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BETTY
An extract from NO LIMITS - Part Two: Riverside, 1961
by Arne Herløv Petersen
Translated from the Danish by Charlotte Barslund
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Preface
”No Limits” (Grænseløs) is autofiction, a novel of remembrance that chronicles the Sixties
over four volumes in ten parts, totalling 2,300 pages. The author, Arne Herløv Petersen, was
born in 1943 and has published almost a hundred books since 1962. The main premise is
that what we know as the Sixties – the flower power, hippie-era – did not arise suddenly and
spontaneously in 1967 or 1968, but existed in embryo from the beginning of the decade. We
start in Denmark and move through countries all over the world as we proceed.
The narrator is on a long journey and has the most amazing experiences on the way. In
1960 he is seventeen and goes to USA as an exchange student in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Over 300 pages we hear about an America that is just about to lose the innocence of a
Norman Rockwell drawing and entering another era. For Americans it can be an eye-opener
to see their own society from the outside, like a glimpse through your own windows.
The narrator returns to his native Denmark and goes on the study History, Russian and
Chinese at the University of Copenhagen. He also publishes a volume of poems and his first
novel, is active in politics on the left side and works as a journalist. He loves great parties,
and his uninhibited amorous adventures take up a great part of his mind – and the book. In
1965 he and some friends buy an old sailing ship and plan to circumnavigate the globe, but
have to return after heavy storms in the English Channels. Undaunted the friends buy a very
old bus and go to Nepal, where they sell the bus. After harrowing experiences in India and
South East Asia they reunite in Australia and proceed to French Polynesia, from where they
are expulsed because of their close contacts to the independence movement. As the decade
runs out, the narrator has returned to his native Denmark, where he learns that one of his
books has been published in USA and returned a profit which he uses to buy a city house
with seventeen apartments in Copenhagen.
“No Limits” is a picture of a time what knew of no boundaries and could accept no
established rules. The motto of the book is taken from The Doors: “We want the world and
we want it now”.
“No Limits” was published in Denmark in 2014 to rave review. The influential newspaper
“Politiken” wrote: “The descriptions of young and playful sex are among the best in the work.
In “No Limits” the vagina and how it can be employed has been described more sensuously
than ever before in Danish Literature… Arne Herløv Petersen can call forth the past so you
can almost taste it”. “Arbejderen” wrote: “Sensed, registered and described in a wonderful
language by one who dared taste all the possibilities. With roses – with and without thorns”.
“Modkraft” wrote: “Fluently narrated and free of the selfjustifying rationalizations typically
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seen in autobiographies”. The Danish libraries wrote in their evaluation: “Arne Herløv
Petersen can describe the many humourous episodes with no false notes whatsoever. The
book can easily be compared to “My Struggle” by Karl Ove Knausgaard”.
This excerpt from the second part of the novel – “Riverside” about American high school life
1960-61 – has been translated by the respected translator Charlotte Barslund.
More excerpts – in Danish – can be found on the blog:
http://minetressere.blogspot.dk/
and on
http://herlov.dk/boger.htm
More information about the book can be obtained from the Publishing House
Det Poetiske Bureaus Forlag
Møllegade 23A
2200 Copenhagen N
Denmark
http://detpoetiskebureau.dk/
mail:
poet.bureau@gmail.com
or from the author on Facebook, LinkedIn or by mail:
arneherlov@hotmail.com
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Betty
In Art Class I had started a large portrait of a girl from my class whose name was
Carol. However, I was spending more and more of my time gazing at a coloured girl
who was so beautiful it hurt. Whenever she was busy drawing, I would occasionally
sneak over to watch her work. My interest was purely professional, you
understand…
So about this coloured girl in my Art Class. By looking at how she signed her
drawings, I had learned that her name was Betty. However, recently she had
stopped coming to Art Class and I heard that she might have switched to PE instead.
She put up her hair in a totally crazy sugar loaf shape or styled it like a tiara with a
slim ribbon around it. She painted her lips and wore kohl around her eyes, but not
too much. Her features were perfectly symmetrical and her skin light brown, the
colour of milk chocolate. She was always smartly dressed, but what attracted me the
most was that she had an easy laugh and seemed fun, vibrant and alive.
The problem was getting her to notice me. Number one, she was now no
longer in my class. Number two, I had overheard her talking about a steady
boyfriend and I had no reason to think Betty knew I even existed. Number three
dating a coloured girl was not only taboo, it was explicitly prohibited and might result
in my being sent home early.
Then again obstacles are there to be overcome. Who dares wins.
No sooner had I found out that Betty’s name was Betty than she disappeared from
our art lessons. As luck would have it, I got a second chance to chat her up because
she usually ate lunch at Francesca’s where I also went. John Woodmansee had
pointed her out to me there once, though there had been no need for him to do that.
She had been on my mind for weeks now. She always sat with a white, red haired
girl called Sandy and I would prick up my ears to overhear what they were talking
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about. It was mostly boys, two boys in particular, their steady boyfriends. Sandy said
that most of the time her boyfriend didn’t seem to be that keen. But if he was alone
with her for a minute, especially if they were in her room and the door was closed, he
would pounce like wild animal. Unfortunately I couldn’t hear Betty’s reply. I said hi to
Betty every time I went to Francesca’s and she began to smile and wave if we
happened to bump into each other at school. I hadn’t spoken to her properly yet, but
I plucked up the courage at Francesca’s one day and asked why she had stopped
going to Art Class. She hadn’t left the class; she was just working on a project
involving clay which was taught in another classroom.
