Mathilde’s life has been going down the drain for too long. She’s been smoking a bit too much grass, drinking too many beers and lived in the street. 17 year old Mathilde badly wants to start all over, stay clean and learn something. Hugger Boy Max is a good comfortzone, but doesn’t back up her much. Maybe the Princess, who sings like an angel in the pedestrian street, can make a difference.
I know, that Max cannot keep me and his joints apart. Sooner or later I’ll have a cannabis pipe in my face when I need it the most, and that will be it, that will be the end of my staying clean. Mia should be back from Canada now, and the Gnat is surely lying around somewhere at Christania, telling her adventurous stories. My feet are longingly walking towards Pusher Street.Angel Power, p. 23
Then I hear her.
Silent Night, Holy Night, in a crystal clear soprano. Not as lame as Sissel kyrkjebø, not as neat. That’s what I like about the Princess: She sounds a bit rough. In front on The Nordic Bank she stands, all by herself today, without her angel choir. She put a box in front of her for the money and holds the music in front of her self like a shield, not quite at ease with the situation. Her eyes are watching up and down the street after her second and third voice. The song sounds great, but lacks sides and bottom. I wonder why she stands here alone? I thought they did it in order to get used to singing in front of an audience.
I loosen my partisan scarf, and drape it around my neck. Wipe some of my hundred braids back behind my ears and dry my nose in my sleeve. Snotty Mathilde approaches the Princess.
She’s done with Silent Night and gazes up and down the pedestrian street for her peer singers from the music college. But there’s a fine little crowd standing in front of her, waiting for more. She goes on, flattered. Amazing Grace floats from her throat.
I wiggle myself closer to her from behind, cold sweat running under my clothes, hands all wet. I wish to God I had a joint. She doesn’t perceive me until I fill my lungs with air, hitting her second voice in perfect pitch in the last verse. Believing it’s one of her peers, she turns around – and freezes by the sight of me.
Summary before the rest: Thilde has accompanied her boy friend Max to brain surgery late Christmas night and waited for hours outside in the hospital corridor in spite of her phobic hospital-anxiety, trying to make it by smoking some bad hash that made her sick. Max’ s younger brother, called Flash because of his slowness, drives her to girl friend
The Princess Camilla’s exclusive house outside town in his old pick up car early Christmas morning.
It is Christmas Eve and the villa at number 25 is bathed in moonlight. Flash is waiting in the car while I sneak around to the back of the house and into the backyard. The light is on in Camilla’s room.Copyright 2000, Bente Clod and Publishers
I run back to the car.
It’s okay. See you tomorrow during visiting hours. Drive safely, Flash.
Will you be okay?
I’m not at all sure, but I nod briefly.
I know the girl who lives here.
We give each other a long hug before he drives off. Dressed in my new silver jacket, I watch him leave. There is vomit on one sleeve and blood on the other. Lifeblood.
I tiptoe back into the backyard and throw dirt at the window, wondering why she’s up so late. She’s listening to music behind the window. The melancholy sounds of violins and piano suffuse this Christmas Eve. It’s fortunate that her mother sleeps in a room facing the street. Totally exhausted, I throw more dirt, lumps of dirt, at the window. Nothing happens. I don’t want to ring the bell and wake up her mother. My head is spinning. I pick up a handful of snow with each hand and press it against my temples. I also try to wash some blood off my sleeves.
I throw pebbles at the window. Nothing happens. She can’t hear anything because of the music.
The moon is shining at the small chair up in the apple tree. That’s where the princess climbed up when she was a little girl child. It’s not very high, at the most a couple of meters.
I fill my trouser pockets with pebbles and peel off my new jacket. I fold it neatly on a pile of snow before climbing the tree.
When I make it up onto the first large, forked branch, I feel dizzy. Frighteningly dizzy. It’s not that much of a drop, but I’m clinging to the branch and have to close my eyes until I get my breathing under control. One more branch and I am level with the window. I can see her head now. She is sitting at the foot of the bed, completely absorbed in doing something. I’ve never seen her so concentrated before.
I manage to hoist myself onto the chair, wrapping my elbows around the back of it.
