Who flies there in the feather-harbour, who climbs up there out of the black, shining waters?
Two small people and a large rock (July 1984)
They were holding hands.
He was thirteen and she was twelve. If anyone in the gang caught sight of them, they would just die right there on the spot. They crept through the fir trees, alert to every sound and every movement as if they were on some secret mission. In a way they were: they were going to be together, but they didn't know that yet.
It was almost ten o'clock at night, but there was still enough light in the sky for them to see each other's arms and legs as pale movements over the carpet of grass and earth still holding the warmthof the day. They didn't dare look at each other's faces. If they did, something would have to be said, and there were no words.
They had decided to go up to the rock. A little way along the track between the fir trees their hands had brushed against each other's, and one of them had taken hold, and that was it. Now they were holding hands. If anything was said, something straightforward would become difficult.
Anders' skin felt as if he had been out in the sun all day. It was hot and painful all over, and he felt dizzy, as if he had sunstroke; he was afraid of tripping over a root, afraid of his hand becoming sweaty, afraid that what he was doing was out of order in some way.
There were couples in the gang. Martin and Malin were together now. Malin had gone out with Joel for a while. It was OK for them to lie there kissing when everybody could see them, and Martin said he and Malin had got as far as petting down by the boathouses. Whether or not it was true, it was OK for them to say--and do--that kind of thing. Partly because they were a year older, partly because they were good-looking. Cool. It gave them licence to do a lot of things, and to use a different language too. There was no point in trying to keep up, that would be embarrassing. You just had to sit there staring, trying to laugh in the right places. That's just how it was.
Neither Anders nor Cecilia was a loser. They weren't outsiders like Henrik and Björn--Hubba and Bubba--but they weren't part of the clique that made the rules and decided which jokes were funny, either.
For Anders and Cecilia to be walking along holding hands was utterly ridiculous. They knew this. Anders was short and borderline spindly, his brown hair too thin for him to give it any kind of style. He didn't understand how Martin and Joel did it. He'd tried slicking his hair back with gel once, but it looked weird and he'd rinsed it out before anyone saw it.
There was something flat about Cecilia. Her body was angular and her shoulders were broad, despite the fact that she was slim. Virtually no hips or breasts. Her face looked small between thosebroad shoulders. She had medium-length fair hair and an unusually small nose dusted with freckles. When she put her hair up in a ponytail, Anders thought she looked really pretty. Her blue eyes always looked just a little bit sad, and Anders liked that. She looked as if she knew.
Martin and Joel didn't know. Malin and Elin didn't know. They had the feeling, said the right things and were able to wear sandals without looking stupid. But they didn't know. They just did things. Sandra read books and was clever, but there was nothing in her eyes to indicate that she knew.
Cecilia knew, and Anders could see that she knew, which proved that he knew as well. They recognised one another. He couldn't explain what it was that they knew, but it was something. Something about life, about how things really were.
The terrain grew steeper, and as they made their way up towards the rock the trees thinned out. In a minute or two they would have to let go of one another's hands so they'd be able to climb.
Anders stole a glance at Cecilia. She was wearing a yellow and white striped T-shirt with a wide neckline that revealed her collarbone. It was just unbelievable that she had been linked to him for what must be five minutes, that her skin had been touching his.
That she'd been his.
She had been his for five minutes. Soon they would let go, move apart and become ordinary people again. What would they say then?
Anders looked down. The ground was starting to become stony, he had to watch where he was putting his feet. Every second he was expecting Cecilia to let go, but she didn't. He thought perhaps he was holding on so tightly that she couldn't let go. It was an embarrassing thought, so he loosened his grip slightly. Then she let go.
He spent the two minutes it took to climb up the rock analysing whether he had, in fact, been holding her hand too tightly, or whether loosening his grip had made her think he was about to let go, and so she let go first.
Regardless of what he knew or did not know, he was convincedthat Joel and Martin never had this kind of problem. He wiped his hand furtively on his trousers. It was slightly stiff and sweaty.
When they reached the top of the rock, his head felt bigger than usual. The blood was humming in his ears and he was sure his face was bright red. He stared down at his chest where a little ghost looked out from a circle with a red line through it. Ghostbusters. It was his favourite top, and it had been washed so many times that the outline of the ghost was becoming blurred.
'It's so beautiful.'
Cecilia was standing at the edge of the rock looking out over the sea. They were up above the tops of the trees. Far below they could see the holiday village where almost all their friends lived. Out at sea the ferry to Finland was sailing along, a cluster of lights moving across the water. Further away and further out there were other archipelagos whose names Anders didn't know.
He stood as close to her as he dared and said, 'I think it's the most beautiful thing in the world,' and regretted it as soon as the words were out of his mouth. It was a stupid thing to say, and he tried to improve matters by adding, 'That's one way of looking at it', but that wasn't right either. He moved away from her, following the edge of the rock.
When he had walked all the way round, a distance of perhaps thirty metres, and was almost back with her, she said, 'It's odd, isn't it? This rock, I mean?'
He had an answer to that. 'It's an erratic boulder. According to my dad, anyway.'
He gazed out across the sea, fixed his eyes on the Gåvasten lighthouse and tried to remember what his father had told him. Anders made a sweeping movement with his arm, taking in the surrounding area. The old village, the mission, the alarm bell next to the shop.
'Well...when there was ice. Covering everything here. The ice age. The ice picked up rocks. And when it melted, these rocks ended up all over the place.'
'So where did they come from? Originally?'
His father had told him that as well, but he couldn't remember what he'd said. Where could the stones have come from? He shrugged his shoulders.
'From the north, I suppose. From the mountains. I mean, there are lots of rocks there...'
Cecilia peered over the edge. The top was almost flat, but it must have been at least ten metres deep. She said, 'There must have been a lot of ice.'
Anders remembered a fact. He made a movement up towards the sky. 'One kilometre. Thick.'
Cecilia wrinkled her nose, and Anders felt as if he had been stabbed in the chest. 'Never!' she said. 'You're joking?'
'That's what my dad says.'
'Yes, and...you know how the islands and everything, they kind of keep on coming up out of the sea a little bit more each year?' Cecilia nodded. 'That's because the ice was so heavy it kind of pushed everything down and it's still...coming back up. Just a little bit, all the time.'
