A Fairy Tale

Jonas T. Bengtsson (trans. Charlotte Barslund)


I’ve just turned six when Olof Palme is shot.

It’s the first of March and very cold outside. My dad and I are sitting inthe kitchen, we’re eating crusty rolls for breakfast and I’m drawing. We hear it on the radio. My dad turns up the volume. The woman on the radio sounds as if it’s important. Big news. I chase a poppy seed across the table with my fingernail. Then my dad tells me to get dressed. I can’t find my socks. My dad bends down and sticks my bare feet into my wellies.

We walk down the street. My dad holds me by the arm. He’s looking straight ahead. Dragging me along. I’ve become luggage. A suitcase on small wheels. I tell him that it hurts, that I can’t keep up, but the wind blows away my words.

There are always lots of people out and about on a Saturday. Cars going in and out of carports, elderly women with grocery bags doing last-minute shopping before everything shuts. But not today, today we have the road to ourselves. It’s not a big town and we soon reach the main street. My dad looks straight ahead; his mouth is just a line across his face. I think he has forgotten he’s holding my arm. My dad has shoulder-length blond hair with the same reddish tint as his beard. He shaves once a week and lets it grow in between. He cuts his hair with a pair of scissors in the kitchen. The cigarette is an extension of his hand, an extra joint on his finger. He wears only a T-shirt under his coat which is always open, but he’s never cold. It’s rare for him to feel the cold. I’m almost always cold. I look like him, I think. When I grow up, I won’t shave, either.

He says I look more like my mum. But that it’s a good thing. She was beautiful.

I tell him that when I grow up I’ll only shave once a week like him, but again the wind takes my words, tears at the branches and shakes the trees, whistles down the drainpipes.

We reach the town’s only television shop. The TV sets in the window all show the same picture, some in colour, others in black and white. We’ve already walked through the door, but my dad doesn’t let go of me until we stand in front of a wall of screens. Big and small ones, price tags with long numbers. When the lady in one television turns her head or glances down at her papers, the ladies in all the other televisions copy her movements. It reminds me of a game we played in nursery school in another town.

The shop assistant is standing next to us. He wears a striped shirt with a name tag and he’s staring at one of the TV sets, his mouth hanging slightly open. An elderly woman has put down her shopping bags and hasn’t noticed that four apples have rolled away. My dad looks around as if he’s searching for something; he finds it hard to make up his mind. Finally he opts for a huge colour television in the centre. The sound is already loud, but he turns it up even more. Then my dad stands very still too. I’m convinced that the first person to move has lost the game. The television shows images of a dark street, road signs and snow. Stockholm. A sidewalk has been cordoned off with red and white plastic tape, people have gathered behind it. They, too, are standing very still. Some are clasping their mouths. The woman in the television speaks very slowly, as if she has just woken up. She says that Olof Palme came out of a cinema not far from there. That he was with his wife, that they had been to see the film The Mozart Brothers  and were on their way home.

On the grey pavement are dark stains that look like paint. The camera zooms in on them.

“It’s blood,” my dad says, never once taking his eyes off the screen.

We’re back in the street. We walk quickly as if rushing away

from the images on the television. I think we’re heading home until we turn right by the closed-down butcher’s. Towards the harbour, down a narrow, cobbled street. My dad sits down on an iron girder; I sit down beside him, as close to him as I can get. The water in front of us is black. A couple of fishing boats are sailing into the harbour; there’s a huge crane to our right, its hook hangs just above the surface of the water. The sky is grey.

My dad hides his face in his coat sleeve. I hear loud sobs through the thick fabric. He squeezes my hand so hard that it hurts.

“They got him,” he says. “The bastards finally got him.”

I don’t remember ever seeing my dad cry. I ask him if Palme was someone he knew, but he makes no reply. He holds me tight. My feet are freezing in the wellies.

“They got him,” he says again. The wind whips the sea into foam. “I think we’re going to have to move again.”

A Fairy Tale Jonas T. Bengtsson (tr. Charlotte Barslund)