Skip to content
Words Without Borders is an inaugural Whiting Literary Magazine Prize winner!
from the August 2014 issue

Son

My father usually slept in the greenhouse, in the storage room where the season’s fruit was stored. He had a bunk in there and a light on the wall. I think it was his protective shelter—he needed the scent of apples and onions to get some rest at night.

He’d keep the light on all night, but he claimed he could still sleep. He had hung up a snare on the ceiling beam, and he was in the habit of lying there and observing its gaping loop before setting his newspaper and glasses aside for the night. He liked to say it felt good every time he saw the loop was empty, that he wasn’t hanging there, with his neck at an angle and his lips flecked with foam. Don’t lock the door when you leave, he’d say.

He was already an old man, and he was pleasant in his own way, at least when he wasn’t on the sauce. His rages had literally drained him, and you could see it in his appearance: his body had started to sink in on itself from his shoulders, and the strength and stature he’d once possessed were in the process of departing him. His head looked as if it had been made for a much sturdier body, and now it was still there on him, slightly too heavy for the frame that had to carry it. His nose was a size too big; his mouth wide, like an ape’s, and his ears resembled little wings. His teeth could have been someone else’s, too: they were simply too big for the mouth he now had. He did not touch me, and I didn’t touch him. I could stand right next to him, so close I could smell him: dried sweat, and then that strong smell, ingrained, a mixture of malt and soil. I could put my hand right up close to his, but there was an invisible shield there, a pane of glass that meant I couldn’t touch his skin with mine.

Here I sit, said my father, not going anywhere else. At the time I thought he was referring to the greenhouse and his cubbyhole there, but it later occurred to me he might have meant his physical form.

We’d developed a way of being around each other for a good long while: we could be together without really needing to talk that much. I would usually go up to see him before I rode my bike to school. He’d be sitting hunched over his workbench, puttering around with packets of seeds and soil. Let’s try a new variety, he’d say. Herbs were his greatest interest—you couldn’t really speak of passion or love, but at least an interest was far more life-affirming than disinterest. He didn’t care about root vegetables, but apples were all right. Grapes and tomatoes were much more fun. He could get anything to take root and grow. Including confusion, and boredom.

He peered at me. The lenses of his glasses were thick, comical; he stared like an owl, and he asked what I was going to learn at school that day. Nothing I don’t already know, I said. My father gave a little laugh. Don’t get sloppy, lad.

He would sit at his workbench, often with the radio on the shelf switched on. He would tune in stations that emitted weighty names into the dampness there under the slope of the roof: Vietnam, Kekkonen, Soviet Union, Nixon. There were also terms you could pick up, like black-and-white sound balloons that floated around the room. Collective bargaining, Communist, election results, center-right. My father wasn’t involved in politics, but he was one of those who thought you ought to at least listen with one ear to have some idea of what was going on.

He was not afraid of the Russians, unlike so many others in those days. They ain’t gonna get to me, he said. Not anymore.

The thing he would ruminate on was how he was going to contact “them,” because he carried a sense of guilt around that he wanted to be forgiven—before it was “too late,” which is what he meant, though he used the phrase “far and gone.” When I asked where he intended to go, he just smiled and gave me a sly look. He’d said he wanted to ask “them” for forgiveness for the losses he’d had a part in inflicting on their families and children. He would only say that if he’d been drinking, which was quite often. As long as he stayed in the greenhouse, he got his way; it was my task to take him food on a tray after five o’clock on the days he’d been “on the sauce,” as it was phrased in our household. As time went on, those days came to form an unbroken line, like the snare in the fruit shed.

Aren’tcha gonna sit down, he asked, and I gave him the tray and he looked askance at the plate. “A fella gets hungry from working,” he said. I rarely saw him touch his food, as long as I sat there with him.

