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from Dogge
Mikael Engström
Translated by Neil Smith

This article appeared in the 2006 supplement.

Mikael EngströmLife isn’t easy for Dogge and his friends; living in a Stockholm suburb, every day is fraught with danger and violence as they try to avoid a rival gang. They get beaten up on a regular basis, but somehow manage to maintain a cheerful optimism and a vivid sense of imagination. In this extract, Dogge’s best friend Larsa sees an opportunity to make some money when an old lady living nearby puts up a notice offering a reward for her missing cat. Unfortunately, things don’t quite go to plan... In the final section of the extract, Dogge recounts the events of the day to his dead mother, with a little philosophising thrown in for good measure!

 


The Difference Between a Dead and a Live Cat

Larsa’s dad was lying on the sofa. Three bottles of red wine were hidden behind the sofa by the wall. A fourth, next to the sofa, was almost empty. He always kept the bottles on the floor. Like they weren’t really there. He lay there on the sofa and just got more and more drunk, as though completely by chance. A spontaneous reaction. The bottles would easily last until he fell asleep, which would happen at about three o’clock in the afternoon. But before then he would go through various stages. To begin with, the world would become benign, and amusing plans for the future would roll through his head like railway carriages. To start with he would talk about everything they would do.

“We’re going fishing, just you and me. We’re going fishing tomorrow.”

“’Course,” Larsa said, rooting through the hall cupboard.

He was looking for a suitably large cardboard box, about twenty by fifty centimetres.

“We could buy a boat and go out to the islands.”

“’Course,” Larsa said.

“You know, I once had a boat. A Pettersson, and I kept it at Albano Boat Club. Your mum and I often went out to Grinda. It had a petrol engine but I ran it on paraffin. But you had to start and stop it with petrol. I had two tanks. It would never start with paraffin, the engine had to be warm when you switched the fuel leads.”

Larsa’s dad poured more wine.

“Did it sink?” Larsa asked.

“No, we sold it when you arrived. Your mum said we couldn’t have a boat and a kid at the same time.”

“Really?” Larsa said, surprised.

After two bottles he had got past the project stage. He wanted to fight. After two bottles it was important that Larsa stay out of the way. Usually he managed okay.

Larsa found a box and left. Took the stairs in two strides and was out.

He knew what would happen next. After three bottles his dad would start talking about his own mother, how hard things had been for her, especially after his father died when he was only twelve years old. It was in one of the first car accidents on the Nynäs road. His father had been travelling in a car with some toffs whose hunting expedition he was going to help out on. They drove into a ditch and his father broke his neck. The toffs drove him home and sat him in a chair in the kitchen, then drove off. Ten kids and a father with a broken neck. Did he die? Of course he did.

His mother had managed as best she could. Earned some money milking cows for a neighbouring farmer, and looking after the crossing on the Nynäs railway when the trains came. The tracks went right behind the house.

In the final stage, just before the fourth bottle was empty, he would grow pale and his eyes would get a far-away look in them. They stopped moving, completely fixed, and he had to move his whole head to see.

“That’s enough now, tomorrow it’s definitely over.” Then he would fall asleep.

[...]

The cat was still there on the anthill. Its fur was still wet. Evidently a dead cat didn’t dry out. It was crawling with ants, they were running across its eyes. Larsa took a stick and pushed the cat off the anthill. Then he put the box on its side and pushed the cat into it. He quickly shut the lid. The cat was heavy. He had to carry the box in front of him with both arms. It smelled really terrible. It smelled of shit and angry ants. Larsa had a feeling that he was doing something really stupid. Really fucking stupid. But she had written that anyone returning the cat would get a hundred kronor. And right now he needed the money. It wasn’t his fault the cat was dead. Mottie would get his magazines and all would be well. It was the right cat. But the difference between a live and a dead cat was pretty big. How big? She should have thought of that. That that was always a possibility. You have to be prepared for things like that, you have to be prepared for anything. Never be surprised. Be prepared to swerve quickly, to jump aside and hope the bad stuff hits someone else instead. Learn to manipulate the bad stuff so that it hits someone else. That was the most important thing to learn.

Larsa spoke out loud as he walked along carrying the box. Somehow he wanted to hear how right he was.

“If she puts up notices, then it’s her fault. One hundred kronor for the cat – alive, she should have put. Dead, not one penny.”

But now she hadn’t written that, so she had only herself to blame. Everything was always your own fault. So you had to be prepared.

“Anyone who isn’t prepared is...”