He was on a roll now. He remembered. As Cecilia was still looking at him with an interested expression, he carried on. He pointed over towards Gåvasten.
'Two thousand years or so ago, there was only water here. The only thing that was sticking up was the lighthouse. Or the rock, I mean. The rock the lighthouse is standing on. There was no lighthouse then, of course. And this rock. Everything else was under water. In those days.'
He looked at his feet, kicking at the thin covering of moss and lichen growing on the rock. When he looked up, Cecilia was gazing out across the sea, the mainland, Domarö. She put her hand on her collarbone as if she was suddenly afraid, and said, 'Is that true?'
'I think so.'
Something altered inside his head. He started to see the same thing as Cecilia. When he and his dad had been up here the previoussummer, the words had just gone into his head as facts, and even though he'd thought it was exciting, he hadn't really thought about it. Seen it.
Now he could see. How new everything was. It had only been here for a short time. Their island, the ground on which their houses sat, even the ancient wooden boathouses down in the harbour were just pieces of Lego on the primeval mountain. His stomach contracted as if he were about to faint, vertigo from gazing down into the depths of time. He wrapped his arms around his body and suddenly he felt completely alone in the world. His eyes sought the horizon and found no comfort there. It was silent and endless.
Then he heard a sound to his left. Breathing. He turned his head and found Cecilia's face only a fraction away from his own. She looked into his eyes. And breathed. Her mouth was so close to his that he could feel her warm breath on his lips as she exhaled, a faint hint of Juicy Fruit in his nostrils.
Afterwards he would find it difficult to understand, but that's what happened: he didn't hesitate. He leaned forward and kissed her without giving it a thought. He just did it.
Her lips were tense and slightly firm. With the same inexplicable decisiveness he pushed his tongue between them. Her tongue came to meet his. It was warm and soft and he licked it. It was a completely new experience, licking something that was the same as the object doing the licking. He didn't exactly think that, but he thought something like it, and at that moment everything became uncertain and strange and he didn't know what to do.
He licked her tongue a little bit more, and part of him was enjoying it and thinking it was fantastic, while another part was thinking: Is this what you're supposed to do? Is this right? It couldn't be, and he suspected this was where you moved on to petting. But even though his cock was beginning to stiffen as his tongue slid over hers, there was no possibility, not a chance, that he was going to start...touching her like that. Not a chance. He couldn't, he didn't know how, and... no, he didn't even want to.
Preoccupied with these thoughts he had stopped moving his tongue without noticing. Now she was the one doing the licking. He accepted this with gratitude, the enjoyment increased slightly, the doubts faded away. When she withdrew her tongue and kissed him in the normal way before their faces moved apart, he decided: that went quite well.
He had kissed a girl for the first time and it had gone well. His face was red and his legs felt weak, but it was OK. He glanced at her and she seemed to share his opinion. When he saw that she was smiling slightly, he smiled too. She noticed and her smile broadened.
For a second they gazed into each other's eyes, both smiling. Then it all got too much and they looked out to sea once again. Anders no longer thought it looked frightening in the least, he couldn't understand how he could have thought it did.
I think it's the most beautiful thing in the world.
That's what he'd said. And now it was true.
They made their way back down. When they had got past the stoniest part, they held hands again. Anders wanted to scream, he wanted to jump and smash dried-up branches against the tree trunks, something wanted to come out.
He held her hand, a happiness so enormous that it hurt bubbling away inside him.
We're together. Cecilia and me. We're together now.
Gåvasten (February 2004)
'What a day. It's incredible.'
Cecilia and Anders were standing by the window in the living room, looking towards the bay. The ice was covered with virgin snow, and the sun shone from a cloudless sky, eating away the contours of the inlet, the jetty and the shore like an over-exposed photograph.
'Let me see, let me see!'
Maja came racing in from the kitchen, and Anders barely had timeto open his mouth to warn her for the hundredth time. Then her thick socks skidded on the polished wooden floor and she landed flat on her back at his feet.
In a reflex action he bent down to comfort her, but Maja immediately rolled to one side and wriggled back a metre. Tears sprang to her eyes. She screamed, 'Stupid stupid things!' then tore off the socks and hurled them at the wall. Then she got up and ran back into the kitchen.
Anders and Cecilia looked at each other and sighed. They could hear Maja rummaging in the kitchen drawers.
Cecilia winked and took on the task of intervening before Maja tipped the entire contents of the drawers on to the floor, or broke something. She went into the kitchen and Anders turned back to the glorious day.
'No, Maja! Wait!'
Maja came running in from the kitchen with a pair of scissors in her hand, Cecilia right behind her. Before either of them could stop her, Maja had grabbed one of the socks and started hacking at it.
Anders seized her arms and managed to get her to drop the scissors. Her whole body was trembling with rage as she kicked out at the sock. 'I hate you, you stupid thing!'
Anders hugged her, holding her flailing arms fast with his own. 'Maja, that doesn't help. The socks don't understand.'
Maja was a quivering bundle in his arms. 'I hate them!'
'I know, but that doesn't mean you have to...'
'I'm going to chop them up and burn them!'
'Calm down, little one. Calm down.'
Anders sat down on the sofa without loosening his grip on Maja. Cecilia sat down next to him. They spoke softly and stroked her hair and the blue velour tracksuit that was the only thing she would consent to wear. After a couple of minutes she stopped shaking, her heartbeat slowed and she relaxed in Anders' arms. He said, 'You can wear shoes instead, if you like.'
'I want to go barefoot.'
'You can't. The floor's too cold.'
Cecilia shrugged her shoulders. Maja rarely felt cold. Even when the temperature was close to freezing she would run around outdoors in a T-shirt unless somebody said something to her. She slept eight hours a night at the most, and yet it was rare for her to fall ill or feel tired.
Cecilia held Maja's feet in her hands and blew on them. 'Well, you need to put some socks on now. We're going out.'
Maja sat upright on Anders' knee. 'Where to?'
Cecilia pointed out of the window, towards the north-east.
'To Gåvasten. To the lighthouse.'
