The gap between the east side of Denmark and the south west coast of Sweden was tiny, smaller than the English Channel, and even though the bridge only led to Malmo, it was enough for Sila.
He stared at the map and told Joanna in intermittent bursts that they would be going to Sweden next then Norway then maybe Scotland, if they could get a boat, what did she think?
Not that he really cared,
she could either come or fuck off back to Ljubljana, but he asked her anyway and
when she didn’t answer,
he flipped over to ask the top of his bunk, but there was no need, she was already there, with the knife and the vial and a resigned look on her face, like Joan Severance plucking white hairs from her muff for Corman’s Blue of Noon adap.
‘Okay, Sweden. If we must. But I looked at the map and the ferry ride looks dull. The wind will be freezing too. Why don’t we make things go a little faster?’
‘You mean take that stuff?’
Sila looked at the vial then switched to the blade. He’d refused the grey almost every time she’d offered
which had been about seven so far
the most aggressive one coming in Salzburg, when she’d grabbed him and screamed right in his ear, ‘we have to go back, we have to, right now,’
Of course, he’d pushed her off and stepped on her wrist to stop her stabbing him and, okay, he’d relented in Innsbruck, when he was low, but he’d told her afterwards, on the train, never, ever again, and now here she was asking again, for a fucking ferry ride, why?
What was her ground game here?
‘I’m doing it, even if you’re not,’ she said, rolling up her sleeve.
‘You don’t want some?’
He looked at the mini scars criss-crossed all the way up to her elbow. ‘No.’
‘It’ll be a boring ferry ride. The Swedish coastline is not as nice as Norway’s. Actually, it’s quite bleak.’
‘If you’re worried about ending up in Slovenia, don’t. I told you, it doesn’t work that way. You only do things that some part of you wants to do, nothing against your will.’
‘Have you packed your bag yet?’
‘I’m leaving soon.’
‘That was my plan too.’
‘Good, pack your bag then. Ten minutes.’
Joanna said fine, dipped the blade into the vial and disappeared into the bathroom.
Sila stayed on the bed, staring at the top of the bunk, thinking of the ferry ride over to Malmo and how it wouldn’t take that long, not long enough for someone to get so bored they had to put that grey shit in their blood. What kind of a person had that level of indiscipline, was that why those 1800’s Chinese got hooked on opium, was it something in their culture that wired their brains that way or
was it just her?
It was hard to know as the only thing he knew about the opium war was that the British were the demons pushing it, probably not the Chinese’s fault, and the only things he knew about her were the things she’d told him herself, as well as the things she’d done in his company, most of which were pretty cold and amoral and
Yeah, definitely immoral, she knew what she was doing, how could she not? Twenty two men don’t just stand by a tree waiting for Krsnik to come and gut them of their own free will, they had to be coaxed there or goaded or
‘How exactly did you get them up there?’
‘Same way as me?’
‘Ah that. I didn’t get anyone to go anywhere.’
‘I invited them to come and they came. No need to hold a knife to their throats.’
A Danish voice came over the tannoy and said the ferry would be delayed for an hour. To pass the time, passengers would be able to visit the café, which served coffee and tea, or look out of the window at the scenic view of the surrounding area.
Sila cursed in Slovene and looked out of the window. There were a few trees, a choppy-looking sea and the decaying remnants of the Danish motorbike industry.
‘God, I hope Sweden’s not this bad.’
‘What, you’ve been there?’
‘I went to Malmo last year. It was cold and industrial. The Swedish version of Kiel.’
‘This is why I said we should go south.’
‘Agh, there it is. South to Ljubljana, right? Night walk up to the castle on the hill.’ Sila stood up and stretched his arms. ‘I’m gonna get a coffee.’
He didn’t offer to get Joanna anything, but it didn’t matter much as when he got to the café, the sign outside said no coffee, tea making machine broken, sorry.
