they get more skilful with age, and they’re no longer so disarmingly obvious, but the goal doesn’t change. Your children simply haven’t had time to learn how it’s done. That’s what we call innocence.”
“And what is it Mats is out to get?” said Anna hotly. “Can you tell me that?” Without waiting for an answer, she went on. “This wasn’t at all what I wanted to talk about, which is this: How did the rabbits get all covered with flowers?”
“Tell them it’s a secret. Tell them they don’t need to know.”
“Exactly,” said Anna. “You’re right. That’s the best thing you’ve said tonight. They don’t need to know, and I don’t want to know. So there!”
A NNA A EMELIN HAD A STANDING ORDER with the bookseller in town. Every now and then, he’d send books to her with Liljeberg – adventure stories, books about the seven seas and impassable landscapes and voyages of discovery undertaken by curious and intrepid men in the days when there were still anonymous white patches on the world map. Sometimes he sent classics and sometimes boys’ books, but the general theme old Miss Aemelin had chosen never varied, and these books formed the unfailing linchpin of Mats and Anna’s friendship.
The books came wrapped in brown paper, the address in yellow. Katri never opened them, just placed them on the kitchen table. Anna and Mats unpacked the books in the evening. Mats got first choice, and he always chose a book about the sea. When he’d read it, it went to Anna, and then they’d talk about it. It was a ritual. They said little about themselves or the things that happened around them. They spoke only about the people who lived in their books in a world of steadfast chivalry and ultimate justice. Mats never talked about his boat but often about boats.
* * *
Anna managed to forget the discarded letters that gradually accumulated somewhere in the attic, but one night they fluttered up in her dreams. She dreamed that she carried the unread letters out onto the ice, far out to the dark pile of abandoned but once cherished possessions , now shoved ruthlessly into a heap, and there she dumped them – the pleas of unknown correspondents, their confidences, their clever suggestions. She just threw them, and they flew away in a blizzard of letter paper, an endless, boundless postal storm, flew up to heaven in a single great reproach, and Anna woke up and jumped out of bed drenched with sweat and bad conscience.
She went out to the kitchen, the friendliest room in her house. The books still lay on the table, brand new, shiny in their tempting adventure colours. They smelled good. Anna raised one book after another to her cheek and inhaled the evanescent smell of unread book, unlike any other. She opened the lightly cleaving pages, which rustled at first touch, and studied the bold, stormy pictures, a vision of the improbable as the artist nevertheless imagined it. Anna did not believe this particular artist had ever experienced a real storm or wandered lost in a jungle. That’s why, she thought. He makes it even more awful and terrible because he doesn’t know. I doubt Jules Verne ever got to travel… I draw what I see. I don’t have to yearn. Anna turned page after page and studied every illustration. Slowly, her anxiety abated.
The book dealer’s bill was still on the table. Anna folded it again and again, held the paper in her fist and thought, this is a bill she’ll never get to see. Somehow she’d surely figure out that the bookseller is cheating me too.
* * *
After the net incident with Husholm’s Emil, Mats stopped doing odd jobs in the village, but he went to the Liljebergs’ boat shed as usual. There no one talked about anything but boats, when they talked at all. When they closed for the day, Mats went home to his boat designs. The walls in his room had once been blue like most of the house, now they had faded to the indefinable colour of an old