Maja leaned forward, screwing her eyes up into the sunlight. The old stone lighthouse was visible only as a vague rift in the sky where it met the horizon. It was about two kilometres away, and they had been waiting for a day like this so they could make the trip they had been talking about all winter.
Maja's shoulders drooped. 'Are we going to walk all that way?'
'We thought we might ski,' said Anders, and the words were hardly out of his mouth before Maja shot off his knee and raced into the hallway. She had been given her first pair of skis on her sixth birthday two weeks earlier, and on only her second practice outing she had done really well. She had a natural talent. Two minutes later she was back, dressed in her snowsuit, hat and gloves.
'Come on then!'
They ignored Maja's protests and made a picnic to eat out by the lighthouse. Coffee, chocolate and sandwiches. Then they gathered up their skiing equipment and went down to the inlet. The light was dazzling. There had been no wind for several days, and fresh snow still covered the branches of the trees. Wherever you turned there was whiteness, blinding whiteness. It was impossible to imagine that there could be warmth and greenness anywhere. Even from space the earth must look like a perfectly formed snowball, white and round.
It took a while to get Maja's skis on because she was so excited she couldn't stand still. Once the bindings were tight and the straps of the poles wrapped around her hands, she immediately slid out on to the ice, shouting, 'Look at me! Look at me!'
For once they didn't need to worry as she set off on her own. Despite the fact that she had travelled a hundred metres from the jetty before Anders and Cecilia had even got their skis on, she was clearly visible as a bright red patch in the middle of all the whiteness.
It was different in the city. Maja had run off on her own several times because she had seen something or thought of something, and they had joked about fitting her with a GPS transmitter. Not that it was all that much of a joke, really; they had given it serious consideration, but it felt like overkill.
They set off. Far out on the ice Maja fell over, but she was back on her feet in no time and whizzing along. Anders and Cecilia followed in her tracks. When they had travelled about fifty metres, Anders turned around.
Their house, generally known as the Shack, lay at the edge of the point. Plumes of smoke were rising from both chimneys. Two pine trees, weighed down with snow, framed it on either side. It was a complete dump, badly built and poorly maintained, but right now, from this distance, it looked like a little paradise.
Anders struggled to get his old Nikon out of his rucksack, zoomed in and took a picture. Something to remind him when he was cursing the ill-fitting walls and sloping floors. That it was a little paradise. As well. He put the camera away and followed his family.
After a couple of minutes he caught up with them. He had intended to lead the way, making it easier for Maja and Cecilia as they followed in his tracks through the thick covering of snow, but Maja refused. She was the guide and group leader, and they were to follow her.
The ice was nothing to worry about; this was confirmed when they heard a roaring sound from the direction of the mainland. A car was heading for Domarö from the steamboat jetty in Nåten. Fromthis distance it was no bigger than a fly. Maja stopped and stared at it.
'Is that a real car?'
'Yes,' said Anders. 'What else would it be?'
Maja didn't reply, but carried on looking at the car, which was on its way towards the point on the opposite side of the island.
'Holidaymakers, probably. Wanting to go for a swim.'
Maja grinned and looked at him with that supercilious expression she sometimes wore, and said, 'Daddy. Wanting to go for a swim? Now?'
Anders and Cecilia laughed. The car disappeared behind the point, leaving a thin cloud of whirling snow behind it.
'People from Stockholm, then. I expect they're on their way to their summer cottage to...look at the ice, or something.'
Maja seemed satisfied with this response, and turned to set off again. Then she thought of something and turned back.
'Why aren't we people from Stockholm, then? We live in Stockholm, after all.'
Cecilia said, 'You and I are from Stockholm, but Daddy isn't, not really, because his daddy wasn't from Stockholm.'
'What was he, then?'
Cecilia made a vague movement with her lips and looked at Anders, who said, 'An old fisherman.'
Maja nodded and set off towards the lighthouse, which had now become an extended blot against the bright sky.
Simon was standing on the veranda, tracking their progress through his telescope. He saw them stop and talk, saw them set off again with Maja in the lead. He smiled to himself. That was just typical of Maja. Trying so hard, working, wearing herself out. The child had a dynamo inside her, a little motor spinning away, constantly charging itself. The energy had to go somewhere.
In everything but blood he was her great-grandfather, just as he was grandfather to Anders. He had known them both before their eyes were able to focus on his face. He was an outsider, absorbed into this family that was not his own.
While he was filling the coffee machine he glanced up, from habit, at Anna-Greta's house. He knew she had gone over to mainland to do some shopping and wouldn't be back until the afternoon but he looked anyway, and caught himself missing her already.
More than forty years together, and he still longed to see her. That was a good thing. Perhaps it had something to do with living apart. At first he had been hurt when Anna-Greta said yes, she loved him, but no, she had no intention of moving in with him. He could carry on renting his house from her as before, and if the situation didn't suit him it was unfortunate, but so be it.
He had gone along with it, hoping that things would change in time. They did, but not in the way he had thought. Instead he was the one who changed his point of view and after about ten years he'd come to the conclusion that everything worked extremely well. The rent he paid was token. It hadn't gone up by a single krona since he first moved into the house in 1955. One thousand kronor per year. They would spend the money on a trip on the ferry to Finland, eating and drinking nothing but the best. It was a small ritual.
They weren't married--Anna-Greta felt that her marriage to Erik had been one too many--but to all intents and purposes, Simon was her husband and the children's grandfather and great-grandfather.
He went out on to the glassed-in veranda and picked up the telescope. They were still ploughing on out there, they had almost reached the lighthouse now. They had stopped, and he couldn't make out what they were doing. He was trying to adjust the focus so that he could see what they were up to, when the outside door opened.
Simon smiled. It had taken him a few years to get used to the fact that those who lived here all year round simply came stomping into each other's houses without knocking. In the beginning he wouldknock on people's doors and be rewarded with a long wait. When the door finally opened, the look on the resident's face clearly said, Why are you standing out here putting on airs and graces? Come inside.
Boots were removed, there was the sound of throat-clearing in the porch, and Elof Lundberg walked in, wearing his cap as usual, and nodded to Simon.
'Good morning to you, sir.'
