Chapter no 38

Anxious People

Roger spent a long time standing by the front door in the hall, with the 1ngers of one hand pressed tightly against the bridge of his nose to stop the bleeding, and the other hand on the door handle, ready to leave the apartment. The bank robber came out into the hall and noticed, but didn’t have the heart to stop him, so said instead: “Go if you want to, Roger. I understand.”

Roger hesitated. Tugged a little at the handle as though testing it, but didn’t open it. He kicked the baseboard so hard that it came loose.

“Don’t tell me what to do!”

“Okay,” the bank robber said, incapable at that moment of pointing out that that was the whole point of being a bank robber.

They didn’t 1nd much else to talk about after that, but after a bit of rummaging through various pockets the bank robber managed to pull out a packet of cotton balls, and handed it over with a quiet explanation: “One of my daughters sometimes gets nosebleeds, so I always have…”

Roger accepted the gift dubiously. He inserted a piece of cotton into each nostril. He was still clutching the door, but couldn’t persuade his feet to leave the apartment. They didn’t have any idea where on earth to go without Anna-Lena.

There was a bench in the hall, so the bank robber sat down at one end of it, and shortly afterward Roger sat at the other end. The nosebleed had stopped, at last. He wiped himself with his shirt, both under his nose and under his eyes. For a long time they didn’t say anything at all, until the bank robber 1nally said: “I’m sorry I got you all involved in this. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone. I just needed six and a half thousand to pay the rent, that was why I was going to rob the bank, I was going to give the money back as soon as I could. With interest!”

Roger didn’t answer. He raised one hand and knocked on the wall behind him. Carefully, almost tenderly, as if he were worried it might break. Knock, knock, knock. He wasn’t emotionally equipped to say it like it was, that Anna-Lena was his load-bearing wall. So instead he said: “Fixed or variable?”

“What?” the bank robber said.

“You said you were going to pay the money back plus interest. Fixed or variable interest?”

“I hadn’t thought about that.”

“There’s a hell of a diPerence,” Roger said helpfully.

As if the bank robber didn’t already have enough to worry about.


Meanwhile Julia emerged from the bathroom. She glared instinctively at Ro, who was standing in the living room.

“Where’s Anna-Lena?”

Ro’s face looked as uncomprehending as when she had found out that there was a right and a wrong way to put a plate in the dishwasher.

“I think she went into the closet.” “Alone?”


“And you didn’t think to go after her to see how she was? She’s just been yelled at by that emotionally challenged old fart of a husband even though she does euevything for his sake, and you didn’t even go after her? She could be facing a divorce now, and you left her alone? How could you be so insensitive?”

Ro curled her tongue behind her teeth.

“Just so I… don’t misunderstand me here. But are we talking about Anna-Lena or are we talking about… you? I mean, have I done something else that’s upset you, and you’re pretending to be upset about this so that I understand that…”

“Sometimes you really don’t understand anything, do you?” Julia muttered, and walked oP toward the closet.

“I just mean that sometimes it isn’t what you say you’re upset about that you’re upset about! And I’d just like to know if I’m insensitive because I’m insensitive, or…,” Ro called after her, but Julia responded with the body language she usually reserved for communicating with angry men in German cars. Ro went into the living room, picked a lime from the bowl, and started to eat it out of nervousness, rind and all. But Zara was standing at the window and Ro was a bit scared of her, because all smart people are, so she went out into the hall instead.

There the bank robber and Roger were sitting at either end of a bench. Throughout her marriage Ro had always been told that she needed to “understand people’s boundaries!” but hadn’t quite understood them yet, so she squidged herself in between them on the bench. “Squidged” might not be a real word, but that’s what Ro’s dad calls it. He suPers from inadequate boundary perception as well. And Ro’s dad has taught her all she knows, for good and ill.

The bank robber glanced awkwardly at her from one end, Roger glanced irritably at her from the other, both of them now squidged so far that they each had one buttock hanging oP the end of the bench.

