When the Devil Holds the Candle

BOOK: When the Devil Holds the Candle
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When The Devil Holds The Candle
Karin Fossum

Translated from the Norwegian
by Felicity David



Copyright © J. W. Cappelens Forlag, A.S., 1998
English translation copyright © Felicity David, 2004

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced
or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and
retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work
should be submitted online at
mailed to the following address: Permissions Department,
Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.


This is a translation of
Djevelen holder lyset
First published in English by The Harvill Press in Great Britain, 2004

The Library of Congress has cataloged the hardcover edition as follows:
Fossum, Karin, 1954–
[Djevelen holder lyset. English]
When the devil holds the candle/Karin Fossum;
translated from the Norwegian by Felicity David.—1st U.S. ed.
p. cm.
I. David, Felicity. II. Title.
PT8951.16.O735D5413 2006
839.8'238—dc22 2005034641
ISBN 978-0-15-101188-9
ISBN 978-0-15-603212-4 (pbk.)

Text set in Minion
Designed by Scott Piehl

Printed in the United States of America

First Harvest edition 2007

With thanks to Terje Ringstad and Tor Buxrud

Chapter 1

The courthouse. September 4, 4

Jacob Skarre glanced at his watch. His shift was over. He slipped a book out of his jacket pocket and read the poem on the first page. It's like virtual reality, he thought. Poof!—and you're in a completely different landscape. The door to the corridor stood open, and suddenly he was aware that someone was watching him, someone just beyond the range of his excellent peripheral vision. A vibration, light as a feather, barely perceptible, finally reached him. He closed the book.

Can I help you?

The woman didn't move, just stood there staring at him with an odd expression. Skarre looked at her tense face and thought she seemed familiar. She was no longer young, maybe about sixty, and wore a coat and dark boots. There was a scarf around her neck, just visible; he could see it above her collar. Its pattern offered a sharp contrast to what she most likely possessed in the way of speed and elegance: racehorses with jockeys in colorful silks against a dark blue background. She had a wide, heavy face, elongated by a prominent chin. Her eyebrows were dark and had grown almost together. She was clutching a handbag against her stomach. Most noticeable of all was her gaze. Her eyes were blazing in that pale face. They fixed him with a tremendous force. Then he remembered who she reminded him of. What an odd coincidence, he thought, as he waited
for her to speak. He sat there as if riveted by the silence. Any minute now, she was going to say something momentous.

It has to do with a missing person," she said.

Her voice was rough. A rusty tool creaking into motion after long idleness. Behind her white forehead burned a fire. Skarre could see it flickering in her irises. He was trying not to make assumptions, but obviously she was possessed. Gradually it dawned on him what sort of person he was dealing with. In his mind he rehearsed the day's reports, but he could not recall whether any patients had been listed as missing from the psychiatric institutes in the district. She was breathing heavily, as if it had cost her considerable effort to come here. But she had made up her mind, driven by something. Skarre wondered how she had got past the reception area and Mrs. Brenningen's eagle eye.

Who is missing?" he asked in a friendly voice.

She kept staring at him. He met her gaze with the same force, curious to see if she would flinch. Her expression turned to one of confusion.

I know where he is.

Skarre was startled. "You know where he is? So he's not missing?

He probably won't live much longer," she said. Her thin lips began to quiver.

Whom are we talking about?" Skarre said. He hazarded a guess: "Do you mean your husband?

Yes. My husband.

She nodded resolutely, stood there, straight-backed and un-moving, her handbag still pressed to her stomach. Skarre leaned back in his chair.

Your husband is sick, and you're worried about him. Is he old?

It was an inappropriate question. Life is life, as long as a person is alive and means something, maybe everything, to another
human being. He immediately regretted having asked, picked up his pen from the desk, and began twirling it between his fingers.

He's like a child," she said sadly.

He was surprised at her response. What was she talking about? The man was sick, possibly dying. And senile, it occurred to him. Regressing to his childhood. At the same time Skarre had a strange feeling that she was trying to tell him something else. Her coat was threadbare at the lapels, and the middle button had been sewn on rather badly, creating a fold in the fabric.
Why am I noticing these things?
he wondered.

Do you live far from here?" He glanced at his watch. Perhaps she could afford a taxi.

She squared her shoulders. "Prins Oscars Gate 17." She enunciated the street name with crisp consonants. "I didn't mean to bother you," she said.

Skarre stood up. "Do you need help getting home?

She was still staring into his eyes. As if there were something she wanted to take away with her. A glow, a memory of something very much alive. Skarre had a weird sensation, the sort of thing that happens only rarely, when the body reacts instinctively. He lowered his gaze and saw that the short blond hairs on his arms were standing on end. At the same moment, the woman turned around and walked slowly to the door. She took short, awkward steps, as if she were trying to hide something. He went back to his chair. It was 4:03
For his own amusement, he scribbled a few notes on his pad.

A woman of about sixty arrives at the office at 4
She seems confused. Says her husband is missing, that he doesn't have long to live. Wearing a brown coat with a blue scarf at her neck. Brown handbag, black boots. Possibly mentally ill. Left after a few minutes. Refused offer of help to get home.

He sat there, turning her visit over in his mind. She was probably just a lost soul; there were so many of them nowadays. After
a while he folded the piece of paper and stuck it into his shirt pocket. The incident didn't belong in his daily report.


