K. J. Pedersen
Anno Domini 2074
Sceofeld, North Lancascir, Republic of Liberia,
Anglian Federative Republic
SHANE MAC CORMAC was a scrappy little fucker; he settled matters with his fists. He had the dark bruises and half-healed scrapes to prove it too. There were fresh scratches on his face today where Godric’s ring scored. His chin was red, scabby, bruised.
Shane stood six feet tall, was wiry, all angles and lean, tight muscles — he was fierce; he was tough — but he should have let Godric’s comment slide. Godric was a football player, almost fifty pounds heavier than Shane, and a good two inches taller.
The slightest provocation — any insult — was a sure way to start a fight where Shane was concerned. He had become anti-social. He was always fighting. That he hadn’t been expelled from Sceofeld Academy by now was nothing short of miraculous. Who knows, maybe that was his goal, to get thrown out. Emotionally, he was pretty fucked up.
Godric started the fight with a slur, a clenched fist, a rough shove, and it progressed from there in brutality. I’m sure he would’ve broken up Shane if it had gone on much longer than it did. Shane got in a few good hits, true, but, for as strong and dexterous as he was, he was still no match for Godric.
Fortunately, a teacher broke things up, and saved Shane further injury and embarrassment.
So Shane’s call after dinner came as a surprise. Since the hunting accident which claimed his father’s life, Shane had withdrawn into himself, and our friendship was put on hold. I hadn’t expected that he would want to renew that bond between us following what must have been for him a very difficult and humiliating day. But it soon became apparent that renewal was exactly what he had in mind.
We wandered his neighborhood in the slight October chill in shirt-sleeves (it wasn’t cool enough yet for even a light weight coat), for we were both dressed casually, in short-sleeved shirts and tan trousers. Shane said little, and nothing of any importance. I enjoyed the company nevertheless, and could tell, despite the lack of conversation, he did too. He walked closer to me than he had in the longest time, so close we would bump into each other now and again. I sensed he wanted to be close to me because of the fight at school; he needed reassurance.
The moon was bright, though clouds stalked her, pounced, devoured her every now and then. I caught Shane staring at me once when the blue moonlight was particularly bright. It was funny, it was as though he was trying to thoroughly reacquaint himself with me by memorizing my looks.
“You don’t think I’m ‘white trash,’ do you?” he asked suddenly.
“Of course not,” I said. “That is just Godric’s — ”
“I should’ve knocked his fucking teeth down his throat.”
I shook my head. “Man, you’ve got to stop getting into fights all the time, just because someone insults you.”
Godric wasn’t alone in thinking Shane was ‘white trash,’ though there was no way I was going repeat what I heard people around the senior academy say. The girls all thought he was terribly immature. The guys had no respect for him, and they let him know it too. Of course, as a result, he was always fighting with the guys. My girlfriend, Lindi, thought he was ‘cute, in a rough, boyish sort of way,’ but also ‘a loser,’ and assumed he’d ‘amount to nothing.’ She was pleased when our friendship seemed to wither away last winter, and was not reawakened with the coming of spring and summer. My mother and Johannes both liked Shane; my sisters Susanna and Elisabet agreed that he was a ‘mean-looking pretty-boy,’ and liked him well enough; but my father believed he was a bad influence. He had no qualms in telling me what he thought either. My father was a bigot and shared the opinion held by many upper-class Anglians that Hibernians (the name Shane mac Cormac would attest to such ancestry) were lazy, rebellious, and of a criminal mind set. If Shane knew the things my father called him, it would probably have ended our friendship.
“You have things better than I do, Mattæus,” Shane said then. “Your parents have the franchise. They own their own home. They can afford to send you to Sceofeld Academy without going into debt to do it.”
“If you haven’t noticed, the last new school clothes I got were for my 17th birthday. If Johannes and Elisabet didn’t have their scholarships, tuition would eat away most of my parents’s income.” My sister Elisabet was in her third year at Niew Lifrapol University, and tuition there was extremely expensive. “We don’t have it as well as you seem to think.”
“Maybe if you didn’t live in such a big house and if your father didn’t drive such an expensive car you might have more disposable income — ”
“It takes both my father’s earnings and my mother’s to maintain what we have.”