By now I had decided that Betty was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen.
She would gesticulate and laugh all the time and make lots of funny, spontaneous
remarks which I strained to hear when she sat at a different table.
If Betty had shown even the slightest interest in me, I would have defied every
one of Mrs Himmelman’s orders. I was seventeen and refused to follow manmade
rules and regulations if they blocked the course of true love…
But Betty showed no interest in me and, besides, she did have her boyfriend.
Every day I would sit gazing at Betty while trying to summon up the courage to ask
her out. She was never alone. She would always sit with some of the other girls,
always the white ones. I was sick with longing for her, but going against my host
country’s norms represented something of a challenge. I had talked to a guy called
Kendon, who was seen as a bit of a beatnik, about relationships between whites and
coloureds; without mentioning that I might have a personal interest in the subject, of
course. Kendon said that for a time it had been fashionable in more progressive
circles for white girls to date coloured boys, but that trend seemed to have died
down. He had never heard of the reverse, white boys just didn’t have anything to do
with coloured girls…
I was sad that Betty no longer came to Art Class. She had switched to doing
Art in lesson one instead and I wondered if I could switch too. But it would mean
dropping American Literature and as an AFS student, I wasn’t allowed to do that. At
Francesca’s I would always smile to Betty whenever she looked in my direction and
she would smile back and nod. A couple of times she had winked slowly while
looking at me. And she definitely hadn’t got something in her eye. The day before
Christmas she had piled up her hair in a cone right on top of her head and decorated
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it with a sprig of mistletoe, a cotton wool Santa Claus and a bow. I got butterflies in
my stomach just thinking about it.
You’re a wimp, I chided myself. Now pull yourself together, push your way
through that crowd of girls over there and ask her for her phone number. I told myself
that my constant moaning about my lack of success with girls was a convenient
excuse to hide the fact that I was a coward. Or rather: the fact that I was a coward
was probably the main reason girls showed no interest in me. There was no way any
girl would fall in love with a blushing, stammering and stuttering boy.
Still there was something worse than being a coward, I realised. Pushing my
way over there, intruding on them only to have them all laugh at me. Betty included,
Betty louder than anyone with a laughter that would tinkle like the tiny bells she
sometimes wore in her hair. So I stayed where I was.
Every day I tried pulling myself together, walk up to Betty while she had lunch at
Francesca’s and ask her out. But every time my courage deserted me. She was
never on her own and I just couldn’t just push my way through a crowd of other
people to get to her.
Suddenly I had a stroke of luck. I was walking up the stairs to the study hall
where we did our homework and Betty was on her way down - alone. I told her I was
going to a party. Did she want to come? She might, she said. Where was it? I said I
couldn’t remember the address off the top of my head. Could I have her number? I
handed her a piece of paper and a pen and she scribbled down her number willingly.
I didn’t manage to do any work in the study hall; my head was as light as a blown
egg. I had done it. I had her phone number in my pocket.
I called her when I got home. But the number no longer existed; I was
transferred to another number which didn’t work either. What if she had just written
down some random numbers to get rid of me? I sat staring at the paper with her
handwriting as I sank into a tar pit just like the ones used to trap sabre-toothed cats.
When Betty showed up at Francesca’s again, I waited until it was time for her to
leave. Then I rushed after her and caught up with her on the sidewalk where we
could speak more privately. She couldn’t understand why that telephone number
hadn’t worked. Perhaps she had got a digit wrong. She promised to call me if I gave
her my number.
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While Larry and John were there, the telephone rang. It was Betty. She gave me her
correct telephone number and we agreed that I would come over and pick her up at
ten o’clock that night. Not at her house because she wasn’t allowed to go out so late,
but from someone else’s. I told them about her and John thought it was great news.
She was one of the most beautiful girls at school, he said. That evening I went to
Friday Ballet at the youth centre, but couldn’t be bothered to stay. It had lost some of
its attraction for me. I went home and listened to records until John and Jimmy came
to pick me up in Jimmy’s dad’s car, a beautiful, pale blue Plymouth. We drove
around increasingly sinister neighbourhoods on the other side of the river to find the
address Betty had given me. No white people lived in this part of the town; we were
deep in ghetto country. At last we found the right house and I walked up the
backstairs and knocked. Two coloured boys whom I’ve seen at school were sitting
outside, one of them had been to a drunken party at Jim Champion’s. They knew
Betty well, but she wasn’t there now and hadn’t been there earlier. We left a note
with Dick’s address and called her at home and left a message for her to go to
Dick’s. Then we drove over for Literature Circle at Dick’s... Just after midnight the
discussion began to ebb out and most people talked about going home, but then the
doorbell rang. Betty and two fairly ugly white girls who looked very drunk were
standing outside. Betty seemed to be sober. One of the girls found a bongo drum
and started beating it. Some of those present frowned at the invasion. Betty sat
down on a chair, ate bananas and didn’t say very much, but her two friends talked
nineteen to the dozen. The three girls would appear to have come from another
party; the two white girls quickly grew sleepy and we agreed that Jimmy would drive
them home. John and I drove with them. First we dropped Betty off which meant I
found out where she lived. Then the two other girls who lived south of the town,
miles from anywhere. I didn’t walk Betty to her door. After all, we had never touched
each other and even if there was a chance of a goodnight kiss, I didn’t want it to be
with John and Jimmy watching from the car. When we drove back to town after
having dropped off the last girl, Jimmy said that it might be fun to go on a triple date
with the girls. No, that would be no fun at all, John argued. I would disappear with
Betty and then he and Jimmy would be stuck with two seriously drunk girls. When we
were back at Dick’s, Larry came over to me and said: ‘Don’t you ever do that again.
