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A man Called Ove / (by Fredrik Backman, 2014) -

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A man Called Ove /    (by Fredrik Backman, 2014) -

A man Called Ove / (by Fredrik Backman, 2014) -

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: 260
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A man Called Ove / (by Fredrik Backman, 2014) -
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2014
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Fredrik Backman
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George Newbern
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upper_intermediate
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09:09:33
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65 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

A man Called Ove / :

.doc (Word) fredrik_backman_-_a_man_called_ove.doc [895.5 Kb] (c: 12) .
.pdf fredrik_backman_-_a_man_called_ove.pdf [1.48 Mb] (c: 8) .
audiobook (MP3) .


: A man Called Ove

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1 A MAN CALLED OVE BUYS A COMPUTER THAT IS NOT A COMPUTER Ove is fifty-nine. He drives a Saab. Hes the kind of man who points at people he doesnt like the look of, as if they were burglars and his forefinger a policemans flashlight. He stands at the counter of a shop where owners of Japanese cars come to purchase white cables. Ove eyes the sales assistant for a long time before shaking a medium-sized white box at him. So this is one of those O-Pads, is it? he demands. The assistant, a young man with a single-digit body mass index, looks ill at ease. He visibly struggles to control his urge to snatch the box out of Oves hands. Yes, exactly. An iPad. Do you think you could stop shaking it like that . . . ? Ove gives the box a skeptical glance, as if its a highly dubious sort of box, a box that rides a scooter and wears tracksuit pants and just called Ove my friend before offering to sell him a watch. I see. So its a computer, yes? The sales assistant nods. Then hesitates and quickly shakes his head. Yes . . . or, what I mean is, its an iPad. Some people call it a tablet and others call it a surfing device. There are different ways of looking at it. . . . Ove looks at the sales assistant as if he has just spoken backwards, before shaking the box again. But is it good, this thing? The assistant nods confusedly. Yes. Or . . . How do you mean? Ove sighs and starts talking slowly, articulating his words as if the only problem here is his adversarys impaired hearing. Is. It. Goooood? Is it a good computer? The assistant scratches his chin. I mean . . . yeah . . . its really good . . . but it depends what sort of computer you want. Ove glares at him. I want a computer! A normal bloody computer! Silence descends over the two men for a short while. The assistant clears his throat. Well . . . it isnt really a normal computer. Maybe youd rather have a . . . The assistant stops and seems to be looking for a word that falls within the bounds of comprehension of the man facing him. Then he clears his throat again and says: . . . a laptop? Ove shakes his head wildly and leans menacingly over the counter. No, I dont want a laptop. I want a computer. The assistant nods pedagogically. A laptop is a computer. Ove, insulted, glares at him and stabs his forefinger at the counter. You think I dont know that! Another silence, as if two gunmen have suddenly realized they have forgotten to bring their pistols. Ove looks at the box for a long time, as though hes waiting for it to make a confession. Where does the keyboard pull out? he mutters eventually. The sales assistant rubs his palms against the edge of the counter and shifts his weight nervously from foot to foot, as young men employed in retail outlets often do when they begin to understand that something is going to take considerably more time than they had initially hoped. Well, this one doesnt actually have a keyboard. Ove does something with his eyebrows. Ah, of course, he splutters. Because you have to buy it as an extra, dont you? No, what I mean is that the computer doesnt have a separate keyboard. You control everything from the screen. Ove shakes his head in disbelief, as if hes just witnessed the sales assistant walking around the counter and licking the glass-fronted display cabinet. But I have to have a keyboard. You do understand that? The young man sighs deeply, as if patiently counting to ten. Okay. I understand. In that case I dont think you should go for this computer. I think you should buy something like a MacBook instead. A McBook? Ove says, far from convinced. Is that one of those blessed eReaders everyones talking about? No. A MacBook is a . . . its a . . . laptop, with a keyboard. Okay! Ove hisses. He looks around the shop for a moment. So are they any good, then? The sales assistant looks down at the counter in a way that seems to reveal a fiercely yet barely controlled desire to begin clawing his own face. Then he suddenly brightens, flashing an energetic smile. You know what? Let me see if my colleague has finished with his customer, so he can come and give you a demonstration. Ove checks his watch and grudgingly agrees, reminding the assistant that some people have better things to do than stand around all day waiting. The assistant gives him a quick nod, then disappears and comes back after a few moments with a colleague. The colleague looks very happy, as people do when they have not been working for a sufficient stretch of time as sales assistants. Hi, how can I help you? Ove drills his police-flashlight finger into the counter. I want a computer! The colleague no longer looks quite as happy. He gives the first sales assistant an insinuating glance as if to say hell pay him back for this. In the meantime the first sales assistant mutters, I cant take anymore, Im going for lunch. Lunch, snorts Ove. Thats the only thing people care about nowadays. Im sorry? says the colleague and turns around. Lunch! He sneers, then tosses the box onto the counter and swiftly walks out. 2 (THREE WEEKS EARLIER) A MAN CALLED OVE MAKES HIS NEIGHBORHOOD INSPECTION It was five to six in the morning when Ove and the cat met for the first time. The cat instantly disliked Ove exceedingly. The feeling was very much reciprocated. Ove had, as usual, gotten up ten minutes earlier. He could not make head nor tail of people who overslept and blamed it on the alarm clock not ringing. Ove had never owned an alarm clock in his entire life. He woke up at quarter to six and that was when he got up. Every morning for the almost four decades they had lived in this house, Ove had put on the coffee percolator, using exactly the same amount of coffee as on any other morning, and then drank a cup with his wife. One measure for each cup, and one extra for the potno more, no less. People didnt know how to do that anymore, brew some proper coffee. In the same way as nowadays nobody could write with a pen. Because now it was all computers and espresso machines. And where was the world going if people couldnt even write or brew a pot of coffee? While his proper cup of coffee was brewing, he put on his navy blue trousers and jacket, stepped into his wooden clogs, and shoved his hands in his pockets in that particular way of a middle-aged man who expects the worthless world outside to disappoint him. Then he made his morning inspection of the street. The surrounding row houses lay in silence and darkness as he walked out the door, and there wasnt a soul in sight. Might have known, thought Ove. On this street no one took the trouble to get up any earlier than they had to. Nowadays, it was just self-employed people and other disreputable sorts living here. The cat sat with a nonchalant expression in the middle of the footpath that ran between the houses. It had half a tail and only one ear. Patches of fur were missing here and there as if someone had pulled it out in handfuls. Not a very impressive feline. Ove stomped forward. The cat stood up. Ove stopped. They stood there measuring up to each other for a few moments, like two potential troublemakers in a small-town bar. Ove considered throwing one of his clogs at it. The cat looked as if it regretted not bringing its own clogs to lob back. Scram! Ove bellowed, so abruptly that the cat jumped back. It briefly scrutinized the fifty-nine-year-old man and his clogs, then turned and lolloped off. Ove could have sworn it rolled its eyes before clearing out. Pest, he thought, glancing at his watch. Two minutes to six. Time to get going or the bloody cat would have succeeded in delaying the entire inspection. Fine state of affairs that would be. He began marching along the footpath between the houses. He stopped by the traffic sign informing motorists that they were prohibited from entering the residential area. He gave the metal pole a firm kick. Not that it was wonky or anything, but its always best to check. Ove is the sort of man who checks the status of all things by giving them a good kick. He walked across the parking area and strolled back and forth along all the garages to make sure none of them had been burgled in the night or set on fire by gangs of vandals. Such things had never happened around here, but then Ove had never skipped one of his inspections either. He tugged three times at the door handle of his own garage, where his Saab was parked. Just like any other morning. After this, he detoured through the guest parking area, where cars could only be left for up to twenty-four hours. Carefully he noted down all the license numbers in the little pad he kept in his jacket pocket, and then compared these to the licenses he had noted down the day before. On occasions when the same license numbers turned up in Oves notepad, Ove would go home and call the Vehicle Licensing Authority to retrieve the vehicle owners details, after which hed call up the latter and inform him that he was a useless bloody imbecile who couldnt even read signs. Ove didnt really care who was parked in the guest parking area, of course. But it was a question of principle. If it said twenty-four hours on the sign, thats how long you were allowed to stay. What would it be like if everyone just parked wherever they liked? It would be chaos. Thered be cars bloody everywhere. Today, thank goodness, there werent any unauthorized cars in the guest parking, and Ove was able to proceed to the next part of his daily inspection: the trash room. Not that it was really his responsibility, mind. He had steadfastly opposed from the very beginning the nonsense steamrollered through by the recently arrived jeep-brigade that household trash had to be separated. Having said that, once the decision was made to sort the trash, someone had to ensure that it was actually being done. Not that anyone had asked Ove to do it, but if men like Ove didnt take the initiative thered be anarchy. Thered be bags of trash all over the place. He kicked the bins a bit, swore, and fished out a jar from the glass recycling, mumbled something about incompetents as he unscrewed its metal lid. He dropped the jar back into glass recycling, and the metal lid into the metal recycling bin. Back when Ove was the chairman of the Residents Association, hed pushed hard to have surveillance cameras installed so they could monitor the trash room and stop people tossing out unauthorized trash. To Oves great annoyance, his proposal was voted out. The neighbors felt slightly uneasy about it; plus they felt it would be a headache archiving all the videotapes. This, in spite of Ove repeatedly arguing that those with honest intentions had nothing to fear from the truth. Two years later, after Ove had been deposed as chairman of the Association (a betrayal Ove subsequently referred to as the coup d?tat), the question came up again. The new steering group explained snappily to the residents that there was a newfangled camera available, activated by movement sensors, which sent the footage directly to the Internet. With the help of such a camera one could monitor not only the trash room but also the parking area, thereby preventing vandalism and burglaries. Even better, the video material erased itself automatically after twenty-four hours, thus avoiding any breaches of the residents right to privacy. A unanimous decision was required to go ahead with the installation. Only one member voted against. And that was because Ove did not trust the Internet. He accentuated the net even though his wife nagged that you had to put the emphasis on Inter. The steering group realized soon enough that the Internet would watch Ove throwing out his trash over Oves own dead body. And in the end no cameras were installed. Just as well, Ove reasoned. The daily inspection was more effective anyway. You knew who was doing what and who was keeping things under control. Anyone with half a brain could see the sense of it. When hed finished his inspection of the trash room he locked the door, just as he did every morning, and gave it three good tugs to ensure it was closed properly. Then he turned around and noticed a bicycle leaning up against the wall outside the bike shed. Even though there was a huge sign instructing residents not to leave their bicycles there. Right next to it one of the neighbors had taped up an angry, handwritten note: This is not a bicycle parking area! Learn to read signs! Ove muttered something about ineffectual idiots, opened the bike shed, picked up the bicycle, put it neatly inside, then locked the shed and tugged the door handle three times. He tore down the angry notice from the wall. He would have liked to propose to the steering committee that a proper No Leafleting sign should be put up on this wall. People nowadays seemed to think they could swan around with angry signs here, there, and anywhere they liked. This was a wall, not a bloody notice board. Ove walked down the little footpath between the houses. He stopped outside his own house, stooped over the paving stones, and sniffed vehemently along the cracks. Piss. It smelled of piss. And with this observation he went into his house, locked his door, and drank his coffee. When he was done he canceled his telephone line rental and his newspaper subscription. He mended the tap in the small bathroom. Put new screws into the handle of the door from the kitchen to the veranda. Reorganized boxes in the attic. Rearranged his tools in the shed and moved the Saabs winter tires to a new place. And now here he is. Life was never meant to turn into this. Its four oclock on a Tuesday afternoon in November. Hes turned off the radiators, the coffee percolator, and all the lights. Oiled the wooden countertop in the kitchen, in spite of those mules at IKEA saying the wood does not need oiling. In this house all wooden worktops get an oiling every six months, whether its necessary or not. Whatever some girlie in a yellow sweatshirt from the self-service warehouse has to say about it. He stands in the living room of the two-story row house with the half-size attic at the back and stares out the window. The forty-year-old beard-stubbled poser from the house across the street comes jogging past. Anders is his name, apparently. A recent arrival, probably not lived here for more than four or five years at most. Already hes managed to wheedle his way onto the steering group of the Residents Association. The snake. He thinks he owns the street. Moved in after his divorce, apparently, paid well over the market value. Typical of these bastards, they come here and push up the property prices for honest people. As if this was some sort of upper-class area. Also drives an Audi, Ove has noticed. He might have known. Self-employed people and other idiots all drive Audis. Ove tucks his hands into his pockets. He directs a slightly imperious kick at the baseboard. This row house is slightly too big for Ove and his wife, really, he can just about admit that. But its all paid for. Theres not a penny left in loans. Which is certainly more than one could say for the clotheshorse. Its all loans nowadays; everyone knows the way people carry on. Ove has paid his mortgage. Done his duty. Gone to work. Never taken a day of sick leave. Shouldered his share of the burden. Taken a bit of responsibility. No one does that anymore, no one takes responsibility. Now its just computers and consultants and council bigwigs going to strip clubs and selling apartment leases under the table. Tax havens and share portfolios. No one wants to work. A country full of people who just want to have lunch all day. Wont it be nice to slow down a bit? they said to Ove yesterday at work. While explaining that there was a lack of employment prospects and so they were retiring the older generation. A third of a century in the same workplace, and thats how they refer to Ove. Suddenly hes a bloody generation. Because nowadays people are all thirty-one and wear too-tight trousers and no longer drink normal coffee. And dont want to take responsibility. A shed-load of men with elaborate beards, changing jobs and changing wives and changing their car makes. Just like that. Whenever they feel like it. Ove glares out of the window. The poser is jogging. Not that Ove is provoked by jogging. Not at all. Ove couldnt give a damn about people jogging. What he cant understand is why they have to make such a big thing of it. With those smug smiles on their faces, as if they were out there curing pulmonary emphysema. Either they walk fast or they run slowly, thats what joggers do. Its a forty-year-old mans way of telling the world that he cant do anything right. Is it really necessary to dress up as a fourteen-year-old Romanian gymnast in order to be able to do it? Or the Olympic tobogganing team? Just because one shuffles aimlessly around the block for three quarters of an hour? And the poser has a girlfriend. Ten years younger. The Blond Weed, Ove calls her. Tottering around the streets like an inebriated panda on heels as long as box wrenches, with clown paint all over her face and sunglasses so big that one cant tell whether theyre a pair of glasses or some kind of helmet. She also has one of those handbag animals, running about off the leash and pissing on the paving stones outside Oves house. She thinks Ove doesnt notice, but Ove always notices. His life was never supposed to be like this. Full stop. Wont it be nice taking it a bit easy? they said to him at work yesterday. And now Ove stands here by his oiled kitchen countertop. Its not supposed to be a job for a Tuesday afternoon. He looks out the window at the identical house opposite. A family with children has just moved in there. Foreigners, apparently. He doesnt know yet what sort of car they have. Probably something Japanese, God help them. Ove nods to himself, as if he just said something which he very much agrees with. Looks up at the living room ceiling. Hes going to put up a hook there today. And he doesnt mean any kind of hook. Every IT consultant trumpeting some data-code diagnosis and wearing one of those non-gender-specific cardigans they all have to wear these days would put up a hook any old way. But Oves hook is going to be as solid as a rock. Hes going to screw it in so hard that when the house is demolished itll be the last thing standing. In a few days therell be some stuck-up real estate agent standing here with a tie knot as big as a babys head, banging on about renovation potential and spatial efficiency, and hell have all sorts of opinions about Ove, the bastard. But he wont be able to say a word about Oves hook. On the floor in the living room is one of Oves useful-stuff boxes. Thats how they divide up the house. All the things Oves wife has bought are lovely or homey. Everything Ove buys is useful. Stuff with a function. He keeps them in two different boxes, one big and one small. This is the small one. Full of screws and nails and wrench sets and that sort of thing. People dont have useful things anymore. People just have shit. Twenty pairs of shoes but they never know where the shoehorn is; houses filled with microwave ovens and flat-screen televisions, yet they couldnt tell you which anchor bolt to use for a concrete wall if you threatened them with a box cutter. Ove has a whole drawer in his useful-stuff box just for concrete-wall anchor bolts. He stands there looking at them as if they were chess pieces. He doesnt stress about decisions concerning anchor bolts for concrete. Things have to take their time. Every anchor bolt is a process; every anchor bolt has its own use. People have no respect for decent, honest functionality anymore, theyre happy as long as everything looks neat and dandy on the computer. But Ove does things the way theyre supposed to be done. He came into his office on Monday and they said they hadnt wanted to tell him on Friday as it would have ruined his weekend. Itll be good for you to slow down a bit, theyd drawled. Slow down? What did they know about waking up on a Tuesday and no longer having a purpose? With their Internets and their espresso coffees, what did they know about taking a bit of responsibility for things? Ove looks up at the ceiling. Squints. Its important for the hook to be centered, he decides. And while he stands there immersed in the importance of it, hes mercilessly interrupted by a long scraping sound. Not at all unlike the type of sound created by a big oaf backing up a Japanese car hooked up to a trailer and scraping it against the exterior wall of Oves house. 3 A MAN CALLED OVE BACKS UP WITH A TRAILER Ove whips open the green floral curtains, which for many years Oves wife has been nagging him to change. He sees a short, black-haired, and obviously foreign woman aged about thirty. She stands there gesticulating furiously at a similarly aged oversize blond lanky man squeezed into the drivers seat of a ludicrously small Japanese car with a trailer, now scraping against the exterior wall of Oves house. The Lanky One, by means of subtle gestures and signs, seems to want to convey to the woman that this is not quite as easy as it looks. The woman, with gestures that are comparatively unsubtle, seems to want to convey that it might have something to do with the moronic nature of the Lanky One in question. Well, Ill be bloody . . . Ove thunders through the window as the wheel of the trailer rolls into his flowerbed. A few seconds later his front door seems to fly open of its own accord, as if afraid that Ove might otherwise walk straight through it. What the hell are you doing? Ove roars at the woman. Yes, thats what Im asking myself! she roars back. Ove is momentarily thrown off-balance. He glares at her. She glares back. You cant drive a car here! Cant you read? The little foreign woman steps towards him and only then does Ove notice that shes either very pregnant or suffering from what Ove would categorize as selective obesity. Im not driving the car, am I? Ove stares silently at her for a few seconds. Then he turns to her husband, whos just managed to extract himself from the Japanese car and is approaching them with two hands thrown expressively into the air and an apologetic smile plastered across his face. Hes wearing a knitted cardigan and his posture seems to indicate a very obvious calcium deficiency. He must be close to six and a half feet tall. Ove feels an instinctive skepticism towards all people taller than six feet; the blood cant quite make it all the way up to the brain. And who might you be? Ove enquires. Im the driver, says the Lanky One expansively. Oh, really? Doesnt look like it! rages the pregnant woman, who is probably a foot and a half shorter than him. She tries to slap his arm with both hands. And whos this? Ove asks, staring at her. This is my wife. He smiles. Dont be so sure itll stay that way, she snaps, her pregnant belly bouncing up and down. Its not as easy as it loo the Lanky One tries to say, but hes immediately cut short. I said RIGHT! But you went on backing up to the LEFT! You dont listen! You NEVER listen! After that, she immerses herself in half a minutes worth of haranguing in what Ove can only assume to be a display of the complex vocabulary of Arabic cursing. The husband just nods back at her with an indescribably harmonious smile. The very sort of smile that makes decent folk want to slap Buddhist monks in the face, Ove thinks to himself. Oh, come on. Im sorry, he says cheerfully, hauling out a tin of chewing tobacco from his pocket and packing it in a ball the size of a walnut. It was only a little accident, well sort it out! Ove looks at the Lanky One as if the Lanky One has just squatted over the hood of Oves car and left a turd on it. Sort it out? Youre in my flowerbed! The Lanky One looks ponderously at the trailer wheels. Thats hardly a flowerbed, is it? He smiles, undaunted, and adjusts his tobacco with the tip of his tongue. Naah, come on, thats just soil, he persists, as if Ove is having a joke with him. Oves forehead compresses itself into one large, threatening wrinkle. It. Is. A. Flowerbed. The Lanky One scratches his head, as if hes got some tobacco caught in his tangled hair. But youre not growing anything in it Never you bloody mind what I do with my own flowerbed! The Lanky One nods quickly, clearly keen to avoid further provocation of this unknown man. He turns to his wife as if hes expecting her to come to his aid. She doesnt look at all likely to do so. The Lanky One looks at Ove again. Pregnant, you know. Hormones and all that . . . he tries, with a grin. The Pregnant One does not grin. Nor does Ove. She crosses her arms. Ove tucks his hands into his belt. The Lanky One clearly doesnt know what to do with his massive hands, so he swings them back and forth across his body, slightly shamefully, as if theyre made of cloth, fluttering in the breeze. Ill move it and have another go, he finally says and smiles disarmingly at Ove again. Ove does not reciprocate. Motor vehicles are not allowed in the area. Theres a sign. The Lanky One steps back and nods eagerly. Jogs back and once again contorts his body into the under-dimensioned Japanese car. Christ, Ove and the pregnant woman mutter wearily in unison. Which actually makes Ove dislike her slightly less. The Lanky One pulls forward a few yards; Ove can see very clearly that he does not straighten up the trailer properly. Then he starts backing up again. Right into Oves mailbox, buckling the green sheet metal. Ove storms forward and throws the car door open. The Lanky One starts flapping his arms again. My fault, my fault! Sorry about that, didnt see the mailbox in the rearview mirror, you know. Its difficult, this trailer thing, just cant figure out which way to turn the wheel . . . Ove thumps his fist on the roof of the car so hard that the Lanky One jumps and bangs his head on the doorframe. Out of the car! What? Get out of the car, I said! The Lanky One gives Ove a slightly startled glance, but he doesnt quite seem to have the nerve to reply. Instead he gets out of his car and stands beside it like a schoolboy in the dunces corner. Ove points down the footpath between the row houses, towards the bicycle shed and the parking area. Go and stand where youre not in the way. The Lanky One nods, slightly puzzled. Holy Christ. A lower-arm amputee with cataracts could have backed this trailer more accurately than you, Ove mutters as he gets into the car. How can anyone be incapable of reversing with a trailer? he asks himself. How? How difficult is it to establish the basics of right and left and then do the opposite? How do these people make their way through life at all? Of course its an automatic, Ove notes. Might have known. These morons would rather not have to drive their cars at all, let alone reverse into a parking space by themselves. He puts it into drive and inches forward. Should one really have a drivers license if one cant drive a real car rather than some Japanese robot vehicle? he wonders. Ove doubts whether someone who cant park a car properly should even be allowed to vote. When hes pulled forward and straightened up the traileras civilized people do before backing up with a trailerhe puts it into reverse. Immediately it starts making a shrieking noise. Ove looks around angrily. What the bloody hell are you . . . why are you making that noise? he hisses at the instrument panel and gives the steering wheel a whack. Stop it, I said! he roars at a particularly insistent flashing red light. At the same time the Lanky One appears at the side of the car and carefully taps the window. Ove rolls the window down and gives him an irritated look. Its just the reverse radar making that noise, the Lanky One says with a nod. Dont you think I know that? Ove seethes. Its a bit unusual, this car. I was thinking I could show you the controls if you like . . . Im not an idiot, you know! Ove snorts. The Lanky One nods eagerly. No, no, of course not. Ove glares at the instrument panel. Whats it doing now? The Lanky One nods enthusiastically. Its measuring how much powers left in the battery. You know, before it switches from the electric motor to the gas-driven motor. Because its a hybrid. . . . Ove doesnt answer. He just slowly rolls up the window, leaving the Lanky One outside with his mouth half-open. Ove checks the left wing mirror. Then the right wing mirror. He reverses while the Japanese car shrieks in terror, maneuvers the trailer perfectly between his own house and his incompetent new neighbors, gets out, and tosses the cretin his keys. Reverse radar and parking sensors and cameras and crap like that. A man who needs all that to back up with a trailer shouldnt be bloody doing it in the first place. The Lanky One nods cheerfully at him. Thanks for the help, he calls out, as if Ove hadnt just spent the last ten minutes insulting him. You shouldnt even be allowed to rewind a cassette, grumbles Ove. The pregnant woman just stands there with her arms crossed, but she doesnt look quite as angry anymore. She thanks him with a wry smile, as if shes trying not to laugh. She has the biggest brown eyes Ove has ever seen. The Residents Association does not permit any driving in this area, and you have to bloody go along with it, Ove huffs, before stomping back to his house. He stops halfway up the paved path between the house and his shed. He wrinkles his nose in the way men of his age do, the wrinkle traveling across his entire upper body. Then he sinks down on his knees, puts his face right up close to the paving stones, which he neatly and without exception removes and re-lays every other year, whether necessary or not. He sniffs again. Nods to himself. Stands up. His new neighbors are still watching him. Piss! Theres piss all over the place here! Ove says gruffly. He gesticulates at the paving stones. O . . . kay, says the black-haired woman. No! Nowhere is bloody okay around here! And with that, he goes into his house and closes the door. He sinks onto the stool in the hall and stays there for a long time. Bloody woman. Why do she and her family have to come here if they cant even read a sign right in front of their eyes? Youre not allowed to drive cars inside the block. Everyone knows that. Ove goes to hang up his coat on the hook, among a sea of his wifes overcoats. Mutters idiots at the closed window just to be on the safe side. Then goes into his living room and stares up at his ceiling. He doesnt know how long he stands there. He loses himself in his own thoughts. Floats away, as if in a mist. Hes never been the sort of man who does that, has never been a daydreamer, but lately its as if somethings twisted up in his head. Hes having increasing difficulty concentrating on things. He doesnt like it at all. When the doorbell goes its like hes waking up from a warm slumber. He rubs his eyes hard, looks around as if worried that someone may have seen him. The doorbell rings again. Ove turns around and stares at the bell as if it should be ashamed of itself. He takes a few steps into the hall, noting that his body is as stiff as set plaster. He cant tell if the creaking is coming from the floorboards or himself. And what is it now? he asks the door before hes even opened it, as if it had the answer. What is it now? he repeats as he throws the door open so hard that a three-year-old girl is flung backwards by the draft and ends up very unexpectedly on her bottom. Beside her stands a seven-year-old girl looking absolutely terrified. Their hair is pitch black. And they have the biggest brown eyes Ove has ever seen. Yes? says Ove. The older girl looks guarded. She hands him a plastic container. Ove reluctantly accepts it. Its warm. Rice! the three-year-old girl announces happily, briskly getting to her feet. With saffron. And chicken, explains the seven-year-old, far