“Well, you have two living parents too, don’t you?”
“That’s not fair,” I said.
His father, Cormac mac Brógan, was killed during a hunting trip in the Liberian Mountains on October 21, 2073. It was almost a year ago now. He wasn’t accidentally shot, though nationwide there was news of accidental shootings at least once every season. No, Cormac had slipped while hiking, and tumbled into a ravine. It was a three hundred foot fall. I don’t want to get into the gruesome details, but he wasn’t killed after hitting the ravine floor, but badly broken up. Shane witnessed the whole thing. He was with his father, waiting for help, when he died.
I met Shane at Sceofeld Academy when we were fourteen, so I knew Cormac for about two years before the accident. Father and son were close, like friends. It was obvious how much they cared for, and how much they trusted, one another. I saw it when they spoke. The bond of mutual respect between them was something important — and distressing — for me to see. I envied Shane because his family life was happier than my own. His father was there for him. My father, on the other hand, demanded success — particularly of my brother Johannes — but did little to help it along.
Naturally, Shane did not talk about the accident. Occasionally though, last November, he would come over to our house for the night, would say nothing, but would cry into his pillow after he believed Johannes and I were safely asleep. I went out of my way to be with Shane, to offer whatever aid I could, but neither of us could bring ourselves to talk about it. Not more than a few words anyway. Johannes too tried to be sympathetic, and to his credit, actually spoke at length with Shane one evening. Despite our concern, things got worse, and Shane made subtle (and a few not-so-subtle) hints he wanted to put an end to it all.
Maybe he would have actually done it had I not introduced him to my friend Wulfric Peterson. I introduced them at Lindi’s Christmas party. (Lindi had invited Wulfric because he was ‘cute’ and came from a ‘respectable family,’ but was furious I had the gall to bring Shane too.) Something fit just right between Shane and Wulfy; their friendship was immediate. The two were soon inseparable. As their friendship grew, ours waned. Shane’s depression lifted and there were no more veiled irrational threats. Nevertheless, he was still in a severe funk. No doubt his quarrelsomeness and militancy were the result of losing his father.
“You know, my mother cannot truly afford my tuition at all,” he said. “We have to rely on charity from the church to make ends meet. You know, for food to eat.”
I didn’t say anything and just followed beside him. A moment later we were standing in front of the house where he previously lived. After his father was killed, his mother could not afford the rent, and they were forced to move into a small two bedroom apartment on the main thoroughfare a block and a half or so to the northeast. He stopped in front of the house, and looked at it meaningfully. I didn’t say anything; I understood how tight things were financially for Shane’s family.
“The insurance paid for the funeral, Matti. That was it. We lost the lease on the house, my parent’s car, everything,” he said. “My brother’s almost eleven now. We can’t afford tuition for both of us.”
“Cully’s doing fine at the union school.”
“Workers’ associations don’t have the funds to maintain schools for the higher grades. Next year he’ll need to enroll at Sceofeld Preparatory Academy. The tuition’s the same there as it is for me.”
“We’ll be graduated by then. Your mother will only have to pay his tuition.”
“My family’s already 840RS in debt because of my tuition,” he said. “My mother took a loan.”
My heart sank. 100RS monthly was a fairly typical income among the working-classes. Shane’s mother could not have made much more than that as an office clerk. If they were in debt 840RS — two years full tuition — with interest to be paid on top of that, I knew things were worse than I had thought.
He was silent for a long moment, then added, “You know I can’t go to the University with you. Even if I worked full time, I couldn’t afford the tuition. Much less anything else.”
“No. That’s not true. Something will work out, Shane.”
“God, for as intelligent and analytical as you are, Matti, you’re really very stupid sometimes.”
“Look, I’m just saying there are possibilities.”
“Like if you, Johannes, Lukas, and I were to share an apartment off campus. The three of us can help you. We’ll take care of the food and rent. If all else fails, we can get into a dorm room together.”
“You’re being unrealistic.”
“Don’t give up on the idea so quickly. Shane, you’re a smart guy too. You shouldn’t sell yourself short. If you can get into the University and finish with a degree, your opportunities will be improved when you apply for work.”
