Skystruck

Third and final volume in the Angel Power trilogy

Summary: Mathilde has passed a difficult song contest with the famous conductor Thorkil Brandstrup, so she will now sing in his choir. Her mother has given her a big old fashioned royal dress from her second hand shop for her 18th birthday. Her music teacher and lover Søren Porsgård is back with his ex-wife Regitze Porsgård. Camilla is in love with an elite violinist, Sune Ahldal, who already performs professionally, although he is going to have his debut concert tonight at the Danish Royal Conservatory.


Excerpt of Skystruck

The phone rings.
    I answer with a glad birthday voice:
    – Yes –?
    The voice on the line seems embarrassed:
    – This is uh Thorkil Brandstrup. You auditioned for me the other day.
    – Yes –?
    I am suddenly very attentive. Maybe I need to come earlier. I might be starting already Thursday.
    – Yes Mathilde, I’m really very embarrassed here, the thing is I just came back from my trip with the boys’ choir and I’ve been informed that the school board doesn’t agree with my decision to accept an alternate member in the choir who’s not attending this school.
    The lines are bolting. The walls are collapsing over my head. My knees give in. I barely manage to hit the couch.
    – Hello? Hello? Mathilde, are you there, his voice croaks.
    No. I’m not here. I want nothing more to do with that conductor. Slowly I reach out and let go of the phone as if it were a poisonous snake. It keeps ringing for quite a while, but this is too much.
    I’m not here.
    When I wake up, it’s dark. I’m in an uncomfortable position in the couch which is darkened from blood beneath me. Our only couch ruined forever.
    There is no trace of Mrs. Jensen, perhaps it could be more serious with grandpa than we thought, or she might not want to say anything because it’s my birthday and she wants me to enjoy the evening. I creep out to the bathroom and hose myself and my panties, find new pads and panties and go to have a look in the little bag Mrs. Jensen keeps on the wall in her sleeping department. If she has any painkillers they would be in that bag.
    There are no painkillers.
    The concert. What time is it?
    Then the full meaning of the conductor’s words dawn on me: I’m not going to be in the choir. The surgery was successful but the patient died. I will never sing with two-hundred and fifty other voices, never fly to the stage ceiling with them. The dull pain in the back of my head is getting worse; I look around in the living room at the TV and the plants and grab a hold of the frame of the door.
    The clock in the kitchen shows half past six. Now Søren is enjoying a lovely dinner with his lovely ex-wife. She’s in my chair, drinking from my glass, eating with my fork, the silver one that I adore. I can feel it. He’s considerate and serious, they are both serious, something very serious did just happen after all, something meaning he won’t be able to see me anymore. Not for a while. Not in this life.
    The royal queen dress on the hanger takes up the entire opening of the door. I touch the silky soft fabric, pull the golden strings. The noises in my head grow louder; I begin singing to drown them out. Then I go to the kitchen. Mrs. Jensen’s scissors in the kitchen drawer are sharp.
    Radiant is the angel of light
    all crowned in splendor
    issues through
    the gates of Heaven
The large kitchen scissors suit my hand well. I open the bathroom door and go up close to the mirror. I take hold of one of my braids from my forehead, raising the scissors. The sound as it cuts through the hair is almost as bad as the sound of the nightmare in the back of my head from the bad trip I had once, when Max and I had a fight that lasted a whole week and I smoked too much bad weed. Ever since, that sound has appeared whenever I need it the least and right now it is screeching and sharp. I sing to drown it out and grab the next braid. Cutting quickly and briefly like with a knife. The one, who cannot get her lover, has no need for hair. The one that no one will hold and care for, might as well give up her hair. The one who will not be singing in the choir should not be beautiful.
    Shades of night
    must now surrender
    To flight by God’s
    bright angel driven.
One by one my braids drop to the floor with the little colored beads at the ends, ending up like disgusting worms around my feet. Blotch by blotch my bald head appears about as pretty as a rat’s. I sing louder and louder, Christian’s violin is playing a song of death. I can’t hear anything else; it is the only thing you can hear in this country. A country where I am not singing in any choir. A country where I am no longer queen and no longer have my Søren. A country that’s none of my business. A country where I overreacted as usual and sprinkled pepper into an open wound now closed to me. Moronic Mathilde didn’t know to appreciate the gifts served to her right there with chopsticks in an enameled bowl.
    The angel of light, all crowned in splendor
    Issues through the gates of Heaven
    Shades of night must now surrender,
    To flight by God’s bright angel driven.
One cut for everything I didn’t get done, one cut for the time I gave up helping Christian, didn’t have the courage to visit my aunt, didn’t provide the help my mom needed. One cut for every time I just bawled instead of staying to deal with the problem. One cut for every joint I smoked, every stupidity I committed, every point I lost.
    No matter how loudly I sing the screeching nightmarish sound is even louder. I need to eat something. Maybe I should have called that doctor, the pain is jabbing through my abdomen and the blood is pouring.
    The last braid falls to the ground.
    I’ve seen a picture of Queen Elizabeth the first, her face is all white. I go and find some white shoe polish, flour, white make up and smear it all around my face. Elizabeth was married to England. Without Søren and without Max I am married to Nothing. Queen of Nothing. The country I reign doesn’t exist yet. I passed the audition; I was accepted into the highest rank and discarded again. Now I have no kingdom to gambol in, no body to lick and bite, my old smoke-related injuries catch up with me now that I am tired, can’t I ever get peace just because I smoked too much for a couple of years, is there no mercy, ever?
    It’s seven thirty. I put my two last maxi-pads in my panties and put on tights. Take the royal dress from the hanger and carefully step into the opening of the huge, gushing skirt. Almost tripping in all the fabric when I go to get a bra. Get it on and put my arms into the dress. I tie it as well as I can without having any help. I try to look in the bathroom mirror. I can’t get in front of it because of the size of the dress, but I can see the most important: a whitewashed face with the big serious collar. A queen with the hair of a monkey.