I’m looking at a bed that’s been made. I see a princess, sitting on the pillow, wearing a nightgown. In front of her, on the bedspread, is a feast: caramelized potatoes, boiled white potatoes, roast pork and duck on a dish and a platter with pickles and steamed red cabbage. Right now she is tucking into a bowl half filled with rice pudding. There is an empty container of mayonnaise, another with remoulade and an empty plastic bag that has contained a loaf of rye bread. Only the heel is left of the rye bread, and the duck has been picked clean. I blink my eyes and shake my head. The nausea comes back.
A halo of fire surrounds the princess’ head as she’s stuffing the notes dripping from her lips back into her mouth as fast as they’re spilling out. I can hear that singing sound again and feel the icy ground below the tree pulling me down, relentlessly. A cat down below me is moaning. My aunt’s cat is down there on the snow, wanting me to own up to my actions. A little bit of remorse here on Christmas Eve wasn’t nearly enough, it yowls, narrowing its eyes.
The princess is gorging herself on the feast as fast as she can. She isn’t eating the food; she’s wolfing it down. She stuffs her face, chewing, chomping, chewing and swallowing, her face glistening with duck fat, not unlike the tiger in the zoo. I don’t believe the evidence of my own eyes. I’m afraid to move. My head is spinning. It’s four o’clock on Christmas morning and I’m sitting in an apple tree in sub-zero weather, wearing a T-shirt, watching a princess who has been turned into a wild animal. I am in no condition to walk all the way back home or, for that matter, anywhere else.
The cold is nipping at my body. I inhale the icy air so that it fills my lungs and try to shout. Then I try to hum and whine, but I can’t produce even the faintest little squeak. I have no voice. I’ve become an icicle hanging way up above the snow. Hanging on a branch while a bloodthirsty tiger is circling the tree, waiting for her to freeze to death and fall down so that it can tear me to pieces. I’m shaking so violently now that my whole body is ouf of control. Max. Mia. Messiah. Angel power.
Teeth chattering, using every inch of willpower, I manage to strech one leg and reach the branch I came from. Gingerly, one centimeter at a time, I slide down from where I was sitting until I’m standing with both legs on the branch below.
There is a loud crack as the branch gives way under my feet. I manage to grab hold of the chair I was sitting on so that I don’t fall down on the lawn as well. I’m hanging by my arms and I’m so heavy that my shoulders creak.
The window upstairs is opened.
It’s me,I gasp.Help me, Camilla. Help! I can’t hold on much longer.
Uhm. Just a moment.
She shuts the window. My hands are slipping. I look down and try to hit a soft pile of snow. Then I let go and tumble down in the snow. The cat is screaming like someone who is deranged, and the voice of the doctor at the hospital, Christian’s violin and the Gnat’s squeaky little voice become a violent hodgepodge of sounds. I’m going up and down in the elevator at the hospital while I’m burying my face and fingers in the frigid snow. Fractured skull. The brain. Respirator.
An eternity passes. The melting snow is seeping through my blouse. I lift my head and crawl over to my jacket. My body hurts from hitting the lawn and one ankle feels as if I sprained it.
Then Camilla is standing over me.
I’m sorry,I mumble.Max was mugged. I’ve come straight from the hospital. I can’t go home.
Okay. All right. Come here.
I grab my jacket and stumble after her towards the front door. She doesn’t look at me. She keeps swallowing and wiping her mouth, hiding behind her long hair while we tiptoe up the stairs. I follow her into her room, trying to keep upright. She closes the door behind us.
The bed is empty and the bedspread has been straightened. Never has a bed looked more inviting. My knees are about to give way, but still standing up I explain what’s happened. She is struggling with some blankets and a foam rubber mattress that she is pulling out of a closet.
You take the bed,she says without looking at me.I’ll sleep on this one.
I stumble over to the bed, fall into it and am down for the count.
A couple of hours later I’m wide awake. I’m lying in Camilla’s bed with clean sheets under a wonderful comforter fit for a princess.
