The Cat That Didn't Die
From The Cat That Didn't Die
Translated by Neil Smith
Exponent of the psychological thriller, Inger Frimansson has emerged as one of Sweden's foremost female crime writers. Novels such as Katten som inte dog (The Cat That Didn't Die) concentrate on an inner psychological and emotional landscape, and the causes or effects of crime from the individual's perspective. God natt min älskade (Goodnight, my Love) won her the Swedish Detective Fiction Academy's prize for best crime novel of 1998.
The cat was lying stretched out on the steps as they drove into the property. The two kittens were suckling. They stopped when the car arrived, standing up and arching their backs. Beth went round the back to the kitchen and poured out a jug of water. She held it to her mouth, letting the water flush in against her gums and teeth. It ran down her throat and made her top wet.
Through the window she could see that Ulf was on his way to the barn. The skin on her arms came up in goose bumps. She went upstairs slowly, pulling off her top as she went. She stood on the mat in her bra, rubbing her aching eyes. Until he came into the kitchen below. The sound of retching. Nothing more.
She pulled on a t shirt and stayed up there sitting listlessly on the bed. Was he calling for her, was he saying her name? She had a burning pain in her neck.
Then he came. And he was old now, like her, and their muscles ached, a sluggishness and a weightiness, they could no longer cope with stairs, nor with doing things quickly, their hair had thinned, their skin dried out and wrinkled. She did not need a mirror to know that, she put her fingers to her cheek, it was taught and tense.
He lay down on the bed, and broke down. His sobs were coarse and broken. Eventually the words came out.
"He's still out there, the body, it's lying were we left it and all the blood, there's a dead man lying in our barn, he's dead and it's not a nightmare, it's all completely real. And we have to do something, do something now. We have to drive in again and... report it. Or else... If we don't... Then we have to... before someone finds out... and we have to do it now, we have to do it right now!"
She lay there and nodded at the ceiling.
"Who is he?" Ulf went on. "There'll probably be here looking for him soon."
"Shut up!" she said through clenched teeth. "Don't give him a family."
"But someone will miss him. Sooner or later."
"We'll think of something before that."
He was very pale, small beads of sweat around his nose.
His weakness suddenly made her strong.
"We can do this Ulf. We'll get rid of him and then we'll leave. Maybe we'll never have to come back here again."
"Of course we'll have to come back... otherwise people really will have a reason to start wondering. And drawing conclusions. You know how gossip works."
"We haven't got any neighbours," she whispered.
"There are other places further away. There are farmers round here, and other people. Like us. Summer people."
"Yes, yes. We'll deal with that later. We've got to do something to get rid of... what's lying out there. The body, I mean. No one need ever find out. And we have to think clearly and practically: what reason is there to go to police and tell them about something that really need never have happened? Ruining our lives. Ending up in... Hinseberg. And you too, for being an accomplice."
"No," he muttered.
"People do disappear. It happens every day. How many of them never turn up again, how many thousands? Him out there... he could easily be one of them."
He gave a her a blank look.
"Ulf, you and me are the only ones who know…" she pleaded.
"Assuming no one saw us, of course," he said quietly. "As long as no one starts sending us blackmail letters."
"No, not a soul saw us. That much I'm completely sure of!" She was strong now. "What we have to do now is get rid of the evidence and the... the body itself."
"We could burn it, couldn't we?"
"No", he said quickly. "There's a ban on fires throughout the whole country. If we want to have the fire brigade and the police here... then of course we should go ahead and have a fire. Think for a minute, will you, just use your brain!"
"Maybe wee should take him up to that bit that's been cleared of trees... and leave him there? Maybe we could say that we found a corpse when we were out walking?"
"Of course we couldn't! They'd be able to trace it. He's too heavy for us to carry, we'd have to drag him... the body... things like that can be tracked, they're smart, those police experts. And there's always the chance someone might see us! While we're doing it. We might meet someone out there in the forest."
"So what are we going to do then!" she screamed. "Have you got any better ideas!"
He sat up on the bed.
"Dig," he said tiredly. "We'll have to dig. A bloody big hole that we throw him in."
They decided on a place just beyond the boundary of the property. It was partially hidden by bushes and some tall birches. The ground was thick with cow wheat growing in scrappy tendrils. Twigs and branches had fallen to the ground and partly rotted, when you tried to take hold of them they snapped and broke off.
They had each brought a spade from the shed. The door to the barn was shut. Beth saw to it that the catch was properly fastened, but was still thinking of padlocks and keys.
As soon as she put the spade in the ground the first time she realized that it was going to be difficult, almost impossible to dig. The ground was as hard as concrete. You couldn't even get the end of the spade one single centimetre into the ground. She had taken of her boots and stood there leaning on the spade handle. The heat struck her, tight and suffocating. She looked at Ulf, he was hacking and swinging with his spade. The blade was bending like tin.
