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Authors: Hakan Nesser

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BOOK: The Weeping Girl
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As she was walking, she started thinking about what she’d said to the woman on the train.

The truth, but not the whole truth.

Not quite the whole truth. She knew a bit more than she’d admitted, and now she had a bad conscience for keeping that extra bit to herself. A little prick, at least. The woman had been
friendly and gone out of her way to help her; she could have told her a bit more, she really could.

But then she hadn’t told her any lies. It really was true that her mum had said very little about the background, no more than Mikaela had told the woman on the train.

Something had happened.

Sixteen years ago.

Something involving her dad.

What?
What?
Now when she thought back to yesterday’s conversation with her mother, she found it almost more difficult than ever to understand her mum’s attitude. More
difficult than when they’d been sitting at the breakfast table but miles apart mentally, and she’d heard the name for the first time.

Arnold Maager.

Arnold? For twelve years she’d had a dad called Helmut. For three years she’d had one without a name. But now he was suddenly called Arnold.

What happened? she had asked her mother. Tell me what happened that was so horrible. Then, sixteen years ago.

But her mother had simply shaken her head.

But you must understand that you have to say B once you’ve said A, Mikaela had insisted. That’s what her mother always used to tell her. I have a right to know.

More head-shaking, more firmly than ever. Then that harangue.

Yes, you have a right to know who your father is, Mikaela, and I’ve told you that now. But it wouldn’t help you at all to know exactly what happened, why I left him. Believe me,
Mikaela. I wouldn’t be doing this if it weren’t necessary, surely you can understand that?

I’ll find out anyway.

That’s up to you. You’re eighteen now. But I’m just thinking what’s best for you.

That’s as far as they’d got, even though they’d been sitting there in the kitchen for half an hour. Mikaela had begged and pleaded. Nagged and cursed and wept, but her mother
wouldn’t budge.

As sometimes happened. Mikaela had beaten her head against the wall before. She knew what usually happened, and what it felt like. But the distance between them never used to be as wide as this.
It was quite remarkable.

Auntie Vanja was the answer: that had also happened before. Mikaela shut herself away in her room and telephoned her immediately after the conversation in the kitchen. Explained the situation
with no beating about the bush, and after a lot of intensive persuasion, she succeeded. Just when she’d been on the point of giving up. Auntie Vanja had told her. Not a lot, it’s true,
but a little bit . . . Opened the curtain slightly, as the saying goes.

He killed somebody, your dad did. A young girl . . . Well, it was never actually proved that he did it.

Pause.

But it’s obvious it was him.

Pause.

And then he couldn’t cope with what he’d done. He fell to pieces – it’s best not to dig around into it any more, I’ve said too much already.

Who?

Who had he killed? Why?

But Auntie Vanja had refused to go into that. The curtain was now closed again, it wasn’t any business of hers and she’d already said too much. He was presumably still in that home
near Lejnice, she thought so at least. He’d gone there more or less straight away. But it’s best to forget all about it. Forget and move on.

Mikaela knew that already. That he was in that home – her mother had told her as much. I wonder why, Mikaela thought when she had thanked her aunt and hung up. Why had her mother told her
that? If she didn’t want her daughter to start rooting around and finding out things, surely it would have been better not to give her that piece of information?

Or to say nothing at all?

I have to,
she had explained.
I’m obliged to tell you your father’s name and I’m obliged to tell you where he is. But I hope . . . I hope with all my heart that
you don’t go and visit him.

With all my heart? Mikaela thought. That sounded rather pathetic. And incomprehensible. Both yesterday and today. Just as incomprehensible as her mother’s actions were now and then. And to
be honest, she was less surprised than she ought to have been. Less surprised than other eighteen-year-olds would have been in her situation.

I’m used to living on a knife-edge, she’d thought. For better or worse. I’m prepared for almost anything.

Perhaps that was why she’d chosen to tell the woman on the train not quite everything? Because she was ashamed of her crackpot family, just as she’d said!

Killed somebody?
Good God, no, that was a step too far.