He really wasn’t much of a talker. He was better with his hands, and he could tie flower garlands that dazzled in the twilight, binding them slowly and skillfully, with a care seldom on display when he used words. When he regarded himself obliged to speak, the words would pile up in jagged drifts that rarely went anywhere. He had a black telephone in the greenhouse, and there were times when he would dial the number of the Soviet embassy in Helsinki. When someone answered, he would try to explain. It’s me calling, I’m the one who did it.

Of course, I had no way of knowing what was said on the other end, but the conversations never lasted long. You unnerstand what I’m sayin’, he’d say, but they’d presumably already hung up in Helsinki. He would shake his head, look at me with damp eyes, and it was damp in the greenhouse as well, and I would notice that my own eyes were misting over.

Once he said he was going to force a flower that spring for every person he’d caused to grieve. Look at the workbench—that’s an awful lot. They’re in bloom now; they’re pretty. He pointed out over the seedling beds, moist, fertile. They were dense with flowers under the condensation on the glass. Narrow pipes carried hot water from the greenhouse to the beds, and the pipes fizzed and spat, and we used to follow the pipes in to the furnace room and the darkness in there.

Down in a recess stood the furnace. The fire that raged in there cast red shadows around the concrete, and in the corner loomed the massive water heater where the water growled and roared. There’s enough to boil a whole family in there, my father once said when he was in the mood to talk. A fella with his missus and kids. But why would you boil them, I asked, but he wasn’t feeling talkative anymore.

When he eased up on the boozing, he sometimes let me follow along the pipes. We crawled in behind the water heater and squeezed through a gap out into the main greenhouse, under the workbenches and tables, into the scent of dust and dry earth, and that was where the warmth found its way into the greenhouse and then farther out through the walls to the seedling beds. He had a small hammer in his hand and tapped here and there, tapping and listening with his ear against the pipe. Shhhh. I put my ear on it. The water was whizzing in there, just a few millimeters from the skin on my ear. The water was hot, and my ear grew hot. What are you listening for, I asked. He raised his hand, put a finger to his lips. There, he said. C’mere. I crawled up to him and put my ear on the pipe at the spot where he was holding the hammer.

I heard the same rushing as in the other spots. What is it?

My father explained that the pipe was going to burst at that spot, that you needed to be prepared, because if that happened while we were asleep, the whole greenhouse would be flooded. Everything’ll get boiled, he said.

But what if it happens at night, I asked. He grinned, his teeth glinting in the semi-darkness; a whiff of sweet-sour washed over my face. Gotta keep an eye out, he said, placing his hand on mine. Is that how come you sleep in the greenhouse, I asked. My father looked me in the eyes, but said nothing. We continued along the pipe and reached the wall where the pipe continued out toward the seedling beds. Everything’s the way it should be, he said. Gotta keep an eye out.

That September I helped him with the apples, and it was just him and me. My father would take hold of the trees and shake them, and then the fruit would fall, and I remember how they hit the ground with a sound that was unlike anything else. Like a little body falling to the ground, my father might say if he’d been on the sauce, or if not he’d say nothing, just cough and snort and put his hand on his back. I thought he looked too frail to shake the apples out of the old trees. He’d shake one tree and then go to the next one and sit down heavily, with his back against the trunk. He had a hat on, and it looked as if he’d nodded off every time he sat down by a new tree. While he rested, it was my job to pick up the fallen apples and put them in a wooden crate, and when the crate was full I’d pick up another one. Splinters would get stuck in my fingers, and I figured work was the type of thing that was going to hurt a little.

After a rainy day in the apple orchard, the scent hung heavy over the greenhouse. The apples were spread out to dry on the tables and shelves, drying out before being put into storage in the place where my father slept at night. Sometimes I would lie awake in my room at night, down in the house, wondering if he was cold. I wondered if he would call me when the pipe burst.