At least get them to read the book first.’
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I thought that was unfair. We had already finished our book discussion before
they turned up.
I had agreed with Betty that the two of us would go to Unicorn that Wednesday. I
thought about her from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to bed. Her large
dark eyes, her slightly slanted eyelids, her smile. When I called to make more
detailed plans and she heard that I hadn’t managed to get hold of a car, she
suggested that we took a rain check. Panicking, I called John and Jimmy, but they
both had homework to do. John told me he’d had a great idea for our next movie. It
would be set after World War Three. It sounded exciting, but right now I didn’t care
about movies one bit. I called Betty back and asked if it was all right if I came over to
pick her up and we just caught the bus instead. She hesitated slightly, but then she
said OK. Betty lived on the second floor in a large, grey wooden house in an area
west of the river inhabited only by coloured people. The flat was fairly small with
religious colour prints and a crucifix on the wall. Betty also wore a necklace with a
golden crucifix; she had told me she was a Catholic. Her younger brother took my
coat and I greeted her mother. Both her brother and her mother were much darker
skinned than her. Her mother insisted that Betty must be home by nine thirty, after all
tomorrow was a school day. Neither of them betrayed with any facial expressions
that there was anything unusual about Betty going out with a white boy. On the way
down Betty introduced me to her grandfather who lived on the ground floor and who
owned the whole building. He was German, born in Neckar, and we spoke together
in German. ‘Gib ihr en Kuss von mir,’ he said to me as we left. We walked down to
the bus stop and chatted along the way. Talking to Betty was so easy, we quickly
discovered an easy and confidential tone; we laughed a lot and had so much to tell
each other. Betty told me she was born on Jamaica and that she hated the wintry
cold up here. Her family might be moving to New York, she looked forward to that
because she thought Milwaukee was a little dull. Overall she wasn’t terribly taken
with America. You heard a lot about freedom, but it was just an illusion, she said.
She said that she would love to travel abroad, but that her mother probably wouldn’t
let her because once she left the country, there was no guarantee that she would
ever come back. We caught the bus to the corner of Oakland and Locust and went
down to Purple, which wasn’t very busy. Not that it mattered as long as we were
there. She said that I had a funny accent and that she liked it. She was keen to know
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about my status as an AFS and thought it was great that I got $14 pocket money
every month. She had modelled a couple of times and she was paid $7 an hour for
that. She told me that Rudy, the guy who played the bongo drums in Purple, was her
cousin. He had taken her to lots of places and introduced her to lots of people. She
told me some things about our school that I didn’t know. She loved wearing trousers,
but they were banned so she had to wear skirts. Jeans were a total no-no as were
certain coats with multiple pockets - they were afraid that students would conceal
knives or bottles in them - and a certain type of pointy shoe. The principal had flipped
out and decided that milk bars were immoral because they contained the word bar.
Everything she said made me laugh. She had such a funny way of saying even the
most ordinary things. I felt so light and happy when I was with her. We meshed
minds before we had even meshed fingers. I could drown in her eyes, I longed to
hold her, I picked up the sweet scent of girl from her, I hung by her lips, I wanted to
take her home to Denmark or we could settle down on Jamaica or in Ubangi-Shari.
Infatuation oozed out of every pore. If you had put me on the floor and trod on me, all
you would have heard would be small squelchy sounds - I was as drenched as that
with pure longing.
We caught the bus back, but halfway down Locust Avenue, she spotted a
white guy she knew and decided to get off. I got off as well and said goodbye to her
while she greeted the guy like a long lost friend. I did know that she had lots of
boyfriends, or at least that lots of guys asked her out. But so what? I didn’t care
about being the first man in her life. However, I very much wanted to be the last.
When I saw Betty in the school corridor the next day, she stopped, called out my
name and waved to me. She didn’t seem to mind people realising that we knew each
other. So why should I? I was fed up with all the secrecy. If people didn’t like me
dating a coloured girl, it was their problem. Why should I worry about their
prejudices?
I spoke to John about our next movie which was going to be called Afterwards
and be shot in colour. Again the camera would act as the eyes of the central
character. The only survivor after World War Three, this man travels from his farm
deep in the country to the city. He wanders around deserted streets and sees
abandoned cars and empty shops. He hears sobbing and follows the sound inside a
house and up some stairs. At the top of the house he sees an old woman standing
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with her back to him. She turns around and her face is terribly disfigured and
damaged from radiation. She collapses and the audience gets the impression that
the central character has also been affected by radiation. He walks down the stairs,
staggering and swaying outside where the trees start to dance in a circle around him
as he collapses. He dies and end everything fades to a blur. Choosing the right
soundtrack was important; John thought we should use Sacre du printemps.
Betty called in the afternoon. Her mother had grounded her because she had come
home late last night. The guy she had met was someone she used to really like once
and he was still very nice, but that was all. She had said yes to letting him drive her
home, but didn’t care about him that much. If she was a good girl tonight and stayed
in, she might be allowed to go out with me tomorrow night. Somebody else had
invited her out, but she would rather be with me. That is, if I wanted to.
