Chapter no 25

A Man Called Ove


Ove waits till after breakfast, once he’s let the cat out. Only then does he take down a plastic bottle from the top shelf in the bathroom. He weighs it in his hand as if he’s about to throw it somewhere, rattles it lightly to see if many pills are left.

Towards the end the doctors prescribed so many painkillers for Sonja. Their bathroom still looks like a storage facility for the Colombian mafia. Ove obviously doesn’t trust medicine, has always been convinced its only real effects are psychological and, as a result, it only works on people with feeble brains.

But it’s only just struck him that chemicals are not at all an unusual way of taking one’s life.

He hears something outside the front door—the cat is back surprisingly quickly, scraping its paws by the threshold and sounding like it’s been caught in a steel trap. As if it knows what’s going through Ove’s mind. Ove can understand that it’s disappointed in him. He can’t possibly expect it to understand his actions.

He thinks about how it would feel, doing it this way. He has never taken any narcotics. Has hardly even been affected by alcohol. Has never liked the feeling of losing control. He’s come to realize over the years that it’s this very feeling that normal folk like and strive for, but as far as Ove is concerned only a complete bloody airhead could find loss of

control a state worth aiming for. He wonders if he’ll feel nauseated, if he’ll feel pain when his body’s organs give up and stop functioning. Or will he just go to sleep when his body becomes unfit for use?

By now, the cat is howling out there in the snow. Ove closes his eyes and thinks of Sonja. It’s not that he’s the sort of man who gives up and dies; he doesn’t want her to think that. But it’s actually wrong, all this. She married him. And now he doesn’t quite know how to carry on without the tip of her nose in the pit between his throat and his shoulder. That’s all.

He unscrews the lid and distributes the pills along the edge of the washbasin. Watches them as if expecting them to transform into little murderous robots. Of course they don’t. Ove is unimpressed. He finds it quite inexplicable how those little white dots could do him any harm, regardless of how many of them he takes. The cat sounds as if it’s spitting snow all over Ove’s front door. But then it’s interrupted by another, quite different sound.

A dog barking.



Ove looks up. It’s quiet for a few seconds, and then he hears the cat yowling with pain. Then more barking. And Blond Weed roaring something.

Ove stands there gripping the washbasin. Closes his eyes as if he could blink the sound out. It doesn’t work. Then at last he sighs and straightens up. Unscrews the lid of the bottle, pushes the pills back into it. Goes down the stairs. As he crosses the living room he puts the jar on the windowsill. And through the window he sees Blond Weed in the road, taking aim and then rushing towards the cat.

Ove opens the door exactly as she’s about to kick the animal in the head with all her strength. The cat quickly dodges her needle-sharp heel and backs away towards Ove’s toolshed. Mutt growls hysterically, saliva flying around its head as if it were a rabies-infected beast. There’s fur in its jaws. This is the first time Ove can remember having seen Weed without her sunglasses. Malevolence glitters in her green eyes. She pulls back, preparing for another kick, then catches sight of Ove and stops herself midflow. Her lower lip is trembling with anger.

“I’ll have that thing shot!” she hisses and points at the cat.

Very slowly Ove shakes his head without taking his eyes off her. She swallows. Something about his expression, as if sculpted from a seam of rock, makes her murderous assurance falter.

“It’s a f-f-fucking street cat and . . . and it’s going to die! It scratched Prince!” she stammers.

Ove doesn’t say anything but his eyes turn black. And in the end even the dog backs away from him.

“Come on, Prince,” she says, disappearing around the corner as if Ove had physically shoved her from behind.

Ove stays where he is, breathing heavily. He presses his fist to his chest, feels the uncontrolled beating of his heart. He groans a little. Then he looks at the cat. The cat looks back at him. There’s a new wound down its flank. Blood in its fur again.



“Nine lives won’t last you very long, will they?” says Ove.

The cat licks its paw and looks as if it’s not the sort of cat that likes to keep count. Ove nods and steps aside.

“Get inside, then.”

The cat traipses in over the threshold. Ove closes the door.

He stands in the middle of the living room. Everywhere, Sonja looks back at him. Only now does it strike him that he’s positioned the photographs so they follow him through the house wherever he goes. She’s on the table in the kitchen, hangs on the wall in the hall and halfway up the stairs. She’s on the window shelf in the living room, where the cat has now jumped up and sits right beside her. It sends Ove a disgruntled look as it sweeps the pills onto the floor, with a crash. When Ove picks up the bottle, the cat looks at him in horror, as if about to shout, “J’accuse!”

