A man called ove a novel, p.11
A Man Called Ove: A Novel,
choose anything he wanted. And he answered, without even thinking about it, that he wanted to build houses. Construct them. Draw the plans. Calculate the best way to make them stand where they stood. And then she didn’t start laughing as he thought she would. She got angry.
“But why don’t you do it, then?” she demanded.
Ove did not have a particularly good answer to that one.
On the following Monday she came to his house with brochures for a correspondence course leading to an engineering qualification. The old landlady was quite overwhelmed when she looked at the beautiful young woman walking up the stairs with self-confident steps. Later she tapped Ove’s back and whispered that those flowers were probably a very good investment. Ove couldn’t help but agree.
When he came up to his room she was sitting on his bed. Ove stood sulkily in the doorway, with his hands in his pockets. She looked at him and laughed.
“Are we an item now?” she asked.
“Well, yes,” he replied hesitantly, “I suppose it could be that way.”
And then it was that way.
She handed him the brochures. It was a two-year course, and it proved that all the time Ove had spent learning about house building had not, after all, been wasted as he’d once believed. Maybe he did not have much of a head for studying in a conventional sense, but he understood numbers and he understood houses. That got him far. He took the examination after six months. Then another. And another. Then he got a job at the housing office and stayed there for more than a third of a century. Worked hard, was never ill, paid his mortgage, paid taxes, did his duty. Bought a little two-story row house in a recently constructed development in the forest. She wanted to get married, so Ove proposed. She wanted children, which was fine with him, said Ove. And their understanding was that children should live in row housing developments among other children.
And less than forty years later there was no forest around the house anymore. Just other houses. And one day she was lying there in a hospital and holding his hand and telling him not to worry. Everything was going to be all right. Easy for her to say, thought Ove, his breast pulsating with anger and sorrow. But she just whispered, “Everything will be fine, darling Ove,” and leaned her arm against his arm. And then gently pushed her index finger into the palm of his hand. And then closed her eyes and died.
Ove stayed there with her hand in his for several hours. Until the hospital staff entered the room with warm voices and careful movements, explaining that they had to take her body away. Ove rose from his chair, nodded, and went to the undertakers to take care of the paperwork. On Sunday she was buried. On Monday he went to work.
But if anyone had asked, he would have told them that he never lived before he met her. And not after either.
A MAN CALLED OVE AND A DELAYED TRAIN
The slightly porky man on the other side of the Plexiglas has back-combed hair and arms covered in tattoos. As if it isn’t enough to look like someone has slapped a pack of margarine over his head, he has to cover himself in doodles as well. There’s not even a proper motif, as far as Ove can see, just a lot of patterns. Is that something an adult person in a healthy state of mind would consent to? Going about with his arms looking like a pair of pajamas?
“Your ticket machine doesn’t work,” Ove informs him.
“No?” says the man behind the Plexiglas.
“What do you mean, ‘no’?”
“I mean . . . I’m asking, doesn’t it work?”
“I just told you, it’s broken!”
The man behind the Plexiglas looks dubious. “Maybe there’s something wrong with your card? Some dirt on the magnetic strip?” he suggests.
Ove looks as if the man behind the Plexiglas had just raised the possibility of Ove having erectile dysfunction. The man behind the Plexiglas goes silent.
“There’s no dirt on my magnetic strip, you can be sure of that,” Ove splutters.
The man behind the Plexiglas nods. Then changes his mind and shakes his head. Tries to explain to Ove that the machine “actually worked earlier in the day.” Ove dismisses this as utterly irrelevant, of course, because it is clearly broken now. The man behind the Plexiglas wonders if Ove has cash instead. Ove replies that this is none of his bloody business. A tense silence settles.
At long last the man behind the Plexiglas asks if he can “check out the card.” Ove looks at him as if they just met in a dark alley and he’s asked to “check out” Ove’s private parts.
“Don’t try anything,” Ove warns as he hesitantly pushes it under the window.
The man behind the Plexiglas grabs the card and rubs it against his leg in a vigorous manner. As if Ove had never read in the newspaper about that thing they call “skimming.” As if Ove was an idiot.
“What are you DOING?” Ove cries and bangs the palm of his hand against the Plexiglas window.
The man pushes the card back under the window.
“Try it now,” he says.
