THURSDAY, OCTOBER 23
Slowly, slowly into the night.
Just accelerate gently so that nothing goes wrong.
Hands shaking on the wheel, pitch black outside the car windows, the storm making the rain fly horizontally through the air, large drops merging with microscopic ones, the windshield full of black tears that no wipers could ever cope with.
Police superintendent Malin Fors can feel her heart pounding in her chest; she can see it in front of her, as black and liverish and tormented as the night outside. She is still on the forest road, and the bare branches of the trees are reaching out to grab the car, like the enraged tentacles of some prehistoric monster.
Malin takes one hand off the wheel, slows her speed, wipes her eyes, tries to convince herself that it’s just rain on her cheeks.
She breathes in the musty air of the car and feels nauseated.
There’s a tapping sound on the metal roof of her unmarked white police Volvo. Little white bullets falling from the skies in swarms. Soon the noise is thunderous, and the hail hammering on the roof must be the size of fists, and it’s drowning out the sound of the engine, screaming at her: You’ve made your choice, there’s no going back, you’ve given up, Malin Fors!
Her whole body is shaking.
Janne’s face dancing in front of the windscreen. Tove’s.
Malin’s daughter’s fifteen-year-old face is alarmingly smooth, and its outline and contours drift in and out of the dark autumn night, but if Tove is trying to say anything her voice is swallowed up by the hail pounding on the roof.
And then it stops.
Only the sound of the engine, and hesitant drops on the windshield, no more than the wipers can cope with.
Malin’s clothes feel wet against her skin.
She can just make out the lights of the motorway into Linköping, beacons flickering in the night, getting closer, and Malin increases her speed, thinking, I’ve had enough of this, get me out of here, and she sees Janne’s face before her: He isn’t angry or sad, just tired, and that frightens her.
* * *
It was a lovely idea: that the three of them, Janne, Tove, and Malin, belonged together, and that they could accept such a gift.
She and Tove had moved back in with Janne, to the house outside Malmslätt, toward the end of summer last year. More than a decade after the divorce they were going to try again; they felt obliged to after that crazy, scorching summer that almost cost Tove her life, when she was kidnapped by a murderer Malin was looking for.
Malin had sat in the garden that September, the garden of the house where they had lived together long before, and she had watched Tove and Janne clearing weeds and raking leaves over by Janne’s old cars. She had looked at them and believed that it really was possible to start again, to create the world anew if only the willpower and foundation were there.
They had played nicely to start with. Not working too much, making dinner together, eating, loving, trying to talk, trying to say anything that might actually mean something.
Then autumn had arrived in earnest.
They had taken Tove to see a psychiatrist at the University Hospital who specialized in treating adolescents. Tove had refused to talk to her, saying there was nothing to talk about: “Mum, I’m not frightened. I’m all right. It’s okay. It wasn’t your fault.”
“It wasn’t anyone’s fault.”
But Malin knows it was her fault. Tove got dragged into an investigation the previous summer, and if that wasn’t Malin’s fault, then whose was it? If it hadn’t been for her job as a detective, it would never have happened.
“People do weird things, Mum.”
Malin often wished she were as rational and pragmatic as her daughter and could find it as easy to come to terms with the state of things: Tove was apparently untouchable.
The broken cars in the garden. Lids left off toothpaste tubes. Milk cartons opened the wrong way. Words tossed out into space that just bounced back, unanswered and unheard. Roof tiles that needed to be replaced. Food that had to be bought from monstrous out-of-town superstores. Guilt and regret wiped out by everyday tasks and a vain hope that the passing years had brought a level of wisdom. She recognized the irritation as it crept up on her at the start of November, like a hacksaw to her soul: the blows, the gentle yet cruel derision of love. The little boy reappeared in her dreams, and she wanted to talk to Janne about him, about who he was, or who he might be. She had lain beside Janne in bed, knowing he was awake, but her paralyzed tongue hadn’t been able to form any words.
