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A man called ove a novel, p.16
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       A Man Called Ove: A Novel, p.16

           Fredrik Backman
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  told him, with fire in her eyes, about her boys and girls. The ones who arrived in the classroom with police escorts yet when they left could recite four-hundred-year-old poetry. The ones who could make her cry and laugh and sing until her voice was bouncing off the ceilings of their little house. Ove could never make head nor tail of those impossible kids, but he was not beyond liking them for what they did to Sonja.

  Every human being needs to know what she’s fighting for. That was what they said. And she fought for what was good. For the children she never had. And Ove fought for her.

  Because that was the only thing in this world he really knew.



  The Saab is so full of people when Ove drives away from the hospital that he keeps checking the fuel gauge, as if he’s afraid that it’s going to break into a scornful dance. In his rearview mirror he sees Parvaneh unconcernedly giving the three-year-old paper and color crayons.

  “Does she have to do that in the car?” barks Ove.

  “Would you rather have her restless, so she starts wondering how to pull the upholstery off of the seats?” Parvaneh says calmly.

  Ove doesn’t answer. Just looks at the three-year-old in his mirror. She’s shaking a big purple crayon at the cat in Parvaneh’s lap and yelling: “DROORING!” The cat observes the child with great caution, clearly reluctant to make itself available as a decorative surface.

  Patrick sits between them, turning and twisting his body to try to find a comfortable position for his leg cast, which he’s wedged up on the armrest between the front seats.

  It’s not easy, because he’s doing his best not to dislodge the newspapers that Ove has placed both on his seat and under the cast.

  The three-year-old drops a color crayon, which rolls forward under the front passenger seat, where Jimmy is sitting. In what must surely be a move worthy of an Olympian acrobat for a man of his physique, Jimmy manages to bend forward and scoop up the crayon from the mat in front of him. He checks it out for a moment, grins, then turns to Patrick’s propped-up leg and draws a large, smiling man on the cast. The toddler shrieks with joy when she notices.

  “So you’re going to start making a mess as well?” says Ove.

  “Pretty neat, isn’t it?” Jimmy crows and looks as if he’s about to make a high-five at Ove.

  Ove rolls his eyes.

  “Sorry, man, couldn’t stop myself,” says Jimmy and, somewhat shamefaced, gives back the crayon to Parvaneh.

  There’s a plinging sound in Jimmy’s pocket. He hauls out a cell phone as large as a full-grown man’s hand and occupies himself with frenetically tapping the display.

  “Whose is the cat?” Patrick asks from the back.

  “Ove’s kitty!” the three-year-old answers with rock-solid certainty.

  “It is not,” Ove corrects her at once.

  He sees Parvaneh smiling teasingly at him in the rearview mirror.

  “Is so!” she says.

  “No it ISN’T!” says Ove.

  She laughs. Patrick looks very puzzled. She pats him encouragingly on the knee.

  “Don’t worry about what Ove is saying. It’s absolutely his cat.”

  “He’s a bloody vagrant, that’s what he is!” Ove corrects.

  The cat lifts its head to find out what all the commotion is about, then concludes that all this is sensationally uninteresting and snuggles back into Parvaneh’s lap. Or rather, her belly.

  “So it’s not being handed in somewhere?” Patrick wonders, scrutinizing the feline.

  The cat lifts its head a little, hissing briefly at him by way of an answer.

  “What do you mean, ‘handed in’?” Ove says, cutting him short.

  “Well . . . to a cat home or someth—” Patrick begins, but gets no further before Ove bawls:

  “No one’s being handed in to any bloody home!”

  And with this, the subject is exhausted. Patrick tries not to look startled. Parvaneh tries not to burst out laughing. Neither really manages.

  “Can’t we stop off somewhere for something to eat?” Jimmy interjects and adjusts his seat position; the Saab starts swaying.

  Ove looks at the group assembled around him, as if he’s been kidnapped and taken to a parallel universe. For a moment he thinks about swerving off the road, until he realizes that the worst-case scenario would be that they all accompanied him into the afterlife. After this insight, he reduces his speed and increases the gap significantly between his own car and the one in front.

  “Wee!” yells the three-year-old.

