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The Garden Party
... a white crow

Hilde sat on the bed, transfixed. She felt her arms and her hands tremble, as they gripped the heavy ring binder.

It was almost eleven o'clock. She had been reading for over two hours. From time to time she had raised her eyes from the text and laughed aloud, but she had also turned over on her side and gasped. It was a good thing she was alone in the house.

And what she had been through these last two hours! It started with Sophie trying to attract the major's attention on the way home from the cabin in the woods. She had finally climbed a tree and been rescued by Morten Goose, who had arrived like a guardian angel from Lebanon.

Although it was a long, long time ago, Hilde had never forgotten how her father had read The Wonderful Adventures of Nils to her. For many years after that, she and her father had had a secret language together that was connected with the book. Now he had dragged the old goose out again.

Then Sophie had her first experience as a lone customer in a cafe. Hilde had been especially taken with what Alberto said about Sartre and existentialism. He had almost managed to convert her--although he had done that many times before in the ring binder too.

Once, about a year ago, Hilde had bought a book on astrology. Another time she had come home with a set of tarot cards. Next time it was a book on spiritualism. Each time, her father had lectured her about "superstition" and her "critical faculty," but he had waited until now for the final blow. His counterattack was deadly accurate. Clearly, his daughter would not be allowed to grow up without a thorough warning against that kind of thing. To be absolutely sure, he had waved to her from a TV screen in a radio store. He could have saved himself the trouble ...

What she wondered about most of all was Sophie. Sophie--who are you? Where do you come from? Why have you come into my life?

Finally Sophie had been given a book about herself. Was it the same book that Hilde now had in her hands? This was only a ring binder. But even so--how could one find a book about oneself in a book about oneself? What would happen if Sophie began to read that book?

What was going to happen now? What could happen now? There were only a few pages left in her ring binder.

Sophie met her mother on the bus on her way home from town. Oh, no! What would her mother say when she saw the book in Sophie's hand?

Sophie tried to put it in the bag with all the streamers and balloons she had bought for the party but she didn't quite make it.

"Hi, Sophie! We caught the same bus! How nice!"

"Hi, Mom!"

"You bought a book?"

"No, not exactly."

"Sophie's World ... how curious."

Sophie knew she didn't have the slightest chance of lying to her mother.

"I got it from Alberto."

"Yes, I'm sure you did. As I said, I'm looking forward to meeting this man. May I see?"

"Would you mind very much waiting till we get home, at least. It is my book, Mom."

"Of course it's your book. I just want to take a peek at the first page, okay? ... 'Sophie Amundsen was on her way home from school. She had walked the first part of the way with Joanna. They had been discussing robots . . .'"

"Does it really say that?"

"Yes, it does, Sophie. It's written by someone called Albert Knag. He must be a newcomer. What's your Al-berto's name, by the way?"


"It'll probably turn out that this extraordinary person has written a whole book about you, Sophie. It's called using a pseudonym."

"It's not him, Mom. Why don't you just give up. You don't understand anything anyway."

"No, I don't suppose I do. The garden party is tomorrow, then everything will be all right again."

"Albert Knag lives in a completely different reality. That's why this book is a white crow."

"You really must stop all this! Wasn't it a white rabbit?"

"You stop it!"

That was as far as they got before they reached their stop at the end of Clover Close. They ran straight into a demonstration.

"My God!" exclaimed Helene Amundsen, "I really thought we would be spared street politics in this neighborhood."

There were no more than about ten or twelve people. Their banners read:




Sophie almost felt sorry for her mother.

"Never mind," she said.

"But it was a peculiar demonstration, Sophie. Quite absurd, really."

"It was a mere bagatelle."

"The world changes more and more rapidly all the time. Actually, I'm not in the least surprised."

"You should be surprised that you're not surprised, at any rate."

 "Not at all. They weren't violent, were they? I just hope they haven't trampled all over our rosebeds. Surely it can't be necessary to demonstrate in a garden. Let's hurry home and see."

"It was a philosophical demonstration, Mom. Real philosophers don't trample on rosebeds."

"I'll tell you what, Sophie. I don't think I believe in real philosophers any longer. Everything is synthetic nowadays."

They spent the afternoon and evening preparing. They continued the next morning, setting and decorating the table. Joanna came over to give them a hand.

"Good grief!" she said, "Mom and Dad are coming too. It's your fault, Sophie!"

Everything was ready half an hour before the guests were due. The trees were festooned with streamers and Japanese lanterns. The garden gate, the trees lining the path, and the front of the house were hung with balloons. Sophie and Joanna had spent most of the afternoon blowing them up.

The table was set with chicken, salad, and different kinds of homemade bread. In the kitchen there were raisin buns and layer cake, Danish pastry and chocolate cake. But from the start the place of honor in the center of the table was reserved for the birthday cake--a pyramid of almond-paste rings. On the top of the cake was the tiny figure of a girl in a confirmation dress. Sophie's mother had assured her that it could just as well represent an unconfirmed fifteen-year-old, but Sophie was certain her mother had only put it there because Sophie had told her she was not sure she wanted to be confirmed. Her mother seemed to think the cake embodied the confirmation itself.

"We haven't spared any expense," she repeated several times in the half hour before the party was due to start.

The guests began to arrive. First came three of the girls from Sophie's class, dressed in summer shirts and light cardigans, long skirts, and the barest suggestion of eye makeup. A bit later, Jeremy and David came strolling in through the gate, with a blend of shyness and boyish arrogance.