“I know you’re worried about being admitted to the University yourself, Matti. And your ranking on the grading scale is — ”
“Truly no better than yours. If I can get in, you can too.”
“If is the key word there,” he said. “Besides, your parents have the franchise. My mother doesn’t. That counts for something.”
“You’re a defeatist, Shane!”
“No, just a realist.”
I walked away from the spot where Shane had led us. He didn’t follow, just stood there, eyes fixed on the old house. It wasn’t large, just sturdy, clean, well-groomed, and old-fashioned — it must’ve been built more than a hundred years ago, during what was now called, often scoffingly, the Era of the Democratic Republic. It was an age when all citizens had the franchise, when there was universal public education, and when middle-income families were able to purchase their own homes. According to my father though, it was an immoral, hedonistic time in our history; an age which had nearly brought European civilization to ruin in the New World as well as the Old.
“I wish the Wilhardsons had stayed put,” Shane said. “The rent was affordable before they sold it.”
“It’s warmer at Corpus Christi. They’re old and wanted to retire.”
“The new owners raised the rent beyond what we could afford. Even with Máire working.”
“Come on, Shane,” I said and took his arm. “Let’s go.”
“No!” He pulled away from my grasp. “It isn’t fair! Jesucristus! I grew up in that house! That was our home, Matti! Ours!” He jabbed his index finger at the house, pointing. “We had more of a right to it than the new owners have. We were there. My father, over the years, probably paid twice its value in rent. He was there for twenty years, Matti. Twenty years! Máire was brought home as a baby to that house, you know. And me. And Cully.”
“At least you didn’t have to leave the neighborhood.”
“Listen, brother, I understand — ”
“That’s just it: You don’t understand.”
I found myself standing nose to nose with Shane, looking into his eyes. He was angry — and hurt. He wore a mischievous smirk most of the time, even when he wasn’t in a playful mood. He used to anyway, before everything came down on him. Maybe that playfulness, that mischievousness was his true nature showing through. Underneath it all, he wasn’t the angry boy he seemed. I knew him better than that. The scratches across his nose, on his cheek, the bruise on his chin, they all reminded me he had good reason to be angry, to be hurt. But right then his eyes were full of such bitterness....
Had he changed?
“You’re right,” I said. “I have no personal experience with what you’ve gone through.”
“I wish things were like they used to be. We were close. You and I.”
“Don’t you still consider me your best friend?”
He shrugged. “We’re moving in different directions.”
“Don’t give me that shit. I don’t want to lose all my friends to that excuse. With Jakobus, it’s true. We are going in different directions. He’s suddenly taken to the Church; he’s hyper-religious — ”
“Like my mother,” Shane muttered under his breath.
“His piety is self-righteousness. Or something like it,” I said. “No, maybe he is sincere, but I can’t help but feel that he’s looking down on me. My relationship with Lindi has something to do with it.”
“You’re not fucking her, are you, so what’s he looking down on you for?”
I said, “We’re not fucking — as you so delicately put it — but I know her body well enough.”
Shane grinned at that. “What does Jaapi expect? That you’re not curious? I bet he looks up naughty pictures on the Network just like every other guy on the planet does.”
“We’re talking about Jakobus van der Hoff, brother.”
We both laughed.
“Jaapi likes the girls too,” Shane said. “He’s had two girlfriends. That’s one more than you’ve had.”
“Yeah, but he doesn’t get frisky with them.”
“Frisky, huh?” He kicked at me, caught my left buttock with his foot, hard, and then raised his fists. “C’mon, Matti! Let’s see if you’re stronger than I am now!”
When we first met, when we were fourteen, I was a runt, five-three, and one-hundred-five pounds. Shane was three inches taller and fifteen pounds heavier. When we fought then — wrestled — he always won.
He hit my shoulder.
I rolled my eyes. “Oh, so now you want to get frisky? Isn’t that kind of gay?”
“No — I want to fight!”
He slugged my shoulder again. I slugged back. He was fast. No wonder he fought so often — he knew what he was doing and that the odds were usually in his favor because of it.
“Fine — that does it,” I said after he delivered a couple more blows, and lunged at him, grabbed his waist, and drove him to the ground. I straddled him and pinned his wrists. “See, I am stronger.”