Ove kicks a little at a baseboard, then turns around and goes into the kitchen to put the pill bottle in a cupboard. Then he makes coffee and pours water in a bowl for the cat.

They drink in silence.

Ove picks up the empty bowl and puts it next to his coffee cup in the sink. He stands with his hands on his hips for a good while. Then turns around and goes into the hall.

“Tag along, then,” he urges the cat without looking at it. “Let’s give that village cur something to think about.”

Ove puts on the navy winter jacket, steps into his clogs, and lets the cat walk out the door first. He looks at the photo of Sonja on the wall. She laughs back at him. Maybe it’s not so enormously important to die that it can’t wait another hour, thinks Ove, and follows the cat into the street.



He goes to Rune’s house, where it takes several minutes before the door opens. There’s a slow, dragging sound inside before anything happens with the lock, as if a ghost is approaching with heavy chains rattling behind it. Then, finally, it opens and Rune stands there looking at Ove and the cat with an empty stare.

“You got any corrugated iron?” wonders Ove, without allowing any time for small talk.

Rune gives him a concentrated stare for a second or two, as if his brain is fighting desperately to produce a memory.

“Corrugated iron?” he says to himself, as if tasting the word, like someone who’s just woken up and is intensely trying to remember what he’s been dreaming.

“Corrugated iron; that’s it,” says Ove with a nod.

Rune looks at him, or rather he looks straight through him. His eyes have the gleam of a newly waxed car hood. He’s emaciated and hunchbacked; his beard is gray, bordering on white. This used to be a solid bloke commanding a bit of respect, but now his clothes hang on his body in rags. He’s grown old: very, very old, Ove realizes, and it hits him with a force he hadn’t quite counted on. Rune’s gaze flickers for a moment. Then his mouth starts twitching.

“Ove?” he exclaims.

“Yeah, well . . . one thing’s for sure, I’m not the pope,” Ove replies. The baggy skin on Rune’s face cracks into a sleepy smile. Both men,

once as close as men of that sort could be, stare at each other. One of them a man who refuses to forget the past, and one who can’t remember it at all.

“You look old,” says Ove. Rune grins.



Then Anita’s anxious voice makes itself heard and in the next moment her small, drumming feet are bearing her at speed towards the door.

“Is there someone at the door, Rune? What are you doing there?” she calls out, terrified, as she appears in the doorway. Then she sees Ove.

“Oh . . . hello, Ove,” she says and stops abruptly.

Ove stands there with his hands in his pockets. The cat beside him looks as if it would do the same, if it had pockets. Or hands. Anita is small and colorless in her gray trousers, gray knitted cardigan, gray hair, and gray skin. But Ove notices that her face is slightly red-eyed and swollen. Quickly she wipes her eyes and blinks away the pain. As women of that generation do. As if they stood in the doorway every morning, determinedly driving sorrow out of the house with a broom. Tenderly she takes Rune by the shoulders and leads him to his wheelchair by the window in the living room.

“Hello, Ove,” she repeats in a friendly, also surprised, voice when she comes back to the door. “What can I do for you?”

“Do you have any corrugated iron?” he asks back. She looks puzzled.

“Corrected iron?” she mumbles, as if the iron has somehow been wrong and now someone has to put it right.

Ove sighs deeply.

“Good God, corrugated iron.”



Anita doesn’t look the slightest bit less puzzled. “Am I supposed to have some?”

“Rune will have some in his shed, definitely,” says Ove and holds out his hand.

Anita nods. Takes down the shed key from the wall and puts it in Ove’s hand.

“Corrugated. Iron?” she says again. “Yes,” says Ove.

“But we don’t have a metal roof.” “What’s that got to do with it?” Anita shakes her head.

“No . . . no, maybe it doesn’t, of course.”

“One always has a bit of sheet metal,” says Ove, as if this was absolutely beyond dispute.

Anita nods. As one does when faced with the undeniable fact that a bit of corrugated iron is the sort of thing that all normal, right-thinking people keep lying about in their sheds, just in case there’s call for it.

“But don’t you have any of that metal yourself, then?” she tries, mainly to have something to talk about.

