22. Paris may be worth a Mass, but this maxim doesn't apply to lower forms of organisation, like the county capital.

The perfect hostess had spread the table with small hot dishes in the recreation room, the sleeves were rolled, paper sheets began to assemble on the table. Harry was hovering over a topographical map with a magnifying glass in his hand when the host laid a hand on his shoulder rygg.
'Harry, there is a matter that must be settled, before we can go on.'
There was no mistaking the persuasive powers that flooded through this particular hand, an instrument with a high degree of innate or acquired ability for this particular quality. The bank director Bärnsten was Harry's counterpart in the bourgeois camp, a harmonising, outward personality, with many strings on his lyre and an emanation of never-ending benevolence that seemed to embrace everything and everybody. The local ice-hockey club ate from the hand of the bank, and the winter swans did it, too, when polar air made the sea freeze, and the harbour was filled by their hungry cohorts. If the bank got a streamer inserted somewhere, and an item in the local paper, it thought that it had some return and the flow of money could be expected to continue, as far as the trade outlooks admitted. At the same time it was important not to bite the feeding hand. In all contexts that was important, and if you forgot yourself there was a considerat reminder.
In addition the bank director was one of the few survivors from the purges after the last collapse of the real estate market, he was a survivor from time before the Flood, that must be put down to his account. And if all that wasn't enough there was still a reason: a dawning fellowship of interests, even a friendship. Harry rose to his feet. 'If there is something to settle it had better be done at once.'
Bärnsten nodded in approval, confirming, looking around in the room. 'We will be gone for half an hour, and I know you will feel the loss of Harry, but since it's for a good purpose... Save a few meatballs for us, they are made from minced ham, particularly for him.'
Much to his dismay Harry got a feeling that the others were informed about the matter that had to be settled. He himself didn't have the slightest idea what might call for his personal participation. This was a new aspect of the demands from surrounding people on him, normally he knew who was in need of him and why they did so.
The persuading hand guided him like an obedient creature towards the exit door. 'It's no more than two blocks from here, let's use the apostle horses and i will explain on ou way there.'

A light drizzle was falling over the town, above their heads migrating birds were calling in the darkness, a foghorn rumbled in the roads. A hedgehog came running along the gutter, stopping at intervals and struggling to climb the edgestone. Harry bent down, caught the animal and helped it on its way.
'Are they not prickly?'
'No more than a piassava broom.'
'I find them a little repulsive. And uncanny. The silence.'
'A wonderful animal, the Swedish hedgehog! I could imagine to breed hedgehogs and sell to poor and needy for fifty crowns a piece. That would be practical environmental work. To the matter, Ferdinand.'
'This is how matters stand, Harry.' The bank director had to stop and put his hand on him again, this constant manipulation had something pressing about it, obviously connected to the nature of the matter that had to be sorted out. 'Ten percent of the options for The Swan rest with one party, and that party won't contribute as long as you are part of the picture. For sure: it's not a majority, but you don't sidestep ten percent that easily.'
'Well, in that case I'll have to step down!'
'You are not even curious to know what it's all about?'
'Come on! I have been standing in a tight spot for more than twenty years. How many times do you think people have turned their backs on me because of party affiliation, because of things that I said or did or presumably said or did? Hundreds of times. Even if it occurs less often today. Hundreds of times! And in this case the project is what matters. It can proceed without my person being involved.'
'I have to admit that I thought that the person in question doesn't have an eye for her own interests, and I told her in plain words. With a shocking result: tears, hysteria, summoning of the family doctor... Your stocks had little value in that house.'
'A female? The more you tell me, the more I think this must be some sort of misunderstanding, a mistaken person.'
'There are two categories of wealthy women down here; the old ladies from the notable families - and the builders' widows...'
'Stop playing Double or Quit!'
'The widow of Sture Persson.'
'The widow of Sture Persson? Did she explain in any way what it was all about?'
'Not entirely. It seems to me you have some old - vendetta - going.'
'Vendetta? Ah, vendetta! As a matter of fact it's only a few days of age. And to tell the truth...'
On this point Reality entered Harry Jönsson's consciousness. It pounded on the doors and called through the letter slit: 'It could be worth a mass!' He took to his forehead and sighed. 'How did you think the whole thing was going to be sorted out?'
