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Sigge Eklund (b. 1974) is one of Sweden’s best-known writers and podcasters. He has previously worked as a screenwriter in Los Angeles, but now lives in Stockholm with his wife and three children. His previous novels, which have in common the theme of loss, have been both commercial and critical successes in his native Sweden. Into the Labyrinth is the first of Sigge’s novels to be translated into English. Katarina Tucker was born in the United States and raised bilingually with English and Swedish. She holds a doctorate in Scandinavian literature from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. In 2003 she won the American– Scandinavian Foundation’s Translation Prize for her translation of Sven Delblanc’s Jerusalem’s Night. Her previous translations include Monika Fagerholm’s The American Girl and The Glitter Scene as well as Maria Sveland’s Bitter Bitch.


Translated from the Swedish by Katarina Tucker


Echo Publishing 12 Northumberland Street, South Melbourne Victoria 3205 Australia www.echopublishing.com.au Part of the Bonnier Publishing Group www.bonnierpublishing.com Copyright of original text © Sigge Eklund 2015 Copyright of English translation © Katarina Tucker 2015 All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher. First published in English by Echo Publishing in 2015 Originally published as Into I Labyrinten by Albert Bonniers Förlag, Sweden, in 2014 Translated by Katarina Tucker Edited by Abigail Nathan Cover design by Sandy Cull, gogoGingko Image by Mark Owen / Trevillion Images Page design and typesetting by Shaun Jury Printed in Australia at Griffin Press. Only wood grown from sustainable regrowth forests is used in the manufacture of paper found in this book. National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry Creator: Eklund, Sigge, author Title: Into the labyrinth / Sigge Eklund; Katarina Tucker. ISBN: 9781760067182 (pbk) ISBN: 9781760400958 (epub) ISBN: 9781760400941 (mobi) Subjects: Detective and mystery stories, Swedish. Psychological fiction, Swedish. Dewey Number: 839.737 Twitter/Instagram: @echo_publishing Facebook: facebook.com/echopublishingAU


ÅSA December 2010 – January 2011

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he does not remember the dream, but for some reason she feels compelled to get up from the couch where she has apparently fallen asleep. She passes the bedroom door and hears Martin’s steady breathing coming from in there. She walks down the stairs carefully in order not to wake him, and puts on her coat, right against her bare skin. The December night is raw; her bare thighs feel as though they are sheathed in cold water as she crosses the yard and walks out on to the road. As usual she walks up into the woods and stands so that she is hidden behind the trees and takes a deep breath. The small snowflakes floating between her and the house look as though they are hovering, suspended, in the air. She can see both the house and the restaurant from her viewpoint. For once, she feels like she is on her way into that state of connection, with him, with that night, and then a shudder runs through her body, one that reminds her of what it was like to be afraid of the dark as a child. She has gone to this place in the woods a dozen times, has tried to imagine how he was feeling and thinking, but when she finally succeeds, when she starts feeling like she is him, a feeling of uneasiness washes over her. She is forced to half-run, half-walk back out into the arc of the streetlight. She stands in the middle of the beam of light for a while and gathers her strength. Then she goes back to the same place up in the woods. It feels better now; she is getting closer to that 1


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state again, imagines that it is about half past nine in the evening on the 3rd of May 2010, and that she is him. There really is not anything to prove that he stood right here, other than that it would be an excellent vantage point for someone who wanted a view of the house, the restaurant and the grassy field in between. She closes her eyes and feels his hunter’s instinct fill her chest; the prey is in the house, it will soon be his; it will soon be time to strike. She slowly starts making her way down the embankment, carefully in order not to be seen, the whole time considering everything he might have felt at this exact moment. But then something happens, she loses contact with him, he is no longer inside her. It happens at the same place as always. She is used to it and does not stop to contemplate it. She decides to continue with the task at hand; she has no choice, she must keep moving, so she follows the road up to Bromma Square, turns up into the woods, and goes through the different theories she has been working on the last few days; tries to figure out how probable they are. She is so deep in thought that she has not noticed that she has walked all the way to the hill with the labyrinth made up of pebbles that is glowing in the moonlight. She stops there and looks out over the hundreds of houses beneath her and the cloudless sky above. She breathes the strong smell of the woods mixed with the cold smell of snow, hears the distant traffic above the treetops and finds that the tranquillity is hard to deal with. Somewhere down there lies the answer and the simplicity in this revelation is unbearable. She turns and walks in the direction of home. When she passes the restaurant she squints to avoid seeing the place.

Martin is awake when she comes home. He is sitting in the dark in the armchair in the living room like a worried parent; he is resolute and half naked. 2


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She notices how bushy his beard has become. She sits down on the couch across from him, turns on the sidetable lamp and waits for his accusation. It will come soon, and as expected he will talk yet again about whether it is ‘healthy’ for her to walk around like this at night. As usual she is elated by his outburst, by being confronted at all, seeing him show any signs of life, so she asks him to wait, and she goes and puts on some tea and lights some candles. Then she sits down on the couch again. ‘What do you think you’re going to find out there?’ he asks calmly. ‘I have a new idea.’ ‘Explain,’ he says. ‘I’m listening.’ Åsa takes a few sips of her tea. ‘I’ve started thinking about this in a new way,’ she explains. ‘I think that the lack of signs is in and of itself a sign. You know how a black hole sucks everything in, even light. No information can get out of it. I’ve started thinking of where she is as a black hole.’ He looks wary. She continues, ‘That’s why I walk around, to see if I can feel the draw.’ He looks at her for a while before he says, ‘That sounds incredibly wishy-washy, coming from you.’ ‘I don’t know if it’s that wishy-washy. Everything that has happened the last eight months has been so unimaginable that I think it’s likely that something unimaginable will happen again. There are such powerful forces at work. I think that if I pass the place where she is, I might realise it then. I might feel it.’ She grows quiet and looks at Martin, who has turned towards the window while she has been talking, as if he wants to test her hypothesis and see if he can feel something pulling on him from outside. He does not seem to be successful. When he turns to face her again he looks just as concerned as usual. Åsa takes another sip of tea and discovers that it is now lukewarm. She wonders how long they have been sitting here talking. As always 3


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these days she feels a bit uneasy when she cannot keep track of the time, but she pushes away the feeling of discomfort. She looks at Martin and tries to remember what they were talking about. She thinks it is a good thing that she has lost her train of thought. She has, of course, decided that everything that makes her think outside the box is good, because all of the old thoughts have been tried and tested, without having led her to Magda. Every conversation that can lead her thoughts onto new byroads is good because there could be something on those roads that will give her new ideas. When she sees that she has lost him, as she always does sooner or later, she sets her cup down, turns the lights off and goes out into the dark again. She has a job to do. Someone has to. The police obviously are not doing it, Martin is not doing it. She has no choice but to do it herself. She does not realise until she has reached her spot up in the woods that she turned off the lights in the living room even though Martin was still sitting there.

