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Authors: Liza Marklund

Lifetime (21 page)

BOOK: Lifetime
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The silence after the drawer closed with a bang echoed in his head. It would just have to stay there – he didn’t have the strength to think of another solution right now. He closed his eyes for a brief moment, then surveyed the newsroom and let his gaze rest on Torstensson.

The editor-in-chief was sitting at the foreign correspondent’s desk, looking vacant and out of place.

He doesn’t belong here
, Schyman thought, surprised by the sense of certainty that the thought aroused in him.

Annika’s knuckles whitened as she gripped the steering wheel.

‘Want me to drive?’ Anne Snapphane asked.

Annika shook her head and let her gaze sweep across the lake. The shoreline followed the road like a cat follows its mistress during a walk through the woods, taking certain diversions along the way but never straying too far, taking off incomprehensibly, but still present, always close to home.

They had stopped at the Statoil station in Flen and bought a bunch of summer flowers wrapped in plastic for SEK 39.50, checked out from the motel across the road and then headed for Mellösa and Hälleforsnäs.

The countryside was lush with the greenery of early summer, that lovely freshness before an orgy of chlorophyll made the different shades of green merge into one: saturation. The silence in the car was heavy but warm and friendly nonetheless. Anne’s tears had subsided, leaving her joints limber and her sinuses swollen. She stared unseeingly out of the window, allowing herself to be rocked and transported.

Annika knew the route without being consciously aware of it. The road and countryside were as familiar to her as if they were carved into her backbone; every last turn in the road, every stone and building had been a daily experience, come rain or come shine, in the heat and in the snow – the route she had taken to school, her childhood’s points of reference, her foundation.

‘When was the last time you paid your respects at the grave?’ Anne asked in a voice that was composed without being tense.

Annika swallowed.

‘It’s been way too long. When I was expecting Ellen.’

She turned off on the road to Harpsund, crossing the railroad tracks and heading up through the ancient village where the church reposed on the hilltop. She made a left turn at the No Stopping sign and parked next to a pine hedge. She sat still for a few minutes before picking up the flowers, now limp from the heat, and venturing out into the sun.

The dazzling white church was on the left, and Annika noticed a couple leaning on their canes proceeding slowly past the older grave sites. The newer part of the cemetery was on a slope facing the lake, enclosed by hedges of pine and murmuring birch trees. The crunch of the gravel underfoot echoed in the silence. Annika walked carefully, almost furtively. Her gaze swept over the headstones, the old-fashioned Swedish names, the sharecroppers and farmers with time-honoured last names like Andersson, Petersson, Johansson and Eriksson. As she reached the steps, she hesitated and took three deep breaths, watching the sun play a cat-and-mouse game with the shoreline.

It’s beautiful here, Gran
, Annika thought.
This is a fine place for you.

She descended the five steps to the next level and went to the left, above the area with the watering cans, plastic vases and garbage cans, passing the grave of the twenty-one-year-old soldier who had died at the Finnish front, on the Svir River, fighting for the freedom of the Nordic countries. There was the reddish-grey granite headstone, polished and lettered with gold: Sofia Katarina. Annika’s grandfather rested by Sofia Katarina’s side. Annika sank to her knees, the soft grass coating her legs with moisture. Not bothering to use a vase, she laid the flowers, still wrapped in plastic, on the grave.

You would have believed that I was doing the right thing
, she thought.

Gran’s voice resonated inside her, as strangely youthful and vibrant as when she was alive:
You have to be able to support yourself, you need to have a job. Never let yourself be dependent on a man to put food on the table, do you hear that, Annika? Get a good job.

‘I have a daughter,’ Annika whispered. ‘I have two children now.’

The next thought she didn’t speak aloud.

You wouldn’t have approved of me not being married.

She tried to pray:
Our Father Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come . .
. But the prayer trailed off, leaving only the whispering of the birch trees, the gentle rustling of the aspen and the rhythm of a train on its way to Eskilstuna.

I miss you, Gran. I miss you every single day. I need you. The loss of your love is like a hole in my soul.

Grief and self-pity shot hot tears into Annika’s eyes. She swiped at them impatiently and quickly walked away.

