JUST ONE LOAD
OF GRAVEL
Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of
Contemporary Literature
 

ISSN 1931-3888

Volume 11, Number 1
(Spring 2016)

Copyright © 2016
by Leah Browning, Editor.

All future rights to
material published
in the
Apple Valley
Review
are retained by
the individual authors
and artists.

www.applevalleyreview.com
Fiction by Knud Sørensen
(translated from the Danish by Michael Goldman)

        And while he was driving along, lost in his own thoughts, in his
just a few-weeks-old Morris Oxford, he didn’t just hear a bump, he felt
it too, when it was transmitted down from the seat, up through his spine
to his brain, telling him that underneath him, underneath his car, there
was something that was not supposed to be there.
        He stopped.  He got out.  Well!
        It was one of the potholes that was quite a bit deeper than the
others, so deep that only a tractor could go right over it.  He had hit that
hole.  Here was another place he had to remember.
        He got in and drove on.  But only a short way.  Then he stopped
again.  Something about the way the motor sounded.  
       Out again.  Around the car.  Down on his knees and looking
underneath.  There it was.  Hole in the exhaust just in front of the
muffler.  Dented muffler.  The pipe hung down dragging on the road.
        He stuck his arm under the car to get a hold of the exhaust pipe,
to try and reattach it to the muffler.  He groped for it, so far under that
he wasn’t able to put his arm in and look at the same time.  Then he
found it—and with a gasp pulled out his hand.  He blew on it, then
placed it against the cool car door.  Well, that was stupid.
        He looked under the car again.  It was still there.  It would
probably stay on until he made it to the mechanic’s and had it fixed.  It
would probably be fine, as long as he didn’t back up.  If he drove up to
Kresten’s, he could turn around in front of their house, and then he
wouldn’t have to go all the way home and tell Kristine what was wrong.  
All he had to do was make it back to town and have the mechanic fix it.
        He got in again and started it up.  It didn’t sound too good.  It
was so noisy, he was almost afraid to press on the accelerator.  It
sounded like he was about to break the sound barrier, even though he
was just creeping along.  And strangely enough that, even though the
motor was wailing, he thought he could hear and feel over the noise,
how the exhaust pipe hopped along over the road’s unevenness.
        He turned into Kresten’s driveway and regretted it only after it
was too late.  Because Kresten was home, of course, and now he was
going to have to stop and explain what was wrong, and that it wasn’t the
Morris Oxford there was something wrong with.  Kresten will sure gloat
over this.  He might not say anything, but he’ll be thinking it.  He’ll
think, that’s what happens when you put yourself above others.  And
then he’ll be sympathetic and say, “What a shame with that nice, new
car, that it already has to be fixed.”
        Kresten was home.  And his wife.  And his two young children.  
And they all came dashing out to the driveway, from the barn and from
the yard and from the utility room, as he arrived in a cloud of noise.  
They stood gaping, watching him while he used the entire width of their
front drive for his u-turn.  And they gaped even more, if that were
possible, when they saw him continue on, after it had seemed like he
was going to stop, waving them off as if to explain that it was all a
mistake, that he didn’t have time to talk now after all.

        “Doesn’t look so good,” said the mechanic.  “You’d better do
something about that road.  This is going to be expensive.  New exhaust
pipe and new muffler.”
        Thomas looked grim.  “It’s that parish council,” he said.  “None
of them live near our road.  They make sure the roads are fine where
they live.”
        “Hm.  Couldn’t you throw a little gravel in the holes,” said the
mechanic.  “Then it wouldn’t be so dangerous.”
        “It’s a public road.  It’s public all the way to Kresten’s driveway.  
I take care of it from there.”  After a bit, he said, “And it’s fine there.  
My road is fine.”
        “Maybe the parish council hasn’t given it any thought,” said the
mechanic.  “They’re not thinking about your new car.  The road’s fine
for horse-wagons and Fergusons, which is fine for most people.”
        Thomas got the message.  Then he asked, “When can you have it
done?”  And when he found out that it wouldn’t be ready until the next
day, since the parts had to be delivered, he just said good-bye and left.  
Out on the county road and down the pot-holed lane to his house, by
the edge of the pond.