'And good morning to you.'
Elof licked his lips, which were dry from the cold, and looked around the room. What he saw didn't appear to provide him with anything worth commenting on, and he said, 'So. Any news?'
Simon shook his head. 'No. The usual aches and pains.'
Sometimes he found it amusing, but today he wasn't in the mood to stand there exchanging pleasantries with Elof until they got down to business, so he decided to flout convention. 'Is it the drill you're after?' he asked.
Elof's eyes narrowed as if this was a completely unexpected question that needed some consideration, but after thinking for a couple of seconds he said, 'The drill. Yes. I thought I might...' he nodded in the direction of the ice, '...go out and see if I have any luck.'
'It's under the steps as usual.'
The last time they had had a really icy winter, three years ago, Elof had come to borrow Simon's ice drill a couple of times a week. Simon had said Elof was welcome to come and fetch it whenever he needed it and just put it back when he was finished. Elof had made noises indicating agreement, and had continued to come in and ask every single time.
On this occasion, his mission seemingly accomplished, Elof showed no signs of leaving. Perhaps he wanted to get warm before he set off. He nodded at the telescope in Simon's hand.
'So what are you looking at?'
Simon pointed towards the lighthouse. 'The family's out on the ice, I'm just...keeping an eye on them.'
Elof looked out of the window, but of course he couldn't seeanything. 'Whereabouts are they?'
'Out by the lighthouse.'
'Out by the lighthouse?'
Elof was still looking out of the window, his jaws working as if he were chewing on something invisible. Simon wanted an end to this before Elof caught the aroma of the coffee and invited himself to stay for a cup. He wanted to be left in peace. Elof pursed his lips and suddenly asked, 'Has Anders got one of those...mobile phones?'
Elof was breathing heavily as he gazed out of the window, looking for something it was impossible to see. Simon couldn't understand what he was getting at, so he asked again.
'Why do you want to know if he's got a mobile?'
There was silence for a few seconds. Simon could hear the last of the water bubbling through the coffee machine. Elof turned away from the window and gazed at the floor as he said, 'I think you should ring him and tell him...he ought to come home now.'
Silence fell once again, and Simon could smell the aroma of the coffee drifting from the kitchen. Elof didn't seem to notice. He sighed and said, 'The ice can be unsafe out there.'
Simon snorted. 'But it's half a metre thick right across the bay!'
Elof sighed even more deeply and studied the pattern on the carpet. Then he did something unexpected. He raised his head, looked Simon straight in the eye and said, 'Do as I say. Ring the boy. And tell him to gather up his family. And go home.'
Simon looked into Elof's watery blue eyes. Their expression was deadly serious. Simon didn't understand what this was all about, but he had never encountered this level of seriousness, this kind of authority from Elof before. Something passed between them that he couldn't put his finger on, but it made him go over to the phone and key in the number of Anders' mobile.
'Hi, this is Anders. Leave a message after the tone.'
Simon hung up.
'He's not answering. It's probably switched off. What's this all about?'
Elof looked out across the bay once more. Then he pursed his lips and nodded, as if he'd come to a decision. 'I expect it'll be fine.' He turned towards the hallway and said, 'I'll take the drill for a couple of hours, then.'
Simon heard the outside door open and close. A cold draught whirled around his feet. He picked up the telescope and looked out towards the lighthouse. Three little ants were just clambering up on to the rocks.
'Hang on a minute!'
Anders waved to Maja and Cecilia to get them in the right position and took a picture, two pictures, three pictures with different degrees of zoom. Maja was struggling to get away the whole time, but Cecilia held her close. It looked fantastic with the two small figures in the snow and the lighthouse towering up behind them. Anders gave them the thumbs up and stowed the camera in his rucksack once again.
Maja and Cecilia headed for the bright red door in the lighthouse wall. Anders stayed where he was with his hands in his pockets, gazing at the twenty-metre-high tower. It was built of stone. Not brick, but ordinary grey stone. A building that looked as if it could withstand just about anything.
What a job it must have been. Transporting all that stone here, lifting it, putting it in place...
'Daddy! Daddy, come on!'
Maja was standing next to the lighthouse door jumping up and down with excitement, waving her gloves in the air.
'What is it?' asked Anders as he walked towards them.
Indeed it was. Just inside the door were a collection box and a stand containing brochures. There was a sign saying that the Archipelago Foundation welcomed visitors to Gåvasten lighthouse.Please take an information leaflet and continue up into the lighthouse, all contributions gratefully received.
Anders rooted in his pockets and found a crumpled fifty-kronor note, which he happily pushed into the empty collection box. This was better than he could have hoped for. He had never expected the lighthouse to be open, particularly in the winter.
Maja was already on her way up the stairs, Anders and Cecilia following. The worn spiral staircase was so narrow that it was impossible for two people to walk abreast. Iron shutters fastened with wing nuts covered the window openings.
Cecilia stopped. Anders could hear that she was breathing heavily. She reached out behind her back with one hand. Anders took it and asked, 'How are you doing?'
Cecilia carried on upwards as she squeezed Anders' hand. She had a tendency towards claustrophobia, and from that point of view the lighthouse was an absolute nightmare. The thick stone walls rising up so close together swallowed every sound, and the only light came from the open door down at the bottom and a fainter source of light higher up.
After another forty or so steps it was completely dark behind them, while the light above them had grown stronger. From somewhere up above they could hear Maja's voice, 'Hurry up! Come and see!'
The staircase ended at an open space in a wooden floor. They were standing in a circular room where a number of small windows made of thick glass let in a limited amount of light. In the middle of the room was another open door in a tower within the tower, with light pouring out.
Cecilia sat down on the floor and rubbed her hands over her face. When Anders crouched down beside her she waved dismissively. 'I'm fine. I just need to...'
Maja was shouting from inside the tower and Cecilia told him to go, she would follow shortly. Anders stroked her hair and went overto the open door, which led to another spiral staircase, this one made of iron. The light hurt his eyes as he climbed the twenty or so steps up to the heart and the brain of the lighthouse, the reflector.
Anders stopped and gazed open-mouthed. It was so beautiful.