The other pointed his forefinger to an illuminated house. 'She sits in there, waiting for you. I stay here. You enter and sort the thing out. Together we return to the meatballs.'
'You were that certain where you had me?'
'Well... You can never be sure. I made an estimate based on your genetic predispositions. And as you said yourself: the project is what matters, not the persons.'
So, he could be reduced into a variable of a genetic equation? Of course he could. Harry felt like a disobedient child, who was handled by a superior educator. He took one step backwards in order to avoid further manipulation. Deep within anger was smouldering, the same anger that had put him in this awkward situation. The name of the punishment was: gulp down disgrace (bita huvudet av skam).
'If it lasts long?'
'I will wait as long as necessary.'
'You just return home, I know the way myself.'
'Wouldn't it feel good to know that there is a moral support out there?'
Harry put his large hand on the bank director and made persuasion flow through it. It gave him an immediate satisfaction to turn the other's weapon around, all of a once he felt calm and knew what had to be said and done. 'Go home to the meatballs, Ferdinand, and I will return when the matter is settled.'

It is claimed about the Swedish hedgehog, that its pulse is barely discernible where it crouches down in its winter lair. A hedgehog heart doesn't beat faster for great or energy-demanding goals, it beats its jog trot for the sake of high entropy and low consumption. If the councillor could in some way be regarded as an ally or an advocate of the Swedish hedgehog - and his actions at the gutter might indicate this - it is also possible that he might adhere to the hedgehog line when it came to goals; his heart didn't beat faster for either true or imagined greatness. So, it wasn't a burning zealot, who walked up the gravelled path to his mass. Come thus far on our nocturnal walk we must instead assume that the small print of Harry Jönsson's motives remained unread or unavailable to his environment, therefore, pending his conversion and in order to keep on the safe side, the caption is revised: already a modest goal may be well worth a mass, a goal that e.g. expands the range of possibilities at an unchanged input of energy. It is a well-known fact that this is a tricky task, and critical observers don't have reports of many projects of that kind from the modern world.
She was waiting in the veranda, candles were burning in a row on the window-sill. The room was appointed, everywhere the presence of a planning and organising spirit could be noted. The potted plants no doubt were genuine, the sort that consumes carbon dioxide and produces oxygen, with dust-free and glossy leaves. the red-shaded table lamps were in the right places, the colours and patterns of textiles were tuned to those of the carpet. She rose, held out her hand, the pearly gloss of the nails had its exact counterpart in the lustre of the lips, and the teeth behind were as incredibly perfect as the pearls of the necklace, the pores of the cheeks were covered by a thin film, the plisserade skirt had exactly the right length. Her breasts, what could be divined of them, were perfect. Come thus far the cat also raised its head, and for a while Harry was observed by two pairs of bright eyes, that didn't leave him out of sight for one moment. There was no amiability in the air, just cold, incessant observation. He was overcome by a feeling of creepyness, butjoined the common observation, searching for kitsch or yellow mica; some sort of want in this overwhelming orderliness. It must be there, invisible, what it took was to anticipate its presence with a sixth or seventh sense and then pull it out and hold it up, demonstrating the weak link to all eyes. In the next moment the whole lattice would collapse, and the world set free for movement, development. Without thinking twice he turned his back on her and subjected the potted plants, the curtains, the lamps a second scrutiny.
Everything was perfect, immaculate, testifying of good taste and sound judgement.
'Please be seated.'
Harry sat down, leaned forward in his chair and clasped his hands over his knees, clearing his throat. Much to his surprise she forestalled him.
'Mr Jönsson: are you really giving your own son the amount of time and attention that allows you to blame me for not supervising and censor my own son's purchase of video films?'
A hunch told him that she had rehearsed this line in front of a mirror, a thousand times. He stretched his back, cleared his throat a second time.
'I think this whole matter has been thrown off the track from the very beginning. My own reaction was so to say emotional, and that's why I am here. I want to explain my position and clear the air between us, if that can be done.'
'In that case: answer my question first.'
'What norm is there that decides if you are giving somebody enough time and attention?'
'Well, you could for example establish a ministry for that purpose, but when it comes to it: why not let the person in question decide the matter on his own?'
'And the person in question has given you to understand that he wants more time and attention from his father? I would be surprised if that was the case.'
