Excerpt
part one
Advent 1 august 1991   The Stars  
She was fourteen years old and sure that if she shut her eyes tight and
concentrated she could see the stars through the roof.   All around
her, women were breathing. Regular, heavy, nighttime breathing. One was
snoring, and that was Auntie Sara, who had been given a mattress beneath
the open window.   She closed her eyes and tried to breathe like the
others. It was difficult to sleep, especially because everything around
her was so new and different. The sounds of the night and the forest
beyond the window in Ostgard were different. The people she
knew from the meetings in the citadel and the summer camps were somehow
not the same. She was not the same, either. The face and body she saw in
the mirror this summer were new. And her emotions, these strange hot and
cold currents that flowed through her when the boys looked at her. Or
when one of them in particular looked at her. Robert. He was different
this year, too.   She opened her eyes again and stared. She knew
God had the power to do great things, even allow her to see the stars
through the roof. If it was His wish.   It had been a long and
eventful day. The dry summer wind had whispered through the corn, and
the leaves on the trees danced as if in a fever, causing the light to
filter through to the visitors on the field. They had been listening
to one of the Salvation Army cadets from the -officer--training school
talking about his work as a preacher on the Faeroe Islands. He was
-good--looking and spoke with great sensitivity and passion. But she was
preoccupied with shooing away a bumblebee that kept buzzing around her
head, and by the time it moved off, the heat had made her drowsy. When
the cadet finished, all faces were turned to the territorial commander,
David Eckhoff, who had been observing them with his smiling, young eyes,
which were actually over fifty years old. He saluted in the Salvation Army
manner, with his right hand raised above his shoulder and pointing to the
kingdom of heaven, amid a resounding shout of "Hallelujah!"
Then he prayed for the cadets' work with the poor and the pariahs
to be blessed, and reminded them of the Gospel of Matthew, where it
said that Jesus the Redeemer was among them, a stranger on the street,
maybe a criminal, without food and without clothing. And that on Judgment
Day the righteous, those who had helped the weakest, would have eternal
life. It had all the makings of a long speech, but then someone whispered
something and he said, with a smile, that Youth Hour was next on the
program and today it was Rikard Nilsen's turn.   She had heard
Rikard make his voice deeper than it was to thank the commander. As usual,
he had prepared what he was going to say in writing and memorized it. He
stood up and recited how he was going to devote his life to the fight,
to Jesus's fight for the kingdom of God. His voice was nervous,
yet monotonous and soporific. His introverted glower rested on her. Her
eyes were heavy. His sweaty top lip was moving to form the familiar,
secure, tedious phrases. So she -didn't react when the hand touched
her back. Not until it became fingertips and they wandered down to the
small of her back, and lower, and made her freeze beneath her thin summer
dress.   She turned and looked into Robert's smiling brown
eyes. And she wished her skin were as dark as his so that he would not
be able to see her blush.   "Shh," Jon had said.  
Robert and Jon were brothers. Although Jon was one year older, many
people had taken them for twins when they were younger. But Robert was
seventeen now and while they had retained some facial similarities,
the differences were clearer. Robert was happy and carefree, liked to
tease and was good at playing the guitar, but was not always punctual for
services in the citadel, and sometimes the teasing had a tendency to go
too far, especially if he noticed others were laughing. Then Jon would
often step in. Jon was an honest, conscientious boy who most thought
would go to -officer--training school and -would---though this was never
formulated out -loud---find himself a girl in the Army. The latter could
not be taken for granted in Robert's case. Jon was three-quarters
of an inch taller than Robert, but in some strange way Robert seemed
taller. From the age of twelve Jon had begun to stoop, as though he were
carrying the woes of the world on his back. Both were -dark--skinned,
-good--looking, with regular features, but Robert had something Jon did
not have. There was something in his eyes, something black and playful,
which she wanted and yet did not want to investigate further.   While
Rikard was talking, her eyes were wandering across the sea of assembled
familiar faces. One day she would marry a boy from the Salvation Army
and perhaps they would both be posted to another town or another part
of the country. But they would always return to Ostgard,
which the Army had just bought and was to be their summer site from now
on.   On the margins of the crowd, sitting on the steps leading to
the house, was a boy with blond hair stroking a cat that had settled in
his lap. She could tell that he had been watching her, but he had looked
away just as she noticed. He was the one person here she -didn't
know, but she did know that his name was Mads Gilstrup, that he was the
grandchild of the people who had owned Ostgard before, that
he was a couple of years older than her and that the Gilstrup family was
wealthy. He was attractive, in fact, but there was something solitary
about him. And what was he doing here, anyway? He had been there the
previous night, walking around with an angry frown on his face, not
talking to anyone. She had felt his eyes on her a few times. Everyone
looked at her this year. That was new, too.   She was jerked out
of these thoughts by Robert taking her hand, putting something in it
and saying: "Come to the barn when the -general--in--waiting has
finished. I've got something to show you."   Then he
stood up and walked off, and she looked down into her hand and almost
screamed. With one hand over her mouth, she dropped the object into
the grass. It was a bumblebee. It could still move, despite not having
legs or wings.   At last Rikard finished, and she sat watching her
parents and Robert and Jon's parents moving -toward the tables where
the coffee was. They were both what Army people in their respective
Oslo congregations called "strong families," and she knew
watchful eyes were on her.   She walked -toward the outhouse. Once
she was around the corner, where no one could see her, she scurried in
the direction of the barn.   "Do you know what this is?"
said Robert with the smile in his eyes and the deep voice he had not had
the summer before.   He was lying on his back in the hay whittling a
tree root with the penknife he always carried in his belt.   Then he
held it up and she saw what it was. She had seen drawings. She hoped it
was too dark for him to see her blush again.   "No," she
lied, sitting beside him in the hay.   And he gave her that teasing
look of his, as if he knew something about her she -didn't even
know herself. She returned his gaze and fell back on her elbows.  
"This is where it goes," he said, and in an instant his hand
was up her dress. She could feel the hard tree root against the inside
of her thigh and, before she could close her legs, it was touching her
underpants. His breath was hot on her neck.   "No, Robert,"
she
(Continues...)