“OUT,” roared Alfie, straining against the buggy’s straps.
“In a minute, pal,” I said, jiggling the buggy to and fro. “What will we buy for our dinner, eh?” We were in the supermarket at the end of our road. I had a basket slung over my arm, and was holding my phone in that hand, awkwardly trying to type into Google translate with my thumb. The day before, I’d managed to come home with garlic bread and yoghurt instead of bread and milk, so today I was determined to at least correctly identify food.
“OUT,” screeched Alfie again, and it occurred to me to wonder guiltily how long he’d been building up to this while I’d been lost in thought.
“Alfie, enough,” I said sharply, striding purposefully down the next aisle, deciding to give up on complicated stuff like milk. Some kind of pasta sauce. That was easily enough identifiable, and I’m fairly sure we have plenty of pasta. And, after all, garlic bread.
But Alfie started to cry, that furious, heartbroken howl of anguish that always tears at my heart no matter how many times I see the tears evaporate the instant he gets his way. “Come on pal, shhh,” I tried lamely, shoogling the buggy again.
Strangers were looking. I tried tipping the buggy back so I could make upsidedown faces at him, but Alfie was having none of it. He screamed louder.
A woman carrying a laden basket gave me a sympathetic smile, but as soon as she passed it crossed my mind to wonder if in fact her sympathy was with Alfie and she was judging me for not being able to handle my own son. Which is daft, no doubt she doesn’t really give a monkey’s about us either way, but you feel so on the spot, don’t you? I could feel my neck getting hot under my collar, until I had a brainwave —
The dummy. Dummy to the rescue. I fumbled in the nappy bag that was slung over the handles of the buggy and triumphantly extracted a dummy, shoved it in Alfie’s mouth and was rewarded by a two second silence before Alfie spat it out and started screaming again.
Code Red. Ultimate panic. Send in the troops.
“Enough, Alfie. Behave,” I snapped, fingers trembling as I stuffed the useless fucking dummy back in the bag. Too late I remembered that launching into a song could sometimes distract Alfie from an impending tantrum; that might have worked ten seconds earlier, but not now. Alfie’s face was twisted with rage, a deep red, tears streaming down his face as he roared.
“Ursäkta, är ni —“ Some old man was talking to me, I stared blindly at him, then abruptly dumped the shopping basket on the ground and stormed for the exit, feeling strangers’ stares boring into my back as I went.
Outside, the icy air cooled my burning face, and a calm immediately descended over me. I felt daft for panicking, cringed at the thought of the basket lying there in the middle of the aisle for some poor sap to pick up after us. “C’mere, pal.” I squatted by the buggy, undid the straps and lifted the sobbing Alfie into my arms. “You’re okay. Enough of this now, there’s a boy.” Still crouching uncomfortably, I held Alfie, stroked his hair as the tantrum blew out, and my heart rate returned to normal.
I thought of Liv Erlandsson.
Was this what it was like for her? On her own, feeling strangers’ eyes bore into her as her child cried and she panicked that she’d never be able to comfort him? Did that drive her over the edge – or did it strengthen what, as Catriona pointed out, was a flimsy case against her?
Carrying Alfie, I pushed the buggy with one hand through the fast approaching twilight up the hill towards the flat, deep in thought.
Something stunk about the whole thing. When Catriona started to rant about the circumstantial and prejudiced case, I’d already been nodding along. I couldn’t put my finger on why exactly, but I had an instinctive sense that there was something just not right about the affair. Was it because I struggled to accept the idea of any parent having done what she was accused of?
Or was it because I knew that something was keeping Oskar in the flat?
“Yes hello?” the police clerk said suddenly in her clipped English, causing me to jump guiltily, and wonder again what I’m playing at. She sounded young, a little nervous. That was promising. “I have the file here, but please may I know whom I am speaking to? You said you were calling from —“
“Newman, Mansfield and Brown,” I said briskly, as confident as I could be that a Stockholm clerk wouldn’t have a clue that my hadn’t practiced criminal law in a century. I was taking a chance, a ridiculous chance, but back in my research days as a newly qualified solicitor, I’d learned that a shameless bluff was often the most effective way of obtaining information.
“Oh yes, I see the file was just returned from the lawyers who have had it for the past few years, are you Liv Erlandsson’s new representation?”
I’m a corporate litigator, and in Sweden I’m not even that. “Yes I am,” I heard myself saying.“Could you send me the file right away?”