Sherilyn Hellberg translates Jonas Eika

Bad mexican dog

There’s something special about the beach because I’m a beach boy. Something’s supposed to happen down at the beach. I remember the beach in Essaouira, Marseilles, San Juan, where it didn’t happen, and every night I looked up at a sky so blue between power lines it made my face hurt. Not because there’s anything special about the sky, only that it’s sometimes a very hard blanket stretched tight over my head, and which makes me feel an impassable distance; if I was in heaven I’d look up at Earth, blue between power lines. I’m a fifteen-year old, thin and brown-haired boy with green eyes. I strut straight and tall with a little curve in my back like a panther, small and bashful because no one notices me. Now I’m in Cancún, Mexico, and I’ve been standing here in front of the counter for a while now without being seen. It’s early in the morning, and the owner is fighting with his wife about a boy who quit without notice just today. I picked this beach club because the lion on its flag reminded me of an English tourist with a full beard who gave a big tip in Essaouira, Marseilles, or San Juan. The owner turns to me with short-fuse eyes, but before he gets the chance to tell me off this is what I say: 

“Word is you need a boy?”

“We always need boys,” the owner replies, “but are you a real beach boy?”

I say yes, I’m made of the right stuff, and list my previous employments.

“Alright then, follow me,” he says and walks around to the back of the square bamboo hut which is also the club’s bar and reception. He opens the door to an elongated storage room. Towels, fans, sunscreen, and after sun. Half-liter bottles of naturel mineral water in a cooler. The morning sun makes spots on my skin through the holes in the thatched wall. The owner throws a pair of black swim trunks and a white undershirt on the bench and tells to me to get changed. Then he leaves the room, and while I sit down to undress I can see past the bar counter through a hole in the wall the sky and the ocean so blue between beach chairs it tickles my crotch. There’s something I’m here for, there’s something I have to do. In the sand in front of the bench, an elongated pool has been dug out and covered with pool-blue plastic. The water is full of small jellyfishy blobs swimming around like living water. My legs are too short to reach, but I can feel the slimy dampness under the soles of my feet.

“You know the deal?” shouts the owner and opens the door as I’m pulling the swim trunks up over my hips. “You keep your tips. The rest is mine.”

I agree, and he straps a fannypack over my swim trunks. That way you can keep the lotions in the pouch on the one side, and there are four round pockets that’ll stretch for the water bottles. I can feel the owner’s chest hair against my shoulder as he suits me up. He says the other boys will tell me everything I need to know about life on the beach.

There are 480 beach chairs total, 24 rows à 20, and we’re 6 boys, that’s 4 rows or 80 chairs for each. If you’ve got your own section under control, if none of your guests need anything—lotioning up, beverages, a little shade or face-fanning—then you can try your luck up by the entrance. It’s those twenty meters of boardwalk that stretch from the reception down to the beach chairs where you have to make the right impression. This is where I get to see the other boys in action, get to know their style. This is where I see Immanuel.

When the French lady in the sun hat is halfway down the boardwalk, he lifts one of his feet and takes aim with a decisive gait. But he’s cool when he does it, and the way he makes his hips tilt as he walks, long waves of bone and tawny brown skin pulling him across the sand, it happens in slow motion in front of me: Each step reveals all of its component parts, from the heel strike to the worming movement of the soles of his feet which finally reaches the pads of his toes, and the sand jumps little angel hops around his heel. My eyes slip up to his hips again, and I can see his pelvis tipping with each step from side to side, and I think of crustaceans and mottled fish swimming around inside the shell of his pelvis, in the light blue ocean lapping against his pubic bone. It’s very powerful, Immanuel’s groin, rocking up the boardwalk as everything else about him fades, his long black hair and tawny brown skin, and when he’s ten feet away from the lady in the sun hat there’s something ash gray about him like an old waiter at a French café.

“Welcome to the beach club, m’lady. What if I were your personal boy for the duration of your stay? Shade, sun, sunscreen, massage, and cold drinks, whatever you need, I’ll be at your beck and call?”