At five o’clock I brought some food up to him. The apples gleamed in the bright light from the lamps shining above the vines and the feeble palms in their pots. My father was sitting with his head on the table, snoring. Dad, here’s yer food, I said, and he gave a grunt, swept his arms outward and rose up. He took hold of my coat with both hands and flung me backward. I landed with my back against the pipe underneath the workbench. I’d had the wind knocked out of me and could feel my eyes filling with tears. My father was already there, and he said some things, said he didn’t mean it, he’d been sitting there dreaming he’d fallen asleep at his post, and my voice had startled him. That had happened before, but the other time he’d just gotten up and didn’t grab hold of me. He’d told me I needed to make a racket if he was sleeping; I shouldn’t go up to him. He’d said I could knock on the table or bang a spade on a metal bucket. But don’t come creeping up.

He picked me up, was unsteady on his feet, placed me on the workbench, where I was to sit. He reached for the decanter, poured some into a metal ladle, drank. He wiped his mouth on his shirtsleeve.

Then he asked me something. He needed a companion.

We headed out when it was already dark, and the rain was pressing from the direction of town. We walked quickly—my father was more lively now, and I thought he was doing absolutely fine. We just had one thing to do and then I’d accompany him back home, make sure he went to bed, sit there for a while and put apples into crates, then go to bed once he’d gone to sleep and the others were also asleep in the house.

We went over the footbridge by the power plant, and the moon shone behind the ragged clouds, but then was enveloped and the rain strengthened. My father crossed the footbridge, leaning forward. I followed behind him, but I could walk upright; the wind didn’t get hold of me.

We swept past the power plant, which hummed in the darkness, and continued through the park where the tall trees nipped down with their branches, trying to reach us, but we hurried on and I thought we’d arrived in a ghost town and terrible things were about to happen, just like in books or on TV. I was happy I had my father with me.

We passed the church and the school by the town square, and behind the old dairy in those days stood some small wooden huts where groups would meet. Several of the huts stood dark in the rain, but the lights in the green hut farthest down by the river came on just as my father and I came trudging around the corner of the dairy. A group of guys stood in front of the hut. No voices could be heard, but the glow from their cigarettes was visible from a distance. My father came to a stop, opened his coat and took out his hip flask, took some big swigs, wiped his mouth. Now you’ll see, he said. Now you’ll see.

He held the flask out to me, and I took it, feeling the warmth from his hand on it, and I held it like an object that was capable of transmitting strength and courage, then gave it back. My father drained the last from it, then placed it back in his coat pocket, nodded, and started walking. I hesitated, but then followed.

The men were sheltering from the wind and rain, sucking on their cigarettes. One of them said my father’s name and “Hey, nice to see ya,” nice that he turned up for the club’s meeting. My father nodded but did not stop, instead continuing straight into the hut, and I scampered after him, like an obedient creature, a dog, or a tame rabbit, and I felt like an animal: no one looked at me, and it may well be that someone might have shooed me out of there, with a kick in the pants by way of greeting, but no one saw me. It smelled warm from the sheet-metal stove in the corner, and up front stood a table with books and papers, and I thought they’d all blow away if somebody opened the window while the door was open. My father went up to the podium and looked around, as if he were looking for someone.

A door opened, and then Hiller stood there. He looked first at my father and then at me, sizing us up, as if he were measuring us up for our future coffins. Rumor had it that Hiller had an eye for that: he handled dead bodies and laid them in coffins and then buried them in the cemetery north of town. I thought he looked like a rat, his nose long and his whiskers bushy, his eyes tight-set in his skull. His suit was brown and he walked on two legs, scenting deals: he could sense death approaching. His customers were out and about all over town.

Welcome, Hiller said. My father reached into his pocket and took out a piece of paper, which he handed to Hiller. Sit down, said Hiller, our meeting is just about to start.