I was grateful for every second she could spare me, no matter how many
other people she was seeing. She owed me nothing. She had never made me any
promises and we hadn’t even touched once. The thought that we might be going to
made me feel dizzy all over. If she was even to brush my skin, there would be a real
risk of spontaneous combustion, just like with old varnish rags.
We carrying on chatting, I told her about our movie plans which she thought
sounded exciting. It was weird how easy we found talking to each other. We must
have known each other in a previous life. God knows who we were in Atlantis.
John, Larry and I got to work on our apocalyptic film. Betty had said that she would
be happy to be our muse. I had tried calling her, but no one picked up so we
chanced it and drove to her place. I knocked on the door to the flat for a long time
until I got a sleepy reply. The following conversation took place through the closed
door.
‘Hi. Do you remember promising to be in our film?’
‘Sure, but I forgot all about it. I didn’t get home until four thirty this morning.
What time is it?’
‘Ten thirty.’
‘Is that all? I’m not dressed yet. Or I would’ve let you in.’
‘Do you think you could hurry up and come downstairs? The guys are waiting
in the car.’
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‘Why don’t you come back in half an hour and pick me up?’
‘OK.’
I went down to the car where we decided we might as well record the title sequence
first. I went back up to Betty’s and told her we wouldn’t be back for another hour. She
was good with that.
We drove over to John’s. We suspended the first sheet of paper where we
had written the word Afterwards in letters that seemed to point upwards and drip
downwards from two pieces of string. We soaked the bottom half of the sheet with
lighter fuel and set fire to it while I filmed it. The title went up in flames.
The next image was a circle with the number 1961 in the middle. Around it, it
said: Copyright Woodmansee-Petersen. We wanted to make the most of the fact that
the year looked the same whichever way you read it. We placed the circle on an old
record player which, by using pulleys, we made to turn slowly once and then spin
fast.
We drove back to Betty’s. It was almost noon.
‘Hi. Are you ready?’ I shouted through the door.
‘Not yet. I fell asleep again. Can you hang on ten minutes?’
I waited on the landing and heard her potter about inside. I could visualise her
getting dressed. Far too vividly. Her mother came up the stairs with a bag of
groceries. She stared at me and I said: ‘I’m waiting for Betty.’
She didn’t say one word to me; instead she banged on the door. ‘Betty. Open
up.’
‘You’re going to have to wait a minute. I’m not wearing a top.’
‘I don’t care what you’re not wearing. Open the door.’
Betty did as she was told. I tried not to crane my neck; after all, I was a
gentleman. But there had been no need, Betty was wedged behind the door. A few
minutes later she emerged with her hair put up in a fantastic tiara. She had told me
how she did it. She put a cardboard tube on her head and wrapped her hair around
it. Pretty much like the guy who makes candy floss in Tivoli. It had to be a huge job.
She asked if I was mad at her because she had kept me waiting. Faced with such
beauty all I could do was shake my head in silence. No words could make it past all
the lumps I got in my throat whenever I looked at her.
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We drove north-west of the city past Brown Deer, looking for a suitable farm.
When we found it, we waded across the fields through snow-covered grass. It was
very cold; the temperature had reached zero Fahrenheit. That’s roughly minus 20°C.
We shot some footage and went back to the car. Betty was almost frozen stiff; she
was very sensitive to the cold. The camera was meant to be the man’s eyes as he
drove towards the city. I climbed up on the bonnet where I sat filming while John
drove the car. This was even colder, but exciting because the whole thing was so
crazy. Now there was a story to tell my grandchildren: I sat on the bonnet of a
speeding car filming in minus twenty degrees. Betty had sat next to me in the back,
now she got in the front to be as near the heater as possible. We drove to
Eastabrook Park which had a river that never froze completely. We wanted to shoot
a scene with a hat floating along the current. We had picked up the hat that same
morning in Lakeshore Church where the Quakers stored clothes donated for the
poor. We had been given permission by John’s mother who was in charge of the
collection, but if you wanted to retell the story dramatically, I guess you could say
that we robbed the church to get the props we needed. Near the bank there was a
thin layer of ice. Larry crawled across it on his stomach with the hat and a long stick
so he could push the hat right out in the small stream in the middle of the ice.
Meanwhile I stood on the bank filming. Getting the hat back again so we could give it
to any poor people in need of a hat was obviously out of the question. It was a loss
to a great cause. Betty stayed in the car while we filmed. She was shivering like a
little dog. I wondered if coloured people got goose pimples. We drove over to John’s
where we had chilli for lunch. Betty slowly defrosted.
Then we drove over to my place. No one was at home, which suited me fine. I took a
couple of pictures of Betty and then Larry started doing her make-up. Seeing as she
was here, we might as well use her to play the only part in the film as the hideous,
old woman who collapses from radiation sickness. Unfortunately she was so
fabulously beautiful that even the thickest layer of greasepaint failed to age and
disfigure her. While Larry mixed poster paints, Vaseline and paper strips, John and I
drove into town to look for ruins. We found a place being renovated and the ground
was covered with rubble so that was where we decided to shoot. Larry had done a
great job while we were gone. Betty was practically unrecognisable, powdered white
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with paper in different colours stuck to her face like scabs and a black scar between
her eyes. We gave her a blanket to wrap herself in.