She is sitting on the couch in the middle of the night looking around the room and the dead things that surround her. The furniture is in exactly the same place as before, as if nothing has happened. She catches sight of the shorter wall, painted white. It had been painted at the end of April, around Walpurgis Night. Now she asks the questions again, and senses how she gains strength from searching for the answers. Because when she is looking for answers there is hope that she might find one, any moment now. The worst moments are the ones when she does not have the strength to search at all; instead she ends up under everything that has happened, the grief pressing her down into the bed. Now she wonders, makes an effort, which means she is covered by a thin but protective veil. Where was he, while she was painting that wall? At work? Or was he unemployed? When she was dipping 4


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the brush in the bucket of paint, was he sitting at home then, formulating his plan? But the veil falls away. When she searches back in time she remembers that there was a period before, when everything theoretically could have been prevented. While Åsa was pushing the paint roller up and down, he had been there. While she was wiping up a drop of paint that had fallen on the hardwood floor, he had been there. While she was washing her hands, he had been there. Ready to strike. Åsa finds herself thinking that it was a shame she had painted that wall herself instead of hiring a painter, since a handyman in the house three days before the disappearance would have been a very interesting lead. The familiar feeling of suffocation returns and she is forced to leave the room. She walks out into the cold dawn. It is still dark, but a hint of pink can be seen above the forest trees. The grass glitters with frost, but she does no more than take note of it. Then she recognises the fact that she only took note of it. Everything that is beautiful terrifies her, because it makes her feel, and she does not want to feel. Like the other day, when Martin had forgotten to turn off the coffeemaker and the kitchen was filled with the acrid smell of coffee that had been percolating for several hours; she suddenly remembered her one-bedroom apartment on Gärdet and the night-time visits from Martin, the warm kisses, his experienced but determined thrusts when he took her in the shower while her roommate was sleeping outside, how they had sat in the window afterwards, wrapped in blankets and sharing cigarettes, while the snow was falling – that memory was so alive it scared her. She stands on the road and looks inside the houses. While the families are sleeping, the living rooms are waiting for them. The Christmas trees with their red glass balls, the presents and the lights. All of the smells in there, she knows exactly what it smells like preparing for Christmas; of pine needles, soap and yesterday’s 5


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cooking. All of those things remind her of life with Magda. She stands as though hypnotised and looks into her neighbours’ windows while she tests the words. She will be able to say them soon. The telephone will have to ring now, with the news. It will have to be the worst. Soon she will prefer that. Because the last few days have been difficult again. Something inside her is preparing to give up now. She does not know how it will happen in reality, but something inside her wants it. Maybe it started when she finally followed Martin’s advice and looked for a few ‘angel blogs’ on the internet. She had seen it right away, that their grief could not be compared to hers. Maybe it was not less, but it was different. The bloggers wrote about the grieving process they devoted themselves to in order to move on. That alone was a difference between her and them. Unlike them she was tied to the floor of a torture chamber and could not move, much less grieve. Did Martin not understand that? Apparently not, and it made her both angry and sad. He stood behind her and watched her as she read and expected, she assumed, that she would embrace him, thankful for him having shown her this source of comfort. But the only things she saw were women who were struggling to get through each day, to get far away from the terrible things they had been through. In the end she felt forced to turn around and ask him if he recognised himself. He just stared at her without answering. Finally she said, ‘I’m not fighting to move on or to get away from anything. That’s the whole damn problem. I’m fighting to go back. Back to that night in order to see something new, to understand. Look at me. Answer me. What exactly does their situation have to do with ours? My child is alive, their children are dead. That is something real, and that is why they can start to grieve.’ He stood there quietly, as usual, annoyingly perplexed. In the end she left the room and Martin disappeared into the home office. 6


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That night she dreamt about the basement again, and this time the room was unusually small and there was no air in there, so when she finally discovered Magda in a corner she was too exhausted from the lack of oxygen to be able to help her. No matter how hard she tried she could not get to her, no matter how she reached out for that little girl’s hands. When she woke she got up out of bed and ran straight into the bathroom. Several dark days followed, then. Days she spent in bed, nights out in the darkness: walking, searching, thinking, and crying. The nights were slightly more bearable than the days. The days were tough. She would press her hands against her ears, sometimes scream straight into the pillow, wander from room to room, and discover that she had started to smell. She might consider bathing but then decide not to. Then write a little but throw all of it out. They were just words on paper, small selfpitying things that kept her alienated from doing the job she had to carry out. Martin kept to himself, with the exception of the mornings when he came with breakfast. She hit him then, for the first time. She regretted it instantly of course, but at the same time she had to set certain boundaries. It was his sympathetic stare that made her see red. He was standing by the bed and she slapped him in the face, which made him drop the tray on the floor, the tea splashing over the entire wall. The slap echoed in the room as he stood there looking shocked. ‘What are you doing?’ he asked. She was surprised also, and searched for an explanation. Then she said that it was his fault that Magda was gone. Maybe it was a bit unnecessary. But he did not seem to mind; instead he looked at her and mumbled something unintelligible before shuffling away again. 7


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She might think that it was generous of him not to protest at a time like this but his concern makes her furious because it is so amorphous. He is like the police officers, paralysed and lost. Of course she can be difficult to deal with, but at least she has strength some days. What she is not able to handle is his confused expression. Sometimes it seems as though he does not understand what has happened. She’d said that to him right after they started dating that sometimes she found it irritating that he seemed to lack the ability to truly become sad. Now she is sitting on the couch again, looking at the wall she painted three days before Magda disappeared. There are memories she cannot get rid of, memories that are haunting. Like when Magda was little and came in at night and wanted to crawl into their bed, and Åsa would not let her. The rewards system Åsa had developed, with stars that were glued on to a chart for the nights when Magda managed to sleep alone, in her own bed. It felt so strange now. As usual she tries to defend herself by reminding herself of what she’d wanted to achieve with all of the rules, but it is difficult. Magda was a different child; it was not always easy to understand her. Even as a very small child, she was careful, afraid. But also stubborn, and difficult. Sometimes Åsa thinks that in some strange way Magda knew that something terrible was going to happen. It would explain her darkness, which had been there from the very beginning. Like when she was going to start the school introduction program for six-year-olds and all her classmates had happily waved goodbye to their parents that morning but Magda had forced Åsa to stay all the way until lunch. She was afraid of the other children, she said, afraid of the teacher, afraid of the schoolyard, afraid of everything. ‘Some of us are born that way,’ Martin, the biologist, said that night when Åsa told him what had happened at the school. With this, he killed two birds with one stone: getting to say that he and 8


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Magda had their own special connection, and that personality was something you were born with. Two things he knew provoked Åsa. He never wasted an opportunity to have a dig at her. When did he change? She knows that it happened long before the disappearance, but when, and why?

In the evening they go for a long walk along the water. When they reach Oak Hill they sit down on a bench and look out over the bay. The ice is shiny and cracked. The sky is a deep blue. ‘Tell me something about Magda,’ Åsa says. ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Something I don’t know, a memory you have of her that you’ve never shared.’ ‘You’re a masochist,’ Martin says. ‘Call me what you want,’ Åsa says. ‘But give me something, I need it.’ ‘I don’t know.’ ‘There’s no rush. We can sit here until you remember something.’ He sits quietly for a while and then says, with his gaze still focused on the water, ‘When she was seven, Magda woke up in the middle of the night once and called for us. You didn’t wake up so I went downstairs to her and sat on the edge of her bed to keep her company. Then I must have fallen asleep. I suddenly woke up because she was caressing my face. She had never done that before. When she saw that I had woken up she immediately pulled her hand away and hid under the covers.’ He is quiet for a moment. ‘Are you satisfied?’ She turns away from him. She hears that he has started crying, rather loudly, shrilly, like a woman. She has not seen him cry since the first months after Magda disappeared, and it becomes too intrusive. She gets up and leaves, while he remains sitting alone and he shouts, ‘I’m the one they suspect! At least you’re rid of the police!’ 9


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Åsa walks quickly, purposefully, away from that place, but she hears his cries much longer than she wants to. Finally she only hears her own breathing and the sound of the snow crunching under her shoes, but she continues walking anyway, and thinks about what he said, feels a bit ashamed about the fact that she rarely thinks about him still being an official suspect. She only stops when she reaches the schoolyard. A new idea. A new angle: what if the kidnapper had seen Magda at the school, during the day, and had become infatuated in some messed up way, and found out where she lived? The police had investigated that lead; she had only considered it fleetingly. She is filled with familiar exaltation and jogs to the part of the schoolyard where Magda used to play, but stops when she sees that the lights in Magda’s classroom are on and it is filled with people. They seem to be having a parents’ night in there. She takes cover behind the storage building. The teacher is standing by her desk at the front of the room and is doing all of the talking. The parents are taking notes. Åsa recognises most of them. She does not want to hate them, she knows where her aggression comes from, but it is difficult to see their comfortable attitudes and self-righteous smiles. She remembers a conversation she had two weeks after the disappearance when the teacher called to tell her that all of the children in the class were being offered counselling after what had happened. As if it was of interest to Åsa. She thinks she remembers that the teacher was sobbing by the time she finished talking to her. She stands still in the dark and studies the parents’ faces. They are discussing trivial things without understanding what a luxury it is. They are probably longing for the meeting to be over because they do not know any better.

