It’s my birthday today, and I’ll translate a bit of Tove Jansson if I want to: this is chapter 3 of Sent i November which I have never actually read in English. I really really wish I knew some small Swedish children to whom I could read these stories out loud.
The rain stopped on a Thursday in November, and the Fillifionk decided to wash her attic windows. She heated water in the kitchen, sprinkled a little soap – not much – on it and then she carried up the basin, put it on a chair, and opened the window. This dislodged something from the window frame which fell by her paw. It looked like a little tuft of cotton but the Fillifionk knew what it was at once: it was a nasty pupa and inside it was a pale white larva. She shuddered and drew in her paws. Wherever she went, whatever she did, there were creeping and crawling things. There was creeping and crawling everywhere! She took her duster and with a quick gesture swept away the larva and say how it rolled down the roof, jumped over the gutter and disappeared.
"Loathsome", whispered the Fillifionk and shook out her duster. She lifted the basin and climbed through the window to clean the outside.
The Fillifionk was wearing felt slippers and as soon as she emerged onto the steep wet roof she started to slide backwards. There was no time to be frightened. Her thin body threw itself forward in a flash, slid in a giddying second down the roof on her stomach; her slippers hit the gutter and there she lay. And now the Fillifionk was afraid. Fear crept through her. It was like a taste of iron in her throat. She kept her eyes shut but they could see anyway the ground far beneath; her jaws were clenched with terror and surprise and she could not scream.
In any case, there was no one to hear her. The Fillifionk had at last got rid of all her relatives and all her troublesome acquaintances. She had all the time she wanted to look after her house and her loneliness and fall from her roof all alone among the beetles and indescribable worms of the the garden.
The Fillifionk made a nervous creeping movement upwards. She pawed at the slick roof and slid back down again. Everything was as before. The open window stood and swung in the wind; the garden sighed; time went. A few more spatters of rain knocked on the roof.
Then the Fillifionk remembered the lightning conductor which went up to the attic on the other side of the house. Very very slowly she began to squirm along the edge of the roof: a little bit with one foot, and then the other foot following after. Her eyes were tight shut and her stomach pressed against the roof. That’s how the Fillifionk crept round her large house and the whole time she remembered that she suffered from vertigo and how it feels when the vertigo swoops. Now she felt the lightning conductor under her paws. She griped it for dear life, and crawled, just as slowly, with her eyes tight shut, up to the second floor and there was nothing else in the whole world except the thin wire and a Fillifionk who clung to it.
She grasped the thin wooden ledge which ran around the attic, crept up on it and lay completely still. After a while the Fillifionk rose to all fours. She waited for her legs to stop quivering and didn’t feel at all ridiculous. Step by step she began to walk with her face to the wall. Window after window and all were shut. Her nose was too long; it got in the way; she had hair in her eyes and it tickled her nose … I mustn’t sneeze for then I will lose my balance … I mustn’t look and I mustn’t think. One slipper has folded up under my heel, no one cares about me, my corset has hooked itself up somewhere, and at any moment – any moment of all these dreadful moments …
The rain started again. The Fillifionk opened her eyes and saw over her shoulder the sloping roof and the edge down there and the drop through nothingness and her legs began to shake again and the world spun around. The vertigo had come. It sucked her away from the wall and the ledge she stood on became narrow and thin as splinter and she fell in a bottomless second all through her Fillifionkish life. She leaned outwards very slowly, out of safety towards the merciless angle of her fall, waited there for another eternity and sank back again.
Now she was nothing at all: just something that tried to make itself as flat as possible and move onwards. There was the window. The wind had shut it, hard. The window frame was smooth and empty. There was nothing to get hold of and pull, not even the smallest little nail. The Fillifionk tried to use a hairpin. It bent. Inside, she could see the basin with the cleaning water and the dishcloth, an unmoved picture of calm daily life, an inaccessible world.
The duster! It had been shut against the window ledge … the Fillifionk’s heart began to thud – she saw a little tip of the duster sticking out and pinched it, so carefully, she pulled slowly … Oh, let it hold, let it be the new lovely one, and not the old one … I’ll never save on old rags again. I’ll never save anything again, I’ll be wasteful, I’ll stop cleaning, I clean too much, I’m pedantic … I’ll be something quite different from a Fillifionk … so the Fillifionk thought, prayerfully and without hope, for of course a Fillifionk can never be anything other than a Fillifionk.
And the duster held. The window opened slowly and the wind grabbed it and banged it wide and the Fillifionk threw herself recklessly into the safety of the room where she lay on the floor while her stomach turned and she felt really dreadful.
The ceiling lamp swayed in the wind above her and all its tassels swung spaced evenly from one another, each one with a little pearl at its tip. She watched them with attention, surprised by these little tassels she had never noticed before. Nor had she ever noticed before that the satin shade was red, a very beautiful red which looked like a sunset. The hook in the ceiling had also a new, unusual form.
Now it felt a little better. The Fillifionk began to consider how strange it is that everything that has been hung from a hook stays hanging downwards, rather than in some other direction, and what might be the explanation for this. The whole room was changed. Everything was new. The Fillifionk went to the mirror and examined herself. Her nose was all scratched down one side and her hair was straight and wet. Her eyes were different and think that you have eyes to see with, thought the Fillifionk and how does that happen anyway – that we can see?
She began to feel chilled by the rain and by falling through her whole life in a moment; she decided to make coffee. But when the Fillifionk opened the kitchen cupboard she saw for the first time that she had too much china. So terribly many coffee cups. Altogether too many serving dishes and heaps of plates, hundreds of things to eat out and off, and only one Fillifionk and who would get them when she died?
"I’m not dying at all" whispered the Fillifionk and slammed the cupboard door. She ran into the sitting room, stumbling between her furniture into the bedroom and out again and ran into the drawing room and pulled all the curtains and up into the attic and it was just as quiet everywhere she went. She left the doors open and she opened the wardrobes and there was her knapsack and the Fillifionk finally knew what she would do. She would pay a visit. She wanted to see people. People who talked, and were nice and went out and in and filled up their days so there was no place for terrible reflections., Not the Hemulen. Not the Mymble – certainly not the Mymble! But the Mumin family. It was time for her to pay her respects to Mumintroll’s mother; and one must decide on things in certain moods, best of all quickly before the mood has passed.
The Fillifionk pulled out the knapsack and placed a silver vase in it. That was for Muminmamma. She emptied the soapy water out on the roof and shut the window. She dried her hair and put it in curlers, then she drank afternoon tea. The house calmed down and became normal again. When the Fillifionk had washed up her teacup she took the silver vase out of the knapsack and put a china one in its place. She lit the lamp in the ceiling because the rain had brought with it an early dusk.
Whatever got into me? thought the Fillifionk That lampshade isn’t red at all. It’s rather brownish. But I’m going now, in any case.