Authors: Thomas Enger
Translated from the Norwegian by Charlotte Barslund
Werner is dead.
He really is; he knows that now.
He needed to stand beside the small, rectangular grave before he could grasp it. Properly take it in. He had to see the coffin first, see the mourners. Their dark clothes, their dark eyes.
Werner is gone.
Fluffy snowflakes fall to the ground around him; some are caught in a never-ending, whirling spiral. The snow makes his eyes water, but he doesn’t mind. It makes it look as if he is crying.
He turns to his mother. There are cold trails down her cheeks. She continues to stare at the glossy, brown coffin. And beside her his father, who could barely tie his own tie this morning because his hands were shaking so badly. Who needed help shaving. Who ran outside last week in only a T-shirt and underpants though it was the middle of the day and big, white snowflakes were falling. Who screamed while he clawed through the snow like a maniac. Who pulled Werner out of the heavy whiteness.
But Werner’s lips had already turned blue.
They’d done it before, Werner and him, built caves inside the snowdrifts and dug tunnels connecting them. They would crawl through them though they knew they could collapse at any moment. And later – the thrill of emerging out into the light, still in one piece. They would dice with death and win.
Until that day.
Everyone is here. All of Werner’s classmates. Even some of his teachers have come to the funeral. There are people here he has never seen before. Family friends. Friends of friends. Everyone is sad. Or maybe they’re just pretending, like him.
They lower his brother into the black void. They sing with voices that can barely be heard. But he doesn’t want to sing. Or talk to anyone. Later, people gather in his house. He has something to eat and drink. He’s the only member of his family who does.
In the afternoon he sneaks up to his room, plays a cassette tape and flops down on his bed. Music usually makes him feel good, but not today. It takes him a while before he realises why.
Something in the room has changed.
He gets up from the bed and wanders up and down while he tries to work out what it is. And then he sees the photograph on the wall, a picture of Werner staring down at him, a picture that wasn’t there before, but hangs there now. His knees almost buckle.
He hasn’t told anyone how he watched the roof cave in on his brother. How he didn’t lift a finger, not for a long time, but relished the sensation surging through him. He was master of life and death. He was the only one who could save Werner.
The apple of their father’s eye.
He knows who put up the photograph, obviously; he remembers his father’s screams when the doctors said there was nothing more they could do. You can’t give up, he begged them, please, please don’t give up! And the look on his face when they came home from the hospital later that day, when they sat around the dinner table in the time that followed and no one said a word. There was no mistaking it. Was it because he wasn’t crying?
It was because he hadn’t said sorry.
It had been his idea. His game. And he knows taking the picture down won’t help. His father will keep putting it back up, again and again. Making it impossible for him to forget.
Werner always used to smile when he had his picture taken, but he doesn’t on this one. He just looks straight at the camera. His hair is combed to one side and almost covers his eyes, but not enough to extinguish the light in them. The muffled screams he let out under those white, lethal masses come back. Like an echo.
By the time he sits down on his bed again, it has grown dark outside. It stopped snowing a long time ago, but the snow could have swept right through the room without him noticing anything but the light in his brother’s eyes. The light that can’t be snuffed out.
Werner isn’t dead.
He isn’t really; he knows that now.
But next time
, he thinks.
Next time will be different
Ole Christian Sund puts down the glass on the bedside table with a soft thud.
‘There,’ he says, smiling to the resident whose moist, stiff eyes stare out into the room. Sund wipes away a trickle of water from the corner of the man’s mouth, meeting resistance only from the stubble on his chin. The skin is so pale it’s practically transparent.
‘Do you need anything else?’ Sund says in a loud voice.
The lines in the man’s face remain unchanged. Sund looks tenderly at the resident, a man who has been with them for eighteen months, but who keeps death waiting. There’s not much left of him, only lifeless skin and bones, hair detaching itself from his scalp, a glassy stare that rarely changes focus. Not even the eyelids seem to be working any more.
he looks like my dad. He spent the last years of his life like this; barely aware of his surroundings. Most of the time his eyes would seek out the ceiling or some object in the room, lost in a world of their own. It’s six years since he died, but it still feels like yesterday.
Sund leaves quietly. In the corridor he meets a resident with a relative, a grandchild possibly, out for some gentle exercise. He smiles to them and takes out his mobile: it’s just after five in the afternoon. A sinking feeling starts in the pit of his stomach.
Soon she’ll be here to pick Ulrik up and yet another week will come and go without him being a part of his son’s life. At most he’ll get to hear about it – if Martine can be bothered to reply to his text messages.
He knows he’s pestering her, but as he can’t be there every day and hear the news from Ulrik’s own mouth, at least he can hear it from hers. How the boy is, what he learned in school that day. Friends he played with at home or visited. All the things he misses out on because Martine and he stopped loving each other. Or rather – because she stopped loving him.
And though he thinks he has found a new love, he hates the thought that another man might have taken his place not just in Martine’s bed, but also in Ulrik’s life. That Ulrik might start to love his new dad while his real dad is just someone who makes him come to work with him when they were supposed to be having fun together.
