What she wondered about most of all was Sophie. Sophie——who are you? Where do you come from? Why have you come into my life?
Finally Sophie had been given a book about herself. Was it the same book that Hilde now had in her hands? This was only a ring binder. But even so——how could one find a book about oneself in a book aout oneself? What would happen if Sophie began to read that book?
What was going to happen now? What could happen now? There were only a few pages left in her ring binder.
Sophie met her mother on the bus on her way home from town. Oh, no! What would her mother say when she saw the book in Sophie's hand?
Sophie tried to put it in the bag with all the streamers and balloons she had bought for the party but she didn't quite make it.
"Hi, Sophie! We caught the same bus! How nice!"
"You bought a book?"
"No, not exactly."
"Sophie's World …… how curious."
Sophie knew she didn't have the slightest chance of lying to her mother.
"I got it from Alberto."
"Yes, I'm sure you did. As I said, I'm looking forward to meeting this man. May I see?"
"Would you mind very much waiting till we get home, at least. It is my book, Mom."
"Of course it's your book. I just want to take a peek at the first page, okay? …… 'Sophie Amundsen was on her way home from school. She had walked the first part of the way with Joanna. They had been discussing robots . . .'"
"Does it really say that?"
"Yes, it does, Sophie. It's written by someone called Albert Knag. He must be a newcomer. What's your Al-berto's name, by the way?"
"It'll probably turn out that this extraordinary person has written a whole book about you, Sophie. It's called using a pseudonym."
"It's not him, Mom. Why don't you just give up. You don't understand anything anyway."
"No, I don't suppose I do. The garden party is tomorrow, then everything will be all right again."
"Albert Knag lives in a completely different reality. That's why this book is a white crow."
"You really must stop all this! Wasn't it a white rabbit?"
"You stop it!"
That was as far as they got before they reached their stop at the end of Clover Close. They ran straight into a demonstration.
"My God!" exclaimed Helene Amundsen, "I really thought we would be spared street politics in this neighborhood."
There were no more than about ten or twelve people. Their banners read:
THE MAJOR IS AT HAND
YES TO YUMMY MIDSUMMER EATS
MORE POWER TO THE UN
Sophie almost felt sorry for her mother.
"Never mind," she said.
"But it was a peculiar demonstration, Sophie. Quite absurd, really."
"It was a mere bagatelle."
"The world changes more and more rapidly all the time. Actually, I'm not in the least surprised."
"You should be surprised that you're not surprised, at any rate."
"Not at all. They weren't violent, were they? I just hope they haven't trampled all over our rosebeds. Surely it can't be necessary to demonstrate in a garden. Let's hurry home and see."
"It was a philosophical demonstration, Mom. Real philosophers don't trample on rosebeds."
"I'll tell you what, Sophie. I don't think I believe in real philosophers any longer. Everything is synthetic nowadays."
They spent the afternoon and evening preparing. They continued the next morning, setting and decorating the table. Joanna came over to give them a hand.
"Good grief!" she said, "Mom and Dad are coming too. It's your fault, Sophie!"
Everything was ready half an hour before the guests were due. The trees were festooned with streamers and Japanese lanterns. The garden gate, the trees lining the path, and the front of the house were hung with balloons. Sophie and Joanna had spent most of the afternoon blowing them up.
The table was set with chicken, salad, and different kinds of homemade bread. In the kitchen there were raisin buns and layer cake, Danish pastry and chocolate cake. But from the start the place of honor in the center of the table was reserved for the birthday cake——a pyramid of almond-paste rings. On the top of the cake was the tiny figure of a girl in a confirmation dress. Sophie's mother had assured her that it could just as well represent an unconfirmed fifteen-year-old, but Sophie was certain her mother had only put it there because Sophie had told her she was not sure she wanted to be confirmed. Her mother seemed to think the cake embodied the confirmation itself.
"We haven't spared any expense,"she repeated several times in the half hour before the party was due to start.
The guests began to arrive. First came three of the girls from Sophie's class, dressed in summer shirts and light cardigans, long skirts, and the barest suggestion of eye makeup. A bit later, Jeremy and David came strolling in through the gate, with a blend of shyness and boyish arrogance.
"You're an adult now, too!"
Sophie noticed that Joanna and Jeremy had already begun eyeing each other discreetly. There was something in the air. It was Midsummer Eve.
Everybody had brought birthday presents, and as it was a philosophical garden party, several of the guests had tried to find out what philosophy was. Although not all of them had managed to find philosophical presents, most of them had written something philosophical on their cards. Sophie received a philosophical dictionary as well as a diary with a lock; on the cover was written MY PERSONAL PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHTS. As the guests arrived they were served apple juice in long-stemmed wine glasses. Sophie's mother did the serving.
"Welcome …… And what is this young man's name? I don't believe we've met before …… So glad you could come, Cecilie . . ."
When all the younger guests had arrived and were strolling under the trees with their wine glasses, Joanna's parents drew up at the garden gate in a white Mercedes. The financial adviser was impeccably dressed in an expensively cut gray suit. His wife was wearing a red pants suit with dark red sequins. Sophie was sure she had bought a Barbie doll in a toy store dressed in that suit, and had a tailor make it up in her size. There was another possibility; the financial adviser could have bought the doll and given it to a magician to make into a live woman. But this possibility was unlikely, so Sophie rejected it.
They stepped out of the Mercedes and walked into the garden where younger guests looked at them with surprise. The financial adviser presented a long, narrow package from the Ingebrigtsen family. Sophie tried hard to maintain her composure when it turned out to be——yes, it was!——a Barbie doll. But Joanna made no such effort:
"Are you crazy? Sophie doesn't play with dolls!"
Mrs. Ingebrigtsen came hurrying over, with all her sequins clanking. "But it's only for decoration, you know."
"Well, thank you very much indeed." Sophie tried to smooth things over. "Now I can start ft collection."
People began to drift toward the table.
"We're only waiting for Alberto," said Sophie's mother to her in a somewhat brisk tone that was intended to hide her growing apprehension. Rumors of the special guest of honor had already spread among the other guests.
"He has promised to come, so he'll come."
"But we can't seat the guests before he arrives, can we?"
"Of course we can. Let's go ahead."
Helene Amundsen began to seat people around the long table. She made sure that the vacant chair was between her own and Sophie's place. She said a few words about the beautiful weather and the fact that Sophie was now a grownup.
They had been sitting at the table for half an hour when a middle-aged man with a black goatee and a beret came walking up Clover Close and in through the garden gate. He was carrying a bouquet of fifteen red roses.
Sophie left the table and ran to greet him. She threw her arms around his neck and took the bouquet from him. He responded to the welcome by rooting around in his jacket pocket and drawing out a couple of Chinese firecrackers which he lit and tossed into the yard. As. he approached the table, he lit a sparkler and set it on top of the almond pyramid. Then he went over and stood at the empty place between Sophie and her mother.
"I'm delighted to be here," he said.
The guests were dumbstruck. Mrs. Ingebrigtsen gave her husband a significant look. Sophie's mother was so relieved that the man had finally arrived, however, that she would have forgiven him anything. Sophie herself was struggling to suppress her laughter.
Helene Amundsen tapped on her glass and said:
"Let us also welcome Albrto Knox to this philosophical garden party. He is not my new boyfriend, because although my husband is so often away at sea, I don't have a new boyfriend for the time being. However, this astounding person is Sophie's new philosophy teacher. His prowess extends further than to setting off fireworks.
This man is able, for example, to draw a live rabbit out of a top hat. Or was it a crow, Sophie?"
"Many thanks," said Alberto. He sat down.
"Cheers!" said Sophie, and the guests raised their glasses and drank his health.
