Authors: Camilla Lackberg
77–85 Fulham Palace Road
Hammersmith, London W6 8JB
Published by HarperCollins
Copyright © Camilla Lackberg 2006
Published by agreement with Nordin Agency, Sweden
Translation copyright © Tiina Nunnally 2014
Cover design layout © HarperCollins
Cover photographs ©
Camilla Lackberg asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
This is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.
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Ebook Edition © NOVEMBER 2014 ISBN: 9780007479030
Table of Contents
The sound of the waves lapping against the boat were lulling her to sleep. The gentle rocking motion, the murmuring voices from the other boats, the heat that was making beads of sweat form in the small of her back – all of it was compelling her to sink into that borderland just before sleep took over. It was a place that she had begun to dread. But her limbs felt so heavy and hot that she didn’t have the strength to stop herself from sliding into the unconscious state, into memory. Inevitably, the images came flooding in. Red against white. The blood on the tiles. Memories that made her heart ache. Her brain screamed at her muscles to move, to do something, anything, to rouse her from that endless loop into which she was now being forced.
‘Malin, dinner is ready.’
With a feeling of relief, she gave a start and then sat up. The boat careened and she instinctively grabbed hold of the lifeline that ran around the perimeter.
Lars climbed up out of the galley. For a second she considered telling him about the images, about what was constantly preventing her from getting enough sleep. But she resisted the impulse. It wouldn’t do any good. There had been a time when she’d thought they could talk to each other, but she no longer had any such illusions.
She studied Lars as she took a bite of the Caesar salad he’d prepared for both of them.
‘Who was on the phone earlier?’ she asked.
Lars waved his hand dismissively but refused to look her in the eye.
‘Well, someone must have been.’
For a moment neither of them spoke.
‘It was only the office,’ he said at last.
‘Don’t they know you’re on holiday?’
She knew she ought to stop now. It wouldn’t serve any purpose, and he’d just get annoyed. But she couldn’t help herself.
‘You said you would take some time off. No work allowed on this holiday.’
Malin cursed her nagging tone of voice, but anger and frustration robbed her of all common sense, leaving in their wake a disappointed child.
‘They needed to consult me about a patient. It only took ten minutes. And besides, you were asleep.’
Lars tossed down his fork and gazed out at the sea. After a moment he picked it up again, and they resumed eating, though the silence was so heavy with all that was not being said that they might as well have been screaming at each other.
‘I’m going for a walk,’ Lars finally announced after they’d finished eating.
‘Go ahead. I’ll do the dishes.’
She stared after him as he took off along the dock.
Three days later they were headed north towards a different harbour. They’d been sailing for nearly ten days, and by now the boat was overloaded with unfulfilled expectations. Maybe it had been naive to think that everything would work itself out if they simply bought a sailboat and took a month-long holiday. Thinking they could leave everything behind and let the wind blow away the memories.
The boat had been her idea. She had practically grown up on a sailboat, and Lars had owned boats for years before they’d met. But because of what had happened to his first wife, Malin had hesitated for a long time before voicing her suggestion. To her surprise, Lars had been enthusiastic, calling it an ‘excellent idea’. So they had bought the boat. A real beauty in the five-million-kronor class with every comfort imaginable. Malin could have settled for something less pretentious, but she’d let Lars have his way. The money that she’d inherited from her paternal grandfather wasn’t doing anybody any good just sitting in the bank. If the funds could give them a new start, it would be money well spent.
‘Here, I’ve made coffee.’ Lars came up beside Malin as she stood in the bow. They were out on open water, with no other boats in sight and only a few islands nearby. The wind had picked up, and the bow was bucking against the waves.
‘Thanks.’ Malin took the cup but kept her gaze on the sea. The boat was on autopilot. Lars was still standing next to her.
‘Malin …’ he began hesitantly.
She didn’t turn to face him, merely waited tensely for him to go on.
‘Malin …’ he repeated. He seemed to be having trouble working out what he wanted to say. She waited.
A deep trough in the swells surprised both of them, and the boat abruptly pitched downward. Malin lost her footing. As she was tossed towards the guard rail, she felt Lars’s hand on her back. For a brief moment she thought he was trying to give her a push, shove her over the rail and down into the foaming sea. Then she felt his fingers grabbing her jacket and pulling her back. She turned around.
‘That was close,’ said Lars. She saw a flicker of emotion in his eyes. Then he spun on his heel and went back to the cockpit.
