Authors: Hakan Nesser
Thus we wreck our lives, at times and in moments when we fail to assign to our actions their true colour and significance
Tomas Borgmann, philosopher
21 July 1983
Winnie Maas died because she changed her mind.
Afterwards there were those who maintained that she died because she was beautiful and stupid – a combination acknowledged to be risky.
Or because she was gullible, and relied on the wrong people.
Or because her father was a shit who had abandoned his family long before Winnie had stopped using nappies or a baby’s bottle.
And there were others who claimed that Winnie Maas used to wear skirts that were rather too short and blouses that were rather too tight, and that in fact she had only herself to blame.
None of these explanations was totally without justification; but the thing that clinched it was that she changed her mind.
The moment before she hit the ground and smashed her skull on the steel rail, she even realized that herself.
She wiped away a tiny bit of extra lipstick and contemplated her image in the mirror. Opened her eyes wide and wondered if she needed a bit more eyeliner. It was a nuisance to
have to keep remembering to open her eyes wide – easier to apply a bit more liner underneath. She drew a thin line with the pencil, leaned towards the mirror and checked the result.
Pretty good, she thought, and transferred her attention to her mouth. Showed her teeth. They were even and white, and her gums were hidden behind her lips, thank goodness – not like Lisa
Paaske’s, who was very pretty with her green, slanting eyes and high cheekbones, but was condemned to wander around looking serious all the time, or at best to give an enigmatic smile, all
because her upper gums grew down so far. Huh, Winnie thought. That must be hard to keep up.
She checked her watch. A quarter to nine. High time she was on her way. She stood up, opened the wardrobe door and checked how she looked in the full-length mirror. Tried out a few poses,
thrusting out first her breasts, then her pelvis. She looked good, both high up and low down – she had just plucked out four strands of hair that had been sticking out dangerously close to
her bikini line. Light-coloured, but even so . . .
Perfect, Jürgen had said. I’ll be damned if your body isn’t perfect, Winnie.
Smashing, Janos had suggested, she recalled that clearly. You really are smashing, Winnie – I get a hard-on every time I walk past your house.
She smiled when she thought about Janos. Of all the boys she’d been with, Janos was the best. He’d done it in just the right way. He’d somehow managed to combine sensitivity
and tenderness, just as they said it should be in
Janos. In a way it was a pity that it wasn’t going to be Janos.
But so what? she thought, slapping her buttocks. No point in crying over spilled milk. She dug out a pair of lace panties from the dressing-table drawer, but she couldn’t find a clean bra
and so didn’t bother. She didn’t need one, after all. Her breasts were quite small, and firm enough not to sag. If there was anything about her body she would have liked to improve, it
would be slightly bigger breasts. Not much bigger, just a little bit. To be sure, Dick had said that she had the prettiest titties the world had ever seen, and he’d sucked and squeezed them
so thoroughly that they’d hurt for several days afterwards – but let’s face it: a few extra grams wouldn’t have done any harm.
But that’ll come, she thought. Pulled her T-shirt over her head and wriggled her way into her tight skirt. Yes indeed, it was only a matter of time before she started putting on weight.
Unless she . . .
Unless she . . .
For God’s sake, she thought, lighting a cigarette. I’m only sixteen. Mum was seventeen when it happened to her, and look how she’s turned out . . .
She made one last check in the dressing-table mirror, licked carefully round her lips, then set off.
Frieder’s Pier, half past nine, he’d said. He came on the train that arrived at half past eight, but wanted to go home and have a shower first, if she didn’t
mind. Of course she didn’t: she approved of men who kept themselves clean. Washed their hair and removed the dirt from under their fingernails – that showed they had a touch of class,
she felt. It would be the first time they’d met for three weeks: he’d been up in Saren, staying with an uncle. A mixture of work and holiday. They’d spoken on the telephone a few
times, and discussed ‘the project’, but she hadn’t told him that she’d changed her mind. She was going to do that now, this evening. Best to do it face to face, she’d
It was a warm evening. When she came down on to the beach, she felt almost sweaty after the short walk. But it was cooler down here. There was a pleasant, gentle breeze blowing from the sea; she
slipped off her canvas shoes and started walking barefoot over the sand. It was nice to feel the tiny grains rubbing against her toes. It was almost like being a child again. It didn’t do her
nail varnish any favours, of course, but she would put her shoes back on before she got there. Before she met Him. She liked to think about him having a capital H. He was worth that. Mind you, if
he wanted to have sex with her afterwards, it struck her, he would probably want her to be barefoot. But maybe it didn’t matter – in those circumstances it wasn’t usually her
toenails that he was most interested in.