'Would it also surprise you if I told you that Lars less than a week ago was sitting in the chair you are sitting in now, confiding me that he was feeling so misunderstood and unhappy that he was considering taking his own life?'
Harry rose from his chair. Her eyes had a dangerous glare, she had taken the cat in her arms, slowly combing her fingers through its fur.
'Dear Mrs Persson! Why do our conversations always end up in such a disastrous way? Let me answer your question in this way: have you any idea how many teenagers that feel deadly misunderstood and need to confess this in the most unexpected and inappropriate contexts in order to get themselves a little sympathy? Not thousands - i daresay: millions! I have heard the event you are relating here retold in countless variations throughout my circle of acquaintances, and each time with different participants! Don't you worry about Lars: he has an excellent relationship to his mother, there is complete openness between them and an absolute confidence that would no doubt keep him from stupidities of the kind you were implying. As far as I am concerned the matter is more complicated: Lars is feeling that i compromise him in the eyes of his environment, and it seems to me as if the fact that I persist in my convictions and my political activities fills him with resentment. You imagine my view of this in a world full of wavering souls, ready to strike the flag for any minute reason ! Conviction and determination are beginning to come in short supply, and I am among those who deplore this state of things, twenty-four hours a day, but my own son is wobbly, to say the least (en vingelpetter)! I guess it's the logics of youth, and I am telling myself: there will be a counterreaction. I'll have to wait and see what will come.'
She had risen to her feet, still carrying the cat in her arms. Two tears slowly ran on her cheeks, without leaving any trace in the make-up; this surface even was serviceable in a way. Her breasts heaved, he took his eyes from them with an effort.
'I can see that this conversation makes you feel uncomfortable. Why not pass over to the matter that I came here to put an end to! When I entered this room it struck me how orderly and tasteful everything was, and I thought: the person who lies behind it must be an enemy of all kinds of disorder and destruction, including the one I brought about by breaking open the cassette. And since I myself am at heart of the same kind, it's not difficult for me to see and feel that I have done you wrong. I have this suggestion: I visit the shop where the cassette was hired, pay the damage - and then the matter is settled. Could you accept such a solution?'
'So you no longer think that we should watch the film together?*
'Most definitely not! All violence shown in film or depicted in text disagrees with me, as I see it it is linked with violent tendencies in society that it's up to me to restrain.'
She smiled at one corner of the mouth and for the first time she didn't look him straight into the eyes.
'If I get exactly that film, I'll be satisfied. I want to see what shocked you so much before I return it myself.'
'I guess it could be arranged. I'm not sure, but I think it can be done. So, do we agree then?'
She nodded in confirmation, without a word.
Harry cleared his throat again 'So, this was the - only thing on the agenda?'
She made a wry grimace:' Of course, seeing how your comrades in the county capital have scattered money to the winds in all major investments of late, there might be some cause for second thoughts in a project that involves councillor Jönsson, too. Why should he be any better than his equals? Aren't you something of a security risk in the whole project?'
Harry, who had been just been about to rise from his chair, sank back, settled himself again and raised his chin: 'I had expected something more in that line. Let me say then, first and last: in a historical perspective the county capital is an exceptionally sad chapter, neither the municipal entity nor its leading politicians in recent years deserve to be presented as good examples. It is a fact that the original address that brought the Party into life, was delivered in this town, but much water has flown under the bridges since then, and the place has, so to say, embezzled its first-birth rights. As far as I can see it culminated in its development some sixty or seventy years ago, when representatives of the Party still hadn't lowered the flag, and there was a counterbalance to the Party in the form of an educated bourgeoisie. Since then the town has fallen into a deep well. Down there they devote themselves to the tearful navel-watching of the province, and neither institutions nor companies seem to be able to get anything right today. All thinking within this confinement is commonplace and sentimental, whenever there is a chance the county capital mind searches out trends or fashions to copy. It fits well into this picture that reactionary and nationalist groups mobilise more supporters on May Day than the Party itself. There is one thing left for the county capital to do: by force of its still functioning infrastructure to attract a new population - which is not difficult in these days - and then start it all over again. On my own part I can but say: I will not and cannot be judged by the standards of the county capital, least of all in this project.'
She measured him from head to foot with an amused expression. 'I will be content with that, for the time being. I may have to remind you of these words some day... But no use going to meet trouble halfway.'
