In Ida Marie Hede’s stunningly haunting and humorous novel, Adorable, B and Q’s world changes with the birth of their first child Æ. Here, in a selection of passages from the first section of the novel, the messy birth of Æ and relationship B develops with her are told in gloriously rich detail.
from 1. A HEART-SHAPED BUM
B IS A GROWN woman, she has a rhombus-shaped bum.
Q is a grown man, he has a square bum.
Compared to ants, beetles and flower pistils, Æ is a giant.
From the perspective of a human — from a B perspective, a Q perspective — Æ is absolutely miniature.
She laughs and pushes open a door. She wobbles into their empty bedroom. She hides behind a curtain, in a room of hefty feelings. A recent argument hangs limply in the white material. Then she walks into the hallway, down the stairs, it’s dark. Her face in a spider web. A spider web across her cheeks. She goes outside. A woodlouse between the bricks in the driveway. She stumbles, she spins around, she’s still tangled in the spider web. A lace veil over her mouth. A small fly on a spider web thread goes right down her throat. Into her stomach, where it sputters. Fly wings in a still-growing stomach.
On the idyllic suburban street, where spring is on full display, there are white-painted houses, driveways, large gardens with trampolines and fruit trees. There is shit from the snails, from the compost and the cats’ paws.
The idyllic suburban street doesn’t have a bum, but if it did, it would be a round and bulging one.
Nørreport’s bum is different. It’s just okay — speckled by heat discoloration, uneven around the edges, like it’s been poorly Photoshopped.
Nørreport is disgusting in its own way. Secretions from countless living things seem especially uncomfortable here, lazier, squished around the kerbs, in the cracks between the slabs of concrete, dog shit and spit and ketchup. It can’t just slide into the ground. It has to sparkle in its foulness. And then there’s everything else, flapping plastic bags and blue shards of glass and balloon knots. But all of this human detritus doesn’t have any bacteria inside it. Nørreport’s walls and asphalt don’t have enough foreign bodies to make living bodies immune: a body needs to encounter new bacteria every day in a varied stream. That’s how the body develops its protection. That’s how the body stays alive. That’s how human survival is ensured.
B and Q take Æ and roll her across the floor of the metro towards Nørreport.
Æ rolls like a little bundle.
Or like a snail, slow.
None of the other passengers pick her up.
Or give her a push.
She’s not their child, they probably don’t dare.
What, would you grab the neck of her sweater or one of her pigtails or something.
Grab her wrist.
The trail of slime behind Æ is made of spit, flakes of skin, sweat.
Hurried finger-doodles on the metro’s linoleum floor. Æ could roll forever.
Roll as far as the train car reaches. Collecting dirt, cigarette stubs, insect wings and bits of liquorice from the floor. Pressing them into the palms of her hands and her bird’s nest of hair and her puffy jumpsuit.
Finally coming to a stop by the panoramic window.
Her clothes, smothered with hundreds of small chunks, like sprinkles.
Lying on her belly with her hands folded under her body and her bum in the air and her face pressed flat against the floor.
B’s BELLY IS FLAT NOW. She really loves its doughy flatness. The punctured white softness that will never be tight again.
Before the flatness her belly is temporarily full, absolutely bulging. A piece of skin around something kicking and living, which is Æ.
Æ is pulled out of B’s womb with forceps that grab her temples. Small red indents on her temples. Æ comes out coated in bacteria from B’s vagina and arse. Bacteria seep into Æ and trigger an immune response: now Æ can live for a thousand years. But it’s almost like Æ doesn’t want to come out — her head won’t turn the last bit of the way in B’s pelvis; a head is actually stuck, pushing on her cervix. Warm, drawn-out spasms of pain, and Æ will have to be taken out by C-section.
If Æ comes out through B’s sliced-open belly, there won’t be enough bacteria. The doctor needs to stick a finger up B’s arsehole, rotate it deftly and then smear a wet finger caked with bacteria across Æ’s shrieking lips.
It doesn’t matter how Æ was born, her lips quickly locate B’s nipples and start sucking. Milk and cracked skin, gums gnawing on breast flesh.
