Mattias had heard of the case. Even though I’d seen all those gazillions of hits, had gathered it was a pretty big deal in Sweden, the speed with which he nodded when I started to describe what I’d read gave me the heebie jeebies a bit. He’s lived in Scotland the best part of a decade, but likes to keep up with Swedish news so checks in on Expressen and Dagens Nyheter most days.
He and Catriona were sitting in their kitchen, which is in the basement of their duplex flat in Glasgow’s West End. Though it’s technically a tenement, it’s a fancy one, built by some famous architect (don’t get Catriona started, she’ll bring out the original plans from 1903) for professors at the nearby University. Though it’s a flat, you somehow always feel as though you’re walking into some grand country house, with its wood panelling and gigantic fireplaces and tartan couches. The kitchen has an aga, which which probably tells you all you need to know about Catriona and Mattias.
They were huddled close at their beat up oak kitchen table, so as to both fit into Catriona’s laptop camera, and I felt a stab of envy at the ease with which they squished together, the unconscious way their fingers brushed as Mattias topped up Catriona’s wine. I can’t remember whether Tess and I were ever like that.
“It really divided Sweden,” Mattias was saying. “For weeks, it was debated on talk shows and newspaper columns.”
“I don’t understand – surely it was simply a tragedy? What was there to debate?”
Mattias grimaced, and explained that shortly after Oskar’s disappearance, the nation was still in a daze at something so horrific having happened right under their noses. An unnamed source gave an interview to one of the daily newspapers accusing social services of neglect. The source claimed that Liv hadn’t been fit to take care of Oskar, that she had been reported several times, that it was appalling he was still in her custody.
Then some right wing columnist announced that it was all to do with motherhood having been devalued in feminist Sweden, which set a right cat amongst the pigeons in the mainstream and feminist media – except for the inevitable shock jock types who defended him. The whole thing raged increasingly bitterly, ruining untold dinner parties and straining decades long friendships.
“But the mother – this Liv – is she in prison?” I asked.
Mattias shook his head. “I think she was charged in the end,” he said thoughtfully. “But she was never tried, I think because she stayed in this shocked state. I suppose she wasn’t fit to stand trial.”
“So they don’t really know whether she’s guilty at all?”
“No, but, the door was locked, there was only the two of them there, and then this witness saw her throw something from the bridge.”
“That’s circumstantial at best,” Catriona interjected hotly. Though I followed the money to corporate law in London, Catriona stayed in Glasgow as a criminal defence barrister. Though she probably looks down on the Queen as middle class and has started to show an alarming fondness for things like scarves with anchors on them as forty approaches (Tess has referred to her her Princess Anne since the day they met), Catriona is scrupulously committed to the idea that everyone is equal before the law, and ferociously protective of her clients. “Sounds to me awfully convenient it was simply decided the mother was guilty.”
“What else could have happened?” Mattias asked.
“Anything. If that’s really all they had on her, I’m appalled it got as far as her being charged. That poor woman must have been out of her mind with grief regardless of what happened, she won’t have been in any fit state to –”
I heard the front door open. Tess and Alfie were home from their expedition to the park across the road. I butted in to Catriona’s rant to say a quick goodbye; not only did I know full well it could go on for a while, I didn’t quite feel like filling Tess in on all of this. Not that it’s a secret from her, it’s just —
Not worth saying anything. Not yet.
Alfie came scampering in with a joyous shout of “Daddy!” as though he hadn’t seen me in an age. I swooped him up into my arms, grateful for the warmth of his wriggly little body. He twisted in my arms to look at my laptop screen, which glowed in the gloomy living room. “Iggle piggle?” he asked hopefully.
I moved my hand out to shut it quickly, not wanting him to see all the open windows I had on the tragedy. Then I laughed at myself: he might have managed to pick up a few words of Swedish, but he certainly hasn’t taught himself to read.
Alfie’s little face broke out into a grin and he pointed at the nursery headshot of that poor wee boy, which was maximised on the screen.
“Oskar!” he shouted, his face lit up with recognition.