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It soon turns out to be rather liberating when for once Martin needs to go away for a few days. She can do all of the things she does not dare do when he is home because she is afraid that he will think she is unstable. For example, she can resume her tradition of drinking cold white wine and checking her email. She does it roughly every other week, and only when she is home alone, when she knows she is not going to be bothered. It is something that she has come to safeguard. The hate, it turns out, gives her energy. She feels remarkably alive when she gets to study it. Not to mention that she is always filled with a feeling of being healthy. Healthier than they are, anyway. This time she has two hundred and twenty new emails. Ten of the two hundred and twenty emails are what she usually calls short stories, about three to four pages long, with extended and moderately aggressive theories about why she or Martin are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and should therefore confess. But most of them are, as usual, a delightful mixture of death threats, requests for interviews and fan mail. The requests for interviews are interesting because they illustrate the media’s lack of creativity. Without exception they all begin with Åsa being offered to talk ‘for the first time’ about the ‘terrible accusations’ that have been directed at Martin, and end with the journalists describing how convinced they are of his innocence. The only one she considers replying to is from the only journalist she actually knows has seriously questioned Martin’s guilt. But it will have to be in the spring; the last thing she wants right now is to be interviewed. Finally the fan emails, which seem to be directed at Åsa, but are actually about parents who have disappeared. They might as well have been meant for any criminal who has attracted a great deal of attention. Written by broken souls who want to meet another broken soul, who are attracted by Åsa’s isolation or the possibility that she might be guilty. 11


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Of course she has considered removing the email address from the website, or letting someone else take care of the emails, but reading them has become a routine she enjoys. A strange but important link between herself and the outside world. One of the few that remains. While she is sitting there a message pops up: ‘Your inbox is almost full. You should empty it,’ and she scrolls to the oldest emails in order to start deleting messages. The first one she sees is an email from Magda, sent six months before she disappeared. She does not open it, instead she gets up instinctively and walks into the bedroom and sits on the edge of the bed in order to calm down. She sits there for a long time and hears her heart pounding. Then, without hesitating, she walks back to the computer and opens the email. ‘Mama when are you coming home? I’m lonely.’ She hears herself gasp and hides her face in her hands. She reads the email again, feels the darkness pressing itself into the room, fast, suffocating, and enveloping. She gets up. Half running, she goes directly to Magda’s room and kneels down in front of the bed, and prays for the first time since she was a child. She prays that Magda is okay; she asks for forgiveness, prays that Magda will not need to be alone any more. She says out loud that she feels regret, and that she wishes she could do everything differently.

She lies awake in the dark for a long time and tries to choose her thoughts. If she chooses incorrectly it will hurt, so it is important to be careful. How could she have forgotten that they had emailed each other when Åsa was at work? Now she remembers another email that Magda had sent a few years earlier, when she had been at home sick: ‘Can you come home and tuck me in like you did when I was little?’ Åsa was with a patient and did not see the email until that evening. 12


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Martin became furious when Åsa told him that Magda had been at home alone for a few hours. ‘She’s seven years old!’ he screamed. She was not slow to reply, ‘And the mother is supposed to be at home? Where were you?’ He went into the home office and slammed the door so hard that a painting fell off the wall and broke. After sweeping up the shards of glass from the floor she went in to Magda in order to tuck her in and discovered that she was awake. She was lying on her back under the covers with a frightened look on her face and Åsa immediately rushed over to reassure her that Mum and Dad would never fight like that again. While she was holding her frightened daughter Åsa quietly swore at Martin and his temper. It had been bad enough when he had lost his temper before they had Magda. Åsa had always hated his way of overpowering her in every discussion by yelling or hitting the wall with his fist. That he continued despite the fact that they had a child in the house was unacceptable. She remembered how much it had affected her when her own father had had his famous outbursts and she did not want Magda to go through the same thing. She tucked Magda in properly, as if trying to protect her from Martin, even though it was difficult since Magda had recently become so tall. She had almost forgotten how Magda had loved it when she was little and Åsa would tuck the covers under her small body. Åsa sat on the edge of the bed for a while and looked at Magda, and was gripped by a sudden sorrow. This was the first time in several years that she had held her daughter as she had when she was younger. Small memories, which she never searches for actively because it hurts too much, pop up sometimes, against her will. She lies on her back and sees the digital alarm clock blinking in the darkness, and tries not to remember all the arguments about Magda’s upbringing. What had they actually been fighting about? Martin was standing in the doorway to the home office, just a few weeks before Magda disappeared, with his finger pointed at Åsa, 13


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his face twisted, yelling that she was using Magda as a ‘guinea pig’. She felt hard-pressed, since he did not let her speak, and she tried to make herself heard above him, to try and say that she knew what she was doing, she had studied these things, but he did not listen. Finally she was forced to scream as well, in order to fight through his accusations. Now she tries to remember her arguments. She had said that children know that sooner or later they will need to free themselves and at a certain age they experience their parents’ embrace as threatening, because it puts the brakes on their inevitable entrance into the adult world. That was why she was so careful about giving Magda space. She had always been clear towards Magda and promised herself that she would not hinder her development, or enclose her with a suffocating parenting style as her own mother had done to her. Had it been the right thing to do? She refuses to answer, she hates that dark voice that insists on asking these kinds of questions now, when the last thing she needs is self-criticism. She had tried to do her best for her child. The intention had been good, she knows that, no one can question that. Doubt still weighs on her. She hates that there are memories that cannot be erased. Like Martin, mad with rage during their last fight because she had told Magda about the problems in their marriage. She spent the entire evening explaining to him how careful she was about Magda not seeing them as being too godly, how important it was to actively show their faults and weaknesses. But Martin called it crazy, despite the fact that she had carefully explained that the concept was clearly established in psychological research. Remembering his rage is painful. Cautiously she tries to carry out a fair trial against herself, but it is difficult. It is always easy to second-guess. It’s important not to confuse her efforts as a mother with what happened later. Right? 14


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The night that follows is dark. At dawn she feels how the world stops spinning, when she makes a decision. A lead that she has not had the energy to follow up she now decides to take up again. Often this is how it works: hope is awakened right after the smoke from a panic attack has cleared. The idea is simple, yet she has not been able to carry it out because it requires contact with the outside world.

During the first few weeks after Magda’s disappearance she had encouraged the police to look carefully at her old patients, and perhaps even interrogate them. History is full of examples of patients who have tried to hurt their psychologists. But the police most likely have not lifted a finger: they are convinced that Martin is guilty. She falls asleep around five and even though she wakes up around six she is wide awake from the strength her newly formulated plan gives her. She lies with her eyes open and hopes that the morning light will come.