He nodded matter-of-factly. “Uh-huh.”
Then I pulled him to his feet and put my arm around his shoulders. Shane wasn’t a small boy, he stood just over six feet tall, but when my growth spurt came, it really came — I was now about four inches taller than he was — and he felt small as I drew him close. He pushed me away. I retaliated, grabbed his shoulders, locked his head under my arm, and then gave his long, shaggy mane a good tousling with my free hand.
“Okay, stop,” he cried. “Enough!”
“You started it.”
Finally, he said, “Sorry for being a jerk last year.”
“I suppose I just wasn’t the person you needed to talk to.”
“It’s not that exactly. We had too much history. I just couldn’t talk to you.”
“Why not? I was there for you.”
“I know. And I appreciate your concern. And Johannes’s. But ... how could I talk to you?”
“It’s really very easy,” I said. “You open your mouth, form words with your lips, and — ”
“Fuck off,” he said. “You know what I mean.”
I shrugged. “Not really.”
“I didn’t want you to think I was.... ” He stopped.
“I didn’t want to look weak in front of you. Understand?”
“How’s that? Because you might break down and cry? Your father died, Shane. What kind of an asshole would I be if I looked down on you for crying?”
He shook his head. “It’s more than just that. It was just too hard. Talking to you was just too hard.”
I never wanted to push matters back then because I felt it would be taken as too forward or impolite or that it might even be perceived as insincere. Besides, I thought, what could I say more than I already had? Sorry, Shane, that your father died. What more can you say? Shane was right: It was just too hard to talk about.
“So when I introduced you to Wulfric, why was it different?”
“Because we had no history. It was all new. I was free to say anything to him without worrying about how he’d take it, or what he’d think of me.”
“I’m not following.”
“Goddamn it! I was fucking suicidal! Do I need to spell it out?”
“Shane, you let that slip out when we did talk.”
He lowered his eyes to the pavement. “I know.”
“I’ve missed you.”
He kicked at the curb, harder each time. “Don’t get me wrong, Wulfric is everything a friend should be, and I love him like a brother, man. I really do.” Shane met my eyes again. “But, recently, I’ve been thinking about what we had. We were tight. I miss that. I’ve missed you too. A lot. That’s why I called tonight.”
Honestly, I didn’t know what to say. In the last year or so, I’d become something of a loner myself. True, I was never really the sociable type, but I was becoming more and more socially isolated. It had been a very lonely summer. My best friend since I was five — Jakobus van der Hoff — was a Christian fundamentalist, like his parents, and I did not feel comfortable in his company any longer. Johannes hung out with the jocks, and even though I was on the football team, I never did fit in with them. Yeah, I hung out with them sometimes, particularly with Lukas Grundtvigsson, my brother’s best friend, and of whom I was very fond, but I really was an outsider. Lindi Nordkvist and I ... well, to be honest, she was just too intense about this whole boyfriend-girlfriend thing; I felt trapped — suffocated! — by her attention.
“Let’s go back to my place,” Shane said. “We’ve already had supper, but I’m sure my mother will bake us some cookies.”
* * *
Johannes and I helped Shane’s family move from the house to the apartment last winter. It wasn’t fun carrying the sofa, TV, chests, and the heaviest goddamned boxes on that snowy Saturday morning. I slipped on the ice carrying a cardboard box full of clothes, broke the box wide open, scattered the contents everywhere, and bruised my elbow, shoulder, and entire right side. At any other time, Shane would have been hysterical with laughter — (Johannes was) — but he was so glum he helped me to my feet, asked if I was ‘okay,’ and that was it. Since then, I had not been to Shane’s new apartment more than once or twice.
There were some new additions, I discovered as soon as we stepped inside. The living room walls were decorated with religious paintings: Jesucristus restoring Lazarus to life; the Crucifixion; the Resurrection; the Ascension; the trials of Iob; the prophet Elias bringing the widow’s son back from the dead. There was a small marble statue of Jesucristus — palms stretched forth, nail imprints fully visible — standing on the mantle place.
“You’d think we were in a church,” Shane said to me. “These are all my mother’s.” The symbolism was obvious, and he didn’t need to elaborate, but did anyway: “She thinks my father will be resurrected if she prays hard enough.”