Ove thinks that any old fool could figure out that if the card wasn’t working half a minute ago it isn’t going to work now either. Ove points this out to the man behind the Plexiglas.
“Please?” says the man.
Ove sighs demonstratively. Takes his card again, without taking his eyes off the Plexiglas. The card works.
“You see!” jeers the man behind the Plexiglas.
Ove glares at the card as if he feels it has double-crossed him, before he puts it back in his wallet.
“Have a good day,” the man behind the Plexiglas calls out behind him.
“We’ll see,” mutters Ove.
For the last twenty years practically every human being he’s met has done nothing but drone on at Ove about how he should be paying for everything by card. But cash has always been good enough for Ove; cash has in fact served humanity perfectly well for thousands of years. And Ove doesn’t trust the banks and all their electronics.
But his wife insisted on getting hold of one of those prepaid cards in spite of it all, even though Ove warned her against it. And when she died the bank simply sent Ove a new card in his name, connected to her account. And now, after he’s been buying flowers for her grave for the past six months, there’s a sum of 136 kronor and 54 öre left on it. And Ove knows very well that this money will disappear into the pocket of some bank director if Ove dies without spending it first.
But now when Ove actually wants to use that damned plastic card, it doesn’t work, of course. Or there are a lot of extra fees when he uses it in the shops. Which only goes to prove that Ove was right all along. And he’s going to say as much to his wife as soon as he sees her, she had better be quite clear about that.
He had gone out this morning long before the sun had drummed up the energy to rise over the horizon, much less any of his neighbors. He had carefully studied the train timetable in the hall. Then he’d turned out the lights, switched off the radiators, locked his front door, and left the envelope with all the instructions on the hall mat inside the door. He assumed that someone would find it when they came to take the house.
He fetched the snow shovel, cleared the snow away from the front of the house, put the shovel back in the shed. Locked the shed. Had Ove been a bit more attentive he would have noticed the fairly large cat-shaped cavity in the quite large snowdrift just outside his shed as he started heading off towards the parking area. But because he had more important things on his mind he did not.
Chastened by recent experiences, he did not take the Saab, but walked instead to the station. Because this time neither Pregnant Foreign Woman, Blond Weed, Rune’s wife, nor low-quality rope would be given any opportunity of ruining Ove’s morning. He’d bled these people’s radiators, loaned them his things, given them lifts to the hospital. But now he was finally on his way.
He checked the train timetable once more. He hated being late. It ruined the planning. Made everything out of step. His wife had been utterly useless at it, keeping to plans. Bu
Now, standing at the station platform, he presses his hands into his pockets. He isn’t wearing his suit jacket. It’s much too stained and smells too strongly of car exhaust, so he feels she’d probably have a crack at him if he were to turn up in that. She doesn’t like the shirt and sweater he’s wearing now, but at least they’re clean and in decent condition. It’s about ten degrees outside. He hasn’t yet changed the blue autumn jacket for the blue winter coat, and the cold is blowing straight through it. He’s been a bit distracted of late, he has to admit. He hasn’t given any real thought to how one is supposed to present oneself when arriving upstairs. Initially he thought one should be all spruced up and formal. Most likely there’ll be some kind of uniform up there, to avoid confusion. He supposes there will be all sorts of people—foreigners, for instance, each one wearing a stranger outfit than the next. Presumably it will be possible to organize your clothes once you get there—surely there will even be some sort of wardrobe department?
The platform is almost empty. On the other side of the track are some sleepy-looking youths with oversize backpacks which, Ove decides, are most likely filled with drugs. Alongside them is a man in his forties in a gray suit and a black overcoat. He’s reading the newspaper. A little farther off are some small-talking women in their best years with county council logos on their chests and purple tresses of hair. They’re chain-smoking long menthol cigarettes.
On Ove’s side of the track it’s empty but for three overdimensioned municipal employees in their midthirties in workmen’s trousers and hard hats, standing in a ring and staring down into a hole. Around them is a carelessly erected loop of cordon tape. One of them has a mug of coffee from 7-Eleven; another is eating a banana; the third is trying to poke his cell phone without removing his gloves. It’s not going so well. And the hole stays where it is. And still we’re surprised when the whole world comes crashing down in a financial crisis, Ove thinks. When people do little more than standing around eating bananas and looking into holes in the ground all day.