We had Betty stand in Mary’s room on the third floor and filmed the stairs as
they looked to the man as he ran up them. When the camera reached Betty, she
turned smoothly and dramatically and slowly slumped to the floor. She did it
brilliantly. Afterwards, it took her the best part of an hour to remove the make-up.
John drove Betty home while I tidied up.
I went to a free concert with easy-listening classical music - Strauss and stuff like
that - in Auditorium. I was on top of the world; I had been skating down by the river
all afternoon and by now I could almost get around the circuit without falling over.
Gun came with me to the concert. A few days ago she had called to say that she
wanted to talk to me, but now wasn’t a good time because she wasn’t alone. I
guessed right away that it must be about Betty. Gun seized her moment. She began
by telling me that I was the most selfish person she knew. I did whatever I felt like,
didn’t care about anybody else, came home late at night and made a point of
flaunting the accepted rules. She said that her AFS sister, Barbara, had told her
there was a rumour I was going out with a coloured girl. Was that really true? Indeed
it was, I said.
Gun was horrified and said it was one of the few things that could lead to
immediate sending home. I had to end it this instant. She asked who it was and
when I said it was Betty, she said she was disappointed at my taste. She thought
Betty looked like a cheap, little slut, who wore far too much make-up.
She said that if it was true love then perhaps it couldn’t be helped, but she
was convinced it was nothing but a fleeting, sexual attraction. She said that Walter,
our Brazilian AFS, was childish and had no taste at all. I had taste, but it was
depraved. Had she had at least been Chinese...
It wasn’t that she personally had a problem with dating a coloured person, she
said, but you couldn’t do that in America and, seeing we were here, we had to follow
their rules. If I ended up being sent home, I wouldn’t get anything out of my stay
anyway.
I would have to sacrifice Betty. Even if it didn’t get so far that I was sent home, all the
white girls would shun me once it became common knowledge that I was dating a
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coloured girl. They would freeze me out. I remember that Mom had once said that
she would rather die than have one of her daughters marry a coloured man.
She asked me if I had slept with Betty and I said it was none of her business,
so of course she thought I had. And I hadn’t even as much as kissed her. Gun
insinuated that Betty probably charged for her favours. Had it been any other girl but
Gun who had said it, I would have accused her of being jealous, but there wasn’t
even a hint of sexual attraction between us - we could literally talk about anything
between heaven and earth.
Not long afterwards Gun said she felt sorry for me because I didn’t believe in
God. Being godless meant you were impoverished; there was no one to guide you
when you went astray.
All night, awake or dreaming, and all of next morning, I wondered what to do. The
most principled stance would be to say: here I stand. So help me God, I can do no
other. To date Betty openly, fight each battle as it came, put up with being ostracised
and risk being sent home.
It would be the most courageous choice, but two arguments spoke against it.
Firstly, I didn’t know how much I meant to Betty. She liked going out with me, but she
never tried to hide that she also saw other people. Perhaps it was quite a big
sacrifice to make for a share in a girl. Besides, there was no point in being brave if it
all got me was being sent home or moved to another town. It would be romantic, but
also rather dumb and I had always tried to be sensible.
If I couldn’t carry on as if nothing had happened, two choices were left to me.
We could break it off or we could continue seeing each other in deepest secrecy.
The latter was risky because if we were discovered, the repercussions would be
even greater. But Betty had mentioned that she had been told that she might be
moved to another school. It would make it easier for us to meet without anyone
finding out. Whatever happened, I could always hope that we could start seeing each
other again once this school year was over. She had said that she would like to
leave America. Perhaps I could tempt her to Copenhagen.
I called Betty to ask if she fancied coming down to the ice rink, but she
couldn’t. We agreed to meet that evening, in Purple. Then I called Koon and invited
her to the cinema on Tuesday; I had tickets for Spartacus. I was going to invite Betty,
but I couldn’t now.
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The next day I called Betty to explain my dilemma. She asked if I hadn’t realised that
there was racial prejudice in the US. She said that it was a terrible country,
especially in the southern states. If a coloured guy there invited a white girl out, he
would be lynched. If a coloured man made too much money, he risked getting killed.
Her own grandmother had been killed because she had married a white man and
they had lived in a nice house. Lots of coloureds also hated whites. Now she came
from a mixed-race family so she didn’t feel that way. She knew and had gone out
with lots of white boys. Sometimes when the soccer team was training, they would all
come to her house. The teachers didn’t like that and that’s why they were trying to
force her to change schools, to a place with no white students. She said that she had
been going steady with a white boy last year until October when his family found out.
They freaked out and they had had to break it off. Later, in December, they had gone
out a few times, but again his family had found out. They might try again later when
things had calmed down. She said there wasn’t a single white boy at school she
couldn’t have, if she wanted to. That was why the other girls hated her.
I thought it possible that Betty was what people call easy. But then again, in
America it was so important for everyone to be popular. The more suitors a girl had,
the higher her value to others and the better she felt about herself. The best thing
was to be asked out by other popular people such as the school’s sports stars. The
whole dating system was configured like this. Besides, it was said that coloured girls
hit puberty sooner than white girls; when a coloured girl was twelve, she might look
like a white girl of fourteen or fifteen. Betty would turn sixteen this May. She could
make even the most conservative American guy forget all his racial prejudices simply
by winking at him. Which, of course, made the other girls insanely jealous.
