Blaze Me a Sun
It was the summer Evy Carlén got very sick, realized she didn’t have long to live, and confided in me that she knew what had happened to Sven Jörgensson and his son, Vidar, up in Tiarp.
We hadn’t known each other very long. I knew Evy had been a police officer and had moved to the house near Tofta a few years after retiring. Her husband, Ronnie, had died, and in her widowhood she devoted her days to the beautiful garden surrounding their house. It was situated a few kilometers up in the woods. That was how we met.
Ever since my return, I’ve lived a relatively quiet life. That’s how I like it. I’m over forty now, and my days don’t include any children, women, or other distractions. I spend my time writing or reading. Once or twice a week I take the car and go grocery shopping, drop by the bookstore, or visit my parents. They’re in their seventies now. On occasion I drive down to Lund, where my brother works and where my editor spends half his time. I don’t do much else. If I like I can walk down to the bus stop on Växjövägen and ride into town to see an old friend over a cup of coffee or a beer. Those trips are increasingly scarce now.
The only truly regular facet of my existence, beyond writing and reading, is taking walks. I hardly ever took walks during my years in Stockholm, unless I had some destination in mind, but down here I walk a few kilometers almost every day. I don’t know quite why I need it, but I do. Alongside the treat of a glass of whiskey a few times a week, after an especially productive workday, my walks are one of the few rewards I allow myself.
The first time I met her was in late June. The old woman was in her garden next to an open bag of potting soil. The quiet nature of her surroundings meant that she noticed me right away as I came walking by. She looked up, spotted me, nodded, and smiled.
“Aren’t you the one who moved in down by the road? Into the yellow house?”
“Yes, that’s me, I moved here recently,” I said.
“Where did you live before?”
“Stockholm. But I’m from here originally.”
“I’ve seen you on walks in the neighborhood.”
“It’s become a habit. This is a beautiful stretch.”
“Oh. Maybe it is. It’s like I don’t see it myself anymore.” She strode over to the fence and put out her hand. “I’m Evy.”
Once I’d introduced myself, she said, “That’s right. You’re the one who writes books. Aren’t you?”
“Yes,” I said, even though I hadn’t been able to write a word since I came back. “I suppose I am.”
“I haven’t read any of them, I have to confess.”
“There’s no need to. Have you lived here long?”
“For almost fifteen years. My husband and I bought the house. Now it’s just me. I’ve thought about selling it, of course,” she went on, as if anticipating a question she heard often, “but I don’t know, where would I go? I’m eighty years old. I guess I’ll just keep living.”
The next time we met, a week or so later, she invited me in for a cup of coffee and we exchanged phone numbers. We sat in her kitchen. Evy had a new cellphone, which she’d received from one of her grandchildren, and I showed her how the alarm clock worked.
She visited me sometimes. We drank wine, chatted, played cards, and kept each other company. She told me stories from her life as a police officer, hilarious and tragic stories of criminals and addicts, victims and next of kin. How it had been different, being a woman on the force at the time, and yet not. She showed me pictures from a photo album and spoke about her late husband, Ronnie, about her children and grandchildren, about her brother, Einar. I told her I’d moved back to my childhood home, that I was trying to get it in order but didn’t know how, that I hadn’t been able to write, and hadn’t even had anything to write about, in ages.
“That sounds lonely. You, I mean. You sound lonely.”
“So do you,” I said.
She chuckled. “It’s not the same.”
Her eyes were alert and disarming in a way I wasn’t used to, as if her gaze were an art she had perfected and used to great advantage during years’ worth of encounters with those who found themselves in the clutches of law enforcement. It would take time for me to realize that, despite her austere background, there were years when she’d relied on cigarettes and gin to calm her nerves and make it through.
Then one day in early August, something went wrong. Evy had gotten up early that morning and felt strange. Her equilibrium was off; she felt dizzy as she brewed her morning coffee, and when she walked into her front hall she had to grab the wall for support because everything was tilting weirdly. Her stomach began to churn. Standing before the mirror, she straightened up and tried to smile, even though she didn’t feel like smiling. One side of her mouth didn’t move. She looked off-kilter. She raised her arms and began to count to ten, but stopped when she saw her left arm fall back down. She made her way to an easy chair and called the emergency number.
“My name is Evy Carlén. It’s a lovely morning. Can you hear what I’m saying?”
“I’m sorry,” said the operator on the other end. “Can you repeat that? I didn’t hear you. What’s your name?”
“My name is Evy Carlén, and I said: It’s a lovely morning. Can you hear what I’m saying?”
“I see you’re calling from Norteforsen near Tofta. Is it Norteforsen 195? What’s your name? I’m having trouble hearing you.”
“Okay,” Evy said with a sigh. “I understand. Well, I suppose you’d better come over here, then.”
She struggled to walk to the front door, phone in hand, and turned the lock so they could get in. She collapsed on the floor, because the living room was too far away. By the time the ambulance arrived, she was unconscious.
I heard that she’d had a stroke. And when she woke up in the hospital bed she seemed to have lost her speech. All she did was burst into tears. Days went by before she could say much of anything, and when she did, what she said was a name. But it wasn’t the name of her late husband or the friend she sometimes met at Kupan; it wasn’t her brother, Einar, or her children or grandchildren. She said: “Sven Jörgensson.”
And burst into tears again.
By that point, she’d probably realized that I hadn’t been completely honest with her, that in fact I had basically deceived her. But what was I supposed to do? In the time leading up to Evy’s stroke, my life had slowly begun to revolve around what happened up in Tiarp, in that early spring long ago.
Moral suffering is strange. It can strike the strong as easily as the weak, and no surgery, painkillers, or artificial respirations can help. Moral pain is a different beast. The only solution is to let yourself be slowly consumed, or to resort to drastic measures to free yourself.
That was what she would come to teach me.