And the lady with the sun hat says thanks for the offer and hands her bag to Immanuel, and he winks at me as they walk by. He’ll make good money on her, it’s sure as the ocean is blue.

Then it’s my turn, and I strut straight ahead with a little curve in my back like a big cat towards the English couple on the boardwalk so they can’t not see me, but they don’t see me until we’re a few feet away from each other and I say:

“Good morning, what if I were Your personal boy…” but I’ve already missed my chance to make a natural break in their path and offer myself up, so they know they want me without knowing I want them, and anyway I didn’t hit the beat like Immanuel because the man waves his hand disapprovingly.

A side gig and some extra cash: You get one shot a day. So I trot restlessly up and down through my 4 rows à 20 and offer to lotion them up and fan their faces. I change their towels and adjust the umbrellas to follow the path of the sun in the sky, getting bored at the zenith. In the afternoon, the guests start to fry, and I spread sunscreen and after sun all over their bodies. As I’m straddling a Swedish man lying on his belly with two belts of flesh covering his loins, I see Ginger, the English boy, giving it a go up on the boardwalk. He’s whiter than the sand, even though the sand is as white as the coconut filling in a Bounty bar, and his hair shines like copper in the sun. He’s beautiful, Ginger, but his gait is a little too bovine, very thin knees, he doesn’t exude that supple and light-on-the-toes feeling you look for in a boy at all. A beach boy can’t seem too much like he’s obeying gravity, I think. The Swede’s flesh belts slip between my fingers. As I’m holding them tight and peeling them apart so I can rub the sunscreen deep down into his back, I see Jia, the Chinese boy, heading towards two German women, waddling in a careless way, as if his bones and joints aren’t fully formed. With his bulging round belly and little hips, he’s a real boy, maybe the most boyish of us all. The Germans take the bait right away. One of my hands has disappeared under the flesh belt wrapping around my wrist. I move around the organs inside, pull out a kidney and fling it across the sky, see myself trailing after it like a shooting star or maybe just a seagull, but I’m a beach boy. That’s the contract I signed.

Then it’s nighttime, and I’m sitting on the bench in the changing room next to Immanuel. His skin is hard and smooth like stained wood. He peels an orange and slices into the flesh with his knife, and orange fills the room. The sun is in front of me now because the sun is going down into the ocean. He feeds me the peeled-off flesh, brings the pieces to my mouth on the blade of the knife: a hard metallic taste beneath the fresh sweetness. In his other hand, he’s holding the sliced wedges together in a bouquet with the long, white string sticking up flaccid in the middle, held in a bunch by a little circle of peel. He loosens the wedges and spreads them into glistening tentacles, a coral, he says and pulls at the white string so it’s erect. “See, that’s the dick,” he says laughing, and I laugh too, and he shoves the whole thing into his mouth with juice dripping down his chin. Afterwards, we’re silent, and Immanuel takes my dick in his hand. I rest my arm across his arm and do the same to him up and down. Through the hole in the wall the sun makes a window of light on his stomach. I can see the ocean in it. It’s throbbing in my hand. A squirt of thick, white juice, first Immanuel and then me, turns orange in the sun lands in the pool-blue channel of water under our feet. As if the horizon is emanating from our groin, and for a second I can remember a room behind the ocean. There are things I have to do, things I have to get done while I’m here.

“Immanuel?” I ask.

“What’s up?” he says. “And hey, just call me Manuel, it’s so much with that first syllable.”

“Manuel, how do you do what you do on the boardwalk?”

“I take a guess. I guess where they’re from and how much money they have and then I try to act like the waiters they know from where they’re from. But you have to make yourself completely blank on the inside. If you want to look like their idea, you have to become the thing.”

“Does that always work for you?”

“If they’re old, anyway, then they like the comfort of it. But the ones in their thirties or forties, they’d prefer not to know you’re doing it for their sake…they don’t want you speaking English to them in their own accent and all that crap. So whenever I see them with, for example, SKINNY MEXICAN BOY in their eyes, then I say LET ME AUTHENTICATE THAT FOR YOU, but I just say it to myself and do it.”