    The costume has no pockets; I have to bring my little strap purse for money and makeup. The pain is getting worse, everything is wobbling, I wrap a large scarf around my shoulders and begin walking down the stairs. My white high heels are a bit large and it’s difficult to keep them on my feet. Everything is such a hassle but a queen is used to handling these kinds of things, she’s done it a thousand times, and I just need to get down these stairs right now.
    In the street it’s easier to hold the skirt up, but it’s cold. Silk and just a scarf – not warm for November. My teeth are clattering before I’ve even reached the corner. I’m doing better with handling the robes as I pass Da Capo, where the two blinking steel wire figures watch the outing of the queen’s dress with surprise.
    On Nørre Farimagsgade I manage to hail a cab.
    So you’re off for some kind of carnival, huh! The driver says as I swoosh into the backseat and draw in all of the silk sheets before closing the door. Mm, I say and gasp for air. The nightmare sounds are fading out but it seems as if everything is darkening and narrowing in on me, I lean back in the seat carefully and try to breathe deeply while focusing on the headrest in front of me, but it’s hard, queen Thilde is about to founder before her meeting with Regitze Porsgård and the conductor who unfortunately cannot admit me to the choir anyway.
    I take out my makeup and a small mirror. Paint large red lips and make my eyes pitch black. Let the show begin.
    I manage to get the whole dress out of the cab without getting caught, and there I am freezing in front of the stairs leading up to the heavy door to the Royal Danish Academy of Music. People are arriving hurriedly around me, rushing up the stairs, I slip inside. The red carpet with the royal emblem right on the inside makes me stop. The door closes behind me. There’s a small statue of a man, probably a composer, by the fancy stair, in a niche forming a big square that one could easily hurl oneself into from the first floor, and fall down. It’s exactly eight o’clock. It’s now.
    I am pretending that the carpet has been put out for me and hold up my skirts like I’ve seen fancy ladies doing it in movies. I need to grab several times to get a hold of all of the layers, but then I’m off up the stairs to the kingdom of King Sune, up to Søren and his beautiful wife, the real mother of his children. I suddenly don’t feel sorry for her at all, she has taken my kingdom away from me, she has taken the freckled Heaven of my life away, and I’m sure she will never surprise him with colors and shenanigans. Step by step upwards, my feet are hotter and hold on to the shoes more easily now, one of the pointy heels gets stuck in the red carpet on the stairs, but I jiggle it loose and hop along with it, my heart is pounding in step with the humming of the audience finding their seats and chatting in the concert hall above.
    Step by step on the soft red carpet, now I’m on the final landing, my sight is wobbly, black dots puncturing holes in the air in front of me, in front of the large white double door closing behind the latest people who arrived.
    Thilde needs to go through that door.
    Just like when I rang the bell for the very first time at Søren’s place, just like when I went back to the conductor the other day. Søren’s good old friend the conductor.
    An elderly gentleman in some kind of uniform, who looks like he’s supposed to keep watch, pokes his head out before closing and notices me.
    – This is not some kind of show, he snorts, as I make my way up the last step. I stride by him without a word, shake his hand off my royal sleeve and take no notice of his muted shout to stop me, because at that very instant the soloist enters the stage. Sune Ahldal bows deeply to his audience and the queen slips past the angry doorman.
    The door is in the middle of the long side of the room. The stage is on my right and I need to get to my seat in the front row, the empty chair next to Camilla, just like the last time I went to Sune’s soirée. Her majesty strides along the rows, passes Mister Music and his Missus sitting by the door between all the other dressy members of the audience. Søren is staring at me, startled, but I don’t deign to look at him, my dress sweeps pass the couple, my stiletto accidentally stabs the missus’ red pointy shoe HACK in the front, the same red shoe she was wearing when I saw her for the first time, she jumps up, oppressing a scream. Søren gets halfway up with a hushed hey-what’s-going-on, but I have already turned my back and moved on along the corridor.
    An angel who has lost her wings. A ghost with a hole in her back. A nun without her cape. A bride without her groom. A queen without her kingdom.
    Sune tunes his cello, but everyone in the audience is looking at me. The princess is in the front row , she is wearing a gorgeous outfit and a hairdo to die for. She is shining and glowing and twisting her beautiful neck, not knowing what to do, her kingdom is getting invaded by a bald monkey in a theatrical costume. Next to her is the empty seat by the corridor where Thilde should have been sitting. The queen’s seat. Loser-Thilde approaches step by step, Sune Ahldal has caught sight of me, he’s still tuning, he looks directly at me and sends invisible hands reaching out to me, a thank you, he doesn’t see the princess abandoned in a vacuum in her own fall to the chair.
    There are black flies in the air close to Sune’s chest in the white shirt and the black tuxedo, it seems like Sune’s eyes are looking and not looking at the same time, he raises the bow and emits a tone never preceded in any queendom, the ray of music garlands his head that’s beginning to get blurry in the contour, I need to take great care to hit the floor step by step in my heels and direct my clattering dress to be calm, right up in the front row. I take one step aside and grasping the hand Camilla is reaching out to me, I lean on the back of the seat, the elderly watchdog by the edge of the stage looks like he could leap any minute to kick out the troublemaker.
    The cello draws everyone’s attention with convincing authority. That is what the room is listening to now. The princess is shooting red-hot flashes at my cheeks with her eyes, but I barely notice, I am focusing on Sune, a queen is invulnerable, untouchable, she must lift up the layers of fabric and brush the skirts beneath her to make room in her seat, she feels the round fan-shaped, wooden seat receive her firmly and well, she sits, sinking slowly into the seat, even though the air is full of black flies and the cello is weeping and laughing and shredding my nerves, transforming tears into blood. Hot rushing blood, leaking through the seat and the nylon thighs, until the entire hall collapses over the queens bald pate, the Princess has a deafening scent of summer and flowers, reaching out her arms to prevent me from falling onto the floor. The flies are buzzing like crazy, and the musicians, the cellist and his pianist, grow full of black dots, black black black.
    Sune Ahldal completed his debut concert with a fainted queen in the first row, lying on the lap of his girlfriend and her mother. Once he had finished and the applause was roaring, the Princess and the Queen were the only ones who did not stand up.
Skystruck, p. 172-181

