Inside Marius’s house, they had finally started stuffing themselves with the good food. There was no need to stand, since there were plenty of chairs. They sat around the table, and it wasn’t so easy to keep the mood bright. The daughters and one of the sons-in-law tried. “The gift table sure is filling up,” said the youngest daughter. Her husband said, “There’s enough bottles to last for years.”
Marius said nothing. Barely even “Cheers.” It was painful to see him sitting there.
There were footsteps outside on the walk. They all looked up. “Someone’s here,” both daughters said in unison. Helga rose nervously. Marius looked at the clock. Quarter to one.
There was a knock at the door and it opened. Morten Andersen entered, newly shaven and hair slicked back, wearing his old suit from his 25th wedding anniversary. He had a large bouquet of fall asters in his hand. “I just wanted to say congratulations,” he said.
Morten was escorted to the table, and they fussed over him as if he were a president, a manager, or some other high-standing individual. One of the daughters dashed over to get Margareta to come, but she declined. She wasn’t dressed, and what would people think if she showed up in her streetclothes? There was no way around it.
Morten lifted his shot glass. “Well then, congratulations.” Marius acknowledged his toast and regained his bearing as Marius Beck.
He gestured towards the gift table. “I’m not forgotten entirely,” he said. “But people are so busy these days, that they only have time to stay for a few minutes.” Morten nodded sympathetically. “They don’t know what they’re missing,” he said, taking another serving of the warm meatballs and the cold potato salad. Helga poured him another glass.
“Yeah,” said Morten. “Time passes, but the good times don’t come back to bite you, as they say.”
The company enthusiastically agreed. Everyone was in good spirits now, and no one could claim that it was because of the libations.
“I’ve had a great many experiences and quite a bit of responsibility,” said Marius, letting his gaze fade away to someplace in the past. Actually he had prepared a little speech about responsibility and duty, but it was for a larger group – and a somewhat differently comprised group – that he had imagined as an audience. He saved it. He would have to be content with using it that night at the meetinghouse.
They had arrived at coffee. They had moved now to the sofa table and sat with their cups, sampling the cookies.
Marius was a bit tired. He would definitely take a substantial rest before the evening festivities.
The rest of the family was still engaged in conversation, showing Morten friendliness and attention like never before.
Marius woke from a little doze. He said, “Time for a cigar. Bring in the box, Helga.”
Helga brought the silver cigar box from the desk and began offering them. The one son-in-law didn’t smoke. Morten was on his way with his left hand, when his expression suddenly changed, and he stopped in the middle of the motion.
He pulled his hand back. He shook his head.
“I forgot I have my pipe,” he said. From different pockets he dug out his pipe, tobacco, and matches, and got it stopped and lit.
“And it’s about time for me to head home,” he said. “I hope I didn’t impose. I just wanted to, as they say, offer my congratulations.”
Knud Sørensen, born in 1928, was a certified land surveyor for 28 years, during which he became intimate with the Danish agricultural landscape. His work is best known for its portrayal of life in rural Denmark and the dissolution of small farming communities. A book reviewer for 14 years, he has also written 48 books and won over 20 literary awards. including a lifelong grant from the Danish Arts Council. In November 2014 he received the highest honor for a Danish author – the Grand Prize of the Danish Academy.
Michael Goldman taught himself Danish over 30 years ago to help him win the heart of a lovely Danish girl by translating a Danish copy of Catcher in the Rye word for word. Over 80 of Goldman’s translations have appeared in 30 literary journals including The Massachusetts Review, Rattle, International Poetry Review, and World Literature Today. Three books of his translations are forthcoming by Norvik Press and Spuyten Duyvil Press. He lives in Florence, Mass. http://hammerandhorn.net/
**By Knud Sørensen, “Gratulanten” ©1991