  “Can we stop, Ove? Nasanin needs to pee,” Parvaneh calls out, in that manner peculiar to people who believe that the backseat of a Saab is two hundred yards behind the driver.

  “Yeah! Then we can have something to eat at the same time.” Jimmy nods with anticipation.

  “Yeah, let’s do that, I need a wee as well,” says Parvaneh.

  “McDonald’s has toilets,” Jimmy informs them helpfully.

  “McDonald’s will be fine, stop there,” Parvaneh nods.

  “There’ll be no stopping here,” says Ove firmly.

  Parvaneh eyes him in the rearview mirror. Ove glares back. Ten minutes later he’s sitting in the Saab, waiting for them all outside McDonald’s. Even the cat has gone inside with them. The traitor. Parvaneh comes out and taps on Ove’s window.

  “Are you sure you don’t want anything?” she says softly to him.

  Ove nods. She looks a little dejected. He rolls up the window again. She walks around the car and hops in on the passenger side.

  “Thanks for stopping.” She smiles.

  “Yeah, yeah,” says Ove.

  She’s eating french fries. Ove reaches forward and puts more newspaper on the floor in front of her. She starts laughing. He can’t understand at what.

  “I need your help, Ove,” she says suddenly.

  Ove doesn’t seem spontaneously or enormously enthusiastic.

  “I thought you could help me pass my driving test,” she continues.

  “What did you say?” asks Ove, as if he must have heard her wrong.

  She shrugs. “Patrick will be in casts for months. I have to get a driver’s license so I can give the girls lifts. I thought you could give me some driving lessons.”

  Ove looks so confused that he even forgets to get upset.

  “So in other words you don’t have a driver’s license?”


  “So it wasn’t a joke?”


  “Did you lose your license?”

  “No. I never had one.”

  Ove’s brain seems to need a good few moments to process this information, which, to him, is utterly beyond belief.

  “What’s your job?” he asks.

  “What’s that got to do with it?” she replies.

  “Surely it’s got everything to do with it?”

  “I’m a real estate agent.”

  Ove nods.

  “And no driver’s license?”


  Ove shakes his head grimly, as if this is the very pinnacle of being a human being who doesn’t take responsibility for anything. Parvaneh smiles that little teasing smile of hers again, scrunches up the empty french fries bag, and opens the door.

  “Look at it this way, Ove: Do you really want anyone else to teach me to drive in the residential area?”

  She gets out of the car and goes to the trash can. Ove doesn’t answer. He just snorts.

  Jimmy shows up in the doorway.

  “Can I eat in the car?” he asks, a piece of chicken sticking out of his mouth.

  At first Ove thinks of saying no, but then realizes they’ll never get out of here at this rate. Instead, he spreads so many newspapers over the passenger seat and floor that it’s as if he’s preparing to give the car a respray.

  “Just hop in, will you, so we can get home,” he groans and gestures at Jimmy.

  Jimmy nods, upbeat. H
is cell phone plings.

  “And stop that noise—this isn’t a bloody pinball arcade.”

  “Sorry, man, work keeps e-mailing me all the time,” says Jimmy, balancing his food in one hand and fiddling with the phone in his pocket with the other.

  “So you have a job, then?” says Ove.

  Jimmy nods enthusiastically.

  “I program iPhone apps.”

  Ove has no further questions.

  At least it’s relatively quiet in the car for ten minutes until they roll into the parking area outside Ove’s garage. Ove stops alongside the bicycle shed, puts the Saab into neutral without turning off the engine, and gives his passengers a meaningful look.

  “It’s fine, Ove. Patrick can manage on his crutches from here,” says Parvaneh with unmistakable irony.

  “Cars aren’t allowed in the residential area,” says Ove.

  Undeterred, Patrick extricates himself and his cast from the backseat of the car, while Jimmy squeezes out of the passenger seat, chicken grease all over his T-shirt.

  Parvaneh lifts out the three-year-old in her car seat and puts it on the ground. The girl waves something in the air, while yelling out some garbled words.

  Parvaneh nods, goes back to the car, leans in through the front door, and gives Ove a sheet of paper.

  “What’s that?” Ove asks, making not the slightest movement to accept it.