Boots stomped on the floor in the entry, there were coughs and laughter, and some men came into the room, their cigarettes still glowing, and sat down around the table and on the benches. There weren’t many there, but at that moment the hut seemed crowded and the air was filled with smoke and whispers. The paper my father held out did not go anywhere. Hiller looked at him and stretched out his arms. You know we won’t accept that, he said. We’ve talked about this so many times. How come, asked my father. You could mail it in. Where would we mail it, asked Hiller. To the ones over on the other side. You must have the addresses. Hiller snorted. We don’t have any addresses for that kind of thing. Put it away. Forget about it.

Forget about it, my father repeated, and his voice sounded calm. Every night I’m there, every night my body remembers. I can’t get the blood off my hands. My father held out his hands, palms facing downward. Lookit, he said. Yeah, sure, said Hiller.

The piece of paper my father was holding fell to the floor, and no one noticed it, not my father, not Hiller. I snatched up the paper and put it inside my jacket. Hiller had signaled to some of the men who now crossed the floor toward where we were standing. The men grinned, walking slowly but heavily; the floor groaned and creaked, and my father put up his hands: he was finished.

You goin’ yerself or should we carry ’em, said one of the men. My father didn’t say anything, but didn’t move either. Then Hiller gave a nod, and the man who asked the question bent down and took hold of my father, hoisted him up over his shoulder like a sack, and went over to the door. My father shut his eyes and still had his hands outstretched, as if to show he had capitulated to the superior force.

We went straight home, and my father was even more silent than usual. Maybe someone who’s been carried out doesn’t have a single word left to use. But I was carrying the piece of paper he’d dropped, and I was going to keep it. He had written in pencil on lined paper.

“To the Finland-Soviet Union Association, local division, Chairman Hiller/To be forwarded.

“We really shouldn’t have been there, there really was no reason for me to have been there. We should have taken the boat route to the west, should have let the madness ebb away. But you never had time to think as long as you were there. Do my hands look like a slaughterman’s hands? My hands are good at getting things to live and grow, my hands want to aid life, not death. I wasn’t supposed to oil that gun, squeeze the trigger, strike out with that sharp spade. You might figure every dead man is mourned by at least ten people, maybe fifteen. One ordinary soldier from the front who came home alive caused a terrible amount of sorrow. To all those I caused sorrow, to all the mothers and widows and fatherless children there on the other side of the border, I want to say, from the bottom of my heart: Forgive me. I didn’t mean to do it.”

Then he signed it, with “Yours respectfully” and his name, and I thought he should have the paper back, but then decided to hide it. He never asked about his letter. Maybe he hoped Hiller had taken it to discuss it at the meeting.

When we went across the footbridge the second time that evening, my father came to a stop, right in the middle. The river water ran under us; the dam was leaking, and my father pulled out his flask, but it was empty, so he tossed it downstream. Hiller’s like Hitler, just one letter different, he said, and then he carried on walking, and then he started to laugh. I did not laugh.

He picked up the decanter, poured some into a cup without a handle. I observed his hands: he had soil under his fingernails, and I thought he had also used his hands in the battles in the East: those noble, arduous battles that had stayed inside him, which he would keep there, encapsulated, hardening.

Had he used a bayonet, or a knife? Had he felt hatred? Pleasure? How close had he been to those he killed, had he seen the other man’s face, had he noticed the color of his eyes, smelled him, heard his voice?

He raised the cup to me, brought it to his lips, halted, as if he’d suddenly realized his mistake, held it out to me. Want to have a taste, lad, he asked. I laughed and shook my head, but he did not laugh, nor did he take his eyes off me. Not allowed to, I said. Says who, my father said. I’m the one who’s yer dad.

He did not sound belligerent or angry, but it may be that for a brief moment he actually thought I should have accepted his toast. Yer not that old yet, he said. Nah, I said. Ah well, said my father, when the time comes we’ll have a glass.

Sometimes when we talked, it was as if the words rolled out of him by mistake, as if he had things to say but didn’t always have the ability to formulate his ideas. Once I thought the language that emerged from him was clumsy and deformed, not fluent or smooth. I thought it was reminiscent of cakes that didn’t turn out, either because they were burnt or because they hadn’t risen during baking.