So, the next morning I’m standing there looking at the beach with its 480 beach chairs, 24 rows à 20. They look like massive tapeworms, each chair is its own segment, or they’re running through the sand like rivers of melting water trickling into the ocean. They’re the ribs of the coast. Then I understand what Manuel meant, and I say it to myself up by the entrance when the German woman comes walking backlit down the boardwalk. I make myself blank and let her eyes wander over my front getting very hot while the wind cools my back, and when I greet her, it’s with a fresh Mexican accent on my tongue, and she says yes, certainly I can be her personal boy.

Over the next five hours I lotion her up and fetch her cold drinks from the bar. When she gets too hot, she raises her hand and points at her face: I get down on my knees and fan it. Then she shoos me away and tells me to come back in ten and as I’m walking away I can feel the cold on my back, as if that side of me has retreated, turning away from her and the sun. I jog up and down my 4 rows à 20 and tend to the other guests while I can. Fortunately, Jia and Ginger are helping out with my section. Manuel is taking care of the French lady with the sun hat. She asked specifically for him. When the sun is at its zenith we’re all really busy, everyone wants water and light breezes and sunscreen for their bodies. Ginger stumbles in the sand with both his hands full and lands on a young woman, his face between her ass cheeks. She screams and her boyfriend jumps up and grabs Ginger by the neck. He’s gotten up and is saying sorry with his hands over his face. I start running and scream it was an accident, but the boyfriend doesn’t hear me; he only sees PERVERTED BASTARD STICKING HIS NOSE BETWEEN MY GIRLFRIEND’S LEGS. He forgets Ginger is a boy and boys aren’t interested in that kind of thing. Ginger falls on his side with blood pouring out of his mouth, long, red squirt turns orange in the sun lands on white sand. The boyfriend straddles him and lets it rip on his face. In his rage he grabs a rock. Thick, red pool next to Ginger’s head. Then he gets up and turns around, flees along the water, and his girlfriend runs after him. Me and Jia hurry to get Ginger’s body up into the changing room before the other guests can see the hole in his head.

In the afternoon the rhythm of our work falls into sync with the sun and my sleepiness. My head is throbbing like it’s the temples of the beach, blood pumping under the sand. The German woman says goodbye and leaves a nice tip, but now the cold is crawling up my back, she couldn’t see it and now it’s turned into a hole inside me. During the last hours of the afternoon, I stop a bunch of times to look at things I think are beautiful: the beach chairs, 480 in 24 rows à 20. The umbrellas we move with the chairs following the path of the sun in the sky. The other boys wandering up and down along the rows in their sections offering themselves up. The ocean topped by waves, and it’s like the beauty of all these things goes into my body and turns into a pain that keeps the hole open. I think: the ocean is beautiful even though it can’t keep itself blue like a postcard all the time. It’s beautiful even though it doesn’t have the power to spare the ships sailing on it tonight. A massive liquid made of complete obedience. The contract it’s signed. But at the same time I know there are sides of the ocean that I can’t see, there are sides of the beach chairs and umbrellas that retreat and turn their backs to me, and there’s a hole in every boy.

When me and Manuel have gotten changed, orange in the room and the sun a window to the ocean squirt of thick white juice orange in the pool-blue pool, we carry Ginger’s body out to the beach. The sand, the ocean, and the sky are the same color black. The wind is cold against my face and makes the flag poles at the club groan, and things we don’t know make sounds that mingle with the ocean’s. The beach chairs come into view as we pass by them one by one. The sand hops around our bare legs. I’m holding Ginger’s arms, Manuel his ankles, and as we walk down with the body between us I get a strange feeling. It’s not romantic or tender because it’s not concentrated in any one place, my stomach or my crotch, for example, but spread all throughout my body. Like, I put on a nice leotard, an imperceptibly tight full body suit made of the knowledge that I’m here with Manuel and that I’ll see him again tomorrow.

