The Darkness Carried by Beasts
During these, the shortest days of the year in the northern hemisphere, it’s important to remember that light and darkness are important sides to the same coin. Within Maria Haskins’ story of grief and perseverance, we find a lot of light. ~ Julian and Fran, December 10, 2023
The Darkness Carried by the Beasts
by Maria Haskins
Northern Sweden, March 1987, eleven months after Chernobyl
Torsten is dreaming of Gunvor, like he does every night. All these dreams are the same. He is searching for her in the woods, Ricky running ahead on eager paws with his nose to the ground, the elkhound a gray blur in untouched snow. Torsten’s chest aches and the air is hard to breathe, tainted by some unseen poison. A colorless void stretches out above the treetops, a menacing sky that holds no stars, but no matter how Torsten runs, no matter how he searches, he can never find Gunvor. Even there, even in his dreams, she is gone.
When Torsten wakes up, it’s 07:32 according to his alarm clock, and the phone on the nightstand is ringing off the hook. He reaches across the sleeping shape of Ricky, curled up where Gunvor used to sleep, and lifts the receiver, pulling on the tangled cord.
It’s Bertil, from the police department, and Torsten knows even before Bertil explains what’s happened that he will need his rifle and his dog.
Ricky’s on the floor, tail already wagging, eager to get going, but Torsten slumps on the bed after the call. He feels dizzy. Maybe it’s the vodka from last night or his blood pressure or maybe some unknown disease or sickness has burrowed into him like it did with Gunvor.
No matter the reason, his body is too heavy to move, his head too empty to think.
Most mornings, when Torsten isn’t called out to search for traffic-wounded game, he thinks about walking away from the house, the town, everything, and never coming back. Most nights, he thinks about the rifle and going nowhere at all.
Reluctantly, he stands up and gets his clothes from the dresser: thermal underwear, undershirt, and two pairs of socks, including the last pair of woolen socks Gunvor knitted for him. They are gray with bright green stripes around the tops and toes, and every time he wears them, he thinks about her sitting in her favorite chair in the living room, watching TV, face illuminated by the floor lamp, knitting needles in her hands, yarn trailing down to the basket on the floor, and Ricky sleeping at her feet.
From a branch in the apple tree outside the bedroom window, a magpie watches him get dressed, its black eyes glinting. It sits there every morning, and like every morning, Ricky barks at it through the glass until the bird takes flight. Tomorrow it will be back.
As soon as Torsten gets out of his car at the accident site, somewhere on that stretch of nondescript narrow highway between Skellefteå and Bastuträsk, it begins to snow. He looks up at the dull gray clouds and bites back a curse. The flakes are only a whisper on his face in the early-March cold, but it sure as shit would be easier to track an injured moose, whether it’s limping with a fractured leg or dragging half its guts behind it, without new snow.
“Moose, a big one,” Bertil said on the phone. It’s usually a moose when the police call Torsten. “The driver said it just appeared out of nowhere. He was likely going ninety around that turn, and at that time of the morning . . . Well, you know how it is.”