now reading: The Cat | Andrea Lundgren

Andrea Lundgren | from:Swedish

The Cat

Translated by : Nils Torvald Østerbø

Illustration: Noa Snir

A cat was lying in the ditch by the exit road to Skogså, one of those long, strange autumn days when I’d just entered seventh grade but mostly tried to learn about magic, if any occult powers existed and if so which ones they were. When our car came closer I saw it lying stretched out on its side with eyes closed, right at the desolate end of the carriageway with the forest on one side and the rubbish tip on the other. It looked like it was sleeping. Just next to the shrubs that took over behind the dirty, yellow containers. At the bottom of the ditch ran a greenish sludge, a sluggish brook, and here and there gleamed small splinters of glass from the big clock-shaped COLOURED GLASS bin some distance away. I saw the cat first but didn’t even have to say anything to Mum. I just perceived it inside myself, and then she saw it too. Mum told Dad to stop the car and when he had done it both she and I went out. We went out under the restless cloudy sky vaulting above our heads. I hoped it was dead. The speed limit was sixty, most of them died immediately. You saw them along the roadside when you went to town. Mostly squirrels and foxes. Hares, birds. A badger once, striped and beautiful as an extraterrestrial. Some managed to get into the thicket to die in peace. But they all died.

When we got closer we saw blood running out of one ear. A narrow bright red trickle that was already drying. Both Mum and I recognised her. It was the homeless one. She had no name, but her tortoiseshell fur was black and luminous silver. Most of the time she used to be fat or have a kitten at her heels. But now she was small and empty. Her ribs could be seen through the fur.

The cat had lived outside since her owner returned to the town a few years before. He was one of the summer visitors, one of those who came and went. Who had a cabin near the bog and probably thought it was nice to have a kitten during the holiday, something for the kids to have fun with. Assumed it would manage just fine, and then driven away. That’s what Mum had said. Someone in town had tried to take the cat home when she saw it wandering around town without a collar, since there would be winter soon. Several people had got involved. Mum too would probably have taken it, if Dad wasn’t so allergic. But it was as if the cat became feral as soon as she didn’t have anything to do with people. No one succeeded in catching her. Two winters the cat had survived on her own, as by a miracle. And it wasn’t the winter that took her after all, but the road.

But the cat wasn’t dead. When we were just steps away from her, she opened her eyes. One of her eyelids couldn’t quite keep up. But the whites of her eyes gleamed from fear. She tried to crawl away, dragging her hind legs along the ground. I stopped, couldn’t look at her at all, how she tried to flee from us, what could I do, nothing. The cat could even be dangerous, scratch and bite. But Mum reached it in a second. A choked sound came out of her which made something shift in my body, as if all liquid had run out and just left some shrunken shells that rubbed against each other inside.
– Come back here now, shouted Jimmy from the backseat and knocked on the car window with his hockey club. Mum didn’t seem to notice. She had squatted down and put her hand on the cat, light enough as to hardly touch it. This seemed to calm it a little, or maybe it was too weak to react anymore. The lowest part of its back ended in a strange way. The increasing drizzle made Dad switch on the windscreen wipers behind us. Mum shook her head slowly, she didn’t look as big either now, when she looked at it.

Jimmy knocked on the window pane again. He was late for his training, that’s why he was making a fuss. The sludge in the ditch smelled sour and toxic. It had probably been drawn out of all the metal and plastic lying behind the grating up there on the ground. The greenest of the colour had gathered in a slimy band floating on top of the clay. Not a single blade of grass grew on the slope, everything was dead. Just gravel and soil and poison.
– Her back is broken, said Mum.

The eyes of the cat had slid shut again. Its breathing was weak, hardly noticeable. Its tail matted by clay. Mum looked around, her face totally calm, as when she was at home and tried to remember where she had put the newspaper and methodically ruled out alternatives one by one. To the right, at an angle behind her, lay a coarse stone half covered by tightly compressed gravel. Her fingertips whitened when she started rocking it back and forth until the soil let go of it. Rain dripped from her fingers and forehead as she raised her hand. It happened so quickly, the single strike, I turned away but still saw it. Stone in fur. Stone against flesh and bone. She took off her jacket, wrapped it around the cat and lifted her up. On our way back to the car I saw Jimmy rolling his eyes as he pointed at his wristwatch. Dad wound down the window.
– Not inside the car! he shouted.