We kneel and lay Ginger’s body down in the sand. A little while later, Jia and the other boys join us with six buckets of water from the pool in the changing room. We dig out the shape of a body in the sand where the boyfriend split open Ginger’s head with the rock, and fill it with water. Hundreds of small white squirts swim around in it like living water. We grab the arms and legs and lower the body down into the hole. The water ripples a little before it calms down and covers it all, a thin layer over his face and stomach. Steam rises in the cool air. In a pentagon around the hole, we plant five umbrellas upside-down in the sand, twist them down into the viscous layers. The last three inches of the shafts sticking up in the air, we lather them with after sun before getting on our knees and letting our assholes slide slowly down around them. We look at Ginger’s body while Manuel sings monotonously:

We believe in Ginger / working honestly and patiently / many hours in the hole inside ourselves / Our desire for Ginger breaks free / from Ginger / and travels through the hole over the greatest / distance / until it no longer belongs to us / We believe in Ginger …

Manuel repeats the verse, and we join in one-by-one, rocking on the shafts. We sing and look at Ginger’s body. This lasts for many hours. Once in a while the steam takes on colors, fluorescent blue, red, and purple. Now and then a squirt of thick, white juice that comes to life in the water. And when the after sun and our secretions run dry on the shaft, the pain and blood begins to run. The white squirts in the water gather around Ginger’s skin and coalesce into a suit of jelly: the lines of the body are blurred, the body flickers. I can’t separate my own voice from the others’ assholes from the hole deeper in me, where pain and foreign blood run down hollow umbrella shafts, soaking the sandy soil under the hole. A pool of color whirls at our knees. Then Manuel’s voice stands out from the choir like a dissonance. The rest of us join in cautiously, one sound at a time, until the words take shape and we sing in unison:

Desire for Ginger comes back through us / Desire for Ginger / as he is: the desire to create him / Ginger / as he is / to create him / The two become one.

The water lights up and changes color from blood red to purple to orange brimming with pink dots. A slimy fog in the same colors rises up and makes a vague outline of a body and a web of veins. A glowing creature is now visible hovering over the hole. Then suddenly it hits me that I’m thinking about dead Ginger, not that he should live again and the same second the creature becomes flesh and falls into the hole with a splash.

Later, we walk into one of the early morning spots with dirty tiles and white light where concrete workers and taxi drivers are drinking coffee. I like the night workers. We pour our tips into Jia’s hands, who goes up to buy eggs, toast, and orange juice with all the money. The drink is very cold in my throat with pulp. In a bowl on the table, there are wrinkly oranges, which Manuel cuts into little corals. “This one is Ginger!” yells Ginger and mashes one of them with the ash tray, squirt of thin, yellow juice turns gray in the electric light lands on the tiles. We laugh and stick our fingers between the tentacles of our corals, pull the long, white strings to see whose is the longest and laugh again. Afterwards, we play a game where we all take turns impersonating people from the club.

“Manuel?” I say into the darkness on our way back home.

“What’s up?” he says. “And just call me Manu, it’s so much with that last syllable.”

“Manu, how did we do that to Ginger?”

“Ginger was the one who decided to come back.”

“But how?”

“I don’t know, that’s just how it is. Most people want to come back, even though they forget everything they saw while they were gone. That’s the contact they signed…Anyway, this is me.”

He lays a hand on the back of my neck and gives it a squeeze before he turns down a dusty road with concrete buildings just like mine. He says goodnight and winks, and as he’s walking away with his back turned to me, he shrinks into a little cat and lopes away, and I want to run with him, then we could be two small cats lying together talking in his bed.