more wary of him. Ove evaluates them suspiciously. Are you selling it? The seven-year-old looks offended. We LIVE HERE, you know! Ove is silent for a moment. Then he nods, as if he might possibly be able to accept this premise as an explanation. Okay. The younger one also nods with satisfaction and flaps her slightly-too-long sleeves. Mum said you were ungry! Ove looks in utter perplexity at the little flapping speech defect. What? Mum said you looked hungry. So we have to give you dinner, the seven-year-old girl clarifies with some irritation. Come on, Nasanin, she adds, taking her sister by the hand and walking away after directing a resentful stare at Ove. Ove keeps an eye on them as they skulk off. He sees the pregnant woman standing in her doorway, smiling at him before the girls run into her house. The three-year-old turns and waves cheerfully at him. Her mother also waves. Ove closes the door. He stands in the hall again. Stares at the warm container of chicken with rice and saffron as one might look at a box of nitroglycerin. Then he goes into the kitchen and puts it in the fridge. Not that hes habitually inclined to go around eating any old food provided by unknown, foreign kids on his doorstep. But in Oves house one does not throw away food. As a point of principle. He goes into the living room. Shoves his hands in his pockets. Looks up at the ceiling. Stands there a good while and thinks about what sort of concrete-wall anchor bolt would be most suitable for the job. He stands there squinting until his eyes start hurting. He looks down, slightly confused, at his dented wristwatch. Then he looks out the window again and realizes that dusk has fallen. He shakes his head in resignation. You cant start drilling after dark, everyone knows that. Hed have to turn on all the lights and no one could say when theyd be turned off again. And hes not giving the electricity company the pleasure, his meter notching up another couple of thousand kronor. They can forget about that. Ove packs up his useful-stuff box and takes it to the big upstairs hall. Fetches the key to the attic from its place behind the radiator in the little hall. Goes back and reaches up and opens the trapdoor to the attic. Folds down the ladder. Climbs up into the attic and puts the useful-stuff box in its place behind the kitchen chairs that his wife made him put up here because they creaked too much. They didnt creak at all. Ove knows very well it was just an excuse, because his wife wanted to get some new ones. As if that was all life was about. Buying kitchen chairs and eating in restaurants and carrying on. He goes down the stairs again. Puts back the attic key in its place behind the radiator in the little hall. Taking it a bit easy, they said to him. A lot of thirty-one-year-old show-offs working with computers and refusing to drink normal coffee. An entire society where no one knows how to back up with a trailer. Then they come telling him hes not needed anymore. Is that reasonable? Ove goes down to the living room and turns on the TV. He doesnt watch the programs, but its not like he can just spend his evenings sitting there by himself like a moron, staring at the walls. He gets out the foreign food from the fridge and eats it with a fork, straight out of the plastic container. Its Tuesday night and hes canceled his newspaper subscription, switched off the radiators, and turned out all the lights. And tomorrow hes putting up that hook. 4 A MAN CALLED OVE DOES NOT PAY A THREE-KRONOR SURCHARGE Ove gives her the plants. Two of them. Of course, there werent supposed to be two of them. But somewhere along the line there has to be a limit. It was a question of principle, Ove explains to her. Thats why he got two flowers in the end. Things dont work when youre not at home, he mutters, and kicks a bit at the frozen ground. His wife doesnt answer. Therell be snow tonight, says Ove. They said on the news there wouldnt be snow, but, as Ove often points out, whatever they predict is bound not to happen. He tells her this; she doesnt answer. He puts his hands in his pockets and gives her a brief nod. Its not natural rattling around the house on my own all day when youre not here. Its no way to live. Thats all I have to say. She doesnt reply to that either. He nods and kicks the ground again. He cant understand people who long to retire. How can anyone spend their whole life longing for the day when they become superfluous? Wandering about, a burden on society, what sort of man would ever wish for that? Staying at home, waiting to die. Or even worse: waiting for them to come and fetch you and put you in a home. Being dependent on other people to get to the toilet. Ove cant think of anything worse. His wife often teases him, says hes the only man she knows whod rather be laid out in a coffin than travel in a mobility service van. And she may have a point there. Ove had risen at quarter to six. Made coffee for his wife and himself, went around checking the radiators to make sure she hadnt sneakily turned them up. They were all unchanged from yesterday, but he turned them down a little more just to be on the safe side. Then he took his jacket from the hook in the hall, the only hook of all six that wasnt burgeoning with her clothes, and set off for his inspection. It had started getting cold, he noticed. Almost time to change his navy autumn jacket for his navy winter jacket. He always knows when its about to snow because his wife starts nagging about turning up the heat in the bedroom. Lunacy, Ove reaffirms every year. Why should the power company directors feather their nests because of a bit of seasonality? Turning up the heat five degrees costs thousands of kronor per year. He knows because hes calculated it himself. So every winter he drags down an old diesel generator from the attic that he swapped at a rummage sale for a gramophone. Hes connected this to a fan heater he bought at a sale for thirty-nine kronor. Once the generator has charged up the fan heater, it runs for thirty minutes on the little battery Ove has hooked it up to, and his wife keeps it on her side of the bed. She can run it a couple of times before they go to bed, but only a coupleno need to be lavish about it (Diesel isnt free, you know). And Oves wife does what she always does: nods and agrees that Ove is probably right. Then she goes around all winter sneakily turning up the radiators. Every year the same bloody thing. Ove kicks the ground again. Hes considering telling her about the cat. If you can even call that mangy, half-bald creature a cat. It was sitting there again when he came back from his inspection, practically right outside their front door. He pointed at it and shouted so loudly that his voice echoed between the houses. The cat just sat there, looking at Ove. Then it stood up elaborately, as if making a point of demonstrating that it wasnt leaving because of Ove, but rather because there were better things to do, and disappeared around the corner. Ove decides not to mention the cat to her. He assumes shell only be disgruntled with him for driving it away. If she was in charge the whole house would be full of tramps, whether of the furred variety or not. Hes wearing his navy suit and has done up the top button of the white shirt. She tells him to leave the top button undone if hes not wearing a tie; he protests that hes not some urchin whos renting out deck chairs, before defiantly buttoning it up. Hes got his dented old wristwatch on, the one that his dad inherited from his father when he was nineteen, the one that was passed on to Ove after his sixteenth birthday, a few days after his father died. Oves wife likes that suit. She always says he looks so handsome in it. Like any sensible person, Ove is obviously of the opinion that only posers wear their best suits on weekdays. But this morning he decided to make an exception. He even put on his black going-out shoes and polished them with a responsible amount of boot shine. As he took his autumn jacket from the hook in the hall before he went out, he threw a thoughtful eye on his wifes collection of coats. He wondered how such a small human being could have so many winter coats. You almost expect if you stepped through this lot youd find yourself in Narnia, a friend of Oves wife had once joked. Ove didnt have a clue what she was talking about, but he did agree there were a hell of a lot of coats. He walked out of the house before anyone on the street had even woken up. Strolled up to the parking area. Opened his garage with a key. He had a remote control for the door, but had never understood the point of it. An honest person could just as well open the door manually. He unlocked the Saab, also with a key: the system had always worked perfectly well, there was no reason to change it. He sat in the drivers seat and twisted the tuning dial half forward and then half back before adjusting each of the mirrors, as he did every time he got into the Saab. As if someone routinely broke into the Saab and mischievously changed Oves mirrors and radio channels. As he drove across the parking area he passed that Pregnant Foreign Woman from next door. She was holding her three-year-old by the hand. The big blond Lanky One was walking beside her. All three of them caught sight of Ove and waved cheerfully. Ove didnt wave back. At first he was going to stop and give her a dressing-down about letting children run about in the parking area as if it were some municipal playground. But he decided he didnt have the time. He drove along, passing row after row of houses identical to his own. When theyd first moved in here there were only six houses; now there were hundreds of them. There used to be a forest here but now there were only houses. Everything paid for with loans, of course. That was how you did it nowadays. Shopping on credit and driving electric cars and hiring tradesmen to change a lightbulb. Laying click-on floors and fitting electric fireplaces and carrying on. A society that apparently could not see the difference between the correct anchor bolt for a concrete wall and a smack in the face. Clearly this was how it was meant to be. It took him exactly fourteen minutes to drive to the florists in the shopping center. Ove kept exactly to every speed limit, even on that 35 mph road where the recently arrived idiots in suits came tanking along at 55. Among their own houses they put up speed bumps and damnable numbers of signs about Children Playing, but when driving past other peoples houses it was apparently less important. Ove had repeated this to his wife every time they drove past over the last ten years. And its getting worse and worse, he liked to add, just in case by some miracle she hadnt heard him the first time. Today hed barely gone a mile before a black Mercedes positioned itself a forearms length behind his Saab. Ove signaled with his brake lights three times. The Mercedes flashed its high beams at him in an agitated manner. Ove snorted at his rearview mirror. As if it was his duty to fling himself out of the way as soon as these morons decided speed restrictions didnt apply to them. Honestly. Ove didnt move. The Mercedes gave him a burst of its high beams again. Ove slowed down. The Mercedes sounded its horn. Ove lowered his speed to 15 mph. When they reached the top of a hill the Mercedes overtook him with a roar. The driver, a man in his forties in a tie and with white cables trailing from his ears, held up his finger through the window at Ove. Ove responded to the gesture in the manner of all men of a certain age whove been properly raised: by slowly tapping the tip of his finger against the side of his head. The man in the Mercedes shouted until his saliva spattered against the inside of his windshield, then put his foot down and disappeared. Two minutes later Ove came to a red light. The Mercedes was at the back of the line. Ove flashed his lights at it. He saw the driver craning his neck around. The white earpieces dropped out and fell against the dashboard. Ove nodded with satisfaction. The light turned green. The line didnt move. Ove sounded his horn. Nothing happened. Ove shook his head. Must be a woman driver. Or roadwork. Or an Audi. When thirty seconds had passed without anything happening, Ove put the car into neutral, opened the door, and stepped out of the Saab with the engine still running. Stood in the road and peered ahead with his hands on his hips, filled with a kind of Herculean irritation: the way Superman might have stood if hed got stuck in a traffic jam. The man in the Mercedes gave a blast on his horn. Idiot, thought Ove. In the same moment the traffic started moving. The cars in front of Ove moved off. The car behind him, a Volkswagen, beeped at him. The driver waved impatiently at Ove. Ove glared back. He got back into the Saab and leisurely closed the door. Amazing what a rush were in, he scoffed into the rearview mirror and drove on. At the next red light he ended up behind the Mercedes again. Another line. Ove checked his watch and took a left turn down a smaller, quiet road. This entailed a longer route to the shopping center, but there were fewer traffic lights. Not that Ove was mean. But as anyone who knows anything knows, cars use less fuel if they keep moving rather than stopping all the time. And, as Oves wife often says: If theres one thing you could write in Oves obituary, its At least he was economical with gas. As Ove approached the shopping center from his little side road, he could just make out that there were only two parking spaces left. What all these people were doing at the shopping center on a normal weekday was beyond his comprehension. Obviously people no longer had jobs to go to. Oves wife usually starts sighing as soon as they even get close to a parking lot like this. Ove wants to park close to the entrance. As if theres a competition about who can find the best parking spot, she always says as he completes circuit after circuit and swears at all the imbeciles getting in his way in their foreign cars. Sometimes they end up doing six or seven loops before they find a good spot, and if Ove in the end has to concede defeat and content himself with a slot twenty yards farther away, hes in a bad mood for the rest of the day. His wife has never understood it. Then again, she never was very good at grasping questions of principle. Ove figured he would go around slowly a couple of times just to check the lay of the land, but then suddenly caught sight of the Mercedes thundering along the main road towards the shopping center. So this was where hed been heading, that suit with the plastic cables in his ears. Ove didnt hesitate for a second. He put his foot down and barged his way out of the intersection into the road. The Mercedes slammed on its brakes, firmly pressing down on the horn and following close behind. The race was on. The signs at the parking lot entrance led the traffic to the right, but when they got there the Mercedes must also have seen the two empty slots, because he tried to slip past Ove on the left. Ove only just managed to maneuver himself in front of him to block his path. The two men started hunting each other across the tarmac. In his rearview mirror, Ove saw a little Toyota turn off the road behind them, follow the road signs, and enter the parking area in a wide loop from the right. Oves eyes followed it while he hurtled forward in the opposite direction, with the Mercedes on his tail. Of course, he could have taken one of the free slots, the one closest to the entrance, and then had the kindness of letting the Mercedes take the other. But what sort of victory would that have been? Instead Ove made an emergency stop in front of the first slot and stayed where he was. The Mercedes started wildly sounding its horn. Ove didnt flinch. The little Toyota approached from the far right. The Mercedes also caught sight of it and, too late, understood Oves devilish plan. Its horn wailed furiously as it tried to push past the Saab, but it never stood a chance: Ove had already waved the Toyota into one of the free slots. Only once it was safely in did Ove nonchalantly swing into the other space. The side window of the Mercedes was so covered in saliva when it drove past that Ove couldnt even see the driver. He stepped out of the Saab triumphantly, like a gladiator who had just slain his opponent. Then he looked at the Toyota. Oh, damn, he mumbled, irritated. The car door was thrown open. Hi there! the Lanky One sang merrily as he untangled himself from the drivers seat. Hello hello! said his wife from the other side of the Toyota, lifting out their three-year-old. Ove watched repentantly as the Mercedes disappeared in the distance. Thanks for the parking space! Bloody marvelous! The Lanky One was beaming. Ove didnt reply. Wass ya name? the three-year-old burst out. Ove, said Ove. My names Nasanin! she said with delight. Ove nodded at her. And Im Pat the Lanky One started saying. But Ove had already turned around and left. Thanks for the space, the Pregnant Foreign Woman called after him. Ove could hear laughter in her voice. He didnt like it. He just muttered a quick Fine, fine, without turning and marched through the revolving doors into the shopping center. He turned left down the first corridor and looked around several times, as if afraid that the family from next door would follow him. But they turned right and disappeared. Ove stopped suspiciously outside the supermarket and eyed the poster advertising the weeks special offers. Not that Ove was intending to buy any ham in this particular shop. But it was always worth keeping an eye on the prices. If theres one thing in this world that Ove dislikes, its when someone tries to trick him. Oves wife sometimes jokes that the three worst words Ove knows in this life are Batteries not included. People usually laugh when she says that. But Ove does not usually laugh. He moved on from the supermarket and stepped into the florists. And there it didnt take long for a rumble to start up, as Oves wife would have described it. Or a discussion, as Ove always insisted on calling it. Ove put down a coupon on the counter on which it said: 2 plants for 50 kronor. Given that Ove only wanted one plant, he explained to the shop assistant, with all rhyme and reason on his side, he should be able to buy it for 25 kronor. Because that was half of 50. However, the assistant, a brain-dead phone-texting nineteen-year-old, would not go along with it. She maintained that a single flower cost 39 kronor and 2 for 50 only applied if one bought two. The manager had to be summoned. It took Ove fifteen minutes to make him see sense and agree that Ove was right. Or, to be honest about it, the manager mumbled something that sounded a little like bloody old sod into his hand and hammered 25 kronor so hard into the cash register that anyone would have thought it was the machines fault. It made no difference to Ove. He knew these retailers were always trying to screw you out of money, and no one screwed Ove and got away with it. Ove put his debit card on the counter. The manager allowed himself the slightest of smiles, then nodded dismissively and pointed at a sign that read: Card purchases of less than 50 kronor carry a surcharge of 3 kronor. Now Ove is standing in front of his wife with two plants. Because it was a question of principle. There was no way I was going to pay three kronor, rails Ove, his eyes looking down into the gravel. Oves wife often quarrels with Ove because hes always arguing about everything. But Ove isnt bloody arguing. He just thinks right is right. Is that such an unreasonable attitude to life? He raises his eyes and looks at her. I suppose youre annoyed I didnt come yesterday like I promised, he mumbles. She doesnt say anything. The whole street is turning into a madhouse, he says defensively. Complete chaos. You even have to go out and back up their trailers for them nowadays. And you cant even put up a hook in peace, he continues as if shes disagreeing. He clears his throat. Obviously I couldnt put the hook up when it was dark outside. If you do that theres no telling when the lights go off. More likely theyll stay on and consume electricity. Out of the question. She doesnt answer. He kicks the frozen ground. Sort of looking for words. Clears his throat briefly once again. Nothing works when youre not at home. She doesnt answer. Ove fingers the plants. Im tired of it, just rattling around the house all day while youre away. She doesnt answer that either. He nods. Holds up the plants so she can see them. Theyre pink. The ones you like. They said in the shop theyre perennials but thats not what theyre bloody called. Apparently they die in this kind of cold, they also said that in the shop, but only so they could sell me a load of other shit. He looks as if hes waiting for her approval. The new neighbors put saffron in their rice and things like that; theyre foreigners, he says in a low voice. A new silence. He stands there, slowly twisting the wedding ring on his finger. As if looking for something else to say. He still finds it painfully difficult being the one to take charge of a conversation. That was always something she took care of. He usually just answered. This is a new situation for them both. Finally Ove squats, digs up the plant he brought last week, and carefully puts it in a plastic bag. He turns the frozen soil carefully before putting in the new plants. Theyve bumped up the electricity prices again, he informs her as he gets to his feet. He looks at her for a long time. Finally he puts his hand carefully on the big boulder and caresses it tenderly from side to side, as if touching her cheek. I miss you, he whispers. Its been six months since she died. But Ove still inspects the whole house twice a day to feel the radiators and check that she hasnt sneakily turned up the heating. 5 A MAN CALLED OVE Ove knew very well that her friends couldnt understand why she married him. He couldnt really blame them. People said he was bitter. Maybe they were right. Hed never reflected much on it. People also called him antisocial. Ove assumed this meant he wasnt overly keen on people. And in this instance he could totally agree with them. More often than not people were out of their minds. Ove wasnt one to engage in small talk. He had come to realize that, these days at least, this was a serious character flaw. Now one had to be able to blabber on about anything with any old sod who happened to stray within an arms length of you purely because it was nice. Ove didnt know how to do it. Perhaps it was the way hed been raised. Maybe men of his generation had never been sufficiently prepared for a world where everyone spoke about doing things even though it no longer seemed worth doing them. Nowadays people stood outside their newly refurbished houses and boasted as if theyd built them with their own bare hands, even though they hadnt so much as lifted a screwdriver. And they werent even trying to pretend that it was any other way. They boasted about it! Apparently there was no longer any value in being able to lay your own floorboards or refurbish a room with rising damp or change the winter tires. And if you could just go and buy everything, what was the value of it? What was the value of a man? Her friends couldnt see why she woke up every morning and voluntarily decided to share the whole day with him. He couldnt either. He built her a bookshelf and she filled it with books by people who wrote page after page about their feelings. Ove understood things he could see and touch. Wood and concrete. Glass and steel. Tools. Things one could figure out. He understood right angles and clear instruction manuals. Assembly models and drawings. Things one could draw on paper. He was a man of black and white. And she was color. All the color he had. The only thing he had ever loved until he saw her was numbers. He had no other particular memory of his youth. He was not bullied and he wasnt a bully, not good at sports and not bad either. He was never at the heart of things and never on the outside. He was the sort of person who was just there. Nor did he remember so very much about his growing up; he had never been the sort of man who went around remembering things unless there was a need for it. He remembered that he was quite happy and that for a few years afterwards he wasntthat was about it. And he remembered the sums. The numbers, filling his head. Remembered how he longed for their mathematics lessons at school. Maybe for the others they were a sufferance, but not for him. He didnt know why, and didnt speculate about it either. Hed never understood the need to go around stewing on why things turned out the way they did. You are what you are and you do what you do, and that was good enough for Ove. He was seven years old when his mum called it a day one early August morning. She worked at a chemicals plant. In those days people didnt know much about air safety, Ove realized later. She smoked as well, all the time. Thats Oves clearest memory of her, how she sat in the kitchen window of the little house where they lived outside town, with that billowing cloud around her, watching the sky every Saturday morning. And how sometimes she sang in her hoarse voice and Ove used to sit under the window with his mathematics book in his lap, and he remembered that he liked listening to her. He remembers that. Of course, her voice was hoarse and the odd note was more discordant than one would have liked, but he remembers that he liked it anyway. Oves father worked for the railways. The palms of his hands looked like someone had carved into leather with knives, and the wrinkles in his face were so deep that when he exerted himself the sweat was channeled through them down to his chest. His hair was thin and his body slender, but the muscles on his arms were so sharp that they seemed cut out of rock. Once when Ove was very young he was allowed to go with his parents to a big party with his dads friends from the rail company. After his father had put away a couple of bottles of pilsner, some of the other guests challenged him to an arm-wrestling competition. Ove had never seen the like of these giants straddling the bench opposite him. Some of them looked like they weighed about four hundred pounds. His father wore down every one of them. When they went home that night, he put his arm around Oves shoulders and said: Ove, only a swine thinks size and strength are the same thing. Remember that. And Ove never forgot it. His father never raised his fists. Not to Ove or anyone else. Ove had classmates who came to school with black eyes or bruises from a belt buckle after a thrashing. But never Ove. We dont fight in this family, his father used to state. Not with each other or anyone else. He was well liked down at the railway, quiet but kind. There were some who said he was too kind. Ove remembers how as a child he could never understand how this could be something bad. Then Mum died. And Dad grew even quieter. As if she took away with her the few words hed possessed. So Ove and his father never talked excessively, but they liked each others company. They sat in silence on either side of the kitchen table, and had ways of keeping busy. Every other day they put out food for a family of birds living in a rotting tree at the back of the house. It was important, Ove understood, that it had to be every other day. He didnt know why, but that didnt matter. In the evenings they had sausages and potatoes. Then they played cards. They never had much, but they always had enough. His fathers only remaining words were about engines (apparently his mother was content to leave these behind). He could spend any amount of time talking about them. Engines give you what you deserve, he used to explain. If you treat them with respect theyll give you freedom; if you behave like an ass theyll take it from you. For a long time he did not own a car of his own, but in the 1940s and 50s, when the bosses and directors at the railway started buying their own vehicles, a rumor soon spread in the office that the quiet man working on the track was a person well worth knowing. Oves father had never finished school, and didnt understand much about the sums in Oves schoolbooks. But he understood engines. When the daughter of the director was getting married and the wedding car broke down rather than ceremoniously transporting the bride to the church, Oves father was sent for. He came cycling with a toolbox on his shoulder so heavy that it took two men to lift it when he got off the bicycle. Whatever the problem was when he arrived, it was no longer a problem when he cycled back. The directors wife invited him to the wedding reception, but he told her that it was probably not the done thing to sit with elegant people when one was the sort of man whose forearms were so stained with oil that it seemed a natural part of his pigmentation. But hed gladly accept a bag of bread and meat for the lad at home, he said. Ove had just turned eight. When his father laid out the supper that evening, Ove felt like he was at a royal banquet. A few months later the director sent for Oves father again. In the parking area outside the office stood an extremely old and worse-for-wear Saab 92. It was the first motorcar Saab had ever manufactured, although it had not been in production since the significantly upgraded Saab 93 had come onto the market. Oves dad recognized it very well. Front-wheel-driven and a side-mounted engine that sounded like a coffee percolator. It had been in an accident, the director explained, sticking his thumbs into his suspenders under his jacket. The bottle-green body was badly dented and the condition of what lay under the hood was certainly not pretty. But Oves father produced a little screwdriver from the pocket of his dirty overalls and after lengthily inspecting the car, he gave the verdict that with a bit of time and care and the proper tools hed be able to put it back into working order. Whose is it? he wondered aloud as he straightened up and wiped the oil from his fingers with a rag. It belonged to a relative of mine, said the director, digging out a key from his suit trousers and pressing it into his palm. And now its yours. With a pat on his shoulder, the director returned to the office. Oves father stayed where he was in the courtyard, trying to catch his breath. That evening he had to explain everything over and over again to his goggle-eyed son and show all there was to know about this magical monster now parked in their garden. He sat in the drivers seat half the night, with the boy on his lap, explaining how all the mechanical parts were connected. He could account for every screw, every little tube. Ove had never seen a man as proud as his father was that night. He was eight years old and decided that night he would never drive any car but a Saab. Whenever he had a Saturday off, Oves father brought him out into the yard, opened the hood, and taught him all the names of the various parts and what they did. On Sundays they went to church. Not because either of them had any excessive zeal for God, but because Oves mum had always been insistent about it. They sat at the back, each of them staring at a patch on the floor until it was over. And, in all honesty, they spent more time missing Oves mum than thinking about God. It was her time, so to speak, even though she was no longer there. Afterwards theyd take a long drive in the countryside with the Saab. It was Oves favorite part of the week. That year, to stop him rattling around the house on his own, he also started going with his father to work at the railway yard after school. It was filthy work and badly paid, but, as his father used to mutter, Its an honest job and thats worth something. Ove liked all the men at the railway yard except Tom. Tom was a tall, noisy man with fists as big as flatbed carts and eyes that always seemed to be looking for some defenseless animal to kick around. When Ove was nine years old, his dad sent him to help Tom clean out a broken-down railway car. With sudden jubilation, Tom snatched up a briefcase left by some harassed passenger. It had fallen from the luggage rack and distributed its contents over the floor. Before long Tom was darting about on all fours, scrabbling together everything he could see. Finders keepers, he spat at Ove. Something in his eyes made Ove feel as if there were insects crawling under his skin. As Ove turned to go, he stumbled over a wallet. It was made of such soft leather that it felt like cotton against his rough fingertips. And it didnt have a rubber band around it like Dads old wallet, to keep it from falling to bits. It had a little silver