They sat for a long time over their chicken and salad. Suddenly Joanna got up, walked determinedly over to Jeremy, and gave him a resounding kiss on the lips. He responded by trying to topple her backward over the table so as to get a better grip as he returned her kiss.
"Well, I've never ……" exclaimed Mrs. Ingebrigtsen.
"Not on the table, children," was Mrs. Amundsen's only comment.
"Why not?" asked Alberto, turning toward her.
"That was an odd question."
"It's never wrong for a real philosopher to ask questions."
A couple of the other boys who had not been kissed started to throw chicken bones up on the roof. This, too, elicited only a mild comment from Sophie's mother:
"Would you mind not doing that. It's such a nuisance when there are chicken bones in the gutter."
"Sorry," said one of the boys, whereupon they started throwing chicken bones over the garden hedge instead.
"I think it's time to clear the plates away and serve the cake," said Mrs. Amundsen finally. "Sophie and Joanna, will you give me a hand?"
On their way to the kitchen there was only time for a brief discussion.
"What made you kiss him?" Sophie said to Joanna.
"I sat looking at his mouth and couldn't resist it. He is so cute!"
"How did it taste?"
"Not exactly like I'd imagined, but. . ."
"It was the first time, then?"
"But not the last!"
Coffee and cake were soon on the table. Alberto had started giving the boys some of his firecrackers when Sophie's mother tapped on her coffee cup.
"I am not going to make a long speech," she began, "but I only have this one daughter, and it is only this once that exactly one week and a day ago she reached the age of fifteen. As you see, we have spared no expense. There are twenty-four almond rings on the birthday cake, so there's at least one whole ring for each of you. Those who help themselves first can take two rings, because we start from the top and the rings get bigger and bigger as you go. That's the way it is in life too. When Sophie was a little girl, she went tripping around in tiny little rings. But as the years went by, the rings got bigger and bigger. Now they reach right over to the Old Town and back. And what is more, with a father who is at sea so much, she makes calls to all parts of the world. We congratulate you on your fifteenth birthday, Sophie!"
"Delightful!" exclaimed Mrs. Ingebrigtsen.
Sophie was not sure whether she was referring to her mother, the speech, the birthday cake, or Sophie herself.
The guests applauded, and one of the boys threw a firecracker up into the pear tree. Joanna left the table and pulled Jeremy up off his chair. They lay down on the grass and started kissing each other again. After a while they rolled in under the red-currant bushes.
"Nowadays it's the girl who takes the initiative," said Mr. Ingebrigtsen.
Having said that, he got up and went over to the red-currant bushes where he stood observing the phenomenon at close quarters. The rest of the guests followed suit. Only Sophie and Alberto remained sitting at the table. The other guests now stood in a semicircle around Joanna and Jeremy.
"They can't be stopped," said Mrs. Ingebrigtsen, not without a certain pride.
"No, generation follows generation," said her husband.
He looked around, expecting applause for his well-chosen words. When the only response was a few silent nods, he added: "It can't be helped."
Sophie saw from a distance that Jeremy was trying to unbutton Joanna's white shirt, which was already covered with green stains from the grass. She was fumbling with his elt.
"Don't catch cold!" said Mrs. Ingebrigtsen.
Sophie looked despairingly at Alberto.
"It's happening more quickly than I thought," he said. "We have to get away from here as soon as possible. I just have to make a short speech."
Sophie clapped her hands loudly.
"Could everyone please come back and sit down again? Alberto is going to make a speech."
Everyone except Joanna and Jeremy came drifting back to their places at the table.
"Are you really going to make a speech?" asked He-lene Amundsen. "How charming!"
"And you like going for walks, I know. It is so important to stay in shape. And it's so much nicer when you have a dog to keep you company. Hermes, isn't that its name?"
Alberto stood up. "Dear Sophie," he began. "Since this is a philosophical garden party, I will make a philosophical speech."
This was greeted by a burst of applause.
"In this riotous company, a dose of reason might not be out of place. But whatever happens, let us not forget to congratulate Sophie on her fifteenth birthday."
He had hardly finished these sentences when they heard the drone of an approaching sports plane. It flew in low over the garden. Behind it streamed a long tail banner saying: "Happy 15th birthday!"
This led to renewed applause, even louder than before.
"There, you see?" Mrs. Amundsen cried joyfully. "This man can do more than set off fireworks!"
"Thank you. It was a mere bagatelle. During the past few weeks, Sophie and I have carried out a major philosophical investigation. We shall here and now reveal our findings. We shall reveal the innermost secrets of our existence."
The little gathering was now so quiet that the only sounds were the twittering of the birds and a few subdued noises from the red-currant bushes. "Go on," said Sophie.
"After a thorough philosophical study——which has led from the first Greek philosophers to the present day——we have discovered that we are living our lives in the mind of a major who is at this moment serving as a UN observer in Lebanon. He has also written a book about us for his daughter back in Lillesand. Her name is Hilde Mailer Knag, and she was fifteen years old on the same day as Sophie. The book about us lay on her bedside table when she woke up early on the morning of June 15. To be more precise, it was in the form of a ring binder. Even as we speak, she can feel the final pages of the ring binder under her index finger."
A feeling of apprehension had begun to spread around the table.
"Our existence is therefore neither more nor less than a kind of birthday diversion for Hilde Mailer Knag. We have all been invented as a framework for the major's philosophical education of his daughter. This means, for example, that the white Mercedes at the gate is not worth a cent. It's just a bagatelle. It's worth no more than the white Mercedes that drives around and around inside the head of a poor UN major, who has just this minute sat down in the shade of a palm tree to avoid getting sunstroke. The days are hot in Lebanon, my friends."
"Garbage!" exclaimed the financial adviser. "This is absolutely pure nonsense."
"You are welcome to your opinion," Alberto continued unabashed, "but the truth is that it is this garden party which is absolutely pure nonsense. The only dose of reason in the whole party is this speech."
At that, the financial adviser got up and said:
"Here we are, trying our best to run a business, and to make sure we have insurance coverage against every kind of risk. Then along comes this know-it-all who tries to destroy it all with his 'philosophical' allegations."
Alberto nodded in agreement.
"There is indeed no insurance to cover this kind of philosophical insight. We are talking of something worse than a natural catastrophe, sir. But as you are probably aware, insurance doesn't cover those either."
"This is not a natural catastrophe."
"No, it is an existential catastrophe. For example, just take a look under the currant bushes and you will see what I mean. You cannot insure yourself against the collapse of your whole life. Neither can yu insure yourself against the sun going out."
"Do we have to put up with this?" asked Joanna's father, looking at his wife.
She shook her head, and so did Sophie's mother.
"What a shame," she said, "and after we had spared no expense."
The younger guests continued to look at Alberto. "We want to hear more," said a curly-haired boy with glasses.
"Thank you, but there is not much more to say. When you have realized that you are a dream image in another person's sleepy consciousness, then, in my opinion, it is wisest to be silent. But I can finish by recommending that you take a short course in the history of philosophy. It is important to be critical of the older generation's values. If I have tried to teach Sophie anything, it is precisely that, to think critically. Hegel called it thinking negatively."
The financial adviser was still standing, drumming his fingers on the table.
"This agitator is attempting to break down all the sound values which the school and the church and we ourselves are trying to instill in the younger generation. It is they who have the future before them and who one day will inherit everything we have built up. If this man is not immediately removed from this gathering I intend to call our lawyer. He will know how to deal with this situation."
"It makes little difference whether you deal with this situation or not, since you are nothing but a shadow. Anyway, Sophie and I are about to leave the party, since for us the philosophy course has not been purely theoretical. It has also had its practical side. When the time is ripe we will perform our disappearing act. That is how we are going to sneak our way out of the major's consciousness."
