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60 the minnesota review Stig Dagerman The Surprise Some people do nothing to be loved and yet are; others do everything and are not. Really poor people, we may find, often find it difficult to be loved. When Ake's mother had been a widow for five years his grandfather celebrated his seventieth birthday. They were invited in a curt, eight-line letter , which said, "Come if you like, but bring your own bedclothes because it's cold in the bedroom and some of you will have to sleep in the hall anyhow because there's more than you coming, we've asked the bank-manager and Jonsson the shopkeeper and they will have to sleep in the sitting-room and Elsa if you can come the day before to help with the cleaning and tables and cooking it would be a help. Yours, Irma. Afterwards we can manage the washing-up and that somehow and Ake can chop a bit of firewood." Ake's mother read the letter aloud one evening under the lamp. She was tired, and held on to the table with both hands. She had been washing ceilings all day in a big flat in Ostermalm, and had a headache from looking up at the sky for so long. When she had read the letter they both sat silent without looking at each other. Ake turned the pages of his geography book: "the Trollhattan waterfalls are beautiful." "The Dutch are a cleanly nation: they scrub their pavements every day." "Under Mussolini's harsh but effective administration these unhealthy marshes have however been drained." "From Chile a fertilising substance called guano is exported." Ake's mother stared straight out into the room; her hands were utterly alone and they crumpled the letter into an uneven ball. When Ake looked at those hands they were ashamed, and smoothed the letter out, but it stayed as wrinkled as an old woman's face. The hands of the poor are always ashamed of what they're doing. That night the lamp on the writing table burned late, and it was a long time before Ake fell asleep. For awhile he thought that his mother must have gone to sleep with the light on, but when he raised himself cautiously on his elbow and looked, he saw that her eyes were open and that the hands lying outside the bedclothes were crumpling and smoothing out an invisible letter. Next night the lamp burned even longer. His mother sat fully dressed at father's old writing-table, and wrote. It was a letter that never seemed to get finished. Before Ake fell asleep the table was covered with crumpled, inky sheets of paper. In the middle of the night he woke up. It was cold, and his mother was sitting on his bed with her hand on his forehead, just as if he had a temperature. When he was quite awake she looked down into his eyes and said, Dagerman 61 "It's only twelve o'clock. How do you spell century - with a C or an S?" The alarm-clock pointed to a quarter past one. "C," he whispered. He heard her pad back to the table and begin scratching with her pen. Then he dozed off and slept the deep sleep of a child till morning. Next day she was waiting for him outside the school gate. Like all children of poor mothers he was ashamed of her, and pretended at first that he didn't know her. He crossed the street, parted from his companions, and came warily back. She noticed his confusion and didn't take his hand until they were quite alone in the street. They caught the tram to the center of town, sitting opposite each other and looking at each other's hands. When they alighted she took his hand again and led him through the rush-hour crowds to Drottningatan. There they stopped in front of a big, grand shop with flashing lights in the window. His mother paused there, and seemed to be reading the window. There was a display of English gramophone records. When they went in she pushed Ake in front...


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