She stopped, for just a moment, and turned to me. Maybe the change had already happened, because I remember that her eyes were shining, of something.

– Will you open the hatch?

 

It was the same day me and Mum buried the cat under the old willow that she moved up to the attic. Everything happened so suddenly that no one understood where she had taken off to. I went out and looked in the yard. But when I came back inside Jimmy said where she had gone. And that the door was locked. She had collected a few things, the folding bed, the little armchair from the living room, some of my books that were hers to begin with. Now and then she came downstairs to eat, otherwise we hardly saw her. Apart from the hockey, Jimmy was still grounded, but he kept to his room. The house fell silent. Dad didn’t say a word. Not at first. I heard him mentioning it to one of his friends on the phone. He laughed, but there was something new, kind of nervous, in his voice, as if there was a small, wet and hairy animal in his throat that he couldn’t swallow.

We waited for her to make one of her famous “statements.” She was an old hippie, Mum. That’s what Dad used to say, anyway. “One week it’s the government, the next we can’t eat meat and the third there’s some war she’s read a report about in the paper.” I knew that what he said about Mum was mostly for fun, because he liked her ideas most of the time. As long as he didn’t have to do anything, like coming with her to demonstrations, signing petitions, stapling information to notice boards or standing outside the liquor store to collect money to save the old railway bridge no one used anymore. But it wasn’t at all as fleeting as Dad made it sound, Mum had always been political. Previously, her statements could come almost anytime and become quite heated. When me and my brother were younger we had mostly listened and soaked up her words with varying attention, but lately it had changed so that Dad and he formed a united front and started arguing with her. Sometimes there would be trouble. My brother used to giggle at Mum when she got fired up and then she got hopping mad. Daddy loved it. I usually didn’t say much. I agreed with Mum in most things, actually, but if I said so both Dad and Jimmy would tease me to death. So I kept quiet. Sometimes she would cry a whole day about something she had read. Like this latest war. She had asked Dad if we could be the foster family of one of the refugee children. But he said no, that we didn’t have room. Or time. And Mum did work all the time, as did he. She nagged and nagged, no one could nag like her. Then someone from the police called and told about Jimmy, and after that she hadn’t nagged at all. All her energy went into speaking with Jimmy. She went into his room and closed the door and stayed for a long time. Then she wanted Dad in there too, but he thought she was better at things like that. They started arguing, mostly she. Don’t you understand? she yelled one night, I heard it straight through the door and all the way to the depths of my body. Don’t you understand what they’ve done? But later she stopped yelling. Stopped arguing too.
She had become so quiet that everything was strange, and then left me behind down there in the strangeness and gone upstairs and locked herself inside.

Since Mum moved upstairs it had become Dad’s responsibility to take care of everything at home, a responsibility he didn’t shoulder quietly. He needed to get a recipe for the simplest things and complained about me and Jimmy that we never helped out, that he was like a slave in his own home and that we were the most spoiled kids in the world. Jimmy was as good as Mum at slinking out of the kitchen, so I had to do everything instead. I tried to protest, but Dad had always been indulgent with Jimmy. Let him rest a bit, he just got back from training, Dad would say if I pointed at the piles of dishes. And I didn’t have the energy to keep nagging, I wasn’t like her. But every time I gave in it felt like I was losing something, that something was running out of my hands and down the drain with the dishwater, that something was being pulled out of my body, making the ground toxic.

 

When Mum hadn’t stopped after more than a week Dad got fed up. Made up errands up there and looked for things that weren’t even there. He knocked till Mum asked what he wanted. and when she offered to bring what he wanted downstairs if she found it he got even more annoyed.
– Open the door now, Ingrid, he said. You behave like a child.
But she refused, so he kept knocking for minutes. It could be heard all over the house, I couldn’t focus on my math. But she didn’t seem to care. Finally he gave up and came swearing down the stairs, started rummaging in the cupboard for an extra key without finding any. When he saw me standing in the doorway he shut the cupboard immediately.
– Don’t look at me like that, he said. Nothing of this is my fault.
Then he left. The sound of shots from Jimmy’s video game was the only thing that could be heard.
It turned out that she had quit her job at the hospital. I was the first one to notice. It was in October, and a water leak had forced the head teacher to close the school for the day, so I went home to cram. Most in my class had gone to the café they always went to after school or if we had a free period. I didn’t drink coffee yet.  Ever since they let me skip fifth grade and change class I hadn’t had anyone to be with, and during breaks I mostly sat staring at my pen, trying to make it move by the force of thought. This was the way it was. More than a year had passed now, so I was used to it.

