Nothing but Ghosts
Judith Hermann

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‘Best friends are always different from each other,’ Magnus replied in a funny didactic tone. ‘Because they are different, they can be friends, right? Otherwise, what would be the sense in being friends? And you yourself said it – different at first glance. At first glance.’

‘I’m probably mistaken,’ Jonina says, perplexed. She empties the refrigerator, and then puts the things back again. Maybe they ought to grill something. Cook some fish, maybe soup. She has no idea what. She also realizes that they haven’t been together with other people for a long time. They’re mostly by themselves. She and Magnus and Sunna. They work a lot. Are tired in the evenings. Don’t drink as much as they used to. She says, ‘You cook. I can’t cook. I don’t feel like cooking.’ And Magnus says, ‘In a minute, OK? I just want to finish this page, and then I’ll cook for us all.’

Towards evening, she goes up to the other house to get Irene and Jonas. It has begun to snow again. The cabin is quiet and dark; Jonina is afraid of finding them naked in the pool, but the pool is empty. She steps up on the terrace; the glass door is open. For a moment Jonina can’t see anything; then she makes out Irene and Jonas on the sofa. Irene is sitting and Jonas is lying on his back, his head in her lap. ‘Hello,’ Irene says. Jonas sits up, not at all embarrassed, and turns on the light. Irene says matter-of-factly, ‘With the room dark, you can see the outside better. And we were in the pool for hours. It is beautiful here, Jonina.’ She has a way of pronouncing Jonina’s name in a childish, trusting way that sounds strange to Jonina. Jonina puts her hands in her trouser pockets and doesn’t know what to say. On the table are cigarettes, a bottle of vodka but no glasses, a camera, several rolls of film, three books, a bunch of keys, a hairbrush and an ashtray. Jonina feels a compulsive desire to pick up all these objects and examine them.

The door to the bedroom on the right is open, the door to the other bedroom is closed. Irene follows Jonina’s glance and says, ‘We’ll sleep in that room; it has the more beautiful view.’ ‘Yes,’ Jonina says, ‘I also prefer to sleep in the front.’ Jonas ties his shoes with vigorous, jerky movements, and says, ‘I’ve always wanted to have a bedroom like that, a room with a window that’s at the same level as the bed and has a view of the countryside, a room just like that, and now here it is, it is simply here.’’ He laughs, and casually looks up at Jonina. It doesn’t seem to matter to him whether she understands him or not. She says, ‘Well, supper is ready,’ then she turns and goes out. She doesn’t regret having invited them; she doesn’t regret it at all.

They come fifteen minutes later, kick the snow off their shoes on the house wall, hang up their coats in the hall, and sit down at the table. Magnus has made fish with lime and sprigs of rosemary. Sunna eats a potato and gazes uninterruptedly and with her mouth slightly open at Jonas, who speaks English with her. She says not a word and at eleven o’clock she just goes off to bed.

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