Camilla is asleep in a sleeping bag with her back towards me, on the mattress on the floor next to the bed. Her strong shoulders move a little every time she is breathing. I can hear her mom moving around in the kitchen downstairs.
It nearly knocks me out. Grandpa. Aunt Lis. The Gray Hall. Max. The hospital. The bad weed. Max. I’ve got to visit Max.
I don’t dare.
When I finally got up the nerve to go and see Aunt Lis way back then, they had wheeled her away and taken her down to the morgue.
I have a horrible taste in my mouth. It’s too much. Way too much has been happening during the last 24 hours. Or maybe during the last year. I curl up into a ball and sob. I can’t control myself. I sob loudly.
The princess turns over on the mattress, propping herself up on her elbow. She doesn’t know what to do and I don’t care. I continue sobbing and don’t give a damn.
Then she sits down next to me on the bed and places a tentative hand on the comforter. She pulls her hand away and then puts it back.
I’m going to see Max at the hospital,I sob.I have to do it, but I’m afraid.
Do you want me to come with me?
I nod and bury myself in the comforter again. She puts her little princess’s hand on my shoulder. It feels weightless. I can barely feel it but it’s warm. Maybe it never touches anybody.
Why don’t you call the hospital,she suggests. I nod. She gets her cell phone out of her purse and dials the hospital’s number. She knows that number by heart. I tell her Max’s last name. She asks for him and is transferred to the recovery unit. Then she hands me the phone.
I sniffle and wipe my nose on the comforter. A nurse says that Max is still unconscious and on a respirator and needs complete rest. He is under constant observation.
Yes, we have to keep him under observation. You can’t see him yet, but we’re cautiously optimistic so long as he doesn’t get any worse. We’ll call the family if there are any changes. You’ll be able to keep in contact with them, won’t you?
I turn the phone off and wipe my nose. Under observation. Max is alive. He hasn’t died. Not yet.
Camilla has gone downstairs. I can hear her talking softly with her mom. Birgitte’s voice sounds sympathetic and inquiring. Camilla’s answers are brief and curt. I look around. I lean forward and peer under the bed. No trace of food. It must have been an illusion. A Fata Morgana. A drug fueled vision.
Then I notice a little bit of red cabbage on the floor in front of the bed. I pick it up and crumble it between my fingers. Sniff it. Good Danish red cabbage. Is that why the princess needs singing gigs? So that she can stock the refrigerator in the kitchen? I dry my fingers on the underside of the mattress and feel the plastic bag. The bag that held a whole loaf of rye bread. I hurriedly push it back and feel something hard. I pull a small object out. The Gnat’s pipe. It’s broken and only the head remains.
I grab the cell phone again. I call Mrs. Jensen and tell her where I am.
Why don’t you say anything about Max,she asks sleepily.His dad called a moment ago. It’s awful. I was so worried about you. I’m so glad you called.
Don’t worry,I say quickly. There is no sound at the other end. I can tell that she is worried. I hope she doesn’t have another break down. It’s a good thing that Uncle Ole is still there. Christ, we’re looking after each other like two old ladies.
Thilde. Is it bad? How is he?
Oh Mom.Tears are gushing down my cheeks again.
Have you called the hospital?
I swallow my sobs and tell her what they said.
Aren’t you going there? Maybe you can sit outside in the hallway and talk to the nurses who are taking care of him. At least you’ll be there. They can’t prevent you from doing that.
I hadn’t thought of that. Mrs. Jensen has experience in these matters.
Do you think that you can … uhm … handle it? Do you really want to do that?she asks tentatively, trying to keep her teeth from chattering.
Camilla is going to come with me,I quickly reassure her.Her dad’s a doctor so she’s used to hospitals.
Is she?I can tell that my mom is almost falling apart at the thought that she is letting Max and me down. But she can’t handle having to sit in a hallway at a hospital again. Just like me. She is afraid of breaking down now that they have the loan from the bank to get the shop going.
Well, then, just today. After all, it’s just the first day. Tomorrow I’m coming with you, Thilde. Promise.