'And I will stick to my guns.' He cleared his throat anew:' I have an important meeting, where I am expected, so if you excuse me, Mrs Persson... One more thing: I will have to bring up the matter mentioned here with Lars, not to do it wouldn't be right.'
She rose, turned her back on him without reaching out her hand:' I can "bring up" the matter with him, he is somewhere in this house right now.'
She still made no effort to take leave of him.
The casually dropped extra information took Harry by surprise, there was no self-evident answer, and he backed out of the room till he bumped into the entrance door. There he turned around and spoke one last time over his shoulder: 'Goodbye then, and thank you for listening to me.'
Outside the gates the bank director was standing on his post. He grinned and gave a light box against Harry's upper arm. 'You took your time! Was she available?'
'I told you: you needn't wait!'
'Did it work out well?'
'I can't tell for sure.'
'But the matter isn't done with?'
'Ferdinand: matters never are done with. It's like something you bury in the earth, it lies there, although you try to hide it and forget it. You needn't even dig, it's enough to spread the rumour that something is there. Not even a rumour will ever leave this world once it got a foothold there. Not even a hunch. Not even...'
'So, the matter isn't done with?'
'I had a feeling I was dealing with a primed mine in there. I didn't quite understand the model, something in the mechanism was new to me. The matter may be done with - for the time being, but not for good, I don't think so.'
Behind their backs a woman burst into a shrill, howling crying within the house.
Bärnsten halted in the middle of the street. 'I have heard by roundabouts that she had both her breasts taken with surgery. What a shame with such a dazzling woman, for another rumour says it wasn't necessary, they had messed with the diagnosis. Such things shouldn't be allowed to happen, but in this case they did.'
In the internal space where he lived and felt at home, Harry suddenly felt how the walls leaned inwards, as if an earthquake had struck and the whole building was yielding. He didn't like the thought of the diagnostic mistake, it created a whistling in his ears. 'Damn! This is not reality!'
'Oh yes.' The other took him firmly by the wrist. 'Look: the Swedish hedgehog is back into the gutter again.'
Harry calmed down and steadied himself when he caught sight of the Swedish hedgehog.
'You could have told me beforehand, you know.'
'Would it have helped in any way?'
'This, that she wants to invest, has it got anything with her supposed illness to do?'
'Likely. People who get cancer snap in some way.'
'But it was a mistake?'
'She went away, was gone for a month, before that she had gone to parties, eating roe and salmon, drinking wine... Afterwards only vegetables, fibres, mineral water. People drew their conclusions, and it started humming on the jungle telegraph.'
After a while he added:' There was no wrong in your talking to her. You never do things worse by talking.'
'You know her well?'
'A bank director becomes a sort of confessor to his customers. She is a clever speculator on the stock exchange, in contact with the bank each and every day.'
'Dont you have to maintain a certain secrecy?'
'Well, but in this case i experience that certain barriers are broken through.'
What did he mean by that?
'Her first one was called Harry, too. I guess the name touches certain strings.'
'Well, I guess there are a few hundred Harrys in this town alone.'
'But only one Harry Jönsson.'
'Let's go through the churchyard', Harry said. 'I need to clear my thoughts.'
'Are the gates not locked for the night?'
'There had been some damage, the gates can no longer be locked. I heard it in the office this morning, we were discussing the security.'
'One could just add chains and padlocks and lock overnight.'
'It always takes some time to get something done, you know how it is in the municipal administration. The man, the contractor, wasn't there something strange with his death?'
'He wasn't one of my customers.'
'And then you don't know?'
'Maybe I do, but let's not gossip over the dead, not when they are listening. He is buried in here, you can see the burial plot over there. Always fresh flowers, and she puts them there herself. It was a good marriage, I've been told, in spite of the difference in age. I guess she misses her Harry.'

He had proposed the way himself. Afterwards he blamed himself: I proposed the way the very day the gates had been damaged: what business did we have there?
They came shuffling along the walk: crackling gravel under their feet, smells of resin reaching their noses, all lights and sounds from the town strangely soft, filtered through the thick branches of evergreens. All of a sudden Harry was struck by a feeling that something was wrong. He came to a halt, scenting, listening intently. Resinous smells from thuja, yew, buxbom, cypress, a haulier changing gear and accelerating, the lonesome siren from the sea. In the humid air a faint acidity, like the smoke from wireworks, somewhere a twig that cracked, gravel crackling under feet. He crouched down, trying to get a free view near the ground.