On my way home I saw that Klara was back, she came from the ninth-grade corridor with her friends. Although she passed me in the entrance hall at just a few meters’ distance she didn’t say hello. Even though she had been at our house twice. She had cut off all her hair. Madde in 9A stared at me, with a black look in her eyes. Apparently she had found Klara, on the top floor in the bedroom of Danne’s parents. Her dress over her head, passed out. They even pumped her stomach. I thought that would feel like being turned inside out, twisted, drained, stretched. Like an old shirt.
Mum heard the bang when all my school books landed on the hallway floor before she came out of the kitchen. It was a pretty comical sight. A big scrap of meat of some kind was hanging out of her mouth (which was strange since she was a vegetarian) and she looked a bit guilty. Maybe because I had surprised her at large in the house.
– You’re so early, was the only thing she said, chewing.
– There was a water leak at school, I said. Why aren’t you at work?
And then I got to know that she had quit.

It wasn’t the same downstairs without her. Dad had some sort of allergic reaction and was whinier than usual, he walked around sniffling and rubbing his eyes. Or else he just watched TV. She used to come to my room in the evening when I sat with my homework, to stroke my hair and ask me if I wanted something to eat. Said that I’ve done enough for today, I don’t have to be best at everything. I even missed all her outbursts about things Dad thought were small potatoes. Ever since I was little she and I had had our own private jokes, as when we pressed the tongue against the inside of the lower lip, crossed the eyes and said whatswrongwithyouthen? And then we laughed like maniacs. Jimmy thought we were incredibly childish, so we always made sure to do it when he had his friends over. She knew how to listen, and she always had the right things to say. But most of all she knew when to be silent. When saying anything didn’t help, because it was just the way things were, in class, or when Dad just wanted to tease. Then it felt great that she actually didn’t say anything, but just kept quiet for a while. Afterwards she always had some suggestion. It didn’t have to be anything special, maybe just a crossword she needed some help with.
And at night when I lay in bed without being able to sleep I thought about how she too was lying there, right above my room in the rickety folding bed, and then it was like someone went into my body. That another body went into mine and filled it up, so big that it stretched my skin, my head, and all my thoughts started teeming until it got unbearable. But I could hardly move, because the other body was heavy as lead inside my own. And when I finally fell asleep, I dreamt the same dream I always dreamt. That I was in a black space, being squeezed between the golden cog wheels of a huge clockwork. I tried to get out of there, but my sweaty hands slid off the metal. And the ticking made me almost insane. I had taught myself the technique of waking up before it was too late, before I got squeezed to death. And then I stood up straight on the floor, made the sign and pronounced the right words to see the truth. Then I walked three rounds counter-clockwise to avoid coming back to the same place when I fall asleep again. I had read about this in one of Mum’s books. Sometimes it worked. At other times I woke up in another dream instead, in which my room was similar but still different. So similar that I thought it was really my own room and walked three more rounds even there. Sometimes the room was empty apart from the bed, as if to say that there was nowhere else to go, and then I fell asleep back in the first dream, or in a new, strange dream I couldn’t remember later. Once I tried to resist the dream room and sat down on the floor in a corner instead of returning to the bed and going to sleep there, but when I leaned against the wall it gave way and I started falling and falling. After this happened, my rebellions in the second dream room stopped.
Before Mum moved upstairs I had reported all this to her, and she had said that processing your feelings at night was good, since you didn’t have to worry so much about them during the day. And this was true in a way. I worried less about what I processed at night, but in their turn the dreams led to new things to consider. Would the dream room ever become so real that I could continue living there without suspecting anything? In a parallel world, where a similar Mum existed, a similar brother, a similar school, similar books and similar things to worry about. And finally: would that be any easier?

One Saturday I pulled on my winter coat and went outside to sit on a garden chair I had carried out from the storage shed. I set it down in the heap of leaves inside the picket fence and angled it towards the attic window. Then I sat there staring. The window up there was open and I could hear her playing music, her old LP records from the seventies. The record player that used to be in the living room had disappeared a few days after she had moved. She was singing a strange melody, not at all the same as on the record, with odd words I didn’t understand. Words of different types. As if she was singing in a thousand languages. Maybe she was dancing. She used to do that sometimes while cooking, on the mat in the kitchen. With rolled up trouser legs. I waited for her to see me sitting there, or call for me to come up. But she never looked out.