Helene Amundsen took hold of her daughter's arm.
"You are not leaving me, are you, Sophie?"
Sophie put her arms around her mother. She looked up at Alberto.
"Mom is so sad . . ."
"No, that's just ridiculous. Don't forget what you have learned. It's this sort of nonsense we must liberate ourselves from. Your mother is a sweet and kind lady, just as the Little Red Ridinghood who came to my door that day had a basket filled with food for her grandmother. Your mother is no more sad than the plane that just flew over needed fuel for its congratulation maneuvers."
"I think I see what you mean," said Sophie, and turned back to her mother. "That's why I have to do what he says, Mom. One day I had to leave you."
"I'm going to miss you," said her mother, "but if there is a heaven over this one, you'll just have to fly. I promise to take good care of Govinda. Does it eat one or two lettuce leaves a day?"
Alberto put his hand on her shoulder.
"Neither you nor anyone else here will miss us for the simple reason that you do not exist. You are no more than shadows."
"That is the worst insult I've ever heard," Mrs. Ingebrigtsen burst out.
Her husband nodded.
"If nothing else, we can always get him nailed for defamation of character. I'm sure he's a Communist. He wants to strip us of everything we hold dear. The man's a scoundrel."
With that, both Alberto and the financial adviser sat down. The letter's face was crimson with rage. Now Joanna and Jeremy also came and sat at the table. Their clothes were grubby and crumpled. Joanna's golden hair was caked with mud and earth.
"Mom, I'm going to have a baby," she announced.
"All right, but you'll have to wait till you get home."
She had immediate support from her husband. "She'll simply have to contain herself," he said. "And if there is to be a christening tonight, she'll have to arrange it herself."
Alberto looked down at Sophie with a somber expression.
"Can't you at least bring us a little more coffee before you go?" asked her mother.
"Of course, Mom, I'll do it right away."
Sophie took the thermos from the table. She had to make more coffee. While she stood waiting for it to brew, she fed the birds and the goldfish. She also went into the bathroom and put a lettuce leaf out for Govinda. She couldn't see the cat anywhere, but she opened a large can of cat food, emptied it into a bowl and et it out on the step. She felt her tears welling up.
When she returned with the coffee, the garden party looked more like a children's party than a young woman's philosophical celebration. Several soda bottles had been knocked over on the table, there was chocolate cake smeared all over the tablecloth and the dish of raisin buns lay upside down on the lawn. Just as Sophie arrived, one of the boys put a firecracker to the layer cake, which exploded all over the table and the guests. The worst casualty was Mrs. Ingebrigtsen's red pants suit. The curious thing was that both she and everybody else took it with the utmost calm. Joanna picked up a huge piece of chocolate cake, smeared it all over Jeremy's face, and proceeded to lick it off again.
Her mother and Alberto were sitting in the glider a little way away from the others. They waved to Sophie.
"So you finally had your confidential talk," said Sophie.
"And you were perfectly right," said her mother, quite elated now. "Alberto is a very altruistic person. I entrust you to his strong arms."
Sophie sat down between them.
Two of the boys had managed to climb onto the roof. One of the girls went around pricking holes in all the balloons with a hairpin. Then an uninvited guest arrived on a motorcycle with a crate of beer and bottles of aquavit strapped to the carrier. A few helpful souls welcomed him in.
At that, the financial adviser rose from the table. He clapped his hands and said:
"Do you want to play a game?"
He grabbed a bottle of beer, drank it down, and set the empty bottle in the middle of the lawn. Then he went to the table and fetched the last five rings of the birthday cake. He showed the other guests how to throw the rings so they landed over the neck of the bottle.
"The death throes," said Alberto. "We'd better get away before the major ends it all and Hilde closes the ring binder."
"You'll have to clear up alone, Mom."
"It doesn't matter, child. This was no life for you. If Alberto can give you a better one, nobody will be happier than I. Didn't you tell me he had a white horse?"
Sophie looked out across the garden. It was unrecognizable. Bottles, chicken bones, buns, and balloons were trampled into the grass.
"This was once my little Garden of Eden," she said.
"And now you're being driven out of it," said Alberto.
One of the boys was sitting in the white Mercedes. He revved the engine and the car smashed through the garden gate, up the gravel path, and down into the garden.
Sophie felt a hard grip on her arm as she was dragged into the den. Then she heard Alberto's voice:
At the same moment the white Mercedes crashed into an apple tree. Unripe fruit showered down onto the hood.
"That's going too far!" shouted the financial adviser. "I demand substantial compensation!"
His wife gave him her full support.
"It's that damned scoundrel's fault! Where is he?"
"They have vanished into thin air," said Helene Amundsen, not without a touch of pride.
She drew herself up to her full height, walked toward the long table and began to clear up after the philosophical garden party.
"More coffee, anyone?"
…two or more melodies sounding together…
Hilde sat up in bed. That was the end of the story of Sophie and Alberto. But what had actually happened?
Why had her father written that last chapter? Was it just to demonstrate his power over Sophie's world?
Deep in thought, she took a shower and got dressed. She ate a quick breakfast and then wandered down the garden and sat in the glider.
She agreed with Alberto that the only sensible thing that had happened at the garden party was his speech. Surely her father didn't think Hilde's world was as chaotic as Sophie's garden party? Or that her world would also dissolve eventually?
Then there was the matter of Sophie and Alberto. What had happened to the secret plan?
Was it up to Hilde herself to continue the story? Or had they really managed to sneak out of it?
And where were they now?
A thought suddenly struck her. If Alberto and Sophie really had managed to sneak out of the tory, there wouldn't be anything about it in the ring binder. Everything that was there, unfortunately, was clear to her father.
Could there be anything written between the lines? There was more than a mere suggestion of it. Hilde realized that she would have to read the whole story again one or two more times.
* * *
As the white Mercedes drove into the garden, Alberto dragged Sophie with him into the den. Then they ran into the woods in the direction of the major's cabin.
"Quickly!" cried Alberto. "It's got to happen before he starts looking for us."
"Are we beyond the major's reach now?"
"We are in the borderland."
They rowed across the water and ran into the cabin. Alberto opened a trapdoor in the floor. He pushed Sophie down into the cellar. Then everything went black.
In the days that followed, Hilde worked on her plan. She sent several letters to Anne Kvamsdal in Copenhagen, and a couple of times she called her. She also enlisted the aid of friends and acquaintances, and recruited almost half of her class at school.
In between, she read Sophie's World. It was not a story one could be done with after a single reading. New thoughts about what could have happened to Sophie and Alberto when they left the garden party were constantly occurring to her.
On Saturday, June 23, she awoke with a start around nine o'clock. She knew her father had already left the camp in Lebanon. Now it was just a question of waiting. The last part of his day was planned down to the smallest detail.
Later in the morning she began the preparations for Midsummer Eve with her mother. Hilde could not help thinking of how Sophie and her mother had arranged their Midsummer Eve party. But that was something they had done. It was over, finished. Or was it? Were they going around right now, decorating everywhere?
Sophie and Alberto seated themselves on a lawn in front of two large buildings with ugly air vents and ventilation canals on the outside. A young couple came walking out of one of the buildings. He was carrying a brown briefcase and she had a red handbag slung over one shoulder. A car drove along a narrow road in the background.
"What happened?" asked Sophie.
"We made it!"
"But where are we?"
"This is Oslo."
"Are you quite sure?"
"Quite sure. One of these buildings is called Chateau Neuf, which means 'the new palace.' People study music there. The other is the Congregation Faculty. It's a school of theology. Further up the hill they study science and up at the top they study literature and philosophy."