I think he suffered because of it; he could look at me when we sat together in the greenhouse, look me in the eyes, as if to keep me there, so I wouldn’t go off on my own, even though he didn’t talk. So he steeled himself and took a deep breath, rolled his shoulders, gesticulated with his arms, braced himself against the floor. He got going, and the words he came out with were seldom completely deformed, but they were always few in number, and they came in such an order that nothing deep could come about. They were simply words, and coming out with individual words is not the same thing as having a conversation or sharing your thoughts in order to receive another person’s. Dry outside, he might say, and you could see it in his eyes that he had so much more inside, worries and joys that he would dearly like to share with someone; even a child was a suitable counterpart in that context. Yeah, I’d say. Dry, but not too cold. My father would nod. The radio on the shelf played music, and then voices came on and spoke weighty words, words that unfolded a whole sheet of reality around themselves in a context that extended far beyond the meaning of the individual nouns and verbs and prepositions and all the rest.

Long since then, I have often thought my father was a poet, but a poet who did not write. The poems that took form inside him remained there, inchoate, and built up, layer upon layer, around his soul, forming tissues and scars, sentences that intertwined into vegetation so dense that the content could no longer be discerned.

The things he said were very simple: “Snow’s coming now.” “Fifty-one.” “Blue with yellow edges.” “Fish tastes good.” And they were only declarative statements, as if he had completely lost the ability to unearth the unexpected and give it meaning.

There was none of the ease or lightness in his language that was evident in the grapevine he managed to get to bear fruit twice a season, nor was there any of the mildness that teemed in the mulch that ran through his fingers when he was repotting plants or planting seeds he’d sent for by mail order from parts of the world he would never get to experience. The lawn turned green, the bushes were pruned, and in the orchard the apple trees bore fruit.

His words grew ever more sparse. One here. Another there. Herbs: Asia, he said, pointing at the wooden crate on the table in front of him. Can you, he said, and I nodded, taking hold of the crate and carrying it out to the smaller enclosure he had set up out behind the greenhouse, a home for herbs, the ones he liked to “experrment” with, as he said. There were rows of boxes in there, with more boxes on shelves, and the sun moved across the sky and the glass panes shone, light and gleaming, and the sun went down and the glass went dark. That’s when the opening in the roof was closed. Then my father would lie down on his bunk.

He lay there, drinking from his cup. He lay there, squinting, looking at me, as if he regarded me as an herb he had raised.

And it so happens much later that I come across a photo of him among bags and ashes in a dead man’s estate. He is standing and smiling at the camera, and his clothes look like the clothes of a much larger man; the boots are a giant’s boots, but it is my father who is dressed in this kit. He is a fighter now. I had imagined him as a guy who sat and kept a lookout toward the east, clutching his gun, who smoked strong-smelling cigarettes and was not afraid of anything. He sat and kept a lookout, and nobody dared approach him, because he was a fighter in the Finnish army.

When I look at the photograph from the 1940s, I see he was a boy, and his expression is open. He doesn’t look like someone you need to be afraid of, and when I look at the picture I think he resembles someone, but not the man who was my father—someone else I know. It takes a while before I figure it out. He looks like my own son, Leo, and Leo isn’t yet grown; he’s still a child. I wonder if you have to reach a certain age before you start to look like you’d be able to take someone’s life. And I wonder if my own son would be able to imagine I looked like a man who has killed.

I recall my father telling me about it, what it feels like to get shot, how there’s a force behind it, a weight that’s much broader and deeper than you’d think, holding the bullet in your hand. How can such a little thing carry a force great enough to strike a grown man to the ground? He never knew where the shot came from; they were coming from all directions, but his shoulder was wrenched around and he was spun halfway around before he fell. He showed me the scar on his shoulder, and I touched it. My father took my hand, guided my fingers over it. There, he said.

