Saturday, March 18, 2006

Followed by Feet

Dear Reader, let me tell you about one of the most surreal experiences of my life so far. It occurred in the autumn of 1993.

I was working at a rural Neolithic site near Västerås. My colleagues would pick me up in Stockholm early in the mornings, drive me to the dig and take me back in the evenings. (I didn't have a driver's licence yet). One morning on my way to our rendez-vous, I got off the subway at Karlaplan station and stood on the deserted platform, staring groggily.

Something small was leaning against the wall, as if waiting for the subway. I went closer as the train trundled off behind me.

Propped against the tiles was the cloven foot of an elk. It had been severed neatly at the heel. Dark hoof, very wide, to give the animal good footing in marshes, grey fur for camouflage, the whiteness of the sawn-off bone.

I blinked, grabbed the foot and went up to street level. At the dig I gave my find to one of the osteologists, to clean the bones and use them for reference purposes. That summer they'd de-fleshed a young hedgehog they found at the roadside, stunk to high heaven. De-fleshing by insect action in a perforated plastic box.

But what was the elk's foot doing there?

A few years later I was in the same neighbourhood, as I often am, walking from the subway to the museum at whose archives and library I'm a regular. And there it was again, lying on a parking ticket machine. The foot. No, an identical severed elk's foot.

This time I left it alone.

Same surreal thing twice. I realised that elk's feet being left lying around was no fluke. It must be part of a recurring tradition in the area. It's an affluent, conservative part of Stockholm. Old money, not much intellectual edge or hunger, kids going cheerlessly to business school, elderly couples slowly declining in huge echoing apartments. And dogs. Hunting dogs to some extent, or at least dog owners who participate in hunting, which is an upper-class thing in Stockholm. (In northern Sweden, everybody and his retarded cousin has a hunting rifle and a snowmobile.)

So here's our elderly upper-class dog owner, coming home from a hunt, with an elk's foot for the dog. There's hardly any meat on it, but it equals hours of fun for the old pooch. Our dog owner is tired after a day in the woods, he needs to shift his bags around after getting off the subway, or she has to free a hand to get a parking ticket, and when they get home they realise that Fido's treat has somehow escaped them.

That must be the explanation. I hope it is, because otherwise I'd have to find a clinical label for people who believe they're being stalked by severed elk feet.

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Anonymous Tor said...

Why isn't the fine old gentleman going home in his fine old automobile?

(If you're looking for a nice madhouse, there are one or two university departments I could mention.)

20 March, 2006 16:24  
Blogger Martin said...

Easy: because he's been drinking all day at the hunt.

Yes, I'm trying pretty hard to become institutionalised.

20 March, 2006 22:58  

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