Benny & Shrimp
By Katarina Mazetti
Here is a funny little book from Sweden.
It’s a romance involving two people who are totally unsuited, so the road to love is full of potholes. They meet in a graveyard.
Desiree’ has come to visit the grave of her recently departed and vaguely unlamented husband “Orjan” who had the temerity to be hit by a fast moving vehicle while riding his bike.
In spite of his careful fitness regime and his respect for cholesterol, he is gone. His marker, plain and unadorned gives her little comfort.
Benny has come to tend the garden along side the extravagantly garish headstone of his dearly departed mother. The two mourners share the same bench.
She thinks his farmer clothes and peaked cap unpleasantly rural, besides (she notices) he’s missing two fingers.
He wonders why she doesn’t make some effort to look attractive. In his mind he calls her “beige.” She’s blond with white eyelashes and a bleak expression. They don’t have a thing in common, but one day a little child visiting the cemetery causes them to share a smile.
Their biological clocks are ticking and lust (it has to be said) drives them into each others arms. He can’t call her Desiree, it’s too fancy. He calls her “Shrimp”.
Benny is a farmer. He has 24 milk cows and some sheep. His life is long days of hard work and only debt to show for it. She is a librarian, a reader, an opera fan; she couldn’t cook a meal and she has no interest in learning how. Their love making is vigorous and athletic and mutually pleasing. They haven’t got a chance!
She takes him home with her to her white and beige apartment, with its charcoal sketches and tube furniture. The endless bookshelves unnerve him.
He takes her to his farmhouse, untended since his mothers death. His old furniture, darkly painted walls and endless cross-stitched pictures make her nauseous. Their enthusiasm for each other lasts until she, poking around at his house, discovers the report card from his final year at school. His good marks set her on the road to a make over; evening classes and life off the farm.
He hatches a plan that would see her working half time, living at the farm, commuting to the library. They resort to jokes to sidestep the pitfalls around them. Is there any hope for these two?
In Benny’s life there are long-time friends who don’t think she’ll do. A farmer needs a wife who can drive the tractor and help with the cows. They have someone in mind.
In Shrimp’s life there are cultured people who pay her attention. The fates conspire against them.
This story is told by each character in alternate chapters. We know what’s in Benny’s heart and head; we know she’s nuts about what he could be. The outcome is a triumph and a betrayal, believable and outrageous.
Peggy Freeman is a freelance writer living in Red Deer.