He checks his watch. One minute left. He stands at the edge of the platform. Balancing the soles of his shoes over the edge. It’s a fall of no more than five feet, he estimates. Five and a half, possibly. There’s a certain symbolism in a train taking his life and he doesn’t like this much. He doesn’t think the train driver should have to see the awfulness of it. For this reason he has decided to jump when the train is very close, so it’s rather the side of the first carriage that throws him onto the rails than the big windshield at the front. He looks in the direction the train is coming from and slowly starts counting. It’s important that the timing is absolutely right, he determines. The sun is just up; it shines obstinately into his eyes like a child who has just been given a flashlight.
And that’s when he hears the first scream.
Ove looks up just in time to see the suit-wearing man in his black overcoat starting to sway back and forth, like a panda that’s been given a Valium overdose. It continues for a second or so, then the suit-wearing man looks up blindly and his whole body is struck with some form of nervous twitching. His arms shake convulsively. And then, as if the moment is a long sequence of still photographs, the newspaper falls out of his hands and he passes out, falling off the edge onto the track with a thump, as if he were a sack of cement mixture.
The chain-smoking old girls with the county council logos on their breasts start shrieking in panic. The drug-taking youths stare at the track, their hands enmeshed in their backpack straps as if fearing that they might otherwise fall over. Ove stands on the edge of the platform on the other side and looks with irritation from one to the other.
“For Christ’s sake,” fumes Ove to himself at long last as he jumps down onto the track. “GRAB HOLD HERE WILL YOU!” he calls out to one of the backpackers on the platform. The stultified youth drags himself slowly to the edge. Ove hoists up the suit-wearing man in a way that men who have never put their foot in a gym yet have spent their entire lives carrying a concrete plinth under each arm tend to be able to do. He heaves up the body into the backpacker’s arms in a way that Audi-driving men wearing neon-bright jogging pants are often incapable of doing.
“He can’t stay here in the path of the train, you get that, don’t you?!”
The backpackers nod in confusion, and finally by their collective efforts manage to drag the suit-wearing body onto the platform. The county council women are still screaming, as if they sincerely believe this is a constructive approach under the circumstances. The man appears to be breathing, but Ove stays down there on the track. He hears the train coming. It’s not quite the way he planned it, but it’ll have to do.
Then he calmly goes into the middle of the track, puts his hands in his pockets, and stares into the headlights. He hears the warning whistle like a foghorn. Feels the track shaking powerfully under his feet, as if a testosterone-fueled bull were trying to charge him. He breathes out. In the midst of that inferno of shaking and yelling and the chilling scream of the train’s brakes he feels a deep relief.
To Ove, the moments that follow are elongated as if time itself has applied its brakes and made everything around him travel in slow motion. The explosion of sounds is muted into a low hiss in his ears, the train approaching so slowly that it’s as if it’s being pulled along by two decrepit oxen. The headlights flash despairingly at him. And in the interval between two of the flashes, while he isn’t blinded, he finds himself establishing eye contact with the train driver. He can’t be more than twenty years old. One of those who still gets called “the puppy” by his older colleagues.
Ove stares into the puppy’s face. Clenches his fists in his pockets as if he’s cursing himself for what he’s about to do. But it can’t be helped, he thinks. There’s a right way of doing things. And a wrong way.
So the train is perhaps fifteen yards away when Ove swears with irritation and, as calmly as if he were getting up to fetch himself a cup of coffee, steps out of the way and jumps up on the platform again.
The train has drawn level with him by the time the driver has managed to stop it. The puppy’s terror has sucked all the blood out of his face. He is clearly holding back his tears. The two men look at each other through the locomotive window as if they had just emerged from some apocalyptic desert and now realized that neither of them was the last human being on earth. One is relieved by this insight. And the other disappointed.
The boy in the locomotive nods carefully. Ove nods back with resignation.
Fair enough that Ove no longer wants his life. But the sort of man who ruins someone else’s by making eye contact with him seconds before his body is turned into blood paste against s
“Are you all right?” one of the hard hats calls out behind Ove.
“Another minute and you’d have been a goner!” yells one of the others.
They stand there staring at him, not at all unlike the way they were standing just now and staring into that hole. It seems to be their prime area of competence, in fact: to stare at things. Ove stares back.
“Another second, I mean,” clarifies the man who still has a banana in his hand.
“It could have gone quite badly, that,” sniggers the first hard hat.
“Really badly,” the other one agrees.