        Kresten approached on his bicycle.  He stopped and stuck the
tip of his clog down to the ground.  “You walking?” he asked.
        Thomas grumbled.  “It’s that damned road.  It’s hazardous.”  He
just stood there.  Then he looked to one side and said, “Yeah, it must
have looked a little strange, driving by your house without stopping, but
I couldn’t really . . .”
        “Couldn’t you stop?”
        “Of course I could stop.  It’s just that damned road plaguing me.  
How can we keep on living here?  They should fill it in with a couple
loads of gravel,” he added.
        Kresten looked down the road.  “Yeah, maybe,” he said.  “But—
is it really that bad?  The veterinarian doesn’t complain when he comes
out to us.”
        “The veterinarian!  That speed demon.  The way he drives he
barely even notices the road.”  For the first time, Thomas looked
directly at Kresten.  “It might be okay for tractors, but when you’re
driving in a car, it’s terrible.”  And then he nodded abruptly and kept on
walking, upset, while he prepared what he was going to say to Kristine
when she noticed.  It was the parish council.  It was all their fault.

        The next day he picked up his car, and drove it home carefully.  
There was a burnt smell from the new exhaust system, and that
bothered him.  He called the mechanic.  That was normal.  It’s
supposed to do that.
        Fine.
        It was raining.  It was good for the grain, here in June, but not so
good for the Feast of St. John gathering at the community meetinghouse.  
But they still had to go.  He had been a member of the board at one
time, and he couldn’t just stay home because it was raining.  And the
priest needed an audience to give his bonfire speech to, and of course
Kristine usually sang as well.
        Sure is strange, thought Thomas, how when there was only one
teacher at the school, he always came.  He sang, he read telegrams, and
he gave a speech.  Now there’s a bigger school with six teachers.  And
they never see them.  Not in the meetinghouse or anywhere.  And the
priest can’t sing.  If it weren’t for Kristine, he thought, they might as
well get rid of the songbooks.
        He looked out the window at the heavy sky.  “I guess we’d
better get on with it,” he said, and went and drove the car out of the
garage, the former henhouse, and Kristine emerged with the picnic
basket and sat down next to him.  And then they drove off, quickly
down their own well-maintained road, but when they got to the public
section, Thomas slowed down close to a walking speed.  To a distant
observer, their progress would have appeared both strange and
tentative.
        Inside the car, Thomas was swearing, and the coffee cups were
tinkling in Kristine’s basket.  “Shouldn’t we be bringing Kresten?”
asked Kristine suddenly.
        “No,” said Thomas, “We didn’t talk about that.”

        A few hours later they were on the road again.  Homeward.  It
had been a good Saint John get-together.  True the bonfire didn’t burn,
even though they had poured plenty of gas on it, but then they moved
inside the meetinghouse and had their coffee, sang some songs, and the
priest had read a couple of stories.
        So now they were on their way home.  It was almost completely
dark, and there was water in all the potholes, so it wasn’t easy to see
which ones were really potholes and which ones were just irregularities
in the road.
        He felt a bump.  Not as bad as the one the day before, but still.  
Carefully he pressed the accelerator.  It sounded fine, thank God.  If
something had happened it would have pushed him over the edge.  He
had seen the looks that Kresten and the mechanic had exchanged with
some of the other guests.
        They were nearly past the worst of it.  But this was ridiculous.
        “We pay taxes just like everyone else,” said Kristine suddenly.
        Thomas nodded.  Yes, they did.  Just as much as everyone else.
        “They’re going to hear about it.”
        The next morning he repeated what he had said.  Then he added,
“I’m going over to his place.  I’m going over to Peter Overgaard’s
when I’m done milking.  You’ll have to feed the pigs,” he said.  “I’m
going over at nine.”  And Kristine said fine and then repeated how they
pay taxes just like everyone else.  Just like Peter Overgaard does even.