His words, the contempt in his voice, the shrine-like atmosphere made me uncomfortable. Understand, my mother too was a believer, but we were not a particularly religious family. We seldom went to church. And, honestly, I could not accept any of it.
“Mum!” Shane called.
“I’m in Máire’s room.”
The apartment was very small: It consisted of a living room, two bedrooms — both doors were closed — on the south end, a bathroom situated between the bedrooms, and the kitchen-dining area was separated from the living room by a half-wall. The total area could not have been more than five-hundred square feet. One bedroom belonged to Máire. The other was their mother, Martha’s. Shane and Cully, I knew, slept on the living room couch, which was also a foldaway bed.
Cully sat at the kitchen table, drawing. There were books, papers, pencils, and crayons spread out in front of him. He was nearly eleven, and had similar features to Shane’s, though his hair and complexion were darker. I walked into the dining area.
“Hey, Matti,” he said with a half-smile.
“Cuilén, you little demon, what are you up to?” I mussed his shaggy hair.
“Nothing much.” He grinned at me for a moment before turning his full attention to the drawing once more.
Martha called from Máire’s bedroom. “Who’s that with you? Wulfy? It’s after ten, you know, and you have school in the morning.”
“No, mum. It’s Matti.”
“Well then, come in here, Shane. I haven’t seen Mattæus in ages.”
I followed Shane into Máire’s room. Mother and daughter were sitting on the bed. First thing I noticed was how Máire’s belly was swollen. Shane sat down next to her, put his hand on her belly, looked at me, and grinned proudly. He patted her belly gently.
“That’s my little niece or nephew in there, Matti,” he said.
Where Shane and Cully were both good looking, Máire’s features were not nearly as fine. She was short, and though not heavy-set, large nonetheless. I mean, she was pretty enough, with a mild, pleasant expression, and expressive eyes, but she was not by any means glamorous. She looked a lot like Cormac; Shane and Cully took after Martha.
“Congratulations,” I said, completely unaware of this little development. She must’ve been seven months along at least.
Máire nodded. “Thank you.”
Shane’s mother asked, “How’s Anna?”
“My mum’s fine,” I said.
“And Johannes? I’ve read about him in the newspapers. They said he’s probably the best footballer Sceofeld Academy has seen since the early-‘60s.”
“He’s captain of the team again this year,” I said.
“You’re on the team, too, aren’t you?”
I shook my head. “Not that team; no way. I play football by the Alemannian rules only. Just like Shane. The Caledonian rules are too rough, and I’m too clumsy.”
Our second year at the senior academy, Shane and I were both on the football team playing by the Alemannian rules. Honestly, Shane was a lot better than I was. The following year — last year — Shane started with the team, but dropped out after only three practice sessions. It was understandable, but the team missed him, and we didn’t do as well either. I hoped Shane would join the team again this spring.
Johannes was on both football teams, Alemannian and Caledonian. The difference between the two games was that the Alemannian version (A-ball) really was foot-ball — you used your feet to move the ball down the field toward the goal. The Caledonian game (C-ball), on the other hand, was very different. The ball was oblong, not round, and you kicked it around some, but very little. Mostly, you carried the ball, threw it back and forth, and ran with it. Oh, yeah, and tried to avoid being ground into the earth by your opponents. Anyway, he was equally good at both. The only guy that came anywhere near his skill in either was Lukas Grundtvigsson, his best friend. Johannes was at Sceofeld Academy on a scholarship which paid half his tuition, and though he was an excellent student — 94 on the standard grading scale — it was an Athletics Scholarship.
Martha said, “What have you been doing, Mattæus? Studying? Are you preparing to go to the University next year?”
“Shane and I were just talking about that.”
Shane scowled at me.
“Do you know what you want to study?” she asked.
“You speak — how many languages is it?”
“Six,” I said.
“That’s an extraordinary gift Our Lord has given you, Mattæus — the Gift of Tongues.” As she said it, Shane rolled his eyes. “Are you going to follow in Anna’s footsteps?”
She was referring to the fact that my mother taught various language courses at Niew Lifrapol University — was recently made head of Languages Department, in fact — and my reply was that I hadn’t given it much thought.
