Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Graveyard in Ångermannagatan is dug Six Feet Deep to plunge a Mortician’s Coffin

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.

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