  “It’s Nasanin’s drawing.”

  “What am I supposed to do with that?”

  “She’s drawn you,” Parvaneh replies, and shoves it into his hands.

  Ove gives the paper a reluctant look. It’s filled with lines and swirls.

  “That’s Jimmy, and that’s the cat, and that’s Patrick and me. And that’s you,” explains Parvaneh.

  When she says that last bit she points at a figure in the middle of the drawing. Everything else on the paper is drawn in black, but the figure in the middle is a veritable explosion of color. A riot of yellow and red and blue and green and orange and purple.

  “You’re the funniest thing she knows. That’s why she always draws you in color,” says Parvaneh.

  Then she closes the passenger door and walks off.

  It takes several seconds before Ove collects himself enough to call out after her: “What do you mean, ‘always’?”

  But by then they have all started walking back to the houses.

  Slightly offended, Ove adjusts the newspaper on the passenger seat. The cat climbs over from the back and makes itself comfortable on it. Ove backs the Saab into the garage. Closes the door. Puts it into neutral without turning off the engine. Feels the exhaust fumes slowly filling the garage and gazes at the plastic tube hanging on the wall. For a few minutes all that can be heard is the cat’s breathing and the engine’s rhythmic stuttering. It would be easy, just sitting there and waiting for the inevitable. It’s the only logical thing, Ove knows. He’s been longing for it for a long time now. The end. He misses her so much that sometimes he can’t bear existing in his own body. It would be the only rational thing, just sitting here until the fumes lull both him and the cat to sleep and bring this to an end.

  But then he looks at the cat. And he turns off the engine.

  The next morning they get up at quarter to six. Drink coffee and eat tuna fish respectively. When they’ve finished their inspection round, Ove carefully shovels snow outside his house. When he’s done with that he stands outside his shed, leaning on his snow shovel, looking at the line of row houses.

  Then he crosses the road and starts clearing snow in front of the other houses.



  Ove waits till after breakfast, once he’s let the cat out. Only then does he take down a plastic bottle from the top shelf in the bathroom. He weighs it in his hand as if he’s about to throw it somewhere, rattles it lightly to see if many pills are left.

  Towards the end the doctors prescribed so many painkillers for Sonja. Their bathroom still looks like a storage facility for the Colombian mafia. Ove obviously doesn’t trust medicine, has always been convinced its only real effects are psychological and, as a result, it only works on people with feeble brains.

  But it’s only just struck him that chemicals are not at all an unusual way of taking one’s life.

  He hears something outside the front door—the cat is back surprisingly quickly, scraping its paws by the threshold and sounding like it’s been caught in a steel trap. As if it knows what’s going through Ove’s mind. Ove can understand that it’s disappointed in him. He can’t possibly expect it to understand his actions.

  He thinks about how it would feel, doing it this way. He has never taken any narcotics. Has hardly even been affected by alcohol. Has never liked the feeling of losing control. He’s come to realize over the years that it’s this very feeling that normal folk like and strive for, but as far as Ove is concerned only a complete bloody airhead could find loss of control a state worth aiming for. He wonders if he’ll feel nauseated, if he’ll feel pain when his body’s organs give up and stop functioning. Or will he just go to sleep when his body becomes unfit for use?

  By now, the cat is howling out there in the snow. Ove closes his eyes and thinks of Sonja. It’s not that he’s the sort of man who gives up and dies; he doesn’t want her to think that. But it’s actually wrong, all this. She married him. And now he doesn’t quite know how to carry on without the tip of her nose in the pit between his throat and his shoulder. That’s all.

  He unscrews the lid and distributes the pills along the edge of the washbasin. Watches them as if expecting them to transform into little murderous robots. Of course they don’t. Ove is unimpressed. He finds it quite inexplicable how those little white dots could do him any harm, regardless of how many of them he takes. The cat sounds as if it’s spitting snow all over Ove’s front door. But then it’s interrupted by another, quite different sound.

  A dog barking.

  Ove looks up. It’s quiet for a few seconds, and then he hears the cat yowling with pain. Then more barking. And Blond Weed roaring something.