“Or perhaps you could go into the same business as your father — ” she said.
“And manipulate numbers? Not likely,” Shane said. “My best buddy isn’t going to wind up some petty bureaucrat like that.”
“A vice president of residential loans is hardly a petty bureaucrat,” Máire said.
“First Liberian National Bank has over one hundred-seventy vice presidents,” I said. “Each of the large branches is managed by a vice president. They have a vice president for everything.”
Martha said, “Banking is certainly a very respectable profession though.”
“Bankers are vampires!” Shane protested. “They drain the lifeblood of the working-classes — ”
“Okay, Shane,” she said firmly. “I know where you stand on this subject. But I’ve told you before to drop it. Understand?”
“Mum! Jesucristus! After everything that has happened?”
“Don’t use Our Lord’s Name lightly,” she said. “And I cannot believe how rude you are, Shane — insulting Herra Kirkagárd’s profession in front of his son.”
The use of this form of address — Herra — which the Anglians had borrowed from the Scandians five or six hundred years ago —was too polite for my liking. People belonging to the enfranchised classes often insisted upon it, but seldom returned the courtesy when speaking to members of the working-classes. Such, however, was common usage in the 20th Century, and every adult male was addressed as Herra. (Technically, however, it didn’t apply to members of the working-classes, as it referred to a special — if ancient — social status.)
“Shane, apologize,” she insisted.
I felt my cheeks get hot; I was blushing.
He tried to evade her now. “Actually, mum, we came to ask if you would bake us some cookies.”
“Apologize. What you said was very rude.”
I threatened Shane: “I’ll punch you in the nose if you say you’re sorry.”
Martha smiled then. “Cookies, huh? Fine. Anything for Mattæus,” she said. “I haven’t seen you for so long, Matti, that I was beginning to wonder if you and Shane had a falling out.”
I shook my head.
“Well, mum,” Máire said suddenly, “I should call Simon.” And that was the signal she wanted us out of her room.
Shane and I followed Martha, past Cully, into the kitchen. I offered to help make the cookies, but she refused. Shane shrugged his shoulders. Then he grabbed my arm and led me outside to the back porch. We sat on the cool cement together and looked at the gathering clouds.
“Stop complaining,” he said. “It feels nice.”
“It’s going to storm — you can smell the bay.”
“Yeah. It stinks.”
“Lucky for us we don’t actually live in Niew Lifrapol. You can smell the waste and rot there all the time.”
“Simon lives in the city,” Shane said.
“Máire’s boyfriend.” He shook his head with contempt. “He’s a punk. I mean, Máire loves him and all, and he didn’t dump her after he found out she was pregnant, but he’s a punk anyway.” He paused. “I don’t want Máire moving in with him — there, in the city — you know?”
“I guess so.”
“And I don’t want him moving in here with us.”
“Are they going to get married?”
“Mum wants them to. Better than living in sin, she says. I don’t think it’s a good idea though. Like I said, Simon’s a punk.”
“Máire looks well enough,” I said.
“I guess. She’s tired all the time though.”
“Well, I’m not an expert, but I suspect being pregnant has that effect on girls. Eating for two, carrying a passenger, and all.”
Shane grinned at that.
He was silent for a long moment. “I know Simon’s going to move in with us. I just know as soon as the baby is born, he’s going to move in.”
I didn’t say anything.
“Of course, what’s it to you?” He scowled. “This sucks.”
“What does he do?”
“He doesn’t work. At least not in any conventional sense.”
“He’s a seller,” Shane said. “You understand my meaning, yeah?”
“Among others,” he said. “What can you expect though? I mean, really, with unemployment as high as it is? Wages are down too. So why even bother looking for work? Especially when you can make 15RS a night selling shit and can take home only 4 or 5RS working. Honest work doesn’t pay. Never has.”
“The drug laws here in Liberia are strict,” I said. “They create a shortage in supply, demand forces the price up. The black market thrives!”
“But the market thrives on the other side of the country too, in Nova Anglia, where drug laws are nearly non-existent.”
“True.” Then I changed the subject, and asked, “Did your mother have a holy fit when she discovered Máire was pregnant?”
