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The Postcards
I'm imposing a severe censorship on myself

Several days went by without any word from the philosophy teacher. Tomorrow was Thursday, May 17-- Norway's national day. School would be closed on the 18th as well. As they walked home after school Joanna suddenly exclaimed, "Let's go camping!"

Sophie's immediate reaction was that she couldn't be away from the house for long. But then she said, "Sure, why not?"

A couple of hours later Joanna arrived at Sophie's door with a large backpack. Sophie had packed hers as well, and she also had the tent. They both had bedrolls and sweaters, groundsheets and flashlights, large-size thermos bottles and plenty of their favorite food.

When Sophie's mother got home around five o'clock, she gave them a sermon about what they must and must not do. She also insisted on knowing where they were going to set up camp.

They told her they intended to make for Grouse Top. They might be lucky enough to hear the mating call of the grouse next morning.

Sophie had an ulterior motive for choosing that particular spot. She thought that Grouse Top must be pretty close to the major's cabin. Something was urging her to return to it, but she didn't dare go alone.

The two girls walked down the path that led from the little cul-de-sac just beyond Sophie's garden gate. They chatted about this and that, and Sophie enjoyed taking a little time off from everything having to do with philosophy.

By eight o'clock they had pitched their tent in a clearing by Grouse Top. They had prepared themselves for the night and their bedrolls were unfolded. When they had eaten their sandwiches, Sophie asked, "Have you ever heard of the major's cabin?"

"The major's cabin?"

"There's a hut in the woods somewhere near here ... by a little lake. A strange man lived there once, a major, that's why it's called the major's cabin."

"Does anyone live there now?"

"Do you want to go and see?"

"Where is it?"

Sophie pointed in among the trees.

Joanna was not particularly eager, but in the end they set out. The sun was low in the sky.

They walked in between the tall pine trees at first, but soon they were pushing their way through bush and thicket. Eventually they made their way down to a path. Could it be the path Sophie had followed that Sunday morning?

It must have been--almost at once she could point to something shining between the trees to the right of the path.

"It's in there," she said.

They were soon standing at the edge of the small lake. Sophie gazed at the cabin across the water. All the windows were now shuttered up. The red building was the most deserted place she had seen for ages.

Joanna turned toward her. "Do we have to walk on the water?"

"Of course not. We'll row."

Sophie pointed down into the reeds. There lay the rowboat, just as before.

"Have you been here before?"

Sophie shook her head. Trying to explain her previous visit would be far too complicated. And then she would have to tell her friend about Alberto Knox and the philosophy course as well.

They laughed and joked as they rowed across the water. When they reached the opposite bank, Sophie made sure they drew the boat well up on land.

They went to the front door. As there was obviously nobody in the cabin, Joanna tried the door handle.

"Locked... you didn't expect it to be open, did you?"

"Maybe we can find a key," said Sophie.

She began to search in the crevices of the stonework foundation.

"Oh, let's go back to the tent instead," said Joanna after a few minutes.

But just then Sophie exclaimed, "Here it is! I found it!"

She held up the key triumphantly. She put it in the lock and the door swung open.

The two friends sneaked inside as if they were up to something criminal. It was cold and dark in the cabin.

"We can't see a thing!" said Joanna.

But Sophie had thought of that. She took a box of matches out of her pocket and struck one. They only had time to see that the cabin was deserted before the match went out. Sophie struck another, and this time she noticed a stump of candle in a wrought-iron candlestick on top of the stove. She lit it with the third match and the little room became light enough for them to look around.

"Isn't it odd that such a small candle can light up so much darkness?" said Sophie.

Her friend nodded.

"But somewhere the light disappears into the dark," Sophie went on. "Actually, darkness has no existence of its own. It's only a lack of light."

Joanna shivered. "That's creepy! Come on, let's go..."

"Not before we've looked in the mirror."

Sophie pointed to the brass mirror hanging above the chest of drawers, just as before.

"That's really pretty!" said Joanna.

"But it's a magic mirror."

 "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?"

"I'm not kidding, Joanna. I am sure you can look in it and see something on the other side."

"Are you sure you've never been here before? And why is it so amusing to scare me all the time?"

Sophie could not answer that one.

"Sorry."

Now it was Joanna who suddenly discovered something lying on the floor in the corner. It was a small box. Joanna picked it up.

"Postcards," she said.

Sophie gasped.

"Don't touch them! Do you hear--don't you dare touch them!"

Joanna jumped. She threw the box down as if she had burnt herself. The postcards were strewn all over the floor. The next second she began to laugh.

"They're only postcards!"

Joanna sat down on the floor and started to pick them up. After a while Sophie sat down beside her.

"Lebanon ... Lebanon ... Lebanon ... They are all postmarked in Lebanon," Joanna discovered.

"I know," said Sophie.

Joanna sat bolt upright and looked Sophie in the eye.

"So you have been here before!"

"Yes, I guess I have."

It suddenly struck her that it would have been a whole lot easier if she had just admitted she had been here before. It couldn't do any harm if she let her friend in on the mysterious things she had experienced during the last few days.

"I didn't want to tell you before we were here."

Joanna began to read the cards.

"They are all addressed to someone called Hilde Moller Knag."

Sophie had not touched the cards yet.

"What address?"

Joanna read: "Hilde Moller Knag, c/o Alberto Knox, Lillesand, Norway."

Sophie breathed a sigh of relief. She was afraid they would say c/o Sophie Amundsen.

She began to inspect them more closely.

"April 28 ... May 4 ... May 6 ... May 9 ... They were stamped a few days ago."

"But there's something else. All the postmarks are Norwegian! Look at that... UN Battalion ... the stamps are Norwegian too!"