“Lime?” Ro oPered. They shook their heads. Ro looked apologetically at Roger and added: “Sorry my wife called you an emotionally challenged old fart of a husband earlier.”

“What did she call me?”

“Maybe you didn’t hear? In that case it was nothing.”

“What does that mean? What the hell is ‘emotionally challenged’?”

“Don’t take it personally, because most people don’t really understand Jules’s insults, she just says them in a way that makes people understand that they’re not nice. It’s quite a talent. And I’m sure that you and Anna-Lena aren’t heading for divorce.”

Roger’s eyes opened so wide that they ended up bigger than his ears: “Who said anything about diuovce?”

The rind of the lime was making Ro cough. Somewhere inside the part of the brain that controls logic and rational thinking, a thousand tiny nerve endings were jumping up and down and shouting Sto9 talbing nom. Even so, Ro heard herself say: “No one, no one’s said anything about divorce! Look, I’m sure it will

all work out. But if it doesn’t work out, it’s actually really romantic when older couples get divorced. It always makes me happy, because it’s so great when pensioners still think they’re going to 1nd someone new to fall in love with.”

Roger folded his arms. His mouth barely opened when he said: “Thanks for that, you’re a real tonic. You’re like a self-help book, only in reverse.”

The nerve impulses in Ro’s brain 1nally got control of her tongue, so she nodded, swallowed hard, and apologized: “Sorry. I talk too much. Jules is always saying that. She says I’m so positive that it makes people depressed. That I always think the glass is half full when there’s just enough to drown yourself in, and—”

“I can’t think how she got that idea,” Roger snorted.

Ro replied dejectedly: “Well, she used to say that, that I was too positive. Since she got pregnant everything’s become so serious, because parents are always serious and I suppose we’re trying to 1t in. Sometimes I don’t think I’m ready for the responsibility—I mean, I think my phone is asking too much of me when it wants me to install an update, and I 1nd myself yelling: ‘You’ve suffocating me.’ You can’t shout that at a child. And children have to be updated all the time, because they can kill themselves just crossing the street or eating a peanut! I’ve mislaid my phone three times already today, I don’t know if I’m ready for a human being.”

The bank robber looked up sympathetically: “How pregnant is she? Julia?” Ro lit up at once.

“Like, really pregnant! It could happen any day now!”

Roger’s eyebrows were twitching badly. Then he said, almost sympathetically: “Oh. Well, if you don’t want to buy this apartment, I’d advise you not to risk letting her give birth here. Then it will have sentimental value to her. That would push the price up really badly.”

Perhaps Ro should have been angry, but she actually looked more sad. “I’ll bear that in mind.”

The bank robber let out a sigh at the other end of the bench, then groaned disconsolately. “Maybe I’ve done something good today after all. A hostage drama might actually lower the price?”

Roger snorted.

“Quite the reverse. That idiot real estate agent will probably add ‘as seen on TV’ in the next advertisement, which would make it even more desirable.”

“Sorry,” the bank robber murmured.

Ro leaned back against the wall, chewing on her lime, rind and all. The bank robber looked on in fascination.

“I’ve never seen anyone eat a lime like that, the whole thing. Is it nice?” “Not really,” Ro admitted.

“It’s good for preventing scurvy. Sailors used to be given lime on board ships,” Roger said informatively.

“Did you used to be a sailor?” Ro wondered.

“No. But I watch a lot of television,” Roger replied.

Ro nodded thoughtfully, possibly waiting for someone to ask her something, but when no one did she said instead: “To be honest, I don’t want to buy this apartment. Not before my dad’s had a look at it and decided if it’s okay. He always looks at anything I want to buy to see if it’s okay before I take any decisions. He knows all about everything, my dad.”

“When’s he coming?” Roger asked suspiciously, taking out a pad and pencil with the name IKEA stamped on it and starting to do calculations according to various diPerent prices per square foot. He had already listed the factors that might raise the price: giving birth, murder (if it was covered on television), Stockholmers. In another list he had written the things that ought to lower the price: damp, mold, need for renovations.

