• linguanatolinapl

LINE TRACINGS

Martin Cathcart Frödén won the 2015 Dundee International Book Prize with his debut novel Devil take the Hindmost (Freight). After 10 years in Glasgow, he’s recently moved back to his native Sweden to take up a

position as Lecturer in Creative Writing at Malmö University. Here he tells a story about love, ageing, emotions in flux, and ultimately a death interrupted. Without ruining the experience, the story hints at new

beginnings and allegiances beyond those put in place by blood. It explores the unsettling fact that beyond death and taxes, time and tide, entropy and poetry, there is very little of which we can be certain. Apart from, maybe, love.


‘Thanks for coming with me.’ He put a palm to his neck

and looked down on his elbow resting on the table.


‘No problem Inigo,’ I said.

‘The anniversary is difficult.’


I could only nod. He refilled his glass and stood up.

Shook his shoulders up and down like a nervous,

overweight boxer and looked at the ceiling.


‘I’ll go and get the Limoncello,’ he said and went out in

the corridor towards the lounge. I heard the front

door close. He sometimes preferred the company of

the pub across the road to me. Or maybe he kept a

bottle in the car.


An hour later he was back puffing even louder. I was

still at the table. I had finished the soup but not my

book. He tried to tell me about some argument he had

become involved in a long time ago, an anarchosyndicalist

memory dredged up and soon he was

punching empty space to emphasise certain words.

Italicizing the air. Making bold claims. With every jab

he spilled more wine on the floor and on his shirt.


Soon sweat he no longer wiped was forming along his

hairline and if I hadn’t known him I would have been

afraid, but now it was like watching rehearsals for a

play. He was either a genius actor or a terrible one,

because he was messing up his lines and forgetting his

movements. I had no idea what his main argument

was. Time maybe. Loss probably. Injustices small and

large.


He gestured for more drink and started walking over

to the table when he became rigid and let out a stifled

scream, clutching his chest. I once saw a tram run over

a fox. This sounded the same. The screeching tracks

and the trapped animal.


I flew up, whipping the wine bottle over in the

process, and caught him, my knees buckling with the

effort. I laid him on the chequered linoleum as gently

as I could. He was whispering that he was fine,

reassuring me he was just a little out of puff, that

there was no need to worry. I had to crouch down to

hear. The bottle was clucking out wine on the floor

beside us.


‘Shh, I’m calling an ambulance. Just stay still,’ I said.

‘No, no hospitals, no authorities. They’ll never let me

go once they’ve got me.’

‘Inigo, come on, we have to…’

‘Just put me to bed.’

‘But…’

‘Bed!’ A forced stage whisper. I looked at my phone on

the table.

‘It’s happened before,’ he said. ‘I know how to deal

with it.’


Against my better judgement I helped him to bed. He

told me to go and get my book. I tried to phone my

mum but couldn’t get hold of her. It had been almost a

month. I knew she was working, and I knew she might

be avoiding me, as I was her.


When I came back Inigo’s face was as white as a

Victorian bust. A caricature of male, idiotic, isolated

suffering. He was not sleeping, not entirely awake

either. Obviously, I couldn’t read so I just sat next to

his bed to hear his breathing. To be near if it stopped.

Every now and then a wave of pain came over him and

he would gasp and I would hold my breath until he let

out a sigh and resumed breathing. This went on and

on.


It had been a long month since I came home drunk and

sad and angry not just at her and dad but at absolutely

everything. I didn’t mean to do what I did, but neither

should she have lost it. It was just a window. The next

day I moved into a windowless boxroom in Inigo’s flat.

It was definitely a temporary thing.


Once his face relaxed and it seemed he was sleeping, I

phoned my mum again. This time she answered.

Before she could say anything, I told her I was sorry

about the whole fight thing, but that now wasn’t the

time to talk about it. Instead, I told her about Inigo.


When I saw a taxi pull up in front of the house, I

grabbed my jacket. I opened the door and went

upstairs to the next landing, leaving the front door

open. When I heard her going into the flat, I walked

downstairs and out.


She was in love with this Spaniard. And he with her I

could only presume. It was too much to think about. I

liked him, but wasn’t sure he was the best thing that

could happen to mum. Or me. But he had taken me to

his ex-wife’s grave and he was nice in a mad way. It

wasn’t up to me. He had a spare room, I paid under

market rent while I was looking for something else,

something not-my-mum’s place, and that was it. Him

and mum – I made sure to always be out when they

were in the flat, which to be fair wasn’t very often.


Once outside I was soon lost in the streets I should

have known, my mind going nowhere: a motor

misfiring. I had slept terribly in my new airless room

for weeks and now I was pacing around Chalk Farm

and Gospel Oak, waiting for something. Avoiding

everything.


Hours later the cold forced me back to the flat.

Coming into the kitchen I saw a note from Inigo

Thanks, I’m fine now! held in place on the kitchen

table by a bottle of undrinkable Ouzo. I walked around

the flat and was relieved to not find anyone sleeping.

Not on the sofa, not in my room. No one in his double

bed either.


I put the door chain on, in case Mum had a key. I had

to trust he was fine if he said he was. Sitting down on

the sofa, I sank into my earlobes. It had been a long

night.


I woke up to someone banging on the door. The sun

was high in the sky.


‘Peter, it’s me, Inigo. Let me in!’

‘What happened last night?’ I asked once he was in. He

was wearing a huge hat that was either incredibly

trendy or that he had found in a skip.


‘They wanted me to stay for tests, but that’s not who I

am,’ he said.

At the hospital?’ I asked and he nodded proudly.


I could almost see him, shrugging into his terrible

leather jacket, taking the cannula out and putting it in

a bin, humming The Internationale.


‘Does my mum know you’re here?’ I asked.

‘Not as such,’ he said. This time less proud.


He sat down in the lounge and put the hat beside him.

Then he asked me to shave his head. I declined of

course. He extracted a hair trimmer from his jacket

pocket. Got up, waving it around like a torch and

stalked off into the bathroom, leaving the door wide

open.


‘Will you help me or not?’ he shouted, his voice

reverberating off the tiles.

‘No.’

‘I can’t pay a hairdresser to do this. It would be an

insult.’

‘I can lend you the money if you’re short.’

‘Don’t be cheeky,’ came his voice. I didn’t know what

to do with my hands.


‘I’ll have to go back in there eventually, so I’d rather

do this myself. Get used to the feel,’ he said quietly. If

I hadn’t already been on my way to the bathroom, I

wouldn’t have heard him.


I ran the machine back and forward over his skull.

With eyes closed he was slowly emerging from grey

curtains. The big black mechanical rat, its tail reaching

up to the strange small shaver outlet I had never seen

anyone use, soon sated.


Turning off the shaver I took a step back to nod

approvingly, as if I knew what I was doing. Standing

back up and looking in the mirror, he ran a hand from

the back of his head to the front and smiled. He

walked away flexing his neck this way and that and

soon I could hear a bottle being opened in the kitchen.


Your mother is coming over in a bit,’ he shouted.

‘She’ll get the surprise of her life when she sees this.’


I checked the battery on the machine and got working

on my own head, and soon I was as bald as him, both

of us eggs in a basket.


‘No problem Inigo,’ I shouted back to him. ‘No

problem.’



Susi Radman, Painted Bricks, Photograph, 2021.