Sila looked around the terminal to see if the tannoy guy had missed anything. There were white walls and green walls and windows and a ticket office and nothing else.
He checked the time on his phone, cursed again in Slovene then walked back to the seats and asked Joanna to explain, in incredible, precise detail, what exactly this grey vasic stuff did and how much of it she had left.
‘… … … … … … …?’
But he didn’t speak Hindi so the Indian guy kept walking, looking back and smiling and
Sila smiled too, briefly imagining the two of them opening a laundrette and reading The Black Album together, then looked out of the train window and thought ahead to Berlin and all the cabinets they would have and all the new faces and
it didn’t have anything
just Stockholm and Malmo and
she was right
it was too far north, too isolated whereas Berlin was a cultural mecca with low rent and lots of cafes and workshops and men with beards in lumberjack shirts that had enough money to sit around all day and do carpentry
and even if he couldn’t stand those fuckers, carpentry was a good thing, carpentry meant cabinets
Jezus, would this autobahn ever end?
The map had promised bars, but so far there was nothing beyond industrial wasteland, possibly box-making factories or pharmaceutical labs, something that got made somewhere but was generally unthought about.
No people either.
Was this an alternate Berlin?
Joanna was about ten metres behind him, constantly looking back for some reason, so he slowed down to let her catch up and, when she was within sonar range, asked, ‘this place, is it really Berlin?’
She looked back again, for about four seconds then slotted in next to his arm. ‘It was you who wanted to come here.’
‘I wasn’t having a go…’
‘The ping pong bar was fine. You may not have noticed, but I was having a good time.’
‘Ping pong bar?’
‘I almost won one of the games.’
‘That’s where we were?’ He tried to go back past the road they were on, but it was too hard to remember. There was a train, and the hostel and…what else? ‘We were in a ping pong bar, before here, this road?’
She said ‘yes’ and turned to look down the road that seemed to stretch all the way back to Copenhagen. Sila looked too, assuming she was trying to grab a taxi, but there were no cars anywhere.
‘About tomorrow…’ she started, not looking at him.
‘I think we should take the train down to Munich.’
‘Unless you want to go back to Kiel?’
‘Kiel? God, no. Half those boats looked sunk.’
‘South West. Maybe.’ Sila stopped, putting his hand on a nearby lamppost. ‘Hang on, the ping pong bar. I remember now. The girl who’s lived here four years and doesn’t speak German.’
‘I don’t know, I was playing ping pong.’
‘Or she could say the basics, hello, good morning, I like people, things like that. But she couldn’t-…wait a sec, didn’t you say she was a demon?’
‘That was the girl last night.’
‘The one who looked like a witch.’
‘I don’t remember…what colour hair did she have?’
‘You should take your hand off that lamp post. It might be dirty.’ Joanna turned again and looked back down the highway. ‘Seems to be clear.’
Sila took his hand off the lamp post and wiped it on his jacket. ‘Clear of what?’
‘She probably couldn’t get through the ticket gate at the station.’
‘But she’ll keep coming. It’s in her nature, constant movement. I doubt she even needs to sleep.’
‘Who? Who will keep coming?’
‘I told you.’
‘Told me what? When?’
Joanna moved closer to him, put her fingers on his eyelids and pulled them up.
‘Are you still blacking out?’
Sila pushed her hand away and blinked a few times, focusing on a vaguely industrial building with no lights to make sure it was a] clearly defined and b] there was no permanent damage to his eyes.
‘You shouldn’t be. The last cut I gave you was this morning, well over eight hours ago.’
‘I’m not blacking out, I remember stuff. I just don’t remember everything. Like, who you’re looking for down that road.’
‘The demon we picked up in Copenhagen.’
He turned, sharp. ‘Demon?’
‘Nothing to do with your professor, don’t worry. This demon is a child and very well-documented in Danish mythology.’
‘The little girl we took to the hospital. She followed us here, to Berlin. How she managed to get a train ticket from Copenhagen to here, I’m not sure, but it was definitely her.’
