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A Narration in Lessness

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When they send her to Gedser, Sarah inhales. One long, deep breath as she looks south across the water and into the retreating dusk. It has been winter here for days, and will be winter yet for years to come. There is a story, somewhere, about the ferryman who floats over the dead, something she was taught at school but doesn't remember now. Mark would know, she thinks. Mark would remember. He liked stories when he was young. Her mother used to read them to him before he went to sleep at night. She remembers he had nightmares for a whole week after Vibeke read him the story of Beowulf and Grendel's mother but he still begged her to read it to him, night after night. A story of good over evil, where the heroes were known by the length of their beards, and the demons were known by the stench of their breath.

Vagn Skærbæk had not been so easy to recognise.

She has nightmares, too, though hers are not of beasts, but of bullets. She goes over it in her head – what if she had been faster, what if she hadn't taken Meyer with her, what if she hadn't insisted— but she had, and what's worse is she knows she would always insist, would never listen, because of course, Sarah Lund always knows best. Sarah Lund is always right.

What a price to pay, just to be right. So now Sarah Lund watches the boats come in with the tide and out with the dawn. No doubt someone in Copenhagen thinks it an apt punishment, but she's not inclined to complain. It's a duty, a payment of sorts. If the dead give two coins to the ferryman, she can give her days and her nights in recompense. Out here she can do no harm. Out here she doesn't have to think of the Birk Larsens' grief, or Jan Meyer's wife and children, or even Bengt and Mark and Sweden. Out here there is only the water, and her breath fogging up in the cold.

 
 
 
 
 

Troels Hartmann comes to see her once, and once only. She finds him at the door to the station, leaning heavily against the jamb, and she walks straight past him, his hair thinning and his hands shoved deep into the pockets of his overcoat. It isn't that she doesn't see him so much as she'd rather not, and ignoring him seems as good a method as any other at her disposal. She brushes past him into the cloakroom where she takes off her uniform and pulls on her jumper; pulls off her work boots and swaps them for her own. Everything goes neatly into the locker the station master had emptied for her on her first day. Jacket, torch, boots, one after the other, each item allocated its own space. She likes the order, and tries not to think too much about what Bengt would have to say about that. It's a small consolation to know her apartment is as untidy as ever.

"Would you like to go to dinner?" Hartmann asks. "I saw a place in town as I drove through."

"Don't you have things to do, Mayor?" she asks as she collects her things, scant in number as they are. How awkward, to have him here. The ghost of Nanna Birk Larsen lies thick in the space between them. Sarah resents him for intruding.

"I have today," he says. "Lund—"

She brushes past him again, searching her pockets for the keys to her car, and trying to remember if there's anything in the apartment that's still edible. It's the middle of the week, so she needs to do laundry tonight, and Mark might call. If she knows her mother, there are probably a few missed calls on her mobile, too. Where did she put her phone?

"If I asked, would you come back to Copenhagen?" Troels asks unexpectedly. "If I spoke to the Chief Inspector, and to Special Branch, I think I could bring you back – bring you home again."

Sarah stops in the exit and forces herself to take a breath, the way she does every time she misses home. She's a city girl at heart, but she belongs to Gedser now. She signed her soul to this damp, dark place when Jan Meyer died. "What do you need from me?" she asks at last, not knowing what else to say. "You should go back to the city, Mayor. Whatever it is you came for, you won't find it in me."

"Have dinner with me," he says again, "and let me tell you my plans." His hand lands lightly on her shoulder, but she shrugs him off.

"I'm busy."

 
 
 
 
 

She doesn't sleep well. Mark doesn't call, and Vibeke has left three messages on her phone. Sarah deletes them all without listening to them, before leaving a message on her mother's phone in return. She burns her toast, and leaves her coffee half-finished on the kitchen counter. Outside it's pouring with rain, and icy. It doesn't look set to be a good day.

Troels is in the cloakroom when she gets to work.

Sitting on one of the low wooden benches he watches as Sarah swaps her boots and her jacket, as though someone is holding a mirror to the night before. From the corner of her eye she can see that he is tired, too, the hollows of his face heavy with shadows. The campaign had been a bloody one in more ways than one; Sarah wonders if it was worth it.

"Don't you have a city to run?" she asks, though not unkindly.

Looking up from his hands, Troels almost smiles. Some part of Sarah's mind remembers that he is a handsome man, and oft charming. He looks at her carefully.

"Do you stay here because there is nowhere else, or because anywhere is better than Copenhagen?"

Sarah shakes her head sadly, wondering why he came so far if he knew he would return with so little. "Neither. Both. I don't know."

"You did good work on that case."

"Not good enough."

"Brilliant," he says, talking over her protests, "some might say. I'm told you have unconventional methods." This last he says like it's a secret between them, or a joke. "I didn't know they had put you out to pasture. I would have come sooner."

How to explain, then, that she had chosen the pasture for herself? How to tell him and make him understand how it had felt in that woodland, knowing what Theis would do and having no way to stop it? How to explain that it had been her fault in some way, that she had missed the signs too often, and let too much of red tape and bureaucracy get in her way? And that's what she fears – that at some point the rules of the job had become inconvenient and she had seen nothing of disregarding them. Rules that are in place for a reason, she knows.

No, better to be here in Gedser, where everything is black and white, where there are few such frustrations and fewer temptations. Better to watch for the ferryman. She cannot go back to Copenhagen now. She cannot trust herself to remember the lines she crossed.

"Thank you," she says to Troels, who is still patiently waiting, "but I have work to do. You can find your own way out, I'm sure." She cuts off any protest. "It is better this way. Congratulations on your election win, Mayor. Have a safe trip home."

She doesn't turn to watch him leave, but on her way out hears a car door slam and a car pull away. The officer on the night shift is approaching with the log book, and in about an hour the sun will rise. Sarah pulls mismatched gloves from her coat pocket and grimaces as she pulls them on. She takes a deep breath. She takes another. She waits for the day to begin.

 
 
 

I heard gunshots in my sleep.
I was a keeper of breath,
of hay. I walked a field, collecting bones.
You can build a house out of bones.
You can stand at the doorway
quarrelling with your legs to enter
or run until you turn to ash.
-- stacie cassarino, firework


end.