From the darkness we ascend towards the light. He made his way up the dark staircase, and it was a shock to reach the top. Apart from a whitewashed border right at the bottom, the circular walls were made entirely of glass, and everything was sky and light. In the middle of the room stood the reflector, an obelisk made up of prisms and different coloured, geometrically precise pieces of glass. A shrine to the light.
Maja was standing with her nose and hands pressed against the glass wall. When she heard Anders coming, she pointed out across the ice, towards the north-east.
'Daddy, what's that?'
Anders screwed his eyes up against the brightness and looked out over the ice. He couldn't see anything apart from the white covering, and far away on the horizon just a hint of Ledinge archipelago.
'What do you mean?'
Maja pointed. 'There. On the ice.'
A gust of wind made the powdery snow whirl up, moving like a spirit across the pristine surface. Anders shook his head and turned back to face the room.
'Have you seen this?'
They examined the reflector and Anders took some pictures of Maja through the reflector, behind the reflector, in front of the reflector. The little girl and the kaleidoscope of light, refracted in all directions. When they had finished Cecilia came up the stairs, and she too was amazed.
They ate their picnic in the light room looking out across the archipelago, trying to spot familiar landmarks. Maja was interested in the graffiti on the white wall, but since some of it required explanations unsuitable for the ears of a six-year-old, Anders took out the information leaflet and started reading aloud.
The lower parts of the lighthouse had been built as early as the sixteenth century, as a platform for the beacons lit to mark the navigable channel into Stockholm. Later the tower was added and a primitive reflector was installed; at first it was illuminated using oil, then kerosene.
That was enough for Maja, and she was off down the stairs. Anders grabbed hold of her snowsuit.
'Just hang on, sunshine. Where are you off to?'
'I'm going to look at that thing I said I could see.'
'You're not to go too far.'
Anders let go and Maja carried on down the stairs. Cecilia watched her disappear.
'Well yes. But where can she go?'
They spent a couple of minutes reading the rest of the leaflet, and learned that the Aga aggregate had eventually been installed, that the lighthouse had been decommissioned in 1973 and had then been taken over by the Archipelago Foundation, which had put in a symbolic hundred-watt bulb. These days it ran on solar cells.
They looked at the graffiti and established that at least one instance of sexual intercourse must have taken place on this floor, unless of course it was just a case of wishful thinking on the part of the writer. Then they gathered their things together and set off down the stairs. Cecilia had to take her time because of the palpitations, the pressure on her chest, and Anders waited for her.
When they got outside there was no sign of Maja. The wind had started to get up and the snow was swirling through the air in thin veils, glittering in the sunlight. Anders closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. It had been a fantastic outing, but now it was time to go home.
'Maaaja,' he shouted. No reply. They walked around the lighthouse, looking out for her. The rock itself was only small, perhaps a hundred metres in circumference. There was no sign of Maja anywhere, and Anders gazed out across the ice. No small red figure.
This time he shouted a little more loudly, and his heart began to beat a little more quickly. It was foolish, of course. There was no chance that she could have got lost here. He felt Cecilia's hand on his shoulder. She was pointing down at the snow.
'There are no tracks here.'
There was a hint of unease in her voice too. Anders nodded. Of course. All they had to do was follow Maja's tracks.
They went back to where they'd started from, by the lighthouse door. Anders poked his head inside and shouted up the stairs, just in case Maja had come back and they hadn't heard her. No reply.
The area around the door was covered in footprints made by all of them, but there were no tracks leading off to the right or left. Anders took a few steps down the rock. He could see their own tracks leading up towards the lighthouse from the ice, and Maja's footprints heading off in the opposite direction.
He stared out over the ice. No Maja. He blinked, rubbed his eyes. She couldn't have gone far enough to be out of sight. The contours of Domarö merged with those of the mainland, a thicker line of charcoal above a thinner one. He turned to face the other way, catching Cecilia's expression: concentrated, tense.
There was no sign of their daughter in the opposite direction either.
Cecilia passed him on her way out on to the ice. She was walking with her head down, following the tracks with her eyes.
'I'll check inside the lighthouse,' Anders shouted. 'She must be hiding or something.'
He ran over to the door and up the stairs, shouting for Maja but getting no reply. His heart was pounding now and he tried to calm himself down, to be cool and clear-headed.
It just isn't possible.
It's always possible.
No, it isn't. Not here. There's nowhere she can be.
Stop it. Stop it.
Hide and seek was Maja's favourite game. She was good at finding places to hide. Although she could be over-excited and eager in other situations, when she was playing hide and seek she could keep quiet and still for any length of time.
He walked up the stairs with his arms outstretched, stooping like a monkey so that his fingers brushed the edges where the staircase met the wall. In case she'd fallen. In case she was lying in the darkness where he couldn't see her.
In case she'd fallen and banged her head, in case she...
But he felt nothing, saw nothing.
He searched the room at the top of the stairs, found two cupboards that were too narrow for Maja to be able to hide in. Opened them anyway. Inside were rusty, unidentifiable metal parts, bottles with hand-written labels. No Maja.
He went over to the door leading to the upper tower, closed his eyes for a couple of seconds before he went inside.
She's up there now. That's where she is. We'll go home and we'll file this with all those other times she's disappeared for a while and then come back.
Next to the staircase was a system of weights and chains, the cupboard containing the light's mechanism secured with a padlock. He tugged at it and established that it was locked, that Maja couldn't be in there. He went slowly up the stairs, calling her name. No reply. There was a rushing sound in his ears now, and his legs felt weak.
He reached the room containing the reflector. No Maja.
Barely half an hour ago he had photographed her here. Now there was no trace of her. Nothing. He screamed, 'Maaaajaaaa! Out you come! This isn't funny any more!'
The sound was absorbed by the narrow room, making the glass vibrate.
He walked all the way around the room, looked out across the ice. Far below he could see Cecilia following the track that had led them here. But the red snowsuit was nowhere to be seen. He was gaspingfor air. His tongue was sticking to his palate. This was impossible. This couldn't be happening. Desperately he stared out across the ice in every direction.
Where is she? Where is she?
He could just hear the sound of Cecilia's voice shouting the same thing as he had shouted so many times. She got no reply either.