B would like to live for a thousand years too. She holds Æ in her arms, Æ is so new. B can barely figure out how to hold her. As long as she doesn’t drop her: lose hold of her head and break her neck.
Now that Æ exists, B wants to survive the apocalypse everyone is talking about. She wants to grow old and wrinkled and withered and shrunken so she can stay in the world with Æ. She wants to communicate with an adult Æ on the phones of the future. Maybe through some form of telepathy, maybe through small strands of DNA — conversing with each other as mother and daughter will, in the future that might be.
B no longer doubts the future or its new technologies. Æ’s presence moves the lifespan of all things infinitely outwards.
B says she wants to be stronger too, to have bacteria from a body that is not her own. Bacteria is like a life-giving elixir: faecal bacteria from X are transplanted into Y’s digestive tract and changes are observed in Y’s mood and metabolism.
Her belly skin is nowhere near tight again, the lacerations on her uterine walls not even slightly healed. B bleeds into her big mum-nappy, long slimy strands.
Maybe she needs to go home and rest, to lie down with her legs up and with Æ balanced on her belly and a croissant in her hand. Æ’s mouth on her breast and stiff splashes of milk on her baby face.
Or maybe she’s too eager and can’t relax. After Æ is born, she can’t get enough life. She’s taken directly from the delivery room to the gastroenterology ward.
There, a probe is inserted through B’s oesophagus and into her stomach. Down here, the party is already in full swing! There are billions of faecal bacteria in B’s stomach, more than there are humans on Earth, bacteria that have lived for millions of years, which moved into B the day she was born, and which will move on when she dies. In that sense, the word human isn’t very accurate. She’s not mostly human, not at all. Bacteria bounce around, frolicking with half-digested food, as if inside a centrifuge. But it’s not enough, she needs more! Inside the tube, there’s shit from a shit-donor whom B doesn’t know. As the shit descends into her system, B is dangerously close to the brown mass: only the plastic barrier of the probe separates her from the stranger’s shit, sliding through her to become part of her intestinal flora.
She might as well have eaten the poo herself.
B is waiting for a change. Bacteria gives everyone a second chance.
So the skinny person can become a chubby person, the aggressive person can become a calm person, the restless one even-keeled, the depressed and anxious person can become optimistic and impulsive, the optimistic and hopeful person can become deadly serious and thereby increase their sex appeal.
And the person who loves long black lace opera gloves and full polka-dot skirts and big white plastic hairclips will want to wear tracksuits and shrunken woollen vests and sexy black baseball caps that make your eyes really round and blue.
And the person who loves T-shirts with bleach stains and pasty everyday faces and post-humanist theory will want to dance the lindy hop, a dance that makes your cheeks rosy-red.
The person in Buffalo boots puts on an old fisherman’s sweater, the person with acne gets glowing skin, the person with raised eyebrows can have them lowered, the too-pretty person can get a little more asymmetrical.
The person who’s always been missing a crooked and compelling scar on their cheek gets a crooked and compelling scar on their cheek, the person with big boobs gets small boobs, the person with a flowering arm gets a shrivelled arm.
The wildly hairy person loses all their hair, the person who feels too white gets darker skin, the woman who’s had multiple abortions loses her ability to conceive, the person with a belly flat like a pancake gets a swollen belly that’s doughy like sandwich bread.
So that everyone will be able to achieve their desires, so that all of us, the oppressed, can transform ourselves and become the upstanding humans we all secretly dream of being.
So that all of us, the ones in power, can transform ourselves and become the courageous underdogs we all secretly dream of being, and maybe already are.
Who sent the poo? Just as they’re always in the process of producing semen, bodies keep producing shit. If there’s a shortage of shit somewhere in the world, more is likely to turn up soon somewhere else.
More babies, better mood, worse smell.
B doesn’t know who donated her faecal sample, the hospital won’t give her that kind of information. Whether it was a hopeful gift from an old arsehole, sweetheart, I’m giving you the best-cut stuff I’ve got.
B is back home. She watches movies on the couch while she nurses Æ.
In Pasolini’s Salò, a group of teenagers are held captive in a castle. They’re served swollen chunks of shit on porcelain platters and they eat them slowly from porcelain plates, revolted, punctuated by fits of vomiting, down goes the shit.
