An Icelandic writer refreshes our contemporary European prose series with " The Eight-Leafed Rose". A beautiful story, loaded with innocent humor, warm colors and lots and lots of poetry.
One night, in a short-lived impulse, Arnljot and Anna, who hardly know each other, experience the miracle of passion, after which they each go their separate ways. Devastated by the death of his mother, twenty-two-year-old Arnljot leaves home and heads to a distant monastery to devote his time and skills to an abandoned rose garden. Then Anna appears and entrusts him with Flora Sol - the baby girl born from their ephemeral relationship.
Oydur Ava Olavsdottir is an Icelandic writer born in Reykjavík in 1958. The Eight-Leafed Rose has become a literary phenomenon because it is not just a book, but a tender and self-sufficient delight for the senses. Here, "death, desire, roses and the alchemy of a novel that awakens wonder on every page, as well as admiration for its creator," notes "Money Match".
I'm going abroad and it's not clear when I'll be back, so my seventy-seven-year-old father decides to make our last dinner together an unforgettable experience by cooking one of Mom's recipes written on notes, something she she herself would choose on such an occasion.
– I suggest – says dad – that we have breaded cod and cocoa with whipped cream for dinner.
While he wonders how to deal with dessert, I get into the seventeen-year-old Saab and go pick up Josef from the dorm. I find him ready and apparently pleased to see me after the long wait. For the farewell evening, he dressed in formal clothes and chose the last shirt bought for him by his mother - violet in color, with butterfly motifs.
While the onions are frying and the pieces of fish are ready on a layer of breadcrumbs, I go to the greenhouse for the rose sprigs I plan to take with me. Dad follows me, scissors in hand, to cut thin onions for the cod. Josef follows him wordlessly and stops in front of the glass house – not daring to go on since seeing the s alt-smashed windows after the February cyclone, instead he stops outside in the clearing to watch us. He and dad are wearing matching vests, hazel brown with yellow diamonds.
– Your mother liked to put thin onions on the cod, Dad notes and hands me the scissors, and I reach for the green stalks in the corner, cut off the onion and hand it to him.
Mom bequeathed the greenhouse to me alone, as Dad regularly reminds me. Its scale is modest - here we are not talking about an inheritance of three hundred and fifty tomato seedlings and fifty cucumber seedlings, but only the roses, which do not require any special care, and the dozen remaining tomato crops. Dad plans to water them in my absence.
– Vegetables were never my thing, Lobby, but your mom loved them. I myself can't eat more than one tomato a week. And how many tomatoes do you get from one seedling, what do you think?
– You can give them away if there are a lot of them.
– How do I keep stopping by the neighbors and offering them tomatoes?
– What about Bogga? I ask despite my suspicion that mom's old friend tastes the same as dad.
– You don't expect me to bring her three kilos of tomatoes every week, do you? He'll start insisting I stay for dinner.
I can already guess where the conversation is going.
– I would like to invite the girl and the child – he continues, – but you probably won't agree.
– No, I disagree, you and this girl as you call her are not a couple and never have been, despite our child. It was not intended.
I have already given an explanation, and papa must have understood that the child was the product of a momentary inattention, and my relationship with his mother ended within a quarter, even a fifth of a night.
– Your mother probably wouldn't mind if we invited them to the last supper.
Whenever he wants to add weight to his words, dad calls mom from the grave for advice.
It feels strange to find myself in the scene of conception, if I may say so, in the company of my elderly father and my mentally retarded twin brother standing right by the window outside.
Father does not believe in coincidences, not in the most important events of life - birth and death; in his words, life does not arise and die simply by chance. He does not understand that a child can be conceived by a chance meeting, that a man can by chance find himself in the bed of a woman, nor that a wet road or a pebble at a bend in the road can cause death when everything can explain in another way - with numbers and formulas. Dad sees things differently, according to him the world is joined by numbers, they are the essence of creation, and dates hide deep truth and beauty. What I call coincidence or chance is, in Dad's eyes, part of a complex system. Too many coincidences are not possible, maybe one, but not three, not a series of repetitions, as he claims: Mom and his granddaughter's birthday is also the date Mom died, August seventh. I myself do not understand father's accounts, and from my observations the specific expectations are never met. I don't mind a retired electrician's hobby as long as his bills don't affect my careless attitude to birth control.
