Pierian Springs

Hell’s Graces

This story originally appeared as “Helvedes gratier” in Adda Djørup’s hybrid collection, Poesi og andre former for trods (2015).  It has been translated from the Danish by Peter Sean Woltemade.


It really helped when they got the summer house. She became less restless. She enjoyed going up there; she enjoyed returning to the city. She was full of energy in both places; just the drive back and forth put her in a splendid mood. She could again hear the tone from the center of the earth, the deep humming that set the soles of her feet, the roots of her hair, and her loins to tingling. She calmly told him this, and he kissed her eyes and laid his hands on her buttocks and pressed her loins against his as he had once often done.

She had begun reading novels again, and it had occurred to her that she had once loved playing board games. She had bought backgammon, checkers, dominoes, Kalah, Chinese checkers. She picked up her seven-year-old nephew after school two days a week and taught him to love playing board games, too. This wasn’t very difficult. He didn’t like school; his parents were too busy to spend time with him; she liked his quiet company. He should have been hers; more and more, he became hers.

And the shop did well. She had given up trying to make a living as a weaver; she had sold her looms and terminated the lease for the studio and become a merchant instead. That was a shame, they said; after all, she was talented, her skills were recognized. Indeed, she had been ashamed of it herself; she no longer was. She had ceased to care what people said. She ignored the sympathetic and forgave the envious and concentrated on her new life.

She had rented commercial space in the old, renovated warehouses at Langelinie, a stone’s throw from the cruise ship quay. She sold new Nordic design, ceramics and things of wood and wool, coffee and tea service sets, trays, fruit bowls, plaids, Christmas decorations, candlesticks, polished clothespins in walnut and oak at eighty kroner apiece. It was all inviting and well-thought-out, white and brown in soft nuances, solid Scandinavian quality, easy to wrap up, lay in one’s suitcase, and display as a decoration on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. It was easy to laugh at, but it calmed her, she felt better, and she was good at it. The American and Japanese credit cards had money behind them, and things took off when she also got an online shop set up. This was how they became able to afford the summer house and the car, in a way without lifting a finger. Just by buying and selling, buying and selling. Who would have thought it?


One night in the middle of September they made love in the summer house in a different way. The room was hot and the darkness grainy; they made the furniture float four inches above the floor. At one point during the act it occurred to her that the movements of love are also a kind of work. Practicing, playing scales and more scales, and then finally the concert that takes place in a empty house, unplanned and unannounced. One theme succeeding another. Major and minor keys. Light, darkness, light. The music that takes over, bearing heavy days out and opening invisible doors a crack. To be sure, her postcoital thoughts again concerned all those who were not able to sleep as easily. The six or seven billion human beings, hens and calves raised in cages, fawns and the soft newly-hatched turtles crossing the sand on their way to the sea. She was happy nevertheless and fell asleep to silent applause. Her sleep was light. Sometime between night and day she woke and lay looking out the window, which was ajar. The blackbird sang a thread through the shadows of the garden; the dawn was mild and misty, as through spring were arriving again. She had dreamed of a white tropical island, a conqueror’s dream, and she got up and booked a winter trip to Mauritius online. Just like that, as though this were something that happened by itself, and so it was.


They went out to explore the forest after breakfast; during the summer they had been occupied with fixing up the house and with walks on the beach and hadn’t really had time for that. She put on her new hiking boots even though they were too warm for this time of year; they fit her feet perfectly; they were good for walking in. They spoke of shoes and the weather; they agreed that it was nice to have a little weight on their feet again after months in sandals during the best summer of the decade. Then they talked about how easy life can be when one decides to do something and just does it. For the first time, she said straight out that she was glad she had abandoned her constant search for perfection, the constant thoughts of all the stones one has in one’s shoe from birth—worries about other people and so on. She admitted that the shop made her feel competent and that it was nice finally to have some money. Then the trees thinned. They came to a plowed field and found that they had gotten lost.

They sat down on a tree stump to figure out where they were and smoke one of their rare cigarettes. They were down to five a day and enjoyed them that much more. They smoked in silence. This was one of the few things they had always been able to do: enjoy being silent together. She was about to say that what she liked most of all of everything was probably getting lost in a forest in September. Then they came.

Then they came skip-hopping along in a goose-step along the edge of the forest, behind his back. They were all wearing a kind of bikinis with silver sequins on them and carrying a little parasol in one hand and an ostrich-feather fan in the other. At the tops of their bikini bottoms they had fastened their ostrich-feather tails, which were so long that they slapped their calves. Their hair was piled on the tops of their heads, and they stepped so lightly that the little pointed heels of their little pointed shoes did not sink into the forest floor. There were three of them and they smiled so gaily and with such determination. They knew exactly where they were going.

O, she whispered, enchanted. He looked at her and paled immediately, and his face became angry and beseeching.

Honey? Look at me? he said.

Come on. Let’s go home now, he said.

Look at me!

She could not look at him. She could not, for a strong light grew among the trees, the tone from the earth’s core rose to a treble and then became louder. She let herself be reeled in by the line buried in her chest. He buried his face in his hands, hunched up, and emitted a short, hoarse scream. Then she was already on her way, and then there were four young ladies in the row. Four young ladies who did not want to go home, no matter what, although it is always hard to disappoint a man.


Adda Djørup grew up in Denmark and has lived in Madrid and Florence for several years respectively. Her published works include poetry, a novel, and short stories. She has received the EU Prize for Literature and the Danish Arts Foundation’s three-year working grant.




Peter Sean Woltemade is the translator of books including Stefanie Ross’s novel Nemesis: Innocence Sold (AmazonCrossing, 2016). His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Columbia, Exchanges, K1N, Newfound, Pusteblume, Storm Cellar, The Brooklyn Rail, The Cossack Review, The Literary Review, The Missing Slate, and Wilderness House Literary Review.