It’s okay, Mom,I tell her with a sinking heart. Mrs. Jensen is afraid to come with me to the hospital and hear the verdict. And we both know that she probably won’t be going tomorrow either. We say a quick goodbye. She is afraid of being so weak just as I was ashamed that I left the funeral of aunt Lis. I bury my head in the comforter.
Camilla enters with a loaded breakfast tray which she deposits on the bed. Two glasses of juice, two croissants, two pastries, rye bread, tea, soft boiled eggs, bacon and a mango cut in half.
My mom feels so sorry for you and Max. I asked her to wait a little before she comes up here so that you’ll have time to wake up. OK? Please go ahead and eat.
She pours tea into the mugs while I keep swallowing my saliva. I’ve only seen that kind of breakfast tray on TV. Suddenly I’m really hungry. I tuck into the feast while telling her how fortunate it was that her dad was there to help us. I don’t mention Flemming. She is listening, all the while her eyes are darting between me and the food I’m gorging on. All she does is sip her tea.
It was awesome that he called an ambulance.
But of course. After all, he does owe you a favor.
I keep gorging myself. She is looking out the window at the seat in the apple tree. I can tell what she is thinking.I didn’t see anything yesterday,I say.
The princess’s face and neck turn a flaming red. She isn’t merely embarrassed. She is afraid. She is no longer able to hold the mug but puts it down and gets up. She walks towards the door and grabs the doorknob but then lets go of it without moving.
I said that I’m not going to say anything to anybody. Can I have your pastry?
She is still standing in front of the door, her back turned towards me.
I don’t really do this all that often. It was really an unusual thing for me to do,she says.
I help myself to the second pastry and wonder what it would feel like to ingest several kilos of food in such a short time without chewing it properly. Her stomach must be upset.
I wasn’t very hungry at dinner last night and couldn’t really eat anything. Then later I woke up and –
Spare me. You can tell your mom that story.
She turns around and glares at me. If I hadn’t just been sobbing into this little hottie’s comforter, she would have booted me out now.
I’m your friend,I hasten to add.I’m not your mom. Can I have your egg?
She nods acidly. I pick up the stainless steel designer spoon and eat the egg out of the designer egg cup. Then I put the egg back upside down so that it looks as if we have eaten an egg each. She’s following my movements. I’m wolfing down the food the way she did the night before, but I’m probably savoring it more. I help myself to her slice of rye bread, looking at her quizzically. She gives a short nod.
Have you talked to anybody about it?I ask with my mouth full.
She shakes her head and sits down on the chair by the desk. She picks up a pen and keeps fiddling with it so that it makes a clicking sound. Clickety click.
How do you feel about hospitals?I ask.
She gives me a frightened look.
I don’t want to be hospitalized.
Of course not. What I meant was, can you stand them?
My dad works in a hospital. What do you mean?
Does’n it make you feel nauseous or panicky or anything like that? Like, the smell.
She shakes her head, smiling.
Can I have your –
Sure. I’ve already eaten.
Her blue eyes, gazing at me with curiosity, look as if they might break into a smile. I nod, wide eyed and emphatically, with my mouth full of rye bread. She has, like, eaten quite a lot. Now the princess is really smiling. Her eyes, like crescents, are tittering. Taking in her glistening teeth and crisp hair, my heart beats more normally. Perhaps everything is going to be fine. I swallow my mouthful of rye bread, throw my head back and gargle with the juice.
You did have, like, a few snacks last night, didn’t you?
She’s laughing, tears running down her princess cheeks. We are laughing like crazy, the princess rolling around on her back at the foot of the bed, nearly upsetting the tray. The sounds of a belly laugh are coming from deep inside her. Several years’ worth of laughter, of binges and the many kilos she has put away.
I toss the empty eggshell up in the air. She catches it and tosses it back again, catches it and crushes it between her fingers. A princess’s slim, gracious fingers throw the pieces of eggshell back at my head.
And you had a few puffs of weed, didn’t you?
I crush my egg and throw it back at her head.
She ducks down, avoiding it, dips her finger in the jam and throws it in my face.Cat burglar.
I throw the last dregs of tea in the mug all over her belly.Control freak. Hottie.
She gets up, angry and ready to fight.