She takes the bus for the first time since the third of May. The moment she takes a seat she is back in the everyday again, and she notes that it has continued as usual, carried on, as if nothing has happened. That particular insight makes her dizzy. She is forced to stand up in order to keep the sudden nausea in check; she stands for the entire trip to the hospital. As soon as she walks into the lobby the smell hits her, that familiar mixture of cleaning agents and newly baked cinnamon rolls. There are the same types of people in the lobby as usual, the unmistakable facial expressions of those who have just visited a sick or dying relative, their way of discreetly updating another relative over the phone. 15


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Åsa straightens her scarf so that her face will be hidden as she passes reception and she walks straight towards the elevators. As luck would have it, the ladies on four have not come in yet and she can sneak into Psych without running into any colleagues. She knocks on Lars’s door and hears his familiar voice telling her to come in. He is sitting behind the desk talking on the phone and he points at the chair in front of the desk. Åsa sits down and looks around. This is what it must feel like to be a patient, she thinks. It is more obvious from this perspective that the room is set up in order to accentuate the role division. The enormous desk, which creates distance, the light that makes Lars’s, the doctor’s, silhouette large and dark, while the patient’s Windsor-style chair is worn and pitiful. When he has put the receiver down Lars gets up and walks over to Åsa and puts his hand on her shoulder. ‘Åsa . . .’ he says and then stands quietly for a long time. But she does not answer. ‘How are things?’ She wonders why it is always up to the victim to satisfy the nosy ones asking the questions. Why can he not talk about his feelings about what has happened for a change? Instead, there is this constant curiosity from everyone. Which is absurd, since they only want to understand to a certain extent. They have a notion about what grief is and it, she has discovered, is difficult to shake. They do not want to understand the real grief, of course, because it would require them to experience it. At the same time it is difficult to blame them. She did not know better herself, before, but still. She sees in his eyes that he is one of them, the curious ones. ‘I’ve thought about calling you,’ he says and sits down behind the desk again. ‘You did send a card,’ Åsa says. He looks at her above the rim of his eyeglasses. ‘I’m actually happy you’re here.’ Suddenly she feels unsure of whether she has done the right thing 16


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by coming back. It is too difficult to pretend, just so she can read the casebooks. ‘We’re very happy that you want to come back,’ he says. ‘Many people have missed you.’ Then it comes, as it always does, from the curious ones. ‘Is there anything I can do?’ The classic question – which she considers bizarre because the answer is, of course, yes. You do not need to be that creative in order to come up with something yourself. But no. As usual they demand that the one who is going through the crisis needs to degrade themselves and ask for help. ‘No thanks,’ she answers curtly. ‘Good,’ Lars replies. Afterwards he takes out a stack of paper that he describes as ‘some small formalities’ for the future, and asks her to take them and fill them out in peace and quiet. ‘Can I see the casebooks now as well?’ Åsa asks. ‘No, let’s take it one step at a time.’ ‘I’d like to know how things have gone, you understand.’ ‘There’s no hurry,’ he says, before reaching across the desk to give her the forms. ‘No,’ she lies. Soon she is on the bus again, on her way home. It sways back and forth through the rain. The low-lying sun makes the raindrops on the windows glitter and the beautiful view makes the knife within her twist. The strong winter colours are metallic, reminding her of something she has not felt for a long time. She gasps so audibly that she hears it herself and she reaches for the stop button, but manages to get it together and remains sitting. As soon as she gets home she drinks a cup of chamomile tea and takes a bath. One day left until Martin comes back. She wants to use the remaining hours to do everything she really wants to do when he is not at home. But she does not have the energy. She gets in bed, warm and tired after her long bath. 17


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When Martin comes home the next evening there is a great distance between them. She is in the pitch-black room that probably reeks of anguish; he is wearing a suit in a cloud of airport-purchased aftershave. She has had a bad day. She stayed in bed till around twelve. Then spent about two hours working on the forms from the hospital, without managing to finish them. Maybe every day feels heavier than the last because Magda’s birthday is approaching. Is she on her way back into that compact darkness again? She recognises certain signals. That she turns off the radio as soon as they start playing music, for example. Or that she is thinking a lot about the Helén in Hörby case again. During the afternoon she made the mistake of Googling pictures of the basement. She thought she might come up with an idea. She should not have done it. She knows what she was looking for, but she did not find it. She thought that if she looked into the worst imaginable possibility then she might see something she had missed, but it was a miscalculation. The images became etched in her mind and she was forced to go and lie down. It was not possible to shut out the light, even though she pulled down both the blinds and the shades. The light was also terrible because it reminded her of the weeks after. There had been something so fundamentally wrong with the fact that it happened in spring, when things were blossoming and growing. He reacts to her mood as he always does: with silence. He retreats to the home office while she floats around outside in her bathrobe and tries to behave like a living person. She hears him whistle, and its timelessness affects her. She is suddenly gripped by an unexplainable tenderness for him, and she stands in the door opening and asks him what they are going to make for dinner. The familiarity of the conversation moves her. She is moved by the fact that they are in sync: we don’t cook. As usual. 18


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Routines and habits provide some comfort, even after a crisis of this magnitude. Somewhere, she notes, she appreciates the fact that he is home again. She lies down on top of the covers and peacefully falls asleep. Martin’s kisses wake her. She is unprepared and cannot understand what is happening. She feels suffocated. His tongue is large and careless. He opens her mouth with his fingers and she cannot keep up. She carefully pushes him away and looks at him, and is close to asking him how he can think about sex in light of what might have happened to Magda. But he looks so confused that she does not dare, so she leaves the bedroom without saying anything. Before she closes the door behind her in the home office she hears a disgruntled sigh from the bed.

The next day something unexpected happens. She receives a text message early in the afternoon. ‘Are you at home?’ Martin writes. He has not done this in years. She does not know why, but the text message has put something inside her in motion. Maybe his night-time suggestion spurred something to take shape inside her, twelve hours later. She quickly replies ‘yes’ and then gets undressed, showers and rubs lotion on her body. She gets in bed and waits. She feels the familiar expectation fill her and she twists her body around in the covers as if they were Martin. While she waits she starts thinking about the first time they had sex. No penetration, just hands. They were lying on their backs in his small apartment on Kungsholmen, touching each other. Then he suddenly pulled out a small bottle of some kind of oil, an action that made her a bit shy, considering how comfortably he reached down under the bed. Then the challenge. ‘Tell me about a fantasy.’ 19


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It was difficult at first. But once she started it was like a dam had burst. In some strange way everything felt free, allowed, when they were just talking. As her hand worked and kneaded she let the images pass all her filters and unravel in all their sleaziness. She was not even sure they were fantasies she wanted to live out, rather fantasies that turned her on simply because they were and would remain fantasies. She fucked him with her ability to describe things and he loved it. Now she remembers and feels her skin growing warm with anticipation. But Martin does not come and after forty-five minutes she starts dozing off, so she gets up and puts on her bathrobe and walks over to the phone to find out where he is, when someone rings the doorbell. A messenger is standing there. ‘Is Martin Horn at home?’ ‘No, unfortunately not.’ ‘Sign here,’ says the man in the blue overalls, and hands over a receipt, attached to something that looks like the manuscript of a book. When he has left, she throws the bundle of paper on the kitchen table and curses herself for her stupidity. She feels the panic returning. Feels like she needs to do something radical. She walks over to the computer and looks up the email from Moa. Calls her. ‘Okay,’ she says. ‘Let’s do it.’

