My grandma was a great fan of gossip and tittle tattle.
Every day when I came home from school, she would be full of stories about the ladies in her clique: who was retiring, who finally dumped that loser after 43 years, whose daughter-in-law was trouble with a capital T. She would carefully detail everything she had been told or observed and then conclude with a prediction about what was going to happen next or what had probably already happened that we would hear about very soon. Finally she would sigh in satisfaction and announce, “that’s all my stories.” I would half listen as I made a sandwich, but found the whole thing boring. A waste of time. The random minutiae of other people’s lives, who said what, did what, kept what from whom and why – who cares?
But I’ve come to realize that I was wrong. All that stuff helps us make sense of the people around us: you trust so-and-so in part because of the story of when the librarian’s gross husband hit on her and she laughed in his face, and you’re a little kinder to the librarian even though you would never acknowledge why.
I thought that I was struggling to read people because Swedish people act differently, and that is a part of it: but I am understanding now that it has a lot to do with the fact that I just don’t know enough about them. I don’t know their stories. When SAG told me about Hanna having broken up a couple who may or may not have been Anders and Jenny, I couldn’t say, “well she’s done that before…” or “no, she would never cheat because of the time that…”. It’s like I’m floating in a black hole snatching on to different puzzle pieces that don’t match, with no context or chance to try to fit them into a full picture that makes sense.
I’m done with that.
It was pitch dark, and cold, when Fritjof and I sat down on a little beach on the prison island. There was a full moon, gleaming, huge, in the inky black sky above us, shimmering on the still water of Lake Mälaren below. Having kicked up a fuss and insisted that he tell me exactly what his problem with Anders’ was, I was now twisted up with horror at how selfish I’d been. But I still needed to know.
Fritjof is a club promoter, he runs events, books DJs and creates glittering guest lists of everyone who is anyone – and that is how he met Jenny. He was the original link; he started to party with Jenny – then an aspiring model/party girl – and introduced her to his little sister Hanna. He was pleased when they became firm friends, despite her wild social life, Jenny had her head screwed on right. Fritjof predicted that she’d enjoy all the lifestyle had to offer for a few years then retire intact, happily settle into a proper life with a real job and relationship, and he hoped the same for his sister.
“Hanna worked in IT,” I pointed out.
“Exactly,” he replied. “Jenny was a good influence.” He broke off for a little while then, stared at the water lapping gently against the rocks we were sitting on. I held my breath, praying that he would continue. Finally, he did. Anders was never more than a fling for Jenny. He came to one of their haunts on a birthday night out, and looked so adorkably out of place and self conscious that Jenny’s heart went out to him. “Nice but dim,” she used to say with an affectionate laugh, quoting some catchphrase from an old British comedy she and Fritjof used to watch with toast in the wee hours after a wild night.
The feeling was mutual, Fritjof thought. Anders seemed kind of dazzled by her to begin with, but in time it became clear they were bored with each other and their days were numbered. He actually seemed to get on better with Hanna; Fritjof saw the question in my eyes and answered it, “nothing like that. She used to call him the brother she never had, and stick her tongue out at me.” He went quiet again. I waited.
“Jenny’s death was declared an accident,” he said. “But I know Anders killed her.”
He turned to me. “I would get on the next plane back to America if I was you.”