Think, you idiot. Think.
He looked out across the ice again. There was nothing to interrupt his gaze, no cover at all. If there had been holes in the ice, they would have been visible. However good you are at hiding, you still have to have a place to hide.
He stopped. His eyes narrowed. He could hear Maja's voice inside his head.
Daddy, what's that?
He went over to the spot where she had been standing when she asked the question, looked in the direction where she had pointed. Nothing. Only ice and snow.
What was it that she saw?
He strained to try and see something, then realised he was still wearing his rucksack. He pulled out the camera and looked through the viewfinder, zoomed in and panned across the area where she had been pointing. Nothing. Not a hint of another colour, not the slightest nuance in the whiteness, nothing.
His hands were shaking as he dropped the camera back in his rucksack. Out on the ice there was only white, white, but the sky had grown a little darker. It would soon be afternoon, it would be dark in a couple of hours.
He put his hands to his mouth, stared out into the vast emptiness, heard Cecilia's distant cries. Maja was gone. She was gone.
Stop it, stop it.
And yet a part of him knew that it was so.
It was just after two when Simon's telephone rang. He had spent the last hour fiddling with old conjuring props that his hands, stiff with rheumatism, could no longer use. He had considered selling them, but had decided to keep them as a little family treasure.
He answered the telephone on the second ring. He'd hardly managed to say hello before Anders interrupted.
'Hi, it's Anders. Have you seen Maja?'
'But surely she's with you?'
A brief pause. A quivering exhalation at the other end of the line. Simon sensed that he had just extinguished a hope. 'What's wrong?'
'She's gone. I knew she couldn't have got back to the land, but I thought--I don't know, Simon, she's gone. She's gone.'
'Are you at the lighthouse?'
'Yes. And she can't...it's just not...there's nowhere...but she isn't here. Where is she? Where is she?'
Two minutes later Simon had pulled on his outdoor clothes and kicked the moped into life. He rode out on to the ice where Elof was sitting on a folding chair, gazing down into the hole he had made with Simon's drill. He looked up as he heard the moped approaching. Simon braked.
'Elof--have you seen Maja, Anders' daughter?'
'No--what, here? Now?'
'Yes. In the last hour or so.'
'No, I haven't seen a soul. Or a fish, come to that. Why?'
'She's disappeared. Out by the lighthouse.'
Elof turned his head towards the lighthouse, kept his eyes fixed in that direction for a few seconds and scratched his forehead.
'Can't they find her?'
Simon clenched his teeth so tightly that his jaw muscles tensed. This bloody long-winded way of going about things. Elof nodded and started reeling in his line.
'I'd better...get a few people together then. We'll come over.'
Simon thanked him and set off towards the lighthouse. When heturned to look back after fifty metres or so, Elof was still fiddling about with his fishing gear, making sure it was all neatly packed away before he set off. Simon ground his teeth and rode so that the snow whirled up around his wheels as twilight fell.
Five minutes later Simon was out by the lighthouse helping to search, despite the fact that there was nowhere to look. He concentrated on riding around on the ice to check if Elof had been right, that there could be weak spots. He didn't find any.
After another quarter of an hour a number of dots could be seen approaching from Domarö. Four mopeds. Elof and his brother Johan. Mats, who owned the shop, had his wife Ingrid on the back. Bringing up the rear, Margareta Bergwall, one of the few women in the village who had their own moped.
They rode around the lighthouse in ever-widening circles, searching every square metre of the ice. Anders and Cecilia wandered aimlessly around on the lighthouse rock itself, saying nothing. After an hour it was so dark that the moonlight was stronger than the small amount of sunlight that remained.
Simon went up to Anders and Cecilia, who were now sitting by the lighthouse door, head in hands. Far out on the ice the faint lights of the four mopeds were just visible, still circling round and round like satellites of a desolate planet. A police helicopter with a searchlight had arrived to extend the search area.
Simon's joints creaked as he crouched down in front of them. Their eyes were empty. Simon stroked Cecilia's knee.
'What did you say about the tracks?'
Cecilia waved feebly in the direction of Domarö. Her voice was so weak that Simon had to lean forward in order to hear.
'There weren't any.'
'You mean they didn't go off in a different direction?'
'They stopped. As if...as if she'd been lifted up into the sky.'
Anders whimpered. 'This can't be happening. How can this be happening?'
He looked into Simon, right through Simon, as if he were looking for the answer in a knowledge that lay somewhere behind Simon's retina.
Simon got up and went back down on to the ice, sat on the back of his moped and looked around.
If only there were somewhere to start.
A nuance, a shadow, anything that could serve as a loose edge where they could begin tearing away. He pushed his hand down into his jacket pocket and closed it around the matchbox that lay there. Then he placed the fingertips of his other hand on the ice and asked it to melt.
First the snow melted, then a deepening hollow appeared, filling up with water. After perhaps twenty seconds there was a black hole in the ice, perhaps as big as a clenched fist. He let go of the matchbox and, with some difficulty, lowered his arm into the cold water. The surface of the ice was just above his elbow before he was able to grip the lower edge.
The ice was thick. There was absolutely no chance that Maja had fallen through somewhere.
So what has happened?
There was no loose edge. Nowhere for his thoughts to poke and prod, widen the crack, work things out. It was just impossible. He went up and sat down with Anders and Cecilia, giving them a hug and saying a few words from time to time, until in the end it was completely dark and the mopeds began to spiral their way back towards the lighthouse.
What the cat dragged in (May 1996)
It was the last week in May and the perch were plentiful. Simon had a simple method of fishing. He had spent several years experimenting with his nets, laying them out in different places, and had come to the conclusion that all this travelling around was unnecessary. It worked just as well if he tied one end of the net to the jetty and towed the other end out with the boat. Easy to lay and even easier to empty. He hauled the net in from the jetty, and could usually disentangle the fish he didn't want on the spot and throw them back in the sea.
This morning's seven perch were in the fridge, cleaned and ready, and the dace he had released had swum off. Simon was standing by the drying rack picking bits of seaweed out of the nets, while the gulls finished their meal of fish guts. It was a bright, warm morning, the sun was beating down on the back of his neck and he was sweating in his overalls.