Afterwards, I keep walking and look up at the sky between power lines. It’s a very dark blue, and at the same time it’s lit up by a secret little light because the sun isn’t here yet, but whispers up over the sloping of the globe that it’s on its way. My face hurts a little. A thin memory of something important that’s supposed to happen on the beach. A room behind another room. I can’t make it all the way home anyway, so I find a bench near the club and fall asleep for an hour and half. I dream that night has fallen, but the guests haven’t gone home yet. They lie there still, unmoving, with closed eyes or their sunglasses on, as if they haven’t realized that the sun has gone down and it’s now very cold. Then all the big cats get a whiff of the fried skin steaming in the cool night, jump out of the trees on the boulevard along the beach and flay all the guests into little pieces. Streamers of flesh and guts hang over the beach chairs, 24 rows à 20.

I strut straight and tall with a little curve in my back like a panther, but it’s rare that I use it because I’m a beach boy. In a sense, I’ve replaced Manu because he’s taking care of the French lady with the sun hat, like he’s done for the last three weeks. She pays him a fixed salary every day, and they’ve started to develop what I think you would call a personal relationship. He learns ten new French words a day. She asks about his life, also about his time before the club. She’s like a pool in your backyard, says Manu, which you can’t use anyway, so you might as well throw your trash and old furniture in it. When the guests come walking down the boardwalk from the entrance, I make myself blank before I approach them. LET ME AUTHENTICATE THAT FOR YOU, I say if I see them, for example, with SKINNY MEXICAN BOY or SCANDIVANIAN SIMPLICITY in their eyes, but I just say it to myself and do it. I’m good now, maybe as good as Manu, and I know the owner’s noticed. He’s hired another boy and pulls me aside one night to ask whether I want to make a little extra. Obviously I say yea. He gives me a bag with a video camera and some official documents. He shows me pictures of a young couple and tells me play-by-play how it’s all supposed to go down. He’s even written it in typewriter font on a piece of paper, which I read over and over again in bed before falling asleep. The next day, when the couple shows up, I make sure I’m their personal boy, and I do it exactly like the owner said; it works, I get it all on tape.

When I get back at the end of the afternoon, there’s chaos at the club because Manu is curled up in fetal position on the belly of the French woman, so the new boy has to take care of two sections all by himself. I jump in right away, and the next hour I spread sunscreen and after sun into so much skin that my hands get tired from the impressions: Smooth, hard skin like stained wood. Elastic, suntanned skin with dots falling like curtains around my fingers. Or a gooey, vaguely greasy pelt, but it doesn’t mean anything to me. The skin is sticky, the sand burns, the woman’s foot tasted like an orange peel. My nerves are trembling and I don’t have the energy to respond to them. The other boys disappear behind umbrellas and suntanned hands hanging in the air and waving me over to them: I run around and fan faces, massage, and fetch drinks. I’m exhausted. The sun is shining.

As we’re sitting on the bench in the dressing room, glittering knife orange in orange sun fallen in wedges and the ocean, Manu gets up and pulls me down into the pool. There’s a different light, a fluorescent, blue fog that makes my skin tight and slimy.

“I’m not mad,” he says and hugs me from behind.

We spoon, the water covering half my face. Manu holds me, but at the same time he pushes against me in a small way, his face between my shoulder blades and knees against my thighs, so maybe I’m the one holding him. We stay there for a long time. I can’t make out the different parts of his body anymore, his chest, arms, feet, forehead, he’s just a little shrimp on my back. The other boys are somewhere in the pool too. We are all very small. I want to cry. I breathe in through my left nostril which is above water, and breathe out through the other one. I close my left eye and keep the other one open so that the surface of the water becomes a lid on the world. The bubbles of oxygen coming from my nostril look like cats jumping up and down, but exploding the second they hit the surface of the water. As if they only know how to exist at a distance. In there, however, they’re wild and agile, and also a little funny. Suddenly I get water in my left nostril; the water level has risen, I cough. I sit up and look at Manu lying there, crying silently.

“Manu,” I say.

“Manu, shouldn’t we go home, you and me, I’m so tired?”

“You go,” he says without looking at me, an eye on either side of the surface of the water. “I want to stay here a little longer.”

