فصل 19

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فصل 19

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19

A MAN CALLED OVE AND A CAT THAT

WAS BROKEN WHEN HE CAME

Ove spent most of yesterday shouting at Parvaneh that this damned cat would live in Ove’s house over his dead body.

And now here he stands, looking at the cat. And the cat looks back.

And Ove remains strikingly nondead.

It’s all incredibly irritating.

A half-dozen times Ove woke up in the night when the cat, with more than a little disrespect, crawled up and stretched out next to him in the bed. And just as many times the cat woke up when Ove, with more than a bit of brusqueness, booted it down to the floor again.

Now, when it’s gone quarter to six and Ove has got up, the cat is sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor. It sports a disgruntled expression, as if Ove owes it money. Ove stares back at it with a suspicion normally reserved for a cat that has rung his doorbell with a Bible in its paws, like a Jehovah’s Witness.

“I suppose you’re expecting food,” mutters Ove at last.

The cat doesn’t answer. It just nibbles its remaining patches of fur and nonchalantly licks one of its paw pads.

“But in this house you don’t just lounge about like some kind of consultant and expect fried sparrows to fly into your mouth.”

Ove goes to the sink. Turns on the coffeemaker. Checks his watch. Looks at the cat. After leaving Jimmy at the hospital, Parvaneh had managed to get holdof a friend who was apparently a veterinarian. The veterinarian had come to have a look at the cat and concluded that there was “serious frostbite and advanced malnutrition.” And then he’d given Ove a long list of instructions about what the cat needed to eat and its general care.

“I’m not running a cat repair company,” Ove clarifies to the cat. “You’re only here because I couldn’t talk any sense into that pregnant woman.” He nods across the living room towards the window facing onto Parvaneh’s house.

The cat, busying itself trying to lick one of its eyes, does not reply.

Ove holds up four little socks towards it. He was given them by the veterinarian. Apparently the Cat Annoyance needs exercise more than anything, and this is something Ove feels he may be able to help it achieve. The farther from his wallpaper those claws are, the better. That’s Ove’s reasoning.

“Hop into these things and then we can go. I’m running late!” The cat gets up elaborately and walks with long, self-conscious steps towards the door. As if walking on a red carpet. It gives the socks an initial skeptical look, but doesn’t cause too much of a fuss when Ove quite roughly puts them on.

When he’s done, Ove stands up and scrutinizes the cat from top to bottom.

Shakes his head. A cat wearing socks—it can’t be natural. The cat, now standing there checking out its new outfit, suddenly looks immeasurably pleased with itself.

Ove makes an extra loop to the end of the pathway. Outside Anita and Rune’s house he picks up a cigarette butt. He rolls it between his fingers. That Škodadriving man from the council seems to drive about in these parts as if he owned them. Ove swears and puts the butt in his pocket.

When they get back to the house, Ove reluctantly feeds the wretched animal, and once it’s finished, announces that they’ve got errands to run. He may have been temporarily press-ganged into cohabiting with this little creature, but he’ll be damned if he’s going to leave a wild animal on its own in his house. So the cat has to come with him. Immediately there’s a disagreement between Ove and the cat about whether or not the cat should sit on a sheet of newspaper in the Saab’s passenger seat. At first Ove sets the cat on two supplements of entertainment news, which the cat, much insulted, kicks onto the floor with its back feet. Itmakes itself comfortable on the soft upholstery. At this Ove firmly picks up the cat by the scruff of its neck, so that the cat hisses at him in a not-so-passiveaggressive manner, while Ove shoves three cultural supplements and book reviews under him. The cat gives him a furious look. Ove puts it down, but oddly enough it stays on the newspaper and only looks out of the window with a wounded, dismal expression. Ove concludes that he’s won the battle, nods with satisfaction, puts the Saab into gear, and drives onto the main road. Only then does the cat slowly and deliberately drag its claws in a long tear across the newsprint, and then put both its front paws through the rip. While at the same time giving Ove a highly challenging look, as if to ask: “And what are you going to do about it?”

Ove slams on the brakes of the Saab so that the cat, shocked, is thrown forward and bangs its nose against the dashboard. “THAT’s what I have to say about it!” Ove’s triumphant expression seems to say. After that, the cat refuses to look at Ove for the rest of the journey and just sits hunched up in a corner of the seat, rubbing its nose with one of its paws in a very offended way. But while Ove is inside the florist’s, it licks long wet streaks across Ove’s steering wheel, safety belt, and the inside of Ove’s car door.

When Ove comes back with the flowers and discovers that his whole car is full of cat saliva, he waves his forefinger in a threatening manner, as if it were a scimitar. And then the cat bites his scimitar. Ove refuses to speak to him for the rest of the journey.

When they get to the churchyard, Ove plays it safe and scrunches up the remains of the newspaper into a ball, with which he roughly pushes the cat out of the car. Then he gets the flowers out of the trunk, locks the Saab with his key, makes a circuit around it, and checks each of the doors. Together they climb the frozen graveled slope leading up to the church turn-off and force their way through the snow, before they stop by Sonja. Ove brushes some snow off the gravestone with the back of his hand and gives the flowers a little shake.

“I’ve brought some flowers with me,” he mumbles. “Pink. Which you like.

They say they die in the frost but they only tell you that to trick you into buying the more expensive ones.”

The cat sinks down on its behind in the snow. Ove gives it a sullen look, then refocuses on the gravestone.“Right, right. . . . This is the Cat Annoyance. It’s living with us now. Almost froze to death outside our house.”

The cat gives Ove an offended look. Ove clears his throat.

“He looked like that when he came,” he clarifies, a sudden defensive note in his voice. Then, with a nod at the cat and the gravestone:

“So it wasn’t me who broke him. He was already broken,” he adds to Sonja.

Both the gravestone and the cat wait in silence beside him. Ove stares at his shoes for a moment. Grunts. Sinks onto his knees in the snow and brushes a bit more snow off the stone. Carefully lays his hand on it.

“I miss you,” he whispers.

There’s a quick gleam in the corner of Ove’s eye. He feels something soft against his arm. It takes a few seconds before he realizes that the cat is gently resting its head in the palm of his hand.

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