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It was too dark to see the water, but she could hear the waves striking the side of the boat through the sound of the diesel engines. Searchlights lit up the metal deck of the ferry and parts of the yellow superstructure. There were only two cars on board-their own red Mercedes SUV and a black station wagon right behind them.
They had been gone four weeks.
They headed across the sound toward the island, their home for the past two years-if you could say that a Fårö ferry headed. It did not even have a stem, a prow, or a stern. It was a yellow sheet-metal raft with space for four rows of vehicles.
Malin never would have believed that an ugly little ferry would come to play such an important role in her life.Bodilla. The name as graceful as the heavy diesel-droning iron raft. They took Bodilla to drop Axel off at day care. It was Bodilla they had to board if they wanted to go to a restaurant or shop for anything besides the most basic necessities. Sometimes it was Kajsa-Stina, but most often Bodilla.
The tourist season was not over yet, but it was into the final, thin weeks. Once school had started it was mostly foreigners and retirees who ventured the whole way up to Fårö. Soon they, too, would be gone. Then everything closed except the ICA grocery store and the church.
The children were asleep in the backseat. The ferry throbbed ahead over the sound. Henrik picked the camera up from his lap and aimed it toward her.
"Just raise your chin a little," he instructed.
Malin smiled and did as he asked.
"No, don't smile," he said quickly.
She tried to resume her expression from before; perhaps she succeeded. Henrik took five or six pictures in rapid succession with small movements between each exposure.
"Don't you already have a thousand pictures of me on this ferry?" she asked.
Henrik lowered the camera.
"Every picture is a new picture," he said with a wink followed by a wide grin.
Malin looked at him, looked into his dark, alert eyes, and now she, too, had to smile. Henrik leaned forward to kiss her. She hesitated a second or two.
"What is it?" he said, looking perplexed at her.
The memory of the quarrel that morning held her back. It had been pushed aside without their really having finished it.
"Oh, nothing," she said and leaned closer.
At the same moment, the piercing searchlights went dark and the throbbing of the engines died out.
Malin gasped, tried to look out through the wide window toward the pier, but the darkness was impenetrable.
They floated quietly in the middle of the sound. They could see the lights in Broa, hear the waves more clearly against the ferry's metal plate in the sudden silence. Malin fumbled for the button on the car's overhead dome light. Before she found it, the engines rumbled into motion again and the deck was lit up. She blinked at the sharp light. No more than five or ten seconds could have passed.
"What the hell was that?" she said, looking at Henrik.
"The captain must have leaned against the emergency stop." Henrik grinned.
She laughed, but did not feel a bit amused. A heavy chill had taken hold of her body when the light and engines died. Now it would not let go.
A few minutes later the ferry landed at the pier. The ramp was lowered and the gates were opened. Malin quickly started the car and drove off.
When they left the ferry landing they also left behind the last light. She saw in the rearview mirror the station wagon turn off toward Ryssnäs. They were alone in the darkness. It was only the end of August, but still completely black around them.
They were far away from everything: from streetlights, from neon signs and display windows, from cities that spilled their light across the sky at a distance. It was as if the island were still obstinately stuck in darkness; it did not get electricity until after the war, and in practice, not until the fifties.
When the landscape that had just been lit up by the headlights of the car behind them faded out she felt worry akin to what seafarers must have felt long ago. The worry that the world would come to an end. That at any moment you might tip over the edge.
Axel coughed in the backseat. Malin peeked at him in the rearview mirror. He blinked a few times but seemed to go back to sleep.
"Hello, we live here," Henrik called in a restrained voice.
Malin braked hard so as not to drive past, and the children whimpered and mumbled in their sleep. She always found it hard to find her way in the darkness. The sign leaped out from the night without advance warning, even though the road was straight and the landscape flat.
She turned the big SUV left. Soon they were clattering across the first of the cattle guards. Their rattling under the wheels helped her keep track of how far they had gone. She counted. After the fourth one they would turn to the right.
* * *
When Malin came into the house she sensed at once that someone had been there. She shivered and turned around toward Henrik, who had Axel in his arms, but then it struck her that everything was as it should be. For a moment she had forgotten about renting out the house. Three different tenants in four weeks while they traveled around between relatives and friends on the mainland. Twenty-six thousand kronor after the agency's percentage. Money they needed.
Henrik went back out to bring in the bags from the car. Malin carried Axel up the creaking staircase while Ellen tiredly trudged along beside her.
It smelled strange in the children's room. The strange aroma of the tenants? But the smell had a rank edge. She put Axel down on Ellen's bed and set the window open with the hasp. A light wind brought with it the heavy but pleasant odor of a late-summer garden. Greenery, tomatoes and marjoram.