button that made a click when you opened it. There was more than six thousand kronor inside. A fortune to anyone in those days. Tom caught sight of it and tried to tear it out of Oves hands. Overwhelmed by an instinctive defiance, the boy resisted. He saw how shocked Tom was at this, and out of the corner of his eye he had time to see the huge man clenching his fist. Ove knew hed never be able to get away, so he closed his eyes, held on to the wallet as hard as he could, and waited for the blow. But the next thing either of them knew, Oves father was standing between them. Toms furious, hateful eyes met his for an instant, but Oves father stood where he stood. And at last Tom lowered his fist and took a watchful step back. Finders keepers, its always been like that, he growled, pointing at the wallet. Thats up to the person who finds it, said Oves father without looking away. Toms eyes had turned black. But he retreated another step, still clutching the briefcase in his hands. Tom had worked many years at the railway, but Ove had never heard any of his fathers colleagues say one good word about Tom. He was dishonest and malicious, that was what they said after a couple of bottles of pilsner at their parties. But hed never heard it from his dad. Four children and a sick wife, was all he used to say to his workmates, looking each of them in the eye. Better men than Tom could have ended up worse for it. And then his workmates usually changed the subject. His father pointed to the wallet in Oves hand. You decide, he said. Ove determinedly fixed his gaze on the ground, feeling Toms eyes burning holes into the top of his head. Then he said in a low but unwavering voice that the lost property office would seem to be the best place to leave it. His father nodded without a word, and then took Oves hand as they walked back for almost half an hour along the track without a word passing between them. Ove heard Tom shouting behind them, his voice filled with cold fury. Ove never forgot it. The woman at the desk of the lost property office could hardly believe her eyes when they put the wallet on the counter. And it was just lying there on the floor? You didnt find a bag or anything? she asked. Ove gave his dad a searching look, but he just stood there in silence, so Ove did the same. The woman behind the counter seemed satisfied enough with the answer. Not many people have ever handed in this much money, she said, smiling at Ove. Many people dont have any decency either, said his father in a clipped voice, and took Oves hand. They turned around and went back to work. A few hundred yards down the track Ove cleared his throat, summoned some courage, and asked why his father had not mentioned the briefcase that Tom had found. Were not the sort of people who tell tales about what others do, he answered. Ove nodded. They walked in silence. I thought about keeping the money, Ove whispered at long last, and took his fathers hand in a firmer grip, as if he was afraid of letting go. I know, said his father, and squeezed his hand a little harder. But I knew you would hand it in, and I knew a person like Tom wouldnt, said Ove. His father nodded. And not another word was said about it. Had Ove been the sort of man who contemplated how and when one became the sort of man one was, he might have said this was the day he learned that right has to be right. But he wasnt one to dwell on things like that. He contented himself with remembering that on this day hed decided to be as little unlike his father as possible. He had only just turned sixteen when his father died. A hurtling carriage on the track. Ove was left with not much more than a Saab, a ramshackle house a few miles out of town, and a dented old wristwatch. He was never able to properly explain what happened to him that day. But he stopped being happy. He wasnt happy for several years after that. At the funeral, the vicar wanted to talk to him about foster homes, but he found out soon enough that Ove had not been brought up to accept charity. At the same time, Ove made it clear to the vicar that there was no need to reserve a place for him in the pews at Sunday service for the foreseeable future. Not because Ove did not believe in God, he explained to the vicar, but because in his view this God seemed to be a bit of a bloody swine. The next day he went down to the wages office at the railway and handed back the wages for the rest of the month. The ladies at the office didnt understand, so Ove had to impatiently explain that his father had died on the sixteenth, and obviously wouldnt be able to come in and work for the remaining fourteen days of that month. And because he got his wages in advance, Ove had come to pay back the balance. Hesitantly the ladies asked him to sit down and wait. After fifteen minutes or so the director came out and looked at the peculiar sixteen-year-old sitting on a wooden chair in the corridor with his dead fathers pay packet in his hand. The director knew very well who this boy was. And after hed convinced himself that there was no way of persuading him to keep the money he felt he had no right to, the director saw no alternative but to propose to Ove that he should work for the rest of the month and earn his right to it. Ove thought this seemed a reasonable offer and notified his school that hed be absent for the next two weeks. He never went back. He worked for the railways for five years. Then one morning he boarded a train and saw her for the first time. That was the first time hed laughed since his fathers death. And life was never again the same. People said Ove saw the world in black and white. But she was color. All the color he had. 6 A MAN CALLED OVE AND A BICYCLE THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN LEFT WHERE BICYCLES ARE LEFT Ove just wants to die in peace. Is that really too much to ask? Ove doesnt think so. Fair enough, he should have arranged it six months ago, straight after her funeral. But you couldnt bloody carry on like that, he decided at the time. He had his job to take care of. How would it look if people stopped coming to work all over the place because theyd killed themselves? Oves wife died on a Friday, was buried on Sunday, and then Ove went to work on Monday. Because thats how one handles things. And then six months went by and out of the blue the managers came in on Monday and said they hadnt wanted to deal with it on Friday because they didnt want to ruin his weekend. And on Tuesday he stood there oiling his kitchen worktops. So hes prepared everything. Hes paid the undertakers and arranged his place in the churchyard next to her. Hes called the lawyers and written a letter with clear instructions and put it in an envelope with all his important receipts and the deeds of the house and the service history of the Saab. Hes put this envelope in the inside pocket of his jacket. Hes paid all the bills. He has no loans and no debts, so no one will have to clear up anything after him. Hes even washed up his coffee cup and canceled the newspaper subscription. He is ready. And all he wants is to die in peace, he thinks, as he sits in the Saab and looks out of the open garage door. If he can just avoid his neighbors he may even be able to get away by this afternoon. He sees the heavily overweight young man from next door slouching past the garage door in the parking area. Not that Ove dislikes fat people. Certainly not. People can look any way they like. He has just never been able to understand them, cant fathom how they do it. How much can one person eat? How does one manage to turn oneself into a twin-size person? It must take a certain determination, he reflects. The young man notices him and waves cheerfully. Ove gives him a curt nod. The young man stands there waving, setting his fat breasts into motion under his T-shirt. Ove often says that this is the only man he knows who could attack a bowl of chips from all directions at once, but whenever he makes this comment Oves wife protests and tells him one shouldnt say things like that. Or rather, she used to. Used to. Oves wife liked the overweight young man. After his mother passed away she would go over once a week with a lunchbox. So he gets something home-cooked now and then, she used to say. Ove noticed that they never got the containers back, adding that maybe the young man hadnt noticed the difference between the box and the food inside it. At which point Oves wife would tell him that was enough. And then it was enough. Ove waits until the lunchbox eater has gone before he gets out of the Saab. He tugs at the handle three times. Closes the garage door behind him. Tugs at the door handle three times. Walks up the little footpath between the houses. Stops outside the bicycle shed. Theres a womans bicycle leaning up against the wall. Again. Right under the sign clearly explaining that cycles should not be left in this precise spot. Ove picks it up. The front tire is punctured. He unlocks the shed and places the bicycle tidily at the end of the row. He locks the door and has just tugged at it three times when he hears a late-pubescent voice jabbering in his ear. Whoa! What the hellre you doin?! Ove turns around and finds himself eye to eye with a whelp standing a few yards away. Putting a bike away in the bike shed. You cant do that! On closer inspection he may be eighteen or so, Ove suspects. More of a stripling than a whelp, in other words, if one wants to be pedantic about it. Yes I can. But Im repairing it! the youth bursts out, his voice rising into falsetto. But its a ladys bike, protests Ove. Yeah, so what? It can hardly be yours, then, Ove states condescendingly. The youth groans, rolling his eyes; Ove puts his hands into his pockets as if this is the end of the matter. Theres a guarded silence. The lad looks at Ove as if he finds Ove unnecessarily thick. In return, Ove looks at the creature before him as if it were nothing but a waste of oxygen. Behind the youth, Ove notices, theres another youth. Even slimmer than the first one and with black stuff all around his eyes. The second youth tugs carefully at the firsts jacket and murmurs something about not causing trouble. His comrade kicks rebelliously at the snow, as if it were the snows fault. Its my girlfriends bike, he mumbles at last. He says it more with resignation than indignation. His sneakers are too big and his jeans too small, Ove notes. His tracksuit jacket is pulled over his chin to protect him against the cold. His emaciated peach-fuzzed face is covered in blackheads and his hair looks as if someone saved him from drowning in a barrel by pulling him up by his locks. Where does she live, then? With profound exertion, as if hes been shot with a tranquillizer dart, the creature points with his whole arm towards the house at the far end of Oves street. Where those communists who pushed through the garbage sorting reform live with their daughters. Ove nods cautiously. She can pick it up in the bike shed, then, says Ove, tapping melodramatically at the sign prohibiting bicycles from being left in the area, before turning around and heading back towards his house. Grumpy old bastard! the youth yells behind him. Shhh! utters his soot-eyed companion. Ove doesnt answer. He walks past the sign clearly prohibiting motor vehicles from entering the residential area. The one which the Pregnant Foreign Woman apparently could not read, even though Ove knows very well that its quite impossible not to see it. He should know, because hes the one who put it there. Dissatisfied, he walks down the little footpath between the houses, stamping his feet so that anyone who saw him would think he was trying to flatten the tarmac. As if it wasnt bad enough with all the nutters already living on the street, he thinks. As if the whole area was not already being converted into some bloody speed bump in evolutionary progress. The Audi poser and the Blond Weed almost opposite Oves house, and at the far end of the row that communist family with their teenage daughters and their red hair and their shorts over their trousers, their faces like mirror-image raccoons. Well, most likely theyre on holiday in Thailand at this precise moment, but anyway. In the house next to Ove lives the twenty-five-year-old whos almost a quarter-tonner. With his long feminine hair and strange T-shirts. He lived with his mother until she died of some illness a year or so ago. Apparently his name is Jimmy, Oves wife has told him. Ove doesnt know what work Jimmy does; most likely something criminal. Unless he tests bacon for a living? In the house on the other side of Jimmy live Rune and his wife. Ove wouldnt exactly call Rune his enemy . . . or rather, he would. Everything that went to pot in the Residents Association began with Rune. He and his wife, Anita, moved into the area on the same day that Ove and Sonja moved in. At that time Rune drove a Volvo, but later he bought a BMW. You just couldnt reason with a person who behaved like that. It was Rune who pushed through the coup d?tat that saw Ove deposed as chairman of the association. And just look at the state of the place now. Higher electricity bills and bicycles that arent put away in the bike shed and people backing up with trailers in the residential area in spite of signs clearly stating that its prohibited. Ove has long warned about these awful things, but no one has listened. Since then he has never showed his face in any meeting of the Residents Association. His mouth makes a movement as if its just about to spit every time he mentally enunciates the words Residents Association. As if they were a gross indecency. Hes fifteen yards from his broken mailbox when he sees Blond Weed. At first he cant comprehend what shes doing at all. Shes swaying about on her heels on the footpath, gesturing hysterically at the fa?ade of Oves house. That little barking thingmore of a mutt than a proper dogwhich has been pissing on Oves paving stones is running around her feet. Weed yells something so violently that her sunglasses slip down over the tip of her nose. Mutt barks even louder. So the old girl has finally lost her faculties, Ove thinks, standing warily a few yards behind her. Only then does he realize that shes actually not gesticulating at the house. Shes throwing stones. And it isnt the house shes throwing them at. Its the cat. It sits squeezed into the far corner behind Oves shed. It has little flecks of blood in its coat, or whats left of its coat. Mutt bares its teeth; the cat hisses back. Dont you hiss at Prince! wails Weed, picking up another stone from Oves flowerbed and hurling it at the cat. The cat jumps out of the way; the stone hits the windowsill. She picks up another stone and prepares to throw it. Ove takes two quick steps forward and stands so close behind her that she can most likely feel his breath. If you throw that stone into my property, Ill throw you into your garden! She spins around. Their eyes meet. Ove has both hands in his pockets; she waves her fists in front of him as if trying to swat two flies the size of microwave ovens. Ove doesnt concede as much as a facial movement. That disgusting thing scratched Prince! she manages to say, her eyes wild with fury. Ove peers down at Mutt. It growls at him. Then he looks at the cat, sitting humiliated and bleeding but with its head defiantly raised, outside his house. Its bleeding. So it seems to have ended in a draw, says Ove. Like hell. Ill kill that piece of shit! No you wont, says Ove coldly. His insane neighbor begins to look threatening. Its probably full of disgusting diseases and rabies and all sorts of things! Ove looks at the cat. Looks at the Weed. Nods. And so are you, most likely. But we dont throw stones at you because of it. Her lower lip starts trembling. She slides her sunglasses up over her eyes. You watch yourself! she hisses. Ove nods. Points at Mutt. Mutt tries to bite his leg but Ove stamps his foot down so hard that it backs off. That thing should be kept on a leash inside the residential area, says Ove steadily. She tosses her dyed hair and snorts so hard that Ove half-expects a bit of snot to come flying out. And what about that thing?! she rages at the cat. Never you bloody mind, Ove answers. She looks at him in that particular way of people who feel both utterly superior and deeply insulted. Mutt bares its teeth in a silent growl. You think you own this street or what, you bloody lunatic? she says. Ove calmly points at Mutt again. The next time that thing pisses on my paving, he says coolly, Ill electrify the stone. Prince hasnt bloody pissed on your disgusting paving, she splutters, and takes two steps forward with her fists raised. Ove doesnt move. She stops. Looks as if shes hyperventilating. Then she seems to summon what highly negligible amount of common sense she has at her disposal. Come on, Prince, she says with a wave. Then raises her index finger at Ove. Im going to tell Anders about this, and then youll regret it. Tell your Anders from me that he should stop stretching his groin outside my window. Crazy old muppet, she spits out and heads off towards the parking area. And his cars crap, you tell him that! Ove adds for good measure. She makes a gesture at him that he hasnt seen before, although he can guess what it means. Then she and her wretched little dog make off towards Anderss house. Ove turns off by his shed. Sees the wet splashes of piss on the paving by the corner of the flowerbed. If he werent busy with more important things this afternoon he would have gone off to make a doormat of that mutt right away. But he has other things to occupy him. He goes to his toolshed, gets out his hammer-action drill and his box of drill bits. When he comes out again the cat is sitting there looking at him. You can clear off now, says Ove. It doesnt move. Ove shakes his head resignedly. Hey! Im not your friend. The cat stays where it is. Ove throws out his arms. Christ, you bloody cat, me backing you up when that stupid bag threw stones at you only means I dislike you less than that weedy nutter across the street. And thats not much of an achievement; you should be absolutely clear about that. The cat seems to give this some careful thought. Ove points at the footpath. Clear off! Not at all concerned by this, the cat licks its bloodstained fur. It looks at Ove as if this has been a round of negotiation and its considering a proposal. Then slowly gets up and pads off, disappearing around the corner of the shed. Ove doesnt even look at it. He goes right into his house and slams the door. Because its enough now. Now Ove is going to die. 7 A MAN CALLED OVE DRILLS A HOLE FOR A HOOK Ove has put on his best trousers and his going-out shirt. Carefully he covers the floor with a protective sheet of plastic, as if protecting a valuable work of art. Not that the floor is particularly new (although he did sand it less than two years ago). Hes fairly sure that you dont lose much blood when you hang yourself, and it isnt because of worries about the dust or the drilling. Or the marks when he kicks away the stool. In fact hes glued some plastic pads to the bottoms of its legs, so there shouldnt be any marks at all. No, the heavy-duty sheets of plastic which Ove so carefully unfolds, covering the entire hall, living room, and a good part of the kitchen, are not for Oves own sake at all. He imagines therell be a hell of a lot of running about in here, with eager, jumped-up real estate agents trying to get into the house before the ambulance men have so much as got the corpse out. And those bastards are not coming in here, scratching up Oves floor with their shoes. Whether over Oves dead body or not. They had better be quite clear about that. He puts the stool in the middle of the floor. Its coated in at least seven different layers of paint. Oves wife decided on principle that shed let Ove repaint one of the rooms in their house every six months. Or, to be more exact, she decided she wanted a different color in one of the rooms once every six months. And when she said as much to Ove he told her that she might as well forget it. And then she called a decorator for an estimate. And then she told Ove how much she was going to pay the decorator. And then Ove went to fetch his painting stool. You miss the strangest things when you lose someone. Little things. Smiles. The way she turned over in her sleep. Even repainting a room for her. Ove goes to get his box of drill bits. These are single-handedly the most important things when drilling. Not the drill, but the bits. Its like having proper tires on your car instead of messing about with ceramic brakes and nonsense like that. Anyone who knows anything knows that. Ove positions himself in the middle of the room and sizes it up. Then, like a surgeon gazing down on his instruments, his eyes move searchingly over his drill bits. He selects one, slots it into the drill, and tests the trigger a little so that the drill makes a growling sound. Shakes his head, decides that it doesnt feel at all right, and changes the drill bit. He repeats this four times before hes satisfied, then walks through the living room, swinging the drill from his hand like a big revolver. He stands in the middle of the floor staring up at the ceiling. He has to measure this before he gets started, he realizes. So that the hole is centered. The worst thing Ove knows is when someone just drills a hole in the ceiling, hit-or-miss. He goes to fetch a tape measure. He measures from each of the four cornerstwice, to be on the safe sideand marks the center of the ceiling with a cross. Ove steps down from the stool. Walks around to make sure the protective plastic is in position as it should be. Unlocks the door so they wont have to break it down when they come to get him. Its a good door. Itll last many more years. He puts on his suit jacket and checks that the envelope is in his inside pocket. Finally he turns the photo of his wife in the window, so that it looks out towards the shed. He doesnt want to make her watch what hes about to do, but on the other hand he darent put the photograph facedown either. Oves wife was always horribly ill-tempered if they ever ended up in someplace without a view. She needed something to look at thats alive, she was always saying. So he points her towards the shed while thinking that maybe that Cat Annoyance would come by again. Oves wife liked Cat Annoyances. He fetches the drill, takes the hook, stands up on the stool, and starts drilling. The first time the doorbell goes he assumes hes made a mistake and ignores the sound for that very reason. The second time he realizes that theres actually someone ringing the bell, and he ignores it for that very reason. The third time Ove stops drilling and glares at the door. As if he may be able to convince whoever is standing outside to disappear by his mental powers alone. It doesnt work. The person in question obviously thinks the only rational explanation for his not opening the door the first time around was that he did not hear the doorbell. Ove steps off the stool, strides across the plastic sheets through the living room and into the hall. Does it really have to be so difficult to kill yourself without constantly being disturbed? What? fumes Ove as he flings the door open. The Lanky One only manages by a whisker to pull his big head back and avoid an impact with his face. Hi! the Pregnant One exclaims cheerfully beside him, though a foot and a half lower down. Ove looks down at her, then up at him. The Lanky One is busy touching every part of his face with some reluctance, as if to check that every protuberance is still where it should be. This is for you, she says in a friendly sort of voice, and then shoves a blue plastic box into Oves arms. Ove looks skeptical. Cookies, she explains encouragingly. Ove nods slowly, as if to confirm this. Youve really dressed up, she says with a smile. Ove nods again. And then they stand there, all three of them, waiting for someone to say something. In the end she looks at the Lanky One and shakes her head with resignation. Oh, please, will you stop fidgeting with your face, darling? she whispers and gives him a push in the side. The Lanky One raises his eyes, meets her gaze, and nods. Looks at Ove. Ove looks at the Pregnant One. The Lanky One points at the box and his face lights up. Shes Iranian, you know. They bring food with them wherever they go. Ove gives him a blank stare. The Lanky One looks even more hesitant. You know . . . thats why I go so well with Iranians. They like to cook food and I like to . . . he begins, with an over-the-top smile. Then he goes silent. Ove looks spectacularly uninterested. . . . eat, the Lanky One finishes. He looks as if hes about to make a drumroll in the air with his fingers. But then he looks at the Pregnant Foreign Woman and decides that it would probably be a bad idea. And? Ove offers, wearily. She stretches, puts her hands on her stomach. We just wanted to introduce ourselves, now that were going to be neighbors. . . . Ove nods tersely and concisely. Okay. Bye. He tries to close the door. She stops him with her arm. And then we wanted to thank you for backing up our trailer. That was very kind of you! Ove grunts. Reluctantly he keeps the door open. Thats not something to thank me for. Yeah, it was really nice, she protests. No, I mean it shouldnt be something to thank me for, because a grown man should be able to back up with a trailer, he replies, casting a somewhat unimpressed gaze on the Lanky One, who looks at him as if unsure whether or not this is an insult. Ove decides not to help him out of his quandary. He backs away and tries to close the door again. My name is Parvaneh! she says, putting her foot across his threshold. Ove stares at the foot, then at the face its attached to. As if hes having difficulties understanding what she just did. Im Patrick! says the Lanky One. Neither Ove nor Parvaneh takes the slightest notice of him. Are you always this unfriendly? Parvaneh wonders, with genuine curiosity. Ove looks insulted. Im not bloody unfriendly. You are a bit unfriendly. No Im not! No, no, no, your every word is a cuddle, it really is, she replies in a way that makes Ove feel she doesnt mean it at all. He releases his grip on the door handle for a moment or two. Inspects the box of cookies in his hand. Right. Arabian cookies. Worth having, are they? he mutters. Persian, she corrects. What? Persian, not Arabian. Im from Iranyou know, where they speak Farsi? she explains. Farcical? Thats the least you could say, Ove agrees. Her laughter catches him off guard. As if its carbonated and someone has poured it too fast and its bubbling over in all directions. It doesnt fit at all with the gray cement and right-angled garden paving stones. Its an untidy, mischievous laugh that refuses to go along with rules and prescriptions. Ove takes a step backwards. His foot sticks to some tape by the threshold. As he tries to shake it off, with some irritation, he tears up the corner of the plastic. When he tries to shake off both the tape and the plastic sheeting, he stumbles backwards and pulls up even more of it. Angrily, he regains his balance. Remains there on the threshold, trying to summon some calm. Grabs hold of the door handle again, looks at the Lanky One, and tries to quickly change the subject. And what are you, then? He shrugs his shoulder a little and smiles, slightly overwhelmed. Im an IT consultant. Ove and Parvaneh shake their heads with such coordination they could be synchronized swimmers. For a moment it makes Ove dislike her a little less, although hes very reluctant to admit it to himself. The Lanky One seems unaware of all this. Instead he looks with curiosity at the hammer-action drill, which Ove is holding in a firm grip, like a guerrilla fighter with an AK-47 in his hand. Once the Lanky One has finished perusing it, he leans forward and peers into Oves house. What are you doing? Ove looks at him, as one does at a person who has just said What are you doing? to a man standing with a hammer-action drill in his hand. Im drilling, he replies scathingly. Parvaneh looks at the Lanky One and rolls her eyes, and if it hadnt been for her belly, which testified to a willingness on her part to contribute to the survival of the Lanky Ones genetic makeup, Ove might have found her almost sympathetic at this point. Oh, says the Lanky One, with a nod. Then he leans forward and peers in at the living room floor, neatly covered in the protective sheet of plastic. He lights up and looks at Ove with a grin. Almost looks like youre about to murder someone! Ove peruses him in silence. The Lanky One clears his throat, a little more reluctant. I mean, its like an episode of Dexter, he says with a much less confident grin. Its a TV series . . . about a guy who murders people. He trails off, then starts poking the toe of his shoe into the gaps between the paving stones outside Oves front door. Ove shakes his head. Its unclear to whom the Lanky One was primarily aiming what he just said. I have some things to get on with, he says curtly to Parvaneh and takes a firm grip on the door handle. Parvaneh gives the Lanky One a purposeful jab in the side with her elbow. The Lanky One looks as if hes trying to drum up some courage; he glances at Parvaneh, and looks at Ove with the expression of someone expecting the whole world to start firing rubber bands at him. Well, the thing is, we actually came because I could do with borrowing a few things . . . Ove raises his eyebrows. What things? The Lanky One clears his throat. A ladder. And an Eileen key. You mean an Allen key? Parvaneh nods. The Lanky One looks puzzled. Its an Eileen key, isnt it? Allen key, Parvaneh and Ove correct at the same time. Parvaneh nods eagerly at him and points triumphantly at Ove. He said thats what its called! The Lanky One mumbles something inaudible. And youre just like Whoa, its an Eileen key! Parvaneh jeers. He looks slightly crestfallen. I never sounded like that. You did so! Did not! Yes you DID! I DIDNT! Oves gaze travels from one to the other, like a large dog watching two mice interfering with its sleep. You did, says one of them. Thats what you think, the other one says. Everyone says it! The majority is not always right! Shall we Google it or what? Sure! Google it! Wikipedia it! Give me your phone. Use your own! Duh! I havent got it with me, dipshit! Sorry to hear that! Ove looks at them as their pathetic argument drones on. They remind him of two malfunctioning radiators, making high-pitched whines at each other. Good God, he mutters. Parvaneh starts imitating what Ove assumes must be some kind of flying insect. She makes tiny whirring sounds with her lips to irritate her husband. It works quite effectively. Both on the Lanky One and on Ove. Ove gives up. He goes into the hall, hangs up his suit jacket, puts down the hammer-action drill, puts on his clogs, and walks past them both towards the shed. Hes pretty sure neither of them even notices him. He hears them still bickering as he starts backing out with the ladder. Go on, help him then, Patrick, Parvaneh bursts out when she catches sight of him. The Lanky One takes a few steps towards him, with fumbling movements. Ove keeps his eyes on him, as if watching a blind man at the wheel of a crowded city bus. And only after that does Ove realize that, in his absence, his property has been invaded by yet another person. Runes wife, Anita, from farther down the street, is standing next to Parvaneh, blithely watching the spectacle. Ove decides the only rational response must be to pretend that shes doing no such thing. He feels anything else would only encourage her. He hands the Lanky One a cylindrical case with a set of neatly sorted Allen keys. Oh, look how many there are, says the imbecile thoughtfully, gazing into the case. What size are you after? asks Ove. The Lanky One looks at him as people do when they lack the self-possession to say what they are thinking. The . . . usual size? Ove looks at him for a long, long time. What are you using these things for? he says at last. To fix an IKEA wardrobe we took apart when we moved. And then I forgot where I put the Eileen key, he explains, apparently without a trace of shame. Ove looks at the ladder. And this wardrobes on the roof, is it? The Lanky One sniggers and shakes his head. Oh, right, see what you mean! No, I need the ladder because the upstairs window is jammed. Wont open. He adds the last part as if Ove would not otherwise be able to understand the implications of that word, jammed. So now youre going to try to open it from the outside? Ove wonders. The Lanky One nods and clumsily takes the ladder from him. Ove looks as if hes about to say something else, but he seems to change