فصل 17

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فصل 17

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17

A MAN CALLED OVE AND A CAT ANNOYANCE IN A SNOWDRIFT

Is it dead?” Parvaneh asks in terror as she rushes forward as quickly as her pregnant belly will allow and stands there staring down into the hole.

“I’m not a vet,” Ove replies—not in an unfriendly way. Just as a point of information.

He doesn’t understand where this woman keeps appearing from all the time.

Can’t a man calmly and quietly stand over a cat-shaped hole in a snowdrift in his own garden anymore?

“You have to get him out!” she cries, hitting him on the shoulder with her glove.

Ove looks displeased and pushes his hands deeper into his jacket pockets. He is still having a bit of trouble breathing.

“Don’t have to at all,” he says.

“Jesus, what’s wrong with you?”

“I don’t get along with cats very well,” Ove informs her and plants his heels in the snow.

But her gaze when she turns around makes him move a little farther away.

“Maybe he’s sleeping,” he offers, peering into the hole. Before adding: “Otherwise he’ll come out when it thaws.”

When the glove comes flying towards him again he confirms to himself that keeping a safe distance was a very sound idea.But the next thing he knows Parvaneh has dived into the snowdrift; she emerges seconds later with the little deep-frozen creature in her thin arms. It looks like four ice pops clumsily wrapped in a shredded scarf.

“Open the door!” she yells, really losing her composure now.

Ove presses the soles of his shoes into the snow. He had certainly not begun this day with the intention of letting either women or cats into his house, he’d like to make that very clear to her. But she comes right at him with the animal in her arms and determination in her steps. It’s really only a question of the speed of his reactions whether she walks through him or past him. Ove has never experienced a worse woman when it comes to listening to what decent people tell her. He feels out of breath again. He fights the impulse to clutch his breast.

She keeps going. He gives way. She strides past.

The small icicle-decorated package in her arms obstinately brings up a flow of memories in Ove’s head before he can put a stop to them: memories of Ernest, fat, stupid old Ernest, so beloved of Sonja that you could have bounced fivekronor coins on her heart whenever she saw him.

“OPEN THE DOOR THEN!” Parvaneh roars and looks round at Ove so abruptly that there’s a danger of whiplash.

Ove hauls out the keys from his pocket. As if someone else has taken control of his arm. He’s having a hard time accepting what he’s actually doing. One part of him in his head is yelling “NO” while the rest of his body is busy with some sort of teenage rebellion.

“Get me some blankets!” Parvaneh orders and runs across the threshold with her shoes still on.

Ove stands there for a few moments, catching his breath; he furtively scoops up the envelope with his final instructions from the mat before he ambles off after her.

“It’s bloody freezing in here. Turn up the radiators!” Parvaneh tosses out the words as if this is something quite obvious, gesturing impatiently at Ove as she puts the cat down on his sofa.

“There’ll be no turning up of radiators here,” Ove announces firmly. He parks himself in the living room doorway and wonders whether she might try to swat him again with the glove if he tells her at least to put some newspapers under thecat. When she turns to him again he decides to give it a miss. Ove doesn’t know if he’s ever seen such an angry woman.

“I’ve got a blanket upstairs,” he says at long last, avoiding her gaze by suddenly feeling incredibly interested in the hall lamp.

“Get it then!”

Ove looks as if he’s repeating her words to himself, though silently, in an affected, disdainful voice; but he takes off his shoes and crosses the living room at a cautious distance from her glove-striking range.

All the way up and down the stairs he mumbles to himself about why it has to be so damned difficult to get any peace and quiet on this street. Upstairs he stops and takes a few deep breaths. The pain in his chest has gone. His heart is beating normally again. It happens now and then, and he no longer gets stressed about it.

It always passes. And he won’t be needing that heart for very much longer, so it doesn’t matter either way.

He hears voices from the living room. He can hardly believe his ears.

Considering how they are constantly preventing him from dying, these neighbors of his are certainly not shy when it comes to driving a man to the brink of madness and suicide. That’s for sure.

When Ove comes back down the stairs with the blanket in his hand, the overweight young man from next door is standing in the middle of his living room, looking with curiosity at the cat and Parvaneh.

“Hey, man!” he says cheerfully and waves at Ove.