You’re such a baby,I scream.Kindergarden Baby.
The tray is about to fall off the bed and I quickly put it down on the floor. She grabs me and keeps me down even though I’m squirming. The princess is stronger than you would think.
Say you’re sorry! Say sorry about kindergarden!
But you are. You’re back in a kindergarden for singers. Sunday school.
I’m squirming, giggling, trying to get free. She pushes me down into the pillow with a grip of a vise, making my shoulders hurt from all that hanging last night.
Say you’re sorry!
Ouch! Not so hard. I’m injured, ouch, ouch –
She lets go, her face looming over me, her hands on the pillow.
I’m sorry. Did I hurt you?
Shaking my head, I hold my breath. The princess face is a couple of inches away from mine, laughing and teasing. Hot. I’ve never seen her like that before. Only for a few seconds, that day with her little brother Oscar. We look at each other. My throat is dry.
Then it’s all over. Her shoulders sag and she falls down next to me on the bed. She’s looking at me.
Do you mean it?
I turn my head.
That we’re friends.
She’s watching me now, on her guard, cautious.
What does it mean to be friends?
I prop myself up on one elbow.
Yes. What does it mean to be friends?
I give it some thought.
That we can trust each other. Help each other. That we like each other and are honest.
She looks at the ceiling.
That we don’t have any secrets from one another.
The princess turns her head abruptly. The corners of her mouth are quivering with something between laughter or crying.
We are watching each other across the pillow. The morning has come to a standstill.
I think you should do an audition for my choir,she says, in an attempt to move on.The big choir.
I know that choir. But isn’t it only for students at the Sankt Annae School –
They sometimes accept other people if they are really good singers. Like you.
She is resting on her elbow now.
I’d like to tutor you. We can work together until we think you are ready. Then I can recommend you to the conductor. He’s a really nice guy. I think you should give it a try.
I stare at her.
Become a member of the Sankt Annae High’s choir. Loser Thilde singing Händel’s Messias in the Grundtvig Church. The princess doesn’t know that this has been my dream since I was sixteen.
But I can’t do that.
Of course you can. If you want to.
If I want to. A really good singer. Blinking, I nod and feverishly grab hold of the comforter and bite down on it.
But you’ll have to practise,she says in a very adult tone of voice.And you’ll have to learn to read music. You can practise on our piano.
Practise on our piano. Auntie Lis in the Grundtvig Church. You can practise on our piano. Maybe Auntie was the one who guided me over to this soprano. Maybe the dead do things like that. Maybe Auntie has become a kind of angel who is now capable of undertaking things which she would have done if she were alive. I’m about to cram the whole comforter into my mouth.
How about it?she asks.You don’t have to decide anything right now. Think it over.
I want to do it. I really do. Want to.
She looks at me. She is seeing my dark side, all the things I did wrong and it doesn’t matter. It’s okay for her to know. She has to know the kind of person she has offered to tutor and is going to recommend to the choir so that she knows what she is in for.
Wanna go to the hospital?
I nod one more time, blink and hug the comforter.
We don’t move. It’s our day. Nothing can touch us. We have scored all the points available.
Librarian Lene Kristiansen in the magazine Danish Children’s Literature, 2001.
Translated by Jeffrey V. Lazarus.
The lines from Ingemann’s hymn are translated by W. Glyn Jones :
LIFE, DEATH AND LOVE – is that not what it’s all about?
Bente Clod’s first young adult novel was a smashing success and received a well-earned honorary mention when the Danish Ministry of Culture awarded its Children’s Book Prize in 2000.
Outstanding,intense,grippingandmovingwas how the critics praised Bente Clod’s young adult novel Englekraft (Angel Power). There was no lack of media attention, which for children’s and young adult books in Denmark is quite unusual, but Clod is no newcomer to the literary scene. In Angel Power, the central character is 18-year-old Mathilde, called Thilde. We first meet her sitting on a bench, freezing, on a pedestrian street in the center of Copenhagen, in the company of her boy friend Max, the 130 kiloHugger Boy. It is nearly Christmas and Thilde looks like a bum, scantily clad in old clothes, her head covered in braids, sporting a nose-ring. Three girls, who are caroling nearly, slowly awaken Thilde’s hidden ambitions.