 

Later that day, as we were sitting around the dinner table, some of Dad’s friends came over. Mum disappeared quickly as usual, after saying hello and kissing Dad on the mouth. It was Jörgen from Dad’s old job and then Olof and Rickard who he had met during military service. Just as she was heading upstairs she looked at me and there was a flash of something in her eyes, I don’t know what. I opened my mouth to say something, anything. But nothing came out, and she was gone.
Dad’s friends punched Jimmy on the back and greeted me on my way to the sink. Then they sat down at the kitchen table.
– So it’s true what we heard, said Jörgen. That your wife has taken a lover up there in the attic?
Everyone started laughing and Dad took out glasses from the cupboard and laughed too, but I saw that his face was completely stiff. Jimmy, who had stayed put, answered for him.
– Yes, we think she’s doing some voodoo up there, or has a mysterious women’s club.
Which made them laugh even more, and Jörgen turned to me.
– Then you at least should be let in.
His face was reddish, flaky and rough as a stone.
– I don’t want to be in any weird club, I said.
I felt ashamed at once and regretted it, it felt almost like they were laughing at Mum. But they hadn’t noticed what I said.
– You look bloody awful, said Rickard to Dad. Have you caught a virus or something?
Dad sat down at the short end of the table.
– It’s some kind of allergy, he said.
– Maybe you’re allergic to all the housework, said Jörgen and everyone started guffawing again, Jimmy too. He sat next to the window and spun his mobile around with his index finger. Lately I had hardly been able to look at him, his hands had become so big and chunky, just two flabby fins, really, and his face was as coarse as a large pig’s. He probably weighed eighty kilos now, I used to run faster than him, but now I wouldn’t have a chance, he had gained muscle, and his voice just got deeper and deeper every day. He sounded like Dad and the others now. And a few days ago as he passed me the potatoes his hand brushed against mine and I could feel how it was completely moist from sweat and I felt like I was going to puke then, get turned inside out, and then I got different pictures of him in my mind of what he looked like naked, both when he looked like a grown-up and when he was in that yucky in-between stage of down and smirk and dandruff and pimples. Previously he had been smooth just like me, now it was like a lardy thick film had been laid over him. It had happened that we played together when we were younger, of course, and sometimes we had bathed in the same tub. Just the thought of all that could almost make me cry. As if someone would force me to bathe with him now, as if he could climb into the bathtub when I was there without asking me, and what I would do then. A heavy machine of sweat and flesh. He would just grin at me, like he did at everything, and give me an Indian burn until my arm fell off or the skin got ripped to shreds.
When I had done the dishes, I dried my hands on the kitchen towel and left the kitchen. All my homework was finished already, which was a minor miracle. I knew that Dad and his friends would play cards and drink beer all night. Jimmy would probably play computer games as usual. No one would disturb me.
I took out my portable CD player and sat down on the bed. Soon the whole universe was filled by The Cure, not the least sound from the kitchen penetrated the music. I stretched out on the bed with my hands on my tummy and closed my eyes. Started yoga breathing as Mum had taught me and tried to enter that special, almost meditative state I sometimes could end up in when I listened to some specific music. Even before I got sleepy I had fallen asleep.

 

 

When I woke up the record was finished. It was past one o’clock. Through the wall I heard that there were still people in the kitchen, even though I knew that Dad was getting up early in the morning to drive to the garage with the car. I had to pee, so I pulled out the earphones and put the CD player on the chest of drawers. When I had peed and brushed my teeth I went to the kitchen to get a glass of water. Everyone was still there, Jimmy too.
– Hi and hello, said Jörgen when I came in.
I could see they were drunk, since their outlines were kind of vague and Dad was a bit red in the face. The windows were steamy and the table was full of beer cans. I asked idiotically enough what they were doing, with a cheeky voice I didn’t recognize. Everything looked a little blurred, as if I could see all the particles in the air, how they floated slowly around, in and out of all the wet mouths, down in the lungs and then back up and into me.
– We’re sitting here talking about life, pet, said Jörgen.
– Weren’t you going to hang up the laundry, I said to Jimmy. But I was ashamed, felt so proper, just like at school when everybody rolled their eyes at me raising my hand. Jimmy had a beer in front of him, held tightly in his hand.
– Will do it later, he said.
– Jimmy is sitting here to get some words of wisdom from us who’ve been around a while, said Jörgen.
– Some beer too, I see, said I, unable to control myself, as I took a glass from the cupboard and filled it with water.
– A little beer can’t be that bad, said Dad. He’ll be eighteen soon, you know.
– He is sixteen, I said.
– And how old are you now? asked Jörgen, a little sluggishly.
– She is thirteen, said Jimmy.
– Oh dear, we’d better behave then, said Jörgen to Olof and nudged him with his elbow.
– I hope you aren’t a spy for Big Sister up there? said Olof.
I began saying that I wasn’t anything, but Dad interrupted me.
– As long as she’s up there, I’m in charge down here, he said. And I don’t think a beer or two is anything to moan about.
– Sure, I said and left the kitchen.
They started laughing again.

