فصل 28

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فصل 28

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Sonja used to say that Ove was “unforgiving.” For instance, he refused to go back to the local bakery eight years after they gave him the wrong change when he bought pastries once at the end of the 1990s. Ove called it “having firm principles.” They were never quite in agreement when it came to words and their meanings.

He knows that she is disappointed that he and Rune could not keep the peace.

He knows that the animosity between him and Rune to some extent ruined the possibility of Sonja and Anita becoming the great friends they could have been.

But when a conflict has been going on for long enough it can be impossible to sort out, for the simple reason that no one can remember how it first started. And Ove didn’t know how it first started.

He only knew how it ended.

A BMW. There must have been some people who understood it and some who didn’t. There were probably people who thought there was no connection between cars and emotions. But there would never be a clearer explanation as to why these two men had become enemies for life.Of course, it had started innocently enough, not long after Ove and Sonja came back from Spain and the accident. Ove laid new paving stones in their little garden that summer, whereupon Rune put up a new fence around his.

Whereupon Ove put up an even higher fence around his garden, whereupon Rune went off to the building supply store and a few days later started boasting all over the street that he had “built a swimming pool.” That was no bloody swimming pool, Ove raged to Sonja. It was a little splash pool for Rune and Anita’s newborn urchin, that was all it was. For a while Ove had plans to report it to the Planning Department as an illegal construction, but at that point Sonja put her foot down and sent him out to “mow the lawn” and calm himself down.

And so Ove did just that, although it certainly did not calm him down very much at all.

The lawn was oblong, about five yards wide, and ran along the backs of Ove’s and Rune’s houses and the house in between, which Sonja and Anita had quickly named “the neutral zone.” No one quite knew what that lawn was for or what function it was expected to fill, but when row housing was put up in those days, some city architect must have got the idea that there had to be lawns here and there, for no other reason than that they looked so very nice in the drawings.

When Ove and Rune formed the Residents’ Association and were still friends, the two men decided that Ove should be the “grounds man” and responsible for keeping the grass mowed. It had always been Ove before. On one occasion the other neighbors had proposed that the association should put out tables and benches on the lawn to create a sort of “common space for all the neighbors,” but obviously Ove and Rune put a stop to that at once. It would only turn into a bloody mess and lots of noise.

And as far as that went, it was all peace and joy. At least insofar as anything could be “peace and joy” when men like Ove and Rune were involved.

Soon after Rune had built his “pool,” a rat ran across Ove’s newly mown lawn and into the trees on the other side. Ove immediately called a “crisis meeting” of the association and demanded that all local residents put out rat poison around their houses. The neighbors protested, of course, because they had seen hedgehogs by the edge of the woods and were concerned that they might eat the poison. Rune also protested, because he was afraid that some of it would end up in his pool. Ove suggested to Rune that he button up his shirt and go seea psychologist about his delusions of living on the French Riviera. Rune made a malicious joke at Ove’s expense, to the effect that Ove had probably only imagined seeing that rat. All the others laughed. Ove never forgave Rune for that. The next morning someone had thrown birdseed all over Rune’s outside space, and Rune had to use a spade to chase away a dozen rats as big as vacuum cleaners in the next few weeks. After that Ove got permission to put out poison, even though Rune mumbled that he’d pay him back for this.

Two years later Rune won the Great Tree Conflict, when he gained permission at the annual meeting to saw down a tree blocking his and Anita’s evening sun on one side. The same tree on the other side screened off Ove and Sonja’s bedroom from blinding morning sunlight. Further, he managed to block Ove’s furious motion that the association would then have to pay for Ove’s new awning.

However, Ove got his revenge during the Snow Clearance Skirmish of the following winter, in which Rune wanted to anoint himself “Chief of Snow Shoveling” and at the same time lumber the Residents’ Association with the purchase of a gigantic snowblower. Ove had no intention of letting Rune walk around with some bloody contraption at the expense of the association and spray snow over Ove’s windows, which he made crystal clear at the steering group meeting.

Rune was still chosen to be responsible for snow clearance, but to his great annoyance he had to spend all winter shoveling the snow by hand between the houses. The outcome of this, of course, was that he consistently shoveled outside all the houses in their row except Ove and Sonja’s. Just to annoy Rune, in midJanuary Ove hired a gigantic snowblower to clear the ten square yards outside his door. Rune was incandescent about it, Ove remembers with delight to this day.

Of course, Rune found a way of paying him back the following summer, by buying one of those monstrous lawn tractors. Then, by a combination of treachery, lies, and conspiracies, he managed to get approval at the annual meeting to take over Ove’s lawn-mowing responsibilities on the grounds that he had “slightly more adequate equipment than the one who was in charge of it before.”As a partial restitution, Ove managed some four years later to stop Rune’s plans of putting in new windows in his house, because after thirty-three letters and a dozen angry telephone calls the Planning Department gave up and accepted Ove’s argument that this would “ruin the harmonious architectural character of the area.”

In the following three years, Rune refused to speak of Ove as anything but “that bloody red-tapist.” Ove took it as a compliment. And the next year he changed his own windows.

When the next winter set in, the steering group decided that the area needed a new collective heating system. Quite coincidentally, of course, Rune and Ove happened to have diametrically different views on what sort of heating system was required, which was jokingly referred to by the other neighbors as “the battle of the water pump.” It grew into an eternal struggle between the two men.