        About three hours later he made his way on foot over the pasture,
down the farm road past Karen Madsen’s place and up the county
road—the paved county road—to Peter Overgaard’s place.  He
stopped for a second at the driveway and pulled out his watch from his
vest pocket.  Just past nine.  That was good.  Everyone knew that the
parish council president didn’t receive people before nine.  Before nine
he was in his barn or on his own time.
        But that particular day he was running a little late.  Normally by
nine o’clock he would be inside having coffee, but there was a problem
with one of the calves that he would have to get the veterinarian to look
at.  So just as Thomas walked into the front yard, Peter Overgaard
emerged through the barn door.  “Howdy, Thomas,” he said.
        Thomas mumbled a greeting.  They met.  They stopped.  Thomas
said, “I just cut across the field.”  Peter Overgaard nodded.
        They stood there a moment.  The sun was shining.  They were
sheltered from the wind.  “Luckily, it’s drying out,” said Peter
Overgaard.  They both looked up at the sky, where delicate, white
clouds were speeding across, before a crisp southwest wind.  And they
looked across the green landscape where, here and there, flocks of
black and white Holsteins were about to complete the day’s first round
of filling their stomachs.  Thomas said, “If it holds, things will really
get going.”
        And there they stood, hands in their pockets, each of them in
their own pensive silence, which now and again was broken by a
remark about the price of milk or the price of piglets.  Things weren’t
as bad as they could be.  
        The conversation ground to a halt.  One of them cleared his
throat.  Then Peter Overgaard said, ”I guess you should come in and
have some coffee.”
        Thomas mumbled a thanks, and walked into the utility room,
took off his clogs, and continued into the kitchen.  On the table, cups
and bread were laid out, and there was a pot on the stove.  The pot
was boiling.  A lot.  The lid was jumping; it seemed like the whole pot
was jumping.
        Peter Overgaard said have a seat, make yourself at home, and
he sat down too, and Thomas glanced at the noisy pot and asked
carefully, “Shouldn’t you . . .?”  Peter Overgaard shook his head.  “In
this house we each take care of our own domains,” he said.  “I’m sure
she’ll be along.”  And she was.  She came in, took care of the pot,
greeted Thomas, and took out a couple of additional cups.  She poured
his coffee, and the farmhand came in too, sat down and got a cup.
        A cat came walking in through the kitchen with its tail held high.  
The parish council president’s wife asked how Elsa was doing.  And
Thomas, looking both shy and proud at the same time, answered that it
wasn’t going too bad.  She was done with her teaching certificate, and
the guy, who she was engaged to, was also done.  And even though he
had to do his military service, they were thinking about getting married.  
“They’re kind of young,” he said, “but what can you do?”  And the
parish council president’s wife said that Elsa wasn’t any younger than
the grocer’s daughter, Grethe, who had already been married for a few
years.  Thomas mumbled something about Elsa not having to get
married.
        He had another cup, and he might as well have some cheese after
the piece of bread with the liver spread, and the conversation turned to
weddings and silver anniversaries.  The farmhand got up and left when
his twenty minutes were up, and Thomas thought it was about time for
him to be getting back.  Kristine would wonder what happened to him.  
He thanked them for the coffee and got up.  Peter Overgaard got up
too and followed him out to the utility room.  And just as Thomas was
going out the door, Peter said, “They’ll be coming down to put more
gravel on your road next week.  Now that you’ve gotten a car,” he
added.  And, pensively, Thomas said that, come to think of it, it
probably could use some, but he didn’t give it much thought.  They
had gotten used to it.  Then he said good-bye again and left, humming
contentedly, through the still-warmish summer breeze, down the gently
sloping hillside, to his farm.         



“Et enkelt læs grus” (“A single load of gravel”), copyright 1980,
was included in Knud Sørensen’s book
Som man ser det: Udvalgte
noveller (As one sees it: Selected short stories)
.  The collection was
released by Danish publisher Gyldendal in 1998.







_________________________________________________________


Knud Sørensen worked as a certified land surveyor for twenty-eight
years, during which he became intimate with the Danish agricultural
landscape.  Sørensen is the author of forty-eight books and has won
more than twenty literary awards, including a lifelong grant from the
Danish Arts Council.  In November 2014, he received the Great Prize
of the Danish Academy.

Literary translator
Michael Goldman taught himself Danish more than
thirty years ago while working on a pig farm in southern Denmark.  
Goldman’s translations have since been published in many English-
language literary journals, and a book of his translations of Knud
Sørensen’s farming poetry is forthcoming from Spuyten Duyvil in late
2016.  Goldman’s original poetry has also appeared in
Poet Lore and
The Fourth River.  His website is located at www.hammerandhorn.net.


On “Just one load of gravel”:
I am a certified land surveyor, and I worked as such for many
years, mostly in rural areas and among farmers.  My work gave
me a strong sense of how farmers tend to think, their way of using
language, and not least of all, their way of solving conflicts, which
usually includes no one losing face.  Regarding rural language,
what is most important is not specific words, but what is
collectively understood under the surface.  What I mean by this is
that one knows what the other knows, and the other knows what
one knows.  Therefore it isn’t necessary to say much, because the
actual conversation occurs under the surface.  It is obvious that
the parish council president knows why Thomas is coming to visit
him, and Thomas knows that the parish council president knows.  
So the actual power struggle takes place under the surface while
they chat about everyday things like milk prices.  Not until after
coffee do they actually set words to the issue.  And Thomas gets
his wish fulfilled without having to formulate any demand, and
without the parish council president having to appear as one who
has given in.               
                                      (Written by Knud Sørensen and translated from
                                      the Danish by Michael Goldman, March 2016)     
 


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