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From The Wolves of Eternity, which was published this month by Harvill Secker.

That night I dreamt about Dad. I didn’t very often, and when I woke up from the dream I was confused; for a few seconds I didn’t know if he was alive or not.

He’d been standing in the laundry room when I came into the passage, and had turned toward me. He smelled of machine oil and tobacco.

“Listen, Syvert,” he said.

“What is it?”

“Can you look after your brother for me?”

“Of course. But why, where are you going?”

“Away, that’s all.”

“What about Mum?”

When I said that, he took off his glasses, shaped his mouth and blew on the lenses, then dried them with the corner of his shirt while scrutinizing me with that exposed, defenseless look he always had when he didn’t have his glasses on.

“Son, your mum’s been dead for years,” he said.

As he said it, I knew immediately that she had been dead for years, and it was as if with a finger snap the entire past was turned on its head, and all my assumptions in life upended.

He put his glasses on again, wound his scarf around his neck, and buttoned up his jacket, the one with the lambskin collar, stepped past me, picked up his briefcase, and went out into the snow, turning then momentarily with a wave of his hand and a “Look after yourself, son.”

I closed the door after him. What had he been doing in the laundry room? I wondered, and just as the question occurred to me I woke up and found I was in bed.

After the first seconds of bewilderment, when I didn’t know what was real and what wasn’t, it was as if an enormous grief exploded inside me.

I realized that Dad actually could have been here.

If he hadn’t died.

But he had died.

So he wasn’t here.

The room was flooded with light, the sun was coming up outside. I got up and had a shower. When I came down into the kitchen, Mum had left a note on the table. Syvert, can you empty the washing machine and do another wash? she’d written. And perhaps sort out the garage? It’s like I don’t know what’s out there. And if you could give the kitchen a quick once-over, and the living room as well, before I get home?

She’s pushing things a bit, I thought, and got the peanut butter out of the cupboard. Normally I’d have been pissed off about it, only now I was feeling guilty toward her, because straight after I woke up the thought had occurred to me that maybe it would have been better if things had been like in the dream, if Dad had been alive and Mum dead.

As if I could choose.

I turned the radio on and sat down to breakfast.

Glorious sunshine outside.

It must have been Joar’s dream that had triggered mine.

But why the laundry room in the basement? What had Dad been doing there?

I didn’t like it. He’d been so alive. It had been just like he was still living. Only he wasn’t.

The peanut butter stuck to the roof of my mouth and I gulped some milk.

He’d said I had to look after Joar.

Of course, I realized it hadn’t been my dad talking at all, that it was something in myself that had been using the figure of my dad to remind me what I had to do. Something good in me, telling me to take care of my brother.

That the good in me felt it had to tell me meant presumably that there was something bad in me too. Something that wouldn’t take care of Joar, or was going to forget.

The news came on and my ears pricked up. I hadn’t heard any more about the cloud since the television news the evening before. But the first story was about the government crisis that had only gotten worse since yesterday. Not until that was out of the way did they turn to the radioactivity.

As expected, it had come from the Soviet Union, a nuclear power plant not far from Kyiv had exploded. They’d been keeping it secret for three days, despite the radioactivity drifting through Europe in the meantime.

The expert they interviewed repeated that the radiation values they were detecting in our country weren’t hazardous, and I looked out the window. That the landscape outside could be contaminated was hard to imagine, even if what they were saying was true and it was only tiny amounts.

It was the fact of it being invisible and that it was everywhere and could eat up the body from inside that had frightened me. How did the radioactive atoms get inside the body, and how did they manage to destroy it? How did they make it bleed, how did they make it burn? How did they know what to do inside the body to destroy it?

That was the only way I could explain the concern I felt. No one else seemed to care.

When Joar came downstairs an hour later, I’d just finished hoovering. He cast a glance at me, that was all, before getting his breakfast ready.

“Did you sleep all right?’ I asked him.

He nodded without looking at me, pouring milk over his oatmeal and raisins.

I took the Hoover down into the laundry room in the basement and couldn’t help looking for signs there, something Dad might have been trying to draw my attention to.

What had I been expecting? The key to a safe deposit box? A letter? A secret diary containing his innermost thoughts about us?

I heard Joar go up the stairs. I could feel I wasn’t looking forward to the day, so many hours to kill. Everyone I knew was at work.

I emptied the tumble dryer, which was stuffed full, took the whole lot into the living room and dumped it on the sofa, went back down and transferred the wet clothes from the washing machine into the dryer, which I then switched on, loaded the washing machine with a pile of clothes from the laundry basket, switched that on, then went back up the stairs to the living room to fold the clean, dry clothes I’d left on the sofa.

“Do you want me to drive you to school?” I said when Joar came down again. This time he had his school bag.

“Mum’s got the car, hasn’t she?” he said, baffled.

“You’re right, she has! How stupid of me!”