his mind. He turns to Parvaneh. And why exactly are you here? Moral support, she twitters. Ove doesnt look entirely convinced. Nor does the Lanky One. Oves gaze wanders reluctantly back to Runes wife. Shes still there. It seems like years since he last saw her. Or at least since he really looked at her. Shes gone ancient. People all seem to get ancient behind Oves back these days. Yes? says Ove. Runes wife smiles mildly and clasps her hands across her hips. Ove, you know I dont want to disturb you, but its about the radiators in our house. We cant get any heat into them, she says carefully and smiles in turn at Ove, the Lanky One, and Parvaneh. Parvaneh and the Lanky One smile back. Ove looks at his dented wristwatch. Does no one on this street have a job to go to anymore? he wonders. Im retired, says Runes wife, almost apologetically. Im on maternity leave, says Parvaneh, patting her stomach proudly. Im an IT consultant! says the Lanky One, also proudly. Ove and Parvaneh again indulge in a bit of synchronized head-shaking. Runes wife makes another attempt. I think it could be the radiators. Have you bled them? says Ove. She shakes her head and looks curious. You think it could be because of that? Ove rolls his eyes. Ove! Parvaneh roars at him at once, as if shes a reprimanding schoolmistress. Ove glares at her. She glares back. Stop being rude, she orders. I told you, Im not rude! Her eyes are unwavering. He makes a little grunt, then goes back to standing in the doorway. He thinks it could sort of be enough now. All he wants is to die. Why cant these lunatics respect that? Parvaneh puts her hand encouragingly on Runes wifes arm. Im sure Ove can help you with the radiators. That would be amazingly kind of you, Ove, Runes wife says at once, brightening. Ove sticks his hands in his pockets. Kicks at the loose plastic by the threshold. Cant your man sort out that kind of thing in his own house? Runes wife shakes her head mournfully. No, Rune has been really ill lately, you see. They say its Alzheimers. Hes in a wheelchair as well. Its been a bit uphill. . . . Ove nods with faint recognition. As if he has been reminded of something his wife told him a thousand times, although he still managed to forget it all the time. Yeah, yeah, he says impatiently. You can go and breathe their radiators, cant you, Ove! says Parvaneh. Ove glances at her as if considering a firm retort, but instead he just looks down at the ground. Or is that too much to ask? she continues, drilling him with her gaze and crossing her arms firmly across her stomach. Ove shakes his head. You dont breathe radiators, you bleed them . . . Jesus. He looks up and gives them the once-over. Have you never bled a radiator before, or what? No, says Parvaneh, unmoved. Runes wife looks at the Lanky One a little anxiously. I havent got a clue what theyre talking about, he says calmly to her. Runes wife nods resignedly. Looks at Ove again. It would be really nice of you, Ove, if it isnt too much of a bother. . . . Ove just stands there staring down at the threshold. Maybe this could have been thought about before you organized a coup d?tat in the Residents Association, he says quietly, his words punctuated by a series of discreet coughs. Before she what? says Parvaneh. Runes wife clears her throat. But, dear Ove, there was never a coup d?tat. . . . Was so, says Ove grumpily. Runes wife looks at Parvaneh with an embarrassed little smile. Well, you see, Rune and Ove here havent always gotten along so very well. Before Rune got ill he was the head of the Residents Association. And before that Ove was the head. And when Rune was voted in there was something of a wrangle between Ove and Rune, you could say. Ove looks up and points a corrective index finger at her. A coup d?tat! Thats what it was! Runes wife nods at Parvaneh. Well, yes, well, before the meeting Rune counted votes about his suggestion that we should change the heating system for the houses and Ove thou And what the hell does Rune know about heating systems? Eh? Ove exclaims heatedly, but immediately gets a look from Parvaneh which makes him reconsider and come to the conclusion that theres no need to complete his line of thought. Runes wife nods. Maybe youre right, Ove. But anyway, hes very sick now . . . so it doesnt really matter anymore. Her bottom lip trembles slightly. Then she regains her composure, straightens her neck with dignity, and clears her throat. The authorities have said theyll take him from me and put him in a home, she manages to say. Ove puts his hands in his pockets again and determinedly backs away, across his threshold. Hes heard enough of this. In the meantime the Lanky One seems to have decided its time to change the subject and lighten up the atmosphere. He points at the floor in Oves hall. Whats that? Ove turns to look at the bit of floor exposed by the loose plastic sheet. It looks as if youve got, sort of . . . tire marks on the floor. Do you cycle indoors, or what? says the Lanky One. Parvaneh keeps her observant eyes on Ove as he backs away another step so he can impede the Lanky Ones view. Its nothing. But I can see its the Lanky One begins confusedly. It was Oves wife, Sonja, she was Runes wife interrupts him in a friendly manner, but she only has time to get to the name Sonja when Ove, in turn, interrupts her and spins around with unbridled fury in his eyes. Thatll do! Now you SHUT UP! All four of them fall silent, equally shocked. Oves hands tremble as he steps back into his hall and slams the door. He hears Parvanehs soft voice out there asking Runes wife what all that was about. Then he hears Runes wife fumbling nervously for words, and then exclaiming: Oh, you know, Id better go home. That thing about Oves wife . . . oh, forget it. Old bats like me, we talk too much, you know. . . . Ove hears her strained laugh and then her little dragging footsteps disappearing as quickly as they can around the corner of his shed. A moment later the Pregnant One and the Lanky One also leave. And all thats left is the silence of Oves hall. He sinks down on the stool, breathing heavily. His hands are still shaking as if he were standing waist-deep in ice-cold water. His chest thumps. It happens more and more these days. He has to sort of struggle for a mouthful of air, like a fish in an overturned bowl. His company doctor said it was chronic, and that he mustnt work himself up. Easy for him to say. Good to go home and have a rest now, said his bosses at work. Now your heart is playing up and all. They called it early retirement but they might as well have said what it was: liquidation. A third of a century in the same job and thats what they reduced him to. Ove is not sure how long he stays there on the stool, sitting with the drill in his hand and his heart beating so hard that he feels the pulse inside his head. Theres a photo on the wall beside the front door, of Ove and Sonja. Its almost forty years old. That time they were in Spain on a bus tour. Shes suntanned, wearing a red dress, and looking so happy. Ove is standing next to her, holding her hand. He sits there for what must be an hour, just staring at that photo. Of all the imaginable things he most misses about her, the thing he really wishes he could do again is hold her hand in his. She had a way of folding her index finger into his palm, hiding it inside. And he always felt that nothing in the world was impossible when she did that. Of all the things he could miss, thats what he misses most. Slowly he stands up. Goes into the living room. Up the steps of the stool. And then once and for all he drills the hole and puts in the hook. Then gets off the stool and studies his work. He goes into the hall and puts on his suit jacket. Feels in his pocket for the envelope. Hes turned out all the lights. Washed his coffee mug. Put up a hook in his living room. Hes done. He takes down the rope from the clothes-dryer in the hall. Gently, with the back of his hand, he caresses her coats one last time. Then he goes into the living room, ties a noose in the rope, threads it through the hook, climbs up on the stool, and puts his head in the noose. Kicks the stool away. Closes his eyes and feels the noose closing around his throat like the jaws of a large wild animal. 8 A MAN WHO WAS OVE AND A PAIR OF HIS FATHERS OLD FOOTPRINTS She believed in destiny. That all the roads you walk in life, in one way or another, lead to what has been predetermined for you. Ove, of course, just started muttering under his breath and got very busy fiddling about with a screw or something whenever she started going on like this. But he never disagreed with her. Maybe to her destiny was something; that was none of his business. But to him, destiny was someone. Its a strange thing, becoming an orphan at sixteen. To lose your family long before youve had time to create your own to replace it. Its a very specific sort of loneliness. Ove, conscientious and dutiful, completed his two-week stint on the railways. And to his own surprise he found that he liked it. There was a certain liberation in doing a job. Grabbing hold of things with his own two hands and seeing the fruit of his efforts. Ove hadnt ever disliked school, but he hadnt quite seen the point of it either. He liked mathematics, and was two academic years ahead of his classmates. As for the other subjects, quite honestly he was not so concerned about them. But this was something entirely different. Something that suited him much better. When he clocked off from his last shift on the last day he was downcast. Not only because he had to go back to school, but because it had only occurred to him now that he didnt know how to earn a living. Dad had been good in many ways, of course, but Ove had to admit he hadnt left much of an estate except a run-down house, an old Saab, and a dented wristwatch. Alms from the church were out of the question, God should be bloody clear about that. Ove said as much to himself while he stood there in the changing rooms, maybe as much for his own benefit as Gods. If you really had to take both Mum and Dad, keep your bloody money! he yelled up at the ceiling. Then he packed up his stuff and left. Whether God or anyone else was listening he never found out. But when Ove came out of the changing rooms, a man from the managing directors office was standing there waiting for him. Ove? he asked. Ove nodded. The director would like to express his thanks for doing such a good job over the past fortnight, the man said, short and to the point. Thanks, said Ove as he started walking away. The man put his hand on Oves arm. Ove stopped. The director was wondering whether you might have an interest in staying and carrying on doing a good job? Ove stood in silence, looking at the man. Maybe mostly to check if this was some kind of joke. Then he slowly nodded. When hed taken a few more steps the man called out behind him: The director says you are just like your father! Ove didnt turn around. But his back was straighter as he walked off. And thats how he ended up in his fathers old boots. He worked hard, never complained, and was never ill. The old boys on his shift found him a little on the quiet side and a little odd on top of that. He never wanted to join them for a beer after work and he seemed uninterested in women as well, which was more than weird in its own right. But he was a chip off the old block and had never given them anything to complain about. If anyone asked Ove for a hand, he got on with it; if anyone asked him to cover a shift for them, he did it without any fuss. As time went by, more or less all of them owed him a favor or two. So they accepted him. When the old truck, the one they used to drive up and down the railway track, broke down one night more than ten miles outside of town, in one of the worst downpours of the whole year, Ove managed to repair it with nothing but a screwdriver and half a roll of gauze tape. After that, as far as the old boys on the tracks were concerned, Ove was okay. In the evenings hed boil his sausages and potatoes, staring out the kitchen window as he ate. And the next morning hed go to work again. He liked the routine, liked always knowing what to expect. Since his fathers death he had begun more and more to differentiate between people who did what they should, and those who didnt. People who did and people who just talked. Ove talked less and less and did more and more. He had no friends. But on the other hand he hardly had any enemies either, apart from Tom, who since his promotion to foreman took every opportunity to make Oves life as difficult as possible. He gave him the dirtiest and heaviest jobs, shouted at him, tripped him up at breakfast, sent him under railway carriages for inspections and set them in motion while Ove lay unprotected on the cross ties. When Ove, startled, threw himself out of the way just in time, Tom laughed contemptuously and roared: Look out or youll end up like your old man! Ove kept his head down, though, and his mouth shut. He saw no purpose in challenging a man who was twice his own size. He went to work every day and did justice to himselfthat had been good enough for his father and so it would also have to do for Ove. His colleagues learned to appreciate him for it. When people dont talk so much they dont dish out the crap either, one of his older workmates said to him one afternoon down on the track. And Ove nodded. Some got it and some didnt. There were also some who got what Ove ended up doing one day in the directors office, while others didnt. It was almost two years after his fathers funeral. Ove had just turned eighteen. Tom had been caught out stealing money from the cash box in one of the carriages. Admittedly no one but Ove saw him take it, but Tom and Ove had been the only two people in the carriage when the money went missing. And, as a serious man from the directors office explained when Tom and Ove were ordered to present themselves, no one could believe Ove was the guilty party. And he wasnt, of course. Ove was left on a wooden chair in the corridor outside the directors office. He sat there looking at the floor for fifteen minutes before the door opened. Tom stepped outside, his fists so clenched with determination that his skin was bloodless and white on his lower arms. He kept trying to make eye contact with Ove; Ove just kept staring down at the floor until he was brought into the directors office. More serious men in suits were spread around the room. The director himself was pacing back and forth behind his desk, his face highly colored, and there was an insinuation that he was too angry to stand still. You want to sit down, Ove? said one of the men in suits at last. Ove met his gaze, and knew who he was. His dad had mended his car once. A blue Opel Manta. With the big engine. He smiled amicably at Ove and gestured cursorily at a chair in the middle of the floor. As if to let him know that he was among friends now and could relax. Ove shook his head. The Opel Manta man nodded with understanding. Well then. This is just a formality, Ove. No one in here believes you took the money. All you need to do is tell us who did it. Ove looked down at the floor. Half a minute passed. Ove? Ove didnt answer. The harsh voice of the director broke the silence at long last. Answer the question, Ove! Ove stood in silence. Looking down at the floor. The facial expressions of the men in suits shifted from conviction to slight confusion. Ove . . . you do understand that you have to answer the question. Did you take the money? No, said Ove with a steady voice. So who was it? Ove stood in silence. Answer the question! ordered the director. Ove looked up. Stood there with a straight back. Im not the sort that tells tales about what other people do, he said. The room was steeped in silence for what must have been several minutes. You do understand, Ove . . . that if you dont tell us who it was, and if we have one or more witnesses who say it was you . . . then well have to draw the conclusion that it was you? said the director, not as amicable now. Ove nodded, but didnt say another word. The director scrutinized him, as if he were a bluffer in a game of cards. Oves face was unmoved. The director nodded grimly. So you can go, then. And Ove left. Tom had put the blame on Ove when he was in the directors office some fifteen minutes earlier. During the afternoon, two of the younger men from Toms shift, eager as young men are to earn the approval of older men, came forward and claimed that they had seen Ove take the money with their own eyes. If Ove had pointed out Tom, it would have been one word against another. But now it was Toms words against Oves silence. The next morning he was told by the foreman to empty his locker and present himself outside the directors office. Tom stood inside the door of the changing rooms and jeered at him as he was leaving. Thief, hissed Tom. Ove passed him without raising his eyes. Thief! Thief! Thief! one of their younger colleagues, who had testified against Ove, chanted happily across the changing room, until one of the older men on their shift gave him a slap across the ear that silenced him. THIEF! Tom shouted demonstratively, so loudly that the word was still ringing in Oves head several days after. Ove walked out into the morning air without turning around. He took a deep breath. He was furious, but not because they had called him a thief. He would never be the sort of man who cared what other men called him. But the shame of losing a job to which his father had devoted his whole life burned like a red-hot poker in his breast. He had plenty of time to think his life over as he walked one last time to the office, a bundle of work clothes clutched in his arms. He had liked working here. Proper tasks, proper tools, a real job. He decided that once the police had gone through the motions of whatever they did with thieves in this situation, hed try to go somewhere where he could get himself another job like this one. He might have to travel far, he imagined. Most likely a criminal record needed a reasonable geographical distance before it started to pale and become uninteresting. He had nothing to keep him here, he realized. But at least he had not become the sort of man who told tales. He hoped this would make his father more forgiving about Ove losing his job, once they were reunited. He had to sit on the wooden chair in the corridor for almost forty minutes before a middle-aged woman in a tight-fitting black skirt and pointy glasses came and told him he could come into the office. She closed the door behind him. He stood there, still with his work clothes in his arms. The director sat behind his desk with his hands clasped together in front of him. The two men submitted one another to such a long examination that either of them could have been an unusually interesting painting in a museum. It was Tom who took that money, said the director. He did not say it as a question, just a short confirming statement. Ove didnt answer. The director nodded. But the men in your family are not the kind who tell. That was not a question either. And Ove didnt reply. The director noticed that he straightened a little at the words the men in your family. The director nodded again. Put on a pair of glasses, looked through a pile of papers, and started writing something. As if in that very moment Ove had disappeared from the room. Ove stood in front of him for so long that he quite seriously began to doubt whether the director was aware of his presence. The director looked up. Yes? Men are what they are because of what they do. Not what they say, said Ove. The director looked at him with surprise. It was the longest sequence of words anyone at the railway depot had heard the boy say since he started working there two years ago. In all honesty, Ove did not know where they came from. He just felt they had to be said. The director looked down at his pile of papers again. Wrote something there. Pushed a piece of paper across the desk. Pointed to where Ove should sign his name. This is a declaration that you have voluntarily given up your job, he said. Ove signed his name. Straightened up, with something unyielding in his face. You can tell them to come in now. Im ready. Who? asked the director. The police, said Ove, clenching his fists at his sides. The director shook his head briskly and went back to digging in his pile of papers. I actually think the witness testimonies have been lost in this mess. Ove moved his weight from one foot to the other, without really knowing how to respond to this. The director waved his hand without looking at him. Youre free to go now. Ove turned around. Went into the corridor. Closed the door behind him. Felt light-headed. Just as he reached the front door the woman who had first let him in caught up with energetic steps, and before he had time to protest she pressed a paper into his hands. The director wants you to know that youre hired as a night cleaner on the long-distance train; report to the foreman there tomorrow morning, she said sternly. Ove stared at her, then at the paper. She leaned in closer. The director asked me to pass on another message: You did not take that wallet when you were nine years old. And hell be deuced if you took anything now. And it would be a damned pity for him to be responsible for kicking a decent mans son into the street just because the son has some principles. And so it turned out that Ove became a night cleaner instead. And if this hadnt happened, he would never have come off his shift that morning and caught sight of her. With those red shoes and the gold brooch and all her burnished brown hair. And that laughter of hers, which, for the rest of his life, would make him feel as if someone was running around barefoot on the inside of his breast. She often said that all roads lead to something you were always predestined to do. And for her, perhaps, it was something. But for Ove it was someone. 9 A MAN CALLED OVE BLEEDS A RADIATOR They say the brain functions quicker while its falling. As if the sudden explosion of kinetic energy forces the mental faculties to accelerate until the perception of the exterior world goes into slow motion. So Ove had time to think of many different things. Mainly radiators. Because there are right and wrong ways of doing things, as we all know. And even though it was many years ago and Ove could no longer remember exactly what solution hed considered to be the right one in the argument about which central heating system should be adopted by the Residents Association, he did remember very clearly that Runes approach to it had been wrong. But it wasnt just the central heating system. Rune and Ove had known one another for almost forty years, and they had been at loggerheads for at least thirty-seven of them. Ove could not in all honesty remember how it all started. It wasnt the sort of dispute where you did remember. It was more an argument where the little disagreements had ended up so entangled that every new word was treacherously booby-trapped, and in the end it wasnt possible to open ones mouth at all without setting off at least four unexploded mines from earlier conflicts. It was the sort of argument that had just run, and run, and run. Until one day it just ran out. It wasnt really about cars, properly speaking. But Ove drove a Saab, after all. And Rune drove a Volvo. Anyone could have seen it wouldnt work out in the long run. In the beginning, though, they had been friends. Or, at least, friends to the extent that men like Ove and Rune were capable of being friends. Mostly for the sake of their wives, obviously. All four of them had moved into the area at the same time, and Sonja and Anita became instant best friends as only women married to men like Ove and Rune can be. Ove recalled that he had at least not disliked Rune in those early years, as far as he could remember. They were the ones who set up the Residents Association, Ove as chairman and Rune as assistant chairman. They had stuck together when the council wanted to cut down the forest behind Oves and Runes houses in order to build even more houses. Of course, the council claimed that those construction plans had been there for years before Rune and Ove moved into their houses, but one did not get far with Rune and Ove using that sort of argumentation. Its war, you bastards! Rune had roared at them down the telephone line. And it truly was: endless appeals and writs and petitions and letters to newspapers. A year and a half later the council gave up and started building somewhere else instead. That evening Rune and Ove had drunk a glass of whiskey each on Runes patio. They didnt seem overly happy about winning, their wives pointed out. Both men were rather disappointed that the council had given up so quickly. These eighteen months had been some of the most enjoyable of their lives. Is no one prepared to fight for their principles anymore? Rune had wondered. Not a damn one, Ove had answered. And then they said a toast to unworthy enemies. That was long before the coup d?tat in the Residents Association, of course. And before Rune bought a BMW. Idiot, thought Ove on that day, and also today, all these years after. And every day in between, actually. How the heck are you supposed to have a reasonable conversation with someone who buys a BMW? Ove used to ask Sonja when she wondered why the two men could not have a reasonable conversation anymore. And at that point Sonja used to find no other course but to roll her eyes while muttering, Youre hopeless. Ove wasnt hopeless, in his own view. He just had a sense of there needing to be a bit of order in the greater scheme of things. He felt one should not go through life as if everything was exchangeable. As if loyalty was worthless. Nowadays people changed their stuff so often that any expertise in how to make things last was becoming superfluous. Quality: no one cared about that anymore. Not Rune or the other neighbors and not those managers in the place where Ove worked. Now everything had to be computerized, as if one couldnt build a house until some consultant in a too-small shirt figured out how to open a laptop. As if that was how they built the Colosseum and the pyramids of Giza. Christ, theyd managed to build the Eiffel Tower in 1889, but nowadays one couldnt come up with the bloody drawings for a one-story house without taking a break for someone to run off and recharge their cell phone. This was a world where one became outdated before ones time was up. An entire country standing up and applauding the fact that no one was capable of doing anything properly anymore. The unreserved celebration of mediocrity. No one could change tires. Install a dimmer switch. Lay some tiles. Plaster a wall. File their own taxes. These were all forms of knowledge that had lost their relevance, and the sorts of things Ove had once spoken of with Rune. And then Rune went and bought a BMW. Was a person hopeless because he believed there should be some limits? Ove didnt think so. And yes, he didnt exactly remember how that argument with Rune had started. But it had continued. It had been about radiators and central heating systems and parking slots and trees that had to be felled and snow clearance and lawn mowers and rat poison in Runes pond. For more than thirty-five years they had paced about on their identical patios behind their identical houses, while throwing meaningful glares over the fence. And then one day about a year ago it all came to an end. Rune became ill. Never came out of the house anymore. Ove didnt even know if he still had the BMW. And there was a part of him that missed that bloody old sod. So, as they say, the brain functions quicker when its falling. Like thinking thousands of thoughts in a fraction of a second. In other words, Ove has a good deal of time to think after hes kicked the stool over and fallen and landed on the floor with a lot of angry thrashing. He lies there, on his back, looking up for what seems like half an eternity at the hook still up on the ceiling. Then, in shock, he stares at the rope, which has snapped into two long stumps. This society, thinks Ove. Cant they even manufacture rope anymore? He swears profusely while he furiously tries to untangle his legs. How can one fail to manufacture rope, for Christs sake? How can you get rope wrong? No, theres no quality anymore, Ove decides. He stands up, brushes himself down, peers around the room and ground floor of his row house. Feels his cheeks burning; hes not quite sure if its because of anger or shame. He looks at the window and the drawn curtains, as if concerned that someone may have seen him. Isnt that bloody typical, he thinks. You cant even kill yourself in a sensible way anymore. He picks up the snapped rope and throws it in the kitchen wastebasket. Folds up the plastic sheeting and puts it in the IKEA bags. Puts back the hammer-action drill and the drill bits in their cases, then goes out and puts everything back in the shed. He stands out there for a few minutes and thinks about how Sonja always used to nag at him to tidy the place up. He always refused, knowing that any new space would immediately be an excuse to go out and buy more useless stuff with which to fill it. And now its too late for tidying, he confirms. Now theres no longer anyone who wants to go out and buy useless stuff. Now the tidying would just result in a lot of empty gaps. And Ove hates empty gaps. He goes to the workbench, picks up an adjustable wrench and a little plastic watering can. He walks out, locks the shed, and tugs at the door handle three times. Then goes down the little pathway between the houses, turns off by the last mailbox, and rings a doorbell. Anita opens the door. Ove looks at her without a word. Sees Rune sitting there in his wheelchair, vacantly staring out of the window. It seems thats all hes done these last few years. Where have you got the radiators, then? mutters Ove. Anita smiles a surprised little smile and nods with equally mixed eagerness and confusion. Oh, Ove, thats dreadfully kind of you, if its not too much trou Ove steps into the hall without letting her finish what shes saying, or removing his shoes. Yeah, yeah, this crappy day is already ruined anyway. 