'There are people in here.'
'The gates were open.'
'They don't seem to be so keen on meeting us. Now they are running. Wait, stay here Ferdinand. Remain here and don't move out of the spot until i get back.'
He left the other behind him and started to run, still in a crouching position, at the same time looking out ahead of him. He reached little more than ten steps when there canme a flame: between the thujas a volcano eruption, against the cheeks a slight draught, followed by fumes of acid nitrogen oxides that lasted for a while in the humid air. Harry threw himself next to a gravestone, lithely and quickly like a model soldier, roaring so that there was an echo throughout the graveyard:' Shelter!'
The bank director stood where he had been left, making no effort to take shelter, maybe he had no soldier's training. He just said with a calm voice:' It's over now.'
'For God's sake, there can be more!'
'It's over now. They only were out for one thing.'
'How can you know for sure?' Harry was back and pulled the other behind a tree, the way a disobedient child is pulled away from a precipice.
'I'll show you.'
'At least wait for two minutes!'
The other shrugged his shoulders and put his hands in his coat pockets. Harry still kept his grip on the arm, while lengthily counting to one hundred. Four minutes certainly passed, he needed that time to solve the riddle put by the other: the tension of his arm-muscle, the expressionless muteness of the face, the copious sweating of the skin. He was standing there like a runner who had got stuck in the starting-block and was performing the whole of his mile race there.
'Listen, sirens, someone called the police.
'Come, I will show you what they were after.'
'Gravestones with a star. Under one of them lies some member of your family.'
'You have imagination, Harry. You can imagine the Evil.'
'You have to be a little evil yourself.'
Four stones were upturned, three of them were torn and had tipped over into shallow craters. Harry lifted a fragment and read: Ferdinand, lifted another and filled in: Bernstein. He looked around himself, examining the other stones: cross, cross, dove, cross.
'My father. He wanted to lie here, here and nowhere else.'
'Are there no more stones with a star?'
'Not here. He wanted to lie here, in the old graveyard, where the trees grow thickest.'
'To think that we should arrive exactly when it happened! The probability for that must be less than one in a million. One in a billion.'
The bank director sobbed and the body shivered, that was better than the preceding silence. Harry folded an arm over his shoulders and shook him gently, at the same time he discovered an undetonated charge on the low cast-iron fence in front of his feet.
'Such clots!' he exclaimed. 'They can't even do that properly.'
'Sorry about that', he continued in his next breath. 'This is my first grave desecration, I am making my debut. It's not easy to keep a civil tongue under such conditions. We ought to get away from here and warn the police, the graveyard must be roped-off. As long as there is an undetonated charge in here people should keep away, this is a task for experts.'
The bank director giggled. 'As a matter of fact I am making my debut, too. I am not even familiar with the security limits for grave desecration. What if they think that we are involved, we are self-evident pretenders for the villain casts in a criminal farce: a bank director and a municipal councillor.'

It was two o'clock when Harry got home, everyone was sleeping in the house. He had a disapproving glance for the disorder of boots, shoes and clogs at the entrance, got into the sitting-room and tried not to see the pile of newspapers on the floor, the drooping tulips on the sofa table, one curtain covering more of the window than the other, the patch on the floor that he had promised to sandpaper and varnish. There was a smell of old paper, burnt toast (the damn toaster got stuck again), varnish, or fresh paint. At that very moment he saw: across the door to his working-room a winding arabesque of capitals in four colours. The message of the graffiti had reached his dwelling, as accurate as the arrows of Eros, he got the impression that each letter ended with small flames. The text was short and concise: hail the principle!
Lars, he must have been informed about the conversation. It was typical for him to communicate with his environment in this way.
Harry went out of the room, managed to find a felt pen with a broad tip and wrote under the first message, non-artistic, with a forced slovenliness: paris may be worth a mass.
He clicked his tongue: there stood the central credo of reformism.
If only the boy wasn't running about adorning town walls in the same way, he knew nothing about it, just hoped that it wasn't so. The raging scrawling epidemics cost the municipality dearly, a million per year.

30 kB, last corrected 10.5.07, 27.11.08.

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