He couldn’t think of a good word. He thought hard all the way to the door to number 4. He stood in front of the Flower Lady’s door.

“Anyone who isn’t prepared is finished.”

And he rang the bell.

The Flower Lady opened the door.

“Yes?” she said.

“Here’s the cat,” he said, shaking the box.

She clapped her hands in joy.

“I knew it,” she said. “I knew I’d get my little Millie back again. How lucky, I was going to throw out the litter tray and biscuits and food bowls today.”

Larsa opened the box.

She screamed until she ran out of air. Coughed and screamed again. Larsa couldn’t find a way of asking about the reward. He backed away. It was as though the scream was physically pushing him back. Out of the door. He could still hear her from far off. He put the box under the balcony on the ground floor.

She had definitely not been prepared. The difference between a live and a dead cat was unbelievably big. Perhaps immeasurably big. Bigger than the whole universe.

[...]


The Märsta Cat

Dogge and Larsa were standing outside the door to number 4, not knowing what to do. The Flower Lady walked past along the road. She looked at Larsa and all of a sudden began to cry, and hurried through the door.

“God!” Larsa screamed, and threw himself to the ground as though he were praying to Mecca. “Why did I give the cat back! My brain must have short-circuited. Buggered. Completely buggered. I get nightmares about that sodding dead cat. What am I going to do?”

“You should never have done it.”

“But I did do it, so what do I do now?”

“You’ll have to get a new cat,” Dogge said.

“How?”

“Don’t you know anyone with cats? Someone who’s suddenly become allergic or something?”

Larsa got up and thought for a moment.

“You don’t need to know anyone. The world’s crawling with cats. We’ll go and get one from somewhere. Märsta would be good.”

“Why Märsta?”

“It’s the last stop on the train line, so it won’t just run home again.”

“Is this really a good idea?”

“Yeah, it’s a good idea. It’s obvious the Flower Lady needs a new cat.”

“A Märsta cat?”

“Yeah, a nice little Märsta cat, one that’s properly alive.”

They walked towards the station. Beside the hotdog kiosk Perra-Platto and Thomas were waiting. Neither of them looked like they’d been beaten up karate-style. Maybe it had been enough for Mottie to threaten them. Dogge and Larsa walked past them at close range. Perra-Platto and Thomas stared at them.

“Don’t look,” Larsa said. “We’re just making our way to the station, no problem.”

Ten metres from the station the attack came. Perra-Platto got Dogge in an arm-lock, and Dogge fell to his knees, howling with pain.

“Lick the ground,” Perra-Platto snarled, pressing his head down.

Thomas was holding Larsa by the throat, and said:

“So, the porn-mag thieves, eh? You’d better get some for us as well, or else...”

Dogge lay with his head pressed down, but was refusing to lick the ground. They could beat him to a pulp, he still wouldn’t do it. Dogge twisted his head to one side and caught sight of Koskela coming out of the station.

“Help!” Dogge called.

Koskela ran up to them, limping on his false leg. First he hit Thomas on the neck to make him let go of Larsa. Then he pulled Perra-Platto off so Dogge could get up. Koskela was swift and effective.

“What the fuck are you doing here, you old bastard?” said Thomas, backing away.

Koskela didn’t reply, just stared at them.

“You’re crazy,” Perra-Platto said.

But Koskela was silent.

The Totters went off.

“Thanks,” Dogge said.

“Glad to be of service,” Koskela said, and limped home.

After a journey of thirty minutes, and nine stations, they were standing on the platform of Märsta Station. Dogge and Larsa were in unknown territory. There was a kiosk right outside the station. A gang of youths the same age as them was standing beside it. Dogge and Larsa felt all eyes on them, staring them out.

If the Totters and the Stewards Roadies were at war, even though you could run from one patch to the other, what on earth would this be like? This place was so far away that it practically didn’t exist. It would be easy to drop an atom bomb here.

The youths shouted a few insults about Larsa’s woolly hat. He kept quiet. Even Larsa realized the danger. They just had to pretend they lived here. Dogge and Larsa tried to look as though they knew where they were, or at least as if they’d just moved there. They succeeded – there was no fight.

After only quarter of an hour they had got lost in the unfamiliar streets. The only things they recognized from home were the rubbish bins and the traffic signs. There were loads of houses. Big ones, little ones, long ones, short ones. Dogge had trouble believing there were people living in all of them. It was hard to believe there was a functioning world beyond Lightning’s kiosk, Thule, the Station Grill and the playground. He was struck by the thought that maybe all of that existed here as well, but with different names. Maybe there was a Larsa, an Ola, a Lightning’s kiosk, a Beardie, but with different names. But it couldn’t be that simple. This place was so far away that it practically didn’t exist. It wouldn’t be hard to nick a cat.

