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Authors: Camilla Grebe,Åsa Träff

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BOOK: Some Kind of Peace
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“And then?”

“And then it worked. Driving, that is. The thoughts didn’t come back. Although by then I had other thoughts, of course.”

Again, Peter falls silent. This time there is something different about his silence, and I can tell that we are starting to approach the reason he is seeking help right here and now. I also sense what I believe is hesitation; his thoughts are circling around something he doesn’t want to talk about. I glance at the clock. Our time is about to run out, and before the session is finished I want to give Peter a brief description of compulsive illness and explain that he can be helped.

I also want to give him some self-reporting scales to fill out for the next visit. If I press him too much now, he will start to open up, but we risk being forced to end the session before he is through talking—without my being able to give him adequate information on how he can work through his issues, and I don’t want to subject him to that. I decide to guide the session toward more practical matters instead and wrap it up.

“Okay,” I reply. “I understand. And next time we will focus more on just those thoughts. But now I would like to talk about what you’ve told me so far. Are you familiar with the term ‘obsessive-compulsive disorder’?”

Now that the day’s patients have gone, calm starts to settle over the office and I feel exhausted. The day was packed with appointments and an administrative meeting with Aina and Sven about the division of new cases and a final reminder about the practice’s annual crayfish party. The fast pace didn’t leave any time for my own thoughts. But now the fear and concern that I have tried to keep out of my mind since this morning come back and hit me with full force.

Who is secretly taking pictures of me? I try to think rationally and keep my anxiety in check. This is a joke, someone is playing a prank on me.

No one wishes me harm.

I’m just being paranoid.

But at the same time, there is another voice inside me, one that says that perhaps I have good reason to be worried. Several times this summer I had the unpleasant feeling of being watched while I was alone at home. Many late evenings I went up to my darkening windows and observed the garden, but it was always empty, extending peacefully and silently around my little cottage.

But what do you do when you receive an anonymous envelope with a picture of you?

Should I call the police?

Should I tell Aina?

Should I install an alarm at the house?

Lock myself in and never go out again?

I immediately reject the first idea. The police probably think this type of incident is a hair above kittens in trees on the danger scale. Putting alarms in the house and locking myself in feels like an overreaction. Only Aina remains. The problem with Aina is that I don’t know how she will react. What I fear most is that she will worry too much, and I am sick and
tired of wearing out my friends with my grief, my dwelling on things, and my anxiety. At the same time I realize that I would be angry with Aina if she withheld things from me just to
spare
me. So what can I do? Wait and see what happens? I decide that this is the wisest strategy. Perhaps it is only a prank after all.

I hear Marianne rummaging around at the reception desk and call to her. “Stop working, your workday is over!”

Marianne stops rustling papers, and I hear her steps as she approaches the kitchen.

“You look tired, Siri. Shall I make you a cup of coffee?” she asks in her usual caring way.

She turns her broad, sturdy back to me and takes two blue ceramic mugs out of the cupboard. I decline the coffee. The fact that I have employed a secretary is hard enough to handle. That she should make coffee for me to boot feels ridiculous. I can make my own coffee.

I watch Marianne as she stands with her back to me, arranging the instant coffee and the electric kettle. We live such different lives. Marianne is more than ten years older than me and had her children early, soon after the age of twenty. Now both sons have left home. The older has a tech company with a friend, and the younger is studying at the Royal Institute of Technology.

Marianne has had two marriages, one with the boys’ father, which lasted a few years, and one with a man who is referred to only as “Patrik the Pig.”

Patrik the Pig and Marianne were married for ten years before the most classic thing happened: He left her for his secretary. When Marianne first started working with us, she came across almost as a caricature of a man-hating, rejected woman. Yet behind her bitterness lay enormous sorrow. Presumably, the destruction of her second marriage was much too painful to face, but nevertheless, she ventured into a new relationship. Last spring, Marianne met a new man. She doesn’t say much about him, which is not unusual considering her previous experiences. But now there is a certain Christer whom she mentions at lunch and in the break room.

Aina’s theory is that Christer and Marianne live in some sort of asexual
symbiosis, a partnership that is more about golf, theater, and weekend trips than passion. One morning in the break room, Marianne declared out of the blue that she had “gotten over that thing with sex,” which felt “liberating.” Aina rolled her eyes and smothered a giggle, whereupon Marianne sniffed, offended, “Well, maybe you ought to consider it too…”

My relationship with Marianne is rather unclear. I don’t really know what I think about her. She is competent; keeps the patients’ records, sends notices, and takes care of other practical tasks. Work at the practice has gotten easier since she started. At the same time, I can’t stand her meddling and cloying mothering. I often think she treats Aina and me like two little girls who can’t blow our own noses. She has a desire to dominate and take over, and sometimes, though she means well, she tries to advise me regarding various patients, which drives me crazy. If in Marianne’s eyes Aina and I are little girls, then Sven on the other hand is God. As the older male, he is the king of the practice and must also be treated as such. His records are typed up the fastest and his letters are the first ones in the mailbox.

“Siri, you really ought to go home. You’re running yourself ragged.”

Marianne looks sincerely worried and I am immediately ashamed of my thoughts. Her consideration is genuine and I am sitting here thinking unfair, ugly, mean things about her.

