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“You’re different,” said Ann Lindell.
A tired phrase, a worn-out expression, but there was no other way to put it.
“Is that a good thing?”
Anders Brant was lying with his eyes closed, one hand on his belly, the other behind his neck. She observed him: the dark, sweaty hair by his temples, the trembling eyelids, given a violet-red hue by the first morning light, and the beard stubble—“my scourge,” he said, as he always had to shave—which had scratched her.
He was not a powerful man, not much taller than she was, with a boyish body that made him look younger than almost forty-four. From his navel down to his pubic hair a dark, curly strand ran that resembled an exclamation point.
His face was thin and lacked strong lines, although when he smiled it came to life. Maybe it was his casual manner that first aroused her interest. Later, when she got to know him better, the picture got more complicated. He was just different in that way, often carefree and a little roguish, but with an inner fervor that was sometimes seen in his eyes and his gesturing hands. Then he was anything but carefree. As she observed his relaxed facial features, it occurred to her that his attitude reminded her of Sammy Nilsson, the one colleague she could confide in and discuss things other than the trivialities of work.
“I don’t know,” she said, in a tone more ominous than she intended, now feeling even more banal.
But perhaps he understood: She was in love. Until now neither of them had hinted at anything like that.
And was that good? He was different in every conceivable way from the men she’d been with. There weren’t many really, two somewhat longer relationships—Rolf and Edvard—and a few short-lived ones, but the few weeks with Anders Brant had really shaken her up.
For the first time in a very long while she felt desired. He made no secret of his longing for her. He might call her at work and whisper things on the phone that left her speechless, and then when they met he drew her to him; despite his slender body his hands felt powerful. Sometimes she warded him off, afraid that Erik would surprise them, and also afraid of the rush she felt in her body, as if they were doing something forbidden.
“Hugging won’t hurt you,” he would say. “Relax.”
He courted her, and he talked; never had Ann’s apartment been filled with so many words. Talk, but never about before and later, always about the present. Unwilling to offer details about his past, not a word about his plans or dreams.
Ann knew absolutely nothing about his family, other than that he was the oldest of four children, and that his mother lived somewhere in south Sweden. His father had left early on; it was unclear whether he was alive. When she asked he simply mumbled something about “the old man was too damn gloomy.”
Few things surprised him. He noted her own biographical details without showing any great interest, and did not connect her experiences to scenes from his own life.
He showed the greatest interest and engagement when they were watching the evening news together. Then he sometimes got agitated, or cynically scornful. Journalist colleagues that he thought were not doing their job gave rise to derisive, in some cases spiteful, comments.
Despite this singular apathy with regards to the private sphere, he was present; she never felt bored or overlooked. He glided into her life without a lot of fuss. She liked that. She thought the contrast to her life, so heavily scheduled for so long, would have been too great if he broke out in impassioned declarations of love and constructed romantic castles in the air.
It was as if he took it for granted that they would be together.
Sometimes she noticed a certain restlessness in him. He would fall silent, lose focus, and almost be dismissive, even if he did not verbalize his irritation. On a few occasions he left her on the couch or at the kitchen table and went out on the balcony. Those were the only times she saw him smoke, slender cigarillos that he enjoyed with eyes closed, leaning back in the wicker chair she once got as a present from Edvard. Then he wanted to be alone, she realized that.
After smoking his cigarillo he always brushed his teeth, which she also appreciated.
“I have to leave,” he said, abruptly interrupting her thoughts. “I may be gone a week or two.”
He got up from the bed, hurriedly dressed, and left.
Copyright © 2008 by Kjell Eriksson
Translation © 2014 by Paul Norlen