"Are we out of Hilde's book and beyond the major's control?"
"Yes, both. He'll never find us here."
"But where were we when we ran through the woods?"
"While the major was busy crashing the financial adviser's car into an apple tree, we seized the chance to hide in the den. We were then at the embryo stage. We were of the old as well as of the new world. But concealing ourselves there was something the major cannot possibly have envisaged."
"He would never have let us go so easily. As it was, it went like a dream. Of course, there's always the chance that he was in on it himself."
"What do you mean?"
"It was he who started the white Mercedes. He may have exerted himself to the utmost to lose sight of us. He was probably utterly exhausted after everything that had been going on . . ."
By now the young couple were only a few yards away. Sophie felt a bit awkward, sitting on the grass with a man so much older than herself. Besides, she wanted someone to confirm what Alberto had said.
She got up and went over to them"Excuse me, would you mind telling me the name of this street?"
But they ignored her completely.
Sophie was so provoked that she asked them again.
"It's customary to answer a person, isn't it?"
The young man was clearly engrossed in explaining something to his companion:
"Contrapuntal form operates on two dimensions, horizontally, or melodically, and vertically, or harmonically.
There will always be two or more melodies sounding together . . ."
"Excuse me for interrupting, but. . ."
The melodies combine in such a way that they develop as much as possible, independently of how they sound against each other. But they have to be concordant. Actually it's note against note."
How rude! They were neither deaf nor blind. Sophie tried a third time, standing ahead of them on the path blocking their way,She was simply brushed aside.
"There's a wind coming up," said the woman.
Sophie rushed back to Alberto.
'They can't hear me!" she said desperately——and just as she said it, she recalled her dream about Hilde and the gold crucifix.
"It's the price we have to pay. Although we have sneaked out of a book, we can't expect to nave exactly the same status as its author. But we really are here. From now on, we will never be a day older than we were when we left the philosophical garden party."
"Does that mean we'll never have any real contact with me people around us?"
"A true philosopher never says 'never.' What time is it?"
"The same as when we left Captain's Bend, of course."
"This is the day Hilde's father gets back from Lebanon."
"That's why we must hurry."
"Why——what do you mean?"
"Aren't you anxious to know what happens when the major gets home to Bjerkely?"
"Naturally, but. . ."
"Come on, then!"
They began to walk down toward the city. Several people passed them on the way, but they all walked right on by as if Sophie and Alberto were invisible.
Cars were parked by the curbside all the way along the street. Alberto stopped by a small red convertible with the top down.
"This will do," he said. "We must just make sure it's ours."
"I have no idea what you mean."
"I'd better explain then. We can't just take an ordinary car that belongs to someone here in the city. What do you think would happen when people noticed the car driving along without a driver? And anyway, we probably wouldn't be able to start it."
"Then why the convertible?"
"I think I recognize it from an old movie."
"Look, I'm sorry, but I'm getting tired of all these cryptic remarks."
"It's a make-believe car, Sophie. It's just like us. People here only see a vacant space. That's all we have to confirm before we're on our way."
They stood by the car and waited. After a while, a boy came cycling along on the sidewalk. He turned suddenly and rode right through the red car and onto the road.
"There, you see? It's ours!"
Alberto opened the door to the passenger seat.
"Be my guest!" he said, and Sophie got in.
He got into the driver's seat. The key was in the ignition, he turned it, and the engine started.
They drove southward out of the city, past Lysaker, Sandvika, Drammen, and down toward Lillesand. As they drove they saw more and more Midsummer bonfires, especially after they had passed Drammen.
"It's Midsummer, Sophie. Isn't it wonderful?"
"And there's such a lovely fresh breeze in an open car. Is it true that no one can see us?"
"Only people of our own kind. We might meet some of them. What's the time now?"
"Half past eight."
"We'll have to take a few shortcuts. We can't stay behind this trailer, that's for sure."
They turned off into a large wheatfield. Sophie looked back and saw that they had left a broad trail of flattened stalks.
"Tomorrow they'll say a freak wind blew over the field," said Alberto.
* * *
Major Albert Knag had just landed at Kastrup Airport outside Copenhagen. It was half past four on Saturday, June 23. It had already been a long day. This penultimate lap had been by plane from Rome.
He went through passport control in his UN uniform, which he was proud to wear. He represented not only himself and his country. Albert Knag represented an international legal system——a century-old tradition that now embraced the entire planet.
He carried only a flight bag. He had checked the rest of his baggage through from Rome. He just needed to hold up his red passport.
"Nothing to declare."
Major Albert Knag had a nearly three-hour wait in the airport before his plane left for Kristiansand. He would have time to buy a few presents for his family. He had sent the present of his ife to Hilde two weeks ago. Marit, his wife, had put it on her bedside table for her to discover when she woke up on her birthday. He had not spoken with Hilde since that late night birthday call.
Albert bought a couple of Norwegian newspapers, found himself a table in the bar, and ordered a cup of coffee. He had hardly had time to skim the headlines when he heard an announcement over the loudspeakers: "This is a personal call for Albert Knag. Albert Knag is requested to contact the SAS information desk."
What now? He felt a chill down his spine. Surely he was not being ordered back to Lebanon? Could something be wrong at home?
He quickly reached the SAS information desk.
"I'm Albert Knag."
"Here is a message for you. It is urgent."
He opened the envelope at once. Inside lay a smaller envelope. It was addressed to Major Albert Knag, c/o SAS Information, Kastrup Airport, Copenhagen.
Albert opened the little envelope nervously. It contained a short note:
Dear Dad, Welcome home from Lebanon. As you can imagine, I can't even wait till you get home. Forgive me for having you paged over the loud-speakers. It was the easiest way.
P.S. Unfortunately a claim for damages has arrived from financial adviser Ingebrigtsen regarding a stolen and wrecked Mercedes.
P.S. P.S. I may be sitting in the garden when you get here. But you might also be hearing from me before that.
P.S. P.S. P.S. I'm rather scared of staying in the garden too long at a time. It's so easy to sink into the ground in such places. Love from Hilde, who has had plenty of time to prepare your homecoming.
Major Albert Knag's first impulse was to smile. But he did not appreciate being manipulated in this manner. He had always liked to be in charge of his own life. Now this little vixen in Lillesand was directing his movements in Kastrup Airport! How had she managed that?
He put the envelope in his breast pocket and began to stroll toward the little shopping mall. He was just about to enter the Danish Food deli when he noticed a small envelope taped to the store window. It had MAJOR KNAG written on it with a thick marker pen. Albert took it down and opened it:
Personal message for Major Albert Knag, c/o Danish Food, Kastrup Airport. Dear Dad, please buy a large Danish salami, preferably a two-pound one, and Mom would probably like a cognac sausage. P. S. Danish caviar is not bad either. Love, Hilde.
Albert turned around. She wasn't here, was she? Had Mark given her a trip to Copenhagen so she could meet him here? It was Hilde's handwriting ……
Suddenly the UN observer began to feel himself observed. It was as if someone was in remote control of everything he did. He felt like a doll in the hands of a child.
He went into the shop and bought a two-pound salami, a cognac sausage, and three jars of Danish caviar. Then he continued down the row of stores. He had made up his mind to buy a proper present for Hilde. A calculator, maybe? Or a little radio——yes, that was what he would get.