The flat in town had been rented out to some students. She worked late into the evening at the police station, and Janne made sure he had shifts at the fire station when she had days off—she had realized that, understood it, and couldn’t blame him.
She had started looking into the old Maria Murvall case in her own time. She wanted to solve the mystery, find the answer to the question of what had happened to the young woman who was found raped and abandoned on a road in the forests around Lake Hultsjön, and
who now sat mute and out of reach in a room at Vadstena Hospital.
Janne’s patience when she lost her temper.
Which only made her more angry.
“Do whatever you like, Malin. Do whatever you have to do.”
“For fuck’s sake, would it kill you to have an opinion about what I should do?”
“Can’t you just take a break from work when you’re at home with us?”
“Janne. Never, ever, tell me what to do.”
* * *
And then there was Christmas, and something about the ham, about whether they should have mild or strong mustard in the crust, and Janne had been upset when she replied, “Whatever,” without actually listening to the question, and then how she had then been angry because he didn’t even know something as basic as that one should use mild mustard for the crust of the Christmas ham.
He had shouted at her.
Told her to pull herself together. To try being a bit bloody nicer, a bit more normal, otherwise she could pack her things and go back to that fucking flat. He had yelled at her, telling her to fuck off, that this was all a stupid idea from the start, that he’d been asked to go to Sudan with the Swedish Rescue Services Agency in the New Year, and he had a good mind to go just to get away from her and her filthy moods.
“Bloody hell, Malin, you’re not well, can’t you see?”
She had waved her glass of tequila and Coke at him.
“At least I’m not so retarded that I fuck up the Christmas ham.”
Tove had been sitting a few feet away from them at the kitchen table, her hands on the red cotton tablecloth, beside a new homemade decorative pin for the ham and the red plates they’d bought from Åhléns for the occasion.
Janne had fallen silent.
Malin had felt like carrying on shouting at him, but ended up just looking at Tove instead.
Her wide-open blue eyes seemed to be asking just one simple question of the mulled-wine-scented room:
Is this what loving someone means?
In that case, don’t ever let me love anyone.
* * *
Malin can see the sky getting brighter above the edge of the town.
Not much traffic.
She wonders if she’s got any dry clothes to change into in the flat, but knows she hasn’t. Maybe something in a box in the attic, but the rest of her clothes are at Janne’s.
A black car drives past her; she can’t see what make it is through the fog, but the driver’s in a hurry, going almost twice as fast as her.
It’s raining again, and newly fallen orange and yellow leaves are drifting in front of the windshield, dancing before her like fireflies from the devil’s own fire, a hearth that whispers and conjures forth evil from city and countryside alike: Come out, come out, mischief and malice, come out from your cold, flooded holes, and show us what your loveless world looks like.
Janne’s pathetic excuses echo inside her head and in the sounds she hears.
No more Christmases like that one. She has promised herself that much.
* * *
“I have to go.”
They had talked about it again on Christmas Day; Malin had a hangover and hadn’t felt like fighting, she was just quietly furious and sad that everything was turning out the way it always used to.
“They need me there. I couldn’t live with myself if I turned it down. They need my experience to set up the latrines in the refugee camp; if that doesn’t happen thousands of people will die like flies. Have you ever seen a child die of cholera, Malin? Have you?”
She had felt like punching him when he said that.
They had made love one last time the night before he left.
Hard and without any warmth, and she had a sense of Daniel Högfeldt’s hard body above her, the journalist she had carried on having sex with sometimes, and she had scratched Janne’s back, biting his chest and feeling the metallic taste of his blood, and he hadn’t objected; he seemed to enjoy being tormented by her rage.
There was steel in her that night. Hard, rigid steel.
Janne had come home a month later, and she had been immersed in her work on the Maria Murvall case, spending the weekends interviewing the officers in Motala who had dealt with the investigation.
Tove was living her own life alongside theirs. Somehow this was how things had turned out.
“She’s never home. Have you noticed?” Janne asked one evening in April when they were off at the same time and Tove had gone to the cinema in the city.
Malin hadn’t noticed. How could she have noticed when she herself was never at home?