We talked about meeting up in New York or Copenhagen one day and
perhaps going out together here every now and then, if we could arrange it so that
nobody found out.
I went skating in the afternoon, went home for some hot chocolate and then to the
Fred Miller Theatre in the evening to see Othello. Gun was there too. After the
performance, I remarked with a wry smile: ‘that certainly teaches you that racially
mixed relationships is a thing of evil.’
18
Half a dozen days after Betty had started at North, I called her up to invite her to a
new coffeehouse called The Gaol. I don’t think that anyone from school went there,
so we would be safe. Her grandfather answered the phone and said: ‘She don’t live
here no more.’
I was about to ask where she lived now, but he slammed down the phone.
If you didn’t know Betty, it might sound weird that she had left home; after all
she was only fifteen. But I remembered her telling me that she had already gone off
on her own in the summer holidays. Her mother had written to her, begging her to
come home and even sent her money for the ticket, but Betty hadn’t feel like coming
back and she had spent the money as soon as she got it. She only returned the day
before school started. Sandra from school had left home and turned up in Nebraska;
Betty was quite capable of doing something like that.
It could not possibly be true that I would never see Betty again; without even
as much as having kissed her. It just could not be true.
I did my trigonometry homework. It went quite well. I was starting to think
mathematically. My emotional life had withered away and that was a little too soon
given I had yet to turn eighteen. A life of work and renunciation lay before me. This
was how it was going to be – driven, as we are, by the scourge of duty.
The day before my eighteenth birthday I got a telephone call.
‘Hello, is Arne there?’
‘Yes, speaking.’
‘It’s Betty.’
‘Oh. What do you want?’
I was a bit short. It was Betty Kartadiredja, she had probably left something
behind in Linda’s room. If she could be frosty towards me, I could be frosty towards
her.
‘You don’t sound terribly happy.’
‘Hi, Betty. Did you say Betty?’
Suddenly the penny dropped. It wasn’t Betty. It was Betty Betty. The real
Betty. The Betty thought I would never hear from again.
‘Yes. I got your letter the other day. When did you write it?’
‘A month ago at least.’
19
‘That long. I spent three weeks in Brooklyn. I’ve changed my mind. I don’t
want to live in New York after all.’
She wanted to see the movie we had shot with her. We talked about meeting up on
Sunday. I would try to get a car, perhaps John could give her lift.
‘So you’ll call me Sunday morning,’ she said at last.
‘Yep.’
‘Might you call me before that?’
‘Would you like me to?’
‘Yes.’
‘OK. I will.’
‘I’ve missed you,’ she said.
‘Have you? And I you.’
We said goodbye. There was a buzzing noise in the handset. I hung up. I could still
hear buzzing. Now it was inside my head.
Soon afterwards I realised I was no longer a nihilist. I was happy. Happier
than I had been for over a month.
AFS Milwaukee arranged a big, three-day seminar for all us foreign exchange
students in the city to discuss the American Negro problem …
After the introduction, we could ask questions. Hiroyuki from Japan put up his
hand.
‘Are the American coloureds Christians or heathens?’ he asked…
The seminar was held in a Negro church on the western side of the city. It
wasn’t far from where Betty lived. On the third day the seminar finished at four
o’clock in the afternoon and I ran all the way to Betty’s flat. While she got ready, I
watched television. I didn’t take in anything I watched. It was pure electromagnetic
radiation. It was two months since I had last seen Betty and she was even more
beautiful than I remembered her. We chatted a bit about the cabaret at school I had
sent her a ticket for. She had been there, but I hadn’t spotted her - then again, it had
been packed. I mentioned a coloured girl, June Rainey, who had sung. She was very
beautiful and had a fantastic voice - part blues, part Marianne Anderson. She was
20
always chosen to sing the national anthem at major sports events. Betty said that
she was her cousin.
‘I can’t believe how pretty the girls in your family are,’ I said.
‘Yes, they all are,’ she said with a modesty that became her. ‘With a few failed
exceptions.’
We caught the bus back to my place. Everyone stared at us, even though we
were not holding hands or anything like that. I had seen an article in one of the
papers about Greenwich Village. It said that some beatniks formed couples either of
one white and one coloured person or two homosexual men. The two were regarded
as equally perverted. When we changed buses near the school, we had to wait an
eternity for the next one. While we stood there, some people from school walked
past so some gossip was to be expected. But I didn’t care. Perhaps it was just
something I was imagining, but even at a distance I could feel radiation from Betty.
Imagine sinking down with her on a Polynesian shore, lie closely entangled on the
sand while the waves washed starfish over us and the moon glided slowly across the
sky.
Mom and Dad were home. I told them that I had happened to run into Betty at
the seminar about the Negro problem I had attended and that I had promised to
show her the film she featured in. They made no objections so we went up to my
room.
I showed her the movie twice. She was very excited, especially about death
scene. Then I gave her the three photographs I had taken of her and one of me. On
the back, I wrote: “To Betty, the most beautiful and the funniest girl I have ever met”.
She looked at the picture of President Roosevelt on the wall in my room and asked if
that was Dad. Afterwards I showed her the basement, which she liked.
She needed to be home before dinner so I walked her to the bus stop. There
were no people in the street. I had been holding her while we watched the movie, but
now I kissed her for the first time. It wasn’t one of those silly pursed lips kisses, but a
proper one with small rolling, exploring tongues. We kissed and we kissed; she kept
her eyes closed. Then she opened them and looked right at me and then of course I
had to kiss her again. We carried on until we saw the bus coming. Fortunately, it took
a long time.