“Do you know where we are?” Dogge said.

“Märsta.”

“Yeah, but I was wondering if we can find our way home. Back to the station.”

They came to an area of detached houses. Everything was neat and tidy, all ordered gardens with sun-dials, little ponds with fountains and stone trolls. There were children playing on the newly-mown lawns, dads washing their cars and mums kneeling in the flowerbeds.

Larsa had never seen anything like it.

“Are we in the country? Huh? Is this the country?”

“Nah,” Dogge said. “There are cows and goats in the country. This is something else. Detached housing, I think it’s called.”

A cat walked across the road. Completely black, with yellow eyes. Larsa ran towards it. The cat stopped abruptly and stared coldly at him. Then it ran into one of the gardens. Larsa jumped over the fence after it. He leapt forwards like a goalkeeper and caught hold of the cat. It screeched and went mad. Bit and scratched him. But Larsa held on.

“What the hell!” a voice said, and suddenly Larsa was surrounded by an entire family. The dad stood there holding a soapy car-sponge. The mum had a trowel. And the two kids had a radio-controlled car and a bright yellow dolls’ pram.

But still Larsa held on to the cat. Dogge stood watching from behind the fence. Trying to look like someone who just happened to be passing. The cat was screeching.

“He’s hurting Sooty,” said one of the children.

The other child started to cry.

Larsa let go of the cat and stood up.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” the dad said, flicking the sponge towards Larsa.

He got soap in his eyes. It stung. He didn’t say anything. He climbed over the fence and stood next to Dogge.

“Calm down, Sture,” the woman said. “He’s let go of the cat, after all.”

But he didn’t calm down.

“Just get away from here, right now. You shouldn’t be up here. Stick to your concrete ghetto, for god’s sake. Bloody pizza kids. Don’t come up here making trouble.”

“You fuckdog,” Larsa said.

“Right, that does it,” the dad said, making for the fence.

But by then Dogge and Larsa were already far away.

They came to a beautiful big park, which Dogge assumed lay in the middle of the houses. There were a lot of children playing in it. They were playing rounders and other incomprehensible games. Up on a climbing frame sat a rather fat black and white cat. Larsa went up to it, and the cat stayed where it was. He stroked it and it looked happy.

“This is the one,” Larsa said, looking round to make sure that no mad family was about to attack him.

He took the cat in his arms and it let him. Didn’t put up the slightest resistance.

One of the girls who was playing rounders noticed them. It was her turn to hit the ball, and she was standing with the bat in her hand. But she dropped it and ran towards them.

“What are you doing with my cat?” she yelled.

“How do you know it’s yours?” Larsa said. “There are thousands of black and white cats. Why should this one be yours?”

“Look at the collar. It says Nisse next to our telephone number.”

Larsa looked at the collar. The rest of the kids who had been playing rounders and other games had surrounded them.

“That’s what my cat’s called as well,” Larsa tried.

“Lay off,” Dogge said. “Give her the cat.”

He did. The ring of kids closed in on them. The tougher boys jostled at the front.

“God, trying to steal her cat,” one of them said.

“They’re not from round here,” another one said. “Just look at what they’re wearing.”

“Did you get them from the Salvation Army, or Barnardo’s?”

“They’re Barnardo’s kids.”

And they started to chant:

“Barnardo’s, Barnardo’s, Barnardo’s”

Dogge counted. There were eighteen of them. Of these, he reckoned seven were dangerous. The rest were girls, or too young to pose any threat. It didn’t look good. Someone poked Larsa in the back. Someone else tugged Dogge’s sweater.

“Wait,” Larsa cried, holding his hands up in front of him. “Which one of you’s in charge?”

The kids looked at one another for a moment, then a well-built boy stepped forward. He was at least a head taller than the others.

“I am,” he said, with a put-on deep voice.

It’s possible the leader had planned to say something else, but he didn’t have time.

Larsa gave him a lightning-quick right-hook, right on the nose. The boy collapsed and lay there, his legs twitching. It took several seconds before he could even scream.

The ring surrounding them broke up. They were all horrified. Their leader lay there twitching, blood pouring out of his nose. Even Dogge was scared. He looked at Larsa, who was still standing there with his fists clenched, his jaw set, breathing hard through his nose.

