Late summer in Tulavall

Issue 3/1990 | Archives online, Children's books, Fiction

 An extract from Mattan från Kars (‘The rug from Kars’). Introduction by Tuva Korsström

Mother Limberg and Apelman’s Anna Lina were sitting together on the steps up to Mother Limberg’s cabin in Mickelgård Street in Tulavall. They were mourning. They were grieving for the old army captain, Alexander Grunnstedt, who had fought in the Caucasus in his youth, had lived alone in the Limberg’s gable room in his old age and then had lost his way in the forest, had a heart attack and been carried off in his coffin by his daughter-in-law.

It was late summer and sunny weather.

‘She could’ve had him buried here,’ said Mother Limberg.

‘She thought it too simple here,’ said Anna Lina.

‘She had no foresight. She thought we were simple, but she wasn’t as grand as she thought, that Mrs Torborg Rosenhielm-Grunnstedt…’

‘No,’ said Anna Lina, in full agreement.

‘But I suppose she wanted a gentry-type funeral over there in her Högesta. And you can bluster about a lot better in your own backyard, that you can.’ Mother Limberg looked round.

‘You don’t bluster about, Auntie.’

‘I’m not the blustering sort. Though I can if it proves necessary, that I can. Maybe it’ll be necessary this winter.’

Anna Lina looked at her.

‘I’ve got some new lodgers. Two really nice boys. They’ve got work at the sawmill. So I’ll have a bit for my coffee and snuff and tar-ointment… Yes, well, that Grunnstedt,’ she said, and Anna Lina immediately saw him in the air in front of her. He was wearing his tjerkeska, his Caucasian greatcoat, and his officer’s cap. She saw him transparent, just for a moment.

‘I don’t like other people living in his room.’

‘It isn’t his any longer,’ said Mother Limberg.

Anna Lina got up and went over to the gable end. She opened the door to the room he had lived in. It was empty and had been scrubbed out. Mother Limberg was right.

‘Her, that daughter-in-law of his, that Mrs Torborg, she scrubbed both before and after him. And took all the things she thought worth taking. And flung the rest on to the rubbish tip.’

‘His iron bedstead from Tula?’

‘It was broken, and propped up with blocks. Hjalmar down the hill took it to make rabbit cages out of if.’

‘And the harness and saddle and the silver sword? And the samovar?’

‘Young Grunnstedt took all that. And the benches and table. All the things they couldn’t be bothered with are behind the woodshed, Except those old Russian newspapers, and them I’ve taken in to light the fire with. And that camel-haired coat of his, burkan as he called it, I’ve taken that to put on my own back.’

The pile of remnants and rubbish lay behind the woodshed. And the slops. Flies buzzed up. There were nettles and elders and lilac grown wild there. Anna Lina trod cautiously, for she was barefoot.

‘Here’s his rug from Kars!’ she cried.

It had got caught in a lilac. She bent down and tugged at it.

‘The one he bought after the Turkish war!’

‘To think she left that! Though she did say something about it couldn’t be genuine, whatever she meant by that. Bring it here and let’s take a look.’

Anna Lina dragged it over to the steps.

‘It’s wet.’

‘Well, we had some rain last night at last.’

The rug was not large, hardly as wide as two outstretched arms and perhaps half as much again the other way. But it was all wool and had absorbed all the moisture, so was heavy.

Mother Limberg bent down, puffing and blowing.

‘Not very lovely, I think,’ she said. ‘And all smoke-stained too. And torn. And worn out…’

‘It’s the one he had on the wall above his bed. With those swords hung on it.’

‘It was probably good to start with,’ said Mother Limberg, feeling it with her thumb. ‘Homespun wool, home-dyed, too, though most of it…’ She screwed up her eyes. ‘… most of it’s not dyed. Twisted yarn,’ she went on. ‘Sheep’s wool and …’

‘This looks like dog hair.’

‘Goat,’ decided Mother Limberg. She rubbed the fringe between her fingers. ‘Here’s something else, see, it’s shaggier and coarser And there are fringes in both ends. The pile don’t start until the pattern.’

The rug was patterned from edge to edge with rectangular panels, ten along the length and ten along the width, alternately brown and grey. In the middle of every panel was an eight-pointed star enclosing a little square of the background colour. Every other star was dark blue, every other brown. At one end was a row of panels with a different pattern, but in that place it was so worn you couldn’t distinguish the colours.

‘Sheep colours,’ said Mother Limberg. ‘And Indian blue. And look, here’s one single red thread. Just an insertion, right through the pattern. Turkish red,’ Mother Limberg went on. ‘Did I hear it hissing?’

‘Yes’, said Anna Lina.

Mother Limberg heaved herself up and waddled off into the kitchen, where something was boiling over.

‘Can I have it?’ Anna Lina called after her.

‘Just take it.’

Anna Lina was not quite eleven. She was small for her age and couldn’t carry the rug. Not that it was any heavier than Petter, her little brother, but it was unpleasant to hold because it was wet. She dragged it behind her up on to a stony mound where she could spread it out. She shifted and pulled at in until she got it smooth.

‘It can stay there to dry’, she said to Miska, Mother Limberg’s old cat, who came gliding along with her tail up.

It was the hottest summer they had for a long time. Anna Lina felt the sun blazing like a hand pressing on the back of her neck as she sat there. The rug’s pattern of stripes and triangles buckled up and down. The longer she looked at it, the more she thought it wasn’t just surface, but also deep. The light parts stood out like jutting rocks, the dark ones crevices and shadows. A mountain country at dusk. She heard munching… pattering… the clatter of cloven hoofs… a herd of goats streaming along, back alongside back. Some had bells round their necks. She heard bleating. A kid skipped towards her.

It was small and neat, pale brown like soft goat’s cheese, rather like a hairy flower.

But then the round fanned out, billowing with pale brown grass. The mountains were small, far away, misty blue against dark blue sky. She heard birds, and grasshoppers, and the sound of hoofs, yes, hoofs rapidly coming closer. A rider appeared on the top of the ridge ahead of her. He looked round, bent low over the horse’s neck, whipped the horse and came galloping down the slope. A moment later, another rider came into sight, a bow in his hand. He reined in his horse and fired, the arrow striking the first rider in the back. He didn’t fall, but curled up in the saddle. The horse raced on and disappeared into the billowing grass. The one who had fired stayed where he was on the top of the ridge.

The vision darkened and she saw a woman sitting in a tent. A round, heavy bundle was flung in to her.

Mamma Apelman took hold of Anna Lina’s shoulder.

‘Didn’t you hear me calling?’

‘No…’ Anna Lina got up. She staggered and held her hands out in front of her, then put them up to her eyes.

‘Don’t you feel well?’ Mamma said uneasily. ‘You’ve been sitting in the sun too long. You ought to have had your hat on.’

Anna Lina blinked.

‘Has Petter woken up?’

‘That’s why I called you. What’s that?’

‘Grunnstedt’s rug. From Kars. It was thrown away. Mother Limberg says I can have it.’

‘Well then …’ Mamma bent down. ‘We’ll have to take it down to the shore and scrub it clean with soft-soap.’

‘No,’ said Anna Lina. ‘It remembers, and it must never be washed.’

Translated by Joan Tate

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