Thilde has one great talent; she can sing. And when she recognizes one of the girls, an upper class control freak named Camilla, Thilde suddenly sees her chance. After several years of too muchsnow, hash, drinking and living in the street, she now tries to go clean, but with an addiction (desire?) that is tearing her apart. Max and a bunch of Thilde’s friends live in Christiania, whre life is best experienced in a haze of smoke. But Thilde has moved into her mother’s little two-room flat. As if it has been ordained by Fate, she latches on to 17-year-old Camilla and an unusual friendship blossoms.
I Vilden Sky (Voice of Angels) begins four months later. Max has suffered a severe concussion being beaten up. He demands care above and beyond what can be expected, and the support and love he once gave to Thilde is gone. With small, cautious steps she slowly starts down the right path. The books’ strength lies in the world of music in which Thilde slowly allows herself to become enveloped in. Her demons are slowly disappearing and both life and death become easier to live with. She has more energy for Camilla’s control problems – and for love …
Bente Clod’s language is the secret behind the book’s well-deserved acclaim. Her style is characterized by short, staccato and pictorial sentences. New words are formed and old ones resurrected and with precise characterizations, affectionate, distanced and teasing, her characters form a puzzle of living images. The sensuality, intensity and music in the content and language can be followed and heard.
We are masterfully entwined in the past and present, with old motives and feelings playing a role in what has already happened and what is to come. The wide array of characters range from total losers to the upper class, from those who apparently have all the problems, to those who do not appear to have any.
Clod writes about real life people. She convincingly portrays the spacious, hazy and fragile communities of Christiania, where a piece of Thilde’s past is buried, and the rich upper-class neighbourhoods to which Camilla belongs, and where part of Thilde’s future may lie. And with Thilde as the central figure, there is plenty of respect and love for those around her.
Clod lets Thilde tell the story with an almost schizophrenic shift of perspective between Thilde as a first and a third person narrator. This is Thilde’s ploy to hold at bay her personal demons, among them her pusher, who almost broke her and who still appears to her en dark and frightening visions. We understand Thilde’s desire to escape into the realm of alcohol and dope. Thilde keeps a distance between herself and reality, and prefers to use formal names rather thanrealnames. The Danish poet B.S. Ingemann’s old hymn becomes a kind of mantra for Thilde, forging a link to the past and symbolizing hope for the future.
The angel of light, all crowned in splendor
Issues through the gates of Heaven
Shades of night must now surrender,
To flight by God’s bright angel driven.
I chant the words, toneless and breahtless, but the angel will not protect me today. The light is too far away. Thilde’s knees give and she howls under the surge of the shower. She doubles up, shaking and looks stupidly into the air watching the faucet split in two. A repulsive hand reaches out after her, a black hand, she screams, I hear her scream, I jump up and hammer my flat hand into the mirror with eyes wide open, so that the picture comes into focus, the picture of me, the one I think I am. A kind of Thilde. The picture of the one, who HAS to score some points today. She has to.(Angel Power).
The books are true novels of the city. We smell, see and experience people and places. Bente Clod affectionately depicts a typical slice of Denmark with all the challenges of the year 2000: food disorder, AIDS, divorce, people losing their foothold, meaningsless violence, the spirit of recycling and trendy alternatives. But she also portrays the strength and independence of the youth of the day. Willpower!
It is depressing, funny, tragic and heart-rending to witness (follow?) Thilde’s life and trials, which onl increases our expectations for the third and final book. We want to follow Thilde all the way to a hopefully happy synthesis of nothing less than life, death and love.
The triology about Mathilde Jensen received the Award from the Danish Ministry of Culture in 2004 as Best Children’s Book of the year. The film rights were bought first by a Danish film company, later outbidden by a Norwegian company, Opiam Films, which is now working on the movie about Thilde.
Foreign rights for the books: Høst & Søn publishers, editor Anne Mørch-Hansen, phone: +45 33 38 28 88, e-mail: HSAMH@rosinante-co.dk