  Ove stands there gripping the washbasin. Closes his eyes as if he could blink the sound out. It doesn’t work. Then at last he sighs and straightens up. Unscrews the lid of the bottle, pushes the pills back into it. Goes down the stairs. As he crosses the living room he puts the jar on the windowsill. And through the window he sees Blond Weed in the road, taking aim and then rushing towards the cat.

  Ove opens the door exactly as she’s about to kick the animal in the head with all her strength. The cat quickly dodges her needle-sharp heel and backs away towards Ove’s toolshed. Mutt growls hysterically, saliva flying around its head as if it were a rabies-infected beast. There’s fur in its jaws. This is the first time Ove can remember having seen Weed without her sunglasses. Malevolence glitters in her green eyes. She pulls back, preparing for another kick, then catches sight of Ove and stops herself midflow. Her lower lip is trembling with anger.

  “I’ll have that thing shot!” she hisses and points at the cat.

  Very slowly Ove shakes his head without taking his eyes off her. She swallows. Something about his expression, as if sculpted from a seam of rock, makes her murderous assurance falter.

  “It’s a f-f-fucking street cat and . . . and it’s going to die! It scratched Prince!” she stammers.

  Ove doesn’t say anything but his eyes turn black. And in the end even the dog backs away from him.

  “Come on, Prince,” she says, disappearing around the corner as if Ove had physically shoved her from behind.

  Ove stays where he is, breathing heavily. He presses his fist to his chest, feels the uncontrolled beating of his heart. He groans a little. Then he looks at the cat. The cat looks back at him. There’s a new wound down its flank. Blood in its fur again.

  “Nine lives won’t last you very long, will they?” says Ove.

  The cat licks its paw and looks as if it’s not the sort of cat that lik
es to keep count. Ove nods and steps aside.

  “Get inside, then.”

  The cat traipses in over the threshold. Ove closes the door.

  He stands in the middle of the living room. Everywhere, Sonja looks back at him. Only now does it strike him that he’s positioned the photographs so they follow him through the house wherever he goes. She’s on the table in the kitchen, hangs on the wall in the hall and halfway up the stairs. She’s on the window shelf in the living room, where the cat has now jumped up and sits right beside her. It sends Ove a disgruntled look as it sweeps the pills onto the floor, with a crash. When Ove picks up the bottle, the cat looks at him in horror, as if about to shout, “J’accuse!”

  Ove kicks a little at a baseboard, then turns around and goes into the kitchen to put the pill bottle in a cupboard. Then he makes coffee and pours water in a bowl for the cat.

  They drink in silence.

  Ove picks up the empty bowl and puts it next to his coffee cup in the sink. He stands with his hands on his hips for a good while. Then turns around and goes into the hall.

  “Tag along, then,” he urges the cat without looking at it. “Let’s give that village cur something to think about.”

  Ove puts on the navy winter jacket, steps into his clogs, and lets the cat walk out the door first. He looks at the photo of Sonja on the wall. She laughs back at him. Maybe it’s not so enormously important to die that it can’t wait another hour, thinks Ove, and follows the cat into the street.

  He goes to Rune’s house, where it takes several minutes before the door opens. There’s a slow, dragging sound inside before anything happens with the lock, as if a ghost is approaching with heavy chains rattling behind it. Then, finally, it opens and Rune stands there looking at Ove and the cat with an empty stare.

  “You got any corrugated iron?” wonders Ove, without allowing any time for small talk.

  Rune gives him a concentrated stare for a second or two, as if his brain is fighting desperately to produce a memory.

  “Corrugated iron?” he says to himself, as if tasting the word, like someone who’s just woken up and is intensely trying to remember what he’s been dreaming.

  “Corrugated iron; that’s it,” says Ove with a nod.

  Rune looks at him, or rather he looks straight through him. His eyes have the gleam of a newly waxed car hood. He’s emaciated and hunchbacked; his beard is gray, bordering on white. This used to be a solid bloke commanding a bit of respect, but now his clothes hang on his body in rags. He’s grown old: very, very
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Comments 2

admin 5 July 2018 23:55
love that one
Aiman 28 July 2018 09:13
Such a beautiful piece of work. Makes my heart swell up two sizes, overwhelmed.
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