Chapter no 54

Anxious People

Estelle knocked tentatively on the door to the closet. Julia opened it.

“I just wanted to let you know that the pizzas are on their way, but I was thinking that you must be starving, eating for two, you poor thing. Would you like something to eat while we’re waiting? There’s food in the freezer. I mean, people almost always have food in the freezer,” Estelle oPered.

“No, thanks, that’s sweet of you but I’m 1ne,” Julia smiled. She liked the fact that Estelle was concerned, more people should do that, ask if you’re hungry instead of how you’re feeling.

“Well, then, I won’t disturb you,” Estelle said, and started to close the door. “Would you like to come in?” Julia asked, but to be honest she said it the way

you do when you kind of hope the answer’s going to be no.

“I’d love to!” Estelle chirruped, then stepped in and closed the door behind her. She pushed past the stepladder and sat down on the last available seat in the closet: a chest, tucked right at the back. She folded her hands on her lap, smiled warmly, and said: “Well, this is all rather nice, really, isn’t it? I haven’t eaten pizza for years. Of course I’d have to admit that this whole business of the bank robbery and hostage taking hasn’t been particularly pleasant for any of us, but I can’t help thinking that it’s quite encouraging that we’ve got a female bank robber. Don’t you think? It’s good when us girls show what we’re capable of!”

Julia put her thumb on a speci1c point right between her eyes, pressed hard, and managed to control herself enough to reply: “Hmm. Threatening us with a pistol, but still… Girl power!”

“I don’t think it’s a real pistol!” Anna-Lena interjected quickly.

Julia closed her eyes so no one would see she was rolling them. Estelle smiled quizzically and asked: “Well, I didn’t mean to come in and interrupt you like

this, like some silly old thing. What were you talking about?” “Marriage,” Anna-Lena sniPed.

“Oh!” Estelle exclaimed, as if her favorite category had just popped up on a television quiz show.

Her enthusiasm softened Julia’s attitude slightly, so she asked her: “Did you say your husband’s name is Knut? How long have you been married?”

Estelle counted in her head until she ran out of numbers. “Knut and I have been married forever. It’s like that when you get old. In the end there simply wasn’t ever a time before him.”

Julia had to admit that she liked that answer.

“How do you manage to have such a long marriage?” she asked. “You 1ght for it,” Estelle replied honestly.

Julia didn’t seem to like that quite as much. “That doesn’t sound very romantic.” Estelle grinned knowingly.

“You have to listen to each other all the time. But not all the time. If you listen to each other all the time, there’s a risk that you can’t forgive each other afterward.”

Julia ran her 1ngernails unhappily across her eyebrows.

“Ro and I used to get along 1ne. We got along so well that it didn’t matter that we were good at falling out, too. Sometimes I used to fall out with her on purpose, because we were so good at… the other bit. But now, oh, I don’t know. I’m just not quite so sure about us anymore.”

Estelle toyed with her wedding ring and moistened her lips thoughtfully. “When we 1rst fell in love, Knut and I reached an agreement about how we

were allowed to argue, because Knut said that sooner or later the 1rst Aush of infatuation wears oP and you end up arguing whether you like it or not. So we came to an agreement, like the Geneva Convention, where the rules of war were agreed. Knut and I promised that no matter how angry we got, we weren’t allowed to consciously say things just to hurt each other. We weren’t allowed to argue just for the sake of winning. Because, sooner or later, that would end up with one of us winning. And no marriage can survive that.”

“Did it work?” Julia asked.

“I don’t know,” Estelle admitted. “No?”

“We never got past the 1rst Aush of infatuation.”

There was no point even trying not to like her just then. Estelle looked around the closet for a while, as if she were trying to remember something, then she stood up and lifted the lid of the chest.

“What are you doing?” Julia wondered.

“Just having a look,” Estelle said apologetically.

Anna-Lena found this upsetting, because Anna-Lena thought there were actually unwritten rules about how much snooping you were allowed to do at apartment viewings.

“You can’t do that! You’re only allowed to look in cupboards if they’re already open! Except for kitchen cupboards. You’re allowed to open kitchen cupboards, but only for a few seconds, to see how big they are, but you’re not allowed to touch the contents or make any judgments about their lifestyle. There are… there are rules! You’re allowed to open the dishwasher, but not the washing machine!”

“You might have been to a few toooo many apartment viewings…,” Julia said to her.

“I know,” Anna-Lena sighed.

“There’s wine in here!” Estelle exclaimed happily, pulling two bottles out of the chest. “And a corkscrew!”

“Wine?” Anna-Lena repeated, suddenly delighted, so it was evidently okay to snoop inside chests if you found wine.

“Would you like some?” Estelle oPered. “I’m pregnant,” Julia pointed out. “Aren’t you allowed to drink wine, then?”

“You’re not allowed to drink any alcohol at all.” “But… wine?”

Estelle’s eyes were wide with benevolent intent. Because wine is only grapes, after all. And children like grapes.

“Wine, too,” Julia said patiently, and thought of how Ro had said “All the time! I’m drinking for three now!” when the midwife at the antenatal clinic

asked a routine question about how much they drank. The midwife didn’t realize Ro was joking, and the atmosphere became tense. Julia laughed as she thought about it now. That happens quite a lot when you’re married to an idiot. “Have I done something wrong?” Estelle wondered anxiously, drinking straight from the bottle before passing it to Anna-Lena, who didn’t hesitate before taking two long swigs, which seemed highly out of character for Anna-

Lena. It was a strange day for all of them.

“No, not at all, I was just thinking about something my wife did,” Julia smiled, and tried to stop laughing, with mixed results.

“Julia’s wife is an idiot! Just like Roger!” Anna-Lena explained helpfully to Estelle, and drank another swig, this time larger than the space in her mouth, which prompted a 1t of coughing through her nose. Julia leaned forward and patted Anna-Lena on the back. Estelle helpfully took the bottle from her and made it a bit lighter in the meantime. Then she said quietly: “Knut isn’t an idiot. He really isn’t. But it’s taking him an awfully long time to park the car. I wish he was here, so I… well, I just wasn’t prepared to be held hostage on my own.”

Julia smiled.

“You’re not on your own, you’ve got us. And this bank robber doesn’t seem to want to hurt anyone, so I’m sure everything’s going to be all right. But… can I ask you something?”

“Of course you can, sweetheart.”

“Did you bnom there was going to be wine in that chest? If you didn’t, why did you decide to have a look?”

Estelle blushed. After a long pause, she confessed: “I usually hide wine in the closet at home. Knut used to think that was silly. I mean, he thinbs it’s silly. But you assume people think the way you do yourself, so I was thinking that if the person living here was worried about people coming and seeing bottles of wine and thinking ‘Well, this person’s an alcoholic,’ then the closet would be the perfect place to hide the wine.”

Anna-Lena took another two gulps of wine, hiccupped loudly, and added: “Alcoholics don’t have unopened bottles of wine in the house. They have empty wine bottles.”

Estelle nodded at her gratefully, and replied without thinking: “That’s kind of you to say. Knut would have agreed with you.”

The old woman’s eyes were glistening, not only from the wine. Julia frowned so hard and so thoughtfully that she got a whole new hairstyle. She leaned forward, put her hand gently on Estelle’s arm, and whispered: “Estelle? Knut isn’t parking the car, is he?”

Estelle’s thin lips disappeared sadly beneath each other, so the word barely reached past them when she eventually admitted:


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