When he got to the store that sold electrical appliances, he saw that there was an envelope taped to the window there too. This one was addressed to "Major Albert Knag, c/o the most interesting store in Kastrup." Inside was the following note:
Dear Dad, Sophie sends her greetings and thanks for the combined mini-TV and FM radio that she got for her birthday from her very generous father. It was great, but on the other hand it was a mere bagatelle. I must confess, though, that I share Sophie's liking for such bagatelles. P.S. In case you haven't been there yet, there are further instructions at the Danish Food store and the big Tax Free store that sells wines and tobacco. P.S. P.S. I got some money for my birthday, so I can contribute to the mini-TV with 350 crowns. Love, Hilde, who has already stuffed the turkey and made the Waldorf salad.
A mini-TV cost 985 Danish crowns. That could certainly be called a bagatelle in comparison with how Albert Knag felt about being directed hither and thither by his daughter's sneaky tricks. Was she here——or was she not?
From that moment on he was constantly on guard wherever he went. He felt like a secret agent and a marionette rolled into one. Was he not being deprived of his basic human rights?
He felt obliged to go into the Tax Free store as well. There hung a new envelope with his name on it. The whole airport was becoming a computer game with him as the cursor. He read the message:
Major Knag, c/o the Tax Free store at Kastrup. All I need from here is a bag of gumdrops and some marzipan bars. Remember it's much more expensive in Norway. As far as I can recall, Mom is very fond of Campari. P.S. You must keep all your senses alert the whole way home. You wouldn't want to miss any important messages, would you? Love from your most teachable daughter, Hilde.
Albert sighed despairingly, but he went into the store and shopped as instructed. With three plastic carriers and his flight bag he walked toward Gate 28 to wait for his flight. If there were any more messages they would have to stay there.
However, at Gate 28 he caught sight of another white envelope taped to a pillar: "To Major Knag, c/o GATE 28, Kastrup Airport." This was also in Hilde's handwriting, but the gate number seemed to have been written by someone else. It was not easy to judge since there was no writing to compare it with, only block letters and digits. He took it down. This one said only "It won't be long now."
He sat down on a chair with his back against the wall. He kept the shopping bags on his knees. Thus the proud major sat stiffly, eyes straight ahead, like a small child traveling alone for the first time. If Hilde was here, she was certainly not going to have the satisfaction of dis-covering him first.
He glanced anxiously at each passenger that came in. For a while he felt like an enemy of the state under close surveillance. When the passengers were finally allowed to board the plane he breathed a sigh of relief. He was the last person to board. As he handed over his boarding pass he tore off another white envelope that had been taped to the check-in desk.
Sophie and Alberto had passed Brevik, and a little later the exit to Kragera.
"You're going awfully fasf," said Sophie.
"It's almost nine o'clock. He'll soon be landing at Kjevik. But we won't be stopped for speeding."
"Suppose we smash into another car?"
"It makes no difference if it's just an ordinary car. But if it's one of our own . . ."
"Then we'll have to be very careful. Didn't you notice that we passed the Bat Mobile."
"It was parked somewhere up in Vestfold."
"This tourist bus won't be easy to pass. There are dense woods on each side of the road."
"It makes no difference, Sophie. Can't you get it into your head?"
So saying, he swung the car into the woods and drove straight through the trees.
Sophie breathed a sigh of relief.
"You scared me."
"We wouldn't feel it if we drove into a brick wall."
"That only means we're spirits of the air compared to our surroundings."
"No, now you're putting the cart before the horse. It is the reality around us that's an airy adventure to us."
"I don't get it."
"Listen carefully, then. It is a widespread misunderstanding that spirit is a thing that is more 'airy' than vapor. On the contrary. Spirit is more solid than ice."
"That never occurred to me."
"And now I'll tell you a story. Once upon a time there was a man who didn't believe in angels. One day, while he was out working in the woods, he was visited by an angel."
"They walked together for a while. Then the man turned to the angel and said, 'All right, now I have to admit that angels exist. But you don't exist in reality, like us."What do you mean by that?' asked the angel. So the man answered, 'When we came to that big rock, I had to go around it, but I noticed that you just glided through it. And when we came to that huge log that lay across the path, I had to climb over it while you walked straight through it.' The angel was very surprised, and said 'Didn't you also notice that we took a path that led through a marsh? We both walked right through the mist. That was becase we were more solid than the mist.'
"It's the same with us, Sophie. Spirit can pass through steel doors. No tanks or bombers can crush anything that is of spirit."
"That's a comfort."
"We'll soon be passing Ris0r, and it's no more than an hour since we left the major's cabin. I could really use a cup of coffee."
When they got to Fiane, just before S0ndeled, they passed a cafeteria on the lefthand side of the road. It was called Cinderella. Alberto swung the car around and parked on the grass in front of it.
Inside, Sophie tried to take a bottle of Coke from the cooler, but she couldn't lift it. It seemed to be stuck. Further down the counter, Alberto was trying to tap coffee into a paper cup he had found in the car. He only had to press a lever, but even by exerting all his strength he could not press it down.
This made him so mad that he turned to the cafeteria guests and asked for help. When no one reacted, he shouted so loudly that Sophie had to cover her ears: "I want some coffee!"
His anger soon evaporated, and he doubled up with laughter. They were about to turn around and leave when an old woman got up from her chair and came toward them.
She was wearing a garish red skirt, an ice-blue cardigan, and a white kerchief round her head. She seemed more sharply defined than anything else in the little cafeteria.
She went up to Alberto and said, "My my, how you do yell, my boy!"
"You want some coffee, you said?"
"Yes, but. . ."
"We have a small establishment close by."
They followed the old woman out of the cafeteria and down a path behind it. While they walked, she said, "You are new in these parts?"
"We might as well admit it," answered Alberto.
"That's all right. Welcome to eternity then, children."
"I'm out of one of Grimm's fairy tales. That was nearly two hundred years ago. And where are you from?"
"We're out of a book on philosophy. I am the philosophy teacher and this is my student, Sophie."
"Hee hee! That's a new one!"
They came through the trees to a small clearing where there were several cozy-looking brown cottages. A large Midsummer bonfire was burning in a yard between the cottages, and around the bonfire danced a crowd of colorful figures. Sophie recognized many of them. There were Snow White and some of the seven dwarfs, Mary Poppins and Sherlock Holmes, Peter Pan and Pippi Longstocking, Little Red Ridinghood and Cinderella. A lot of familiar figures without names had also gathered around the bonfire——there were gnomes and elves, fauns and witches, angels and imps. Sophie also caught sight of a real live troll.
"What a lot of noise!" exclaimed Alberto.
"That's because it's Midsummer," said the old woman. "We haven't had a gathering like this since Valborg's Eve. That was when we were in Germany. I'm only here on a short visit. Was it coffee you wanted?"
Not until now did Sophie notice that all the buildings were made out of gingerbread, candy, and sugar icing. Several of the figures were eating directly off the facades. A baker was going around repairing the damage as it occurred. Sophie ventured to take a little bite off one corner. It tasted sweeter and better than anything she had ever tasted before.
Presently the old woman returned with a cup of coffee.
"Thank you very much indeed."
"And what are the visitors going to pay for the coffee?"
"We usually pay with a story. For coffee, an old wives' tale will suffice."
"We could tell the whole incredible story of humanity," said Alberto, "but unfortunately we are in a hurry. Can we come back and pay some other day?"
"Of course. And why are you in a hurry?"
Alberto explained their errand, and the old woman commented:
"I must say, you certainly are a pair of greenhorns. You'd better hurry up and cut the umbilical cord to your mortal progenitor. We no longer need their world. We belong to the invisible people."
Alberto and Sophie hurried back to the Cinderella cafeteria and the red convertible. Right next to the car a busy mother was helping her little boy to pee.
Rcing along and taking shortcuts, they soon arrived in Lillesand.
