His body did not land in front of the door; the bullets were like tremendous punches driving it farther and farther away. Serge watched it all unfold but could not seem to hear anything. Then he suddenly started hearing everything and got as close to the door as he possibly could. The bullets coming out of the barrel of the machine gun flashed like lightning, emitting a thunderous, painful din.
The gunshots ceased. He heard men jostling as they all bounded down the stairs.
He could also hear them cursing filthily. He felt certain he was breathing not air but hatred. The rain outside had stopped. Serge threw on his loose-fitting overcoat and grabbed the revolver from the bed. The overcoat flapped from side to side as he charged into the hallway. He stopped and knelt beside Francis, who was no longer alive. Serge began stroking his forehead, begging him to say something, to at least wake up. Serge picked him up and held him close to his chest. He held him close to his beating heart, then pressed his face to his own and wept profusely.
Then he heard the voices of the same men in the street down below. They were yelling like wild animals. He got up and ran down the staircase to a window on the landing. He took a look at the revolver in his hand, then looked at them below. They hovered around their dark-colored military jeep and appeared exactly like cold-blooded killers.
The square around them was damp and glistening from the rain.
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It did not feel right to him, but he knew hesitating was impossible. He could hear their bodies hit the damp ground with a thud. The others returned fire, the bullets whizzing past him. When his revolver had run out of bullets, he retreated. The shots fired near the window continued unabated. In his dazed view, the brick houses across the street seemed crooked.
He could hear them coming up the stairs, screaming with a terrifying savagery. It seemed there was nowhere to escape but the roof.
He started to run toward the stairs, then scurried up them until he reached the roof. The rain had begun again. He felt so frail that his body felt like a flimsy sheet of paper. When the wind passed through his hair, he could feel it had grown slightly longer, as it was brushing against his shoulders. He stopped for a moment to look at the houses, then turned to look at the sea. He could feel both looking back at him, as if they were meant to do so. Then he suddenly found himself before the sloped brick roof of the neighboring building.
Down below, he heard them again firing their guns and screaming like wild animals. Serge realized he was barefoot.
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It was not going to be possible for him to go back for his shoes. He hurried to the building ledge and in a single move jumped to the sloped roof, sprawling across the brick surface as he landed. When he sensed that he was all right and not in danger of falling, he started to carefully crawl along the edge of the sloped brick roof until he reached the iron ladder that led to the courtyard of the house below. He descended the ladder toward the courtyard and jumped over the fence to the neighboring courtyard.
He looked like a white butterfly in the night flitting above a river of blood. While standing there, he could make out the sound of the heavy gunfire, which penetrated deep inside his ears with every shot. At that moment, the rainfall became heavier. His overcoat became wet and the moisture seeped through, soaking his body and chilling him to the bone. Serge spotted a door on the balcony of one of the higher floors. He climbed over the edge, then stepped closer and grabbed the doorknob. It was unlocked. He pushed the door open and went inside. Dripping wet, he continued until he found himself inside a bedroom.
In front of him stood a young woman staring at him in the darkness. There was complete silence as they stood facing each other in that cold room high above the street. The woman drew closer and gently caressed his face. He stood there as she locked the door. He said he could not see her well. Then, as his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he was able to discern her a little better. He repeated that he was still scared. Only when she switched on the dim lamp near her bed could he properly see her face and body. She was remarkably attractive.
She drew near again and ran her fingers through his hair as she gazed into his eyes. Her bed seemed comfortable. She helped him remove his clothing, and when he was undressed, she brought a large towel from her wooden closet and wrapped it around his torso. The weak lightbulb gave off a strange purple light in the dimly lit room, which reflected eerily off her bedsheets.
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When she was finished, she took Serge by the arm and led him, still wrapped up in the towel, to her bed. There, she removed the towel and covered him with a warm blanket. The sweet scent of the bedsheets penetrated deeply into his nostrils. His eyes followed her as she walked to the other side of the bed and slipped beneath the sheets until their bodies were touching. She began to run her hands all over his body, which was still cold. When he could feel her warm breath right on his chest, Serge closed his eyes.
By arrangement with the author. All rights reserved. A Stockholm apartment where two children live with their mother is the main setting for this book, an intimate portrait of a family in crisis that won the prestigious Swedish August Prize and has been described as a chamber play. Reluctance to interact with other people seems to run in the family: her brother nails his bedroom door shut and urinates into bottles so that he can be undisturbed in his room, alone with his music.
The book has been translated into ten languages thus far. The Stockholm apartment where the two children live with their mother is the main setting for the intimate interactions of this small cast of characters. We are presented with detailed descriptions of the minutiae of everyday life and household tasks. The outside world impinges only rarely, as when the school is on fire, for example, an event that is a turning point in the narrative. She is a beautiful actress who is vibrant and full of joy, but one who is also given to moments of despair.
She wonders at one point if her own decision to be silent is genetic.
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Hard and without mercy. Dark, with a kind of sparkle [. But somehow I fell short. Her father is a constant, haunting presence throughout the book. He makes ghostly appearances by her side, speaking to her and filling her mind with memories of the anxiety surrounding his illness, his rapidly changing moods, his drunkenness, his rage and desperation.
She recalls visiting him in the hospital on her own, her mother waiting outside. And she acknowledges the immense stillness she felt the first time he was locked up. In the interweaving threads of light and dark, there are vestiges of happy memories too, especially of the times they spent at their cabin by the lake. At the boat, fishing.
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He was good at that. Everything else was a mess.
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It was frightening. Ellen remembers praying for her father to die—this is the act she calls her first collaboration with God. Later she asks God to let her die too and to keep her mother safe and happy. Yet despite her own relief that he is gone—she even describes it as a kind of ecstasy—she has a nagging feeling that the family is being torn apart now that he is dead.
And no one knows that she is the one responsible for his death. The girl asks herself why she made the decision to stop talking; was it her desire to stop growing, to stay as she was? Was it to punish the mother she adored? She used to tell lies, so was this mute existence a way to live the truth?
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