She came to the bridge. Crossed over and turned right. The overgrown ditch was dried out more or less completely: only a narrow, sticky string of mud down at the very bottom betrayed the fact
that this was normally where the waters of the River Muur flowed. When the climate was rather different from what it was now. A large sign on a pole imparted this information, and also that the
Sidonis Foundation was a mere couple of hundred metres further on.

Two hundred metres, Mikaela thought, and took a drink of water. After eighteen years – or sixteen, to be precise – I’m a mere two hundred metres away from my father.

The buildings were pale yellow in colour and surrounded by park-like grounds inside a low stone wall and a strip of deciduous trees. Elms or maples, she wasn’t sure
which. Perhaps both, some seemed to be a bit different. Three buildings in fact: quite a large four-storey one, and two smaller ones two storeys high, forming two wings. A small asphalted car park
with about ten vehicles. A black dog tethered outside an outbuilding, barking. No trace of any people. She followed the signs up the stairs in the main building, and stopped at an information desk.
Two elderly women were deep in conversation with their backs towards her, and it was some time before she managed to attract their attention.

She explained why she was there, and was invited to take a seat.

After a few minutes a young man with a beard and wearing glasses appeared from out of a corridor, and asked if she was Mikaela Lijphart. She said that she was. He shook hands, and bade her
welcome. Said his name was Erich, and that it was lovely weather. Then he beckoned her to follow him. He led her along two green corridors and up two blue staircases; she stayed a couple of paces
behind him, and felt that she needed to go to the toilet. The water, of course. She had drunk the whole bottle while walking to the home.

They came to some kind of sitting room with a few sofa groups and a television set. There was still no sign of any people, and she wondered whether everybody had gone for a walk in view of the
weather. For there must surely be other patients as well as her dad? Other psychiatric cases. She noticed a toilet door and asked Eric to wait for a moment.

Good Lord, she thought when she had finished and was washing away the worst of the summer heat. I want to go home. If he’s gone when I come out of here, I’ll do a runner.

But he was standing there, waiting.

‘Arnold Maager is your father, is that right?’

She nodded, and tried to swallow.

‘You’ve never met him before?’

‘No. Unless . . . No. This will be the first time.’

He smiled, and she assumed he was trying to look benevolent. He couldn’t be more than two or three years older than she was, she thought. Twenty-one, twenty-two perhaps. She took a deep
breath, and realized that she was shaking slightly.

‘Nervous?’

She sighed.

‘It’s a bit nerve-racking.’

He scratched at his beard and seemed to be thinking.

‘He’s not all that talkative, your dad. Not normally, at least. But you don’t need to worry. Do you want to be alone with him?’

‘Of course. Why? . . . Is there something . . . ?

He shrugged.

‘No, not at all. I’ll take you to his room. If you want to sit there, that’s no problem. Or you could go for a walk in the grounds – he likes to wander about . . .
There’s tea and coffee in the kitchen as well.’

‘Thank you.’

He pointed the way to a new, short corridor. Let her go first.

‘Here we are. Number 16. I’ll be down in the office if there’s anything you want.’

He knocked on the door and opened it without waiting for a response. She closed her eyes and counted to five. Then she stepped inside.

7

The man sitting in the armchair by the open window reminded her of a bird.

That was her first thought, and somehow it stayed with her.

My dad’s a bird.

He was small and thin. Dressed in worn and shabby corduroy trousers far too big for him, and a blue shirt hanging loose over his hunched shoulders. The head on his skinny neck was long and
narrow, his eyes dark and sunken, and his nose sharp and slightly curved. Thick hair, cut short. Mousy in colour. And stubble a few days old that was a shade darker.

He put down the book he was reading and looked at her for two seconds, then looked away.

She remained in the doorway, holding her breath. She suddenly felt convinced that she was in the wrong place. That she – or rather, the young carer – had come to the wrong room.
Could this really be her father? Could this tiny creature be—

‘Are you Arnold Maager?’ she said, cutting short her thoughts. Felt surprised that her voice sounded so steady, despite everything.