‘That little girl in the box? You’re saying she was a demon?’
‘I suppose she could’ve robbed someone. She was wearing a different jacket and shoes, not the ones the nurse gave her. At least not the ones she had when we left the hospital. I think it was a bubble jacket. About two sizes too big for her. You still don’t remember?’
‘No, none of it. Except the Copenhagen part. Is she dangerous?’
‘If we keep moving, no.’
‘Nah, she can’t be, she’s a kid. And she liked us too.’
‘I don’t think demons like anything.’
Sila literally wagged his finger in the air, stopping as soon as I saw himself doing it. ‘Then why could I carry her from that shithole to the hospital? She could’ve attacked us anytime, at the youth centre, in the taxi, in the hospital, but she didn’t.’
‘You haven’t read many folktales, have you?’
‘What’s that got to do with anything?’
‘She didn’t attack us though, did she?’
‘Read the folktale.’
‘Why? What’s that gonna prove?’
‘Read it, you’ll see.’ Joanna looked back down the road again then left at the industrial blocks, slowly curving forward. ‘There are some buildings coming up. They could be bars.’
‘On a highway?’
‘The highway’s ending.’
Sila hadn’t really been paying attention, so he looked forward and saw the road narrowing into two lanes, and a line of smaller buildings about twenty metres ahead on the left. ‘That one looks quite busy. Wanna go in?’
‘One drink should be okay.’
‘Will the little girl catch up?’
‘So…shouldn’t we leave?’
‘It was you who wanted to try this area, not me.’
‘You keep saying that, but I don’t remember wanting to try anything. Do you think it’s a good idea to go in or not?’
‘I don’t care.’ She took out the blade and the vial from her jacket pocket and dipped the end with four drops. ‘You decide.’
‘You’re taking that now?’
‘But the little girl…’
‘The little demon.’ She sliced her arm in one stroke, another tiny line next to the fifty or so others. ‘I trust my mind to be rational at all times. She won’t catch us.’
Sila heard the words, but didn’t process them as he was too busy staring at her arm. ‘Do those cuts ever actually heal?’
‘Most of them.’
‘They don’t turn into scars?’
Sila looked at his own arm, noticing four lines that hadn’t been there in Copenhagen. This grey vasic, it was either a waste of time or the complete opposite, an efficient trimming of it.
His current state leaned towards the former, as he couldn’t remember much of anything since Kiel. Or worse, Copenhagen. What use was trimming time if you didn’t retain the absence of the parts you trimmed? Did that even make sense?
He tried to go back over the sentence, rephrasing it, but the presence of the word absence confused him, confused him so much that he told himself in military fashion to stop taking the shit, no more cuts, cos if he didn’t stop, he’d keep zooming through the cabinet searches and the lucid moments when decisions were made and directions were altered and if he wasn’t careful he might even zoom past his own death. Would that be a good thing? Would it have any kind of feeling attached, or would it literally be light then no light then void?
‘Are you taking?’ Joanna asked, the blade already stretched out, hovering like a strangely obedient mosquito in front of him.
He looked at the cuts on his arm again, telling himself to stop moving so far ahead. Death wasn’t near. Each hit was eight hours max and he’d already decided to stop. His life wasn’t disappearing in huge chunks. He could take another hit now, it wouldn’t be apocalyptic, but there was no need, no craving for it.
Though it was fun in a yes black hole, where am I gonna end up next kind of way.
And she was right, it wasn’t healthy to stab cabinets three years straight without some kind of counterpoint. Some kind of break. Maybe this was a good thing, for the present time. As long as he didn’t overlap hits, run seven hours and do the next cut, no lucid moments in between to recap events and review, as long as he retained control of the thing.
Ah, fuck it, if it had got him this far.
He rolled up his sleeve and pointed at a clear patch of skin. ‘Two drops only, okay?’