“He’s not coming,” Ro said, then went on with more air than actual words: “He’s ill. Dementia. He’s in a home now. I hate the way that sounds, in a home, rather than living there. And he wouldn’t have liked the home, because everything’s broken there, the taps drip and the ventilation makes a noise and the window catches are loose, and no one 1xes them. Dad used to be able to 1x anything. He always had an answer. I couldn’t even buy a carton of eggs with a short best-before date without calling and asking him if they were okay.”

“I’m very sorry to hear that,” the bank robber said.

“Thanks,” Ro whispered. “But it’s okay. Eggs last a lot longer than you think, according to Dad.”

Roger wrote dementia in his pad, then felt sad when he realized it didn’t make him happy. It didn’t really matter who their competitors for the apartment were, Roger still had Anna-Lena. So he put the pad back in his pocket again, and muttered: “That’s true. It’s the politicians, manipulating the market so we eat eggs quicker.”

He’d seen that in a documentary on television, broadcast right after one about sharks. Roger wasn’t particularly interested in eggs, but sometimes he sat up late in the evening after Anna-Lena had nodded oP, because he didn’t want to wake her and have her move her head from his shoulder.

Ro rubbed her 1ngertips together, she’s the sort of person who has her emotions there, and said: “He wouldn’t have liked the radiators in the home, either. They’re those modern ones that adjust the temperature indoors according to what the temperature is outside, so you can’t decide for yourself.”

“Urgh!” Roger exclaimed, because he was the sort of man who thought a man should be able to decide the temperature of his home for himself.

Ro smiled weakly.

“But Dad loves Jules, like you wouldn’t believe. He was so proud when I married her, he said she had her head screwed on…,” then she suddenly blurted out: “I’m going to be a terrible parent.”

“No you’re not,” the bank robber said consolingly.

But Ro persisted: “Yes I am. I don’t know anything about children. I babysat my cousin’s kid once, and he didn’t want to eat anything and kept saying ‘it hurts’ the whole time. So I told him it only hurt because his wings were about to grow out, because all kids who don’t eat their food turn into butterAies.”

“That’s sweet,” the bank robber smiled.

“It turned out he had acute appendicitis,” Ro added. “Oh,” the bank robber said, no longer smiling.

“Like I keep saying, I don’t know anything! My dad’s going to die, and I’m going to be a parent, and I want to be exactly the same sort of parent he is, and I didn’t get around to asking him how to do it. You have to know so much as a parent, you have to know everything, right from the start. And Jules keeps wanting me to make decisions the whole time, but I don’t even know… I can’t even decide if I should buy eggs. I’m not going to be able to do this. Jules says I

keep 1nding fault with all the apartments on purpose just because I’m scared of… I don’t know what. Just scared of something.”


Roger was leaning heavily against the wall, picking under his thumbnail with the IKEA pencil. He understood very well what Ro was scared of: buying an apartment, 1nding one single fault with it and having to admit that you yourself were the fault. It hadn’t been hard for Roger to admit this to himself in recent years, he just couldn’t bring himself to admit it out loud because he was so incredibly angry. A man can end up like that as a result of the things old age takes away from him, like the ability to serve a purpose, for instance, or at least the ability to fool the person you love into thinking that you can do that. Anna-Lena had seen through him, he realized that now, she knew he didn’t have anything to oPer her. Their marriage had become a fake show of admiration with rabbits hidden in the bathroom, and one apartment more or less wouldn’t make any diPerence. So Roger picked at his nail with the IKEA pencil until the point broke, then he let out a brief cough and gave Ro the 1nest gift he could imagine.

“You should buy this apartment for your wife. There’s nothing wrong with it. It could do with a bit of minor renovation, but there’s no damp or mold. The kitchen and bathroom are in excellent condition, and the 1nances of the housing association are in good shape. There are a few loose baseboards, but that won’t take long to put right,” he said.

“I don’t know how to 1x baseboards,” Ro whispered.

Roger was silent for a long, long time before—without looking at her—he said three of the hardest words an older man can say to a younger woman:

“You’ll manage it.”

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