SK 876 from Copenhagen touched down at Kjevik on schedule at 9:35 p.m. While the plane was taxied out to the runway in Copenhagen, the.major had opened the envelope hanging from the check-in desk. The note inside read:
To Major Knag, as he hands over his boarding pass at Kastrup on Midsummer Eve, 1990. Dear Dad, You probably thought I would turn up in Copenhagen. But my control over your movements is more ingenious than that. I can see you wherever you are, Dad. The fact is, I have been to visit a well-known Gypsy family which many, many years ago sold a magic brass mirror to Great-grandmother. I have also gotten myself a crystal ball. At this very moment, I can see that you have just sat down in your seat. May I remind you to fasten your seat belt and keep the back of your seat raised to an upright position until the Fasten Seat Belt sign has been switched off. As soon as the plane is in flight, you can lower the seat back and give yourself a well-earned rest. You will need to be rested when you get home. The weather in Lillesand is perfect, but the temperature is a few degrees lower than in Lebanon. I wish you a pleasant flight. Love, your own witch-daughter, Queen of the Mirror and the Highest Protector of Irony.
Albert could not quite make out whether he was angry or merely tired and resigned. Then he started laughing. He laughed so loudly that his fellow passengers turned to stare at him. Then the plane took off.
He had been given a taste of his own medicine. But with a significant difference, surely. His medicine had first and foremost affected Sophie and Alberto. And they——well, they were only imaginary.
He did what Hilde had suggested. He lowered the back of his seat and nodded off. He was not fully awake again until he had gone through passport control and was standing in the arrival hall at Kjevik Airport. A demonstration was there to greet him.
There were eight or ten young people of about Hilde's age. They were holding signs saying:
WELCOME HOME, DAD —— HILDE IS WAITING IN THE GARDEN —— IRONY LIVES.
The worst thing was that he could not just jump into a taxi. He had to wait for his baggage. And all the while, Hilde's classmates were swarming around him, forcing him to read the signs again and again. Then one of the girls came up and gave him a bunch of roses and he melted. He dug down into one of his shopping bags and gave each demonstrator a marzipan bar. Now there were only two left for Hilde. When he had reclaimed his baggage, a young man stepped forward and explained that he was under the command of the Queen of the Mirror, and that he had orders to drive him to Bjerkely. The other demonstrators dispersed into the crowd.
They drove out onto the E 18. Every bridge and tunnel they passed was draped with banners saying: "Welcome home!", "The turkey is ready," "I can see you, Dad!"
When he was dropped off outside the gate at Bjerkely, Albert Knag heaved a sigh of relief, and thanked the driver with a hundred crown note and three cans of Carlsberg Elephant beer.
His wife was waiting for him outside the house. After a long embrace, he asked: "Where is she?"
"She's sitting on the dock, Albert."
Alberto and Sophie stopped the red convertible on the square in Lillesand outside the Hotel Norge. It was a quarter past ten. They could see a large bonfire out in the archipelago.
"How do we find Bjerkely?" asked Sophie.
"We'll just have to hunt around for it. You remember the painting in the major's cabin."
"We'll have to hurry. I want to get there before he arrives."
They started to drive around the minor roads and then over rocky mounds and slopes. A useful clue was that Bjerkely lay by the water.
Suddenly Sophie shouted, "There it is! We've found it!"
"I do believe you're right, but don't shout so loud."
"Why? There's no one to hear us."
"My dear Sophie——after a whole course in philosophy, I'm very disappointed to find you still jumping to conclusions."
"Yes, but. . ."
"Surely you don't believe this place is entirely devoid of rolls, pixies, wood nymphs, and good fairies?"
"Oh, excuse me."
They drove through the gate and up the gravel path to the house. Alberto parked the car on the lawn beside the glider. A little way down the garden a table was set for three.
"I can see her!" whispered Sophie. "She's sitting down on the dock, just like in my dream."
"Have you noticed how much the garden looks like your own garden in Clover Close?"
"Yes, it does. With the glider and everything. Can I go down to her?"
"Naturally. I'll stay here."
Sophie ran down to the dock. She almost stumbled and fell over Hilde. But she sat down politely beside her.
Hilde sat idly playing with the line that the rowboat was made fast with. In her left hand she held a slip of paper. She was clearly waiting. She glanced at her watch several times.
Sophie thought she was very pretty. She had fair, curly hair and bright green eyes. She was wearing a yellow summer dress. She was not unlike Joanna.
Sophie tried to talk to her even though she knew it was useless.
Hilde gave no sign that she had heard.
Sophie got onto her knees and tried to shout in her ear:
"Can you hear me, Hilde? Or are you both deaf and blind?"
Did she, or didn't she, open her eyes a little wider? Wasn't there a very slight sign that she had heard something——however faintly?
She looked around. Then she turned her head sharply and stared right into Sophie's eyes. She did not focus on her properly; it was as if she was looking right through her.
"Not so loud, Sophie," said Alberto from up in the car. "I don't want the garden filled with mermaids."
Sophie sat still now. It felt good just to be close to Hilde.
Then she heard the deep voice of a man: "Hilde!"
It was the major——in uniform, with a blue beret. He stood at the top of the garden.
Hilde jumped up and ran toward him. They met between the glider and the red convertible. He lifted her up in the air and swung her around and around.
Hilde had been sitting on the dock waiting for her father. Since he had landed at Kastrup, she had thought of him every fifteen minutes, trying to imagine where he was now, and how he was taking it. She had noted all the times down on a slip of paper and kept it with her all day.
What if it made him angry? But surely he couldn't expect that he would write a mysterious book for her—— and then everything would remain as before?
She looked at her watch again. Now it was a quarter past ten. He could be arriving any minute.
But what was that? She thought she heard a faint breath of something, exactly as in her dream about Sophie.
She turned around quickly. There was something, she was sure of it. But what?
Maybe it was only the summer night.
For a few seconds she was afraid she was hearing things.
Now she turned the other way. It was Dad! He was standing at the top of the garden.
Hilde jumped up and ran toward him. They met by the glider. He lifted her up in the air and swung her around and around.
Hilde was crying, and her father had to hold back his tears as well.
"You've become a grown woman, Hilde!"
"And you've become a real writer."
Hilde wiped away her tears.
"Shall we say we're quits?" she asked.
They sat down at the table. First of all Hilde had to have an exact description of everything that had happened at Kastrup and on the way home. They kept bursting out laughing.
"Didn't you see the envelope in the cafeteria?"
"I didn't get a chance to sit down and eat anything, you villain. Now I'm ravenous."
"The stuff about the turkey was all bluff, then?"
"It certainly was not! I have prepared everything. Mom's doing the serving."
Then they had to go over the ring binder and the story of Sophie and Alberto from one end to the other and backwards and forwards.
Mom brought out the turkey and the Waldorf salad, the rose wine and Hilde's homemade bread.
Her father was just saying something about Plato when Hilde suddenly interrupted him: "Shh!"
"What is it?"
"Didn't you hear it? Something squeaking?"
"I'm sure I heard something I guess it was just a field mouse."
While her mother went to get another bottle of wine, her father said: "But the philosophy course isn't quite over."
"Tonight I'm going to tell you about the universe."
Before they began to eat, he said to his wife, "Hilde is too big to sit on my knee any more. But you're not!" With that he caught Marit round the waist and drew her onto his lap. It was quite a while before she got anything to eat.
"To think you'll soon be forty ……"
When Hilde jumped up and ran toward her father, Sophie felt her tears welling up. She would never be able to reach her . . .
Sophie was deeply envious of Hilde because she had been created a real person of flesh and blood.
When Hilde and the major had sat down at the table, Alberto honked the car horn.
Sophie looked up. Didn't Hilde do exactly the same?