“Anyone else?” Larsa said.

No-one said anything. Larsa had frightened them – cheated. The fight had happened too soon, you just didn’t do that. It wasn’t normal. First you had to stand there jostling and insulting each other. Then maybe there’d be a fight, with someone getting a split lip or something. These children hadn’t yet given up the element of play in fighting.

Larsa had.

Dogge and Larsa walked away: no-one tried to stop them.

The houses stopped by a large, wide road. There was a lot of traffic. Cars and buses were driving by at high speed. It was practically impossible to cross. On the other side there were more comprehensible blocks of flats. Dogge and Larsa stood where they were.

“Let’s get the train home and never come up here again,” Dogge said.

“Hang on,” Larsa said. “A cat!”

He ran over the road, between honking cars, and disappeared into some bushes. After a while he came out, holding a tortoiseshell cat.

“Look, no collar!” he yelled.

They took it in turns to carry the cat. It was quite obedient, and let you carry it on your shoulder, but in the long run it grew heavy. Dogge asked a drunk sitting on a bench outside a bank where the station was. The old man gave them directions. And they were correct, soon enough they saw the station. A train was just pulling in.

“We’ll make it if we run,” Larsa said.

“I can’t, the cat’s too heavy.”

They heard a noise behind them and turned round. A group of kids was running towards them. Too many to count. Like the start of a marathon. They were pointing at Dogge and Larsa, and shrieking and yelling. Some were carrying baseball bats. Other just had sticks. Dogge saw a couple with bows and arrows. At their head was a large boy with a nosebleed.

“Okay, let’s run.”

They passed the barrier without paying. The uniformed ticket-inspector banged on the glass.

“You have to pay!” he shouted, and was just getting out of his booth to go after them when a whole horde of screaming kids streamed past.

The train stopped. The doors opened.

“Run right to the front!” Larsa said. “We’ll have to keep running until the doors start to close. Then we jump in.”

Dogge and Larsa reached the last carriage. The doors closed, they threw themselves in. The cat screeched. It worked. The crowd was left screaming on the platform. They banged on the window, yelling threats. The train started to move. Dogge and Larsa sat down. They didn’t look out.

“Have we started a new war now?”

“They don’t know where we live. There are twenty-nine stations on this line, it goes all the way down to Södertälje. They’d have to be bloody lucky to find us. If you don’t count Märsta, we could be from twenty-eight different places. But if you take into account the fact that we might have switched from the underground or bus, then the possibilities are endless.”

Dogge took the cat from his shoulder and put it in his lap. He stroked it. The cat purred. Dogge thought that perhaps all these places had a Lightning’s kiosk, an Ola, a Larsa, a Co-op Lady, a playground – but with other names. It made him dizzy just thinking about it. His own world was just one among all the others. Maybe everyone carried their own world around with them. Maybe there were as many worlds as there are people? A world died whenever someone died, and another was born whenever someone was born.

At Sollentuna Station Mottie and Roger got on. They sat down a few seats away. From their conversation Dogge and Larsa understood that they had been to a motorbike show in Sollentuna.

“Yeah, but it was really sweet, that green Kawasaki 750,” Mottie said.

“I’d sooner take that HD,” Roger said.

They talked about motorbikes, engines and trim, expressing no higher wish than that their bikes be transformed when they got home.

Larsa stood up and walked over to Mottie.

“You were going to fix Perra-Platto,” Larsa said. “When are you going to do it?”

“That deal no longer applies.”

“What the fuck does that mean?” Larsa said, getting warmed up.

“That it isn’t valid any more. Are you a bit backward or something?”

Larsa was furious. Lottie pushed him away so that he landed in an old man’s lap. Larsa sprang up again.

“But...,” Larsa said. “You... you got your magazines.”

Roger grinned and said:

“Mottie doesn’t need them any more.”

Dogge sat where he was, saying nothing. He kept hold of the cat and pretended to be somewhere else. He breathed on the window and wrote his name.

Larsa kept going:

“What a fucking bastard! You’re the biggest fucking bastard in the street!”

Mottie got up and gave Larsa a sharp blow on the collar-bone.

“One more word and you won’t be leaving the train under your own steam, if you understand what I’m saying?”

Larsa was holding his shoulder and sat down beside Dogge. He was in pain but didn’t say anything. Dogge caught a glimpse of madness in his eyes.