If he could afford to turn down the extra shift, he would have. Fortunately he managed to find a fully charged electric wheelchair in Ward 4 for Ulrik to play with as long as he promised to look out for the residents. And he did, of course he did, he’s such a good boy. He loves zooming around the care home. The last time Sund saw him he was doing precisely that.
But where has the little tyke got to now?
Sund’s shoes make a steady sound against the floor as he starts checking passages and common rooms. In the television lounge he finds only Guttorm and a couple of the other residents embroiled in a heated argument over which channel to watch. Sund carries on looking, but can’t see a happy, whooping nine-year-old in a wheelchair anywhere. He searches the corridors on both sides of the building’s long H-shape. And finally, outside one of the resident’s rooms, he spots his little boy who no longer seems quite so small in a place where death waits around every corner.
Sund smiles to himself as he always does when he watches his son without his being aware of it. But something is wrong with the boy in the wheelchair. His hands are wedged between his thighs. His feet are crossed. And he’s rocking back and forth while his eyes seek out something on the floor, but there’s nothing there except the cold light from the fluorescent tubes in the ceiling.
‘Hi, Ulrik,’ Sund says and stops. ‘What is it? What’s wrong?’
Ulrik makes no reply; he just carries on rocking. Sund bends down and strokes his hair. For a brief moment he wonders if one of the residents might have hurt him, but dismisses the thought instantly. At times they act up and lose their temper, but they would never take it out on a young boy. They all adore him.
‘Hello, son,’ Sund continues. ‘What is it?’
Sund looks up and reads the name plate outside the room. Sees that the door is ajar.
‘Have you been visiting Erna again?’ he asks.
The boy just carries on rocking.
He has seen something, Sund thinks. Or heard something.
His knees are shaking as he gets up. He walks past the wheelchair and pushes open the door to the resident’s room. Erna Pedersen is sitting in her chair, straight up and down as she always does. But that’s not why Sund pulls up short and takes a long step backwards. It’s her face, usually white and cold. Now it’s discoloured. Dark, rust-coloured trails run from her eyes down her wrinkled face like a river delta. He just has time to realise what her smeared glasses are hiding before the stench of death comes rolling towards him.
Henning Juul leans forwards on the cold, rough seating planks below Dælenenga Club House. Above him the clouds have dressed the sky in layers of grey that move across the city as if they have somewhere special to go. The wind, which earlier that day whipped up dust and rubbish in the streets of Oslo, has started to settle, but still contains a hint of anger.
Henning comes here as often as he can whatever the weather. He finds the place conducive to thinking, though it hurts him to see children, young and old, do the things Jonas would have been doing if he’d still been alive.
A football bounces towards a boy of eight or nine years. It rolls right past his football boots. Another boy with hair so blond it’s practically white takes possession of the ball, runs towards the goal and scores.
‘For Christ’s sake, Adil. What do you think you’re doing?’
The coach, dressed in a black tracksuit, screams till he is red in the face.
‘You were supposed to stop the ball!’
The boy who has scored the goal runs past Adil and sends him a look of triumph.
‘Good work, Jostein. Well spotted.’
The coach blows his whistle. The game resumes. Henning follows Adil’s movements. There is something resigned about them, a sense of hopelessness. As though he’d really rather not be there.
Henning has seen Adil before. Usually he is alone. No one ever picks him up after football practice. Sometimes he is with one of the other boys from the team, but his friend isn’t there now. Henning imagines he probably has better things to do on a Sunday evening.
And, strictly speaking, so do you
, Henning says to himself, only he had been desperate for a change of scenery, something to distract him. But no matter how hard he tries to clear his head, the questions keep returning. What did former enforcer Tore Pulli know about the fire that killed Jonas? And was that the reason why Pulli himself had to die?
Henning’s mobile goes off in his inside pocket. He takes it out and groans. The name on the display tells him something has happened and that the rest of his evening is most probably ruined.
Even so he answers it.
‘Hi, Henning, it’s me. Have you heard the news?’
Henning holds the mobile away from his ear. Kåre Hjeltland’s voice is so loud he doesn’t need a telephone. He is the most fanatical news editor Henning has ever met, he operates exclusively at a super-octane level and it doesn’t help his somewhat comical appearance that he has been saddled with an aggressive form of Tourette’s. Tonight his random swearing has temporarily eased off, but Henning knows that his boss’s head makes sudden jerks while he talks. Hjeltland continues before Henning has time to say anything.
‘An old woman has been killed in a care home right around the corner from where you live. Do you think you could go over there? I’m a bit short of people tonight.’
You’re always short of people
, Henning thinks, but doesn’t say it and checks his watch at the same time. He had planned to go home and try to sleep for more than two hours in a row for once. But he also knows that Hjeltland doesn’t have many journalists who can cover a murder right now. Iver Gundersen is still on sick leave after being beaten up in Josefinesgate a couple of weeks ago, and the Sunday evening shift at the offices of
comprises just two staff: a duty editor who has to keep on top of everything happening in the whole world with just a keyboard and only ten fingers, and a sports journalist reporting the latest football results.
Henning takes a deep breath and looks up at the gathering clouds.
, he thinks, with everything that that entails: more time at work and less time to look for whoever torched his flat.
And yet he sighs and says: ‘All right, then.’