– Don't forget something, Lobi.
– None. I said goodbye to them yesterday.
Dad sees that I have nothing to add and changes the topic of conversation.
– Did your mom have a cocoa dessert recipe tucked away somewhere, I bought some whipping cream.
– I don't know, but we can figure something out together.
After leaving the greenhouse, I find Josef sitting at the table, his hands in his lap and his back stretched, wearing a violet shirt and a red tie. My brother has a keen interest in clothes and colors and often wears a tie in the manner of our father. Dad has heated two hotplates and put the pan and pot of potatoes on them, he seems to be having a hard time cooking, maybe he is embarrassed by the thought of my departure. I hang around him and add oil to the pan.
– Your mother always used margarine, he notes.
Neither of us can cook, my role in the kitchen consisted mainly of sealing jars of red cabbage and opening cans of peas.
By the way, mom made me wash the dishes and let Josef dry them. Each plate took him an endless amount of time, and in the end I would take the towel and finish the task.
– You probably won't be getting a chance to try cod anytime soon, Lobby, Dad said.
In order not to affect him, I omit to say that after four months spent at sea among piles of offal, I don't care if I will ever smell fish again.
Desiring to pamper his boys, dad decides to surprise us with curry sauce.
– I used Bogga's recipe.
The sauce has a pleasant green hue reminiscent of swaying grass after a heavy spring rain. I ask him how he achieved this color.
– I added curry and green coloring, he replies.
I see him place the prepared rhubarb jam next to his plate.
– This is the last jar left by your mother, Dad remarks, at which point I peek over his shoulder and begin to watch him stir the sauce in the pot while wearing his diamond vest.
– You're not going to put rhubarb jam on the fish, are you?
– No, I thought you might want to take it with you.
During dinner, my brother Josef is silent, and since father is not in the habit of talking at the table, the three of us barely exchange a word. I pour onto my twin brother's plate and cut his two potatoes in half. Without looking at the green sauce, he gently pushed the fish to the edge of the plate. I stare at my brother, who with his brown eyes and facial features is strikingly reminiscent of a famous movie actor, but I can't get into his thoughts. As compensation for his inappropriate action, I decide to pour myself a generous helping of Dad's sauce. At this point I start to feel a pain in my stomach.
After dinner I go to wash the dishes and Josef sets about making popcorn, which has become a tradition during his Sunday visits. He pulls the deep-bottomed pot from the kitchen cupboard, measures out exactly three tablespoons of oil and sprinkles carefully from the bag of corn until the yellow kernels cover the bottom. Then he puts the lid on the pot and leaves the stove on the highest setting for four minutes. He waits until the fat begins to simmer and reduces it by two. He takes out the glass bowl and the box of s alt and finishes his task without moving from the pot. Then the three of us sit down to watch a political show together, leaving the glass bowl on the table and Josef taking my hand, which is resting on the sofa. It's an hour and a half into my twin brother's Sunday visit and then he hands me the record of the songs - it's time to dance.
Dad is stunned at the sight of my modest luggage. I wrap the rose petals in wet newspapers and pack them in the front pocket of my backpack. The three of us get into the car - a Saab that Dad has owned for as long as I can remember - and Josef sits silently in the back seat. On longer trips out of town, Dad wears an alpine hat. He drives too slowly, after the accident he does not exceed forty kilometers per hour. We make our way so slowly through the jagged lava fields that I can make out the birds perched in the dawn on the violet-tinged cliff edges and forming regular lines all the way to the horizon, like a melancholy melody gaining strength. And being an inexperienced driver, Dad usually let Mom drive. A long line of cars forms behind us, constantly looking for a way to overtake us. Dad, however, drives calm and focused. And I'm not afraid of missing the flight because I know daddy is never late.
– Do you want me to drive, daddy?
– Thank you Adi, very nice. Enjoy the scenery, you'll probably get the chance to travel through a lava field soon.