I was dizzy and jubilant afterwards and sat like a grinning idiot in my room,
staring at the wallpaper while I thought about her eyes. All right, so she didn’t know
21
who Roosevelt was. And she preferred rock ‘n’ roll to jazz. Sometimes she said
“nobody” when she should have said “anybody”. She was a Catholic and could not
imagine how anyone could manage without a God. Perhaps we didn’t have that
much in common. But if I could, I would take her home with me to Denmark. The
thought that there would be ten thousand kilometres between us in a few months
was unbearable.
It was more than just her beauty. She said even the most ordinary things in
such a funny way that she made me laugh the whole time. I felt so light and free
when I was with her. I thought she made me a better person, I became kinder and
more forbearing when she was there and wanted to be with me.
22
Books by Arne Herløv Petersen
Digte. (Borgen 1962. E-bog Saxo Publish 2012) , 9788771437799
Morgensol og glasskår. Roman (Gyldendal 1963. E-bog Saxo Publish 2012) 9788771434682
Ting. Digte (Eget forlag 1965. E-bog Saxo Publish 2012) 9788771437232
Forår i San Francisco. Roman (Thaning & Appel 1966. Norsk 1969. E-bog Saxo Publish 2012)
9788771432725
C. Noveller (Biilmann & Eriksen 1966. E-bog Saxo Publish 2012) ISBN 9788771431421
Stynede gopler. Roman (Biilmann & Eriksen 1966. E-bog Saxo Publish 2012) 9788771434576
Emil Wiinblad og Social-Demokraten 1881-1911. (Historiespeciale 1971)
Rugbrød til Himalaya. Roman (Thaning & Appel 1972. 2. udgave 1985. Lydbog 1994. E-bog Saxo
Publish 2012) 8741380347. 8788483053, 9788771432121
Lysets hastighed - min styrke. Roman (Thaning & Appel 1973. Lydbog Det danske Lydbogsforlag
1994. E-bog Saxo Publish 2012) 8741331273, 9788771434583
Tegn. Digte (Thaning & Appel 1973. E-bog Saxo Publish 2012) 8741331281, 9788771433487
Imod fremtids fjerne mål. Roman (Gyldendal 1975. 2. udgave Fremad 1992. Lydbog
Bibliotekscentralen. Norsk 1978) 8700924911, 8755717152
Gylden oktober. Rejsebog (Attika 1977. Lydbog STB. E-bog Saxo Publish 2012) 8787597233,
9788771431148
Fredsrejsen. Roman (Aschehoug 1983. Lydbog STB. E-bog Saxo Publish 2012) 8711028645,
9788771437157
Spionsigtet. Beretning (Klokkedybet 1983) 8788478009
Vers (CDR 1984. E-bog Saxo Publish 2012) 8788483037, 9788771438635
Stenen og Jorden. Roman (CDR 1984. Lydbog Det danske Lydbogsforlag 1994. E-bog Saxo Publish
2012) 8788483029, 9788771431384
Edward Lears Grumbuliske Digte. Gendigtninger (Alma, 1986) 8772430451
Ord. Digte (Eget forlag 1987) 8798271318
Blussende våger. Roman (Fremad 1991. Lydbog Dansk Biblioteks Center 1991) 8755716415
Dyr og andre mennesker. Børnerim (Malling 1991) 8773335045
Håbet er grønt. Noveller (Klim 1991. Lydbog STB 1994. E-bog Saxo Publish 2012) 8777242106,
9788771430790
James Joyce: Digte og epifanier. Gendigtninger (Brøndum 1991) 8773851914
Med åben pande. Roman (CDR 1992. Lydbog Den grimme Ælling 1993. E-bog Saxo Publish 2012)
8788483665, 9788771433579
Grønne bjerge. Kinesiske kortdigte. Gendigtninger (Husets forlag 1993. E-bog Saxo Publish 2013)
8774833006, 9788740444360
Duens tænder. Roman (Hovedland 1993. E-bog Saxo Publish 2012) 8777391624, 9788771431322
Korn på stengrund. Tekster (Politisk Revy 1993. E-bog Saxo Publish 2012) 8773781096,
9788771433241
Guldgrisen. Roman (Rosinante 1994. Lydbog Den grimme Ælling 1995. E-bog Saxo Publish 2012)
8716140311, 9788771433500
Himlen under jorden. Roman (Fremad 1994. Lydbog Danmarks Blindebibliotek 1995) 8755718892
Helgardering. Roman (Centrum 1994. Lydbog Domino 1994. E-bog Saxo Publish 2012) 8758308512,
9788771434897
Se dig i speilet. Kierkegaared-citater (Vendelkær 1996) 8741613546
Cyber Safari. - eventyr på Internettet (IDG 1996) 8778430453
Bibliotek 2005 - fire scenarier (Teknologirådet 1996) 8790221052
Internet Guide. (IDG 1998) 8778431700
De tre aber. Roman (Hovedland 2002. Lydbog DBC medier 2003. E-bog Saxo Publish 2012)
8777396200. 9788771438611
Tsunami. Roman (Per Kofod 2003. E-bog Saxo Publish 2012) 8790724623, 9788771438185
Fra den forkerte verden. Artikelsamling (Ajour 2004. E-bog Saxo Publish 2012) 8789235762,
9788771437997
Simmer (Hovedland 2005. Lydbog Den grimme Ælling 2006. E-bog Saxo Publish 2012) 877739822,
9788771434309
J-J Rabearivelo: Næstendrømme. Gendigtninger (Husets forlag 2005) 8774835424
23
Kobayashi Issa: Dugdråbeverden. Gendigtninger (Husets forlag 2006. E-bog Saxo Publish 2013)
9788774835745, 9788740410228
Fjerne mål 1-3. Roman (Hovedland 2006. Lydbog Den grimme Ælling 2007. E-bog Saxo Publish
2012. Samlet udgave E-bog Saxo Publish 2013)
Bd. 1 9788777398698, 9788771432176
Bd. 2 9788777398711, 9788771432749,
Bd. 3 : 9788777398735, 9788771431964.
