The Long and Spectacular Life of Agnes Magnusdottir part 9
"You can open your eyes now."
It is the surprises, some say, that keep us alive. Without surprises we would be mere automatons moving through an unchanging world.
Behind Eldur was a rooftop garden filled completely with pots, hundreds of them, spiny branches and flowers reaching up to the moonlit sky.
"Take a seat on the wall over there and I'll return with drinks."
Almost hidden by shrubbery, ivy growing up its walls, was a small building. Eldur turned back just before he disappeared inside.
"Try and get your bearings! It always pays to know where you are in the world. Lose yourself too often and you become lost forever.”
In the distance were the twinkling lights of the city. How well, could it be said, that we know a place? Or a person? I didn't even know what I myself would do tomorrow, or the next day. Is that what Eldur meant?
"That's one benefit of the whole building being empty."
Eldur reappeared carrying a tray with teacups on it.
"You get first choice on apartments. As I child I had always wanted to live up here. And who says dreams don't come true? Now, what was it you wanted to know about Magnusdottir?”
I had never interviewed anyone without being able to speak before and with this obstacle in mind I had prepared some questions on a set of little cards I had bought. I held them fanned out in my hands like a poker player.
At first Eldur fed me the guff I already knew, about how successful the book had been and how many copies it had sold worldwide, breaking every publishing record except those related to the bible and a kind of sex-book that had been a huge hit in the late seventies. At one point, and I assumed he must have put it there while making the tea for I hadn't noticed it before, he pulled out his own battered copy from the waistband of his trousers.
It looked exactly like the one I owned, the image on the cover was the same, the three haunted staring faces, the building looming behind them. The only difference was that the words of the title were in a different language.
"Magnusdottir translated it into Icelandic herself. From her own English original. Some feat when you consider the facts. I mean Icelandic wasn't even her first language. While her mother was from Iceland, her father was Scottish or English, there are various scurrilous rumours about this, but what is certain is that the name she was brought up under was Grey. Agnes Grey! That wouldn't do for a writer of fiction so Magnusdottir was chosen either by herself or by her publisher. Not a complete lie either. After all, she did have Icelandic blood in her.”
Eldur took a sip of his tea, his long spindly fingers wrapping almost completely around the cup.
“We were so proud of her back home. In some ways I suppose it helped assuage some of the natural antipathy we might have felt for her coming from the family she did.”
Deliberate effect achieved Eldur raised his tea to his mouth, blew on it softly, and took a careful sip.
“Not a lot of people know this but the great Agnes Magnusdottir came from a Nazi family. Who would ever have thought it?”
Exhibit 23b: A letter dated 23rd August 1953 and found amongst the belongings of missing journalist Harry *****.
*****, due to at least two suicide attempts prior to his disappearance, is considered to be deceased.
At a ceremony organised by his family as an unofficial recognition of his passing he was described by his girlfriend, Zara, as ‘quite a guy’.
Zara had made the trip especially from Broadway where she was appearing in a production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. Rumours that were the trip were related to claims of *****’s life insurance policy are unfounded.
And so I am a grandfather! The pleasure I take in this is tempered only by the fact that I didn't hear the news from you yourself, you little bitch.
And to think that you came from my own seed!
What exactly is it that the word family [the word underlined three times] means to you?
Herr Schmidt came back from his trip to London quite full of himself.
"I think I may have met your son-in-law. You do know that you have a son-in-law, don't you?"
Schmidt, the little worm, (you remember him, you used to call him Uncle and make him ride you on his back down the Unter den Linden?), has managed to wheedle himself a job with the Argentinian government.
They have obtained for him both a new identity and a new passport. He goes by the name of Wolf now, German and not German at the same time, very clever don't you think?, and as this Wolf he works developing trade links specialising in fish.
This is the man they called the Terror of Terezin! The man who organised one of the greatest deceptions in world history!
"A quite insipid looking fellow," he said.
It was clear he was enjoying himself, happy for once to have one over on me.
"And a tunte," he used the German word, "if I am not mistaken. There was a way he looked at me when we shook on the deal. I'd seen that look often enough. A kind of repressed hunger."
It was all I could do not to rip Schmidt’s head off there and then. Back in the day he would have been pussy-footing around me, got down and licked my arse if I'd asked him, literally, and done it with a smile on his sycophantic little face.
"After we had done our deal, so many tonnes and tonnes of Argentinian fish, a fine deal for us!, in celebration we went to a pub. It was an awful place but ironic in the way it summed up that whole country, smokey, dirty and full bombastic little turds.
“And that was when it happened. He took out his wallet and showed me a picture of his wife and daughter, a pair of beauties both of them.
’She's originally from Iceland,' he said when I asked after her distinctive looks and from there it didn't take many questions to get to you."
To me, poor Herr Jónsson, a shadow of his former great self.
But if only you could see my life here I am sure you would enjoy it.
I have a house on the beach and two black Labrador dogs. They love me and have been more faithful to me than any human being ever has.
Every morning we walk along the shore to the nearest town where I sit and have a coffee and play chess. It is quite the thing to play chess here. Think of it as an international language. And it is a game in which cunning and guile are nothing but admired.
If only life were so simple.
In the long cool evenings I have started to write my memoirs. Of course they will never be published. It seems the whole world is against our ideas now. And we had such vision!
Was what we were doing really so wrong? I just wanted to create a perfect world for you to live in. And now you are gone. Gone, how that word pains me to write it.
Please will you write back if only it is to send me a picture. I would very much like to see my granddaughter. She is two or three now Wolf says, has jet black thick hair and the cutest crooked smile.
Agnes is such a beautiful name.
Your dear departed mother would have been so pleased to know the child had been named after her.
Read the previous thrilling part of The Long and Spectacular Life of Agnes Magnusdottir
Read the next thrilling part of The Long and Spectacular Life of Agnes Magnusdottir
Image from Pixabay