Ellen sat on her knees on the floor and picked among the toys she had been separated from a whole month. Malin fetched the sheets and made the bed for Axel. He was sleeping deeply, completely relaxed. Arms and legs fell loose-limbed against the bedcover as she carefully undressed him and put him down under the blanket.
Ellen held her cloth rabbit tightly and smiled broadly. Malin smiled back, while at the same time, she wrinkled her nose. The strange smell was still there, under the green.
"Are you hungry, do you want anything?" she asked.
"Don't know," Ellen answered, preoccupied.
Malin went downstairs. Henrik was sitting in the dark in the kitchen, fingering his iPhone. His right thumb traveled over the display while his left hand brushed back the dark straggly hair that fell down in front of his eyes. He had built a black mountain of baggage in the middle of the floor.
Sometimes she envied his ability to disconnect from everything around him. But usually it just irritated her. When they visited Henrik's friends on the mainland it was as if he had turned off a switch. It was just beer and talk about work, fishing, soccer, and more beer and boyish memories and long, boring discussions about house renovations. Finally she had to remind him that he had two children who needed to be taken care of and entertained and, if nothing else, at least kept track of so that they didn't wander off and drown somewhere. And then they started quarreling.
Malin turned on the ceiling light and the one over the kitchen counter.
"Do you want tea?" she asked.
"Huh?" said Henrik, looking up.
His mouth and chin were lit by the cold-blue glow from the phone.
"Tea?" she repeated.
"Sure, that would be nice, but none of that rooibos shit, please."
Malin bent down toward the cupboard where they kept the saucepans, supporting herself with her left hand against the counter. She felt her palm getting sticky and covered with crumbs.
"But what the hell," she sighed.
Henrik did not react. She looked around for the dishrag, but could not find it. Instead she opened the cupboard under the sink to take out a new one and stopped short when she caught sight of a half-full garbage bag.
"I'm getting damned tired of this."
"What is it?" said Henrik absently.
"They haven't cleaned up properly."
Only now did he look up.
"Then they'll have to pay for a cleaning company. It's in the contract."
"And who is going to see to it that they pay that bill, huh? Are you going to do it?"
"We'll have to call the agency. They'll have to take care of it."
Malin got out a new dishrag and wiped off the counter. When she had wrung out the rag and hung it up on the faucet, she had a sudden impulse and opened one of the cupboards. Her eyes passed quickly over the rows of drinking glasses and coffee cups.
"This is just too much."
She opened one cupboard after another with glasses and porcelain, even the old serving cupboard she had inherited from her grandmother that stood against the wall behind the dining table.
"There are things missing in every cupboard."
"You always have to allow for a little shrinkage," said Henrik.
"What do you mean, shrinkage?"
"Yes, we break things, too. A glass or two you have to allow for."
"But this is not one or two. Lots are missing."
She started counting, but became uncertain of how many they had of the various kinds.
"Don't you leave money if you've broken something? Or at least write a note?"
"Maybe they left a message at the agency. I'll call them tomorrow."
In the midst of her fury she put on a kettle of water for tea, banging it down on the stove so that it splashed over. Henrik put down his phone and looked at her.
"We just brought in twenty-six thousand for this."
They had invested heavily in the move to Fårö. Money, commitment, their future. From the beginning it was Malin who insisted that they should buy a house, but then she had preferred Nacka, Enskede, or perhaps Värmdö, some place where she felt at home. Not Gotland in the middle of the Baltic. Or Fårö then. She had learned to distinguish between the two, Fårö and the "Big Island."
Malin had been skeptical, reluctant even, as they drove on board the ferry in Nynäshamn. Did Henrik really want to go back there? After seventeen years? But even before they reached the house she had been sold. The landscape that opened toward the glistening sea beyond Fårö church took her breath away.
The house in Kalbjerga had a beautiful setting at the foot of a slope, with a typical Gotland floor plan, but a little unusual with the gambrel roof. It had belonged to a colleague of Henrik who in turn had bought it from Ingmar Bergman. According to the rumors, it had served as a staff residence for a housekeeper. In the big barn, which the director used as a rehearsal space, there was even an old stage set remaining from one of the films, unclear which one.
It had quickly become a standing joke that they could auction off the set at Christie's if everything went to hell. Right now it was feeling more like a desperate hope than a joke.
They had renovated the house, rebuilt the barn into a studio, and started furnishing the big but simple wing as rooms for visiting photographers. Their plans assumed that Henrik would be able to do most of his jobs on Fårö, but also that they could entice photographers there from all around the world. Photographers and models would be housed in the newly constructed residence wing and could work in the studio, but primarily, of course, in the exotic landscape that inspired one of the world's greatest film directors.
