The doorbell sang the way only she could make it sing. It was analogue, so to speak, so its sound varied with the handgrip of the ringer. When she pushed it it twittered like a blackbird. I darted down the carpeted stairs and opened the door. A cold dark rain was falling outside the front porch. She didn’t step inside, and I slowly gravitated towards her, so we ended up on this tiny wooden deck: a thin strip separating the house from the world outside. An in-between area, a potential space. If we didn’t move, we stayed dry and even slightly warmed by the heat radiating from the house. I don’t know why we didn’t go indoors. It felt obvious that we should stand right here, where she had picked me up so many times, dancing down the street shining in her California shorts, reminding me that there is an antithesis to Bobby, that the Night is not invincible.
—So, you’re going home, I said after a moment of silence.
—It’s been great getting to know you, Goran.
—You have been … you are very special to me, I said, trying to infuse the words with some kind of warmth. I could hardly say more than that, but maybe she would understand if I set the words on fire. I started to shiver, not from the cold but from the excitement—the last time I shivered like that was when I was about eleven, when just about anything could excite me, when I lived with ecstasy just one breath away each day: a new video game, a soccer match, lasagna for dinner … and each time these convulsions, my rib cage starting to shake just from being alive.
Same shivering now.
She looked at me with that labrador-cheerful face, her … standard joy. The joy that was always there. Unwavering.
—Oh. You have been special to me as well, she said plainly as if she had replied to a text message.
—Well. Good bye, then, I said and started to cool down.
—Where is the grocery store?
Nemi startled as Nicholas bounced out of the house in his purple fleece sweater, shoulder long hair, and flip flops.
—Nemi, this is Nicholas, my best friend from Sweden. —There is a Safeway two blocks down the street.
Nemi just stared.
—They got beer?
—Never checked. Think so. You won’t find any Systembolag here, so go ahead and see for yourself.
—You OK if I buy some beer?
I waited a few seconds. Then I said:
—Yay, yummy in my tummy, said Nicholas, rubbing his eyes like a child waking up on Christmas Day, skipping out into the dark.
Then she embraced me softly and steadily. She reached me to my chest, which again started to shiver. A thousand thoughts in my head wanted to freeze time, I tried to stay mindful and experience the moment fully, feel her softness against my stiffness, my hands over her tiny shoulders, her silky hair’s light friction over my heart; then she suddenly let go and all I had done was gibbering to myself during those seconds, deafening our silent bodies. She grabbed my hands and took a half step back.
—I will call and check in with you next spring to see how you’re doing, OK?
—Hitza hitz, then, I tried.
She lightened up. My ribs began to tremble again.
—Your Basque is awful …, she said with her distinct voice and looked up at me.
—Blame Ulf Lundell.
–…but I get it. I will call you.
—I’ll be waiting, I said.
She gently squeezed my hands and shifted the grip slightly.
—Your hands are like ice cubes, she said.
—I’m anemic. I have anemia.
—Oh. I’m sure there are some pills you can take.
—I used to get iron shots.
—Shots. Needles. Don’t want to hear about that, OK?
—Sure. Didn’t mean to …
– So don’t.
– Just curious, you got a phobia or something?
– You could put it that way.
The rain began to cease. So did our words. She had closed up now. I didn’t know what to do. I started talking about school.
—I got an A on my English essay, I said.
—Good for you, she said distantly. What was the subject?
—Did he drink?
—Did he do other stuff?
—Don’t think so.
—Good for you. Dads can do crazy stuff.
Now the scattered energy fields surrounding us started to reassemble, converging in vibrant, steadily streaming patterns. I could almost see with my bare eyes how they arranged around Nemi, as if something was crisscrossing around her to mend, to heal. The silence returned, but a holy silence this time, a silence to rest within. I sensed the porch under my feet, I sensed the earth. Blurred out while we were trembling, her face now appeared in razor-sharp definition, just as glowing as the houses she had set on fire in San Francisco—like when Photoshop parameters are adjusted to enhance sharpness and saturation.
I looked at her, she looked at me.
—Good bye, she said, and seemed to catch herself right on the verge of something, which she hastily aborted. It was all over in a second. Then that something was gone. She smiled sunnily one last time, but now it was her regular smile, as if nothing had happened. Tomorrow she’d probably just open a new bag of candy. She was travelling through life along a rail of candy bags.
Which she ate and then puked up.
—Bye, I said neutrally, standing still, watching her shadow wave to me in the glittery dusk of the empty street.
[Translated excerpt from a novel-in-progress in Swedish; working title Blue Vapor.]