The Rickety Assurance of Story

By Callie Feyen

Kristin enters her new life as Erlend’s wife at the same time I begin a new job. It is a job I have no qualifications for. It is a job I don’t even know if I’ll enjoy, and it is a job that I took because no matter how hard it would be, like Kristin when she surveys Husaby, I wanted to restore order to things. 

The idea of the job, I think, might’ve been as attractive as Erlend’s dark curly hair, his eyes that scream, “ADVENTURE,” and what I’m sure were his medieval Norwegian six-pack abs. I wasn’t foolish enough to think this job would cure what I’m coming to accept is my eternal wanderlust, and tendency for apathetic woe, but I loved the idea of doing something new and different and that didn’t have anything to do with teaching or writing.

I wanted another story. I think Kristin did, too. I think she wanted another story since she was seven years old and she saw the sun shining outside and could barely contain her excitement because that day she would head to the mountains. I think she met Arne in the woods because she wanted to see about another story she might live, and I think she tells her father that she will die from heartbreak if she can’t be with Erlend because she wanted to write her own story – not have her father write it for her.

Indeed, it is not easy to restore order when you write your own story, and Kristin sees this in the mess and disorganization of Husaby. I think it is only on Christmas Eve, when Kristin finds her stepson Orm left behind in Husaby while the rest went to church that she steps into the life she believed she so desperately wanted, and it is story that helps her do it.

Orm tells her it’s not safe to go out on Christmas Eve because evil spirits are out ready to seize everyone.  

 “I don’t think it’s only the evil spirits that are out tonight,” Kristin says. “Christmas Eve must be for all spirits.” 

Kristin continues and tells a story about the first Christmas Eve and Orm is not impressed at all. It is Orm’s response  to Kristin that proves we parents cannot blame water guns, MTV, call-waiting, or SnapChat for an adolescent’s “I know everything” tone – it’s literally medieval. 

 “You’re ridiculous if you think you’ll comfort me with a story,” is basically what Orm tells her, but she says, “I told the story mostly to comfort myself, Orm.”

Two things happen next: First, Kristin begins to clean up, and Orm helps her. Second, at a pause in their work, as they are sitting by the hearth, Orm, who is sitting on a three-legged stool next to Kristin, says softly, “Tell me another story while we sit here, my stepmother.”

//

The job I took, the one I applied for without any qualifications or any clue what it was I’d be doing, is a part-time position in the registrar’s office at a small Lutheran university. Every morning at 10:30, there’s chapel and sometimes I go and sometimes I don’t. It reminds me of my Calvin days when some days I’d walk up the hill to chapel and immerse myself in the glory of a mystery too wonderful to understand, and other days I’d go back to the dorm and watched the second half of Ricki Lake.

The morning after spring break, I walked into the office holding a mason jar of flowers, and put it on a bookshelf in my office. They were a nice addition to the buttery yellow cart I bought for my coffee and tea that sits next to a chair. I’ve never worked at a job where I have my own office, and I am having fun decorating it.  That morning, several students came in needing help to drop or add classes (mostly drop) because this was the last day to do it. Several girls came in grinning from ear to ear with sparkly diamonds on their left ring fingers, and I was again reminded of my Calvin days, when, after a holiday something shiny this way comes (mine arrived a few days before Thanksgiving my Senior year). The girls spoke to me about their schedules smiling and turning their rings – all of them too loose – around their fingers. One girl wore her engagement ring on an index finger and when I said, “Congratulations,” she blushed and said, “Thank you,” and then, “it still needs to be sized.” I nodded, entered information into the computer, and signed off on a piece of paper she’d give to her professor proclaiming she would no longer be a student in whatever class she thought she needed to be in, and I thought of Kristin who had “slipped several small silver rings from her childhood days onto her fingers” in order to keep her wedding rings from falling off. I cannot remember a thing from when I first read Kristin Lavsrandatter, and while I know she will have her struggles both in marriage and otherwise, I hope that she will experience the wonder and mystery in what evolves in the unity she’s committed herself to. I hope this too, for these girls, and for myself.

It was Holy Week, and I went to chapel every morning. The school would take Good Friday off and to correspond the services were a day ahead – Wednesday was Maundy Thursday, and Thursday was Good Friday.

On Wednesdays, the pastor brings free Starbucks coffee and so I held the paper cup in my hands and sipped and listened to the story of Jesus washing the feet of His friends and breaking bread that He said was His body – even to, and perhaps most especially for, Judas.

A football player slipped in late and sat down next to me. He smiled and whispered hello and I smiled back and then turned toward the stained glass backdrop of the pastor. I wondered what this boy would do after school – after he graduated. I wondered if this school helped him surprise himself with another gift he’d had in him that he could take with him and use in this next chapter. I wondered what it was like to play football here, less than a mile away from the Big House. Was that stadium a shadow to him and did he wish at times the cardinal red he played for would pierce through the maize and blue of autumn Saturdays or was it enough to be a part of the game – the reds and blues and yellows marked his own body because he was willing to play?

I’m still learning what my responsibilities are and how to complete them. I keep a notebook to help me remember codes for computer programs and how to do Excel. Sometimes my boss gives me a stack of transcripts from the colleges and I am to match the course to the ones we offer so students know how much credit they have when they begin their studies here. I love this part of the job because I love reading course catalogs. 

We have a class on Monsters. That’s the entire title. “Monsters” is in the History Department and in the description of the course I read that monsters have been pivotal in all sorts of stories. I wrote the phrase down on a small section of my planner where I catch things I want to keep. I wrote “Spike,” “Edwarn Cullen,” “Stefan and Damon Salvatore.” I wrote “Judas,” and “evil spirits from Christmas Eve.”

I’m not sure they’re evil, or all evil, but I do think they are waiting for us. I think they are hoping we’ll step outside into what we don’t know and into the monstrous grace of story. I think they hope we’ll ask them to come, too.


Callie Feyen (Project Redux founder) holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University, and is a writer for Coffee+Crumbs, TS Poetry Press, and The Banner. She is the author of two books: The Teacher Diaries, and Twirl, and is working on her third –a book about JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Callie lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with her husband Jesse, and their two daughters, Hadley and Harper. Follow her on Instagram at @calliefeyen or online at calliefeyen.com.

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