"Happy birthday!"

"You're an adult now, too!"

Sophie noticed that Joanna and Jeremy had already begun eyeing each other discreetly. There was something in the air. It was Midsummer Eve.

Everybody had brought birthday presents, and as it was a philosophical garden party, several of the guests had tried to find out what philosophy was. Although not all of them had managed to find philosophical presents, most of them had written something philosophical on their cards. Sophie received a philosophical dictionary as well as a diary with a lock; on the cover was written MY PERSONAL PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHTS. As the guests arrived they were served apple juice in long-stemmed wine glasses. Sophie's mother did the serving.

"Welcome ... And what is this young man's name? I don't believe we've met before ... So glad you could come, Cecilie . . ."

When all the younger guests had arrived and were strolling under the trees with their wine glasses, Joanna's parents drew up at the garden gate in a white Mercedes. The financial adviser was impeccably dressed in an expensively cut gray suit. His wife was wearing a red pants suit with dark red sequins. Sophie was sure she had bought a Barbie doll in a toy store dressed in that suit, and had a tailor make it up in her size. There was another possibility; the financial adviser could have bought the doll and given it to a magician to make into a live woman. But this possibility was unlikely, so Sophie rejected it.

They stepped out of the Mercedes and walked into the garden where younger guests looked at them with surprise. The financial adviser presented a long, narrow package from the Ingebrigtsen family. Sophie tried hard to maintain her composure when it turned out to be--yes, it was!--a Barbie doll. But Joanna made no such effort:

"Are you crazy? Sophie doesn't play with dolls!"

Mrs. Ingebrigtsen came hurrying over, with all her sequins clanking. "But it's only for decoration, you know."

"Well, thank you very much indeed." Sophie tried to smooth things over. "Now I can start ft collection."

People began to drift toward the table.

"We're only waiting for Alberto," said Sophie's mother to her in a somewhat brisk tone that was intended to hide her growing apprehension. Rumors of the special guest of honor had already spread among the other guests.

"He has promised to come, so he'll come."

"But we can't seat the guests before he arrives, can we?"

"Of course we can. Let's go ahead."

Helene Amundsen began to seat people around the long table. She made sure that the vacant chair was between her own and Sophie's place. She said a few words about the beautiful weather and the fact that Sophie was now a grownup.

They had been sitting at the table for half an hour when a middle-aged man with a black goatee and a beret came walking up Clover Close and in through the garden gate. He was carrying a bouquet of fifteen red roses.


Sophie left the table and ran to greet him. She threw her arms around his neck and took the bouquet from him. He responded to the welcome by rooting around in his jacket pocket and drawing out a couple of Chinese firecrackers which he lit and tossed into the yard. As. he approached the table, he lit a sparkler and set it on top of the almond pyramid. Then he went over and stood at the empty place between Sophie and her mother.

"I'm delighted to be here," he said.

The guests were dumbstruck. Mrs. Ingebrigtsen gave her husband a significant look. Sophie's mother was so relieved that the man had finally arrived, however, that she would have forgiven him anything. Sophie herself was struggling to suppress her laughter.

Helene Amundsen tapped on her glass and said:

"Let us also welcome Alberto Knox to this philosophical garden party. He is not my new boyfriend, because although my husband is so often away at sea, I don't have a new boyfriend for the time being. However, this astounding person is Sophie's new philosophy teacher. His prowess extends further than to setting off fireworks.

This man is able, for example, to draw a live rabbit out of a top hat. Or was it a crow, Sophie?"

"Many thanks," said Alberto. He sat down.

"Cheers!" said Sophie, and the guests raised their glasses and drank his health.

They sat for a long time over their chicken and salad. Suddenly Joanna got up, walked determinedly over to Jeremy, and gave him a resounding kiss on the lips. He responded by trying to topple her backward over the table so as to get a better grip as he returned her kiss.

"Well, I've never ..." exclaimed Mrs. Ingebrigtsen.

"Not on the table, children," was Mrs. Amundsen's only comment.

"Why not?" asked Alberto, turning toward her.

"That was an odd question."

"It's never wrong for a real philosopher to ask questions."

A couple of the other boys who had not been kissed started to throw chicken bones up on the roof. This, too, elicited only a mild comment from Sophie's mother:

"Would you mind not doing that. It's such a nuisance when there are chicken bones in the gutter."

"Sorry," said one of the boys, whereupon they started throwing chicken bones over the garden hedge instead.

"I think it's time to clear the plates away and serve the cake," said Mrs. Amundsen finally. "Sophie and Joanna, will you give me a hand?"

On their way to the kitchen there was only time for a brief discussion.

"What made you kiss him?" Sophie said to Joanna.

"I sat looking at his mouth and couldn't resist it. He is so cute!"

"How did it taste?"

"Not exactly like I'd imagined, but. . ."

"It was the first time, then?"

"But not the last!"

Coffee and cake were soon on the table. Alberto had started giving the boys some of his firecrackers when Sophie's mother tapped on her coffee cup.

"I am not going to make a long speech," she began, "but I only have this one daughter, and it is only this once that exactly one week and a day ago she reached the age of fifteen. As you see, we have spared no expense. There are twenty-four almond rings on the birthday cake, so there's at least one whole ring for each of you. Those who help themselves first can take two rings, because we start from the top and the rings get bigger and bigger as you go. That's the way it is in life too. When Sophie was a little girl, she went tripping around ............
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