He’s only wearing a T-shirt, even though there’s snow outside.

“Okay,” says Ove, silently appalled that you can pop upstairs for a moment only to find when you come back down that you’ve apparently started a bedand-breakfast operation.

“I heard someone shouting, just wanted to check that everything was cool here,” says the young man jovially, shrugging his shoulders so that his back blubber folds the T-shirt into deep wrinkles.

Parvaneh snatches the blanket out of the Ove’s hand and starts wrapping the cat in it.

“You’ll never get him warm like that,” says the young man pleasantly.

“Don’t interfere,” says Ove, who, while perhaps not an expert at defrosting cats, does not appreciate at all having people marching into his house and issuingorders about how things should be done.

“Be quiet, Ove!” says Parvaneh and looks entreatingly at the young man.

“What shall we do, then? He’s ice-cold!”

“Don’t tell me to be quiet,” mumbles Ove.

“He’ll die,” says Parvaneh.

“Die my ass, he’s just a bit chilly—” Ove interjects, in a new attempt to regain control over the situation.

The Pregnant One puts her index finger over his lips and hushes him. Ove looks so absurdly irritated at this it’s as if he’s going to break into some sort of rage-fueled pirouette.

When Parvaneh holds up the cat, it has started shifting in color from purple to white. Ove looks a little less sure of himself when he notices this. He glances at Parvaneh. Then reluctantly steps back and gives way.

The young, overweight man takes off his T-shirt.

“But what the . . . this has got to be . . . what are you DOING?” stutters Ove.

His eyes flicker from Parvaneh by the sofa, with the defrosting cat in her arms and water dripping onto the floor, to the young man standing there with his torso bare in the middle of Ove’s living room, the fat trembling over his chest down towards his knees, as if he were a big mound of ice cream that had first melted and then been refrozen.

“Here, give him to me,” says the young man unconcernedly and reaches over with two arms thick as tree trunks towards Parvaneh.

When she hands over the cat he encloses it in his enormous embrace, pressing it against his chest as if trying to make a gigantic cat spring roll.

“By the way, my name’s Jimmy,” he says to Parvaneh and smiles.

“I’m Parvaneh,” says Parvaneh.

“Nice name,” says Jimmy.

“Thanks! It means ‘butterfly.’” Parvaneh smiles.

“Nice!” says Jimmy.

“You’ll smother that cat,” says Ove.

“Oh, give it a rest, will you, Ove,” says Jimmy.

“I reckon it would rather freeze to death in a dignified manner than be strangled,” he says to Jimmy, nodding at the dripping ball of fluff pressed into his arms.Jimmy pulls his good-tempered face into a big grin.

“Chill a bit, Ove. You can say what you like about us fatties, but we’re awesome when it comes to pumping out a bit of heat!”

Parvaneh peers nervously over his blubbery upper arm and gently puts the palm of her hand against the cat’s nose. Then she brightens.

“He’s getting warmer,” she exclaims, turning to Ove in triumph.

Ove nods. He was about to say something sarcastic to her. Now he finds, uneasily, that he’s relieved at the news. He distracts himself from this emotion by assiduously inspecting the TV remote control.

Not that he’s concerned about the cat. It’s just that Sonja would have been happy. Nothing more than that.

“I’ll heat some water,” says Parvaneh, and in a single snappy movement she slips past Ove and is suddenly standing in his kitchen, tugging at his kitchen cabinets.

“What the hell,” mumbles Ove as he lets go of the remote control and tears off in pursuit.

When he gets there, she’s standing motionless and slightly confused in the middle of the floor with his electric kettle in her hand. She looks a bit overwhelmed, as if the realization of what’s happened has only just hit her.

It’s the first time Ove has seen this woman run out of something to say. The kitchen has been cleared and tidied, but it’s dusty.

It smells of brewed coffee, there’s dirt in the crannies, and everywhere are Ove’s wife’s things. Her little decorative objects in the window, her hair clips left on the kitchen table, her handwriting on the Post-it notes on the fridge.

The kitchen is filled with those soft wheel marks. As if someone has been going back and forth with a bicycle, thousands of times.

The stove and kitchen counter are noticeably lower than is usual.

As if the kitchen had been built for a child. Parvaneh stares at them the way people always do when they see it for the first time. Ove has got used to it. He rebuilt the kitchen himself after the accident. The council refused to help, of course.

