Sample text for Simon's family / Marianne Fredriksson.

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Counter "An ordinary bloody oak," the boy said to the tree. "Hardly fifteen meters high. That's nothing much to boast about.

"And nor are you a hundred thousand," he said, thinking of his grandmother, now nearly ninety and nothing but an ordinary shrill old woman.

Named, measured, and compared, the tree retreated from the boy.

But he could still hear the singing in the great treetops, melancholy and reproachful. So he resorted to violence and crashed the stone he had kept for so long in his pocket straight into the trunk.

"That'll shut you up," he said.

The great tree instantly fell silent, and the boy knew something important had happened. He swallowed the lump in his throat, disowning his grief.

That was the day he said farewell to his childhood. He did so at a definite moment and in a definite place; thus he would always remember it. For many years, he pondered over what he had relinquished on that day far back in his childhood. At twenty, he would have some idea, and then would spend his life trying to recapture it.

But at this moment, he was on the hillside above Appelgren's garden, looking out over the sea, the fog gathering around the skerries before rolling in toward the coast. In the land of his childhood, the fog had many voices, the fog singing from Vinga to Alvsborg on a day like this.

Behind him was the mountain and the meadow. At the end of the meadows, where the ground opened up, were the oak woods, the trees that had spoken to him over the years.

In their shade, he had met the little man with the strange round hat. No, he thought, that wasn't true. He had always known the man, but it was in the shade of those great trees that he had actually seen him.

It no longer mattered.

"Just a load of shit," the boy said aloud as he crawled under the barbed wire of Appelgren's fence.

He managed to avoid the old woman, Edit Appelgren, who used to tear out the couch grass in her dead-straight flower beds on early spring days like this. The foghorns had frightened her indoors. She couldn't stand fog.

The boy understood that. Fog was the grief of the sea, as infinite as the sea, almost unbearable--

"Oh, shit," he said, for he knew better, and had just resolved to look on the world as other people saw it. The fog was the warmth of the Gulf Stream rising when the air grew cold.

Nothing more than that.

But he couldn't really deny the sorrow in the long drawn-out wail of foghorns over the harbor entrance as he slanted across Appelgren's lawn and slipped into his kitchen, where he was given hot cocoa.

His name was Simon Larsson. He was eleven, small, thin, dark complexioned. His hair was coarse, brown, almost black, his eyes so dark sometimes it was hard to distinguish the pupils.

What was strange about his appearance had hitherto evaded him, for up to that day, he hadn't been given to comparisons and had escaped a great many torments. He thought about Edit Appelgren and her difficulties with the fog. But he mostly thought about Aron, her husband. Simon had always liked Aron.

Simon had been a frequent runaway--one of those children, like cheerful puppies, who follow the temptations of the road. It could begin with a colorful toffee paper in the ditch outside the gate, continue with an empty box of Tiger Brand and a little farther away a bottle, then another, a red flower, and farther on a white stone, then perhaps a glimpse of a cat.

In that way he ended up farther and farther away from home, and he remembered very clearly one time when he had realized he was lost. That was when he saw the tram, large and blue as it rattled out of town. It frightened him terribly, but just as he was opening his mouth to bawl, Aron was there.

Aron bent his tall figure over the boy, and as he spoke, his voice seemed to come from up in the sky.

"Good gracious, boy, running away again, eh?"

He heaved the boy up onto the carrier of his back bicycle and started walking home, all the time talking about the birds, the fat chaffinches and cheeky great tits, the gray sparrows hopping around them in the dust on the road.

He said he had nothing but contempt for them, those flying rats.

It was spring, so they cut across the field and the boy learned to distinguish the song of the lark. Then, in his tremendous voice, Aron sang a song that went rolling down the slopes and echoed against the cliffs.

"When in spri-i-i-ing among the mountai-ai-ains--"

Best was when Aron whistled. He could imitate any bird, and the boy almost burst with excitement when Aron got the female blackbird to respond to him, lustily and willingly. Then Aron grinned his good big grin.

The birdsong that surpassed all others in the hills at the mouth of the river was actually the shrieking of gulls. Aron could imitate them, too, and could tease them into such rage, they would dive-bomb down onto the boy and the man.

Then Simon laughed so much he almost wet himself, and the neighbors on their errands hastened past along the road, but would stop and smile at the tall man who was enjoying himself as much as the little boy.

"Aron will never grow up," they said.

But Simon didn't hear that. Right up to this very day, Aron had been king in his world.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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