And so it continued.

But, as Sonja used to say, there were also some other moments. There weren’t many of them, but women like Sonja and Anita knew how to make the most of them. Because there hadn’t always been burning conflict. One summer in the 1980s, for instance, Ove had bought a Saab 9000 and Rune a Volvo 760. And they were so pleased with this that they kept the peace for several weeks. Sonja and Anita even managed to get all four of them together for dinner on a few occasions. Rune and Anita’s son, who’d had time to turn into a teenager by this stage, with all the divinely sanctioned charmlessness and impoliteness this entailed, sat at one end of the table like an irritable accessory. “That boy was born angry,” Sonja used to say with sadness in her voice, but Ove and Rune managed to get along so well that they even had a little whiskey together at the end of the evening.

Unfortunately, at their last dinner that summer Ove and Rune had the idea of having a barbecue. And obviously they started feuding at once about the most effective way of lighting Ove’s globe grill. Within fifteen minutes the argument had escalated so much in volume that Sonja and Anita agreed it might be best to eat their dinner separately after all. The two men had time to buy and sell a Volvo 760 (Turbo) and a Saab 9000i before they spoke to one another again.

Meanwhile, the neighbors came and went in the row of houses. In the end there had been so many new faces in the doorways of the other row houses thatthey all merged in a sea of gray. Where before there had been forest, there were only construction cranes. Ove and Rune stood outside their houses, hands obstinately shoved into their trouser pockets, like ancient relics in a new age, while a parade of uppity real estate agents barely able to see over their grapefruit-size tie knots patrolled the little road between the houses and kept their eyes on them—like vultures watching aging water buffaloes. They could hardly wait to move some bloody consultants’ families into their houses, both Ove and Rune knew that very well.

Rune and Anita’s son moved away from home when he was twenty, in the early 1990s. Apparently he went to America, Ove found out from Sonja. They hardly saw him again. From time to time Anita had a telephone call around the time of Christmas, but “he was so busy with his own things now,” as Anita said when she tried to keep her spirits up, even though Sonja could see that she had to hold back her tears. Some boys leave everything behind and never look back.

That was all there was to it.

Rune never said anything about it. But to anyone who had known him a long time, it was as if he shrank a couple of inches in the years that followed. As if he sort of crumpled with a deep sigh and never really breathed properly again.

A few years later Rune and Ove fell out for the hundredth time about that collective heating system. Ove stormed out of a Residents’ Association meeting, in a fury, and never returned. The last battle the two men fought was a bit into the noughties when Rune bought one of those automated robotic lawn mowers, which he’d ordered from Asia, and left it to whiz about on the lawn behind the houses. Rune could even remotely program it to cut “special patterns,” Sonja said in an impressed tone of voice one evening when she came home from visiting Anita. Ove soon caught on that this “special pattern” was the habit of that robotic little shit to consistently rumble back and forth all night outside Ove and Sonja’s bedroom window. One evening Sonja saw Ove fetch a screwdriver and walk out the veranda door. Next morning the little robot, quite inexplicably, had driven right into Rune’s pool.

The month after, Rune went into the hospital for the first time. He never bought another lawn mower. Ove did not know himself how their animosity hadbegun, though he knew very well that it ended there and then. Afterwards it was only memories for Ove, and a lack of them for Rune.

And there were very likely people who thought one could not interpret men’s feelings by the cars they drove.

But when they moved onto the street, Ove drove a Saab 96 and Rune a Volvo 244. After the accident Ove bought a Saab 95 so he’d have space for Sonja’s wheelchair. That same year Rune bought a Volvo 245 to have space for a stroller.

Three years later Sonja got a more modern wheelchair and Ove bought a hatchback, a Saab 900. Rune bought a Volvo 265 because Anita had started talking about having another child.

Then Ove bought two more Saab 900s and after that his first Saab 9000. Rune bought a Volvo 265 and eventually a Volvo 745 station wagon. But no more children came. One evening Sonja came home and told Ove that Anita had been to the doctor.

And a week later a Volvo 740 stood parked in Rune’s garage. The sedan model.

Ove saw it when he washed his Saab. In the evening Rune found a half bottle of whiskey outside his door. They never spoke about it.

Maybe their sorrow over children that never came should have brought the two men closer. But sorrow is unreliable in that way. When people don’t share it there’s a good chance that it will drive them apart instead.

Maybe Ove never forgave Rune for having a son who he could not even get along with. Maybe Rune never forgave Ove for not being able to forgive him for it. Maybe neither of them forgave themselves for not being able to give the women they loved more than anything what they wanted more than anything.

Rune and Anita’s lad grew up and cleared out of home as soon as he got the chance. And Rune went and bought a sporty BMW, one of those cars that only has space for two people and a handbag. Because now it was only him and Anita, as he told Sonja when they met in the parking area. “And one can’t drive a Volvo all of one’s life,” he said with an attempt at a halfhearted smile. She could hear that he was trying to swallow his tears. And that was the moment when Ove realized that a part of Rune had given up forever. And for that maybe neither Ove nor Rune forgave him.So there were certainly people who thought that feelings could not be judged by looking at cars. But they were wrong.

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