The Most Forbidden by Kerstin Thorvall

From The Most Forbidden by Kerstin Thorvall

“The Most Forbidden”

I’m in Rome, alone in a slightly ugly stuffy hotel room.

I gave him 200 dollars for him to go away. Two hundred dollars. That’s almost a thousand crowns and I gave it to him to get rid of him.

But who? Who did I give these 200 dollars? Quiet. Wait. I’m going to tell you.

He’s the one I can’t meet in front of mama or my children. He’s the one who’s forbidden, and whose name may not be named.

“Have you heard anything from him?” she asked before I left when she had come to take care of the two smallest children. (She never says his name. As though that would make him more abstract.)

“Oh no, not at all,” I said, and tried not to turn red from with shame and triumph.

Of course I had seen him. Just recently he had been living at my place again, at our place, and I had given him food and cigarettes and liquor, washed his clothes, carried off some dry cleaning, bought him a new shirt and socks and underwear and a charter trip to Rimini, so that he could meet me in Rome when I arrived.

He left yesterday. The day before she came. She doesn’t know. The children don’t know that he’s in Italy either. Everyone thinks he’s finally out of my life and this is a trip I’m taking to “get over” him.

Forget him.

Her eyes are still surprised and suffering when she looks at me. The words “how could you?” are written on them. “How could you do this to me?”

Once more, I had done the worst thing that had ever happened to her one more time.

First I went and slept with a boy I wasn’t even engaged to. Then I was unfaithful in my marriage. Was unfaithful again. Got divorced. Got married again. Traveled to Africa with a 20 year old. Got divorced again and those poor kids

How could I do that to them?

How could I do that to her?

And on top of all that, this man. This frightful, criminal, unscrupulous person. Have I no mercy at all?

No. I don’t.

He is the most forbidden. He lies and deceives, he steals and drinks. He is unreliable and cunning and without inhibitions. (Psychopath, says a doctor who knows him. He said it to warn me.)

For almost two years I have supported him, bailed him out of pubs and ferries, taken care of money when he messed things up for himself, visited him in prison, took him in when he was drunk and sick and had no one else. I have looked for him at other women’s homes, laying in strange hallways and howling like an animal of with jealousy and longing, and he has laughed at me and said him laughing at me and saying he’ll soon come back to me.

I have followed behind him, kicked him out, cried after him, loved and hated him, thrown out his clothes, changed the locks, begged him to come back, kissed his shoes, paid his debts.

But why?

Well, because I am crazy about him, of course.

And because he is the most forbidden.

Besides, he is rough and warm and crawls up beside you when your feet and soul are cold.

(Papa. You were also warm. But I never got to lie naked next to you, pressed against your warm belly and loving you.)

When you lie next to someone like that, it doesn’t matter what that person is like otherwise in other ways. The only thing that counts is that he is warm and close and holds his arms around me and it smells a little like sweat and tobacco, and it’s like being in a nest. Protected from everything dangerous.

No one can get to me in here.

He won’t get to me.

A crazy man with thin hair and a big beard, somewhat plump, black hair on his breast and the same hair on his arms, short wide neck and hairy legs who is at the same time my papa, my lover and the most forbidden.

He’s the one I gave 200 dollars to go his own way.

Eventually even the need for the forbidden reaches its culmination.


He was standing outside the hotel when I arrived with the taxi from the airport. It was late in the evening and quite warm and dark. As soon as I saw him I almost felt like I had wished for him to be standing there. I guess it was that I saw right away that he was drunk. And so what? That usually didn’t stop me…

That night we went out in the city. I was hungry. Rome’s palace was lit up in floodlights. We sat in a street café. He drank whisky and I ate pizza. In front of us was a great plaza right out of art history, a fountain roared and splashed, and along the sidewalks horses stood sleeping next to their carriages. Farther away I saw the Coliseum, but it didn’t concern me. It was the first time I was in Rome, but only he was important. His shirt was open at the neck. I saw the black, soft hair that I always wanted to touch. He smiled at me without meeting my eyes. We went back to the hotel. We slept with each other and it was nice, he was warm and rough and hard and strong and he threw me into a gasping white heat. Everything was a repeat of what I had felt before, I looked at him from the outside, saw how drunk he was and how pathetic I was and suddenly began to cry.

It was a long while before he noticed I was crying.

Next day. It was hot and expensive. We got cheated by taxi drivers and waiters. My feet hurt. I disliked Rome. He drank the whole day. The morning after he had to drink a large whisky right away because he was so ill.

“You have to quit now,” I said. “Before you left Sweden you promised you would quit.”

“Damn it,” he said and lit a cigarette and I saw how his hands were shaking. “You can’t expect me to quit just like that. You’ve got to ease off it.”

“I want you to quit now. Today. Right now,” I said.

“Oh come on, let’s go out and sit in the shade somewhere and have a drink and talk about this in peace and quite,” he said and smiled charmingly. Put his arm on my shoulders (“take my arm, take the my narrow shoulders’ longing of my narrow shoulders”) and breathed alcohol over me.

It was then I said it: “How much do you want to go back to Rimini?”

He thought I was joking, of course. He knew I was crazy about him. Couldn’t live without him. I was like an alcoholic.

(Not a bit better than him.)

I said it one more time.

He smiled some more, laughed out loud, and said: “200 dollars.”

“You can have it,” I said. “I’ll just find a bank first.”

The double humiliation. That I gave him money and that he took it.

I gave him the money on the platform and then watched him get on the train. I stood there until the train left the station, the last car disappeared around the bend, and then I walked out in the sun. It sunk all over me, the plaza was wide and without shadows and I was alone.

One week later: He has found my hotel down by the coast. He’s out of money, 200 dollars in five days. He managed well.

But he is fragile. Can’t take the light. Sits on the balcony on the shaded side and reads bad English mysteries that he finds down in a kiosk by the station. He has quit drinking.

It’s over for today.

And one morning I know what HAPPINESS is; it’s waking up next to someone you’re fond of like and going out on the balcony and drinking café latte and looking out over the milky white sea.  Putting on my black bikini and taking a long walk on the shoreline, right where the water meets the sand, and coming back to the beach chair and falling into it and closing your eyes to the sun which is green and red and your body is slightly moist with sweat, it’s a little windy, so you get up and get into the water and swim a long time and get hungry and still are hot from the sun on your skin and a little tired and aroused and he is there, he’s sitting and waiting for me and we close the shutters and make love in the cool, newly made bed and I get even hungrier, we shower and then we go down to the dining room and eat hot spaghetti with meat sauce and grilled fish and salad and cheese and strawberries and get sleepy and go up to the room again and there I sleep with my hand on his back.