Dante the cat had been following him all morning; he never seemed to learn how extremely unusual it was to find herring in the net. The odd herring he had been given was sufficient to keep the flame of hope burning in his head, and he always followed Simon down to the jetty.
Once Dante realised that no herring had managed to entangle themselves in the net this morning either, he had settled down on the jetty to glower at the gulls fighting over the fish guts. He would never dare to attack a gull but no doubt he had his fantasies, just like every other living creature.
Simon unhooked the net and rolled it up so that it wouldn't become brittle in the sun. As he made his way down to the boathouse to hang it up, he could see that the cat was busy with something out on the jetty.
Or rather, fighting with something. Dante was jumping back and forth, up in the air, batting with his paws at something Simon couldn't see. It looked as if the cat was dancing, but Simon had seen him play with mice in the same way. And yet this was different. The game with mice and frogs really was a game, in which the cat pretended his prey was harder to catch than it actually was. This time it looked as if the cat was genuinely...afraid?
The fur on his back was standing up, and his jumps and tentative attacks could only be interpreted as an indication that he was dealing with something worthy of respect. Which was difficult to understand, since nothing was visible from a distance of twenty metres, and Simon's eyesight was good.
He twisted the net to avoid tangles, laid it down on the ground and went to see what the cat was doing.
When he got out on to the jetty, he still couldn't see what was making the cat so agitated. Or...yes, the cat was circling around a bit of rope that was lying there. This wasn't like Dante at all; he was eleven years old and no longer deigned to play with balls or bits of paper. But obviously this piece of rope was great fun.
Dante made a sudden attack and got both paws on the piece of rope, but was hurled backwards with a jerk, as if the rope had given him an electric shock. He swayed and fell sideways, then flopped down on the jetty.
When Simon got there the cat was lying motionless next to the furthest bollard. The thing he had been playing with wasn't a piece of rope, because it was moving. It was some kind of insect, it looked like a worm of some sort. Simon ignored it and crouched down next to the cat.
'Dante, old friend, what's wrong?'
The cat's eyes were wide open and his body shuddered a couple oftimes as if racked by sobs. Something trickled from his mouth. Simon lifted the cat's head and saw that it was water. A stream of water was trickling out of the cat's mouth. Dante coughed and water spurted out. Then he lay still. His eyes stared blankly.
A movement in Simon's peripheral vision. The insect was crawling along the jetty. He bent over it, studying it more closely. It was completely black, the thickness of a pencil and about the same length as a little finger. Its skin shone in the sunlight. Dante's claws had made a scratch in one place, revealing pinkish flesh.
Simon gasped; looked around to see a coffee cup that had been left behind on the jetty. He grabbed it and upended it on the insect. He blinked a couple of times and ran his hands over his face.
It's not possible. It can't be...
This insect was not to be found in any insect book, and Simon was probably the only person for miles around who knew what it was. He had seen one before, in California forty years earlier. But that one had been dead, dried. If it hadn't been for what had happened to the cat, it would never even have occurred to him.
The original Dante, the one after whom all Simon's cats were named. The magician, the greatest of them all. After decades spent touring and making films, he had settled down on a ranch in California. Simon had been granted an audience with him there when he was twenty-four years old and a promising talent.
Dante had shown him around his museum. Handmade props from different eras: the Chinese fountains that were his star turn for some years, the substitution trunk in several different versions, water-filled chests and cupboards from which Dante had escaped in circus rings all over the world.
When the guided tour was over, Simon had pointed to a small glass display case standing in a corner. There was a pedestal in the middle of the case, and on it lay something that looked like a piece of a leather shoelace. He asked what it was.
Dante had raised one eyebrow dramatically in a well-practised gesture and had asked Simon, in the Danish of his childhood, to what extent he believed in magic.
'You mean...real magic?'
'I would have to say that I am...an agnostic, in that case. I haven't seen any proof, but I don't discount the possibility. Does that sound reasonable?'
Dante seemed happy with the answer, and removed the glass top from the case. Simon realised he was expected to take a closer look, and did so. He was able to see that the leather shoelace was in fact a dried-out insect that resembled a centipede, apart from the fact that it had only a small number of legs.
'What exactly is it?'
Dante looked at Simon for so long that it began to feel awkward. Then the magician nodded as if he had reached a tacit decision, replaced the glass cover, took out a leather-bound book and began to leaf through it. Brightly coloured pictures flickered before Simon's eyes until eventually Dante stopped at a particular page and held out the book.
The picture, which covered the entire page, was hand painted. It depicted a worm-like insect, skilfully painted so that the light shimmered on its black, shiny skin. Simon shook his head and Dante sighed before closing the book.
'It's a Spiritus, or spertus as you say in Sweden,' he said.
Simon looked at the glass case, at the magician, at the case once again. Then he said, 'A real one?'
Simon leaned closer to the glass. The dried-out creature inside certainly didn't look as if it possessed any extraordinary powers. Simon looked at it for a long time.
'How can it be dead? I mean, it is dead, isn't it?'
'I don't know, in answer to both your questions. It was in this condition when I received it.'
'How did that come about?'
'I'd prefer not to go into all that.'
Dante made a gesture, indicating that the audience in the museum was over. Before dragging himself away from the display case, Simon asked, 'Which element?'
The magician gave a wry smile. 'Water. Naturally.'
Coffee was consumed, polite phrases were exchanged, then Simon left the ranch. Two years later Dante was dead, and Simon read in the paper that his belongings were to be auctioned. He considered a trip to California to bid for the object in the glass case, but for one thing he was in the middle of a tour performing at outdoor venues, and for another it would be too expensive, once you factored in the cost of the journey. He decided not to bother.
During the years that followed he sometimes thought about that meeting. Colleagues who heard that he had met Dante wanted to know everything. Simon told them stories, but left out the thing he remembered most clearly: Dante's Spiritus.
It could have been a joke, of course. The magician had been famous not only for his magic skills, but also for his clever way of marketing himself with crowd-stopping public performances. He had created an aura of mystery around himself. His appearance, the goatee and the dark eyes, had for several decades been the accepted image of a magician. The whole thing could be a lie.