She ran up to Alberto and jumped into the seat next to him.
"We'll sit for a while and watch what happens," he said.
"Have you been crying?"
She nodded again.
"What is it?"
"She's so lucky to be a real person. Now she'll grow up and be a real woman. I'm sure she'll have real children too . . ."
"And grandchildren, Sophie. But there are two sides to everything. That was what I tried to teach you at the beginning of our course."
"How do you mean?"
"She is lucky, I agree. But she who wins the lot of life must also draw the lot of death, since the lot of life is death."
"But still, isn't it better to have had a life than never to have really lived?"
"We cannot live a life like Hilde——or like the major for that matter. On the other hand, we'll never die. Don't you remember what the old woman said back there in the woods? We are the invisible people. She was two hundred years old, she said. And at their Midsummer party I saw some creatures who were more than three thousand years old . . ."
"Perhaps what I envy most about Hilde is all this …… her family life."
"But you have a family yourself. And you have a cat, two birds, and a tortoise."
"But we left all that behind, didn't we?"
"By no means. It's only the major who left it behind. He has written the final word of his book, my dear, and he will never find us again."
"Does that mean we can go back?"
"Anytime we want. But we're also going to make new friends in the woods behind Cinderella's cafeteria."
The Knag family began their meal. For a moment Sophie was afraid it would turn out like the philosophical garden party in Clover Close. At one point it looked as though the major intended to lay Marit across the table. But then he drew her on to his knee instead.
The car was parked a good way away from where the family sat eating. Their conversation was only audible now and then. Sophie and Alberto sat gazing down over the garden. They had plenty of time to mull over all the details and the sorry ending of the garden party.
The family did not get up from the table until almost midnight. Hilde and the major strolled toward the glider. They waved to Marit as she walked up to the white-painted house.
"You might as well go to bed, Mom. We have so much to talk about."
The Big Bang
…… we too are stardust. . .
Hilde settled herself comfortably in the glider beside her father. It was nearly midnight. They sat looking out across the bay. A few stars glimmered palely in the light sky. Gentle waves lapped over the stones under the dock.
Her father broke the silence.
"It's a strange thought that we live on a tiny little planet in the universe."
"Earth is only one of many planets orbiting the sun. Yet Earth is the only living planet."
"Perhaps the only one in the entire universe?"
"It's possible. But it's also possible that the universe is teeming with life. The universe is inconceivably huge. The distances are so great that we measure them in light-minutes and light-years."
"What are they, actually?"
"A light-minute is the distance light travels in one minute. And that's a long way, because light travels through space at 300,000 kilometers a second. That means that a light-minute is 60 times 300,00——or 18 million kilometers. A light-year is nearly ten trillion kilometers."
"How far away is the sun?"
"It's a little over eight light-minutes away. The rays of sunlight warming our faces on a hot June day have traveled for eight minutes through the universe before they reach us." "Go on……"
"Pluto, which is the planet farthest out in our solar system, is about five light-hours away from us. When an astronomer looks at Pluto through his telescope, he is in fact looking five hours back in time. We could also say that the picture of Pluto takes five hours to get here."
"It's a bit hard to visualize, but I think I understand."
"That's good, Hilde. But we here on Earth are only just beginning to orient ourselves. Our own sun is one of 400 billion other stars in the galaxy we call the Milky Way. This galaxy resembles a large discus, with our sun situated in one of its several spiral arms. When we look up at the sky on a clear winter's night, we see a broad band of stars. This is because we are looking toward the center of the Milky Way."
"I suppose that's why the Milky Way is called 'Winter Street' in Swedish."
"The distance to the star in the Milky Way that is our nearest neighbor is four light-years. Maybe that's it just above the island over there. If you could imagine that at this very moment a stargazer is sitting up there with a powerful telescope pointing at Bjerkely——he would see Bjerkely as it looked four years ago. He might see an eleven-year-old girl swinging her legs in the glider."
"But that's only the nearest star. The whole galaxy—— or nebula, as we also call it——is 90,000 light-years wide. That is another way of describing the time it takes for light to travel from one end of the galaxy to the other. When we gaze at a star in the Milky Way which is 50,000 light-years away from our sun, we are looking back 50,000 years in time."
"The idea is much too big for my little head."
"The only way we can look out into space, then, is to look back in time. We can never know what the universe is like now. We only know what it was like then. When we look up at a star that is thousands of light-years away, we are really traveling thousands of years back in the history of space."
"It's completely incomprehensible." "But everything we see meets the eye in the form of light waves. And these light waves take time to travel through space. We could compare it to thunder. We always hear the thunder after we have seen the lightning. That's because sound waves travel slower than light waves. When I hear a peal of thunder, I'm hearing the sound of something that happened a little while ago. It's the same thing with the stars. When I look at a star that is thousands of light-years away, I'm seeing the 'peal of thunder' from an event that lies thousands of years back in time."
"Yes, I see."
"But so far, we've only been talking about our own galaxy. Astronomers say there are about a hundred billion of such galaxies in the universe, and each of these galaxies consists of about a hundred billion stars. We call the nearest galaxy to the Milky Way the Andromeda nebula. It lies two million light-years from our own galaxy. That means the light from that galaxy takes two million years to reach us. So we're looking two million years back in time when we see the Andromeda nebula high up in the sky. If there was a clever stargazer in this nebula——I can just imagine him pointing his telescope at Earth right now——he wouldn't be able to see us. If he was lucky, he'd see a few flat-faced Neanderthals."
"The most distant galaxies we know of today are about ten billion light-years away from us. When we receive signals from these galaxies, we are going ten billion years back in the history of the universe. That's about twice as long as our own solar system has existed."
"You're making me dizzy."
"Although it is hard enough to comprehend what it means to look so far back in time, astronomers have discovered something that has even greater significance for our world picture."
"Apparently no galxy in space remains where it is. All the galaxies in the universe are moving away from each other at colossal speeds. The further they are away from us, the quicker they move. That means that the distance between the galaxies is increasing all the time."
"I'm trying to picture it."
"If you have a balloon and you paint black spots on it, the spots will move away from each other as you blow up the balloon. That's what's happening with the galaxies in the universe. We say that the universe is expanding."
"What makes it do that?"
"Most astronomers agree that the expanding universe can only have one explanation: Once upon a time, about 15 billion years ago, all substance in the universe was assembled in a relatively small area. The substance was so dense that gravity made it terrifically hot. Finally it got so hot and so tightly packed that it exploded. We call this explosion the Big Bang."
"Just the thought of it makes me shudder."
"The Big Bang caused all the substance in the universe to be expelled in all directions, and as it gradually cooled, it formed stars and galaxies and moons and planets ……"
"But I thought you said the universe was still expanding?"
"Yes I did, and it's expanding precisely because of this explosion billions of years ago. The universe has no timeless geography. The universe is a happening. The universe is an explosion. Galaxies continue to fly through the universe away from each other at colossal speeds."
"Will they go on doing that for ever?"
"That's one possibility. But there is another. You may recall that Alberto told Sophie about the two forces that cause the planets to remain in constant orbit round the sun?"
"Weren't they gravity and inertia?"
"Right, and the same thing applies to the galaxies. Because even though the universe continues to expand, the force of gravity is working the other way. And one day, in a couple of billion years, gravity will perhaps cause the heavenly bodies to be packed together again as the force of the huge explosion begins to weaken. Then we would get a reverse explosion, a so-called implosion. But the distances are so great that it will happen like a movie that is run in slow motion. You might compare it with what happens when you release the air from a balloon."
"Will all the galaxies be drawn together in a tight nucleus again?"
"Yes, you've got it. But what will happen then?"