Æ gurgles, milk spouts out of her and soaks a cloth nappy, a shirt, baby eyelashes, peach fuzz.
Æ IS A BABY.
B and Q take her everywhere. She goes to parties and dinners, she goes to the pub, she goes to concerts, artist talks, seminars. She’s fat and adorable, little boxing arms, purple onesie, white knitted hat, her face pressed against B’s chest.
Æ is sleeping. She lies in the buggy with open, alert eyes, or in a stranger’s arms, rocked and whispered to, later drowsy with milk, almost unconscious, but in that way where she can still wake up at any moment, where all attention is therefore always indisputably moving in her direction.
As if she were a little altar, a healing stone or an authority.
She can’t say anything but little growls, they call it her special language, then slowly she starts to babble out words.
B attends a conference with Æ on her chest and in her arms. B wants to be there. She wants to do everything with Æ and no one is going to tell her that she can’t do everything with Æ. No one is going to say the words hormonal or retreating from the world or putting life on hold. No one is going to say that she’s not moving. B wants to move, to move with Æ, Æ is an extension of her body, and her body can do anything now that the lesions in her uterus are healed, now that only the one vein on her right labia is still sore, almost always sore, a little monumental ridge you can nudge with an index finger.
B wants to do everything, and B will do everything.
Together with Æ.
The conference is about feminism and the politics of collective art, and now Tania Bruguera is presenting. As soon as Æ starts babbling, B and Æ are asked to leave:
Æ’s voice will be audible on the conference recording and they simply can’t have that. In the 1970s all the women had babies on their arms and we can’t hear shit of what they said on the recordings.
Now history is gone (says the persistent woman in the auditorium), what are we supposed to do?
B and Æ leave the auditorium. B thinks about the fleeting quality of documentation, about recordings of historic conversations drowned out by baby babbles:
Wollt ihr den totalen Krieg drowned out by baby babbles.
Ich bin ein Berliner drowned out by baby babbles.
Marilyn Monroe’s Happy birthday to youuuuuu drowned out by baby babbles.
Donald Trump’s American carnage drowned out by baby babbles.
Drones and fire alarms drowned out by baby babbles.
Coffee makers and rustling satin and mansplaining drowned out by baby babbles.
Old recordings from London, from Parliament Square, twenty public moments of silence following various tragedies, where you can hear doves flapping, coughing, phones, car traffic, drowned out by baby babbles.
Everything that’s ever existed as sound waves drowned out by baby babbles.
A miniature memoir from a baby’s mouth, finding babbles lurking in a conversation like a tic in the midst of the gravest matters.
Like when Friedrich Jürgenson, the pioneer of electronic voice phenomena, leaves his recording device in the garden, maybe placing it under the magnolia tree, maybe placing it in the strawberry patch, he records white noise, he tries to localise the voices of the dead at various frequencies.
Suddenly he hears the voice of his deceased mother there.
He hadn’t expected that.
On a recording suddenly hearing either your mother or your child.
Who would you rather hear, do you have to choose.
About Ida Marie Hede
Ida Marie Hede is the author of seven books and numerous plays. She holds an MA in Art History from the University of Copenhagen and Goldsmiths College and graduated from the Danish Academy of Creative Writing in 2008. Hede has taught at Gladiatorskolen, the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, and is currently a creative writing lecturer at Johan Borup’s Højskole as well as an art critic for Dagbladet Information. She has received the Danish Art Council’s prestigious three-year working grant, and in 2018 Bedårende (Adorable) was nominated for the Danish Critics’ Prize for Literature.
About Sherilyn Nicolette Hellberg
Sherilyn Nicolette Hellberg has published translations of Jonas Eika, Johanne Bille, Tove Ditlevsen, and Olga Ravn. In 2018, she received an American-Scandinavian Foundation Award for her translation of Caspar Eric’s Nike.
Adorable by Ida Marie Hede and translated by Sherilyn Nicolette Hellberg, is published by Lolli Editions and will be published in May. Click here to preorder and for more information about Lolli’s other titles.