The door closed after him and I went back to folding the clothes like I was a housewife. I even put them away.

Then there was the garage.

Mum never parked the car in there, and over the years it had filled up with all sorts of junk. I wasn’t sure if she wanted me to chuck things out or just tidy up, but when I pushed the big door open and saw the state of the place in clear daylight I decided to sort through everything, burn what was no use, and store the rest in the barn.

I started by getting everything together that needed burning, collecting it all in a pile in the middle of the floor, then carrying it all out behind the barn, where I heaped it up in front of the little bank where we always made our bonfires, sprinkled some petrol on, and set light to it. The ground was still wet and there wasn’t a breath of wind, so there was no danger of it spreading, but I stood and kept an eye on it anyway.

For as long as I could remember I’d loved to stand there and watch our bonfires. There was something magical about flames. Maybe it was because they came out of nowhere. The cardboard and other materials, the plastic and the paper came first, piled up on the ground, but then, when I set fire to them, the flames would suddenly emerge, as if from inside the very things they were going to consume, as if they lived inside them and were now peeping out. Hesitant at first, as if they didn’t really believe they were being set free, but more eagerly then, and soon as if enraged, yes, as if possessed, the flames, racing up and down those things. Trembling, in some places almost transparent, in others, often closest to the wood or cardboard, blue, then fat and orange as they took hold.

And then they transformed the things. Completely and comprehensively. From a big and roomy cardboard box to a handful of ash.

What was the difference between fire and radioactivity, exactly?

It was the sort of thing Joar likely knew.

There’d been no reason to get so angry with him for shooting the bird the other day. We’d targeted birds with our catapults when I was his age, for no other reason than to kill them. It was what boys did. It certainly didn’t mean there was something wrong with him.

I went over to the target between the trees to see if I could find the bird, maybe bury it somewhere, but of course it was gone, taken by some animal or other. From there, the flames were almost invisible in the daylight. They were getting on with the job, there was no need to stand around until it was done, I told myself, and went back to the garage.

It was still a mess in there. I counted seven bikes in all, none of them used any more: Mum’s old one, Dad’s old one, my old racer, and four kids’ bikes, two for little kids, two for bigger ones. I could no longer imagine Mum on a bike. But when I was little we’d often go out for a ride, all three of us. Down to the river, sometimes all the way out to the beaches.

Nice memories to have.

My old moped was in there too, filthy dirty, a sorry sight. It had been Dad’s when he’d been young, but even after he stopped using it he still made a point of looking after it. It was going to be mine when I reached sixteen.

When I got to sixteen I started using it on my own. It was an old Corvette. It got me around for the two years before I passed my driving test.

I’d leave that where it was. Same went for my bike, and Joar’s and Mum’s. The other four I carried up to the barn. After that I began stacking all the firewood. I hung the tools up on the wall, sorted all the loose screws and nails, bolts and hinges, the fishing tackle that was lying all over the place, spinners and ledgers, handlines and otter boards, hooks and reels, and all the bike things that had accumulated over the years.

When that was done I lugged some trash bags full of old clothes up to the barn, a better place for them, I thought. Besides, it was where she’d put all Dad’s things. Maybe ten boxes stacked against the far wall, and I put the bags of clothes down next to them.

That corduroy jacket with the lambskin collar he’d been wearing in the dream, his glasses, his brown, unpolished shoes, the brown leather briefcase, it’d all be here, wouldn’t it?

The dream had been so vivid that something in me resisted the thought. Those clothes couldn’t be here, packed away, not if he was still going around wearing them. It was a law of nature. Things could only be in one place at a time.

Apart from in dreams. Dreams, of course, didn’t abide by the laws of nature.

I bent forward and loosened the duct tape on the side of the box that was nearest, pulled it carefully away, and opened the flaps. I hadn’t seen his things since he died. Not because I’d been grieving over him and couldn’t bring myself to look at them, but because I hadn’t been interested in them. In him.

On top was the blue-gray cap that belonged to the uniform that was neatly folded underneath, also blue-gray. Then there were some shirts and sweaters, layers of them, and at the bottom his best pair of shoes.

The next box contained his overalls, rainwear, all just as clean and neatly folded. At the bottom: his work shoes, his clogs, his boots.

Why hadn’t she just gotten rid of it all? He was dead and wouldn’t be needing any of it, nor would she, or any of us.

The corduroy jacket was in the third box. A shudder ran down my spine when I saw it. I picked it up, pressed it to my face. It smelled faintly of machine oil and tobacco. In the same box was his leather briefcase. It was squashed flat, and apart from a couple of old receipts, empty.

A taxi receipt from 1976 for twelve kroner, a dry cleaning receipt for five kroner.

That was it.

As I returned the briefcase to the box, it struck me that it would be radioactive now.

Everything here was radioactive.

Maybe it altered dreams too?

Maybe that was what had happened?

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