One thing that suggested this was not the case was the fact that Dante had never stated publicly that he owned a Spiritus; Simon had never heard anyone mention it. Dante was happy to add fuel to speculation that he had entered into a pact with the Devil, that he had formed an alliance with the powers of darkness. All good PR, of course, and utter nonsense. But the magician's final reply that day in the museum had guided Simon's speculations towards a different version, one which made a liar of Dante in a different way.
Simon believed Dante had been lying when he said that the Spiritus was already dead when it came to him.
Dante was most acclaimed for his magic involving water. He was a match for Houdini in his ability to escape from various water-filled vessels and containers. It was said that he could hold his breath for five minutes--at least. He was able to move water from one place to another, a trick that involved a large amount of water appearing where none had been a second before.
If Dante had owned a Spiritus of the element water, everything was easy to explain: genuine magic, which Dante had merely limited to prevent people suspecting what was really going on.
Or perhaps the powers of the Spiritus were limited? Simon did some reading around the subject.
His agnostic inclination gradually gave way to a belief in the fantastical, at least when it came to the Spiritus. It seemed as if a few people, over the course of history, had actually owned the genuine article. Always a black insect of the kind he had seen in Dante's museum, whether it was a question of earth, fire, air or water.
He tried to find out what had happened to the Spiritus he had seen but he got nowhere. He bitterly regretted that he hadn't taken the chance to travel over while the opportunity was still there. He would never get to see a Spiritus again.
Or so he thought.
His gaze moved between the dead cat and the coffee cup. It was an ironic twist of fate that Dante should find a Spiritus for him, and die as a result.
A few hours later Simon had put together a wooden box, placed Dante inside and buried it by the hazel thicket where the cat used to sit watching the birds. Only then did his excitement over the Spiritus begin to give way to a slight sense of sorrow. He was not a sentimental man, he had had four different cats with the same name, but still an epoch was going to the grave with this fourth Dante. A small witness who had wound his way around Simon's legs for eleven years.
'Goodbye, my friend. Thank you for all those years. You were a fine cat. I hope you'll be happy wherever you end up. I hope there'll be herring for you to fish out with your paws. And someone who... is fond of you.'
Simon felt a lump in his throat, and wiped a tear from his eye. He nodded and said, 'Amen,' then turned and went into the house.
There was a matchbox on the kitchen table. Simon had managed to get the insect inside without touching it. Now he approached the matchbox cautiously, placed his ear against it. There was no sound.
He had read up on this. He knew what was expected of him. The question was, how much did he really want to do it? It wasn't easy to work out from the books what was speculation and what was fact, but one thing he thought he knew: pledging oneself to a Spiritus carried with it an obligation. A promise to the power that had relinquished it.
Is it worth it?
No, not really.
As a young man he would have gone crazy at the very possibility, but he was now seventy-three years old. He had put his magic props on the shelf two years ago. These days he performed only at home, when friends asked him. Party tricks. The cigarette in the jacket, the salt cellar passing through the table. Nothing special. So he had no real need for genuine magic.
He could argue back and forth until the cows came home, but he knew he was going to do it. He had spent a lifetime in the service of drawing-room magic. Was he likely to back out now, when the very essence of the thing was at his fingertips?
Idiot. Idiot. You're going to do it, aren't you?
Cautiously he pushed open the box and looked at the insect. There was nothing about it to indicate that it was a link between the human world and the insane beauty of magic. It was fairly disgusting, in fact. Like an internal organ that had been cut out and had turned black.
Simon cleared his throat, gathering saliva in his mouth.
Then he did it.
The globule of spittle emerged between his lips. He lowered his head over the box and saw the stringy phlegm finding its way down towards the insect. A thread was still connected to his lips when the saliva reached its goal and spread out over the shining skin.
As if the thin string of saliva connecting them had been a needle, a taste reached Simon via his lips. It immediately shot into his body, and it was a taste like nothing else. It most closely resembled the taste of a nut that had gone bad in its shell. Rotten wood, but sweet and bitter at the same time. A disgusting taste.
Simon swallowed, but there was nothing to lubricate his throat, and he smacked his tongue against his palate. The thin string broke, but the taste continued to grow in his body. The insect twitched and the sore on its skin began to heal. Simon stood up, his whole body nauseated.
This was a mistake.
He managed to get a beer out of the fridge, opened it and took a couple of gulps, swilling the liquid around his mouth. A little better, but the nausea in his body was still there, and the vomit began to rise in his throat.
The insect had recovered and was now crawling out of the box, on to the kitchen table, and heading in Simon's direction. He backed away towards the sink, staring at the black clump as it crawled towards the edge of the table, then fell to the floor with a soft, moist thud.
Simon moved to the side, towards the cooker. The insect changed direction, following him. Simon could feel that he was about to be sick. He took a couple of deep breaths and rubbed his eyes with the tips of his fingers.
Calm down. You knew about this.
And yet he couldn't make himself stand still when the insect was almost up to his foot. He fled into the hallway and sat down on the seaman's chest where he kept wet weather gear, pressing his hands to his temples and trying to see the situation clearly. The nausea was beginning to subside, the taste was no longer as intense.
The insect crawled across the kitchen doorway, heading in his direction. It left a faint trace of slime behind it. Simon knew things now that he had not known five minutes ago. Knowledge had been injected into him.
What he was experiencing as a taste within his body, the insect was experiencing as a smell. It would trail him, follow him until it was allowed to be with him. That was its sole aim. To be with him--till death do us part
--to share its power with him. He knew. With the saliva he had formed a bond that could not be broken.
There was a way out. But it wasn't relevant at the moment, with the insect on its way towards his foot once again. It was his now. Forever, until further notice.
He took a few rapid steps past the insect, which immediately changed direction, and picked up the matchbox from the kitchen table. He placed the box over the crawling black body and slid the cover over it. The boy on the label was marching towards a bright future as Simon weighed the box in his hand.
He clamped his lips together, suppressing the sickly feeling as the insect moved around in the box, and he felt its warmth against the palm of his hand. Yes. It was warm. It was feeling fine now, it had been fed and it had acquired an owner.
He put it in his pocket.