This week’s piece of weird fiction being discussed over at LibraryThing rather reminds me of one of my favorite movies, The Rapture, in that it takes a version of Christian theology seriously.
Review: “Rebecka”, Karin Tidbeck, 2012.
This story takes place in an alternate Stockholm where God, referred to variously as He or Him, seems to have literally returned to Earth and meets out divine punishments.
The story is narrated by Rebecka’s only friend, Sara.
The opens with a mystery:
The outline of Rebecka’s body is light against the scorched wall, arms outstretched as if to embrace someone. The floor is littered with white ashes. Everything else in the room looks like it did before. A kitchen table with a blue tablecloth, a kitchenette stacked with dirty dishes. A wrought iron bed, which I am strapped to.
We then get the explanation for this mystery.
Rebecka tries to commit suicide frequently and with various methods, and Sara picks up after each event.
I don’t know why I remained her friend. It’s not like I got anything out of it. It was the worst kind of friendship, held together by pity.
The story’s first exchange between them is over the phone. Rebecka seeks confirmation that He punishes people. Rebecka then says she did something worthy of punishment. She spit in the baptismal font of the Katarina Church.
Sara is horrified. People have been “fried on the spot” for doing that.
But no punishment is meted out to Rebecka. Instead, the Lord appeared to Rebecka. He said He was “ok” with the font. Some people are just damaged and allowed to make more mistakes.
Again confirming this is a world of people with very personal relationships with God, Sara asks Rebecka if “she asked about the other stuff”. No, she did not. The Lord had already left. Rebecka, implying she wants God’s punishment, says she’ll have to come up with something else.
Sara says you can’t make the Lord change his mind. Rebecka can’t expect “Him to take care of everything”. Humans took care of themselves before “He came back”.
Because He cures everyone and . . . how was it . . . ‘lifts the darkness in every soul.’ Except me. So what am I going to do?
Sara says maybe it’s a test. “I already went through my damned test”, says Rebecka.
We then hear about all the many ways Rebecka has tried to commit suicide: pills, razor blades, and hanging. She never even comes close to endangering her life.
We then learn the source of Rebecka’s despair and depression:
The Lord tells us we must have patience with our fellow men, especially those who are being tested. Rebecka was being tested. Around the time when I had just met her, she had been raped and tortured by her husband, rest his soul. She had never recovered.
Then, in an exchange as they walk along a quay, we get more details of that event.
Karl cut open Rebecka and removed her child from her womb with a breadknife and poked Rebecka’s eyes with a paper clip.
Rebecka asks: “How could He let it go on for three days before He decided to do something about it?” It is implied Karl was eventually stricken dead by God.
Sara tells Rebecka she’s not being punished by God, just undergoing a test.
A little later Rebecka throws herself in front of a subway train. It’s another unsuccessful attempt since the train stops in time.
Sara and Rebecka meet the next day at Rebecka’s apartment. Rebecka is ashamed at Sara always cleaning things up after her suicide attempts. Rebecka says she’s not a coward who’s afraid to really kill herself. She wants free of her memories of Karl.
Every time she tried to cut herself, she stopped bleeding. She vomited after every attempted overdose. In her last attempt, the pills passed through her body undigested.
The Lord is fucking with me. I hate Him. He won’t take the nightmares away. Or the scars, all the scars. But He won’t let me kill myself either. It’s like He wants me to suffer.
The next day Rebecka calls Sara to come over. She now knows what she has to do. She again repeats she wants to die. Sara says she doesn’t want her to.
Then Sara realizes Rebecka has drugged the tea she has been drinking. Before she passes out, she hears Rebecka say serenely “I’m going to make Him listen . . . I’m going to do something he can’t ignore.”
When Sara wakes up, she is naked and strapped to the bed. Rebecka has a toolbox nearby. The last two sentences of the story are:
‘I love you,’ I said.
‘I know,’ she said.
So, given the ashes we heard about at the beginning, it seems Rebecka repeated (or at least starts) what Karl did to her. This time Sara will be the victim. God blasted Rebecka. The question is how much torture did Sara endure before that. She doesn’t say. Like the biblical Sara, perhaps this Sara has a divine test — suffering Rebecka’s torture. Perhaps it’s a version of the famous bible verse about how giving one’s life for another is the greatest love.
And, at the end, Sara gets the comfort of Rebecka acknowledging, in a twisted kind of way, that their friendship is reciprocal. One wonders about Karl. Was his torture of Rebecka another version of suicide by God?
We hear at the beginning of the story that Sara wishes Rebecka’s suicide attempts would succeed. Perhaps, in the operant theology here, suicide isn’t a sin. Or, perhaps, it’s a grave sin that God spares Rebecka from committing.
An odd story and successful despite its many unanswered questions.