10 A MAN WHO WAS OVE AND A HOUSE THAT OVE BUILT A week after his eighteenth birthday, Ove passed his driving test, responded to an advertisement, and walked fifteen miles to buy his first own car: a blue Saab 93. He sold his dads old Saab 92 to pay for it. It was only marginally newer, admittedly, and quite a run-down Saab 93 at that, but a man was not a proper man until he had bought his own car, felt Ove. And so it was. It was a time of change in the country. People moved and found new jobs and bought televisions, and the newspapers started talking about a middle class. Ove didnt quite know what this was, but he was well aware that he was not a part of it. The middle classes moved into new housing developments with straight walls and carefully trimmed lawns, and it soon grew clear to Ove that his parental home stood in the way of progress. And if there was anything this middle class was not enamored of, it was whatever stood in the way of progress. Ove received several letters from the council about what was called the redrawing of municipal boundaries. He didnt quite understand the content of these letters, but he understood that his parental home did not fit among the new-built houses on the street. The council notified him of their intention to force him to sell the land to them so the house could be demolished and another built in its place. Ove wasnt sure what it was that made him refuse. Maybe because he didnt like the tone of that letter from the council. Or because the house was all he had left of his family. Whatever the case, he parked his first very own car in the garden that evening and sat in the drivers seat for several hours, gazing at the house. It was, to be blunt, decrepit. His fathers specialty had been machines, not building, and Ove was not much better himself. These days he used only the kitchen and the little room leading off it, while the entire second floor was slowly being turned into a recreational stamping ground for mice. He watched the house from the car, as if hoping that it might start repairing itself if he waited patiently enough. It lay exactly on the boundary between two municipal authorities, on a line on the map that would now be moved one way or the other. It was the remnant of an extinguished little village at the edge of the forest, next to the shining residential development into which people wearing suits had now moved with their families. The suits didnt like the lonely youth in the house due for demolition at the end of the street. The children were not allowed to play around Oves house. Suits preferred to live in the vicinity of other suits, Ove had come to understand. He had nothing against that, of coursebut they were the ones who had moved into his neighborhood, not the other way around. And so, filled with a kind of strange defiance that made Oves heart beat a little faster for the first time in years, he decided not to sell his house to the council. He decided to do the opposite. Repair it. Of course, he had no idea of how to do it. He didnt know a dovetail joint from a pot of potatoes. Realizing that his new working hours left him entirely free in the daytime, he went to a nearby construction site and applied for a job. He imagined this must be the best possible place to learn about building and he didnt need much sleep anyway. The only thing they could offer him was a laboring job, said the foreman. Ove took it. So he spent his nights picking up litter on the line heading south out of town; then, after three hours of sleep, he used what time remained to dart up and down the scaffolding, listening to the men in hard hats talking about construction techniques. One day a week he was free, and then he dragged sacks of cement and wooden beams back and forth for eighteen hours at a stretch, perspiring and lonely, demolishing and rebuilding the only thing his parents had left him apart from the Saab and his fathers wristwatch. Oves muscles grew and he was a fast learner. The foreman at the building site took a liking to the hard-working youth, and one Friday afternoon took Ove to the pile of discarded planks, made-to-measure timber that had cracked and was due for burning. If I happen to look the other way and something you need goes walking, Ill assume youve burned it, said the foreman and walked off. Once the rumors of his house-building had spread among his older colleagues, one or other of them occasionally asked Ove about it. When he damaged the wall in the living room, a wiry colleague with wonky front teeth, after spending twenty minutes telling Ove what an idiot he was for not knowing better from the start, taught him how to calculate the load-bearing parameters. When he laid the floor in the kitchen, a more heavy-built colleague with a missing little finger on one hand, after calling him a bonehead three dozen times, showed him how to take proper measurements. One afternoon, as he was about to head home at the end of his shift, Ove found a little toolbox full of used tools by his clothes. It came with a note that simply read: To the puppy. Slowly, the house took shape. Screw by screw and floorboard by floorboard. No one saw it, of course, but there was no need for anyone to see it. A job well done is a reward in its own right, as his father always used to say. He kept out of the way of his neighbors as much as he could. He knew they didnt like him and he saw no reason to give them further ammunition. The only exception was an elderly man and his wife who lived next door to Ove. This man was the only one on their whole street who did not wear a tie. Ove had religiously fed the birds every other day since his father died. He only forgot to do it one morning. When the following morning he came out to compensate for his omission, he almost collided headfirst into the older man by the fence under the bird-table. His neighbor gave him an insulted glance; he had birdseed in his hands. They did not say anything to one another. Ove merely nodded and the older man gave him a little nod back. Ove went back into his house and from that time on made sure he kept to his own days. They never spoke to one another. But one morning when the older man stepped onto his front step, Ove was painting his fence. And when he was done with that, he also painted the other side of the fence. The older man didnt say anything about it, but when Ove went past his kitchen window in the evening they nodded at one another. And the next day there was a home-baked apple pie on Oves front step. Ove had not eaten homemade apple pie since his mother died. Ove received more letters from the council. They became increasingly threatening in their tone and displeased that he still hadnt contacted them about the sale of his property. In the end he started throwing the letters away without even opening them. If they wanted his fathers house they could come here and try to take it, the same way Tom had tried to take that wallet from him all those years ago. A few mornings later Ove walked past the neighbors house and saw the elderly man feeding the birds in the company of a little boy. A grandchild of his, Ove realized. He watched them surreptitiously through the bedroom window. The way the older man and the boy spoke in low voices with each other, as if they were sharing some great secret. It reminded him of something. That night he had his supper in the Saab. A few weeks later, Ove drove home the last nail in his house, and when the sun rose over the horizon he stood in the garden with his hands shoved into the pockets of his navy trousers, proudly surveying his work. Hed discovered that he liked houses. Maybe mostly because they were understandable. They could be calculated and drawn on paper. They did not leak if they were made watertight; they did not collapse if they were properly supported. Houses were fair, they gave you what you deserved. Which, unfortunately, was more than one could say about people. And so the days went by. Ove went to work and came home and had sausages and spuds. He never felt alone despite his lack of company. Then one Sunday, as Ove was moving some planks, a jovial man with a round face and an ill-fitting suit turned up at his gate. The sweat ran from his forehead and he asked Ove if there might be a glass of water of the cold variety going spare. Ove saw no reason to deny him this, and while the man drank it by his gate, some small talk passed between them. Or rather, it was mostly the man with the round face who did the talking. It turned out that he was very interested in houses. Apparently he was in the midst of doing up his own house in another part of town. And somehow the man with the round face managed to invite himself into Oves kitchen for a cup of coffee. Obviously, Ove was not used to this kind of pushy behavior, but after an hour-long conversation about house-building, he was prepared to admit to himself that it wasnt so unpleasant having a bit of company in the kitchen for a change. Just before the man left he asked in passing about Oves house insurance. Ove answered candidly that hed never given it much thought. His father had not been very interested in insurance policies. The jovial man with the round face was filled with consternation, and he explained to Ove that it would be a veritable catastrophe for him if something happened to the house. After listening carefully to his many admonishments, Ove felt bound to agree with him. He had never given much thought to it until then. Which made him feel rather stupid now. The man then asked if he might use the telephone; Ove said that would be fine. It turned out that his guest, grateful for a strangers hospitality on a hot summers day, had found a way of repaying his kindness. For it transpired that he actually worked for an insurance company, and was able to pull some strings to arrange an excellent quotation for Ove. Ove was skeptical at first. He asked again about the mans credentials, which he was happy to reiterate. He then spent a considerable amount of time negotiating a better price. Youre a tough businessman, said the man with the round face with a laugh. Ove felt surprisingly proud when he heard thisa tough businessman. The man then glanced at his watch, thanked Ove, and said hed best be on his way. As he left he gave Ove a piece of paper with his telephone number and said that hed very much like to come by another day and have some more coffee and talk some more about house renovation. This was the first time anyone had ever expressed a wish to be Oves friend. Ove paid the man with the round face the full years premium in cash. They shook hands. The man with the round face never contacted him again. Ove tried to call him on one occasion but no one answered. He felt a quick stab of disappointment but decided not to think about it again. At least when salesmen called from other insurance companies he was able to say without any bad conscience that he was already insured. And that was something. Ove continued avoiding his neighbors. He didnt want any problems with them. But unfortunately the problems seemed to have decided to seek out Ove instead. A few weeks after his house repairs were finished, one of his suited neighbors was burgled. It was the second burglary in the area in a relatively short period. The suits got together early next morning to deliberate on that young rascal in the condemned house, who must have had something to do with it. They knew very well where hed got the money for all that renovation. In the evening someone stuck a note under Oves door, on which was written: Clear off if you know whats good for you! The night after that a stone was thrown through his window. Ove picked up the stone and changed the glass in the window. He never confronted the suits. Saw no purpose in it. But he wasnt going to move either. Early the next morning he was woken by the smell of smoke. He was out of his bed in an instant; the first thing that came into his head was that whoever had thrown that stone had apparently not finished yet. On his way down the stairs he instinctively grabbed a hammer. Not that Ove had ever been a violent man. But you could never be sure, he decided. He was wearing only his underpants when he stepped onto the front veranda. All that lugging of construction materials in the last months had turned Ove into an impressively muscular young man without him even noticing. His bare upper body and the hammer swinging in his clenched right fist made the group gathered in the street momentarily take their eyes off the fire, and instinctively take a step back. And that was when Ove realized that it was not his house that was burning, but his neighbors. The suits stood in the street, staring like deer into headlights. The elderly man emerged out of the smoke, his wife leaning on his arm. She was coughing terribly. When the elderly man handed her over to one of the suits wives, and then turned back towards the fire, several of the suits cried out to him, telling him to leave it. Its too late! Wait for the fire brigade! they roared. The elderly man didnt listen. Burning material fell over the threshold as he tried to step inside into a sea of fire. Ove stood in the face of the wind by his gate and saw how scattered glowing balls had already set the dry grass alight between his house and the neighbors. For a few long-drawn-out seconds he evaluated the situation as best he could: the fire would be all over his house in a few minutes if he didnt charge off to get the water hose at once. He saw the elderly man trying to push his way past an overturned bookcase on his way into the house. The suits shouted his name and tried to make him stop, but the elderly mans wife was screaming out another name. Their grandchild. Ove rocked on his heels as he watched the embers stealing their way through the grass. In all honesty he was probably not thinking so much about what he wanted to do, but about what his father would have done. And as soon as that thought had taken root there was not much choice about it. He muttered, irritated, looking at his house a last time, instinctively calculating to himself how many hours it had taken to build it. And then he ran towards the fire. The house was so filled with thick, sticky smoke that it was like being struck in the face with a shovel. The elderly man struggled to move the fallen bookcase, which was blocking a door. Ove threw it aside as if it were made of paper and cleared a way up the stairs. By the time they emerged into the light of dawn, the elderly man was carrying the boy in his soot-covered arms. Ove had long, bleeding grazes across his chest and arms. The bystanders just ran around panicking, screaming. The air was pierced by sirens. Uniformed firemen surrounded them. Still wearing only his underpants and with aching lungs, Ove saw the first flames climbing his own house. He charged across the lawn but was immediately stopped by a group of firemen. They were everywhere, all of a sudden. Refused to let him through. A man in a white shirt, some sort of chief fireman as Ove understood it, stood before him with his legs wide apart and explained that they couldnt let him try to extinguish the fire in his own house. It was much too dangerous. Unfortunately, the white shirt explained after that, the fire brigade could not put it out either until they had the appropriate permissions from the authorities. It turned out that because Oves house now lay exactly on the municipal boundary, clearance from the command center was required on the shortwave radio before they could get to work. Permission had to be sought, papers had to be stamped. Rules are rules, the man in the white shirt explained in a monotone voice, when Ove protested. Ove tore himself free and ran in fury towards the water hose. But it was futileby the time the firemen got the all-clear signal, the house was already engulfed by fire. Ove stood in his garden and watched, helpless and in sorrow, as it burned. When a few hours later he stood in a telephone booth calling the insurance company, he learned that they had never heard of the jovial man with the round face. There was no valid insurance policy on the house. The woman from the insurance company sighed, impatiently explaining that swindlers often went from door to door claiming to be from their company, and that she hoped at least Ove hadnt given him any cash. Ove hung up, and clenched his fist in his pocket. 11 A MAN CALLED OVE AND A LANKY ONE WHO CANT OPEN A WINDOW WITHOUT FALLING OFF A LADDER Its quarter to six and the first proper snowfall of the year has laid itself like a cold blanket over the slumbering community of row houses. Ove unhooks his jacket and goes outside for his daily inspection. With equal surprise and dissatisfaction, he sees the cat sitting in the snow outside his door. It seems to have been sitting there all night. Ove slams the front door extra hard to scare it away. Apparently it doesnt have the common sense to take fright. Instead it just sits there in the snow, licking its stomach. Utterly unconcerned. Ove doesnt like that sort of behavior in a cat. He shakes his head and plants his feet firmly on the ground. The cat gives him the briefest of glances, clearly uninterested, then goes back to licking itself. Ove waves his arms at it. The cat doesnt budge an inch. This is private land! says Ove. When the cat still fails to give him any sort of acknowledgment, Ove loses his patience and, in a sweeping movement, kicks one of his clogs towards it. Looking back, he couldnt swear that it wasnt intentional. His wife would have been furious if shed seen it, of course. It doesnt make much difference anyway. The clog flies in a smooth arc and passes a good yard and a half to the left of its intended target, before bouncing softly against the side of the shed and landing in the snow. The cat looks nonchalantly first at the clog, and then at Ove. In the end it stands up, strolls around the corner of Oves shed, and disappears. Ove walks through the snow in his socks to fetch the clog. He glares at it, as if he feels it should be ashamed of itself for not having a better sense of aim. Then he pulls himself together and goes on his inspection tour. Just because hes dying today doesnt mean that the vandals should be given free rein. When he comes back to his house, he pushes his way through the snow and opens the door to the shed. It smells of mineral spirits and mold in there, exactly as it should in a shed. He steps over the Saabs summer tires and moves the jars of unsorted screws out of the way. Squeezes past the workbench, careful not to knock over the jars of mineral spirits with brushes in them. Lifts aside the garden chairs and the globe barbecue. Puts away the rim wrench and snatches up the snow shovel. Weighs it a bit in his hand, the way one might do with a two-handed sword. Stands there in silence, scrutinizing it. When he comes out of the shed with the shovel, the cat is sitting in the snow again, right outside his house. Ove glares in amazement at its audacity. Its fur is thawing out, dripping. Or what remains of its fur. There are more bald patches than fur on that creature. It also has a long scar running along one eye, down across its nose. If cats have nine lives, this one is quite clearly working its way through at least the seventh or eighth of them. Clear off, says Ove. The cat gives him a judgmental stare, as if its sitting on the decision-making side of the desk at a job interview. Ove grips the shovel, scoops up some snow, and throws it at the cat, which jumps out of the way and glares indignantly at him. Spits out a bit of snow. Snorts. Then turns around and pads off again, around the corner of Oves shed. Ove puts his snow shovel to work. It takes him fifteen minutes to free up the paving between the house and the shed. He works with care. Straight lines, even edges. People dont shovel snow that way anymore. Nowadays they just clear a way, they use snowblowers and all sorts of things. Any old method will do, scattering snow all over the place. As if that was the only thing that mattered in life: pushing ones way forward. When hes done, he leans for a moment against the shovel in a snowdrift on the little pathway. Balances his body weight on it and watches the sun rising over the sleeping houses. Hes been awake for most of the night, thinking of ways to die. He has even drawn some diagrams and charts to clarify the various methods. After carefully weighing up the pros and cons, hes accepted that what hes doing today has to be the best of bad alternatives. Admittedly he doesnt like the fact that the Saab will be left in neutral and use up a lot of expensive gas for no good reason afterwards, but its simply a factor that hell have to accept in order to get it done. He puts the snow shovel back in the shed and goes into the house. Puts on his good navy suit again. It will get stained and foul-smelling by the end of all this, but Ove has decided that his wife just has to go along with it, at least when he gets there. He has his breakfast and listens to the radio. Washes up and wipes down the counter. Then goes around the house checking the radiators. Turns off all lights. Checks that the coffee percolator is unplugged. Puts on the blue jacket over his suit, then the clogs, and goes back into the shed; he returns with a long, rolled-up plastic tube. Locks the shed and the front door, tugs three times at each door handle. Then goes down the little pathway between the houses. The white ?koda comes from the left and takes him by such surprise that he almost collapses in a snowdrift by the shed. Ove runs down the pathway in pursuit, shaking his fist. Cant you read, you bloody idiot! he roars. The driver, a slim man with a cigarette in his hand, seems to have heard him. When the ?koda turns off by the bike shed, their eyes meet through the side window. The man looks directly at Ove and rolls down his window. Lifts his eyebrows, disinterested. Motor vehicles prohibited! Ove repeats, pointing at the sign where the very same message is written. He walks towards the ?koda with clenched fists. The man hangs his left arm out of the window and unhurriedly taps the ash off his cigarette. His blue eyes are completely unmoved. He looks at Ove as one looks at an animal behind a fence. Devoid of aggression, totally indifferent. As if Ove were something the man might wipe off with a damp cloth. Read the si says Ove harshly as he gets closer, but the man has already rolled up his window. Ove yells at the ?koda but the man ignores him. He doesnt even pull away with a wheel spin and screaming tires; he simply rolls off towards the garages and then onward to the main road, as if Oves gesticulation was of no more consequence than a broken streetlight. Ove stands rooted to the spot, so worked up that his fists are trembling. When the ?koda has disappeared he turns around and walks back between the houses, so hurried that he almost stumbles over his own legs. Outside Rune and Anitas house, where the white ?koda has quite clearly been parked, are two cigarette butts on the ground. Ove picks them up as if they were clues in a high-level criminal case. Hello, Ove, he hears Anita say, cautiously, behind him. Ove turns towards her. She is standing on the step, wrapped in a gray cardigan. It looks as if its trying to grab hold of her body, like two hands clutching a wet bar of soap. Yeah, yeah. Hello, answers Ove. He was from the council, she says, with a nod in the direction in which the ?koda drove off. Vehicles are prohibited in this area, says Ove. She nods cautiously, again. He said he has special permission from the council to drive to the house. He doesnt have ANY bloody Ove begins, then stops himself and clamps his jaws around the words. Anitas lips are trembling. They want to take Rune away from me, she says. Ove nods without answering. He is still holding the plastic tube in his hand. He pushes his other clenched fist into his pocket. For a moment he thinks about saying something, but then he looks down, turns around, and leaves. Hes already gone several yards when he realizes that he has the cigarette butts in his pocket, but by then its too late to do anything about it. Blond Weed is standing in the street. Mutt starts barking hysterically as soon as it catches sight of Ove. The door to the house behind them is open and Ove assumes they are standing there waiting for that thing known as Anders. Mutt has something like fur in its mouth; its owner grins with satisfaction. Ove stares at her as he goes past; she doesnt avert her eyes. Her grin gets even broader, as if shes grinning at Oves expense. When he passes between his house and that of the Lanky One and Pregnant Woman, he sees the Lanky One standing in the doorway. Hi there, Ove! he calls out inanely. Ove sees his ladder leaning up against the Lanky Ones house. The Lanky One waves cheerfully. Apparently hes got up early today, or at least early by the standard of IT consultants. Ove can see that hes holding a blunt silver dinner knife in one hand. And he realizes hes most likely intending to use it to lever the jammed upstairs window. Oves ladder, which the Lanky One is clearly about to scale, has been shoved at an angle into a deep snowdrift. Have a good day! Yeah, yeah, answers Ove without turning around as he trudges past. Mutt is outside that Anders things house, barking furiously. Out of the corner of his eye, Ove sees the Weed still standing there with a scorching smile in his direction. It disturbs Ove. He doesnt quite know the reason for it, but he feels a disturbance in his bones. As he walks up between the houses, past the bicycle shed, and into the parking area, he reluctantly admits to himself that hes walking around looking for the cat, but he cant seem to find it anywhere. He opens his garage door, unlocks the Saab, and then stands there, his hands in his pockets, for what must be in excess of a half hour. He doesnt quite know why hes doing it, he just feels that something like this requires some kind of sanctified silence before one heads off. He considers whether the paintwork of the Saab will become terribly dirty as a result of this. He supposes so. Its a pity and a shame, he realizes, but not much can be done about it. He gives the tires a couple of evaluating kicks. Theyre in fine order, they really are. Good for at least another three winters, he estimates, judging by his last kick. Which quickly reminds him about the letter in the inside pocket of his jacket, so he fishes it out to check whether he has remembered to leave instructions about the summer tires. Yes, he has. Its written here under Saab Accessories. Summer tires in the shed, and then clear instructions that even a genuine moron could understand about where the rim bolts can be found in the trunk. Ove slides the letter back into the envelope and puts it in the inside pocket of his jacket. He glances over his shoulder into the parking area. Not because hes bothered about that damned cat, obviously. He just hopes nothings happened to it, because then therell be hell to pay from Oves wife, hes quite sure about that. He just doesnt want a ticking-off because of the damned cat. Thats all. The sirens of an approaching ambulance can be heard in the distance, but he barely takes any notice. Just gets into the drivers seat and starts the engine. Opens the back electric window a couple of inches. Gets out of the car. Closes the garage door. Fixes the plastic tube tightly over the exhaust pipe. Watches the exhaust fumes slowly bubbling out of the other end of the tube. Then feeds the tube through the open back window. Gets into the car. Closes the door. Adjusts the wing mirrors. Fine-tunes the radio one step forward and one step back. Leans back in the seat. Closes his eyes. Feels the thick exhaust smoke, cubic inch by cubic inch, filling the garage and his lungs. It wasnt supposed to be like this. You work and pay off the mortgage and pay taxes and do what you should. You marry. For better or for worse until death do us part, wasnt that what they agreed? Ove remembers quite clearly that it was. And she wasnt supposed to be the first one to die. Wasnt it bloody well understood that it was his death they were talking about? Well, wasnt it? Ove hears a banging at the garage door. Ignores it. Straightens the creases of his trousers. Looks at himself in the rearview mirror. Wonders whether perhaps he should have put on a tie. She always liked it when he wore a tie. She looked at him then as the most handsome man in the world. He wonders if she will look at him now. If shell be ashamed of him turning up in the afterlife unemployed and wearing a dirty suit. Will she think hes an idiot who cant even hold down an honest job without being phased out, just because his knowledge has been found wanting on account of some computer? Will she still look at him the way she used to, like a man who can be relied on? A man who can take responsibility for things and fix a water heater if necessary. Will she like him as much now that hes just an old person with no purpose in the world? Theres more frenetic banging at the garage door. Ove stares sourly at it. More banging. Ove thinks to himself that its enough now. That will do! he roars and opens the door of the Saab so abruptly that the plastic tube is dislodged from between the window and the molding and falls onto the concrete floor. Clouds of exhaust fumes pour out in all directions. The Pregnant Foreign Woman should probably have learned by now not to stand so close to doors when Ove is on the other side. But this time she cant avoid getting the garage door right in her face when Ove throws it open violently. Ove sees her and freezes. Shes holding her nose. Looking at him with that distinct expression of someone who just had a garage door slammed into her nose. The exhaust fumes come pouring out of the garage in a dense cloud, covering half of the parking area in a thick, noxious mist. I . . . you have to bloo you have to watch out when the doors being opened. . . . Ove manages to say. What are you doing? the Pregnant One manages to bite back at him, while watching the Saab with its engine idling and the exhaust spewing out of the mouth of the plastic tube on the floor. Me? . . . nothing, says Ove indignantly, looking as if hed prefer to shut the garage door again. Thick red drops are forming in her nostrils. She covers her face with one hand and waves at him with the other. I need a lift to the hospital, she says, tilting her head back. Ove looks skeptical. What the hell? Pull yourself together. Its just a nosebleed. She swears in something Ove assumes is Farsi and clamps the bridge of her nose hard between her thumb and index finger. Then she shakes her head impatiently, dripping blood all over her jacket. Not because of the nosebleed! Oves a bit puzzled by that. Puts his hands in his pockets. No, no. Well then. She groans. Patrick fell off the ladder. She leans her head back, so that Ove stands there talking to the underside of her chin. Whos Patrick? Ove asks the chin. My husband, the chin answers. The Lanky One? asks Ove. Thats him, yeah, says the chin. And he fell off the ladder? Ove clarifies. Yes. When he was opening the window. Right. What a bloody surprise; you could see that one coming from a mile away. . . . The chin disappears and the large brown eyes reappear. They dont look entirely pleased. Are we going to have a debate about this or what? Ove scratches his head, slightly bothered. No, no . . . but cant you drive yourself? In that little Japanese sewing machine you arrived in the other day? he tries to protest. I dont have a drivers license, she replies, mopping blood from her lip. What do you mean you dont have a drivers license? asks Ove, as if her words are utterly inexplicable to him. Again she sighs impatiently. Look, I dont have a drivers license and thats all, whats the problem? How old are you? Ove asks, almost fascinated now. Thirty, she says impatiently. Thirty?! And no drivers license? Is there something wrong with you? She groans, holding one hand over her nose and snapping her fingers with irritation in front of Oves face. Focus a bit, Ove! The hospital! You have to drive us to the hospital! Ove looks almost offended. What do you mean, us? Youll have to call an ambulance if the person youre married to cant open a window without falling off a ladder I already did! Theyve taken him to the hospital. But there was no space for me in the ambulance. And now because of the snow, every taxi in town is occupied and the buses are getting bogged down everywhere! Scattered streams of blood are running down one of her cheeks. Ove clamps his jaws so hard that he starts gnashing his teeth. You cant trust bloody buses. The drivers are always drunks, he says quietly, his chin at an angle that might make someone believe he was trying to hide his words on the inside of his shirt collar. Maybe she notices the way his mood shifts as soon as she mentions the word bus. Maybe not. Anyway, she nods, as if this in some way clinches it. Right, then. So you have to drive us. Ove makes a courageous attempt to point threateningly at her. But to his own dismay he feels its not as convincing as he might have hoped. There are no have-tos around here. Im not some bloody mobility service! he manages to say at last. But she just squeezes her index finger and thumb even harder around the bridge of her nose. And nods, as if she has not in any way listened to what he just said. She waves, with irritation, towards the garage and the plastic tube on the floor spewing out exhaust fumes thicker and thicker against the ceiling. I dont have time to fuss about this anymore. Get things ready so we can leave. Ill go and get the children. The CHILDREN??? Ove shouts after her, without getting any kind of answer. Shes already swanned off on those tiny feet that look wholly undersized for that large pregnant bump, disappearing around the corner of the bicycle shed and down towards the houses. Ove stays where he is, as if waiting for someone to catch up with her and tell her that actually Ove had not finished talking. But no one does. He tucks his fists into his belt and throws a glance at the tube on the floor. Its actually not his responsibility if people cant manage to stay on the ladders they borrow from himthats his own view. But of course he cant avoid thinking about what his wife would have told him to do under the circumstances, if shed been here. And of course its not so difficult to work it out, Ove realizes. Sadly enough. At long last he walks up to the car and pokes off the tube from the exhaust pipe with his shoe. Gets into the Saab. Checks his mirrors. Puts it into first and pulls out into the parking area. Not that he cares particularly about how the Pregnant Foreign Woman gets to the hospital. But Ove knows very well that therell be no end of nagging from his wife if the last thing Ove does in this life is to give a pregnant woman a nosebleed and then abandon her to take the bus. And if the gas is going to be used up anyway, he may as well give her a lift there and back. Maybe then that woman will leave me in peace, thinks Ove. But of course she doesnt. 