The skin was hard, like a scab. Looks like the asshole on a cat, my father said.

He said that bullet was his ticket to death, but the ticket hadn’t been punched yet.

My father didn’t use that many words when he tried to explain it to me, but I’m certain he intended to say something along those lines. He avoided talking about the war, the only thing he’d babble about when he’d been drinking was the eternal apology he wanted to have forwarded to those living on the other side of the border. We’re far away from the border, I once said. In my would-be wisdom I had taken my school atlas out to the greenhouse. Here, I said, pointing to the west coast of Finland, it’s as far from the border as you can get. My father just shook his head. You can’t show me anything, lad. I know where I was.

I remember his words, and it was dark when I woke up. Spring was out in full force outside. I could hear the river rushing down by the power-plant dam. I had to get out of bed, and the floor was cold, but I went out into the kitchen, looked up toward the hill. The greenhouse gleamed like a ship that had glided up across the sky, a spaceship that had just landed. I raised my hand and waved. I saw the shadow of him moving around in there. He walked with a slight stoop, as if he were full of thoughts; when he stood still he was a silhouette, a dark shadow in the silver-infused light inside, a captain who had landed his craft on a planet chosen at random.

I went into the greenhouse; he was nowhere to be seen. My feet ached from the cold: I wasn’t wearing any shoes, and I stood perfectly still, listening, but the fire was raging in the furnace and the water was rushing in the pipes. The captain was nowhere to be seen, and I wondered how it was possible to pilot a craft like this through space, and why he had chosen to land here of all places.

I suspected he was lying low in the boiler room; he would often go in there in the early-morning hours, when his bunk in the old onion storeroom turned hard and cold. Yoo-hoo, I said, but got no reply.

I went along the concrete aisle, and underneath the tables the pipes hissed, like just-awoken monsters: small teeth, rough fur. Flowerpots lay overturned on the tables, as if a person who had passed through here wanted to point the way. This way, in here!

Dad, I said. You in there? The fire in the furnace rumbled and grumbled; the temperature rose in the boiler. I turned on the light in the boiler room, looked into the recess. It was empty. The door to the coal storeroom stood open. Black piles of coal stood in the darkness. I stopped short: a pair of eyes glinted. Something was lurking in there, and I pulled back, but was hit by something that came rushing up to me and I fell to the floor, hitting my elbows on the concrete, shielding my head, and he was heavier than I had expected, stronger too, and I was nine years old, and he didn’t see me, his eyes were yellow and red, a feline’s eyes when its claws are out, when its teeth are about to sink into flesh. His hands fumbled around my neck, couldn’t find a grip. They’re bombing, he shouted. They’re attacking. Dad, I shrieked, Dad.

He collapsed, fell heavily onto me, and I thought that was how I was going to die, underneath my father, squashed like a fly. He was warm and heavy; his arms lay along the floor, and I edged my way out, leaving him lying in the doorway to the coal storeroom.

Some of what he carried with him but never showed was going to sprout inside me. I never asked myself why, but it so happened that people felt obliged to remark on that. I remember one time when I was in what was called upper elementary school. They had cornered me near the spruce hedge by the river. They wondered if I was mute because I never said anything. Dummy, they said, and then I was shoved around inside their circle, from one fist to another, a hilarious carousel, and the light was pale blue and the sky was up high, and I was not afraid of the pain, it couldn’t reach me, and I was not afraid of anything, but then I saw that look in one of them, doesn’t matter which one, and the derision in it ignited a fire in my head, and I stopped short, started spinning in the opposite direction and hurled myself at the one who was closest to me and I hurled him to the ground and took hold of a heavy branch from the spruces and I picked up the branch and then I started hitting. Noses were broken, teeth went flying. The one who had been beaten lay on the ground screaming, and the others cleared off.