Of course she regrets it in the car on the way into the city, but she defends her decision with the fact that Moa has been the only journalist to question the accusations. As well as being the one to publish photos of Magda even after the media storm in general had cooled off – something that was good for the search. 20


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She parks and walks into Café Vetekatten where they have decided to meet. When they are finally sitting across from each other, Moa leans forward. ‘Thanks,’ she whispers. ‘Thank you for doing this. I understand that it’s difficult.’ ‘We’ll have to see,’ Åsa says. Moa places her iPhone between them and starts the recorder. ‘Let’s start by talking about when you found out that you and Martin were being charged.’ ‘I was never formally a suspect.’ ‘No, but many people reacted to your calmness. Why weren’t you more upset?’ ‘There wasn’t room for it, right then.’ ‘But then you were released because you had an alibi for all of Friday, while Martin alone remained a suspect.’ ‘Yes.’ ‘As everyone knows, he left his father’s office at quarter past three the day Magda disappeared. Yet he didn’t get to Bromma until two hours later. And he has never been able to explain what he was doing during that time. How does it feel knowing that so many people think that proves that he has something to hide?’ ‘I’m not able to comment on that, as the investigation is still ongoing.’ ‘But how does it feel? You can talk about that, can’t you?’ Åsa has to struggle not to speak her mind. She reminds herself that the interview can help in the search if enough people read it and are moved by it. The last thing she needs right now is yet another article about her coolness. She replies, ‘The tragedy lies in the fact that they aren’t following leads because they are convinced of Martin’s guilt. But I can’t even process that completely. I don’t have enough strength for it. I would fall apart, if I did that.’ She can hear how her voice is shaking and she is surprised. Then 21


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she sees how Moa leans forward. It is a subtle movement, but still clear: she has picked up a scent. ‘Have you ever questioned his guilt?’ Moa asks. So predictable, Åsa thinks. Journalists. They see you drop your guard and there they are. Moa looks down at her notes. ‘Are you isolated? From the world?’ ‘The grief shines through everything like an X-ray and shows what is what and who is who. I can only express it like that, in that way. Or let me say it like this: I can only empathise with people who understand grief right now.’ ‘Tell me more.’ ‘When things are at their worst and I see two people on TV laughing I think that their laughter has a price. If they knew what was happening around them they wouldn’t be laughing.’ ‘And what would they do instead?’ ‘Find out how poorly everyone out there is feeling. And then maybe there would be less suffering. Or . . .? I don’t know.’ ‘Are you more open to the idea that there are evil people now?’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘You were interviewed by The Daily News a few years ago in connection with a trial against a man who had murdered two children, and you criticised the media because they were more and more often painting killers as “evil”. You said that society has a responsibility towards the individuals it has failed and who have therefore become criminals, and that it is uncivilised to label them as evil. Do you still feel that way?’ She suddenly feels the darkness. She does not know how it got in, but now it is in the entire room, and she knows that it is only a matter of seconds before she loses her hold, so she answers quickly. ‘Someone took Magda and locked her up and maybe assaulted her while she was calling for me and wondering where I was. I cannot understand it. And if I can’t understand it then I can’t find any words for it.’ 22


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She gets up quickly. ‘I understand that it’s difficult,’ Moa calls after her. ‘I understand!’ But Åsa has already left the room. In the car on her way towards Bromma she downplays the whole thing, but is not really successful. She has become an expert in making the headlines, against her will, and she knows what kind of reaction her closing words are going to generate. She should never have agreed to the interview. The darkness eases a bit when she pulls out onto Drottningholm’s Road, but she continues driving carefully. When she reaches the house and stumbles into the bedroom she realises that it will be a hellish night. Memory after memory pops up, one after another, ones she does not want to think about. Especially the ones she does not want to think about. Magda in her raincoat running towards her, laughing, with arms stretched out wide. Åsa had said something to her then that she is not able to forget, no matter how much she wants to, and now she hides under the covers and presses her hands against her ears in order to disappear.

She stands at the window on the first floor and watches the rain wash away the snow on the lawn. She has spent the morning attempting to avoid thinking about what she was like as a parent, but it is hard. She tries to remember that it is reverse logic to regret things, to question whether or not she had always done the right thing just because it ended in catastrophe. She gropes around in her memories, reminds herself that Martin did not even know the basic principles of psychology – naturally he found her theories about Magda terrifying. She takes out the photo albums from her childhood and flips through to her university years, moved by the engagement of the young woman in the pictures. 23


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It had been an enchanted autumn, when, at twenty, she began to understand the way everything was connected. The first breakthrough came when she read Alice Miller. What she felt was like an infatuation, walking home to her student apartment with the books under her arm. She felt chosen, secretive, when she lay awake and underlined sections. No one but Miller could describe how people who had been tormented during their childhood often played out this suffering actively as adults, in a compulsive way. Miller was oxygenating, liberating. After Miller came Jung, Karen Horney, Rollo May. Every day of class signified a sensation. She was insatiable, and longed for the next day of classes before she had even made it out of the building. She started to see the world in the light of the theories, and it felt like everything was explained, finally. The confusing discussions about people’s behaviour she had heard as a child, when her parents had sat talking about relatives and neighbours, without having any criteria or any theory to base their assumptions on. Now she understood that their ideas had been shots in the dark; that there was a de facto science, with the accumulated experiences of thousands of researchers and thinkers at the base, which provided an understanding for what she had been told as a child was contradictory and mysterious. Once she understood this there was no turning back. This isolated her from both her parents and former friends as she felt more and more anger towards them because they were not reading up, as she was. At the same time she made new friends at college who were like her. And together they went back to the beginning. They clearly saw the influence their own parents had had on them and swore then and there to break the pattern. She would, unlike her parents, face her suffering head-on and not pass it on to her future children. Her favourite teachers said it so well: Not until you have remembered, spoken about and grieved for the injustices you have suffered can you stop acting them out compulsively. Remember, talk and grieve. 24


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She would do that, before she had children, to be sure that the child would not inherit her weaknesses. She never had a dull moment during those five years. She loved the dark seriousness of the lecture halls. The decision was made there: she would not do what the lazy older men who had been guest lecturers at the end of the term had done and take the shortcut to prescribing medicine; instead she would help her patients find the cause. As part of the study she went into therapy and it was just as inspiring as the lectures had been. Unafraid, she quickly and effectively dug down to her parents’ guilt, and gave it words. Then she was free, ready to help others. She was grateful that she had been offered the opportunity to free herself. And she was thankful for all of the friends she made during those years, the night-time conversations about what came up during the therapy sessions. They were truly woven together for life, or so she thought at the time. But when she and her classmates went out into the working world she noticed that they bought into the medicinal trend without questioning it, and she saw one after the other being seduced by psychiatry’s promise of quick fixes. At every class reunion she heard about a few more who had given up and started working together with a psychiatrist. Soon they were worshippers of psychiatry, all of them, including the patients. As stress in society increased people did not have the time or the energy to get to the root of their problems. Instead, they took the shortcut via psychopharmacology. She had made it clear from the beginning that she would never refer her patients to a psychiatrist, unless it was absolutely necessary. She did not doubt medicine’s influence on certain severely depressed or psychotic individuals, but most of the people who sought therapy had no long-term results to pick up from the pharmacy. Her clear position made her enemies, as well as friends. 25


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Now, in hindsight, these battles feel distant. Heated debates at the Adult Liberal Education Association’s offices, shaking fingers pointing in the spotlight, long polemic commentary on the homepage of the Swedish Psychological Association. Why was she treated so harshly for her opinion? When she reaches the end of the last photo album she realises that she does not know what time of day it is, and it scares her. She gropes around in her mind, tries to figure out what time it is by examining the view outside: the street is half-empty, the light is weak, she does not see any birds in the trees. She expects that it is morning because on the path outside men and women with briefcases in their hands are walking hastily towards the bus stop. One after another they pass her window. For one moment she regards the conformity as absurd. All these people, living the same way. Getting out of bed and sitting at the kitchen table eating their eggs and toast. And then leaving their children at day care or school and taking the metro to work. She sees people walking by at a quick pace and feels entirely detached from the complex machinery she is observing. She finds herself in a parallel universe and she will remain there until the day Magda is found.