Samlet udgave: 9788740431698
Kort. Digte (Books on Demand 2008. E-bog Saxo Publish 2012) 9788771435214
Epitafium. Digte (Books on Demand 2008. E-bog Saxo Publish 2012), 9788771434415
Skueprocessen (Sohn 2009. E-bog Saxo Publish 2012) 9788791959615, 9788771434064
Blev du bange? Børnebog. (E-bog Saxo Publish 2012 9788771430738
Glimt af kolibrier. Rejsebog. (E-bog Saxo Publish 2012) 9788771437775
Vandene synger. Rejsebog. (E-bog Saxo Publish 2012) 9788771431117
Vazaha. Roman. (E-bog Saxo Publish 2012) 9788771435061
Nidkære guder. Roman. (E-bog Saxo Publish 2012) 9788771438901
Søfærden til Cipangu. Noveller (E-bog Saxo Publish 2012) 9788771434965
Grænseløs 1. Anden g. Erindringsroman (E-bog Saxo Publish 2013) 9788771438413
Grænseløs 2. Riverside. Erindringsroman (E-bog Saxo Publish 2013) 9788771432633
Grænseløs 3. Tredje g. Erindringsroman (E-bog Saxo Publish 2013) 9788771439885
Grænseløs 4. Uni. Erindringsroman (E-bog Saxo Publish 2013) 9788771439083
Grænseløs 5. Greyhound. Erindringsroman (E-bog Saxo Publish 2013) 9788771436273
Grænseløs 6. Aktuelt. Erindringsroman (E-bog Saxo Publish 2013) 9788771439120
Grænseløs 7. Dania Erindringsroman (E-bog Saxo Publish 2013) 9788771439243
Grænseløs 8. La Gaude. Erindringsroman (E-bog Saxo Publish 2013) 9788771437737
Grænseløs 9. Rejsen. Erindringsroman (E-bog Saxo Publish 2013)
9788771438062
Grænseløs 10. Jægergade. Erindringsroman (E-bog Saxo Publish 2013) 9788771431629
Grænseløs Bind 1. (1.-3. del) (Det poetiske Bureaus forlag 2014) 9788792280619
Grænseløs Bind 2. (4.-6. del) (Det poetiske Bureaus forlag 2014) 9788792280626
Grænseløs Bind 3. (7.-8. del) (Det poetiske Bureaus forlag 2014) 9788792280633
Grænseløs Bind 4. (9.-10.del) (Det poetiske Bureaus forlag 2014) 9788792280640
Frø. Digte (Det poetiske Bureaus forlag 2013, E-bog Saxo Publish 2013) 9788792280534,
9788740403756
Status 2011. Opdateringer (E-bog Saxo Publish 2013) 9788740467956
Status 2012. Opdateringer (E-bog Saxo Publish 2013) 9788740426328
Status 2013. Opdateringer (E-bog Saxo Publish 2014) 9788740485677
På Nettet. Tekster (E-bog Saxo Publish 2013) 9788740444711
Genskær. Gendigtninger (E-bog Saxo Publish 2013) 9788740419634
Sange. (E-bog Saxo Publish 2013) 9788740419535
Form. Digte (E-bog Saxo Publish 2013) 9788740432978
Stanzas. Digte (E-bog Saxo Publish 2013) 9788740496482
Rids. Digte (E-bog Saxo Publish 2013) 9788740418156
Linjer. Digte (E-bog Saxo Publish 2013) 9788740434446
Rim. Digte (E-bog Saxo Publish 2013) 9788740431247
Flyvende katte. Digte (E-bog Saxo Publish 2013) 9788740486124
Samlede digte. Digte (E-bog Saxo Publish 2013) 9788740432527
Spor. Digte (E-bog Saxo Publish 2013) 9788740460872
Matsuo Basho: Bambus i sne. Gendigtninger (E-bog Saxo Publish 2013) 9788740440454
Yosa Buson: Tempelklokken. Gendigtninger (E-bog Saxo Publish 2013)
9788740429688
Aktindsigt. Beretning. (E-bog Saxo Publish 2014) 9788740400564
Glemmer du? Novelle. (E-bog Saxo Publish 2014) 9788740437232
24
Arne Herløv Petersen
Betty
An extract from NO LIMITS - Part Two: Riverside, 1961
Grænseløs, 2014, Det poetiske bureaus forlag, 2014
Translated by Charlotte Barslund
© 2014 Arne Herløv Petersen
Copyright for the translation
© 2014 Charlotte Barslund and Det poetiske bureaus forlag
Cover: Benin art
ISBN 9788740460216