very confused. They discuss the Andersen fairy tale about the little mermaid. As a child Peter had really wanted to walk on needles just like the mermaid, he says.

Peter's religious brooding gets worse and at one time he finds a passage in the Bible that he thinks describes Joanne at the psychatric ward. Something about people dressed in white coming out of confusion etc etc.

Peter encounters more and more strange coincidences. When he reads his newspaper he finds that he can answer Joanne with headlines that fit in. Suddenly the world seems like a deck of cards that has not been shuffled properly.

Peter turns to chance more and more and flips coins to help him decide trivial things. At one time he flips coins whether to go to a restaurant or not. And here the novel has a coin in the margin that flips around. Then we can read one storyline were Peter visits the restaurant and one where he doesn't. Many authors would probably create two very different situations for this. But I chose to illustrate the fatalistic core of this novel with the opposite approach. What happens to Peter is very much the same in both cases, the same thoughts, people saying similar things to him but in different contexts.

Peter and Joanne are very alone in this novel. Therefore a chapter that describes a party after the opening of an art show is a sort of contrast to this. They meet a lot of strange people, who among other things talk about artists as being the scum of the earth, although they are artists themselves.

Peter almost has a breakdown shortly after he has an experience that makes him suspect that Joanne has tried to burn all her photographic negatives. Has she actually tried to take her own life again? But then things seem to get better between the two of them.

Then one day Joanne is not there when Peter comes to her apartment and opens the door with his own key. He sees Joanne's gloves on a table, with the form of her hands still there. The gloves seem to grasp at each other as when one tries to get rid of a ring.

And Peter enters the living room:

Everything in the living room was just as it was this morning, when they parted. The morning newspaper still lay there. He went on into the bedroom. The Chinese box stood on the desk. The night before, Peter had finally convinced Joanne to take out the souvenirs that she had inherited from her father. There they lay, the objects that he had been left to study alone while she watched TV: a string of rosary beads, a hand held fan, glass plate negatives with roll photos from the Peking Opera, soapstone stamps, postcards and newspapers;* [Link to a quotation from the Bible: And I took the little book out of the angel's hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey ... ] but he had eventually felt her reluctance and left the old relics, paying instead attention to her. Today, she had apparently been attracted to investigate the souvenirs, herself, since they were already there. She had taken an opera mask and a bundle of letters out of the box. Peter looked at the opened envelopes. In a neat, but somewhat childlike, handwriting they were addressed "Mr. Kåre Waldeen" to various places in East Asia. One envelope was empty. By the postmarks he could see that this was the last letter Joanne had written to her father, in any event of those which lay there. It was addressed to Canton, but apparently forwarded to Hong Kong. The envelope was covered with postmarks, among others a large round one with four Chinese characters; the first one looked like a joint with a bent shank, like an opened shaving knife; and the last character likened to a chair with a small package under it. The other postmark said "Hong Kong" and then the letters "G.P.O." together with two Chinese characters. But where was the letter that had lain in the envelope? Peter lifted up the opera mask and underneath it lay a postcard* [Link to the rest of the quotation from the Bible: ...and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter. ] The picture showed some forty people who proudly posed in a single long row, which forced them to stand far from the camera so that everyone could get into the picture, making their faces too small to distinguish. Above the head of one of them an x had been drawn. Most of them seemed to be Chinese, some had aprons on, a few European suits. The photo was taken in a great, hall, rich with ornamentation. Peter turned the card over. It seemed never to have been mailed. The address had been written, but there was no trace of a postage stamp. Joanne's father had written: "A greeting from the Chinese New Year and a real Imperial Banquet, the first that has been arranged in perhaps 40 years. Now I've eaten so well and so much that it should last me the rest of my life. I will surely never experience anything like this again." It was written in a large, graceful style while the last sentence had been printed in very small, cramped letters at the edge in order to make room: "Regardless of what happens, never doubt that I wish for you all, my dear family, only good things in the future. Daddy." There was also a small printed seal with the text, "Real photograph 1952." Peter stiffened* [link to the New York chapters and the tale of the Chinese cook] and stood paralyzed, for a long time, with the card in his hand.

Finally, he broke out of his paralysis and rushed out, leaving the door unlocked, and cast himself down the stairs. Something terrible was about to happen. Stumbling, he crossed Hornsgatan (no taxi in sight) and ran across Mariatorget square. Down in the subway he looked at the timetable; a train had just left. With frantic impatience he paced back and forth on the platform. He had a very ominous feeling. A ticking sound from the rails announced that a train was approaching, and soon it sauntered out of the tunnel. He rode the train, standing up straight as a nail, hands clenched tightly to a support bar. He already felt, in advance, that this would be an evening to remember with horror. The driver braked at the next station, the doors opened and closed, and the train started again. Upon reaching Hornstull he ran all the way up to the street level. Something terrible was about to happen.

A few quick searching glances across the open square and then down Langholmsgatan at breakneck speed. At the corner of Hogalidsgatan he avoided, by a hair's breadth, being run over by a car. He had a very ominous feeling. A very strong headwind made running slow and difficult. He already felt, in advance, that this would be an evening to remember with horror. Ahead lay the Vasterbro bridge, the road turned slightly to the left, and it was not possible to see around the bend. Something terrible was about to happen. The rise up towards the crown of the bridge was demanding, and his legs began to ache. He had a very ominous feeling. It was now drizzling and he squinted a bit to see more clearly. He already felt, in advance, that this would be an evening to remember with horror. He suddenly stopped, instinctively as if before a frightened bird. Something terrible was about to happen.

On the wrong side of the railing huddled a familiar blond figure in a gray coat.
Alas, my eyes, why must I behold this sight?*
[She had her eyes closed when she threw herself off the edge,
with a panicked scream behind her closed lips,
down into the deep water.]


{The last lines within brackets are presented one by one after clicking the word "sight". The same sentence was used in the middle of the book where the fear of swimming that Joanne had in her childhood was described}

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Karl-Erik Tallmo, 1994, 1995