I knew your father, said the pastor who came to discuss things with me. Your father was a kind man. And what do you mean by that, I thought, but I said nothing. How could you do a thing like this, the pastor asked. I sat still and looked straight out at the trees and the river behind them. The water shimmered; the sky was high up.

Talking was hard for me, but I was used to handling words, at least as long as I could think them out, write them down on paper. Everything was perfectly clear to me when I sat down and wrote things down on paper. But I avoided answering questions orally.

My father had had the radio for company; for me it was the books I read and the paper I worked my thoughts out onto. What use was talking?

It may be that he did not suffer from silence, that he was not compelled to banish it. I myself managed to exile it to a lower level within me, a consciousness that could be accessed only via byways, and it sometimes happened that I would wake up with the passageway leading in there wide open, would wake up terrified at the compressed silence in there.

With my heart pounding, I was in the greenhouse once again, but it was a place without a soul, with only the cleared tables inside. The pipes were cold; the furnace lay on its side in front of the door to the boiler room. I thought he was in a good place now, and those of us who were still alive had left this place back in the summer, left everything and headed over to the other side of the river, an apartment with square rooms and electric heating, nobody who boozed anymore.

He could have still been lying in his hideout, unnoticed by all that was running or trickling or rushing outside. He could have carried on being a listener, someone who takes in what comes without being touched or hardened. He could have had the radio on. He could have heard that the Soviet Union broke up, the European Union expanded, the old money disappeared and was replaced by a new currency. Maybe he would have looked up from what he was doing, wondering at how time had passed so quickly. Maybe he would have thought that the old world, his own, would soon no longer be there. Then he would have returned to his rounds: moistening the soil, dividing root from root, plant from plant.

He didn’t need much. I could have been there with him, washed his hands with the rough cloth, brought the tray with potatoes and fish and bread up to his bed. Given him something to drink. Read to him from the newspaper or the book Apples in the Nordic Countries, or Olof Palme’s biography, or the Decameron or Henry Miller. He could have shown me photographs, the ones I would find later on anyway.

But when I was ten, it was already cold in the greenhouse. I was there, and it was summer. The grapevine bore unripened fruit. It was as if the grapes didn’t have the energy to turn soft and purple; they just got harder and paler. They had decided there would be no harvest that year. I tried to water the vine, but nothing helped. The soil encroached on the concrete aisles in the greenhouse, and the water accumulated in dark puddles that turned stagnant.

Spiny flowers, the ones that weren’t supposed to be watered, stood in brown pots. They take all the water they need, he had explained to me. They use an invisible straw. They can live as long as anything, just as long as the cold doesn’t get them.

There was no cold in July. The plants were sweltering in the herb enclosure. The bushes in the yard turned yellow.

My father is not there, but death is there. I am ten years old, and I remember he said we would “have a glass” when I turned ten. One day, as I’m walking around in there, in the light, under the sun, I find his decanter. It has presumably been out all the time, waiting for a thirsty person to find it. The decanter is behind a large flowerpot, brown and full of brown flowers. The decanter is dusty, and the gleam in the glass is tired, wan. There is something inside, and when I lean forward and shake the decanter, it glints and gurgles. With slippery fingers I loosen the stopper, which flies off and lands on the concrete floor. I sniff the decanter. It smells like my father, and I imagine he is in there, he’s somewhere inside, or not my father, but something that’s bigger than him, the thing that was locked inside his body. It’s his soul that’s in there, and it has to come out. I let my lips meet the warm, sharp-edged glass, an opening to the decanter, an opening to the soul that’s sloshing around inside there, that wants to come out into the air, into me. I swallow, and it burns down into me; then it feels warm, and something starts to glow in my head. Dad, I say. Izzat you?

© Peter Sandström. By arrangement with Schildts & Söderströms. Translation © 2014 by Ruth Urbom. All rights reserved.

Read more from the August 2014 issue
Like what you read? Help WWB bring you the best new writing from around the world.