About the Author:
Helene Tursten was a nurse and a dentist before she turned to writing. She is the author of the Irene Huss mysteries and the Embla Nystr÷m mysteries, including Hunting Game and Winter Grave. Her books have been translated into 21 languages and made into a television series. She was born in Gothenburg, Sweden, where she now lives with her husband.
Excerpt. ę Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
An excerpt from the short story “An Elderly Lady Has Accommodation Problems”
The shrill sound of the doorbell sliced through the silence. Maud sat motionless in her armchair, making no attempt to get up. She knew the bell would soon ring again. And again. And again. This had been going on for weeks.
The reason behind the whole thing was her living arrangements, which were rather unusual.
The apartment in which Maud lived was the only thing her family had managed to hold on to after her father’s sudden death from a heart attack. Until then he had kept up appearances, but when he died the family lawyer quickly discovered there was virtually no money left. The only thing of value was the large apartment building in the Vasastan district of Gothenburg. When it was sold, the lawyer managed to work out an agreement with the new owner.
To put it briefly, a clause was inserted in the contract stating that the widow and her two daughters should be allowed to remain in their apartment without paying any rent; they simply had to cover the cost of electricity, water, and heating. In return, the buyer was given the opportunity to purchase the building at a very reasonable price. In addition, the clause stated that “for as long as any member of the family wishes to reside in the apartment, no rent will be payable.” A few lines further down it was made clear that the term “member of the family” referred only to the widow and her two daughters. Seventy years had passed since the contract had been drawn up, and at the time no one could have envisaged that one of the daughters would still be living there.
Of course there had been a dispute over the interpretation of the original contract when the building was taken over by a housing association many years later, but after taking the matter to court, Maud won the day, and still lived rent-free. The members of the housing association board ground their teeth in frustration, but there was nothing they could do, though they did win a small victory when it was established that Maud had to pay a small monthly sum toward the general maintenance of the apartment building.
It had now been about forty years since Maud’s sister died, leaving her with no living relatives. Maud lived alone, and she went on vacation alone. That was the way she wanted it. Freedom, no idle chatter, and no problems. Idle chatter and problems were the worst things she could think of, and now she was faced with one of the biggest problems she had ever encountered. And she just couldn’t see a way out.
Maud realized she had only herself to blame. She had walked straight into the trap with her eyes wide open. Even though a little voice inside her head had tried to warn her, she could never have imagined how badly things would turn out! It had all begun so innocently.
During the spring, a genuine celebrity had moved into the building—a woman who was about forty years old, by the name of Jasmin Schimmerhof. She was famous mainly because her parents were famous. As the only child of two of Sweden’s best-known personalities, she experienced the trauma of growing up with parents who were totally preoccupied with their respective careers. Neither of them had much time to spare for their daughter, if any. A series of nannies and boarding schools were responsible for Jasmin’s upbringing. Her father was a successful financier, and her mother had been one of the country’s most internationally renowned opera singers. She toured the great opera houses of the world and was rarely at home with her husband and daughter. Jasmin’s mother had died in a car accident just outside New York a few years earlier. Nobody knew how it had happened because she had been alone when she crashed into a concrete column supporting an overpass. The newspapers showed pictures of the grieving widower, but there was no sign of Jasmin. After a period of intense undercover work by tabloid journalists, it emerged that she had been admitted to a private rehab clinic; she had been abusing both legal and illegal drugs, as well as drinking heavily. Her condition was so unstable that she wasn’t even able to attend her mother’s funeral. The trigger for the abuse was rumored to be her divorce from husband number two six months earlier. Both her first and second marriages had been childless. The press got plenty of headlines out of the tragedy, reveling in the misery of such a powerful family. Media interest flared up again when Ian Schimmerhof, Jasmin’s father, got married again six months later—to a woman forty years his junior. From the paparazzi shots taken at the couple’s wedding in Switzerland, where they were now living, it was very clear that the new wife was heavily pregnant. A month or so later, Jasmin gained a half-sibling forty years younger than her. The headline writers had a field day, speculating on whether Maria Schimmerhof’s car crash really had been an accident—or suicide.
Over the next two years, no one had heard much about Jasmin Schimmerhof. It was said she was writing her autobiography, and when the book was published, it became an instant bestseller; everyone wanted to know what life had really been like behind the stylish fašade of the enormous villa in Írgryte. A number of reviews may have hinted that the use of language was poor, the descriptions of the characters somewhat flat, and the narrative style rather clumsy, but people didn’t care. There were a few particularly juicy sections where Jasmin tore into her parents, especially her father. It was clear from the book that he had lavished money on his daughter but had given her neither his time nor his love. She wrote candidly about her father’s many affairs and how her mother had hit back with her own indiscretions. The book sold like hotcakes.
The following year, Jasmin bought an apartment in Vasastan, in the same building where Maud lived. It was the only apartment on the ground floor. It had a special entrance at the foot of the elaborate marble staircase in the lobby, and its windows looked out onto both the street and the backyard. With the permission of the housing association board, the previous owner had built a small glassed-in terrace at the back. He owned an IT company and had renovated the run-down apartment to the highest standards, according to what Maud had heard. When he married and the couple was expecting their first child, he sold the place to Jasmin Schimmerhof and moved to a delightful house by the sea. Among other reasons, Jasmin wanted the apartment because it was fairly large—around 450 square feet. After the success of her autobiography, she had decided to embark on a new career. She was going to be an artist. Several walls were knocked down in order to make room for a substantial studio. Jasmin wanted to create large installations and needed space.
She had spent the entire spring working on her creations. She wrote in her blog, Me Jasmin:
I despise sovereignty and the patriarchy. I have grown up under that kind of oppression, and I know how terrible it is. I want to give the finger to all oppressors and tell them to go to hell! In October, I will be putting on an exhibition at the Hell Gallery. Come along and see my new pieces! At the moment I am working on Phallus, Hanging. It’s going to be a kick in the balls for all those bastard men!
Maud had learned all this over the past few weeks by looking up newspaper articles online; she also found Jasmin’s blog extremely informative, and it contained high-res pictures of various works. The enormous pieces of art had thickly painted layers of color, into which Jasmin had pressed photographs, scraps of fabric, sheet music, tampons (Maud couldn’t quite see whether or not they were used), fragments of bone, and all kinds of unidentifiable trash. And trash was precisely the right word for Jasmin’s art, in Maud’s opinion. The pictures were titled No Title I, No Title II, No Title III, and so on.
Her so-called sculptures all had the same construction. Each one had a concrete base into which Jasmin had stuck various objects before the concrete had set. There were pieces featuring old exhaust systems pointing up at the ceiling, baseball bats, broken ice hockey sticks, golf clubs, cone-shaped items with Missile or Atomic bomb written on the side, and—last but not least—enormous black rubber dildos. Needless to say, these masterpieces were titled Phallus I, Phallus II, Phallus III, presumably ad infinitum.
Makes life easier, I suppose, Maud thought.
Every morning Maud spent an hour or so surfing the Internet on her laptop, checking out interesting people and events. She hadn’t bothered researching Jasmin’s life when her flamboyant neighbor moved in; at the time, Maud had been fully occupied with planning her first visit to a spa. After a very successful stay she had gone on vacation to Sardinia, where she had spent three glorious months before returning to Gothenburg.
And that was when it began.
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