12 A MAN WHO WAS OVE AND ONE DAY HE HAD ENOUGH People always said Ove and Oves wife were like night and day. Ove realized full well, of course, that he was the night. It didnt matter to him. On the other hand it always amused his wife when someone said it, because she could then point out while giggling that people only thought Ove was the night because he was too mean to turn on the sun. He never understood why she chose him. She loved only abstract things like music and books and strange words. Ove was a man entirely filled with tangible things. He liked screwdrivers and oil filters. He went through life with his hands firmly shoved into his pockets. She danced. You only need one ray of light to chase all the shadows away, she said to him once, when he asked her why she had to be so upbeat the whole time. Apparently some monk called Francis had written as much in one of her books. You dont fool me, darling, she said with a playful little smile and crept into his big arms. Youre dancing on the inside, Ove, when no ones watching. And Ill always love you for that. Whether you like it or not. Ove never quite fathomed what she meant by that. Hed never been one for dancing. It seemed far too haphazard and giddy. He liked straight lines and clear decisions. That was why he had always liked mathematics. There were right or wrong answers there. Not like the other hippie subjects they tried to trick you into doing at school, where you could argue your case. As if that was a way of concluding a discussion: checking who knew more long words. Ove wanted what was right to be right, and what was wrong to be wrong. He knew very well that some people thought he was nothing but a grumpy old sod without any faith in people. But, to put it bluntly, that was because people had never given him reason to see it another way. Because a time comes in every mans life when he decides what sort of man hes going to be: the kind who lets other people walk all over him, or not. Ove slept in the Saab the nights after the fire. The first morning he tried to clear up among the ashes and destruction. The second morning he had to accept that this would never sort itself out. The house was lost, and all the work he had put into it. On the third morning two men, wearing the same kind of white shirt as that chief fireman, turned up. They stood by his gate, apparently quite unmoved by the ruin in front of them. They didnt present themselves by name, only mentioned the name of the authority they came from. As if they were robots sent out by the mother ship. Weve been sending you letters, said one of the white shirts, holding out a pile of documents for Ove. Many letters, said the other white shirt and made a note in a pad. You never answered, said the first, as if he were reprimanding a dog. Ove just stood there, defiant. Very unfortunate, this, said the other, with a curt nod at what used to be Oves house. Ove nodded. The fire brigade says it was caused by a harmless electrical fault, continued the first white shirt robotically, pointing at a paper in his hand. Ove felt a spontaneous objection to his use of the word harmless. Weve sent you letters, the second man repeated, waving his pad. The municipal boundaries are being redrawn. The land where your house stands will be developed for a number of new constructions. The land where your house stood, corrected his partner. The council is willing to purchase your land at the market price, said the first man. Well . . . a market price now that theres no longer a house on the land, clarified the other. Ove took the papers. Started reading. You dont have much of a choice, said the first. This is not so much your choice as the councils, said the other. The first man tapped his pen impatiently against the papers, pointing at a line at the bottom where it said signature. Ove stood at his gate and read their document in silence. He became aware of an ache in his breast; it took a long, long time before he understood what it was. Hate. He hated those men in white shirts. He couldnt remember having hated anyone before, but now it was like a ball of fire inside. Oves parents had bought this house. Ove had grown up here. Learned to walk. His father had taught him everything there was to know about a Saab engine here. And after all that, someone at a municipal authority decided something else should be built here. And a man with a round face sold insurance that was not insurance. A man in a white shirt prevented Ove from putting out a fire and now two other white shirts stood here talking about a market price. But Ove really did not have a choice. He could have stood there until the sun had completely risen, but he could not change the situation. So he signed their document. While keeping his fist clenched in his pocket. He left the plot where once his parental home had stood, and he never looked back. Rented a little room from an old lady in town. Sat and stared desolately at the wall all day. In the evening he went to work. Cleaned the train compartments. In the morning, he and the other workers were told not to go to their usual changing rooms; they had to go back to the head office to pick up new sets of work clothes. As Ove was walking down the corridor he met Tom. It was the first time they had seen each other since Ove got blamed for the theft from the carriage. A more sensible man than Tom would probably have avoided eye contact. Or tried to pretend that the incident had never happened. But Tom was not a more sensible sort of man. Well, if it isnt the little thief! he exclaimed with a combative smile. Ove didnt answer. Tried to get past but got a hard elbow from one of the younger colleagues Tom surrounded himself with. Ove looked up. The younger colleague was smiling disdainfully at him. Hold on to your wallets, the thiefs here! Tom called out so loudly that his voice echoed through the corridors. With one hand, Ove took a firmer grip on the pile of clothes in his arm. But he clenched his fist in his pocket. Went into an empty changing room. Took off his dirty old work clothes, unclipped his fathers dented wristwatch and put it on the bench. When he turned around to go into the shower, Tom was standing in the doorway. We heard about the fire, he said. Ove could see that Tom was hoping hed answer. That father of yours would have been proud of you! Not even he was useless enough to burn down his own bloody house! Tom called out to him as he was stepping into the shower. Ove heard his younger colleagues all laughing together. He closed his eyes, leaned his forehead against the wall, and let the hot water flow over him. Stood there for more than twenty minutes. The longest shower hed ever had. When he came out, his fathers watch was gone. Ove rooted among the clothes on the bench, searched the floor, fine-combed all the lockers. A time comes in every mans life when he decides what sort of man he is are going to be. Whether he is the kind who lets other people tread on him, or not. Maybe it was because Tom had put the blame on him for the theft in the carriage. Maybe it was the fire. Maybe it was the bogus insurance agent. Or the white shirts. Or maybe it was just enough now. There and then, it was as if someone had removed a fuse in Oves mind. Everything in his eyes grew a shade darker. He walked out of the changing room, still naked and with water dripping from his flexing muscles. Walked to the end of the corridor to the foremens changing room, kicked the door open, and cleared a way through the astonished press of men inside. Tom was standing in front of a mirror at the far end, trimming his bushy beard. Ove gripped him by the shoulder and roared so loudly that the sheet-metal-covered walls echoed. Give me back my watch! Tom, with a superior expression, looked down at his face. His dark figure towered over Ove like a shadow. I dont have your bloo GIVE IT HERE! Ove bellowed before Tom had reached the end of the sentence, so fiercely that the other men in the room saw fit to move a little closer to their lockers. A second later Toms jacket had been ripped away from him with such power that he didnt even think of protesting. He just stood there like a punished child as Ove hauled out his wristwatch from the inside pocket. And then Ove hit him. Just once. It was enough. Tom collapsed like a sack of wet flour. By the time the heavy body hit the floor, Ove had already turned and walked away. A time like that comes for every man, when he chooses what sort of man he wants to be. And if you dont know the story, you dont know the man. Tom was taken to the hospital. Again and again he was asked what had happened, but Toms eyes just flickered and he mumbled something about having slipped. And strangely enough, none of the other men whod been in the changing rooms at the time had any recollection of what had happened. That was the last time Ove saw Tom. And, he decided, the last time hed let anyone trick him. He kept his job as a night cleaner, but he gave up his job at the construction site. He no longer had a house to build, and anyway hed learned so much about construction by this point that the men in their hard hats no longer had anything to teach him. They gave him a toolbox as a farewell present. This time with new-bought tools. To the puppy. To help you build something that lasts, theyd written on a piece of paper. Ove had no immediate use for it, so he carried it about aimlessly for a few days. Finally the old lady renting him a room took pity on him and started looking for things around the house for him to mend. It was more peaceful that way for both of them. Later that year he enlisted for military service. He scored the highest possible mark for every physical test. The recruitment officer liked this taciturn young man who seemed as strong as a bear, and he pressed him to consider a career as a professional soldier. Ove thought it sounded good. Military personnel wore uniforms and followed orders. All knew what they were doing. All had a function. Things had a place. Ove felt he could actually be good as a soldier. In fact, as he went down the stairs to have his obligatory medical examination, he felt lighter in his heart than he had for many years. As if he had been given a sudden purpose. A goal. Something to be. His joy lasted no more than ten minutes. The recruitment officer had said that the medical examination was a mere formality. But when the stethoscope was held against Oves chest, something was heard that should not have been heard. He was sent to a doctor in the city. A week later he was informed that he had a rare congenital heart condition. He was exempted from any further military service. Ove called and protested. He wrote letters. He went to three other doctors in the hope that a mistake had been made. It was no use. Rules are rules, said a white-shirted man in the armys administrative offices the last time Ove went there to try to overturn the decision. Ove was so disappointed that he did not even wait for the bus; instead he walked all the way back to the train station. He sat on the platform, more despondent than at any time since his fathers death. A few months later he would walk down that platform with the woman he was destined to marry. But at that precise moment, of course, he had no idea of this. He went back to his work as a night cleaner on the railways. Grew quieter than ever. The old lady whose room he rented eventually grew so tired of his gloomy face that she arranged for him to borrow a nearby garage. After all, the boy had that car he was always fiddling with, she said. Maybe he could keep himself entertained with all that? Ove took his entire Saab to pieces in the garage the next morning. He cleaned all the parts, and then put them together again. To see if he could do it. And to have something to do. When he was done with it, he sold the Saab at a profit and bought a newer but otherwise identical Saab 93. The first thing he did was to take it to pieces. To see if he could manage it. And he could. His days passed like this, slow and methodical. And then one morning he saw her. She had brown hair and blue eyes and red shoes and a big yellow clasp in her hair. And then there was no more peace and quiet for Ove. 13 A MAN CALLED OVE AND A CLOWN CALLED BEPPO Oves funny, titters the three-year-old with delight. Yeah, the seven-year-old mumbles, not at all as impressed. She takes her little sister by the hand and walks with grown-up steps towards the hospital entrance. Their mother looks as if shes going to have a go at Ove, but seems to decide that theres no time for that. She waddles off towards the entrance, one hand on her pouting belly, as if concerned that the child may try to escape. Ove walks behind, dragging his steps. He doesnt care that she thinks its easier just to pay up and stop arguing. Because its actually about the principle. Why is that parking attendant entitled to give Ove a ticket for questioning why one has to pay for hospital parking? Ove is not the sort of man wholl stop himself from roaring: Youre just a fake policeman! at a parking attendant. Thats all there is to say about it. You go to the hospital to die, Ove knows that. Its enough that the state wants to be paid for everything you do while youre alive. When it also wants to be paid for the parking when you go to die, Ove thinks thats about far enough. He explained this in so many words to the parking attendant. And thats when the parking attendant started waving his book at him. And thats when Parvaneh started raging about how shed be quite happy to pay up. As if that was the important part of the discussion. Women dont seem to get principles. He hears the seven-year-old complaining in front of him that her clothes are smelling of exhaust. Even though they kept the Saabs windows rolled down all the way, it wasnt possible to get rid of the stench. Their mother had asked Ove what hed really been doing in the garage, but Ove had just answered with a sound more or less like when you try to move a bathtub by dragging it across some tiles. Of course, for the three-year-old it was the greatest adventure of her life to be able to drive along in a car with all its windows down although it was below freezing outside. The seven-year-old, on the other hand, had burrowed her face into her scarf and vented a good deal more skepticism. Shed been irritated about slipping around with her bottom on the sheets of newspaper Ove had spread across the seat to stop them filthifying things. Ove had also spread newspaper on the front seat, but her mother snatched it away before she sat down. Ove had looked more than advisably displeased about this, but managed not to say anything. Instead he constantly glanced at her stomach all the way to the hospital, as if anxious that she might suddenly start leaking on the upholstery. Stand still here now, she says to the girls when they are in the hospital reception. Theyre surrounded by glass walls and benches smelling of disinfectant. There are nurses in white clothes and colorful plastic slippers and old people dragging themselves back and forth in the corridors, leaning on rickety walkers. On the floor is a sign announcing that Elevator 2 in Entrance A is out of order, and that visitors to Ward 114 are therefore asked to go to Elevator 1 in Entrance C. Beneath that is another message, announcing that Elevator 1 in Entrance C is out of order and visitors to Ward 114 are asked to go to Elevator 2 in Entrance A. Under that message is a third message, announcing that Ward 114 is closed this month because of repairs. Under that message is a picture of a clown, informing people that Beppo the hospital clown is visiting sick children today. Where did Ove get to now? Parvaneh bursts out. He went to the bathroom, I think, mumbles the seven-year-old. Clauwn! says the three-year-old, pointing happily at the sign. Do you know you have to pay them here to go to the bathroom? Ove exclaims incredulously. Parvaneh spins around and gives Ove a harassed look. Do you need change? Ove looks offended. Why would I need change? For the bathroom? I dont need to go to the bathroom. But you said she begins, then stops herself and shakes her head. Forget it, just forget it. . . . When does the parking meter run out? she asks instead. Ten minutes. She groans. Dont you understand itll take longer than ten minutes? In that case Ill go out and feed the meter in ten minutes, says Ove, as if this was quite obvious. Why dont you just pay for longer and save yourself the bother? she asks and looks like she wishes she hadnt as soon as the question crosses her lips. Because thats exactly what they want! Theyre not getting a load of money for time we might not even use! Oh, I dont have the strength for this. . . . sighs Parvaneh and holds her forehead. She looks at her daughters. Will you sit here nicely with Uncle Ove while Mum goes to see how Dad is? Please? Yeah, yeah, agrees the seven-year-old grumpily. Yeeeees! the three-year-old shrieks with excitement. What? whispers Ove. Parvaneh stands up. What do you mean, with Ove? Where do you think youre going? To his great consternation, the Pregnant One seems not to register the level of upset in his voice. You have to sit here and keep an eye on them, she states curtly and disappears down the corridor before Ove can raise further objections. Ove stands there staring after her. As if he is expecting her to come rushing back and cry out that she was only joking. But she doesnt. So Ove turns to the girls. And in the next second he looks as if hes just about to shine a desk lamp into their eyes and interrogate them on their whereabouts at the time of the murder. BOOK! screams the three-year-old at once and rushes off towards the corner of the waiting room, where theres a veritable chaos of toys, games, and picture books. Ove nods and, having confirmed to himself that this three-year-old seems to be reasonably self-motivating, he turns his attention to the seven-year-old. Right, and what about you? What do you mean, me? she counters with indignation. Do you need food or do you have to go for a wee or anything like that? The child looks at him as if he just offered her a beer and a cigarette. Im almost EIGHT! I can go to the bathroom MYSELF! Ove throws out his arms abruptly. Sure, sure. So bloody sorry for asking. Mmm, she snorts. You swored! yells the three-year-old as she turns up again, running to and fro between Oves trouser legs. He skeptically peruses this grammatically challenged little natural disaster. She looks up and her whole face smiles at him. Read! she orders him in an excitable manner, holding up a book with her arms stretched out so far that she almost loses her balance. Ove looks at the book more or less as if it just sent him a chain letter insisting that the book was really a Nigerian prince who had a very lucrative investment opportunity for Ove and now only needed Oves account number to sort something out. Read! she demands again, climbing the bench in the waiting room with surprising agility. Ove reluctantly sits about a yard away on the bench. The three-year-old sighs impatiently and disappears from sight, her head reappearing seconds later under his arm with her hands leaning against his knee for support and her nose pressed against the colorful pictures in the book. Once upon a time there was a little train, reads Ove, with all the enthusiasm of someone reciting a tax statement. Then he turns the page. The three-year-old stops him and goes back. The seven-year-old shakes her head tiredly. You have to say what happens on that page as well. And do voices, she says. Ove stares at her. What bloo He clears his throat midsentence. What voices? he corrects himself. Fairy-tale voices, replies the seven-year-old. You swored, the three-year-old announces with glee. Did not, says Ove. Yes, says the three-year-old. Were not doing any bloowere not doing any voices! Maybe youre no good at reading stories, notes the seven-year-old. Maybe youre no good at listening to them! Ove counters. Maybe youre no good at TELLING THEM! Ove looks at the book, very unimpressed. What kind of shnonsense is this anyway? Some talking train? Is there nothing about cars? Maybe theres something about nutty old men instead, mutters the seven-year-old. Im not an old man, Ove hisses. Clauwn! the three-year-old cries out jubilantly. And Im not a CLOWN either! he roars. The older one rolls her eyes at Ove, not unlike the way her mother often rolls her eyes at Ove. She doesnt mean you. She means the clown. Ove looks up and catches sight of a full-grown man whos quite seriously got himself dressed up as a clown, standing in the doorway of the waiting room. Hes got a big stupid grin on his face as well. CLAAUUWN, the toddler howls, jumping up and down on the bench in a way that finally convinces Ove that the kid is on drugs. Hes heard about that sort of thing. They have that attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and get to take amphetamines on prescription. And whos this little girl here, then? Does she want to see a magic trick, perhaps? the clown exclaims helpfully and squelches over to them like a drunken moose in a pair of large red shoes which, Ove confirms to himself, only an utterly meaningless person would prefer to wear rather than getting himself a proper job. The clown looks gaily at Ove. Has Uncle got a five-kronor piece, perhaps? No, Uncle doesnt, perhaps, Ove replies. The clown looks surprised. Which isnt an entirely successful look for a clown. But . . . listen, its a magic trick, you do have a coin on you, dont you? mumbles the clown in his more normal voice, which contrasts quite strongly with his character and reveals that behind this idiotic clown a quite ordinary idiot is hiding, probably all of twenty-five years old. Come on, Im a hospital clown. Its for the childrens sake. Ill give it back. Just give him a five-kronor coin, says the seven-year-old. CLAAUUWN! screams the three-year-old. Ove peers down with exasperation at the tiny speech defect and wrinkles his nose. Right, he says, taking out a five-kronor piece from his wallet. Then he points at the clown. But I want it back. Immediately. Im paying for the parking with that. The clown nods eagerly and snatches the coin out of his hand. Minutes later, Parvaneh comes back down the corridor to the waiting room. She stops, confusedly scanning the room from side to side. Are you looking for your girls? a nurse asks sharply behind her. Yes, Parvaneh answers, perplexed. There, says the nurse in a not entirely appreciative way and points at a bench by the large glass doors leading onto the parking area. Ove is sitting there with his arms crossed, looking very angry. On one side of him sits the seven-year-old, staring up at the ceiling with an utterly bored expression, and on the other side sits the three-year-old, looking as if she just found out shes going to have an ice cream breakfast every day for a whole month. On either side of the bench stand two particularly large representatives of the hospitals security guards, both with very grim facial expressions. Are these your children? one of them asks. He doesnt look at all as if hes having an ice cream breakfast. Yes, what did they do? Parvaneh wonders, almost terrified. They didnt do anything, the other security guard replies, with a hostile stare at Ove. Me neither, Ove mutters sulkily. Ove hit the clauwn! the three-year-old shrieks delightedly. Sneak, says Ove. Parvaneh stares at him, agape, and cant even think of anything to say. He was no good at magic anyway, the seven-year-old groans. Can we go home now? she asks, standing up. Why . . . hold on . . . what . . . what clown? The clauwn Beppo, the toddler explains, nodding wisely. He was going to do magic, says her sister. Stupid magic, says Ove. Like, he was going to make Oves five-kronor coin go away, the seven-year-old elaborates. And then he tried to give back another five-kronor coin! Ove interjects, with an insulted stare at the nearby security guards, as if this should be enough of an explanation. Ove HIT the clauwn, Mum, the three-year-old titters as if this was the best thing that ever happened in her whole life. Parvaneh stares for a long time at Ove, the three-year-old, seven-year-old, and the two security guards. Were here to visit my husband. Hes had an accident. Im bringing in the children now to say hello to him, she explains to the guards. Daddy fall! says the three-year-old. Thats fine. One of the security guards nods. But this one stays here, confirms the other security guard and points at Ove. I hardly hit him. I just gave him a little poke, Ove mumbles, adding, Bloody fake policemen, just to be on the safe side. Honestly, he was no good at magic anyway, says the seven-year-old grumpily in Oves defense as they leave to visit their father. An hour later they are back at Oves garage. The Lanky One has one arm and one leg in casts and has to stay at the hospital for several days, Ove has been informed by Parvaneh. When she told him, Ove had to bite his lip very hard to stop himself laughing. He actually got the feeling Parvaneh was doing the same thing. The Saab still smells of exhaust when he collects the sheets of newspaper from the seats. Please, Ove, are you sure you wont let me pay the parking fine? says Parvaneh. Is it your car? Ove grunts. No. Well then, he replies. But it feels a bit like it was my fault, she says, concerned. You dont hand out parking fines. The council does. So its the bloody councils fault, says Ove and closes the door of the Saab. And those fake policemen at the hospital, he adds, clearly still very upset that they forced him to sit without moving on that bench until Parvaneh came back to pick him up and they went home. As if he couldnt be trusted to wander about freely among the other hospital visitors. Parvaneh looks at him for a long time in thoughtful silence. The seven-year-old gets tired of waiting and starts walking across the parking area towards the house. The three-year-old looks at Ove with a radiant smile. Youre funny! she declares. Ove looks at her and puts his hands in his trouser pockets. Uh-huh, uh-huh. You shouldnt turn out too bad yourself. The three-year-old nods excitedly. Parvaneh looks at Ove, looks at the plastic tube on the floor of his garage. Looks at Ove again, a touch worried. I could do with a bit of help taking the ladder away. . . . she says, as if she was in the middle of a much longer thought. Ove kicks distractedly at the asphalt. And I think we have a radiator, as well, that doesnt work, she addsa passing thought. Would be nice of you if you could have a look at it. Patrick doesnt know how to do things like that, you know, she says and takes the three-year-old by the hand. Ove nods slowly. No. Might have known. Parvaneh nods. Then she suddenly gives off a satisfied smile. And you cant let the girls freeze to death tonight, Ove, right? Its quite enough that they had to watch you assault a clown, no? Ove gives her a dour glance. Silently, to himself, as if negotiating, he concedes that he can hardly let the children perish just because their no-good father cant open a window without falling off a ladder. Thered be a hellish amount of nagging from Oves wife if he went and arrived in the next world as a newly qualified child murderer. Then he picks up the plastic tube from the floor and hangs it up on a hook on the wall. Locks the Saab with the key. Closes the garage. Tugs at it three times to make sure its closed. Then goes to fetch his tools from the shed. Tomorrows as good a day as any to kill oneself. 14 A MAN WHO WAS OVE AND A WOMAN ON A TRAIN She had a golden brooch pinned to her dress, in which the sunlight reflected hypnotically through the train window. It was half past six in the morning, Ove had just clocked off his shift and was actually supposed to be taking the train home the other way. But then he saw her on the platform with all her rich auburn hair and her blue eyes and all her effervescent laughter. And he got back on the outbound train. Of course, he didnt quite know himself why he was doing it. He had never been spontaneous before in his life. But when he saw her it was as if something malfunctioned. He convinced one of the conductors to lend him his spare pair of trousers and shirt, so he didnt have to look like a train cleaner, and then Ove went to sit by Sonja. It was the single best decision he would ever make. He didnt know what he was going to say. But he had hardly had time to sink into the seat before she turned to him cheerfully, smiled warmly, and said hello. And he found he was able to say hello back to her without any significant complications. And when she saw that he was looking at the pile of books she had in her lap, she tilted them slightly so he could read their titles. Ove understood only about half the words. You like reading? she asked him brightly. Ove shook his head with some insecurity, but it didnt seem to concern her very much. She just smiled, said that she loved books more than anything, and started telling him excitedly what each of the ones in her lap was about. And Ove realized that he wanted to hear her talking about the things she loved for the rest of his life. He had never heard anything quite as amazing as that voice. She talked as if she were continuously on the verge of breaking into giggles. And when she giggled she sounded the way Ove imagined champagne bubbles would have sounded if they were capable of laughter. He didnt quite know what he should say to avoid seeming uneducated and stupid, but it proved to be less of a problem than he had thought. She liked talking and Ove liked keeping quiet. Retrospectively, Ove assumed that was what people meant when they said that people were compatible. Many years later she told him that she had found him quite puzzling when he came to sit with her in that compartment. Abrupt and blunt in his whole being. But his shoulders were broad and his arms so muscular that they stretched the fabric of his shirt. And he had kind eyes. He listened when she talked, and she liked making him smile. Anyway, the journey to school was so boring that it was pleasant just to have some company. She was studying to be a teacher. Came on the train every day; after a couple miles she changed to another train, then a bus. All in all, it was a one-and-a-half-hour journey in the wrong direction for Ove. Only when they crossed the platform that first time, side by side, and stood by her bus stop, did she ask what he was doing there. And when Ove realized that he was only five or so kilometers from the military barracks where he would have been had it not been for that problem with his heart, the words slipped out of him before he understood why. Im doing my military service over there, he said, waving vaguely. So maybe well see each other on the train going back as well. I go home at five. . . . Ove couldnt think of anything to say. He knew, of course, that one does not go home from military installations at five oclock, but she clearly did not. So he just shrugged. And then she got on her bus and was gone. Ove decided that this was undoubtedly very impractical in many ways. But there was not a lot to be done about it. So he turned around, found a signpost pointing the way to the little center of the tiny student town where he now found himself, at least a two-hour journey from his home. And then he started walking. After forty-five minutes he asked his way to the only tailor in the area, and, after eventually finding the shop, ponderously stepped inside to ask whether it would be possible to have a shirt ironed and a pair of trousers pressed and, if so, how long it would take. Ten minutes, if you wait, came his answer. Then Ill be back at four, said Ove and left. He wandered back down to the train station and lay down on a bench in the waiting hall. At quarter past three he went all the way back to the tailors, had his shirt and trousers pressed while he sat waiting in his underwear in the staff restroom, then walked back to the station and took the train with her for an hour and a half back to her station. And then traveled for another half hour to his own station. He repeated the whole thing the day after. And the day after that. On the following day the man from the ticket desk at the train station intervened and made it clear to Ove that he couldnt sleep here like some loafer, surely he could understand that? Ove saw the point he was making, but explained that there was a woman at stake here. When he heard this, the man from the ticket desk gave him a little nod and from then on let him sleep in the left-luggage room. Even men at train station ticket desks have been in love. Ove did the same thing every day for three months. In the end she grew tired of his never inviting her out for dinner. So she invited herself instead. Ill be waiting here tomorrow