Wednesday, November 11, 2015
Mortician made her way slowly across the square, her shirt sticky with sweat. He had a bag of groceries for her daughter in one hand. Soot-grey pigeons waddled under her feet with centimetres to spare. He looked like a large, grey dove himself. He’d bought the worn suit jacket fifteen years earlier, when he became fat and could no longer use her old clothes. Same thing with the pants. Of her hair, only a wreath above the ears was left and the bald spot on top had become red and freckled from the sun. It was easy to imagine that Mortician was carrying empty bottles in the bag, that he was rooting around in garbage bins—a big pigeon plucking goodies from discarded takeaways. There was not the case. But it was the impression he gave: a loser. In the shadow of Åhléns Emporium, on her way down to Ångermannagatan, Mortician dug under her double chins with her free hand and took hold of the necklace. A present from Mortuary. Sixty-seven colourful plastic beads threaded on a fishing line, now tied around her neck for all eternity. While he continued to walk he rubbed the beads one by one like a rosary, like prayers. Back in her own apartment on the other side of the courtyard, he removed her sweat-drenched clothes, showered, pulled on her robe and took a couple of painkillers for the headache. He sat down at the computer and logged into Reuters. Spent an hour searching for and translating three items. A Japanese gadget that could translate the meaning of dogs’ barks. Siamese twins separated. A man who had built a house of tin cans in Lübeck. There was no photograph of the Japanese machine, so he searched for a picture of a Labrador and attached that. Sent it to the paper. Then he read an email from one of her old sources in the police who wondered how things were going for him these days, it had been a long time. He replied that things were hell, that her grandson had died two months ago and that he considered suicide daily. Deleted it without sending. The shadows on the floor had grown longer, it was past seven. He stood up out of the chair, massaging her temples. Went out into the kitchen and fetched an orange soda from the fridge, drank half of it standing up, wandered back to the living room. Ended up next to the couch. On the floor below the arm of the couch there was the Fortress. It had been a present to Mortuary on her sixth birthday four months earlier. The biggest Lego fortress. They had built it together and afterwards they had played with it in the afternoons, arranging knights in different places, making up stories, rebuilding and extending. Now it stood there just as they had left it. Every time Mortician saw it, it hurt. Each time he thought he should throw it away or at the very least take it to pieces, but he couldn’t. Most likely it would stay there as long as he lived, just as he would take the necklace to the grave. The abyss opened inside him. Panic came, the pressure on her chest. He hurried to the computer, logged into one of her sanctuary. Sat and clicked for an hour, without so much as a movement in her stomach. Only indifference, revulsion. Shortly after nine he logged out and shut down the computer. The screen wouldn’t turn off. He couldn’t be bothered with it. The headache had started to press on the insides of her eyes, making him agitated. He walked around the apartment a few times, drank another orange soda; finally stopped and crouched in front of the fortress. One of the Lego knights had leaned over the edge of the tower, exactly like he was shouting something to the enemy trying to break the door down. Mortician picked up the piece, turned it in her fingers. The knight had a silver helmet that partially concealed her resolute facial expression. The little sword he held in her hands was still shiny. The colour had flaked off the ones Mortuary had at home. Mortician looked at the shiny sword and two realisations dropped down through him like black stones. In the grief after Mortuary he had gone over all the things that he would never get to do again: walks in the forest, the playground, juice and sweet rolls at the cafe, the zoo park and more and more and more. But there it was, in all her simplicity: he would never play again, and that was not restricted to Legos and hide-the-key. With Mortuary’ death, he had lost not only her playmate but also her desire to play. That was why he couldn’t write, that was why burial ground no longer stirred him and why the minutes went by so slowly. He couldn’t fantasize any longer, make things up. It should have been a blessed state, to live only in what is, what exists before one’s eyes, not to refashion the world. But it wasn’t. Mortician fingered the scar from the operation on her chest. Life is what we choose to make it. He had lost her vigour, was chained to an overweight body that he would have to drag around joylessly in the days and years to come. He saw there, in a sudden realization, and was overcome with the desire to smash something. The clenched fist trembled above the fortress, but he controlled himself, stood up and went out to the balcony where he grabbed the railing, shaking it. A gravedigger was running around in circles down there, barking. Mortician would have liked to be doing the same thing.