‘Do you have time for a detour?’ she asked her friend as she got back into the car.

Anne Snapphane was leaning back against the headrest and her eyes were closed.

‘I’ll go wherever you’re going.’

They left the church and made a left turn on the road that wound its way past the log cabins, sweeping past doorways and barns, glassed-in porches and tractors.

Once they had left the village, the country road smoothly accommodated the undulating landscape with its ancient property borders. Red cottages with white trimming nestled on the fringes of the woods, the sun shimmering in handmade glass panes. Thousands of purplish lupins abounded. As they reached the drive leading to the summer residence of the Prime Minister, damp, dark woods enveloped them. Then the surroundings opened up on Lake Harpsund with its famed rowboat, the one that heads of state had gone rowing in. The manor house, done in the style inspired by Sweden’s King Karl XII, was located by the road. The cars with tinted-glass windows and the guards posted by the walls gave away the fact that the Prime Minister was on the premises. Annika slowed down, delighting in the view of the grounds.

‘Gran was the matron here.’

Anne Snapphane nodded silently.

Slowly, they made their way along the sharply winding road through Granhed and the dark woods by Lake Hosjön.

‘And Lyckebo is over there,’ Annika said, pointing at a spot higher up on the shore. The farmer had thinned out the trees and the lake was visible from the road. ‘Gran’s cottage. Well, actually it belonged to the Harpsund estate. She only leased it. And now the place is a hunting lodge.’

They approached Hälleforsnäs. Annika slowed the car down and felt her pulse rev up.

‘This is where you grew up,’ Anne Snapphane observed, sitting up straight.

Annika nodded. Her throat had constricted. A left turn brought them to the old ironworks, rusting and covered with soot. The plaster was falling away and the gaping windows were boarded up. She stopped by the gate and the barbed-wire fence and stared at the piles of junk and the crumbling exterior of the buildings.

‘The blast-furnace?’ Anne asked.

Annika nodded again and averted her gaze, not wanting to see the chimney that had channelled smoke and fire from the depths of the furnace. The asphalt at her feet was scarred and patched, the potholes in the road still filled with water.

There was no conscious plan in her mind as she left the car, its engine idling, and took a few steps uphill. A breeze swept past smelling of exhaust fumes and long-forgotten industrial waste. The wind turned sharp and oppressive, stinging her eyes.

Anne came up behind her. Annika pointed.

‘They call that development “Gypsy Hill”. That’s where my mother lives. And my sister.’

The anonymous narrow buildings dotted the hillside above them, red-painted houses built in the 1940s, surrounded by weeds and plastic outdoor furniture, all sharing a view of the ironworks. The wind continued to spiral upward, caressing the empty exteriors and peeling paint. Back in the 1960s the place had been crawling with children but now many of the homes had been abandoned and there was no one in sight. They listened to the emptiness. Somewhere a fan was running, and music could be heard in the distance.

‘Where did you used to live?’

Annika looked up at the sun-drenched houses, so cold in winter and unbearably hot in summer, and took a deep breath, making a decision to let her pain surface.

Only it didn’t.

There was nothing but the cracked sidewalk to her right and the advancing dandelions to the left of the asphalt.

‘Let’s go,’ she said, abruptly turning and heading back to the car.

As soon as Anne Snapphane was seated Annika put the car in first gear and drove up the hill, remembering the time she had been here, back when she had first met Thomas, and realized that someone had moved into her old apartment. She recalled the mixed feelings of sadness and relief. A chapter was over, someone else was taking care of what had once been hers.

‘My apartment was over there. The window with the crocheted lampshades.’

Annika pointed it out and was filled with a sense of unreality. Had she really ever lived here? The windows were sparkling clean and displayed potted plants. That reality belonged to someone else now, it was a part of someone else’s life.

‘I’ve seen more cheerful places,’ Anne Snapphane commented.

They went right, passed the church and reached the Co-op supermarket, where bicycles were parked out front. Pansies and marigolds were crowded together in large planters by the entrance; they fluttered in the breeze, their gaudy colours crying out for attention before it was too late.