And why would he not want to have sex with her? They hadn’t seen each other for ages, after all!
She paused and lit another cigarette. Moved closer to the waterline where the sand was more tightly packed and it was easier to walk. The beach was pretty deserted at this time in the evening,
but there were a few people around. An occasional jogger came running past, and she met an occasional dog-walker; she also knew that there would be quite a few young people necking on blankets in
among the dunes – they always did that in the summer. She often did it herself, and maybe they would end up there this evening as well.
Maybe, maybe not.
It would depend on how he reacted. She started thinking about it. Would he be angry? Would he grab hold of her and give her a good shaking, as he’d done that time in Horsens when
she’d been as high as a kite on hash, and rambled on about how she thought Matti Frege had nice muscles.
Or would he understand, and agree with her?
Perhaps he’d be able to talk her round. That wasn’t entirely out of the question, of course. Perhaps his unparalleled love for her would make her think again? And the money,
naturally. Was that a possibility?
No, she didn’t think so. She was feeling strong and certain about the decision she’d made, goodness knows why. Maybe because she’d been on her own and able to think things over
in peace and quiet for a few weeks.
But she knew that his love for her was all-consuming. He kept on telling her that, more or less every time they met. They were going to become an entity, they’d known that for a long time.
There was no doubt about it. They didn’t need to hurry things.
But what they certainly did need was money.
Money for food. For cigarettes and clothes and somewhere to live, perhaps. Especially in the longer term: they’d need lots of money then – after all, that’s why they’d
done what they’d done . . .
Thoughts had started wandering around inside her head, and she realized now that it was difficult to keep track of everything. There was so much to take into account when you started thinking
along these lines, and in the end you didn’t know if you were coming or going. That’s the way it nearly always turned out – it would be nice if somebody else could make the
decisions, she used to think. Make decisions about difficult matters, so that she could think about what she liked to think about instead.
Perhaps that’s why she was so much in love with him, of all people?
. He liked to make decisions about things that were a bit complicated and major. Such as this plan
they’d thought up. Yes, no doubt that was why she loved him, and wanted to be his. Yes indeed. Even if this last project had gone off the rails a bit, and she’d been forced to change
her mind. As already said.
She came to the pier, and looked around in the gathering gloom. He hadn’t arrived yet, she was a few minutes early. She could have continued walking along the beach – he lived out at
Klimmerstoft and would be coming from the opposite direction; but she didn’t bother. Sat down instead on one of the low stone walls that ran all the way along each side of the pier. Lit
another cigarette, despite the fact that she didn’t really want another one, and tried to think about something pleasant.
He turned up after another fifteen minutes or so. A bit late, but not all that much. She saw his white shirt approaching through the twilight long before he reached her, but
she remained sitting there until he came up to her. Then she stood up, put her arms round his neck and pressed the whole of her body against him. Kissed him.
She could taste that he’d taken a drop of the strong stuff, but only a little.
‘So you’re back.’
‘Did you have a good time?’
There was a moment’s silence. He was grasping her arms tightly.
‘There’s something I have to tell you,’ she said eventually.
He loosened his grip slightly.
‘I’ve changed my mind.’
‘Changed your mind?’
‘What the hell do you mean?’ he said. ‘Explain.’
She explained. She had trouble in finding the right words, but in the end he seemed to understand what she was saying. He didn’t respond at first, and she couldn’t see his face
clearly in the darkness. He’d let go of her altogether now. Half a minute passed, perhaps a whole one, and they just stood there. Stood there, breathing in time with the sea and the waves, as
it were, and there was something vaguely disturbing about it.
‘Let’s go for a walk,’ he said, putting his arm round her shoulders. ‘And have a little chat. I have an idea.’
Helmut had been against it all from the very start.
Looking back, she had to give him that much. ‘Daft,’ he’d said. ‘Bloody silly.’
He’d lowered the newspaper and glowered at her for a few seconds with those pale eyes of his, slowly grinding his teeth and shaking his head.
‘I can’t see the point of it. It’s unnecessary.’
That was all. Helmut wasn’t one to waste words. As far as he was concerned, all in all, it wasn’t a case of from dust thou art – stone more like.
From stone thou art, and unto stone thou shalt return. It was a thought she’d had before.
There are two sides to every coin, of course. She knew when she decided on him that she was not choosing storm and fire – not love and passion – but solid rock. Grey, primary rock on
which she could stand safely, without any risk of sinking down into the mire of despair once again.
Something like that.
That’s more or less what she’d thought fifteen years ago when he knocked on her door and explained that he had a bottle of Burgundy he’d bought while on holiday and
wouldn’t be able to drink it all himself.