That was the headline in the town's largest newspaper, set in bold type. That's the way newspapers express themselves, using an informal tone to address us directly, as if we were on a first-name basis and have known each other a long time. We're supposed to break down the barriers of formality and use a straightforward, youthful tone in this fresh, onward-storming society. so even though very few people actually knew him or used his first name, let's just cut right to the chase and ask: Has anyone seen Andreas?

And the picture of him. A nice-looking boy of eighteen, with a thin face and unruly hair. I say "nice-looking"; I'm generous enough to admit that. so handsome that things came easily to him. He strutted around with that handsome face and took things for granted. It's a familiar pattern, but it does no one any good to look like that. Handsome in a timeless, classic way. A charming boy. It costs me a bit to use that word, but all the same ... charming.

On the afternoon of September 1, he left his house on Cappelens Gate. He said nothing about where he was off to. Where are you going? Out. That's the kind of answer you give at that age. A sort of infinite guardedness. You think you're so exceptional. And his mother didn't have the sense to press him. Maybe she used his obstinacy as fuel for her martyrdom. Her son was growing away from her, and she hated it. But it's really a matter of respect. she should have taught the boy always to reply in a polite and precise manner. I'm going out, well, with someone. We're thinking of going into town. I'll be home before midnight. Surely that's not too much to ask, is it? But she had failed, as have so many others. That's what happens when you
invest all your energy in yourself, your own life, your own sorrow. I know what I'm talking about. And the sorrow was going to get worse. He never came home.

Yes, I've seen Andreas. I can see him whenever I like. A lot of people are going to be surprised when he's finally found. And of course they'll speculate, they'll guess, and write up reports, carry on discussions, and fill numerous files. Everyone with his own theory. And all wrong, of course. People howl with many voices. In the midst of that din I've lived in silence for almost sixty years. My name is Irma. Now I'm the one who's doing the talking. I won't take much time, and I'm not saying that I have a monopoly on the truth. But what you're reading now is my version.

A childhood memory comes back to me. I can summon it whenever I like. I'm standing out on the porch with one hand on the doorknob. It's silent inside, but I know that they're there. I open the door very quietly and walk into the kitchen. Mother is standing at the counter, peeling the skin from a boiled mackerel. I can still smell cloying, unpleasant odor. she shifts her heavy body a little, indicating vaguely that she has noticed my presence. Father is busy over by the window. He's pressing putty into the cracks in the frame to keep the draft out. It's an old house. The putty is white and soft like clay, with a dry, chalklike smell. My two sisters are sitting at the kitchen table, both busy with books and papers. I remember how the sunlight became pale, almost nauseating, in the green kitchen. I'm maybe six years old. Instinctively I'm afraid to make any noise. I stand there, all alone, and stare at them. They're all busy with something. I feel very useless, almost in the way, as if I'd been born too late. I'd often think I might have been an accident. There are two years between my sisters; I came along eight years later. What could have made my mother want another child after such a long time? But the idea that I might have been unwanted makes me miserable. I've had it for so long, it's a well-worn idea.

This memory is so real that I can still feel the hem of my dress tickling my knee. I'm standing in the yellowish green light again and noticing how alone I am. No one says hello. I'm the youngest. Not doing anything important. I don't mean that at the time my father should have stopped what he was doing, maybe lifted me up and tossed me in the air. I was too heavy for him. He had rheumatism, and I was big and chubby, with bones like a horse. That's what Mother used to say. Like a horse. It was just Irma who had come in. Nothing to make a fuss about. Their heads turning imperceptibly, in case it was someone important, and then discovering that it was only Irma. We were here first, their looks said.

Their indifference took my breath away. I had the same feeling then that I had when I persuaded Mother to tell me about when I was born. she'd shrugged at the question, but admitted that it had happened in the middle of the night, during a terrible storm. Thunder and a fierce wind. That made me happy—to think that I had arrived in the world with a crash and a roar. But then she had added, with a dry laugh, that the whole thing was over in a matter of minutes. You slid right out like a kitten, she'd said, and my happiness had drained away.

Now I waited, my knees locked, my feet planted on the floor. I'd been gone for quite a while, after all. Anything could have happened. We lived near the sea, didn't we? Ships from other countries regularly docked in the harbor. sailors swarmed through the streets, staring at anyone over the age of ten. Well, I was six, but sturdy as a horse, as I mentioned. Or I could have been lying with a broken leg or arm on the pavement near Gartnerhall, where we often played on the flat roof. Later, three Alsatians stood guard up there, but before that happened we used to play on that roof, and I might have fallen over the edge. Or I could have been crushed under the wheels of a large truck. Not even my big bones would have survived. But they were never worried. Not about things like that. About other things, yes. If I
was holding an apple: Had someone given it to me? I hadn't pinched it, had I? No? Well, had I thanked them nicely? Had they asked me to say hello to my mother and father?

My brain was churning as I tried to think up some kind of task. Some way that I could become part of what I felt they shared. Not that they turned me away, just that they didn't invite me in. I'll tell you one thing: those four people shared an aura. It was strong and clear, and reddish-brown, and it hardly flickered at all, the way it does for the rest of us. It was wrapped around them as tightly as a barrel hoop, and I was on the outside, enveloped in a colorless fog. The solution was to do something. The person who is doing something cannot be overlooked, but I couldn't think of anything. I didn't have any homework; I hadn't started school. That's why I just stood there, staring. At the boiled mackerel, at all the books lying around. At Father, who was working carefully and quietly. If only he'd given me a piece of that white putty! Just to roll between my fingers.

BOOK: When the Devil Holds the Candle
10.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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