"There would be another Big Bang and the universe would start expanding again. Because the same natural laws are in operation. And so new stars and galaxies will form."
"Good thinking. Astronomers think there are two possible scenarios for the future of the universe. Either the universe will go on expanding forever so that the galaxies will draw further and further apart——or the universe will begin to contract again. How heavy and massive the universe is will determine what happens. And this is something astronomers have no way of knowing as yet."
"But if the universe is so heavy that it begins to contract again, perhaps it has expanded and contracted lots of times before."
"That would be an obvious conclusion. But on this point theory is divided. It may be that the expansion of the universe is something that will only happen this one time. But if it keeps on expanding for all eternity, the question of where it all began becomes even more pressing."
"Yes, where did it come from, all that stuff that suddenly exploded?"
"For a Christian, it would be obvious to see the Big Bang as the actual moment of creation. The Bible tells us that God said 'Let there be light!' You may possibly also remember that Alberto indicated Christianity's 'linear' view of history. From the point of view of a Chris-tian belief in the creation, it is better to imagine the universe continuing to expand."
"In the Orient they have a 'cyclic' view of history.
In other words, history repeats itself eternally. In India, for example, there is an ancient theory that the world continually unfolds and folds again, thus alternating between what Indians have called Brahman's Day and Brahman's Nigh. This idea harmonizes best, of course, with the universe expanding and contracting——in order to expand again——in an eternal cyclic process. I have a mental picture of a great cosmic heart that beats and beats and beats……"
"I think both theories are equally inconceivable and equally exciting."
"And they can compare with the great paradox of eternity that Sophie once sat pondering in her garden: either the universe has always been there——or it suddenly came into existence out of nothing ……"
Hilde clapped her hand to her forehead.
"What was that?"
"I think I've just been stung by a gadfly."
"It was probably Socrates trying to sting you into life."
Sophie and Alberto had been sitting in the red convertible listening to the major tell Hilde about the universe.
"Has it struck you that our roles are completely reversed?" asked Alberto after a while.
"In what sense?"
"Before it was they who listened to us, and we couldn't see them. Now we're listening to them and they can't see us."
"And that's not all."
"What are you referring to?"
"When we started, we didn't know about the other reality that Hilde and the major inhabited. Now they don't know about ours."
"Revenge is sweet."
"But the major could intervene in our world."
"Our world was nothing but his interventions."
"I haven't yet relinquished all hope that we may also intervene in their world."
"But you know that's impossible. Remember what happened in the Cinderella? I saw you trying to get out that bottle of Coke."
Sophie was silent. She gazed out over the garden while the major explained about the Big Bang. There was something about that term which started a train of thought in her mind.
She began to rummage around in the car.
"What are you doing?" asked Alberto.
She opened the glove compartment and found a wrench. She grabbed it and jumped out of the car. She went over to the glider and stood right in front of Hilde and her father. First she tried to catch Hilde's eye but that was quite useless. Finally she raised the wrench above her head and crashed it down on Hilde's forehead.
"Ouch!" said Hilde.
Then Sophie hit the major on his forehead, but he didn't react at all.
"What was that?" he asked.
"I think I've just been stung by a gadfly."
"It was probably Socrates trying to sting you into life."
Sophie lay down on the grass and tried to push the glider. But it remained motionless. Or did she manage to get it to move a millimeter?
"There's a chilly breeze coming up," said Hilde.
"No, there isn't. It's very mild."
"It's not only that. There is something."
"Only the two of us and the cool summer night."
"No, there's something in the air."
"And what might that be?"
"You remember Alberto and his secret plan?"
"How could I forget!"
"They simply disappeared from the garden party. It was as if they had vanished into thin air . . ."
"…… into thin air."
"The story had to end somewhere. It was just something I wrote."
"That was, yes, but not what happened afterward. Suppose they were here . . ."
"Do you believe that?"
"I can feel it, Dad."
Sophie ran back to the car.
"Impressive," said Alberto grudgingly as she climbed on board clasping the wrench tightly in her hand. "You have unusual talents, Sophie. Just wait and see."
The major put his arm around Hilde.
"Do you hear the mysterious play of the waves?"
"Yes. We must get the boat in the water tomorrow."
"But do you hear the strange whispering of the wind? Look how the aspen leaves are trembling."
"The planet is alive, you know ……"
"You wrote that there was something between the lines."
"Perhaps there is something between the lines in this garden too."
"Nature is full of enigmas. But we are talking about stars in the sky."
"Soon there will be stars on the water."
"That's right. That's what you used to say about phosphorescence when you were little. And in a sense you were right. Phosphorescence and all other organisms are made of elements that were once blended together in a star."
"Yes, we too are stardust."
"That ws beautifully put."
"When radio telescopes can pick up light from distant galaxies billions of light-years away, they will be charting the universe as it looked in primeval times after the Big Bang. Everything we can see in the sky is a cosmic fossil from thousands and millions of years ago. The only thing an astrologer can do is predict the past."
"Because the stars in the constellations moved away from each other long before their light reached us, right?"
"Even two thousand years ago, the constellations looked considerably different from the way they look today."
"I never knew that."
"If it's a clear night, we can see millions, even billions of years back into the history of the universe. So in a way, we are going home."
"I don't know what you mean."
"You and I also began with the Big Bang, because all substance in the universe is an organic unity. Once in a primeval age all matter was gathered in a clump so enormously massive that a pinhead weighed many billions of tons. This 'primeval atom' exploded because of the enormous gravitation. It was as if something disintegrated. When we look up at the sky, we are trying to find the way back to ourselves."
"What an extraordinary thing to say."
"All the stars and galaxies in the universe are made of the same substance. Parts of it have lumped themselves together, some here, some there. There can be billions of light-years between one galaxy and the next. But they all have the same origin. All stars and all planets belong to the same family."
"Yes, I see."
"But what is this earthly substance? What was it that exploded that time billions of years ago? Where did it come from?"
"That is the big question."
"And a question that concerns us all very deeply. For we ourselves are of that substance. We are a spark from the great fire that was ignited many billions of years ago."
"That's a beautiful thought too."
"However, we must not exaggerate the importance of these figures. It is enough just to hold a stone in your hand. The universe would have been equally incomprehensible if it had only consisted of that one stone the size of an orange. The question would be just as impenetrable: where did this stone come from?"
Sophie suddenly stood up in the red convertible and pointed out over the bay.
"I want to try the rowboat," she said.
"It's tied up. And we would never be able to lift the oars."
"Shall we try? After all, it is Midsummer Eve."
"We can go down to the water, at any rate."
They jumped out of the car and ran down the garden.
They tried to loosen the rope that was made fast in a metal ring. But they could not even lift one end.
"It's as good as nailed down," said Alberto.
"We've got plenty of time."
"A true philosopher must never give up. If we could just…… get it loose . . ."
"There are more stars now," said Hilde.
"Yes, when the summer night is darkest."
"But they sparkle more in winter. Do you remember the night before you left for Lebanon? It was New Year's Day."
"That was when I decided to write a book about philosophy for you. I had been to a large bookstore in Kris-tiansand and to the library too. But they had nothing suitable for young people."
"It's as if we are sitting at the very tip of the fine hairs in the white rabbit's fur."
"I wonder if there is anyone out there in the night of the light-years?"
"The rowboat has worked itself loose!"
"So it has!"
"I don't understand it. I went down and checked it just before you got here."
"It reminds me of when Sophie borrowed Alberto's boat. Do you remember how it lay drifting out in the lake?"
"I bet it's her at work again."
"Go ahead and make fun of me. All evening, I've been able to feel someone here."
"One of us will have to swim out to it."
"We'll both go, Dad."
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