There was nothing the matter with her. One doctor after another had told her as much. They simply couldn’t find anything physically wrong. No one could explain why the babies refused to stay inside of her. No one could explain the blood that flowed out with such merciless regularity. Three months. That was the longest she’d been able to carry a foetus. Then the blood had stained the tiles red in the bathroom, and she had wept tears of resignation and despair.
In the beginning Lars had stood by her. Comforting her, encouraging her, ensuring that she stayed calm, reminding her to take her vitamins. He had protected her. But each time she lost a baby, lost his baby, he’d retreated more and more. Until she had come to view this holiday as their last chance.
What a joke! Nothing on this trip had turned out as she had imagined.
She nodded to a couple in a nearby boat. They were docked in the visitors’ marina in Grebbestad, crowded together with thousands of other boat owners. She hated it. The place felt claustrophobic. But Lars had told her that he had things to do, which made it necessary to spend a few days near a town. Malin couldn’t bring herself to ask him what was so important. Probably something to do with his job. As usual. He was a doctor, which provided him with an excellent excuse to escape whenever the mood at home got too sad, too gloomy. Today’s errand had kept him away for three hours, taking care of some business or other.
He looked stressed when he finally came walking back towards the boat. Malin watched his lean figure approach, moving with that typical sauntering gait of his. She still found him tremendously attractive. It hadn’t taken her more than a few minutes to fall for him five years ago when they met for the first time at a party hosted by a mutual acquaintance. His hair was starting to go grey at the temples, but that was the only indication that he’d reached the age of forty-five. She herself was about to turn forty. Forty years old and childless. She bit her knuckle to prevent the tears from flowing again.
He came aboard without meeting her eye.
Malin began feverishly draping the newly washed laundry over the guard rail. She tried hard not to ask any questions, but the effort proved too much for her.
‘You were gone a long time.’
Lars went below decks into the cabin. He still hadn’t looked at her.
‘What were you doing?’
She raised her voice to be heard, but the only reply was the sound of clanking pots and pans. Half an hour later the food was ready. She was still brimming with questions, but the wall between them was so insurmountable that she didn’t think he’d listen to her queries. Instead they talked about trivial topics. What the weather forecaster had said. How many boats were moored in the harbour. How loud the music was on that boat crowded with young people only a short distance away. Nothing of importance. Just letters arranged into words, incapable of tearing down any walls or providing answers to anything significant. Merely air, breathed in and out.
Towards the end of the meal, Malin noticed a dull ache starting up in her stomach. The pain caused the memories to explode in fireworks of images. It was as if the babies hadn’t spilled out of her, one after another, but instead had gathered inside of her. She threw herself at the rail and vomited. Then everything went black.
She had been ill for two days, Lars told her. When she awoke, the dreams were still vivid in her mind. Those horrible, feverish dreams, as clear as if she’d seen them in a film. Pictures of Lars’s first wife, Elisabeth, whom she’d seen only in photos. They had never met. Elisabeth had fallen overboard when a bad storm took her and Lars by surprise as they were sailing in the Mediterranean. Lars had never wanted to talk about it, but out of curiosity Malin had looked up the newspaper articles describing what had happened.
Those grainy photos in the paper hadn’t done Lars justice. They showed him after he’d come ashore in a storm-damaged boat. Without Elisabeth. And there were pictures of him at the funeral service, his face haggard as his wife was remembered by family and friends.
Her body was never found. She’d fallen overboard and disappeared. For ever.
But now Malin had seen her. In her dreams, Elisabeth had tumbled over the rail, backwards, while looking straight at Malin, who could clearly see her lips moving. She had desperately tried to work out what Elisabeth was saying. At first she seemed to be saying: ‘Save me.’ But then Malin thought the words she uttered before falling into the sea and vanishing for ever were: ‘Save yourself!’
She opened her mouth to tell Lars, but changed her mind. In the end, she said nothing. But when sleep returned, she once again saw Elisabeth’s face.
As soon as Malin was back on her feet, they left Grebbestad. Until that point, Lars had been the one who usually took the helm, but now that they were headed out of the harbour using the motor, Malin insisted on steering. A short time later they set the sails, and as they billowed in the wind, she felt the past few days being washed out of her mind. She was about to ask Lars to sheet home a bit when he did just that. Malin smiled. At least as sailors they made a good team.
Lars seemed to be simmering with suppressed anticipation. He radiated a tense energy even though he was doing his best to appear impassive. That worried her. The dreams about Elisabeth had been so real. So insistent. As if trying to tell her something. As if Elisabeth wanted to tell her something.
‘Looks like a storm’s brewing.’