فصل 09

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فصل 09

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9

A MAN CALLED OVE BLEEDS A

RADIATOR

They say the brain functions quicker while it’s falling. As if the sudden explosion of kinetic energy forces the mental faculties to accelerate until the perception of the exterior world goes into slow motion.

So Ove had time to think of many different things.

Mainly radiators.

Because there are right and wrong ways of doing things, as we all know. And even though it was many years ago and Ove could no longer remember exactly what solution he’d considered to be the right one in the argument about which central heating system should be adopted by the Residents’ Association, he did remember very clearly that Rune’s approach to it had been wrong.

But it wasn’t just the central heating system. Rune and Ove had known one another for almost forty years, and they had been at loggerheads for at least thirty-seven of them.

Ove could not in all honesty remember how it all started. It wasn’t the sort of dispute where you did remember. It was more an argument where the little disagreements had ended up so entangled that every new word was treacherously booby-trapped, and in the end it wasn’t possible to open one’s mouth at allwithout setting off at least four unexploded mines from earlier conflicts. It was the sort of argument that had just run, and run, and run. Until one day it just ran out.

It wasn’t really about cars, properly speaking. But Ove drove a Saab, after all.

And Rune drove a Volvo. Anyone could have seen it wouldn’t work out in the long run. In the beginning, though, they had been friends. Or, at least, friends to the extent that men like Ove and Rune were capable of being friends. Mostly for the sake of their wives, obviously. All four of them had moved into the area at the same time, and Sonja and Anita became instant best friends as only women married to men like Ove and Rune can be.

Ove recalled that he had at least not disliked Rune in those early years, as far as he could remember. They were the ones who set up the Residents’ Association, Ove as chairman and Rune as assistant chairman. They had stuck together when the council wanted to cut down the forest behind Ove’s and Rune’s houses in order to build even more houses. Of course, the council claimed that those construction plans had been there for years before Rune and Ove moved into their houses, but one did not get far with Rune and Ove using that sort of argumentation. “It’s war, you bastards!” Rune had roared at them down the telephone line. And it truly was: endless appeals and writs and petitions and letters to newspapers. A year and a half later the council gave up and started building somewhere else instead.

That evening Rune and Ove had drunk a glass of whiskey each on Rune’s patio. They didn’t seem overly happy about winning, their wives pointed out.

Both men were rather disappointed that the council had given up so quickly.

These eighteen months had been some of the most enjoyable of their lives.

“Is no one prepared to fight for their principles anymore?” Rune had wondered.

“Not a damn one,” Ove had answered.

And then they said a toast to unworthy enemies.

That was long before the coup d’état in the Residents’ Association, of course.

And before Rune bought a BMW.

Idiot, thought Ove on that day, and also today, all these years after. And every day in between, actually. “How the heck are you supposed to have a reasonable conversation with someone who buys a BMW?” Ove used to ask Sonja whenshe wondered why the two men could not have a reasonable conversation anymore. And at that point Sonja used to find no other course but to roll her eyes while muttering, “You’re hopeless.”

Ove wasn’t hopeless, in his own view. He just had a sense of there needing to be a bit of order in the greater scheme of things. He felt one should not go through life as if everything was exchangeable. As if loyalty was worthless.

Nowadays people changed their stuff so often that any expertise in how to make things last was becoming superfluous. Quality: no one cared about that anymore.

Not Rune or the other neighbors and not those managers in the place where Ove worked. Now everything had to be computerized, as if one couldn’t build a house until some consultant in a too-small shirt figured out how to open a laptop.

As if that was how they built the Colosseum and the pyramids of Giza. Christ, they’d managed to build the Eiffel Tower in 1889, but nowadays one couldn’t come up with the bloody drawings for a one-story house without taking a break for someone to run off and recharge their cell phone.

This was a world where one became outdated before one’s time was up. An entire country standing up and applauding the fact that no one was capable of doing anything properly anymore. The unreserved celebration of mediocrity.

No one could change tires. Install a dimmer switch. Lay some tiles. Plaster a wall. File their own taxes. These were all forms of knowledge that had lost their relevance, and the sorts of things Ove had once spoken of with Rune. And then Rune went and bought a BMW.

Was a person hopeless because he believed there should be some limits? Ove didn’t think so.

And yes, he didn’t exactly remember how that argument with Rune had started. But it had continued. It had been about radiators and central heating systems and parking slots and trees that had to be felled and snow clearance and lawn mowers and rat poison in Rune’s pond. For more than thirty-five years they had paced about on their identical patios behind their identical houses, while throwing meaningful glares over the fence. And then one day about a year ago it all came to an end. Rune became ill. Never came out of the house anymore. Ove didn’t even know if he still had the BMW.

And there was a part of him that missed that bloody old sod.So, as they say, the brain functions quicker when it’s falling. Like thinking thousands of thoughts in a fraction of a second. In other words, Ove has a good deal of time to think after he’s kicked the stool over and fallen and landed on the floor with a lot of angry thrashing. He lies there, on his back, looking up for what seems like half an eternity at the hook still up on the ceiling. Then, in shock, he stares at the rope, which has snapped into two long stumps.

This society, thinks Ove. Can’t they even manufacture rope anymore? He swears profusely while he furiously tries to untangle his legs. How can one fail to manufacture rope, for Christ’s sake? How can you get rope wrong?

No, there’s no quality anymore, Ove decides. He stands up, brushes himself down, peers around the room and ground floor of his row house. Feels his cheeks burning; he’s not quite sure if it’s because of anger or shame.

He looks at the window and the drawn curtains, as if concerned that someone may have seen him.

Isn’t that bloody typical, he thinks. You can’t even kill yourself in a sensible way anymore. He picks up the snapped rope and throws it in the kitchen wastebasket. Folds up the plastic sheeting and puts it in the IKEA bags. Puts back the hammer-action drill and the drill bits in their cases, then goes out and puts everything back in the shed.

He stands out there for a few minutes and thinks about how Sonja always used to nag at him to tidy the place up. He always refused, knowing that any new space would immediately be an excuse to go out and buy more useless stuff with which to fill it. And now it’s too late for tidying, he confirms. Now there’s no longer anyone who wants to go out and buy useless stuff. Now the tidying would just result in a lot of empty gaps. And Ove hates empty gaps.

He goes to the workbench, picks up an adjustable wrench and a little plastic watering can. He walks out, locks the shed, and tugs at the door handle three times. Then goes down the little pathway between the houses, turns off by the last mailbox, and rings a doorbell. Anita opens the door. Ove looks at her without a word. Sees Rune sitting there in his wheelchair, vacantly staring out of the window. It seems that’s all he’s done these last few years.

“Where have you got the radiators, then?” mutters Ove.

Anita smiles a surprised little smile and nods with equally mixed eagerness and confusion.“Oh, Ove, that’s dreadfully kind of you, if it’s not too much trou—” Ove steps into the hall without letting her finish what she’s saying, or removing his shoes.

“Yeah, yeah, this crappy day is already ruined anyway.”

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