“I’m just going to finish up a few preliminary notes,” I answer, trying to look happier than I am.

“You know, Siri, you are important to the practice and to your patients, but you’re not doing us any favors by wearing yourself out.
Go home!
Or go see a movie, or have a glass of wine with a girlfriend. Do
anything
except sit here. It’s a beautiful summer evening and you’re sitting here and… polishing your notes.
Go home!

She looks so stern that I start to giggle. Marianne’s concern suddenly feels welcome, and a feeling of warmth spreads inside me. I get up from the chair and push it in by the small table.

“You’re right, I will go home now. And you’re right—I am
hopeless
. I’ll go home. Rent a movie and eat candy.”

“Good girl. We’ll see you on Saturday,” she continues. “At the crayfish party. It’s going to be so nice—and I’m bringing Christer.”

Marianne pats me almost tenderly on the arm with her chubby hand, which is covered in liver spots, and I wonder for a moment if I’ve been wrong about her.

Maybe I’ve just never taken the time to find out who she really is.

A boat horn cuts through the stillness, car doors open and close, and a moment later there are voices. I’m in the kitchen, looking out over the bay. It’s time for one of the year’s social gatherings. Like at most offices, my colleagues and I try to boost the team spirit with parties and dinners: Christmas lunch in December, summer lunch in June, and a crayfish party at the end of August. I don’t know if these activities really bring us closer, or if the others, like me, see them simply as a necessary evil. Hours to be endured to please other people.

A couple of times I didn’t show up, blaming a cold or a sudden onset of migraine. Tonight that’s impossible, since the crayfish party traditionally takes place at my home. I do as I always do. Endure, despite the slight unease in my stomach. Tomorrow the party will be in the past and I will be on to the next thing.

I set the table with my old, chipped china set, napkins, and colorful paper lanterns in the twilight, as the water in the bay quiets down in the warm August evening, and think that this fits the cliché of a Swedish crayfish party.

Sven and Birgitta stand outside on the gravel drive, loaded down with bags of groceries and clinking beer bottles from the state liquor store, Systembolaget. Marianne stands behind them, with a tall, thin man with brown hair and goatee. Christer. A small bonus of work parties like this is the opportunity to meet people’s significant others. And I cannot deny that I am curious about this Christer, who has gotten Marianne to take a chance, to gradually soften and become more emotionally capable of opening up to a potential partner.

Maybe I’m jealous, too.

We exchange names and pleasantries while secretly taking stock of each other. I sense that Christer is observing me much in the same way that I am observing him.

Creating an impression. Drawing conclusions.

Marianne comes up to us and Christer immediately encloses her hand in his. I feel sympathy for this man. He radiates a peculiar mixture of confidence and nervousness, and seems to be most at ease in Marianne’s presence. There is something gentle and a little vulnerable about him, even though he discreetly wears all the accessories that indicate success: an expensive watch, a well-cut blazer, casual, good-looking shoes. I want him to feel welcome and try to convey this with a smile. He, in return, looks grateful, and the tension in the air slowly starts to ease. Marianne seems to pick up on this, and her slightly stiff posture changes to outright pride: He’s mine!

Marianne herself is unusually beautiful this late-summer evening. Her curly hair is set in a slightly old-fashioned but becoming hairstyle that immediately makes me think of the curlers and hairpins that Mom stored in an orange terry-cloth bag that disappeared sometime in the early eighties. Does anyone under the age of seventy still use curlers? Apparently. Marianne’s green dress shines against her suntanned skin, and there is a large bag from the Östermalm indoor market hanging from her arm.

“Well, here are fresh crayfish,” she says in a tone between accomplishment and embarrassment. “Christer thought… well, it’s enough for everyone…”

She gets appreciative looks from Birgitta and Sven, who appear uncharacteristically intimate, standing close to each other. Their solidarity with this new couple is so obvious, almost tangible, although I know that their relationship is far from uncomplicated. I suddenly feel extremely alone.

Aina is late, of course, but when she finally arrives she is in the company of a slim, ruddy guy I have never met before. This is not surprising. Aina has made it a sport to bring a different date to each and every work-related event we have ever had. I think she enjoys projecting the image of a wild femme fatale. Her date is about thirty-five years old and looks out of place in the group, with his overgrown beard and what I suspect will eventually grow into dreadlocks. He introduces himself as Robert and says that he is currently working on a doctoral dissertation in microbiology.

“And I’m a bass player in a band that will soon have a major breakthrough,” he adds, grinning.

The crayfish party proceeds exactly according to the tradition we established several years ago. In the dusky twilight, the table is set with crayfish, bread, and traditional Västerbotten quiche. Beer bottles and wine boxes are set out. Some kind of ice-chilled aquavit is poured into the beautiful little glasses I inherited from my grandfather. I put on a record by the Swedish rock band Kent and notice Aina’s Robert pretending to stick his fingers down his throat and throw up in disgust when he thinks only Aina is looking.

We embark hesitantly but adroitly on a conversation, tackling the weather, the new health-care contract with the county, and plans for next year’s vacation. Gradually the general conversation breaks up into different configurations. I hear Aina and Marianne talking about yoga. Christer and Robert are discussing music, and I am surprised at how knowledgeable Christer seems to be on this subject.

BOOK: Some Kind of Peace
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