Oslo, Norway. 1940.
Stockholm, Sweden. 1940 -1944.
London, England. 1945 - present day.
Some children scarcely notice uncertainty; hardy and resistant, they thrive wherever they take root. Dandelion-children, they call them in Sweden. (The Swedes would know something about hardiness, wouldn’t they? -- they with their northern farms, their salt-cured fish, their intimate knowledge of darkness and hunger.) And then there are the wide-eyed ones, the fragile orkide-barn (orchid children) who blossom only in favourable conditions. These are the ones who become great artists, and great scientists, or drunkards, or melancholics. They are the ones who have the most to give, and the most to lose.
Most environments do not favor orchids. But -- oh -- what an occasion it is when an orchid blooms!
Instead, a dandelion child was born in Oslo one lean spring, scant months after the Germans invaded Norway. (This was rather a poor time for the orchids of the world. Wartime favors the dandelions.) His mother, Anki, was the daughter of a Swedish diplomat. His father was a British consular agent, infelicitously called to London in November of the previous year . Despite this bureaucratic pedigree, her tiny son’s British passport and peerage caused Anki no end of trouble -- police visits, reduced rations, travel bans -- until she bundled Sigur in quilts and escaped with him on a fishing boat bound for Gotenberg. After that, a slow train to Stockholm, to his grandparents’ house, where for five years young Sigur Holmes heard not a word of English from his dear Mormor.
Bombs fell on London, Coventry, Berlin. Sigur ate and slept and walked and talked. He was a laconic, drowsy child who did not cry when his grandparents saw them off from the docks of Gamla Stan a few months after VE day. Sigur liked the the big boat, the uniformed sailors who gave him licorice, the sound of the foghorn. He made friends with the other families and wandered off while Anki spilled her seasickness overboard. They went to live in London with his father, whom he had never met. In five months he was speaking English as well as the rest and he did not miss the licorice too much.
A dandelion, Sigur: even-tempered, athletic, adaptable, if not very inspired. Fit for public service, quiet evenings at home, the occasional game of tennis. Domineering, handsome, brilliant, intolerant of difference. Children who grew up in wartime knew that it was not good to stand out too much, no matter how intelligent, no matter how wealthy one was. The nail that stuck out was the one that got the hammer. Difference signalled danger.
Difference also signalled beauty -- those slanted eyes, the pale skin, dark curls -- almost too much beauty for a boy.
‘Those looks are wasted on Sherlock,’ Sigur said when his son was eleven. ‘He should have been born a girl.’ He watched Sherlock watching the other boys, and he fretted. Violeta rehearsed her Ravel and Bartok, and took on more students, and looked after her orkide-barn, her youngest son. He showed more promise than she ever had, and that summer she was to play at Ravenna.
Danger was a green pool in an inner courtyard, the wet slide of skin against skin, the risk of being caught. Danger was a needle under the floorboards, opium in the toe of a slipper, the subterfuge of his habit. Danger was a shabby cabbie, even odds, an aneurysm.
‘Could be dangerous,’ Sherlock texted John.
‘You get off on this,’ John said later, as if there were something wrong with it. (Sigur had thought there was something wrong with it.) ‘You enjoy it.’
‘And I said “dangerous”, and here you are.’
Any life is uncertain, any outcome part fortuitous. But paths are not random, either; childish ways become adult habits, temperament hardens into personality. You can mold a growing sprout to almost any shape, but once the supple green gives way to darker wood around the trellis, the form is shaped. Not fixed -- it can be changed, but it takes time and patience and pain to prune the hedge. Time, or catastrophe, can change the form. A flash of lightning bifurcates the tree; a large branch withers, smaller shoots come into bloom. Without destruction, growth is slow, unwilling.
To John’s surprise, the first bullet out of his gun was not meant for his own occipital lobe.
What had been done to him, he did to another; his shot hit Hope in the shoulder. Sherlock finished the man off, but still -- it was John’s bullet. Directed outwards, melancholy turned to rage, sorrow into fear. Danger roused him to action. Danger cauterized the wound. Danger was the new order.