“I’ve used mine up,” says Ove.

Anita nods understandingly. As one does when facing the indisputable fact that there’s nothing odd about a normal man without a metal roof getting through his corrugated iron at such a rate that it runs out.



A minute later, Ove turns up triumphantly in the doorway, dragging a gigantic piece of corrugated iron, as big as a living room rug. Anita honestly has no idea how such a large piece of metal has even fitted in there without her knowing about it.

“Told you,” Ove says with a nod, giving her back the key.

“Yes . . . yes, you did, didn’t you,” Anita feels obliged to admit.

Ove turns to the window. Rune looks back. And just as Anita turns around to go back into the house, Rune grins again, and lifts his hand in a brief wave. As if right there, just for a second, he knew exactly who Ove was and what he was doing there.

Anita stops hesitantly. Turns around.

“They’ve been here from Social Services again, they want to take Rune away from me,” she says without looking up.

Her voice cracks like dry newspaper when she speaks her husband’s name. Ove fingers the corrugated iron.

“They say I’m not capable of taking care of him. With his illness and everything. They say he has to go into a home,” she says.

Ove continues fingering the corrugated iron.

“He’ll die if I put him in a home, Ove. You know that. . . .” she whispers.

Ove nods and looks at the remains of a cigarette butt, frozen into the crack between two paving stones. Out of the corner of his eye he notices how Anita is sort of leaning slightly to one side. Sonja explained about a year ago that it was the hip replacement operation, he remembers. Her

hands shake as well, these days. “The first stage of multiple sclerosis,” Sonja had also explained. And a few years ago Rune got Alzheimer’s as well.

“Your lad can come and give you a hand, then,” he mumbles in a low voice.



Anita looks up. Looks into his eyes and smiles indulgently.

“Johan? Ah . . . he lives in America, you know. He’s got enough on his own plate. You know how young people are!”

Ove doesn’t answer. Anita says “America” as if it were the kingdom of heaven where her egotistical son has moved. Not once has Ove seen that brat here on the street since Rune sickened. Grown man now, but no time for his parents.

Anita jumps to attention, as if she’s caught herself doing something disreputable. She smiles apologetically at Ove.

“Sorry, Ove, I shouldn’t stand here taking up your time with my nattering.”

She goes back into the house. Ove stays where he is with the sheet of corrugated iron in his hand and the cat at his side. He mutters something to himself just before the door is closed. Anita turns around in surprise, peers out of the crack, and looks at him.

“Pardon me?”

Ove twists without meeting her eyes. Then he turns and starts to leave, while his words slip out of him involuntarily.

“I said if you have any more problems with those bloody radiators, you can come and ring my doorbell. The cat and me are at home.”

Anita’s furrowed face pulls itself into a surprised smile. She takes half a step out the door, as if she wants to say something more. Maybe something about Sonja, how deeply she misses her best friend. How she misses what they had, all four of them, when they first moved onto this street almost forty years ago. How she even misses the way Rune and Ove used to argue. But Ove has already disappeared around the corner.

Back in his toolshed, Ove fetches the spare battery for the Saab and two large metal clips. He lays out the sheet of corrugated iron across the paving stones between the shed and the house and carefully covers it with snow.



He stands next to the cat, evaluating his creation for a long time. A perfect dog trap, hidden under snow, bursting with electricity, ready to bite. It seems a wholly proportionate revenge. The next time Blond Weed passes by with that bloody mutt of hers and the latter gets the idea of peeing on Ove’s paving, it’ll do so onto an electrified, conductive metal plate. And then let’s see how amusing they find it, Ove thinks to himself.

The cat tilts its head and looks at the metal sheet. “Like a bolt of lightning up your urethra,” says Ove.

The cat looks at him for a long time. As if to say: “You’re not serious, are you?” Eventually Ove sticks his hands in his pockets and shakes his head.

“No . . . no, I suppose not.” He sighs glumly.

And then he packs up the battery and clamps and corrugated iron and puts everything in the garage. Not because he doesn’t think those morons deserve a proper electric shock. Because they do. But because he knows it’s been a while since someone reminded him of the difference between being wicked because one has to be or because one can.

“It was a bloody good idea, though,” he concludes to the cat as they go back into the house.

The cat goes into the living room with the dismissive body language of someone mumbling: “Sure, sure it was. ”

And then they have lunch.

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