When the first mist ribbon had snaked its way out of the forest and wrapped itself around their Saab on the road from Gothenburg, he understood how you could feel at home in a place for the first time in his life.
Like being on one of those paths that only last for a limited time in fairy tales, before disappearing for another hundred years, here he was escaping the chaos and disappointment of his old life, hoping it would vanish into the mists like the road behind him.
He wouldn’t be scattering any breadcrumbs to find his way back.
“Oh,” said Gunilla, in that tight-lipped nasal way of hers. “The first thing we’ll have to do is paint it. And we drove past such fresh whites and happy yellows on the way here.”
He said nothing. Back in February when he’d come house-hunting, he’d known as soon as he had turned up the hill towards the grey-green house that it was the one for him.
Besides, the colour would never change while he was the one wielding the paintbrush. She could sigh and complain about the colour as much as she liked. In fact, he might even put on a new coat of that very same shade this coming Spring. He could always claim that the neighbour had given him the wrong colour code when he had gone round to ask for theirs.
He had known that she would notice some of the missing furniture but he didn’t think that she would pick up on all of it that first time she stepped into her new home.
“And the oak display cabinets we had in the dining room…”
“Oh yes, I can’t imagine where they’ll have got to…”
“And the nest of coffee tables…”
“The men probably put them into the wrong room…”
“And the thin bookcases that were against the wall in my little sitting room in the old house…”
“I hope they made the trip okay… they were very thin…”
“And the old spinning wheel… my mother’s…”
“They’ll not have known where to put it and stored it in the basement…”
And so it went on with Gunilla describing the missing items and him trailing in her wake, like a concerned policeman trying to keep up with a distressed burglary victim.
Strictly speaking, everything was in a basement: an auctioneer’s basement, where the missing items that made Gunilla’s house a home were waiting to be toured and touted around the towns near where they used to live. He wondered whether any of her friends would recognise something and tell Gunilla. He doubted it. They would probably jump at the chance to buy up the things they had so long coveted.
“I hate it here,” said Gunilla, shivering at the emptiness inside and the mist outside that was creeping over the bushes and through the garden, right up to the windows.
He said nothing and simply handed her a plate of flat breads and cold meats.
Gunilla’s cry brought him running from the bathroom the next morning.
“Don’t make such a noise, you’ll scare them away. Look!”
And she pointed towards the edge of their land, where it sloped down into next door’s, at the three deer who were warily looking towards the new owners of Strandgatan 17.
“So graceful!’ said Gunilla. “I may get to like it here, after all.”
He found out later on that day that the deer came down from the woods behind the house and through his garden every morning and evening.
Although he had to admit that the man knew his schnaps and was generous with it, his neighbour, Sture, had been almost too friendly for his liking.
As he stomped off into the woods that night, Sture’s openness and easy manner were still irritating him.
Five days later, he came out of the bathroom and saw Gunilla standing close up to the door that led out onto the deck, her nose pressed against it, breath misting the glass and her right hand pawing at it, like a cat wanting out.
“I miss the deer,” she said. “They were so full of life…”
He came and stood behind her, put his hands on her shoulders and manoeuvred her to the nearest chair.
“You sit there,” he said. “And when you look up again, you’ll have deer in your garden.”
She smiled, faintly.
When he came into the house from the garden later that day, he was pleased with himself and couldn’t understand why Gunilla was crying. The plastic deer stood exactly where he wanted them, were easy to mow around, and looked even more realistic from this distance.
But Gunilla did not, could not feel the same way and she cried all evening, and when they went to bed that night, she sniffed for so long that he got up and took himself off to the sofa.
Ten days later, he and Sture were working opposite each other. Sture waved, put down his tools and wandered across the road.
“Hej, neighbour, how are you liking the place now?” said Sture.
“It’s almost home,” he said, quietly. “Just a bit more work to do.”
“Jaja, a man’s work is never done when he has a wife and yours watches you like a white-tailed eagle.” Sture motioned towards Gunilla’s silhouette in the window.
“She doesn’t say much,” he said. “I’m my own man.”
Sture clapped him on the back. “Good man, good man! We must get together. Bring her over one evening, and she can meet Mia while we two share some schnaps.”
He nodded and said, “Gunilla’s very shy but I’ll ask her.” And then he picked up his tools and gloves and walked back to the house.
Once inside, he patted the plastic mannequin sitting in the chair near the window and bent to kiss her cold cheek.
“I’m home, my love, my very own Gunilla.”