Shush, I must shush, for I am hiding. Mama always said shush, Andreas, I am working! Shush, Andreas, Papa’s speaking! Shush, Andreas. Always shush.
Shush, Andreas! You must run, my darling. Now! Don’t stop. Don’t wait for me. I will come for you.
But Mama –
Andreas, please. She grabbed me up like she was cold and I was her favourite blanket. You must do as you are told, like a good boy. You’re a good boy, aren’t you?
Don’t cry, my love. Her fingers felt like the tongue of our cat, Petter, except Mama’s hands were rough from needle-pricks and washing. I will be coming, right after you.
But what’s happening? She pulled on my cap and hurried toward the back door, the one that led to the fish-stinking alley. She smelled sharp and her breath was hot on my face. She got on her knees and buttoned up my coat and her eyelid was twitching, kik-kik, like a fly’s wing. Outside, a man started shouting, but not close by. He used bad words. I wanted to put my hands over my ears.
Nothing for you to worry about, my sweetheart. But you must get away from here. I promise – I promise, Andreas – I will be right behind you.
All right, Mama. I kissed her on the cheek, right where it was red, like I did after church when it was time for Sunday school. Maybe if I’m good she’ll make krumkake when we get home. Her face was cold and wet. The shouting man was getting closer. Witch! he called. Devil wife! Mama turned to look at the front of the house, and I wanted to ask her why he’s shouting but she turned back to me and her eyes were shining and round.
Go, now. Run, darling. Don’t look back. I love you. Her fingers dug into me as she slid the bolt on the door and shoved me out. I caught my foot on the top step but she held me steady. The alley was icy but the fish-smell was still there. It’s always there. Snow was falling.
Mama smacked the door shut before I could say I love her, too. I wanted to bang on it, so she’d open it and I could tell her, and she’d smile and kiss me, but her voice was in my head. Shush, Andreas! Run! And so I do.
I get as far as Gjertsen’s store, and then I stop. Gjertsen’s is far away – any further and I’d be out into the wilderness, where the skogsfru lives, and I don’t want her to catch me and take me away. I know Mama wouldn’t mean me to go further than here. I hide behind the fence, peeking out, waiting for Mama. I can see the hotel across the bay, and my friend Nils’s house, and the schoolhouse high up on the mountain.
But no Mama.
And then I see a man, someone bigger even than Papa, tall as a moose. His breath is a cloud around his head. He is walking quickly across the dock, and he is looking at the ground. He’s following something, like a tracker. Like a hunter.
I look down at my shoes. They’re warm and soft, because Mama made them so, but now there is a line of frozen snow around my soles. I hold my breath and look back at the man, and he has stopped walking. He’s staring through the fence, right at me.
My footprints in the fresh snow are neat as Mama’s stitches. If Papa was here he’d smack me for my silliness, but he’s not here. Mama says he’s on a boat to Svalbard, but he’s been on it a long time.
Then the man moves, and so do I. I rub away my tracks, my mittens soon thick with dirty snow, and I roll, quick-quick, into the shadows of the store on my elbows and knees.
I crouch low and watch the man. He’s still coming. His face is bright red, but not with cold.
Shush, Andreas, Mama says. Shush, and I will come for you.
I know, Mama, I whisper. I’ll be here.