"I think that's the way they do it. They have to be sort of neutral, so they have their own Norwegian post office down there."

"But how do they get the mail home?"

"The air force, probably."

Sophie put the candlestick on the floor, and the two friends began to read the cards. Joanna arranged them in chronological order and read the first card:

Dear Hilde, I can't wait to come home to Lillesand. I expect to land at Kjevik airport early evening on Midsummer Eve. I would much rather have arrived in time for your 15th birthday but I'm under military command of course. To make up for it, I promise to devote all my loving care to the huge present you are getting for your birthday.

With love from someone who is always thinking about his daughter's future.

P.S. I'm sending a copy of this card to our mutual friend. I know you understand, Hilde. At the moment I'm being very secretive, but you will understand.

Sophie picked up the next card:

Dear Hilde, Down here we take one day at a time. If there is one thing I'm going to remember from these months in Lebanon, it's all this waiting. But I'm doing what I can so you have as great a 15th birthday as possible. I can't say any more at the moment. I'm imposing a severe censorship on myself. Love, Dad.

The two friends sat breathless with excitement. Neither of them spoke, they just read what was written on the cards:

My dear child, What I would like best would be to send you my secret thoughts with a white dove. But they are all out of white doves in Lebanon. If there is anything this war-torn country needs, it is white doves. I pray the UN will truly manage to make peace in the world some day.

P.S. Maybe your birthday present can be shared with other people. Let's talk about that when I get home. But you still have no idea what I'm talking about, right? Love from someone who has plenty of time to think for the both of us.

When they had read six cards, there was only one left. It read:

Dear Hilde, I am now so bursting with all these secrets for your birthday that I have to stop myself several times a day from calling home and blowing the whole thing. It is something that simply grows and grows. And as you know, when a thing gets bigger and bigger it's more difficult to keep it to yourself. Love from Dad.

P.S. Some day you will meet a girl called Sophie. To give you both a chance to get to know more about each other before you meet, I have begun sending her copies of all the cards I send to you. I expect she will soon begin to catch on, Hilde. As yet she knows no more than you. She has a girlfriend called Joanna. Maybe site can be of help?

After reading the last card, Joanna and Sophie sat quite still staring wildly at each other. Joanna was holding Sophie's wrist in a tight grip.

"I'm scared," she said.

"So am I."

"When was the last card stamped?"

Sophie looked again at the card.

 "May 16," she said. "That's today."

"It can't be!" cried Joanna, almost angrily.

They examined the postmark carefully, but there was no mistaking it... 05-16-90.

"It's impossible," insisted Joanna. "And I can't imagine who could have written it. It must be someone who knows us. But how could they know we would come here on this particular day?"

Joanna was by far the more scared of the two. The business with Hilde and her father was nothing new to Sophie.

"I think it has something to do with the brass mirror."

Joanna jumped again.

"You don't actually think the cards come fluttering out of the mirror the minute they are stamped in Lebanon?"

"Do you have a better explanation?"

"No."

Sophie got to her feet and held the candle up in front of the two portraits on the wall. Joanna came over and peered at the pictures.

"Berkeley and Bjerkely. What does that mean?"

"I have no idea."

The candle was almost burnt down.

"Let's go," said Joanna. "Come on!"

"We must just take the mirror with us."

Sophie reached up and unhooked the large brass mirror from the wall above the chest of drawers. Joanna tried to stop her but Sophie would not be deterred.

When they got outside it was as dark as a May night can get. There was enough light in the sky for the clear outlines of bushes and trees to be visible. The small lake lay like a reflection of the sky above it. The two girls rowed pensively across to the other side.

Neither of them spoke much on the way back to the tent, but each knew that the other was thinking intensely about what they had seen. Now and then a frightened bird would start up, and a couple of times they heard the hooting of an owl.

As soon as they reached the tent, they crawled into their bedrolls. Joanna refused to have the mirror inside the tent. Before they fell asleep, they agreed that it was scary enough, knowing it was just outside the tent flap. Sophie had also taken the postcards and put them in one of the pockets of her backpack.

They woke early next morning. Sophie was up first. She put her boots on and went outside the tent. There lay the large mirror in the grass, covered with dew.

Sophie wiped the dew off with her sweater and gazed down at her own reflection. It was as if she was looking down and up at herself at the same time. Luckily she found no early morning postcard from Lebanon.

Above the broad clearing behind the tent a ragged morning mist was drifting slowly into little wads of cotton. Small birds were chirping energetically but Sophie could neither see nor hear any grouse.

The girls put on extra sweaters and ate their breakfast outside the tent. Their conversation soon turned to the major's cabin and the mysterious cards.

After breakfast they folded up the tent and set off for home. Sophie carried the large mirror under her arm. From time to time she had to rest--Joanna refused to touch it.

As they approached the outskirts of the town they heard a few sporadic shots. Sophie recalled what Hilde's father had written about war-torn Lebanon, and she realized how lucky she was to have been born in a peaceful country. The "shots" they heard came from innocent fireworks celebrating the national holiday.

Sophie invited Joanna in for a cup of hot chocolate. Her mother was very curious to know where they had found the mirror. Sophie told her they had found it outside the major's cabin, and her mother repeated the story about nobody having lived there for many years.

When Joanna had gone, Sophie put on a red dress. The rest of the Norwegian national day passed quite normally. In the evening, the TV news had a feature on how the Norwegian UN battalion had celebrated the day in Lebanon. Sophie's eyes were glued to the screen. One of the men she was seeing could be Hilde's father.

The last thing Sophie did on May 17 was to hang the large mirror on the wall in her room. The following morning there was a new brown envelope in the den. She tore it open at once and began to read.


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