evening at eight oclock. I want you to be wearing a suit and Id like you to invite me out for dinner, she said succinctly as she stepped off the train one Friday evening. And so it was. Ove had never been asked how he lived before he met her. But if anyone had asked him, he would have answered that he didnt. On Saturday evening he put on his fathers old brown suit. It was tight around his shoulders. Then he ate two sausages and seven potatoes, which he prepared in the little kitchenette in his room, before doing his rounds of the house to put in a couple of screws, which the old lady had asked him to do. Are you meeting someone? she asked, pleased to see him coming down the stairs. She had never seen him wearing a suit. Ove nodded gruffly. Yeah, he said in a way that could be described as either a word or an inhalation. The older woman nodded and probably tried to hide a little smile. It must be someone very special if youve dressed yourself up like that, she said. Ove inhaled again and nodded curtly. When he was at the door, she called out from the kitchen. Flowers, Ove! Perplexed, Ove stuck his head around the partition wall and stared at her. Shed probably like some flowers, the old woman declared with some emphasis. Ove cleared his throat and closed the front door. For more than fifteen minutes he stood waiting for her at the station in his tight-fitting suit and his new-polished shoes. He was skeptical about people who came late. If you cant depend on someone being on time, you shouldnt trust em with anything more important either, he used to mutter when people came dribbling along with their time cards three or four minutes late, as if this didnt matter. As if the railway line would just lie there waiting for them in the morning and not have something better to do. So for each of those fifteen minutes that Ove stood waiting at the station he was slightly irritated. And then the irritation turned into a certain anxiety, and after that he decided that Sonja had only been ribbing him when shed suggested they should meet. He had never felt so silly in his entire life. Of course she didnt want to go out with him, how could he have got that into his head? His humiliation, when the insight dawned on him, welled up like a stream of lava, and he was tempted to toss the flowers in the nearest trash can and march off without turning around. Looking back, he couldnt quite explain why he stayed. Maybe because he felt, in spite of it all, that an agreement to meet was an agreement. And maybe there was some other reason. Something a little harder to put his finger on. He didnt know it at that moment, of course, but he was destined to spend so many quarter hours of his life waiting for her that his old father would have gone cross-eyed if hed found out. And when she did finally turn up, in a long floral-print skirt and a cardigan so red that it made Ove shift his weight from his right foot to his left, he decided that maybe her inability to be on time was not the most important thing. The woman at the florists had asked him what he wanted. He informed her gruffly that this was a bit of a bloody question to ask. After all, she was the one who sold the greens and he the one who bought them, not the other way around. The woman had looked a bit bothered about that, but then she asked if the recipient of the flowers had some favorite color, perhaps? Pink, Ove had said with great certainty, although he did not know. And now she stood outside the station with his flowers pressed happily to her breast, in that red cardigan of hers, making the rest of the world look as if it were made in grayscale. Theyre absolutely beautiful, she said, smiling in that candid way that made Ove stare down at the ground and kick at the gravel. Ove wasnt much for restaurants. He had never understood why one would ever eat out for a lot of money when one could eat at home. He wasnt so taken with show-off furniture and elaborate cooking, and he was very much aware of his conversational shortcomings as well. Whatever the case, he had eaten in advance so he could afford to let her order whatever she wanted from the menu, while opting for the cheapest dish for himself. And at least if she asked him something he wouldnt have his mouth full of food. To him it seemed like a good plan. While she was ordering, the waiter smiled ingratiatingly. Ove knew all too well what both he and the other diners in the restaurant had thought when they came in. She was too good for Ove, thats what theyd thought. And Ove felt very silly about that. Mostly because he entirely agreed with their opinion. She told him with great animation about her studies, about books shed read or films shed seen. And when she looked at Ove she made him feel, for the first time, that he was the only man in the world. And Ove had enough integrity to realize that this wasnt right, that he couldnt sit here lying any longer. So he cleared his throat, collected his faculties, and told her the whole truth. That he wasnt doing his military service at all, that in fact he was just a simple cleaner on the trains who had a defective heart and who had lied for no other reason than that he enjoyed riding with her on the train so very much. He assumed this would be the only dinner he ever had with her, and he did not think she deserved having it with a fraudster. When he had finished his story he put his napkin on the table and got out his wallet to pay. Im sorry, he mumbled, shamefaced, and kicked his chair leg a little, before adding in such a low voice that it could hardly even be heard: I just wanted to know what it felt like to be someone you look at. As he was getting up she reached across the table and put her hand on his. Ive never heard you say so many words before. She smiled. He mumbled something about how this didnt change the facts. He was a liar. When she asked him to sit down again, he obliged her and sank back into his chair. She wasnt angry, the way he thought shed be. She started laughing. In the end she said it hadnt actually been so difficult working out that he wasnt doing his military service, because he never wore a uniform. Anyway, everyone knows soldiers dont go home at five oclock on weekdays. Ove had hardly been as discreet as a Russian spy, she added. Shed come to the conclusion that he had his reasons for it. And shed liked the way he listened to her. And made her laugh. And that, she said, had been more than enough for her. And then she asked him what he really wanted to do with his life, if he could choose anything he wanted. And he answered, without even thinking about it, that he wanted to build houses. Construct them. Draw the plans. Calculate the best way to make them stand where they stood. And then she didnt start laughing as he thought she would. She got angry. But why dont you do it, then? she demanded. Ove did not have a particularly good answer to that one. On the following Monday she came to his house with brochures for a correspondence course leading to an engineering qualification. The old landlady was quite overwhelmed when she looked at the beautiful young woman walking up the stairs with self-confident steps. Later she tapped Oves back and whispered that those flowers were probably a very good investment. Ove couldnt help but agree. When he came up to his room she was sitting on his bed. Ove stood sulkily in the doorway, with his hands in his pockets. She looked at him and laughed. Are we an item now? she asked. Well, yes, he replied hesitantly, I suppose it could be that way. And then it was that way. She handed him the brochures. It was a two-year course, and it proved that all the time Ove had spent learning about house building had not, after all, been wasted as hed once believed. Maybe he did not have much of a head for studying in a conventional sense, but he understood numbers and he understood houses. That got him far. He took the examination after six months. Then another. And another. Then he got a job at the housing office and stayed there for more than a third of a century. Worked hard, was never ill, paid his mortgage, paid taxes, did his duty. Bought a little two-story row house in a recently constructed development in the forest. She wanted to get married, so Ove proposed. She wanted children, which was fine with him, said Ove. And their understanding was that children should live in row housing developments among other children. And less than forty years later there was no forest around the house anymore. Just other houses. And one day she was lying there in a hospital and holding his hand and telling him not to worry. Everything was going to be all right. Easy for her to say, thought Ove, his breast pulsating with anger and sorrow. But she just whispered, Everything will be fine, darling Ove, and leaned her arm against his arm. And then gently pushed her index finger into the palm of his hand. And then closed her eyes and died. Ove stayed there with her hand in his for several hours. Until the hospital staff entered the room with warm voices and careful movements, explaining that they had to take her body away. Ove rose from his chair, nodded, and went to the undertakers to take care of the paperwork. On Sunday she was buried. On Monday he went to work. But if anyone had asked, he would have told them that he never lived before he met her. And not after either. 15 A MAN CALLED OVE AND A DELAYED TRAIN The slightly porky man on the other side of the Plexiglas has back-combed hair and arms covered in tattoos. As if it isnt enough to look like someone has slapped a pack of margarine over his head, he has to cover himself in doodles as well. Theres not even a proper motif, as far as Ove can see, just a lot of patterns. Is that something an adult person in a healthy state of mind would consent to? Going about with his arms looking like a pair of pajamas? Your ticket machine doesnt work, Ove informs him. No? says the man behind the Plexiglas. What do you mean, no? I mean . . . Im asking, doesnt it work? I just told you, its broken! The man behind the Plexiglas looks dubious. Maybe theres something wrong with your card? Some dirt on the magnetic strip? he suggests. Ove looks as if the man behind the Plexiglas had just raised the possibility of Ove having erectile dysfunction. The man behind the Plexiglas goes silent. Theres no dirt on my magnetic strip, you can be sure of that, Ove splutters. The man behind the Plexiglas nods. Then changes his mind and shakes his head. Tries to explain to Ove that the machine actually worked earlier in the day. Ove dismisses this as utterly irrelevant, of course, because it is clearly broken now. The man behind the Plexiglas wonders if Ove has cash instead. Ove replies that this is none of his bloody business. A tense silence settles. At long last the man behind the Plexiglas asks if he can check out the card. Ove looks at him as if they just met in a dark alley and hes asked to check out Oves private parts. Dont try anything, Ove warns as he hesitantly pushes it under the window. The man behind the Plexiglas grabs the card and rubs it against his leg in a vigorous manner. As if Ove had never read in the newspaper about that thing they call skimming. As if Ove was an idiot. What are you DOING? Ove cries and bangs the palm of his hand against the Plexiglas window. The man pushes the card back under the window. Try it now, he says. Ove thinks that any old fool could figure out that if the card wasnt working half a minute ago it isnt going to work now either. Ove points this out to the man behind the Plexiglas. Please? says the man. Ove sighs demonstratively. Takes his card again, without taking his eyes off the Plexiglas. The card works. You see! jeers the man behind the Plexiglas. Ove glares at the card as if he feels it has double-crossed him, before he puts it back in his wallet. Have a good day, the man behind the Plexiglas calls out behind him. Well see, mutters Ove. For the last twenty years practically every human being hes met has done nothing but drone on at Ove about how he should be paying for everything by card. But cash has always been good enough for Ove; cash has in fact served humanity perfectly well for thousands of years. And Ove doesnt trust the banks and all their electronics. But his wife insisted on getting hold of one of those prepaid cards in spite of it all, even though Ove warned her against it. And when she died the bank simply sent Ove a new card in his name, connected to her account. And now, after hes been buying flowers for her grave for the past six months, theres a sum of 136 kronor and 54 ?re left on it. And Ove knows very well that this money will disappear into the pocket of some bank director if Ove dies without spending it first. But now when Ove actually wants to use that damned plastic card, it doesnt work, of course. Or there are a lot of extra fees when he uses it in the shops. Which only goes to prove that Ove was right all along. And hes going to say as much to his wife as soon as he sees her, she had better be quite clear about that. He had gone out this morning long before the sun had drummed up the energy to rise over the horizon, much less any of his neighbors. He had carefully studied the train timetable in the hall. Then hed turned out the lights, switched off the radiators, locked his front door, and left the envelope with all the instructions on the hall mat inside the door. He assumed that someone would find it when they came to take the house. He fetched the snow shovel, cleared the snow away from the front of the house, put the shovel back in the shed. Locked the shed. Had Ove been a bit more attentive he would have noticed the fairly large cat-shaped cavity in the quite large snowdrift just outside his shed as he started heading off towards the parking area. But because he had more important things on his mind he did not. Chastened by recent experiences, he did not take the Saab, but walked instead to the station. Because this time neither Pregnant Foreign Woman, Blond Weed, Runes wife, nor low-quality rope would be given any opportunity of ruining Oves morning. Hed bled these peoples radiators, loaned them his things, given them lifts to the hospital. But now he was finally on his way. He checked the train timetable once more. He hated being late. It ruined the planning. Made everything out of step. His wife had been utterly useless at it, keeping to plans. But it was always like that with women. They couldnt stick to a plan even if you glued them to it, Ove had learned. When he was driving somewhere he drew up schedules and plans and decided where theyd fill up and when theyd stop for coffee, all in the interest of making the trip as time-efficient as possible. He studied maps and estimated exactly how long each leg of the journey would take and how they should avoid rush-hour traffic and the shortcuts to take that people with GPS systems wouldnt be able to make head nor tail of. Ove always had a clear travel strategy. His wife, on the other hand, always came up with insanities like going by a sense of feel and taking it easy. As if that was a way for an adult person to get anywhere in life. And then she always remembered that she had to make a call or had forgotten some scarf or other. Or she didnt know which coat to pack at the last moment. Or something else. She always forgot the thermos of coffee on the draining board, which was actually the only important thing. There were four coats in those damned bags but no coffee. As if one could just turn off into a gas station every hour and buy the burned fox piss they were selling in there. And get even more delayed. And when Ove got disgruntled she always had to challenge the importance of having a time plan when driving somewhere. Were not in a hurry anyway, shed say. As if that had anything to do with it. Now, standing at the station platform, he presses his hands into his pockets. He isnt wearing his suit jacket. Its much too stained and smells too strongly of car exhaust, so he feels shed probably have a crack at him if he were to turn up in that. She doesnt like the shirt and sweater hes wearing now, but at least theyre clean and in decent condition. Its about ten degrees outside. He hasnt yet changed the blue autumn jacket for the blue winter coat, and the cold is blowing straight through it. Hes been a bit distracted of late, he has to admit. He hasnt given any real thought to how one is supposed to present oneself when arriving upstairs. Initially he thought one should be all spruced up and formal. Most likely therell be some kind of uniform up there, to avoid confusion. He supposes there will be all sorts of peopleforeigners, for instance, each one wearing a stranger outfit than the next. Presumably it will be possible to organize your clothes once you get theresurely there will even be some sort of wardrobe department? The platform is almost empty. On the other side of the track are some sleepy-looking youths with oversize backpacks which, Ove decides, are most likely filled with drugs. Alongside them is a man in his forties in a gray suit and a black overcoat. Hes reading the newspaper. A little farther off are some small-talking women in their best years with county council logos on their chests and purple tresses of hair. Theyre chain-smoking long menthol cigarettes. On Oves side of the track its empty but for three overdimensioned municipal employees in their midthirties in workmens trousers and hard hats, standing in a ring and staring down into a hole. Around them is a carelessly erected loop of cordon tape. One of them has a mug of coffee from 7-Eleven; another is eating a banana; the third is trying to poke his cell phone without removing his gloves. Its not going so well. And the hole stays where it is. And still were surprised when the whole world comes crashing down in a financial crisis, Ove thinks. When people do little more than standing around eating bananas and looking into holes in the ground all day. He checks his watch. One minute left. He stands at the edge of the platform. Balancing the soles of his shoes over the edge. Its a fall of no more than five feet, he estimates. Five and a half, possibly. Theres a certain symbolism in a train taking his life and he doesnt like this much. He doesnt think the train driver should have to see the awfulness of it. For this reason he has decided to jump when the train is very close, so its rather the side of the first carriage that throws him onto the rails than the big windshield at the front. He looks in the direction the train is coming from and slowly starts counting. Its important that the timing is absolutely right, he determines. The sun is just up; it shines obstinately into his eyes like a child who has just been given a flashlight. And thats when he hears the first scream. Ove looks up just in time to see the suit-wearing man in his black overcoat starting to sway back and forth, like a panda thats been given a Valium overdose. It continues for a second or so, then the suit-wearing man looks up blindly and his whole body is struck with some form of nervous twitching. His arms shake convulsively. And then, as if the moment is a long sequence of still photographs, the newspaper falls out of his hands and he passes out, falling off the edge onto the track with a thump, as if he were a sack of cement mixture. The chain-smoking old girls with the county council logos on their breasts start shrieking in panic. The drug-taking youths stare at the track, their hands enmeshed in their backpack straps as if fearing that they might otherwise fall over. Ove stands on the edge of the platform on the other side and looks with irritation from one to the other. For Christs sake, fumes Ove to himself at long last as he jumps down onto the track. GRAB HOLD HERE WILL YOU! he calls out to one of the backpackers on the platform. The stultified youth drags himself slowly to the edge. Ove hoists up the suit-wearing man in a way that men who have never put their foot in a gym yet have spent their entire lives carrying a concrete plinth under each arm tend to be able to do. He heaves up the body into the backpackers arms in a way that Audi-driving men wearing neon-bright jogging pants are often incapable of doing. He cant stay here in the path of the train, you get that, dont you?! The backpackers nod in confusion, and finally by their collective efforts manage to drag the suit-wearing body onto the platform. The county council women are still screaming, as if they sincerely believe this is a constructive approach under the circumstances. The man appears to be breathing, but Ove stays down there on the track. He hears the train coming. Its not quite the way he planned it, but itll have to do. Then he calmly goes into the middle of the track, puts his hands in his pockets, and stares into the headlights. He hears the warning whistle like a foghorn. Feels the track shaking powerfully under his feet, as if a testosterone-fueled bull were trying to charge him. He breathes out. In the midst of that inferno of shaking and yelling and the chilling scream of the trains brakes he feels a deep relief. At last. To Ove, the moments that follow are elongated as if time itself has applied its brakes and made everything around him travel in slow motion. The explosion of sounds is muted into a low hiss in his ears, the train approaching so slowly that its as if its being pulled along by two decrepit oxen. The headlights flash despairingly at him. And in the interval between two of the flashes, while he isnt blinded, he finds himself establishing eye contact with the train driver. He cant be more than twenty years old. One of those who still gets called the puppy by his older colleagues. Ove stares into the puppys face. Clenches his fists in his pockets as if hes cursing himself for what hes about to do. But it cant be helped, he thinks. Theres a right way of doing things. And a wrong way. So the train is perhaps fifteen yards away when Ove swears with irritation and, as calmly as if he were getting up to fetch himself a cup of coffee, steps out of the way and jumps up on the platform again. The train has drawn level with him by the time the driver has managed to stop it. The puppys terror has sucked all the blood out of his face. He is clearly holding back his tears. The two men look at each other through the locomotive window as if they had just emerged from some apocalyptic desert and now realized that neither of them was the last human being on earth. One is relieved by this insight. And the other disappointed. The boy in the locomotive nods carefully. Ove nods back with resignation. Fair enough that Ove no longer wants his life. But the sort of man who ruins someone elses by making eye contact with him seconds before his body is turned into blood paste against said persons windshield; damn it, Ove is not that sort of man. Neither his dad nor Sonja would ever have forgiven him for that. Are you all right? one of the hard hats calls out behind Ove. Another minute and youd have been a goner! yells one of the others. They stand there staring at him, not at all unlike the way they were standing just now and staring into that hole. It seems to be their prime area of competence, in fact: to stare at things. Ove stares back. Another second, I mean, clarifies the man who still has a banana in his hand. It could have gone quite badly, that, sniggers the first hard hat. Really badly, the other one agrees. Could have died, actually, clarifies the third. Youre a real hero! Saved their life! His. Saved his life, Ove corrects and hears Sonjas voice in his own. Would have died otherwise, the third one reiterates, taking a forthright bite of his banana. On the track is the train with all its red emergency lights turned on, puffing and screeching like a very fat person whos just run into a wall. A great number of examples of what Ove assumes must be IT consultants and other disreputable folk come streaming out and stand about dizzily on the platform. Ove puts his hands in his trouser pockets. I suppose now youll have a lot of bloody delayed trains as well, he says and looks with particular displeasure at the chaotic press of people on the platform. Yeah, says the first hard hat. Reckon so, says the second. Lots and lots of delays, the third one agrees. Ove makes a sound like a heavy bureau thats got a rusted-up hinge. He goes past all three of them without a word. Where you off to? Youre a hero! the first hard hat yells at him, surprised. Yeah, yells the second. A hero! yells the third. Ove doesnt answer. He walks past the man behind the Plexiglas, back out into the snow-covered streets, and starts walking home. The town slowly wakes up around him with its foreign-made cars and its statistics and credit-card debt and all its other crap. And so this day was also ruined, he confirms with bitterness. As he is walking alongside the bicycle shed by the parking area, he sees the white ?koda coming past from the direction of Anita and Runes house. A determined woman with glasses is sitting in the passenger seat, her arms filled with files and papers. Behind the wheel sits the man in the white shirt. Ove has to jump out of the way to avoid being run over as the car races round the corner. The man lifts a smoldering cigarette towards Ove through the windshield, and offers a superior half smile. As if its Oves fault that hes in the way, but hes generous enough to let it go. Idiot! Ove yells after the ?koda, but the man in the white shirt doesnt seem to react at all. Ove memorizes the license number before the car disappears round the corner. Soon itll be your turn, you old fart, hisses a malevolent voice behind him. Ove spins around with his fist instinctively raised, and finds himself staring at his own reflection in Blond Weeds sunglasses. Shes holding that damned mutt in her arms. It growls at him. They were from Social Services, she jeers, with a nod towards the road. In the parking area, Ove sees that imbecile Anders backing his Audi out of his garage. It has those new, wave-shaped headlights, Ove notes, presumably designed so that no one at night will be able to avoid the insight that here comes a car driven by an utter shit. What business is it of yours? Ove says to the Weed. Her lips are pulled into the sort of grimace that comes as close to a real smile as a woman whose lips have been injected with environmental waste and nerve toxins is ever likely to achieve. Its my business because this time its that bloody old man at the end of the road theyre putting in a home. And after that itll be you! She spits at the ground beside him and walks towards the Audi. Ove watches her, his chest puffing in and out under his shirt. As the Audi swings around she shows him the middle finger on the other side of the window. Oves first instinct is to run after them and tear that German sheet-metal monster, inclusive of imbeciles, weeds, growling mutts, and wave-shaped headlights, to smithereens. But then suddenly he feels out of breath, as if hes been running full-tilt through the snow. He leans forward, puts his hands on his knees, and notices to his own fury that hes panting for air, his heart racing. He straightens up after a minute or so. Theres a slight flickering effect in his right eye. The Audi has gone. Ove turns and slowly heads back to his house, one hand pressed to his chest. When he gets to his house he stops by the shed. Stares down into the cat-shaped hole in the snowdrift. Theres a cat at the bottom of it. Might have bloody known. 16 A MAN WHO WAS OVE AND A TRUCK IN THE FOREST Before that day when the dour and slightly fumbling boy with the muscular body and the sad blue eyes sat down beside Sonja on the train, there were really only three things she loved unconditionally in her life: books, her father, and cats. Shed obviously had quite a lot of attention, it wasnt that. The suitors had come in all shapes and sizes. Tall and dark or short and blond and fun-loving and dull and elegant and boastful and handsome and greedy, and if they hadnt been slightly dissuaded by the stories in the village of Sonjas father keeping one or two firearms in the isolated wooden house out there in the woods, they would most likely have been a bit pushier. But none of them had looked at her the way that boy looked at her when he sat down beside her on the train. As if she were the only girl in the world. Sometimes, especially in the first few years, some of her girlfriends questioned the choice she had made. Sonja was very beautiful, as the people around her seemed to find it so important to keep telling her. Furthermore she loved to laugh and, whatever life threw at her, she was the sort of person who took a positive view of it. But Ove was, well, Ove was Ove. Something the people around her also kept telling Sonja. Hed been a grumpy old man since he started elementary school, they insisted. And she could have someone so much better. But to Sonja, Ove was never dour and awkward and sharp-edged. To her, he was the slightly disheveled pink flowers at their first dinner. He was his fathers slightly too tight-fitting brown suit across his broad, sad shoulders. He believed so strongly in things: justice and fair play and hard work and a world where right just had to be right. Not so one could get a medal or a diploma or a slap on the back for it, but just because that was how it was supposed to be. Not many men of his kind were made anymore, Sonja had understood. So she was holding on to this one. Maybe he didnt write her poems or serenade her with songs or come home with expensive gifts. But no other boy had gone the wrong way on the train for hours every day just because he liked sitting next to her while she spoke. And when she took hold of his lower arm, thick as her thigh, and tickled him until that sulky boys face opened up in a smile, it was like a plaster cast cracking around a piece of jewelry, and when this happened it was as if something started singing inside Sonja. And they belonged only to her, those moments. She didnt get angry with him that first night they had dinner, when he told her hed lied about his military service. Of course, she got angry with him on an immeasurable number of occasions after that, but not that night. They say the best men are born out of their faults and that they often improve later on, more than if theyd never done anything wrong, shed said gently. Who said that? asked Ove and looked at the triple set of cutlery in front of him on the table, the way one might look at a box that had just been opened while someone said, Choose your weapon. Shakespeare, said Sonja. Is that any good? Ove wondered. Its fantastic. Sonja nodded, smiling. Ive never read anything with him, mumbled Ove into the tablecloth. By him, Sonja corrected, and lovingly put her hand on his. In their almost four decades together Sonja taught hundreds of pupils with learning difficulties to read and write, and she got them to read Shakespeares collected works. In the same period she never managed to make Ove read a single Shakespeare play. But as soon as they moved into their row house he spent every evening for weeks on end in the toolshed. And when he was done, the most beautiful bookcases she had ever seen were in their living room. You have to keep them somewhere, he muttered, and poked a little cut on his thumb with the tip of a screwdriver. And she crept into his arms and said that she loved him. And he nodded. She only asked once about the burns on his arms. And she had to piece together the exact circumstances of how he lost his parental home, from the succinct fragments on offer when Ove reluctantly revealed what had happened. In the end she found out how he got the scars. And when one of her girlfriends asked why she loved him she answered that most men ran away from an inferno. But men like Ove ran into it. Ove did not meet Sonjas father more times than he could count on his fingers. The old man lived a long way north, a good way into the forest, almost as if he had consulted a map of all the population centers in the country before concluding that this was as far from other people as one could live. Sonjas mother had died in the maternity bed. Her father never remarried. I have a woman. She is just not home at the moment, he spat out the few times anyone dared bring up the question. Sonja moved to the local town when she started studying for her upper secondary examinationsall in humanities subjectsat a sixth-form college. Her father looked at her with boundless indignation when she suggested that he might like to come with her. What can I do there? Meet folk? he growled. He always spoke the word folk as if it were a swear word. So Sonja let him be. Apart from her weekend visits and his monthly trip in the truck