We were about to leave the club when the boy with the pretty green eyes, who had fetched us water and snacks and who kept asking us whether we needed anything, came running after us with a bag on his shoulder. He politely asked whether he might be able to tell us something from his heart and if we didn’t want to listen he would let us go. Obviously, we said yes.

In addition to his job as a beach boy⁠—which was just a way of getting byhe studied film here in Cancún and had a big exam coming up. He took some papers out of his bag, an ID-card, and some school documents, and said that if he did well, he could get a scholarship to one of the best film schools in the United States, apparently in Los Angeles or New York, I can’t remember which. Texas, maybe. He told us all about his final exam; he had to film a bunch of tiny scenes from everyday life and he was supposed to play the lead role himself, it would take an hour at most. He just needed some extras.

Lasse and I looked at each other and burst out laughing, “um, do we want to?”  he said. “No, of course we don’t. C’mon Lasse,” I said. “But what would Melanie say?” he asked. Melanie was the coolest woman, about thirty years old, who we had met on our trip, and who had made a strong impression on us. She didn’t have a job or a place to live, she didn’t do anything but travel. We were just so crazy fascinated by her life.

Then the boy said that of course he would understand if we were thinking: Why don’t you just get some of your Mexican friends to help you, but they’d just make fun of him. Westerners, on the other hand, are way more open to this kind of thing and they get it if you have a passion for something or other. I smiled and said yes, what’s the worst that could happen.

We followed him to the hotel on the other side of road. It didn’t look very inhabited, a large, cracked stone house with moisture in the walls, a little cold and desolate. I was actually pretty scared, but I didn’t want to say anything to Lasse, so I just giggled a little. Now I know that you should always trust your intuition, even when it’s made of fear, because otherwise you might end up getting into a car headed somewhere weird. And even though you can’t keep up, maybe you’re still standing there on the curb, even though your body is in the car, and then afterwards, every time you’re reminded of what happened, it feels like somebody else’s bad feeling, but you’re the one who has to feel it. You can never completely leave your body behind. So, we followed the boy up to the third floor and into his room. He went out on the balcony and set up two white plastic chairs with a view of the ocean. I was relieved that we were supposed to sit out there because I could just jump off and get away if the boy turned out to be dangerous. He took out his camera and positioned it on a chair a little inside the living room, so it could film me and Lasse through the sliding glass door.

The boy pressed record and got down in front of us on all fours. First, he was going to play the table, he said, we were just supposed to put our feet up on his back and talk a bit about our time in Mexico so far. We did so in English while looking at the ocean. Afterwards, he wanted to be a dog. He went behind the camera and said we should call him a dog’s name, Tikki, I think it was, and then he came in on all fours and crawled around between our legs. We were supposed to act natural, to push him a little with our feet and keep talking. Then we were supposed to call him again and ask him to clean the floor. He came in with a wet rag and rubbed our feet a little too, the tiles were shining.

None of the scenes lasted for longer than 24 minutes, and after each one he went back to the camera and told us what was going to happen next. Then he asked Lasse whether it was okay if he licked our feet, because that’s what dogs do to clean them. “Um, yea,” said Lasse, and the boy started to crawl again. First he licked Lasse’s feet, slowly up and down the arch of his foot, but when he got to me, it was like he was going to eat my whole foot! It was very hot and tickled between my toes, I couldn’t stop laughing and couldn’t stay in character either. He gave Lasse the camera and asked whether he wanted to give it a try. Next, I was supposed to walk him on a leash (made out of a t-shirt he had tied around his neck, and I was supposed to hold the other end) and make him do things, dog things. He kept licking my toes and sucking on them. The whole time I kept pulling my foot away and laughing to Lasse, but I couldn’t see him behind the camera. The lens looked like a peephole in a metal door. Now, the boy wanted me to use him like a table even though he was a dog. I was supposed to scold him and say all these mean things. “Bad Mexican dog.” I tried to get into character, but he stopped me and said I should kick him hard and say that I didn’t like Mexicans. I didn’t want to do that, and I was also on the brink of tears, so I said to Lasse: “Babe, I can do this anymore. Tell him we’re done.” Lasse kept filming for a few seconds more until he finally handed the camera over to the boy and said we had to go, and that the shot was probably good enough as it was. Lasse is about two heads taller than him and calmly laid a hand on his shoulder.  The boy said thank you very much, and that he would come join us in two minutes for a cup of coffee.