The train ground to a halt in Solna Station and they got off. Dogge and Larsa kept behind Mottie and Roger.

On the steps up to the station building Larsa said:

“I think I know what’s happened.”

Anette, Perra-Platto’s sister, was standing waiting inside the station building. Mottie walked right up to her. She smiled at him and they immediately started snogging.

Roger turned round towards Dogge and Larsa:

“I’ve got the magazines now. D’you get it? Isn’t that right, Mottie, I’ve got the mags now, haven’t I?”

Mottie stood with his back to them all and shrugged slightly in answer.

Dogge could think of a whole mass of things he’d like to do.

Larsa did them. He rushed at Mottie and managed to get in three good kicks to his balls from behind. Three of them, then Mottie was lying on the concrete floor of the station, like a worm on a hook.

They rang the Flower Lady’s bell. She opened the door and saw Larsa.

“You!” she said, horrified, and began to close the door.

Dogge put his foot in the gap.

“We’ve got a cat,” he said, holding it up.

“I’ve had a cat and I never want to have one again. Go away!”

She managed to close the door.

“What are we going to do now?” Dogge said.

“Wait,” Larsa said. “Give me the cat and I’ll sort it out.”

Larsa put the cat on his shoulder and rang the bell. The Flower Lady opened the door and said curtly:

“Go away,” and then shut the door again.

They heard her bolting the door and putting the chain on. Larsa rang the bell again, but this time she didn’t open the door.

“This was a really shitty, stupid idea,” Dogge said.

Larsa screwed his eyes up and said nothing. Dogge got angry.

“What do we do with the cat now? Are we going to take it back, or what? To Märsta? You just think of weird shit, and fuck everything up. We go round the houses every time, and nothing ever turns out like it should.”

Dogge walked towards the main door.

“I’ll sort this out,” Larsa said. “I promise.”

“I don’t believe you,” Dogge said. “Not this time.”

Larsa knelt down and opened the Flower Lady’s letterbox, and spoke through the gap:

“You have to help us save this cat. I’ve had it since I was little. But now my little sister has become allergic and we can’t keep it. But no-one wants to look after my cat.”

Larsa stopped for a moment and listened. But there was no sound from the Flower Lady.

He went on:

“My Mum has already booked a time to have it put down, and my sister’s really upset because it’s her fault the cat’s got to die.”

Larsa was quiet again. Not a sound.

“My sister says we might as well book a time for her as well. She doesn’t want to go on living if the cat has to die.”

“Let’s go,” Dogge said.

Larsa shrugged his shoulders and said into the letterbox:

“The cat’s booked in for tomorrow. It’s going to have one of those injections that’ll make its hair stand on end, then it’s goodnight for ever.”

Dogge opened the door. Larsa stood up, the cat on his shoulder, and began to follow him. A lock rattled and the Flower Lady opened her door:

“What’s the cat called?”

“Märsta.”

[...]


Not Everyone Can be Happy at the Same Time

Dogge crept up on to the windowsill. He looked out across the street. The sun had gone down and the sky was shining orange, pink and red. Laura came out from her door with a man at her side. They had their arms round each other as they walked up to Lightning’s kiosk. They stood there kissing right up until the bus came. They got on and rode away.

It didn’t feel good.

Dogge breathed on the window and wrote his name.

“We got hold of a new cat today. The old one had come to an end. The Flower Lady was actually happy. But I told Larsa what had really happened, that now another cat-owner was sad. Larsa thought for a minute. Then we started arguing about it.

“Larsa said: We can’t make everyone happy. There are several billion people on this planet. They can’t all be happy at the same time. We can make the Flower Lady happy. And the cat was probably really bored up there in that awful place, Märsta.

“And I said: But now someone in Märsta is sad.

“And then Larsa said: Yeah, but that’s a long way away. The Flower Lady lives here and she’s happy. I don’t give a shit about Märsta.

“I said: What if you had a cat and someone from Märsta just came and took it?

“And Larsa said: The cat probably belonged to a group of really bad kids. Who fed it mustard and put it in the tumble-drier, stuff like that. If we hadn’t rescued it, they’d probably have put it in the spin-drier as well.

“I said: No-one’s that bad.

“Larsa said: Okay, but the cat’s family were bound to have become allergic. All of them, just like that. They would have booked it in to have it put down.

“We were on the way to falling out badly, Larsa and me. I don’t think we ever have before, but sometimes he’s just too much. In the end we agreed that we had saved the cat.

“And anyway, it might have been homeless.”