Newly written midsummer short story by Then24’s literature prize winner Andreas Lundberg
This is a cultural article which is part of Then24’s opinion journalism.
In the foreground is long table set with misty bottles, herring jars, steaming new potatoes and cellar sour cream. About thirty guests fade into the grass. And a burning man comes lounging towards the festivities with definite steps. He has long been entrenched deep in his smoky inward mind, armed with dumbness and holy righteousness. Over the years, he has cited various reasons for his ongoing self-immolation – political, philosophical, religious (he once even wrote a manifesto) – but martyrdom is cohesive now, plentiful. So he has left his burning house, his burning possessions, his two wives who went up in smoke, one by one, and if you want you can follow in his sooty footsteps (like the yellow-brown scars of the lawn after disposable grills) from the sleepy residential area to this football field where he now sits down at the dripping table in the shade of the maypole. Indomitably burning, he sits at the white plastic table and stares at a piece of herring he is balancing on the fork.
He is rolling tongues of fire around sooty knots and burning muscles. Occasionally there is a thickening of the sebaceous glands and tendons that fall off. The sky is so high and blue this midsummer evening, maybe a cloud trail in the distance, and a gentle evening wind is blowing through the maypole. Fire drips from his face onto the cardboard plate, and it bites bitterly into the mouth of the pickled fish. All around, he glimpses his neighbors and acquaintances through the flames and he tries to concentrate his judgmental gaze, sharpening it into a hero’s sword. Children dart back and forth like sparrows out of the dark bushes around the field.
“Oh, I see that you dare to test this year’s taste? Courageously! Which one is it again? ”
It is Hernia who takes the floor, a newly moved-in culture girl who mostly writes chronicles about mentally well-educated cultural guys she has slept with or whom she has glimpsed in online forums. But the burning man’s ears are completely burnt and he does not hear her question for all the flames. He still does not care about food, he is passionate.
In the bushes, the children have begun to break twigs. Quiet, almost solemn, they sharpen them with knives they picked up from one of the tables.
“Oh, but it is apple and mint! ” says Raffe, a CEO who always has a copy of Sun Tzu’s martial arts in his portfolio. “It sounds fresh anyway, really fucking fresh, will surely go home in the cottages!” He stretches across the table.
But now have the burning man manages to focus his judgmental gaze and turns it towards him, two dark pits of embers, and out of his mouth stands a pillar of fire of almost biblical proportions. His voice hisses and clicks like firewood in an oven, but no words can be discerned. The table top softens and clouds in dark yellow blisters around his elbows as he leans forward and glares. Raffe is asked, Sun Tzu does not say no or beg for such things, so he turns his attention to Hernia again: “You are a journalist, right? Is not it hard as a girl? To be a journalist and a girl, I mean? ” But Hernia stares as if bewitched at the burning man who pours snap after snap after snap into his inner crematorium, feeding his fire until blue spirit flames burst out of his throat and nostrils. The sour cream grinds away to an acidic coating on the tongue, the allspice pops in the mouth pores. “You’re damn exposed as a girl in a job like that, I think? For even the finest sword plunged into salt water will eventually rust. Do you understand what I mean? Unfortunately, you have to say, right? ” But Hernia has only eyes for the burning man, whose nose now turns black and falls off like a stump of the navel, down on the cardboard plate where it lies and burns between two potatoes.
“You… I heard an absolutely fantastic song”, she tries. “I do not remember what it was called… or who sang… you know maybe? But it goes like la-la-la. Have you heard it? La-la-la. It’s just: So. Fucking. Good.”
Biggan yells and everyone laughs.
The burning man is deaf to fire and does not care about music.
But the chairman of the housing association, the long-retired Biggan, who sits on the short side some distance away, immediately notices that it is humming somewhere.
Her gaze is swimming, some kind of half-human thought stomps water into it, the whirlpools after a capsized consciousness. “Jaaa, of course we will sing! Come on now, gang! The little knobs, little knobs, I do not want to see you! You should not be in the glasses on the tables anymore! You should not be in the glasses on the tables anymore! Because you are going down, because you are going down, because you are going down in me, because you are going down, because you are going down, because you are going down in me! ” Everyone obediently raises their glasses.