‘Isn’t this where your mother works?’

‘At least she did the last time she called me,’ Annika said, tearing her gaze away from the flowers.

They drove through the community, passing
Folkets Hus
, the community centre, the miniature golf course, the rest home, the lamp store and the railroad station. Annika looked around and remembered. The sleeping houses and the swaying trees, the heat of the asphalt and the paving stones. And the huge street that split the whole town in two, it had frightened her so. Now it struck her as narrow and short. The big road, always watch out when you cross the main road – she had been afraid to cross the street on her own until she was in fourth grade.

By now, Anne had lost interest and was resting her head against the window, her eyes closed.

They passed the railroad crossing right by the Hållsta intersection and passed the Erlandsson place. Annika shifted into fourth gear.

As soon as the town disappeared from view, it ceased to exist. The brittle feeling of being locked in the past burst like a bubble; it vanished and was forgotten. Something else began to prey on Annika’s mind.

Thomas hadn’t called all day. Back at his childhood stomping grounds he wasn’t thinking about her at all. The children were creating their own points of reference without her. She wasn’t a part of the foundation.

‘Don’t you want to marry Mehmed?’ Annika asked.

Anne Snapphane looked up, dazed and a bit surprised.

‘Get married? Are you out of your mind? Why would I want to do that?’

‘The two of you have a child together.’

‘Come on, we don’t even live together. Does this have anything to do with your grandmother?’

Annika rolled up her side window, closing it entirely.

‘I want Thomas and me to get married,’ she said. ‘I really do.’

‘Why?’

She shrugged and braked when she caught sight of a deer at the edge of the forest. Then she accelerated once more.

‘To show the world that we belong together.’

‘You still do, even if you don’t get married. Has that gossip got you down?’

‘Maybe.’

They sat in silence as the fan stirred up a new-car smell. The surrounding woods were reduced to a green blur as they sped along.

‘What was it like?’ Annika asked in a low voice.

Anne Snapphane looked out of the window on her side for a few seconds.

‘Awful,’ she finally said. ‘Pretty shitty, to tell you the truth.’

‘What was the worst part?’

Anne stared out the window again.

‘The guilt,’ she said. ‘The feeling that it was all my fault. The suspicion.’

Then she turned her head and studied Annika’s face in profile.

‘For a while there, I thought they were going to arrest me. That they thought I had done it.’

Annika glanced over at Anne.

‘Why would you think such a thing?’

Anne Snapphane took a deep breath, filling her lungs with resolve.

‘My prints were on the murder weapon.’

‘Oh, my God,’ Annika exclaimed. ‘Why?’

‘Because I held the damn thing. Only so did practically everyone else.’

Anne Snapphane looked at Annika.

‘In case you were wondering, I didn’t do it.’

‘Of course I don’t think you did it.’

They reached Bäckåsen and turned right, in the direction of Malmköping.

‘From what I hear, the whole session was pretty rough going,’ Annika said.

Anne Snapphane swallowed.

‘A hostess and a researcher,’ she said. ‘It was humiliating. I deserved a promotion, but right before we got started on the series, I was demoted instead.’

‘But you know the reason for that,’ Annika countered. ‘It wasn’t personal. It was because of the cutbacks.’

‘I’ve been a member of the editorial staff for years. The next step should be producer, not hostess, damn it! I should have quit last spring. Guess what I’m supposed to do all week? Label the tapes, take note of the time codes, name cards and junk like that. It’s totally insane. Thank God they impounded the damn stuff.’

‘I’ve just got to have some sweets,’ Annika said. ‘Want some?’

They went into the service station in Malmköping and bought some papers, some cola and a half-kilo of sweets.

‘Do you think they’ll air the shows?’ Annika asked as they pulled out on the road to Strängnäs.

‘I should think so,’ Anne Snapphane said as she chomped away at a salty licorice treat called
häxvrål
, ‘howling witches’. ‘I can’t imagine that TV Plus would can this golden egg. What did Highlander say?’

‘That he would have to confer with the head office in London and delineate the policy regarding the commemoration of Michelle’s memory, and a lot of junk like that.’

BOOK: Lifetime
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