We got out of there as fast as we could. Lasse was laughing and said it was nice to have such clean feet. I said I felt a little violated and would rather not talk about it. In the lobby at our hotel, we ran into Melanie and actually didn’t want to tell her about any of it, but I couldn’t keep it to myself, so I said to Lasse, “Tell her what just happened to us.”

Melanie was totally shocked. She would never have done such a thing in her life!


Translator’s note:

After the Sun—the short story collection which includes “Bad Mexican Dog”—presents four apparently dissimilar but interconnected worlds: a divorced Danish IT-consultant travels back to Copenhagen and misses a meeting, a young boy working at a beach club in Cancún tries to make a little extra cash on the side, a love triangle between drugs, a pregnancy, and the city of London spirals out of control, and a man tries to attach himself to a strange object in the desert while his wife is at a concert in Las Vegas. Jonas Eika’s strange twilight universes hover between science fiction and poetic realism, presenting an opaque, oversaturated vision of our contemporary globalized world. The collection traverses gray cities in ruin and sky-blue beach skies, slipping into the cracks of derivative trading and the “flesh belts” of tomato-red Scandinavian tourists. Its bleak, pulsating depictions of consumer capitalism at times evoke the landscapes of Don DeLillo and Roberto Bolaño. Its sparse lyricism, at once humorous and poignant, brims with affect. Infused, even in the original Danish, with the global English of capitalism, Eika’s dark shadow-world is submerged in the strange workings of desire, oozing out of humans, objects, and landscapes alike.

There was something uncanny about translating “Bad Mexican Dog.” While the last part of the story is told from the perspective of a Scandinavian couple, this story, similar to the other three which comprise After the Sun, feels barely tethered to its Danish context. The economy and culture of international tourism which motivates the story is palpable in its language as well. The reader can almost feel the movements of global capitalism and the global English of tourism lingering under the surface of the original Danish. This meant that I often had the feeling—so rare in translation—that certain phrases, perfectly idiomatic in the original, had obvious English translations. It wasn’t so much that distinct English expressions had been translated into Danish in any straightforward way. Rather, a particular kind of international English seemed already to have infected the language. “Det siges at” (literally: It’s said that) slid easily into place as “Word is.” “Du kender aftalen” (literally: You are familiar with the agreement) was instantly “You know the deal.” My interventions—not always, but often—felt slight, superficial, a tweak as opposed to a twist. Like brushing the sand away, revealing the contours of what was hidden below all along.


Sherilyn Hellberg (b. 1991) is a literary translator and PhD candidate in the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. She has a B.A. in Comparative Literature and Society from Columbia University and an M.Phil. in European and Comparative Literatures and Cultures from the University of Cambridge. She translates modern and contemporary Scandinavian literature by authors such as Tove Ditlevsen, Olga Ravn, Caspar Eric, and Ingvild Lothe. Her translations have appeared in Translation Review, NY Tyrant, and EuropeNow. Most recently, her translation of Johanne Bille’s Elastic was published by Lolli Editions in 2019.

Jonas Eika Rasmussen (b. 1991) is a Danish writer living in Copenhagen. He graduated from The Danish Academy of Creative Writing (Forfatterskolen) in 2015, and shortly after published his debut, Marie House Warehouse (Lindhardt og Ringhof, 2015), for which he was awarded the Bodil og Jørgen Munch-Christensens debutantpris for emerging Danish writers in 2016. In 2018, he published his first collection of short stories, After the Sun, which has won numerous awards, including the Michael Strunge Prize, Den svære Toer prize for second books, and the prestigious Montana Literature Prize.