Back in my room I lay down on the bed and pulled the duvet up to my chin but knew that I wouldn’t be able to sleep. Couldn’t get Jimmy’s bloody arrogant look out of my head. The one he had when I thought about what had happened, which I didn’t even know anything about, really. The whole school knew more about it than I, since no one ever told me anything. Not even Mum. All of them just looked at me, or looked away. Disconnected pieces were all I had. And I had never been at Danne’s house, where the party had been. There were often parties there, apparently, maybe his parents travelled a lot. But even though I’d never been over at Danne’s, or even at any party at all, I could see the door in front of me. I could see everything, through time and space. I could see through walls. How the living room is full of beer cans, how the windows are steaming up and people are standing everywhere. They’re snogging, and yell to make themselves heard over the music that has blown out the loudspeakers that have started scratching just like Jimmy’s speakers scratch because he never takes care and does whatever he wants to. Some are smoking cigarettes, maybe even indoors. A few are on the veranda. A blonde girl is throwing up in the flowerbed, it looks like bloody chunks. But I turn my eyes away and force them to look upwards, towards the door on the top floor. Up there everything is quiet, the door to the bedroom is that to the right of the staircase, painted white. It is ajar. The music from the apartment below is subdued and sounds hollow and wailing, as if played backwards. The corridor light falls into the darkened room, the double bed is made, but the coverlet is crumpled and pulled down from the pillows. And there lies Klara. Sleeping, in the middle of the light cone from the door. As if she has gone up to rest, to get away from everybody for a while. Maybe she has fought with Madde, otherwise they would have been together, as they always were at school. But Klara had probably got so drunk that she had gone to bed. Everyone in school said that Klara loved to party. That Klara would always “pass out.” Her face is turned away, it’s hard for me to see her properly. I can see through all other walls but not through these, here I can only see the crack, and my eyes lose their foothold into the darkness at the sides. Klara is lying there, and her long hair has spilled out across the bed. It disappears down into the fold of the coverlet, making it look extremely long, and reaches down over the sides of the bed. Klara is the prettiest of all the girls in the whole school, even when she has passed out she is more beautiful than all of them as she is lying in the light falling in from the corridor. But it’s so dark in the corners of the room. A darkness that swells and shrinks back but grows a little bigger all the time. It takes over everything. And then it is like everything disappears for me, kind of sinks a bit farther away in my field of vision. The stripe of light from the door wobbles, someone has walked past. Something moves in the blackness. The light is broken again. There is someone else in the room.
Maybe they did it for the fun of it, I don’t know. I can just see a large hand pulling up her dress and then I can’t see anything more, the light starts flickering and fluttering and becomes all grainy until I have to look away, and then the whole picture disappears. But I know that Jimmy was there. I know it, because in science class I heard Mikaela tell Linnea that Madde had said that Klara had told it to the police. Before she withdrew her report, she said to the police that Jimmy and Danne and Robin and Ante had been inside there. Even though she was so drunk that she was asleep, she had noticed them being there. And maybe she had seen Jimmy’s grin, his idiotic bloody expression, maybe that’s what she had seen then. The same as he had in the kitchen now, as if nothing had happened. Nothing at all.
And out there sat Jimmy and Dad and Olof and Jörgen and Rickard laughing. I could hear it all the way to my room. Perhaps Mum heard them too, or maybe she was sleeping, it didn’t matter much anymore, because she didn’t do anything, just let them laugh as they pleased.
After maybe twenty minutes I heard the kitchen chairs scraping against the floor. Shortly afterwards Jörgen and the others were walking on the street past my window, their voices getting lower and lower until they finally disappeared. And then there was silence for a while. Nobody went to the toilet to brush his teeth, both Dad and Jimmy remained in the kitchen. I saw them while looking straight through the walls, they spoke quietly with one another, excited, bombastic. But I couldn’t make out anything they said, I just saw them, how they sat closely together, striking their beer cans together in a toast before gulping down the rest. A few minutes later the entrance door opened and closed. I sat upright on the bed, switched off the bedside lamp to be able to see outside in the dark.  It was Jimmy, on his way to the garden shed. I saw the door resist a little when he pulled the handle, like it used to in winter when the ground frost forced the threshold upwards. He jerked it open and disappeared inside. After a while he came out again with something narrow and oblong in his hand. I went to the window and looked out from behind the curtain, but couldn’t see what it was. He got into the house again and I heard him and Dad talking, but not what they said. They laughed a little, and one of them hushed the other.
It got quiet again. Then I heard the stairs creaking. Suddenly I understood. It was the crowbar. They wanted to enter the room.
I almost ran to the door, felt that I had to stop them. But I halted. What did it matter if they forced that door open? They only wanted to have some fun with Mum. It’s just for the fun of it.
But a strange light shone inside me. And I knew that just shouting wouldn’t do. To stop them I had to take the crowbar from them with my own hands. That was the only way.
So I opened the door and entered the corridor, but as I started running upstairs, I heard how they, with a sound that resembled a tormented animal, bent open the door and shouted something to Mum. I froze in the middle of my movement. Suddenly everything fell completely silent. Something ice-cold ran slowly through my body. I could feel it as it found its way through my throat, down my stomach, out to the sides and down over my thighs till it gathered in my knees in two whirls. Then I heard someone crying.
Mum.
It gained strength, she wailed and almost started howling, no, not howling, it sounded hollower. Long, moaning sounds from the depths of a body. They grew louder, so loud that I didn’t even hear Dad and Jimmy returning down the stairs. They said nothing when they passed me where I was still standing, ready to run. Their eyes looked completely empty as they disappeared to their rooms, but I remained standing without going upstairs to comfort her.