He looked up at her again. Licked his lips with the tip of his tongue.

‘Who are you?’

The words sounded as insubstantial as the creature who had uttered them. She put her rucksack on the floor and sat down in the other armchair. Waited for a few moments while continuing to look
him in the eye, and decided that he didn’t actually look all that old. About forty-five, she thought. Her mother was forty-three, so that could be about right.

‘My name’s Mikaela. You’re my dad.’

He made no reply. Didn’t react at all.

‘I’m your daughter,’ she added.

‘My daughter? Mikaela?’

He seemed to shrivel up even more, and the words were so faint that she could hardly make them out. The book fell to the floor, but he made no attempt to pick it up. His hands were shaking
slightly.

Don’t start crying, she thought. Please, Dad, don’t start crying.

Looking back, she found it hard to say how long they had sat there in silence, opposite each other. Perhaps it was only half a minute, perhaps it was ten. It was all so odd,
every second seemed both static and gigantic, and when quite a few of them had passed she slowly began to realize something she hadn’t grasped before – nor even thought about . . .
Something about language and silence. And perceptions.

It wasn’t at all clear, but for the first time in her life she suddenly noticed that it was possible to experience things without talking about them. Experience things together with
somebody else, without putting anything into words, not even for herself. Neither while things were actually happening, nor later . . . That words, those unwieldy words, could never be one hundred
per cent accurate, and that it was sometimes necessary to desist from using them. Not to let them trample all over experiences, and distort them.

Just to sit there in silence and experience things. To let everything be exactly what it was. Anyway, something along those lines is what she became aware of. Discovered during her first meeting
with her dad. Her bird dad.

During half a minute. Or maybe ten.

Then he stood up, walked over to the bureau next to his bed and opened the bottom drawer.

‘I’ve written to you,’ he said. ‘It’s good that you’ve come to collect it.’

He produced a bundle of letters. It was at least six inches thick, and tied up by a length of black tape the shape of a cross on the top surface.

‘It’ll be best if you throw them away. But as you’re here, you might as well have them.’

He put the bundle down on the table between them, and sat down again.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘But you shouldn’t have come. I think it would be best if you left now.’

He blinked a few times, and jerked his head from side to side. He was no longer looking at her, and she assumed he felt uncomfortable. That he thought it was awkward to be sitting here with his
daughter who had just materialized out of nowhere.

‘I want to get to know you and talk to you,’ she said. ‘I didn’t know who you were until yesterday. I want to know why that has been the case.’

‘It’s all my fault,’ he said. ‘I did something terrible, and it’s right that things have turned out as they have. There’s nothing to be done about it.
It’s not possible.’

He jerked his head from side to side again.

‘I don’t understand,’ said Mikaela. ‘I need to know in order to understand.’

‘It’s not possible,’ he repeated.

Then he sat there in silence, staring down at the table. Leaned forward, clutching the arms of his chair. More time passed.

‘You have another dad now. It’s best the way things are. Go now.’

She could feel the sobs welling up in her throat.

Look at me, she thought. Touch me! Say that you are my dad, and that you’re pleased that I’ve come to see you at last!

But he just sat there. The remarkable silence had gone – or was changed – and now, all of a sudden, there was merely repugnance and hopelessness. Just think that moments could
disintegrate so quickly, she thought, feeling increasingly desperate. Disintegrate so totally.

‘I don’t even know what happened,’ she whispered, trying somehow to force back the tears thumping away behind her eyes. ‘My mum doesn’t say anything, and you
don’t say anything. Can’t you understand that you have to tell me? You bastards . . . You fucking bastards!’

She heaved herself up out of the armchair and stood in front of the open window instead. Turned her back on him. Leaned out and squeezed the sharp tinplate on the window ledge until her fingers
caused her agony, succeeding in forcing back her despair with the aid of the pain and her fury. You bastards, she kept repeating in her thoughts. Bloody fucking bastards – yes, that’s
exactly what they were!

BOOK: The Weeping Girl
3.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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