"It's not working," she whispered. "This is going to take weeks."
He leaned over and pulled a branch out of the way.
"Don't be so bloody negative!" he snarled.
She lifted the spade and pushed down on it with all her strength. The stringy grass remained solid, a protective mat. Her hands grew hot, blisters. Already. She fetched a pair of gloves, thinking: I'll count. I'll count to fifty, then I'll have dug a hole at least ten centimetres deep.
Ulf had dug out a little pile of earth and clay. It was bone dry and crumbled straight away. He went off to get a crowbar and a sledgehammer, they took turns using them. One of them swung the sledgehammer, the other dug out the loose soil. She saw stones and roots, this earth had never been dug before, yes, it must have been, there was a flattened jar lid that she couldn't resist picking up, scraping it so that the yellow metal shone through. She tossed it behind her.
It was her turn with the sledgehammer now, he gave her a cruel smile, "you're used to handling tools". She closed her ears, everything was earth and large stones, their contours becoming scraped and white. She positioned the crowbar and pushed, sniffing with tiredness, hacked, then brought it down carefully, carefully, while the afternoon sun passed into evening.
With endless slowness the clay soil broke down into smaller geometrical particles, a smell of paraffin and damp, she could climb down in the end, sit on the edge and hack. Rest her knees.
Ulf went to fetch water. She sat there and drank, her wrists ached, her pelvis and ankles ached, she had blisters on her thumbs and the palms of her hands. The earth was thin and unfriendly. It put up resistance, didn't want to accept anything from outside, had enough of its own. She saw a round, ribbed caterpillar, it had curled up tight. And a single earthworm, thin and pale, it didn't even move when she carefully picked it up on the end of the spade and threw it up on the heap. Such dead and thin earth. Only useful for this one thing.
Dusk came. They should have eaten and occasionally she saw visions of food, hamburgers and pea soup, the smell of fried bacon. It made her weak and giddy but she didn't feel hungry. Quite the reverse. Her stomach was contracting inside her, like a warning and she had to hurry to think about something else.
It got cooler as dusk fell. Everything was easier then. Like a haze settling over them, concealing what they were doing. They should have been tired but gained new strength instead. And soon after midnight the grave was dug, big enough to hold a human being.
Beth bad been waiting for this moment. She had been longing for it but at the same time keeping it at arm's length. She knew that when the grave was ready the worst thing of all remained.
Opening the barn door and going in.
He was lying a short way inside the passageway. Beth bad to force herself not to look away. The buzzing sound of flies, she waved her arms but stayed silent.
Then there was the smell.
Ulf held his hand in front of his nose.
"It's been too warm," be muttered. "It all goes so bloody quickly then."
She ran up to the house to fetch safety pins and handkerchiefs.
Don't think, don't think, don't think.
They helped cover each other's nose and mouth.
Above the edge of the handkerchief she dared a glance down at the man lying at her feet. His checked shirt bad ridden up and she could see a bit of his stomach. In spite of the darkness she could see that the skin bad started to become discoloured and green.
She forced it away, forced herself to see the whole situation, did not want to remember anything in particular. He would remain a stranger whom she could later forget. Forever and ever.
They managed to get him up in the wheelbarrow. They were both wearing gardening gloves. These made their movements clumsy but at the same time spared them any direct contact with the dead man. He was heavy, and his body had gone stiff, he lay across the wheelbarrow like a shop window dummy. His hair was dark and matted. She had thought of it as blond. In the faint light she could see his eyes, he was staring at her, his frozen gaze shot right into her brain, but she snarled at him and muttered, "it was you who did it, it was your own fault". It was like a mantra inside her, "it was you who did it, it was your own fault".
Ulf pushed the wheelbarrow, his back bent, half jogging across the uneven ground. Beth wanted to call to him, "wait, I want to help", but he was almost there now and when she caught up with him they positioned the barrow by the long side of the trench and tipped it using their combined strength. The dead body slid out and fell right into the hole.
Ulf grabbed the spade, but she cried for him to wait. She bad to go away, she leaned down and pulled up some of the cow wheat, broken yellow tendrils, she crept like an animal, her cheeks were wet when she came back. She stepped up to the trench and leaned over, letting the bundle of greenery fall, where it settled on the dead man's chest and chin.
"Stop that, for God's sake," Ulf said, the words coming like sobs through his clenched jaw.
She pretended not to hear him.
She made the sign of the cross, like she had seen in films, she held her finger to her mouth and whispered:
"Rest in peace anyway and forgive us our trespasses, for we know not what we do!"
After that they hurriedly began shovelling back the earth.
|Katten som inte dog (The Cat That Didn't Die) was first published by Norstedts Förlag in 2000.|