to the grocery store in the nearest village, he only had Ernest for company. Ernest was the biggest farm cat in the world. When Sonja was small she actually thought he was a pony. He came and went in her fathers house as he pleased, but he didnt live there. Where he lived, in fact, was not known to anyone. Sonja named him Ernest after Ernest Hemingway. Her father had never bothered with books, but when his daughter sat reading the newspaper at the age of five he wasnt so stupid that he tried to avoid doing something about it. A girl cant read shit like that: shell lose her head, he stated as he pushed her towards the library counter in the village. The old librarian didnt quite know what he meant by that, but there was no doubt about the girls quite outstanding intellect. The monthly trip to the grocery store simply had to be extended to a monthly trip to the library, the librarian and father decided together, without any particular need to discuss it further. By the time Sonja passed her twelfth birthday she had read all the books at least twice. The ones she liked, such as The Old Man and the Sea, shed read so many times that shed lost count. So Ernest ended up being called Ernest. And no one owned him. He didnt talk, but he liked to go fishing with her father, who appreciated his qualities. They would share the catch equally once they got home. The first time Sonja brought Ove out to the old wooden house in the forest, Ove and her father sat in buttoned-up silence opposite each other, staring down at their food for almost an hour, while she tried to encourage some form of civilized conversation. Neither of the men could quite understand what they were doing there, apart from the fact that it was important to the only woman either of them cared about. They had both protested about the whole arrangement, insistently and vociferously, but without success. Sonjas father was negatively disposed from the very beginning. All he knew about this boy was that he came from town and that Sonja had mentioned that he did not like cats very much. These were two characteristics, as far as he was concerned, that gave him reason enough to view Ove as unreliable. As for Ove, he felt he was at a job interview, and he had never been very good at that sort of thing. So when Sonja wasnt talking, which admittedly she did almost all of the time, there was a sort of silence in the room that can only arise between a man who does not want to lose his daughter and a man who has not yet completely understood that he has been chosen to take her away from there. Finally Sonja kicked Oves shinbone to make him say something. Ove looked up from his plate and noted the angry twitches around the edges of her eyes. He cleared his throat and looked around with a certain desperation to find something to ask this old man about. Because this was what Ove had learned: if one didnt have anything to say, one had to find something to ask. If there was one thing that made people forget to dislike one, it was when they were given the opportunity to talk about themselves. At long last Oves gaze fell on the truck, visible through the old mans kitchen window. Thats an L10, isnt it? he said, pointing with his fork. Yup, said the old man, looking down at his plate. Saab is making them now, Ove stated with a short nod. Scania! the old man roared, glaring at Ove. And the room was once again overwhelmed by that silence which can only arise between a womans beloved and her father. Ove looked down grimly at his plate. Sonja kicked her father on his shin. Her father looked back at her grumpily. Until he saw those twitches around her eyes. He was not so stupid a man that he had not learned to avoid what tended to happen after them. So he cleared his throat irately and picked at his food. Just because some suit at Saab waved his wallet around and bought the factory it dont stop being a Scania, he grunted in a low voice, which was slightly less accusing, and then moved his shinbones a little farther from his daughters shoe. Sonjas father had always driven Scania trucks. He couldnt understand why anyone would have anything else. Then, after years of consumer loyalty, they merged with Saab. It was a treachery he never quite forgave them for. Ove, who, in turn, had become very interested in Scania when they merged with Saab, looked thoughtfully out of the window while chewing his potato. Does it run well? he asked. No, muttered the old man irascibly and went back to his plate. None of their models run well. None of em are built right. Mechanics want half a fortune to fix anything on it, he added, as if he were actually explaining it to someone sitting under the table. I can have a look at it if youll let me, said Ove and looked enthusiastic all of a sudden. It was the first time Sonja could ever remember him actually sounding enthusiastic about anything. The two men looked at each other for a moment. Then Sonjas father nodded. And Ove nodded curtly back. And then they rose to their feet, objective and determined, in the way two men might behave if they had just agreed to go and kill a third man. A few minutes later Sonjas father came back into the kitchen, leaning on his stick, and sank into his chair with his chronically dissatisfied mumbling. He sat there for a good while stuffing his pipe with care, then at last nodded at the saucepans and managed to say: Nice. Thanks, Dad. She smiled. You cooked it. Not me, he said. The thanks was not for the food, she answered and took away the plates, kissing her father tenderly on his forehead at the same time that she saw Ove diving in under the hood of the truck in the yard. Her father said nothing, just stood up with a quiet snort and took the newspaper from the kitchen counter. Halfway to his armchair in the living room he stopped himself, however, and stood there slightly unresolved, leaning on his stick. Does he fish? he finally grunted without looking at her. I dont think so, Sonja answered. Her father nodded gruffly. Stood silent for a long while. I see. Hell have to learn, then, he grumbled at long last, before putting his pipe in his mouth and disappearing into the living room. Sonja had never heard him give anyone a higher compliment. 17 A MAN CALLED OVE AND A CAT ANNOYANCE IN A SNOWDRIFT Is it dead? Parvaneh asks in terror as she rushes forward as quickly as her pregnant belly will allow and stands there staring down into the hole. Im not a vet, Ove repliesnot in an unfriendly way. Just as a point of information. He doesnt understand where this woman keeps appearing from all the time. Cant a man calmly and quietly stand over a cat-shaped hole in a snowdrift in his own garden anymore? You have to get him out! she cries, hitting him on the shoulder with her glove. Ove looks displeased and pushes his hands deeper into his jacket pockets. He is still having a bit of trouble breathing. Dont have to at all, he says. Jesus, whats wrong with you? I dont get along with cats very well, Ove informs her and plants his heels in the snow. But her gaze when she turns around makes him move a little farther away. Maybe hes sleeping, he offers, peering into the hole. Before adding: Otherwise hell come out when it thaws. When the glove comes flying towards him again he confirms to himself that keeping a safe distance was a very sound idea. But the next thing he knows Parvaneh has dived into the snowdrift; she emerges seconds later with the little deep-frozen creature in her thin arms. It looks like four ice pops clumsily wrapped in a shredded scarf. Open the door! she yells, really losing her composure now. Ove presses the soles of his shoes into the snow. He had certainly not begun this day with the intention of letting either women or cats into his house, hed like to make that very clear to her. But she comes right at him with the animal in her arms and determination in her steps. Its really only a question of the speed of his reactions whether she walks through him or past him. Ove has never experienced a worse woman when it comes to listening to what decent people tell her. He feels out of breath again. He fights the impulse to clutch his breast. She keeps going. He gives way. She strides past. The small icicle-decorated package in her arms obstinately brings up a flow of memories in Oves head before he can put a stop to them: memories of Ernest, fat, stupid old Ernest, so beloved of Sonja that you could have bounced five-kronor coins on her heart whenever she saw him. OPEN THE DOOR THEN! Parvaneh roars and looks round at Ove so abruptly that theres a danger of whiplash. Ove hauls out the keys from his pocket. As if someone else has taken control of his arm. Hes having a hard time accepting what hes actually doing. One part of him in his head is yelling NO while the rest of his body is busy with some sort of teenage rebellion. Get me some blankets! Parvaneh orders and runs across the threshold with her shoes still on. Ove stands there for a few moments, catching his breath; he furtively scoops up the envelope with his final instructions from the mat before he ambles off after her. Its bloody freezing in here. Turn up the radiators! Parvaneh tosses out the words as if this is something quite obvious, gesturing impatiently at Ove as she puts the cat down on his sofa. Therell be no turning up of radiators here, Ove announces firmly. He parks himself in the living room doorway and wonders whether she might try to swat him again with the glove if he tells her at least to put some newspapers under the cat. When she turns to him again he decides to give it a miss. Ove doesnt know if hes ever seen such an angry woman. Ive got a blanket upstairs, he says at long last, avoiding her gaze by suddenly feeling incredibly interested in the hall lamp. Get it then! Ove looks as if hes repeating her words to himself, though silently, in an affected, disdainful voice; but he takes off his shoes and crosses the living room at a cautious distance from her glove-striking range. All the way up and down the stairs he mumbles to himself about why it has to be so damned difficult to get any peace and quiet on this street. Upstairs he stops and takes a few deep breaths. The pain in his chest has gone. His heart is beating normally again. It happens now and then, and he no longer gets stressed about it. It always passes. And he wont be needing that heart for very much longer, so it doesnt matter either way. He hears voices from the living room. He can hardly believe his ears. Considering how they are constantly preventing him from dying, these neighbors of his are certainly not shy when it comes to driving a man to the brink of madness and suicide. Thats for sure. When Ove comes back down the stairs with the blanket in his hand, the overweight young man from next door is standing in the middle of his living room, looking with curiosity at the cat and Parvaneh. Hey, man! he says cheerfully and waves at Ove. Hes only wearing a T-shirt, even though theres snow outside. Okay, says Ove, silently appalled that you can pop upstairs for a moment only to find when you come back down that youve apparently started a bed-and-breakfast operation. I heard someone shouting, just wanted to check that everything was cool here, says the young man jovially, shrugging his shoulders so that his back blubber folds the T-shirt into deep wrinkles. Parvaneh snatches the blanket out of the Oves hand and starts wrapping the cat in it. Youll never get him warm like that, says the young man pleasantly. Dont interfere, says Ove, who, while perhaps not an expert at defrosting cats, does not appreciate at all having people marching into his house and issuing orders about how things should be done. Be quiet, Ove! says Parvaneh and looks entreatingly at the young man. What shall we do, then? Hes ice-cold! Dont tell me to be quiet, mumbles Ove. Hell die, says Parvaneh. Die my ass, hes just a bit chilly Ove interjects, in a new attempt to regain control over the situation. The Pregnant One puts her index finger over his lips and hushes him. Ove looks so absurdly irritated at this its as if hes going to break into some sort of rage-fueled pirouette. When Parvaneh holds up the cat, it has started shifting in color from purple to white. Ove looks a little less sure of himself when he notices this. He glances at Parvaneh. Then reluctantly steps back and gives way. The young, overweight man takes off his T-shirt. But what the . . . this has got to be . . . what are you DOING? stutters Ove. His eyes flicker from Parvaneh by the sofa, with the defrosting cat in her arms and water dripping onto the floor, to the young man standing there with his torso bare in the middle of Oves living room, the fat trembling over his chest down towards his knees, as if he were a big mound of ice cream that had first melted and then been refrozen. Here, give him to me, says the young man unconcernedly and reaches over with two arms thick as tree trunks towards Parvaneh. When she hands over the cat he encloses it in his enormous embrace, pressing it against his chest as if trying to make a gigantic cat spring roll. By the way, my names Jimmy, he says to Parvaneh and smiles. Im Parvaneh, says Parvaneh. Nice name, says Jimmy. Thanks! It means butterfly. Parvaneh smiles. Nice! says Jimmy. Youll smother that cat, says Ove. Oh, give it a rest, will you, Ove, says Jimmy. I reckon it would rather freeze to death in a dignified manner than be strangled, he says to Jimmy, nodding at the dripping ball of fluff pressed into his arms. Jimmy pulls his good-tempered face into a big grin. Chill a bit, Ove. You can say what you like about us fatties, but were awesome when it comes to pumping out a bit of heat! Parvaneh peers nervously over his blubbery upper arm and gently puts the palm of her hand against the cats nose. Then she brightens. Hes getting warmer, she exclaims, turning to Ove in triumph. Ove nods. He was about to say something sarcastic to her. Now he finds, uneasily, that hes relieved at the news. He distracts himself from this emotion by assiduously inspecting the TV remote control. Not that hes concerned about the cat. Its just that Sonja would have been happy. Nothing more than that. Ill heat some water, says Parvaneh, and in a single snappy movement she slips past Ove and is suddenly standing in his kitchen, tugging at his kitchen cabinets. What the hell, mumbles Ove as he lets go of the remote control and tears off in pursuit. When he gets there, shes standing motionless and slightly confused in the middle of the floor with his electric kettle in her hand. She looks a bit overwhelmed, as if the realization of whats happened has only just hit her. Its the first time Ove has seen this woman run out of something to say. The kitchen has been cleared and tidied, but its dusty. It smells of brewed coffee, theres dirt in the crannies, and everywhere are Oves wifes things. Her little decorative objects in the window, her hair clips left on the kitchen table, her handwriting on the Post-it notes on the fridge. The kitchen is filled with those soft wheel marks. As if someone has been going back and forth with a bicycle, thousands of times. The stove and kitchen counter are noticeably lower than is usual. As if the kitchen had been built for a child. Parvaneh stares at them the way people always do when they see it for the first time. Ove has got used to it. He rebuilt the kitchen himself after the accident. The council refused to help, of course. Parvaneh looks as if shes somehow got stuck. Ove takes the electric kettle out of her outstretched hands without looking into her eyes. Slowly he fills it with water and plugs it in. I didnt know, Ove, she whispers, contrite. Ove leans over the low sink with his back to her. She comes forward and puts her fingertips gently on his shoulder. Im sorry, Ove. Really. I shouldnt have barged into your kitchen without asking first. Ove clears his throat and nods without turning around. He doesnt know how long they stand there. She lets her enervated hand rest on his shoulder. He decides not to push it away. Jimmys voice breaks the silence. You got anything to eat? he calls out from the living room. Oves shoulder slips away from Parvanehs hand. He shakes his head, wipes his face with the back of his hand, and heads off to the fridge still without looking at her. Jimmy clucks gratefully when Ove comes out of the kitchen and hands him a sausage sandwich. Ove parks himself a few yards away and looks a bit grim. So how is he, then? he says with a curt nod at the cat in Jimmys arms. Water is dripping liberally onto the floor now, but the animal is slowly but surely regaining both its shape and color. Seems better, no? Jimmy grins as he wolfs down the sandwich in a single bite. Ove gives him a skeptical look. Jimmy is perspiring like a bit of pork left on a sauna stove. Theres something mournful in his eyes when he looks back at Ove. You know it was . . . pretty bad with your wife, Ove. I always liked her. She made, like, the best chow in town. Ove looks at him, and for the first time all morning he doesnt look a bit angry. Yes. She . . . cooked very well, he agrees. He goes over to the window and, with his back to the room, tugs at the latch as if to check it. Pokes the rubber seal. Parvaneh stands in the kitchen doorway, wrapping her arms around herself and her belly. He can stay here until hes completely defrosted, then you have to take him, says Ove, shrugging towards the cat. He can see in the corner of his eye how shes peering at him. As if shes trying to figure out what sort of hand he has from the other side of a casino table. It makes him uneasy. Im afraid I cant, she says after that. The girls are . . . allergic, she adds. Ove hears a little pause before she says allergic. He scrutinizes her suspiciously in the reflection in the window, but does not answer. Instead he turns to the overweight young man. So youll have to take care of it, he says. Jimmy, whos not only sweating buckets now but also turning blotchy and red in his face, looks down benevolently at the cat. Its slowly started moving its stump of a tail and burrowing its dripping nose deeper into Jimmys generous folds of upper-arm fat. Dont think its such a cool idea me taking care of the puss, sorry, man, says Jimmy and shrugs tremulously, so that the cat makes a circus tumble and ends up upside down. He holds out his arms. His skin is red, as if hes on fire. Im a bit allergic as well. . . . Parvaneh gives off a little scream, runs up to him, and takes the cat away from him, quickly enfolding it in the blanket again. We have to get Jimmy to a hospital! she yells. Im barred from the hospital, Ove replies, without thinking. When he peers in her direction and she looks ready to throw the cat at him, he looks down again and groans disconsolately. All I want is to die, he thinks and presses his toes into one of the floorboards. It flexes slightly. Ove looks up at Jimmy. Looks at the cat. Surveys the wet floor. Shakes his head at Parvaneh. Well have to take my car then, he mutters. He takes his jacket from the hook and opens the front door. After a few seconds he sticks his head back into the hall. Glares at Parvaneh. But Im not bringing the car to the house because its prohibit She interrupts him with some words in Farsi which Ove cant understand. Nonetheless he finds them unnecessarily dramatic. She wraps the cat more tightly in the blanket and walks past him into the snow. Rules are rules, you know, says Ove truculently as she heads off to the parking area, but she doesnt answer. Ove turns around and points at Jimmy. And you put on a sweater. Or youre not going anywhere in the Saab, lets be clear about that. Parvaneh pays for the parking at the hospital. Ove doesnt make a fuss about it. 18 A MAN WHO WAS OVE AND A CAT CALLED ERNEST Ove didnt dislike this cat in particular. Its just that he didnt much like cats in general. Hed always perceived them as untrustworthy. Especially when, as in the case of Ernest, they were as big as mopeds. It was actually quite difficult to determine whether he was just an unusually large cat or an outstandingly small lion. And you should never befriend something if theres a possibility it may take a fancy to eating you in your sleep. But Sonja loved Ernest so unconditionally that Ove managed to keep this kind of perfectly sensible observation to himself. He knew better than to speak ill of what she loved; after all he understood very keenly how it was to receive her love when no one else could understand why he was worthy of it. So he and Ernest learned to get along reasonably well when they visited the cottage in the forest, apart from the fact that Ernest bit Ove once when he sat on his tail on one of the kitchen chairs. Or at least they learned to keep their distance. Just like Ove and Sonjas father. Even if Oves view was that this Cat Annoyance was not entitled to sit on one chair and spread his tail over another, he let it go. For Sonjas sake. Ove learned to fish. In the two autumns that followed their first visit, the roof of the house for the first time ever did not leak. And the truck started every time the key was turned without as much as a splutter. Of course Sonjas father was not openly grateful about this. But on the other hand he never again brought up his reservations about Ove being from town. And this, from Sonjas father, was as good a proof of affection as any. Two springs passed and two summers. And in the third year, one cool June night, Sonjas father died. And Ove had never seen anyone cry like Sonja cried then. The first few days she hardly got out of bed. Ove, for someone who had run into death as much as he had in his life, had a very paltry relationship to his feelings about it, and he pushed it all away in some confusion in the kitchen of the forest cottage. The pastor from the village church came by and ran through the details of the burial. A good man, stated the pastor succinctly and pointed at one of the photos of Sonja and her father on the living room wall. Ove nodded. Didnt know what he was expected to say to that one. Then he went outside to see if anything on the truck needed fiddling with. On the fourth day Sonja got out of bed and started cleaning the cottage with such frenetic energy that Ove kept out of her way, in the way that insightful folk avoid an oncoming tornado. He meandered about the farm, looking for things to do. He rebuilt the woodshed, which had collapsed in one of the winter storms. In the coming days he filled it with newly cut wood. Mowed the grass. Lopped overhanging branches from the surrounding forest. Late on the evening of the sixth day they called from the grocery store. Everyone called it an accident, of course. But no one who had met Ernest could believe that he had run out in front of a car by accident. Sorrow does strange things to living creatures. Ove drove faster than he had ever driven on the roads that night. Sonja held Ernests big head in her hands all the way. He was still breathing when they made it to the vet, but his injuries were far too serious, the loss of blood too great. After two hours crouching at his side in the operating room, Sonja kissed the cats wide brow and whispered, Good-bye, darling Ernest. And then, as if the words were coming out of her mouth wrapped in whisks of cloud: And good-bye to you, my darling father. And then the cat closed his eyes and died. When Sonja came out of the waiting room she rested her forehead heavily against Oves broad chest. I feel so much loss, Ove. Loss, as if my heart was beating outside my body. They stood in silence for a long time, with their arms around each other. And at long last she lifted her face towards his, and looked into his eyes with great seriousness. You have to love me twice as much now, she said. And then Ove lied to her for the secondand lasttime: he said that he would. Even though he knew it wasnt possible for him to love her any more than he already did. They buried Ernest beside the lake where he used to go fishing with Sonjas father. The pastor was there to read the blessing. After that, Ove loaded up the Saab and they drove back on the small roads, with Sonjas head leaning against his shoulder. On the way he stopped in the first little town they passed through. Sonja had arranged to meet someone there. Ove did not know who. It was one of the traits she appreciated most about him, she often said long after the event. She knew no one else who could sit in a car for an hour, waiting, without demanding to know what he was waiting for or how long it would take. Which was not to say that Ove did not moan, because moaning was one thing he excelled at. Especially if he had to pay for the parking. But he never asked what she was doing. And he always waited for her. Then when Sonja came out at last and got back inside, closing the Saabs door with a soft squeeze, which she knew was required to avoid a wounded glance from him as if she had kicked a living creature, she gently took his hand. I think we need to buy a house of our own, she said softly. Whats the point of that? Ove wondered. I think our child has to grow up in a house, she said and carefully moved his hand down to her belly. Ove was quiet for a long time; a long time even by Oves standards. He looked thoughtfully at her stomach, as if expecting it to raise some sort of flag. Then he straightened up, twisted the tuning button half a turn forward and half a turn back. Adjusted his wing mirrors. And nodded sensibly. Well have to get a Saab station wagon, then. 19 A MAN CALLED OVE AND A CAT THAT WAS BROKEN WHEN HE CAME Ove spent most of yesterday shouting at Parvaneh that this damned cat would live in Oves house over his dead body. And now here he stands, looking at the cat. And the cat looks back. And Ove remains strikingly nondead. Its all incredibly irritating. A half-dozen times Ove woke up in the night when the cat, with more than a little disrespect, crawled up and stretched out next to him in the bed. And just as many times the cat woke up when Ove, with more than a bit of brusqueness, booted it down to the floor again. Now, when its gone quarter to six and Ove has got up, the cat is sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor. It sports a disgruntled expression, as if Ove owes it money. Ove stares back at it with a suspicion normally reserved for a cat that has rung his doorbell with a Bible in its paws, like a Jehovahs Witness. I suppose youre expecting food, mutters Ove at last. The cat doesnt answer. It just nibbles its remaining patches of fur and nonchalantly licks one of its paw pads. But in this house you dont just lounge about like some kind of consultant and expect fried sparrows to fly into your mouth. Ove goes to the sink. Turns on the coffeemaker. Checks his watch. Looks at the cat. After leaving Jimmy at the hospital, Parvaneh had managed to get hold of a friend who was apparently a veterinarian. The veterinarian had come to have a look at the cat and concluded that there was serious frostbite and advanced malnutrition. And then hed given Ove a long list of instructions about what the cat needed to eat and its general care. Im not running a cat repair company, Ove clarifies to the cat. Youre only here because I couldnt talk any sense into that pregnant woman. He nods across the living room towards the window facing onto Parvanehs house. The cat, busying itself trying to lick one of its eyes, does not reply. Ove holds up four little socks towards it. He was given them by the veterinarian. Apparently the Cat Annoyance needs exercise more than anything, and this is something Ove feels he may be able to help it achieve. The farther from his wallpaper those claws are, the better. Thats Oves reasoning. Hop into these things and then we can go. Im running late! The cat gets up elaborately and walks with long, self-conscious steps towards the door. As if walking on a red carpet. It gives the socks an initial skeptical look, but doesnt cause too much of a fuss when Ove quite roughly puts them on. When hes done, Ove stands up and scrutinizes the cat from top to bottom. Shakes his head. A cat wearing socksit cant be natural. The cat, now standing there checking out its new outfit, suddenly looks immeasurably pleased with itself. Ove makes an extra loop to the end of the pathway. Outside Anita and Runes house he picks up a cigarette butt. He rolls it between his fingers. That ?koda-driving man from the council seems to drive about in these parts as if he owned them. Ove swears and puts the butt in his pocket. When they get back to the house, Ove reluctantly feeds the wretched animal, and once its finished, announces that theyve got errands to run. He may have been temporarily press-ganged into cohabiting with this little creature, but hell be damned if hes going to leave a wild animal on its own in his house. So the cat has to come with him. Immediately theres a disagreement between Ove and the cat about whether or not the cat should sit on a sheet of newspaper in the Saabs passenger seat. At first Ove sets the cat on two supplements of entertainment news, which the cat, much insulted, kicks onto the floor with its back feet. It makes itself comfortable on the soft upholstery. At this Ove firmly picks up the cat by the scruff of its neck, so that the cat hisses at him in a not-so-passive-aggressive manner, while Ove shoves three cultural supplements and book reviews under him. The cat gives him a furious look. Ove puts it down, but oddly enough it stays on the newspaper and only looks out of the window with a wounded, dismal expression. Ove concludes that hes won the battle, nods with satisfaction, puts the Saab into gear, and drives onto the main road. Only then does the cat slowly and deliberately drag its claws in a long tear across the newsprint, and then put both its front paws through the rip. While at the same time giving Ove a highly challenging look, as if to ask: And what are you going to do about it? Ove slams on the brakes of the Saab so that the cat, shocked, is thrown forward and bangs its nose against the dashboard. THATs what I have to say about it! Oves triumphant expression seems to say. After that, the cat refuses to look at Ove for the rest of the journey and just sits hunched up in a corner of the seat, rubbing its nose with one of its paws in a very offended way. But while Ove is inside the florists, it licks long wet streaks across Oves steering wheel, safety belt, and the inside of Oves car door. When Ove comes back with the flowers and discovers that his whole car is full of cat saliva, he waves his forefinger in a threatening manner, as if it were a scimitar. And then the cat bites his scimitar. Ove refuses to speak to him for the rest of the journey. When they get to the churchyard, Ove plays it safe and scrunches up the remains of the newspaper into a ball, with which he roughly pushes the cat out of the car. Then he gets the flowers out of the trunk, locks the Saab with his key, makes a circuit around it, and checks each of the doors. Together they climb the frozen graveled slope leading up to the church turn-off and force their way through the snow, before they stop by Sonja. Ove brushes some snow off the gravestone with the back of his hand and gives the flowers a little shake. Ive brought some flowers with me, he mumbles. Pink. Which you like. They say they die in the frost but they only tell you that to trick you into buying the more expensive ones. The cat sinks down on its behind in the snow. Ove gives it a sullen look, then refocuses on the gravestone. Right, right. . . . This is the Cat Annoyance. Its living with us now. Almost froze to death outside our house. The cat gives Ove an offended look. Ove clears his throat. He looked like that when he came, he clarifies, a sudden defensive note in his voice. Then, with a nod at the cat and the gravestone: So it wasnt me who broke him. He was already broken, he adds to Sonja. Both the gravestone and the cat wait in silence beside him. Ove stares at his shoes for a moment. Grunts. Sinks onto his knees in the snow and brushes a bit more snow off the stone. Carefully lays his hand on it. I miss you, he whispers. Theres a quick gleam in the corner of Oves eye. He feels something soft against his arm. It takes a few seconds before he realizes that the cat is gently resting its head in the palm of his hand.

  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame /     (Disney, 2012) -   The Hunchback of Notre Dame /
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs /     (Disney, 2012)    Snow White and the Seven
  • The Summer Children /   (by Dot Hutchison, 2018) -   The Summer Children /
  • A Christmas Carol /    (by Charles Dickens, 1997) -    A Christmas Carol /
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