She takes the bus to the hospital and walks up to the reception area. Lars has not come in yet so she waits in the cafĂŠ. She sees three colleagues walk by in their green scrubs, but has time to turn around so they do not have a chance to notice her. They are probably like everyone else, uncertain about whether or not she is guilty and she does not have the energy to face the suspicion. At around eight she makes a new attempt and takes the elevator up and knocks on his door. He lets her in and appears happier this time. 26


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‘You’re looking good,’ he says. ‘You tend to lose weight when you’ve lost a child,’ she replies. ‘Åsa . . .’ he pleads. ‘Sorry, I promise to pretend everything is fine.’ ‘I can’t imagine what you two have been through.’ Åsa considers correcting his choice of tense, but already feels enough discomfort about them having fallen into their old roles again so quickly. ‘To be honest I hesitated a bit before I signed,’ she says and hands over the forms. She wants him to know how grateful he should be about having her back. But he chooses not to comment on it. ‘When do you want to start?’ he asks. ‘Soon,’ she says. ‘Good.’ He smiles. She tries, but is unable, to return his smile. ‘Welcome back,’ he says. When she sees that he is getting up to come over to her she says quickly, in order to avoid the hug, ‘As I said, I would like to start by having access to my patients’ casebooks, to see what has happened to them while I’ve been away.’ He stops in his tracks and sits down again She continues, ‘I don’t have that much to do, as you know. It would be interesting to catch up, in preparation for starting again.’ ‘It isn’t that simple.’ ‘They’re my patients.’ ‘Not any more.’ ‘What do you mean?’ She looks at him without blinking. ‘Give me the files.’ He looks at her, and using her eyes she does everything in order to make it clear that she is serious. ‘I’ll check with management today. I promise. You’ll have them soon!’ he says. 27


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She is out on the street again less than half an hour after walking into the hospital, with hope burning in her chest and her heart beating loudly. An excitement that she tries to fend off.

Martin comes home around eleven and falls asleep quickly. As soon as she hears him snoring she walks into the bedroom and sits down on his side of the bed. How she has loved this man. Thousands of wonderful moments. They have giggled together, they have struggled together, they have taken on life together. They have had a child together, they have travelled. They have challenged each other, fought with each other, loved each other. She caresses his back slowly and tries to connect the man in the bed with the man in her memory. He wakes up, turns over and looks at her in the dark. All she sees are two white dots when the streetlight meets his eyes, but it is enough. He is a stranger, and she can do nothing about it. He quietly turns his back to her again and falls back to sleep. She remains sitting and looks at his body as it moves in his sleep and thinks about when they met. He was so vulnerable. A young editor with dreams of becoming a writer. She remembers their first meeting clearly, when Martin came to the primary school in Bromma where she was working as a school psychologist, in order to check facts for a detective novel. It was her first job and she was so happy about finally being able to practise a profession she had studied so long that she did not even mind that her patients were twelve-year-old bed wetters. She knew that she wanted to go further, she would go further, soon; that the job as a school psychologist was just a warm-up. When Magda was six and started at that same school, fifteen years 28


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later, Åsa proudly pointed out her old office to her daughter. ‘That is where your dad and I met for the first time,’ she said. But the meeting had not started very well. As soon as Martin came in the room she said it like it was, that he had sent her a terrible book, and he turned pale. She liked his insecurity. He was a nerd, but a smart nerd, with potential. And above all he was a romantic, who spoke in pompous terms about the world that was shimmering on the horizon, one that he wanted to conquer. He forced her to dare to think in the same way, forced her to do rash things. He would stop suddenly in the middle of the street in a downpour and kiss her passionately, without caring that people saw; he would surprise her at work and take her on unexpected trips, without her even having time to go home and pack first; and above all, he was constantly asking her what she thought, constantly digging inside himself and her in a way she had always dreamt about being able to do with a partner, but had never believed was possible. The smallest answer could change everything, a nighttime conversation could make the whole world change colour, a trip to the movies might involve a revelation. That was how it felt those first few months in any case, when they decided to share everything, immediately. At the same time there was something uncomfortable about their passion, she thinks now, when she looks back on it. It was like they were masturbating at each other. It was wordless and impersonal in its intensity. There are no individuals left in a passion like that; there are two animals sucking the blood out of one another. Especially Martin’s way of being everywhere at the same time: fingers between her legs, in her mouth, his mouth on her neck. As if he were trying to eat her. To him sex was like something forbidden. You could see it in his eyes when he was turned on: he was on fire, tense, as if he were on his way to robbing a bank. 29


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And afterwards he was always different. A half an hour or an hour after they’d had sex she could look straight inside him, no barriers. They could connect better than anywhere else when lying on their backs, side by side, in bed. There he would speak in a sudden intimate voice, present and calm, and share thoughts she did not know he had. During those terrible weeks after the disappearance, when the media had their feeding frenzy about Åsa and Martin’s alleged guilt, she read in many places that they were said to have an unhappy relationship. Compared to what? She had always wondered. One thing was for certain: he had been happier than she. It had always annoyed her, that he maintained that he was so happy with her. It was probably evidence of his romantic side, which he had found stranger and stranger ways of showing over the years. If he managed to toss together a delicious potato gratin by accident one night, he would have enrolled in a cooking class online two hours later. If he managed to run three kilometres with a neighbour one Sunday night, he would start planning a book on jogging the following day. The fact that he was constantly finding new hobbies made him a polished conversationalist. He knew a little about a lot of things. Only Åsa knew this about him, that the only thing he was an expert in was exactly that: knowing half the story, or ‘pretending to know’ as she called it when they fought, and talking passionately about a subject even if he had only scratched the surface of it. In the almost twenty years they had been together before Magda disappeared, Åsa had been Martin’s wife, and she had played that role without whining at all the events at the publisher’s, at all the dinners. For the first fifteen years, anyway. The last few years before the disappearance he had, of course, been remarkably tired. Wherever they went people asked her what it was like to be married to a ‘perfect’ man. Everyone loved him. She was the only one who knew who he really was. Only she knew what kind of effort lay behind being Martin, and she had no plans of exposing him. 30


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People would not have wanted to know anyway. They loved to love him. They loved hearing his stories, his white lies. Deep down inside they knew, they must have sensed that he lacked depth, seeing as how he spoke so freely and inspired, on command, about anything. She had seen it many times. After a while, when it became obvious that he was not the expert he appeared to be at the beginning of the conversation, it seemed as though people excused it because he was so much fun to listen to. Those are the rules of the game, she realised in the end. People do not care about being lied to as long as they are being entertained. But even if she learned to accept that Martin was like that, she refused to play the game herself. She was interested in people, wanted to know everything about their backgrounds from a psychological perspective, but she did not claim to want to get close to them. It was the opposite for Martin. He was ‘close’ to everyone – that was what he claimed anyway. In the end he did not care how things turned out for other people. As long as they made him feel liked. Sometimes, when they were on their way home from a dinner, and they were discussing mutual friends’ problems, he would call her cold because she had such a hard time getting involved. She took it as a compliment because she knew that what he was interpreting as coldness was not. Rather, it was anticipation. She had a wait-and-see policy when it came to getting involved in people’s problems because she’d think: they are not doing well now, but maybe in a month’s time they will be. It was an approach that had proved to be a good one in her profession. Martin’s reasoning was the opposite. He suffered along with people left and right, suffered from just turning on the TV, but he never lifted a finger to help anyone. Martin’s hysterical idea that Magda should be involved in extracurricular activities was an example of the same thing; he was moved by emotions, whims, that he never looked into, and therefore never followed up. Just like when he decided that ‘football’ was an ‘art 31