The Press wrote …

Henning Mørch Sørensen, Information, March 1st 2002:

Thilde has definitely felt the Angel Power that gives direction and meaning to her life, but is often thrown with centrifugal inevitability back in the arms of the demons of darkness. This is the zig zag movement the series of novels live in and on, driven forward by the narrator who’s never renouncing linguistic presence, always deep inside the heart chamber of the music – ranging from Händel over Danish national anthems to Kashmir and Alicia Keys – existing as a field of reference and a highly consciousness-raising sounding board for the entire project.
Best for many years
Objectively Skystruck is about Thilde’s way to the crucial audition for Sankt Annæ Gymnasium’s choir, but it is in the suction of the small and important events in life, death and love that the novel with warmth, insight and humor can be defined as one of the best things that has happened in the range of Danish young-adult fiction for many years.

Steffen Larsen, Politiken, March 2nd 2002:

Even though Bente Clod juggles all the balls of Copenhagen in the air simultaneously, she does so with equal elegance and discipline. There is clarity and light above The Lakes of Copenhagen. The environment is spread from where the wealthy people live to the drug addicts at Maria Kirkeplads in Vesterbro. Thilde herself as we know lives in Nansensgade. But most of all it is about giving wings to Thilde’s deep alto and her messy life altogether. In this third (and final?) part of the series she turns eighteen and moves forward yet another small step although not without backlash. At the end of the book she is completely bald and close to happy. […] the books about Thilde are written with bold brashness and in the light of clarity. Not since Lotte Inuk wrote about the girl Regina, has there been better books than these about the thing we call love. Bente Clod has hit a golden narrative streak. It almost feels sad if this is the end. But as Thilde would say: We have to move on!

Lene Kristiansen, Reader’s Statement for the libraries:

With a stable hand Clod hauls in her unique trilogy. Actually the ending is as happy as one could hope for, despite yet another ride on the love grinder and an almost life terminating failure song-wise. Because what creates the state of completion is a mixture of willpower, luck, insight and acceptance of the presence of grief and past. The characters surrounding Thilde fill in, find their spaces in the mosaic so to say, and Thilde herself has taken a quantum leap through the three books. Thilde is depicted with shining presence, her experiences have intensity that echoes and her reactions grapple directly with unfairness and the things that can’t be changed.

Ingrid Jensen, Reader’s Statement for the school libraries:

Thilde with her specific jargon adds volume to the language, moving from street to sky, from sarcasm, humor and self-irony to an enthralling interpretation of emotions like deep grief and jubilation. The story culminates on Thilde´s eighteenth birthday. A rejection after a song audition. And yet the author succeeds in twisting a believable and dignified ending in a point of balance between abyss and sky. The book rounds off the two previous volumes in the most graceful way.

Buy Skystruck here