We both quiet down for a moment, and I decide to enjoy the view one last time. We pass the turnoff for the lighthouse and Dad again brings up the question of my plans and goals in life. I don't understand how I could be interested in gardening.
– I hope, Lobby, that you will forgive your old father, but it is not out of curiosity or bad feelings that I ask you what you intend to do.
– No problem.
– Have you decided what you want to study?
– I found a job as a gardener.
– A person of your mental capacity.
– Don't start again dad.
– I think you're wasting your money, Lobi.
I don't know how to explain to dad, but I always shared mom's interest in the garden and the roses in the greenhouse.
– Mom would understand me.
– Yes, in general she approved of all your activities – Dad notes. - But she wouldn't mind if you enrolled in a university.
When we moved to the new neighborhood, we found bare land covered with dirt, stones and eroded rocks. New buildings or foundations of houses half-submerged in yellowish water appeared all over the terrain. The low loose bushes appeared only later. The neighborhood faced the sea and the gardens were exposed to the strong wind, so people had given up planting violets in the beds. Mom was the first to plant a tree and for several years she puzzled the neighbors with her attempts to achieve the impossible. While others were content with grassy glades and, at best, shrubbery between gardens to bask in the sun and enjoy the summer breeze three days a year, she set about planting golden rain, sycamore, ash, and flowering shrubs on sheltered place next to the house. He stuck the stems in the dirt and literally hit a stone, but still he did not lose hope.
The second summer, Dad built the greenhouse on the south side of the house. At first we kept the plants in it, but in the first or second week of June, when the temperature at night starts to stay above zero, we take them out into the garden. At first we planned to keep them outdoors at the height of summer and then put them in the greenhouse, but sometimes in good autumn weather we left them outside for another month. One winter we even forgot them, buried under a two-meter thicket.
Eventually, Mom's garden blossomed-everything her fingers touched sprouted. Gradually, the bed turned into a park that aroused wonder and delight. Sometimes after Mom died, the neighbors stopped by to seek my advice. "A certain precision is needed and, above all, time" - that was Mom's philosophy about growing flowers in a nutshell.
– I cannot deny that you and your mother lived in a world that remained foreign and perhaps incomprehensible to me and Josef.
Lately dad talks like he's an inseparable part of my twin brother and always says "you and Josef".
Sometimes in the season of white nights, mom would go to work in the garden and the greenhouse as if she didn't need sleep. When I'd come home late at night after meeting friends, I'd see her, leaving dad soundly asleep, getting into bed with a red plastic bucket and pink gloves. As usual for this hour, there was no one around and an incredible silence reigned everywhere.
Mom used to say good morning to me and look at me as if she guessed some secret of mine, which I myself was unaware of. Then I would sit with her in the grass, stay with her for about an hour, and in order not to be idle, I would pull weeds. Sometimes I would bring half a bottle of beer, put it in the bed of violets, lie down with my head on my elbow and begin to watch the orb clouds disperse in the sky. When I wanted to be alone with mom and talk to her, I went to her in the greenhouse or the garden. Sometimes I'd see her drifting off and I'd ask her what she was thinking, and she'd say, "Yes, yes, I agree with you." And he smiled approvingly and encouragingly.
– For such an outstanding talent like you, there is no great future in gardening.
– I don't consider myself an extraordinary talent.
– Despite his years, your father is no slouch, Loby. I happen to keep all your diplomas.
At the age of twelve, he became top of the class. At sixteen, he graduated as the top honors student in his class.
– I can't believe you value them so much.
The diplomas were dusting off some box in the basement.
– Throw away that junk, dad.
– It's late, Loby, I've ordered frames from Trost's atelier.
– You're not serious?
– Aren't you thinking of enrolling in university?
– Not yet.
– Don't you want to study botany?
– And phytobiology or phytogenetics and biotechnology in plant breeding?
Dad has researched everything. He grips the steering wheel with both hands without taking his eyes off the road.
– No, I have no desire to become a scientist or university professor.
I feel better in the loose soil, it's another thing to touch live plants, the laboratory does not smell of greenery after a heavy rain. It's hard to describe to Dad what a world I shared with Mom. I am interested in this - what grows and sprouts from the soil.