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form’, and signed Magda up for the girls’ football league in Bromma, but left all the driving to Åsa who then had to stand and freeze on the sidelines every Wednesday evening for no reason. Magda was far too absent-minded to play left-winger; she stood on the field half-asleep and finally got hit in the head with the ball. When Åsa told Martin about it that night, he laughed furiously, ‘I was just like that when I was young. Bookworm!’ One time Åsa came into the room when Martin was watching a nature documentary with Magda, and she saw his self-righteous smile as he described to Magda what happens when animal species become extinct and why this was so horrible. She analysed the situation immediately: he was not lecturing Magda, but himself. He was so preoccupied with convincing himself that he was a good father who did educational things that he did not notice that Magda was yawning. As usual he did not understand that children are quite good at sensing when an adult is really passionate about something, and when they are just pretending. Not to mention the fact that he was wrong. Åsa was finally forced to protest and point out, ‘species have come and gone for hundreds of millions of years. This sentimental image of it being sad that they are disappearing is nonsense.’ ‘Not now,’ he had said in English. ‘She’s eight years old,’ Åsa said, ‘she knows what that means.’ ‘Yes I do,’ Magda had agreed. He was present when he felt like it. A jack-in-the-box who showed up with a National Geographic DVD about the steppes in Africa once a month. His involvement with Magda was unpredictable, amorphous. Something Magda sensed, of course. Sometimes he was in a good mood and he wanted to spend time together; sometimes he was in a bad mood and had unpredictable fits of rage. Sometimes he left on job-related trips that lasted a week. One time when Åsa was going to pick Magda up at day care it turned out Martin was already there. So Åsa had hidden behind a 32


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storage shed on the schoolyard and watched him from a distance, watched how he stood there talking and laughing with the staff, while Magda was sitting and waiting to go home. It bothered Åsa because she knew how he was experiencing the situation: he so enjoyed giving this to the day care staff. Sinking down to the level of ordinary people. Inviting them to ‘exclusive’ launch parties. Handing out books he had stolen from the publisher’s warehouse. But she does not think he was unfaithful. Once, when Magda was little and Åsa was in the city running an errand, she decided to go up to the publisher and surprise him. But she stopped at the glass doors in the cafeteria because she saw him standing a distance away talking to a woman. She saw immediately that he was directing his energy at the woman in a way that she had only seen him do towards herself, in the beginning, when they had just fallen in love. Then he left the woman and walked away happily, whistling, and she understood that he was not in love with the woman, he just wanted to see his reflection in her. He was not interested in sex but in confirmation. He reinvented himself, every day. She remembers when they went to the movies the first time and he started crying afterwards and while sobbing told her how moved he was by the film and she interpreted it as a sign of how sensitive he was. These days she becomes irritated when she thinks about it, how little she knew. She has seen him cry so many times at films, but never about anything in everyday life, hardly at all when Magda disappeared. He would only let the tears come when he was in charge, never otherwise. He cried because he loved the image of himself crying. Just like he loved the image of himself cooking. Once when she saw him standing and cooking food for Magda she felt the fury rising inside her and at first she could not understand 33


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why she was so provoked by someone cooking minced beef. She could not understand why she felt angry towards him when he helped at home by doing the cooking. She soon found the answer: because it was the only thing he helped with at home. But that kind of everyday annoyance feels petty now, in hindsight. Not just that; it feels like a definition of happiness, even if she didn’t understand it back then. Getting annoyed at family members is a luxury, a comfort, for which she would sacrifice almost anything to get back. But the memories are so distant they feel like they have been taken from a book about someone else’s life. To remember is like watching the world through reversed binoculars; she has to struggle in order to see what is there, because it is all so far away.

Martin stays in his home office all day Saturday, which she appreciates. She does not have the energy to watch him wander around the house looking for something to do. Magda’s absence becomes so evident at weekends when he is at home. As usual Åsa just wants it to be Monday again, so he will go to work and she can be alone. Maybe he finds her equally obtrusive. Sometimes when she sees herself in the mirror she thinks she should dress up a bit for him, like she did before, but she does not have the energy. She has essentially been wearing the same clothes for ten months. If Magda comes back Åsa is going to show her the clothes she has worn every day. She is going to tell Magda about them and they will laugh about it together: the dark purple comfy pants and the Minnie Mouse T-shirt that she has worn so much since the disappearance. Another thing she is going to tell Magda when she comes back is what happened when the Jehovah’s Witnesses came to the door during the autumn. Something in their opening lines caused a short circuit and she did not know if she should hit them or hug them. Hit them because they had the guts to claim that they had an Explanation: God had a plan with all of this, apparently. Or hug them 34


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because at least they cared about their fellow humans. But she just stood in front of them in silence without doing anything, and in the end she shut the door without saying a word. It has been a long time since anyone came to the door. People walk by, whisper and glance furtively. She looks out through the window. The bluish-purple sky and the unmoving trees. The black birds that are swerving like vultures above the house. It scares her that parallel worlds exist side by side, without it being possible for her to reach out her hand and touch the other one. Outside a couple of teenagers pass by; they probably think it is a beautiful winter day. If only they knew.

She wakes up at four-thirty, untangles herself from Martin’s body and sneaks out of bed. She gets dressed quickly and makes her way out onto the empty streets. The echo of intensity from a dream remains inside her and she wants to take advantage of it. Maybe she will get an idea when she reaches her spot behind the spruce tree. She cannot remember any details from the dream, but she must act on the impulse. Her body is still warm from the bed, semen bleeds onto her underwear. The desire had taken her by surprise for the first time in a long time the night before, when he had come out of the shower naked and wet. It had been a long time since she had seen him naked, but there he was standing in front of her drying himself off, and she could see that he must have lost fifty pounds since Magda disappeared. Maybe she was reminded of what he had looked like when they first met. She was lying on the bed and he was standing in front of her and suddenly he was not a living dead person any more; the slim body made him a man, or maybe even a boy. Now it was just the beard, that strange, wild beard, which separated him from the young Martin. Maybe Martin noticed her gaze, because when he later crawled 35


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under the covers in the darkness she felt his erection against her hip. There was something clumsy then, in his manner, which turned her on. How he pulled her towards him, pressed her bottom against him, his erection against her buttocks, as if he were unprepared for his own desire and wanted to get inside her immediately, like a teenager. That desire was contagious and she turned towards him, straddled him, and pressed herself down even though she had not had time to become wet yet. The pain ran up through her body like pins when he pushed inside, and she pressed her forehead hard against his shoulder to keep from screaming. She heard him suppressing his groans and the last thing she thought before she became engulfed was that the silence had become a weapon between them. It is foggy and damp but still surprisingly warm outside. She walks down towards the restaurant in order to recreate that night, yet again. She walks slowly. She thinks that because she is still half asleep, with that dream buzzing inside her, that maybe she, against all odds, can remember something new from the third of May. She stops in the middle of the grassy lawn between the house and the restaurant and tries to go back. She had walked from the metro, taken the path over the grass and arrived at the restaurant at eight-thirty. That had been verified early on in the interrogations. But whom had she passed? Why was it so difficult to remember? It was a decisive question, maybe, a theory that had been there from the beginning, that someone had seen both her and Martin go to the restaurant and understood that they had left Magda alone in the house. She stands alone on the small road and looks around. According to the investigation Martin had walked exactly this way down to the restaurant, alone, at 8.23 pm, seven minutes before Ă…sa. She sees the restaurant and its veranda at the bottom of the hill between the tree trunks, closed for the night and with the lights off, and when she turns around she sees the row of houses with theirs in the middle. 36