They talked about seeing a counselor, trying to get some family therapy.
Several times Malin had stood with the phone in her hand, ready to call the psychoanalyst Viveka Crafoord, who had offered to see her free of charge.
But her tongue was paralyzed.
That spring Malin had watched them working in the garden again, father and daughter together, she herself merely a physical presence, her soul taken up with a complicated honor killing.
“How the hell could a father ask his son to kill his daughter? Janne, tell me?”
“Okay, no more tequila tonight.”
“I hate it when you give me orders. It sounds like I belong to you.”
* * *
Linköping is enveloped by ice-cold rain.
What exactly is this city, other than a cocoon for people’s dreams?
Side by side, the inhabitants of the country’s fifth-largest city push on with their lives. Watching each other. Judging each other. Trying to love each other in spite of their prejudices. The people of Linköping mean well, Malin thinks. But when a lot of people’s lives are governed by a constant anxiety about keeping their jobs and making their wages last till the end of the month, while a minority live lives of excess, solidarity doesn’t hold up. The city’s inhabitants live side by side, separated by thin geographic lines. You can shout to the council flats of the sixties and seventies from the gardens of lovely villas, and call back from the shabby balconies.
Autumn is a time of decay, Malin thinks. The whole world is scared, waiting to be enveloped in the chill of winter. At the same time the colors of autumn are like fire, but it’s a cold fire that only cold-blooded animals can love and take any pleasure from. The only promise held by the beauty of autumn, the leaves like flames, is that everything is going to get worse.
Her hands are no longer trembling on the steering wheel.
All that is left is the damp chill against her thin body. It’s strong, my body, she thinks. I may have let everything else slip, but I haven’t neglected my training, I’m strong, I’m so fucking strong, I’m Malin Fors.
She drives past the old cemetery.
She sees the reflection of the cathedral spire hit the windshield like a medieval lance ready to impale her.
* * *
What happened tonight?
What words were spoken?
What raised eyebrow, what nuance in what voice made them start again?
She has no idea; she’s had a bit to drink, not much, but probably far too much to be driving this car at this moment.
Am I drunk? Adrenaline has erased any intoxication. But I’m not quite sober. None of my colleagues will be out tonight, will they?
You bastard. You pathetic, cowardly bastard, always running
away. Calm down, Malin, stop being ridiculous, stop it, no more drink, for fuck’s sake stop drinking, why don’t you leave, and did I hit him? Did I hit you in the kitchen, Janne, or did I just have my clenched fist in the air, pissed off at all your fucking don’ts?
I was flailing at the air, I remember that now, now that I’m pulling up in the car outside the front door on Ågatan.
The clock of St. Lars Church, enveloped in a brittle fog, says it’s quarter to eleven. A few shadowy crows stand out darkly against the sky.
No one in sight and I don’t want to think about this evening, this night. Beside the church’s dark-gray stone, on the waterlogged grass, sit great piles of raked leaves. In the darkness it looks like they’re rusting, surrendering their beautiful colors and letting themselves be consumed by the millions of worms emerging from the drenched ground.
You jerked back, Janne, dancing out of the way—you’ve had plenty of practice with worse blows than mine—and I yelled that I was leaving, leaving and never coming back.
You said, You can’t drive in that state, Malin, and you tried to take the keys, and then Tove was there, she’d fallen asleep watching television on the sofa but had woken up, and she shouted, Surely you can see you can’t drive like that, Mum?
You said, Calm down now, Malin, come here, let’s have a hug, and I lashed out again, but again there was nothing but air where I hoped you were standing.
I pretended I’d asked if you wanted to come with me, Tove, but you just shook your head.
And you, Janne, you didn’t stop me.
You just looked at the kitchen clock.
Then I ran to the car.
I drove through the blackest autumn weather and now I’ve stopped. I open the car door. Black tentacles tear at the gray-black sky. Open holes of fear where the starlight ought to be seeping through.
My shoes on the wet tarmac.
I’m thirty-five years old.
What have I done?