Authors: Anton Svensson
Published by Sphere
Copyright © 2014 Anders Roslund & Stefan Thunberg
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
Based on the Swedish work
Published by agreement with Salomonsson Agency.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.
The publisher is not responsible for websites (or their content) that are not owned by the publisher.
Little, Brown Book Group
50 Victoria Embankment
London EC4Y 0DZ
is a work of fiction inspired by a true story.
Details of many events and characters have been changed, and others are purely fictitious. For more information on how the real case inspired this novel, please see the interview at the end of the book.
If then is now.
If now is then.
HE’S SITTING IN
a yellow Volkswagen van that smells of sweat and paint and something else he can’t quite put his finger on. Maybe the petrol station coffee cup on the dashboard. Maybe the remnants of loose tobacco in the passenger seat. Maybe the bag of plaster and the paintbrushes on the seat behind him, which he’s just bought in a hardware store on Folkunga Street. Or the tools and the wallpaper table lying in the back that he took out of the fucking storage unit
rented – four years stacked next to his clothes and his bed, which had once been one half of their bed.
That’s what that smell is.
A cellar. Storage. Time.
The sun beats down onto the car window, onto a film of dried flies and dust. The kind of mysterious heat that comes out of nowhere. He rolls down the window to cool off and lets in even more heat, the memory of a phone call buzzing through his head.
‘How’s my boy? Everything OK? Everything good?’
Three hours from Stockholm. A small town surrounded by factories and a spruce forest. He’s been slowly circling it since early this afternoon, on his way to a neighbourhood with a Konsum supermarket, a hot dog kiosk and a small gravel football pitch – and to an apartment building at the centre, three floors of red brick that he’s never been to before.
‘What are you up to?’
‘Not much … we’re about to eat. Mamma’s cooking.’
As he left the city behind the roads got smaller and slower, cutting through a part of Sweden he hadn’t seen for a long time. He’d stopped at a petrol station on the outskirts of town, rolled a cigarette, closed the door to the phone box, and dialled a number he had memorised. She’d answered the
call, fallen silent at the sound of his voice, and handed the phone to their eldest son.
‘And your brothers, Leo? How are they?’
‘They’re the same … as always.’
‘And everyone’s at home?’
He drove the last few kilometres slowly, past a church and an old school and the main square where sunbathers soaked up rays that would soon turn to clouds and thunder – it was that kind of heat.
‘Can you give Felix the phone?’
‘You know he doesn’t want to talk to you.’
He was parked outside the flat, staring at the door, feeling it staring back.
‘Well … Vincent then?’
‘Toy soldiers? Tell me what he’s doing.’
‘He’s reading – Pappa, soldiers were a long time ago.’
The window at the top on the right-hand side, he thinks, that must be the flat. His eldest son has described it so many times it feels that he knows what it looks like: the kitchen directly to the left as you enter, the brown, round table with four chairs, not five; living room straight ahead, a door of milky glass you can’t see through; to the right is
bedroom and the other half of the bed, which she’s kept, then the children’s rooms, just like when they all lived together.
‘I have …’
‘What are you up to, Pappa?’
‘I’m on my way home.’
A four-bedroom flat is its own world of sound. When Mamma turns the tap on in the kitchen sink its dull rumbling collides with the clang of the cutlery tray and the brittle rattling of the crockery cabinet. Together they
do their best to overpower the television in the living room, the high-pitched screech of the cartoons Felix is watching from the corner of the sofa, music coming from Leo’s two giant speakers, and whatever’s seeping out of the Walkman headphones that sit askew on Vincent’s head – a deep voice narrating a story – sounds that when pushed and squeezed together intertwine and then meld.
The spaghetti is ready, and the meat sauce is hot.
Mamma lifts up the headphones and whispers, ‘Dinner time,’ and Vincent runs through the hallway shouting,
, another lap,
The TV is turned off. The music stops.
It’s almost silent as they all head towards the kitchen table, and then another sound enters, interrupts – the doorbell.
Vincent is already on his way back out to the hall.
‘I’ll get it.’
Felix passes the TV and hurries towards the front door.
They race, and Vincent who’s closest gets there first and reaches for the doorknob, but he isn’t able to turn it. Felix is a step behind and lifts Vincent’s hand away, leans forward, peering through the peephole. Leo sees Vincent reaching for the knob again and not being able to pull it down, while Felix recoils, turns round with fear on his face that hasn’t been there for a long time.
‘What is it?’
Felix nods at the door.
‘There … what?’
The bell rings again. A long sound, and Leo continues towards the front door. Vincent jumps up to unlock it, and Felix refuses to let go of the handle.
‘Felix, Vincent – move.
Later she won’t even remember if she actually turned round, if she even had time to wonder why the boys were standing still. What she will remember, the only thing, is that his curly hair was longer and his breath had stopped smelling of red wine.
And that he punched her, but not like he used to.
Because if he hit her too hard, she’d fall down, and he wanted her to look him in the eye as he destroyed her, destroyed her for ignoring him, for passing the phone to his eldest son. She needed to look him in the eye when they touched for the first time in four years.
The first punch is right fist against left cheek, and his hand then continues towards her neck, grabs it and twists it so they can look at each other. The second and the third and the fourth punches are just the opposite, left knuckle on right cheek,
look at me
, quick powerful punches, and she puts her arms over her head to shield herself, spiked elbows forming a helmet, all skin and bone.