ÅSA

She closes her eyes. Her memory is just as cloudy as usual. She concentrates, tries to take herself back. Plays the evening for herself, how she walked towards the restaurant and wondered why Martin had sounded so different on the phone. She saw a few shadow-like bodies here and there, but no one she knew. She opens her eyes and turns towards the woods. She hesitates at first, it looks so dark, but then she walks in. After about twenty metres she reaches a large outcropping of rock and she stops, because she discovers this is a very good hiding place. From here she can see both the restaurant and their house, fully visible between two large spruce trees. The windows are large and dark. The blinds in Magda’s room, the farthest to the right on the ground floor, are closed, just as on that night, and the window is slightly open, just like it was then. She leaves her spot behind the outcropping and walks closer. She stops behind one of the spruce trees and looks at the house. Then it happens. Suddenly the light in the upstairs bathroom comes on. Martin has woken up. She gets out her mobile to see what time it is. Yes, six-fifteen. She knows his schedule well. She knows that he is peeing right now and that he will soon go down to the kitchen and fill a cup with warm water from the tap, pour in instant coffee and stir. She has heard that sound from the bed on thousands of mornings. Then he will walk over to the pantry and take out a piece of hard bread and eat it, with nothing on it. She moves closer. Even though she is more than thirty metres from the house and it is dark she is moving slowly, because it is hard to tell if he would be able to see her out here, if for some reason he decided to look out the window. She would very much like to avoid having to explain why she is standing in the woods at six o’clock in the morning, staring at him. 37


INTO THE LABYRINTH

Now he is going to go into the bathroom and shower, she thinks. But to her surprise he goes downstairs instead, and then he disappears in the dark. She immediately moves forward to the large hedge that separates the garden from the woods, and crouches down behind it. When he shows up again he is unexpectedly in the home office on the ground floor. He stands at the window and looks out through it. She crouches down behind the bushes and holds her breath. What he does next is inexplicable. He turns towards the door to the next room and opens it. Because the blinds are drawn she is not able to see what he is doing in there, but she is still too shocked to process anything else. She runs back into the woods. Sits down behind a spruce tree and listens to her own breathing, and her heart, which is pounding. What is he doing in Magda’s room? Is he going in there to grieve, as she does sometimes? Has he been there before during the past year? Is he sitting there trying to remember that last night, to try and understand what happened to Magda? A thought occurs to her, one that she has not thought for a long time: maybe he said something to Magda that last night, something that made her leave the house and go out. She has replayed the phone conversation many times. He had sounded very strange on the phone that day, when he called her at work and suggested they eat at a restaurant. She remembers that she had the feeling he had something important to tell her, and therefore wanted to do it in a special place. She is standing behind the tree with her gaze fixed on the house when she suddenly hears a rustling noise behind her. She jumps and turns around, only to find herself staring into a pair of eyes. A deer is standing two metres away from her, completely still, looking at her. The eyes are large and black as marbles. She hears it breathing. They are standing across from each other, watching each other 38


ÅSA

in silence. She does not know why, but she suddenly has the urge to touch it. Maybe to feel if it is real. She reaches out, but at the same time it turns around calmly and strolls away, disappearing into the darkness. When she comes back to the house half an hour later Martin has left for work. The door to Magda’s room is closed again.

Lars is waiting in reception. Maybe he wants to escort her past all of the gossipmongers and distrustful stares. Maybe he wants to show her off, proud of his friendship with a celebrity. It is not impossible. He is a classic narcissist and she does not trust him. When they each have a coffee in a plastic cup – she cannot help but wonder how many cups of coffee she has had from the machine – they sit down in his office. The purpose of the meeting is to prepare her for returning to work, he says, and she soon realises why he’d insisted that they not do it via telephone. When he stresses for the third time in fifteen minutes that there is no need to rush her into meeting patients again and then mentions ‘more administrative managerial tasks’ she asks him straight out, ‘You think the patients think I’m guilty and that’s why you don’t want me to have any contact with them, is that right?’ He gets up and walks over to the door and closes it. He gives her a sympathetic look that makes her even angrier and says, ‘I’m just saying there’s no hurry. I think everything will be fine. You just need to give it a little time.’ Even if the reason for these return trips to the hospital have just been to get a hold of the casebooks, and deep down she has absolutely no desire to start working again, she is annoyed that she is not allowed to. She stares at him, ‘I haven’t been on trial, I’ve never been sentenced. I haven’t even been investigated, even if my husband has, due to 39


INTO THE LABYRINTH

police incompetence. The fact that the tragedy that has befallen me should negatively affect my work situation is reprehensible.’ He leans forward, ‘It’s for your own sake. Do you really want to treat patients who . . .’ He stops and takes off his glasses, rubs his eyes. A trick Åsa noticed during her first week at the hospital, it is a way of making the patients feel like the person on the other side of the gigantic desk is calm. But she knows better. Lars is never calm inside. She realises that she has to get to the root of the problem. ‘Do you think I murdered my daughter? Do you think my husband did?’ He shakes his head. ‘Of course not, Åsa. Of course not.’ She looks at him, at his small pathetic body. Remembers when she ran into him once at Åhlén’s department store in the city and realised how scrawny he looked, without the white coat. Then she gets up and says, with her gaze set solidly on his, ‘Then I suggest we forget your mistake from a second ago and that you give me an hour with the casebooks here and now, so that I can become familiar with them. And then you initiate contact with my replacement so that I can return to my job and my patients soon. Otherwise I will be forced to take action.’ She will not accept that she does not get to come back. If she is going to stop working then it will be her choice, not his. Lars sits quietly and then says, ‘This isn’t just about how the patients see you. Your replacement has built up a relationship with them that I will safeguard. He has made good progress with some of them.’ She cannot help but smile. ‘Hasn’t it occurred to you that my replacement’s success is the result of the work I did before he took over?’ Then she stares at him and says, without blinking, ‘Give me the casebooks.’ He sits quietly for a long time. Then he turns around and unlocks the cabinet. 40


ÅSA

‘Here you go,’ he says, and gives her the pile of blue folders. ‘I’m going to have lunch so you can sit here and read.’ ‘Thank you.’ ‘Just put them on the desk when you’re done. The door will lock on its own.’ ‘Of course.’ As soon as he has left the room she goes over to the door to make sure he is out of sight. Then she quickly walks out into the hallway and sneaks over to the photocopy room.

She is sitting in the colourless winter light waiting for the bus. She peeks at the folders sticking up out of the plastic bag. In the end she cannot withstand the temptation. She takes out the folders and puts them on her lap. Debates whether she should open the first one now, or wait. Opening them would mean setting something in motion, and she is afraid of that. She fingers the files, and has that familiar feeling of newly awakened hope. But just as quickly as it appears it disappears. She recognises it, the mind’s instinct for self-preservation, which always keeps hope in check. Yet she feels a tension in the air, a voice whispering that there is something, somewhere, in that blue folder that will give her a clue. She wants to remain inside that feeling, and so leaves the folders where they are. She decides that this was the last time she’d be at the hospital. She has more important things to do; she has a job to do. A job that feels even more urgent now. As soon as she gets home she sits down with the casebooks and starts reading.

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Into the Labyrinth by Sigge Eklund  

An eleven-year-old girl, Magda, has disappeared. Her mother Åsa works every clue, obsessively trying to solve the mystery. Is she concerned,...

Into the Labyrinth by Sigge Eklund  

An eleven-year-old girl, Magda, has disappeared. Her mother Åsa works every clue, obsessively trying to solve the mystery. Is she concerned,...

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