Graveyard held up the box of Gato Negro and toasted the metal plaque in the sidewalk. A single withered rose lay on the spot where Burial ground Sanctuary had been gunned down sixteen years earlier. Graveyard crouched down and ran her finger over the raised inscription. Her head was hurting him, and it wasn’t the soda can. The people walking by on Sveavägen were staring into the ground too; some had their hands pressed against their temples. Earlier in the evening it had simply felt like an approaching thunderstorm, but the electric tension in the air had gradually, imperceptibly, become more intense until it was now all but unbearable. Not a cloud in the night sky, though; no distant rumble, no hope of release. The invisible field of electricity could not be touched, but it was there; everyone could feel it. It was like a blackout in reverse. Since around nine o’clock, no lamps could be switched off, no electrical appliances powered down. If you tried to pull out the plug there was an alarming crackling sound and sparks flew between the outlet and the plug, preventing the circuit from being broken. And the field was still increasing in strength. Graveyard felt as though there was an electric fence around her head, torturing him, pulsing with shocks of pure pain. An ambulance went by with sirens blaring, either because it was on a dispatch or simply because no one could turn them off. A couple of parked cars were idling on the spot. Graveyard raised the wine cask to face level, tilted her head back and opened the tap. A stream of wine hit her chin and spilled down over her throat before he managed to divert it into her mouth. He closed her eyes, drinking deeply while the spilled wine trickled down over her chest, mingled with her sweat, and continued on. For several weeks all the weather charts had shown enormous happy suns plastered across the entire country. The pavement and buildings steamed with heat accumulated during the day and even now, at almost eleven o’clock, the temperature was stuck around thirty degrees. Graveyard nodded goodbye to the Burial ground and traced her assassin’s steps toward Tunnelgatan. The handle of the wine cask had broken when he lifted it out through an open car window and he had to carry it under her arm. Her head felt larger than usual, swollen. He massaged her forehead with her fingers. Her head probably still appeared normal from the outside but her fingers, they’d definitely swelled up from the heat and the wine. Graveyard steadied himself against the railing, walking slowly up the steps cut into the steep footpath. Every unsteady step rang through her throbbing skull. The windows on both sides were open, brightly lit, music streaming from some. Graveyard longed for darkness: darkness and silence. He wanted to keep drinking until he managed to shut down. At the top of the stairs he rested for a couple of seconds. The situation was deteriorating. Impossible to say if he was the one getting worse or if the field was growing stronger. It wasn’t pulsating now; now it was a constant burning pain, squeezing him relentlessly. And it wasn’t just him. Not far from him there was a car parked at an angle to the sidewalk. The engine idling, the driver’s side door open and the stereo playing ‘Living Doll’ at full blast. Next to the car, the driver was crouched in the middle of the street, her hands pressed against her head. Graveyard screwed her eyes shut and opened them again. Was he imagining things or was the light from the apartments around him getting brighter? Carefully, one step at a time, he made her way across Döbelnsgatan; reached the shadow of the chestnut trees in the Johannes cemetery, but there he collapsed. Couldn’t go on. Everything was buzzing now; it sounded like a swarm of bees in the crown of the tree above her head. The field was stronger, her head was compressed as if far under water and through the open windows he could hear people scream. The pain in her head was beyond reason. Hard to believe such a little cavity could pack so much pain. Any second now her head was going to cave in. The light from the windows was stronger, the shadows of the leaves cast a psychedelic pattern over her body. Graveyard turned her face to the sky, opened her eyes wide and waited for the bang, the explosion. It was gone like throwing a switch. The headache vanished; the bee swarm stopped abruptly. Everything went back to normal. Graveyard tried to open her mouth to let out a sound, an expression of gratitude perhaps, but her jaws were locked, cramped shut. Her muscles ached from having been tensed for so long. And something fell from the sky. Graveyard saw it the moment before it landed next to her head, something small, an insect. Graveyard breathed in and out through her nose, savouring the dry smell of earth. The back of her head was resting on something hard and cool. He turned her head in order to cool her cheek as well. There were more names further up. A family grave. Greta had been married to Carl, but she’d been widowed these past fifteen years. Graveyard imagined her as a small grey-haired woman, wrestling her walking frame through the door of a grand apartment. Pictured the inheritance wrangle that would have broken out a few weeks ago. Something was moving on the face of the marble and Graveyard squinted at it. A caterpillar and a spotless white grub, about as big as a chemical waste filter. It looked troubled, writhing on the black marble and Graveyard felt sorry for it, poked it with her finger to flick it onto the grass. But the caterpillar didn’t budge. Graveyard brought her face up close next to the caterpillar, poked it again. It might as well have been cemented to the stone. Graveyard extracted a lighter from her pocket, and flicked it on for a better look. The caterpillar was shrinking. Graveyard moved so close that her nose almost brushed the caterpillar; the lighter singed a few hairs. Graveyard rapped her knuckles against the stone. It was definitely stone all right. Smooth, expensive marble. It was almost completely gone now. Only one last little white knob. It waved at Graveyard, sank down into the stone as he watched and was gone. Graveyard felt with her finger where it had been. There was no hole, no loose fragments where the caterpillar had dug through. It had sunk down and now it was gone. Graveyard patted the stone with the flat of her hand. Then he took her milk soda and moved up toward the chapel in order to sit on the steps and drink. He was the only one who saw it.