 

 

The day after I woke up late, remained in bed for a moment, listening. Dust moved in dreamlike patterns above my face. The house was quiet. I went upstairs, fumbling. It felt so empty everywhere. The door to Jimmy’s room was open. The bed wasn’t made.
The stairs to the attic were dim, the wood of the worn-down steps felt smooth against my feet. I went as soundlessly as I could, halfway up I saw the attic room door standing ajar. Clear marks of the crowbar. Broken-up bright wounds in the door frame. The light streamed out onto my feet.
– Mum?
I pushed open the door.
That she had managed to tidy up so much was incredible. I remembered the room as being crammed, dark and filthy. Dirt-encrusted windows, a thick layer of dust on heavy rubbish bags and long-forgotten furniture. But now it looked like any other room, smelled weakly of citrus, wood and incense. Between two purple lengths of curtain the mild winter light fell onto a desk full of books. In the middle stood a gleaming typewriter with an empty sheet of paper. The folding bed was made, and on the floor next to it was a glass half-full of water. A few thin, downy strands of hair had fastened to the sides of the glass, the water was a little dusty. I took a few steps that way, but stopped again. A sound, like a thump. Or a hollow note struck somewhere in the house, dampened by the journey through the walls but reaching me at the exact moment I stopped. I stood in silence, listening. The distant rattle of a magpie outside the window. Nothing else. It was colder up here, and I was barefoot on the wooden floor. A few centimetres from my toes I saw that someone had drawn a white crayon line that disappeared under the red oriental rug on the floor in front of me. My hand trembled slightly as I hid it behind my back. I was right at the edge now, of something. Very slowly, as if not to show it, I opened my mouth a little. The rest of my body was still, which was decisive. I made the sign with a quick movement of my hand next to the spine, it was hardly visible. The intense concentration made the skin of my face tighten across my forehead and temples. I said the word very quietly, almost inaudibly, and very calmly, in almost complete silence. Even so, it would probably be heard. Then I took the first counter-clockwise steps of the circle. When I was ready I halted. My whole body felt numb, my eyes looking around, searching. But nothing happened. Not even the magpie could be heard now. I turned around to leave. But halfway out of the room I could see a billowing movement in the corner of my eye. It came from the floor, behind the curtain of the nearest window. As if something had been sitting there for a while, but now was on its way out.

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