Parvaneh looks as if she’s somehow got stuck.

Ove takes the electric kettle out of her outstretched hands without looking into her eyes. Slowly he fills it with water and plugs it in.“I didn’t know, Ove,” she whispers, contrite.

Ove leans over the low sink with his back to her. She comes forward and puts her fingertips gently on his shoulder.

“I’m sorry, Ove. Really. I shouldn’t have barged into your kitchen without asking first.”

Ove clears his throat and nods without turning around. He doesn’t know how long they stand there. She lets her enervated hand rest on his shoulder. He decides not to push it away.

Jimmy’s voice breaks the silence.

“You got anything to eat?” he calls out from the living room.

Ove’s shoulder slips away from Parvaneh’s hand. He shakes his head, wipes his face with the back of his hand, and heads off to the fridge still without looking at her.

Jimmy clucks gratefully when Ove comes out of the kitchen and hands him a sausage sandwich. Ove parks himself a few yards away and looks a bit grim.

“So how is he, then?” he says with a curt nod at the cat in Jimmy’s arms.

Water is dripping liberally onto the floor now, but the animal is slowly but surely regaining both its shape and color.

“Seems better, no?” Jimmy grins as he wolfs down the sandwich in a single bite.

Ove gives him a skeptical look. Jimmy is perspiring like a bit of pork left on a sauna stove. There’s something mournful in his eyes when he looks back at Ove.

“You know it was . . . pretty bad with your wife, Ove. I always liked her. She made, like, the best chow in town.”

Ove looks at him, and for the first time all morning he doesn’t look a bit angry.

“Yes. She . . . cooked very well,” he agrees.

He goes over to the window and, with his back to the room, tugs at the latch as if to check it. Pokes the rubber seal.

Parvaneh stands in the kitchen doorway, wrapping her arms around herself and her belly.

“He can stay here until he’s completely defrosted, then you have to take him,” says Ove, shrugging towards the cat.He can see in the corner of his eye how she’s peering at him. As if she’s trying to figure out what sort of hand he has from the other side of a casino table.

It makes him uneasy.

“I’m afraid I can’t,” she says after that. “The girls are . . . allergic,” she adds.

Ove hears a little pause before she says “allergic.” He scrutinizes her suspiciously in the reflection in the window, but does not answer. Instead he turns to the overweight young man.

“So you’ll have to take care of it,” he says.

Jimmy, who’s not only sweating buckets now but also turning blotchy and red in his face, looks down benevolently at the cat. It’s slowly started moving its stump of a tail and burrowing its dripping nose deeper into Jimmy’s generous folds of upper-arm fat.

“Don’t think it’s such a cool idea me taking care of the puss, sorry, man,” says Jimmy and shrugs tremulously, so that the cat makes a circus tumble and ends up upside down. He holds out his arms. His skin is red, as if he’s on fire.

“I’m a bit allergic as well. . . .”

Parvaneh gives off a little scream, runs up to him, and takes the cat away from him, quickly enfolding it in the blanket again.

“We have to get Jimmy to a hospital!” she yells.

“I’m barred from the hospital,” Ove replies, without thinking.

When he peers in her direction and she looks ready to throw the cat at him, he looks down again and groans disconsolately. All I want is to die, he thinks and presses his toes into one of the floorboards.

It flexes slightly. Ove looks up at Jimmy. Looks at the cat.

Surveys the wet floor. Shakes his head at Parvaneh.

“We’ll have to take my car then,” he mutters.

He takes his jacket from the hook and opens the front door. After a few seconds he sticks his head back into the hall. Glares at Parvaneh.

“But I’m not bringing the car to the house because it’s prohibit—” She interrupts him with some words in Farsi which Ove can’t understand.

Nonetheless he finds them unnecessarily dramatic. She wraps the cat more tightly in the blanket and walks past him into the snow.

“Rules are rules, you know,” says Ove truculently as she heads off to the parking area, but she doesn’t answer.Ove turns around and points at Jimmy.

“And you put on a sweater. Or you’re not going anywhere in the Saab, let’s be clear about that.”

Parvaneh pays for the parking at the hospital. Ove doesn’t make a fuss about it.

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