“No, not really. I mean, yes, she’s very religious, but she reacted to it as a natural matter. Maybe it’s because she belongs to the Era of Hope generation,” he said.
“So does my father,” I said, “but he’s very conservative when it comes to such things.”
“Your father is conservative in all matters. He is ... how can I put this politely?”
“A reactionary?” I said.
Shane laughed. “Exactly. How has your mother managed to live under the same roof with him for all these years? She’s libertarian! I mean, I’ve read the articles she’s written for the WCLW in the International Labor Review and Freedom & Fellowship.”
“Her father’s been a trade unionist and an advocate of democracy his entire adult life,” I said. “What can you expect but that it would rub off.”
“Conversations at the dinner table in your house must be like the debates were a hundred years ago when we actually had a farm-labor party represented in the Senate and Landsthing.”
“My mother and father agreed in politics. They were both for democracy. It’s hard for me to imagine two people like your mother and father — with completely different political philosophies — being in love. The democrat and the plutocrat; the libertarian and the authoritarian.” He chuckled. “It boggles the mind, Matti.”
“To be honest, they never were in love. And that has little to do with their politics.”
“They must’ve been in love once.”
“Well, maybe when my mother and father met at the University,” I said. “Maybe they were in love then. When they were young — ”
“Shut up! Those are my parents you’re talking about!”
He started to laugh. “I just seared an image into your brain that’ll leave you scarred for life.”
“Fuck off, man!”
Shane was laughing hard now. This was the old Shane — the smiling, mischievous, devilish Shane.
“Seriously though, their marriage is broken,” I said.
“I’m not surprised. Mattæus, I’m sorry, and no offense, but I’ve never liked your father. That’s the truth.”
“Come on, you know why not. I felt it whenever I went over to your house. He hates me.”
I kept my mouth shut. There was no point reaffirming what he already knew.
“Are they going to divorce?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “This summer my mum took Johannes, Susanna, and I to the old country, to Odense, to visit her parents. Father wasn’t invited. My mum and her mum talked a lot. Let’s just say the word skilsmissa — divorce — came up often enough.”
“He treats her like a ‘trophy’ wife,” I said. “Always has.”
“Your mother is definitely very pretty, but she is too confident to be treated like that.”
“She’s an intelligent and confident woman, true, but she used to defer to his wishes all the time. She was a peacemaker, or, at least, she tried to ‘settle the waters,’ so to say. See, my father is overbearing and verbally abusive — ”
He nodded, and said with much sarcasm, “No kidding?”
I glared at him. “When I was little, he used to make her cry with his shouting. I remember it all too well. I would run away and hide under the bed with Johannes. She must’ve grown out of thinking she could change him with her silence, understanding, and deference, because by time I was twelve, she fought back. Their yelling matches sometimes nearly brought down the house. But now ... now she rolls her eyes whenever he starts in at her.”
“My mother and father didn’t fight. At least not in front of us. I mean, they loved each other. Completely.”
“I know. I saw it. Your parents were soul-mates.”
He nodded emphatically. “That’s it exactly — soul-mates.”
“I’m sorry about what happened.” I put my hand on his shoulder. “I really am.”
He didn’t shrug away from my touch. “When my father died.... It’s killing her, Matti. She prays all the time. It makes me so fucking angry to see her pleading with God on her knees endlessly!” He shook his head. “Mattæus, I do not want to talk about this. Every time I get in on it with Wulfric I start to cry, and I do not want to fucking cry in front of you. Okay?”
“It’s okay,” I said.
“No — I mean it.”
I raised my hands defensively. “Okay, okay.”
“Do you have a joint on you?”
I shook my head.
There was a sudden white flash in the sky.
“Whoa! Matti! Did you see that?” Shane leaned forward and pointed. “That is so fucking cool!”
There was another flash, but not so bright as the first. Then there was a streak that disappeared behind the clouds. Another flash. And again.
“Yeah!” I was awed by the spectacle. “A meteor shower!”
“That first one ... brightest shooting star I ever saw!” He laughed.
The two of us stared, silently, in awe, at the patch of sky just below the moon. There was another flash, another streak, and then just as suddenly as it had started, it was over.
* * *
To be continued....