But Togge, who rents a room from her after her inhuman divorce, suddenly folds double like a folding knife and bites her deep in the thigh. Biggan yells and everyone laughs. Typically Togge, the fucking buck. A dark crescent moon shines in the white flesh, and Togge falls down from his chair and lies stretched out in the grass, where he giggles in despair for a while before falling silent. “Should we turn on him?” Hernia wonders. “If he starts vomiting, I mean?” Biggan shrugs. The burning man just stares straight ahead while his face melts, his eyes burst and runs like boiling egg white down his cheeks, so Raffe takes the chance again: “It must be tough to write in the newspapers? Do you have a colleague or someone who supports you? You can support each other, right? Hope so. It’s so damn sad that gender should mean so much in today’s world, especially for you girls. ” Hernia’s eyes twinkle with the blaze that continues to burn even though everything seems to be burned, a fire of nothing, flames of nothing. Now the plastic chair under the burning man softens, the chair legs bend, and he falls backwards in the grass. The sparks dizzy, a glow cloud, like around a tree falling in a forest fire. He does not move, he is busy burning. His whole being is focused on standing in flames.
With sharpened sticks in their hands, the children stand among the bushes and watch the adults.
In Biggan’s gaze is all something so when human thinking is gone now, her head leaning against one shoulder and only her mouth moving, like an insect’s beak. And the microscopic blood pearls from Togge’s wild donkey bite have already faded to a rust-red X on the dress, a crosshair that marks the place where the femoral neck will go off with a bang when she collapses in just over an hour.
At the other end of the table, the slightly more vital Skit-Inge corks up another bottle. Old men with dry and burnt leather skin rule with sharks’ determination towards him, unconscious looks, outstretched glasses, indifferent hunger. And the burning man lies there on his back, staring blankly up into the dim summer sky. His face is a massive, grinning cramp of flames. A sigh of black stinging smoke rises from his mouth and dissipates. Of course, Raffe has continued to talk straight into the void, ”… because yes, it is anyway come later which is the main instrument for equality, especially for you girls. Right? Certainly? Can only imagine how difficult it must be for girls in your industry. One is your own brand, do you understand what I mean or? But of course we must all be helped, there is nothing more important. Is that so? ”
Around the table circulates the neighborhood’s thirstiest walkers with greased-down shorts and unbuttoned shirts.
One of the children, a twelve-year-old girl, walks slowly towards the burning man and holds his hand about half a meter above him. He does not notice. He is deeply focused on his flames.
Raffe has conjured bring out a small plastic bag of cocaine and gently shake out a thin line on the cover of his thumb Sun Tzu 4 Real Entrepreneurs. “And there’s always a skinny fucking goatherd sitting in a hut of shit somewhere waiting to get the chance to do one’s job for a thousandth of one’s salary. You have to be aware of that. One must be on one’s toes, one must think like a fucking general! ” The fallen Togge has started to ulcerate hard at this point. The sour black nausea wanders through him like epileptic seizures. “Of course we do not control world hunger, but we can at least eat each other.” Shit-Inge laughs dutifully, but the laughter quickly mutates into hiccuping drunken crying. “But, Shit-Inge, damn it,” Ulf says as he sniffs the powder. Shit-Inge wipes her mouth and looks away in shame. The clock begins to approach ten and everyone flickers in and out of dreams and nightmares, indistinguishable from wakefulness. Oil shimmering, sticky, black, and they sink like seabirds.
Now Togge starts vomiting in more and more violent shocks and Skit-Inge takes pity, gets on his feet and kicks him sluggishly in the side a few times so that he rolls around. Raffe applauds. Judging by his dissolved gaze, some critical part of the brain has suddenly broken. Around the table circulates the neighborhood’s thirstiest walkers with greased-down shorts and unbuttoned shirts. They have to take long shaky steps over the burning man. “Yes… I have done things I am not… really … Proud of, okay, sure, the cash is going in, but I’ve always pulled my fucking fucking straw to the stack and I’ve learned a hell of a lot about myself… “Hernia empties her glass and walks unsteadily away. “More than you’ve done anyway, you fucking journalist pussy!” nuts Raffe after her. Hernia staggers past the burning man, who has fallen to perfect glow now, mild and gray-pink, and she feels the warmth against her bare legs. The girl sitting next to him does not even look up at her.
The moon rises and the children come out of the shadows with their sharpened sticks, and soon they are grilling sausages and marshmallows over the embers. They sit there well into the night, long after the adults have fainted. They talk quietly to each other about the dreams of stars and the feelings of insects, about lizards that may still be hiding in the primeval forests of Africa. Their eyes are dark and clear. The martyr’s burning time is surprisingly long and in the glow bed shines his still hard-hitting grin. He was born too late to shoulder his real fate as a human torch in Nero’s Rome, a stern and encouraging harbinger of a new age, but the kids can at least grill sausages over him in the dark.