“Could have died, actually,” clarifies the third.
“You’re a real hero!”
“Saved their life!”
“His. Saved his life,” Ove corrects and hears Sonja’s voice in his own.
“Would have died otherwise,” the third one reiterates, taking a forthright bite of his banana.
On the track is the train with all its red emergency lights turned on, puffing and screeching like a very fat person who’s just run into a wall. A great number of examples of what Ove assumes must be IT consultants and other disreputable folk come streaming out and stand about dizzily on the platform. Ove puts his hands in his trouser pockets.
“I suppose now you’ll have a lot of bloody delayed trains as well,” he says and looks with particular displeasure at the chaotic press of people on the platform.
“Yeah,” says the first hard hat.
“Reckon so,” says the second.
“Lots and lots of delays,” the third one agrees.
Ove makes a sound like a heavy bureau that’s got a rusted-up hinge. He goes past all three of them without a word.
“Where you off to? You’re a hero!” the first hard hat yells at him, surprised.
“Yeah,” yells the second.
“A hero!” yells the third.
Ove doesn’t answer. He walks past the man behind the Plexiglas, back out into the snow-covered streets, and starts walking home.
The town slowly wakes up around him with its foreign-made cars and its statistics and credit-card debt and all its other crap.
And so this day was also ruined, he confirms with bitterness.
As he is walking alongside the bicycle shed by the parking area, he sees the white Škoda coming past from the direction of Anita and Rune’s house. A determined woman with glasses is sitting in the passenger seat, her arms filled with files and papers. Behind the wheel sits the man in the white shirt. Ove has to jump out of the way to avoid being run over as the car races round the corner.
The man lifts a smoldering cigarette towards Ove through the windshield, and offers a superior half smile. As if it’s Ove’s fault that he’s in the way, but he’s generous enough to let it go.
“Idiot!” Ove yells after the Škoda, but the man in the white shirt doesn’t seem to react at all.
Ove memorizes the license number before the car disappears round the corner.
“Soon it’ll be your turn, you old fart,” hisses a malevolent voice behind him.
Ove spins around with his fist instinctively raised, and finds himself staring at his own reflection in Blond Weed’s sunglasses. She’s holding that damned mutt in her arms. It growls at him.
“They were from Social Services,” she jeers, with a nod towards the road.
In the parking area, Ove sees that imbecile Anders backing his Audi out of his garage. It has those new, wave-shaped headlights, Ove notes, presumably designed so that no one at night will be able to avoid the insight that here comes a car driven by an utter shit.
“What business is it of yours?” Ove says to the Weed.
Her lips are pulled into the sort of grimace that comes as close to a real smile as a woman whose lips have been injected with environmental waste and nerve toxins is ever likely to achieve.
“It’s my business because this time it’s that bloody old man at the end of the road they’re putting in a home. And after that it’ll be you!”
She spits at the ground beside him and walks towards the Audi. Ove watches her, his chest puffing in and out under his shirt. As the Audi swings around she shows him the middle finger on the other side of the window. Ove’s first instinct is to run after them and tear that German sheet-metal monster, inclusive of imbeciles, weeds, growling mutts, and wave-shaped headlights, to smithereens. But then suddenly he feels out of breath, as if he’s been running full-tilt through the snow. He leans forward, puts his hands on his knees, and notices to his own fury that he’s panting for air, his heart racing.
He straightens up after a minute or so. There’s a slight flickering effect in his right eye. The Audi has gone. Ove turns and slowly heads back to his house, one hand pressed to his chest.
When he gets to his house he stops by the shed. Stares down into the cat-shaped hole in the snowdrift.
There’s a cat at the bottom of it.
Might have bloody known.
A MAN WHO WAS OVE AND A TRUCK IN THE FOREST
Before that day when the dour and slightly fumbling boy with the muscular body and the sad blue eyes sat down beside Sonja on the train, there were really only three things she loved unconditionally in her life: books, her father, and cats.
She’d obviously had quite a lot of attention, it wasn’t that. The suitors had come in all shapes and sizes. Tall and dark or short and blond and fun-loving and dull and elegant and boastful and handsome and greedy, and if they hadn’t been slightly dissuaded by the stories in the village of Sonja’s father keeping one or
A Man Called Ove: A Novel by Fredrik Backman / History & Fiction / Humor have rating 4.1 out of 5 / Based on95 votes