Why not? they thought. Swedish and American photographers would make pilgrimages to India simply to take pictures of Western models in the right kind of sunlight.
They borrowed money and hired carpenters. Everything was going according to plan. Then came the recession.
The sensitive advertising industry took a nosedive as company after company reduced their marketing budgets. They had been forced to put on the emergency brake. In practice this meant sending home carpenters and paying back money they had already borrowed but not yet managed to spend.
And there they stood now. Of course everything had not gone to hell. It was not time to call Christie's-yet. But Malin knew that Henrik lay awake at night. He was calculating interest rates, calculating dream scenarios and horror scenarios, calculating where the threshold of pain was. She was trying to avoid thinking about money herself.
They managed the loans thanks to the fact that Henrik took jobs on the mainland and abroad. The exact opposite of what they had imagined. Malin's food blogging also contributed a bit. Their hope was to be able to work to get the money to finish building the guest rooms one at a time.
A couple hundred thousand left by Henrik's mother would truly make a big difference, but Malin had more or less given up hope of ever seeing that money. They did not have the means to lose a lawsuit. Then they would definitely have to sell the house. And it seemed as if Henrik's sisters would rather die than give up any of the inheritance.
She took the kettle from the stove and poured the boiling water into the teapot.
"There's a Danish photographer who maybe wants to come here for a week," said Henrik, pointing at the cell phone.
Malin nodded, not daring to hope too much.
"It might as well be porn, just so we get a little business soon."
"That was a joke."
Malin poured tea, splashed in a little milk, and went over to Henrik with the mugs. She set them down on the table and pulled out the chair.
The pain that shot up from her foot made her yell out loud.
"What is it?" said Henrik, getting up.
His eyes worriedly sought hers.
She was standing on one leg and writhing in pain, her cheeks damp with tears.
"Malin, what is it?"
"Don't know," she whimpered. "My foot, something..."
She sat down slowly on the chair as Henrik came around the end of the table.
She looked down. Only now did she see big, dark red drops on the gray-painted pine floor. She held up the aching foot, her leg straight out from the seat. The pain was sharp and diabolical. It hurt so much that she was scared.
Henrik crouched down in front of her and inspected her extended foot.
"It looks like a piece of glass," he said, looking more closely. "Yes, it is. Right in the heel."
The thought of a glass shard that had cut deeply into her foot made her moan again.
"How does it look? Is it big?"
Henrik opened his mouth.
"Or actually, I don't want to know," she stopped him.
He looked at her foot, then looked up at her with a deep furrow between his eyes.
"I have to pull it out."
She instinctively pulled back her foot.
"Malin," he said, as if to a child, and put his left hand around her ankle.
"Yes, I know," she said with a sigh. "But be careful."
"You have to hold still."
She looked away and tried to relax, but it was hard. She tensed up even more when she sensed Henrik's thumb and index finger approaching her heel. The worst was when he took hold of the piece of glass and it twisted in the wound. Presumably only just barely, but it felt as if he were driving a spear through her leg all the way up to her hip. Then a brief but lighter pain and then it was over.
Malin gasped a couple of times, feeling both liberated and fragile.
Henrik held up the piece of glass. It was perhaps two inches long and slightly bent; it seemed to come from a wineglass.
"I'll get bandages," he said, setting the bloody piece of glass aside on the table.
He walked quickly toward the bathroom and came back with the green plastic first aid kit. He washed off the heel and put two bandages across the wound, according to Malin's instructions.
"It's really big. Maybe you should go to the health center tomorrow," he said when he was done and picking up the debris.
"Tomorrow it will be too late. If it needs stitches it has to be done tonight."
Henrik looked at her with an expression that she assumed meant: If you want I can go over and ask Bengt and Ann-Katrin to watch the kids, then I'll drive you to Visby.
"I don't think they would stitch it anyway," she said.
Henrik did not say anything, but looked noticeably relieved. Malin carefully set her foot on the floor.
"I hate those fucking tenants. I'm going to be handicapped for days."
Henrik was about to say something when he was interrupted by Ellen's call from upstairs.
"Mommy. Mommy, come."
"What is it, Ellen?"
"Mommy, come, there's poop here."
Malin and Henrik looked at each other.
"What are you saying?" Malin called. "What do you mean, poop?"
"There's poop here. In with the toys. Come."
Henrik tossed aside the debris he had in his hands and went up. Malin followed his heavy steps across the floor and thought that there could be more pieces of glass. They would have to vacuum the kitchen. She heard their murmuring voices up there, then Henrik's sudden outburst.
"But what the hell, this is disgusting! What is this?"
Copyright © 2011 by Håkan Östlundh by agreement with Grand Agency
Translation © copyright 2015 by Paul Norlen