It’s no April Fool’s Day prank that Jonas is having a depression.
The doctor said so.
For some reason, he bought cereal bars.
– There you go, he says, handing me one.
I remove the plastic package.
– Depression, I say with my mouth full of bar.
– Depression, Jonas repeats.
The kitchen seems to shrink around us, the walls get closer to the centre of the room, the ceiling moves down towards our heads.
Jonas is just standing there, with the cereal bar in his hand.
The floor is filthy, littered with black breadcrumbs and onion skins.
He starts to cry, and I take his hand.
It feels like an alien object between my fingers.
I start to think about pita bread and cherry tomatoes.
He starts to talk about his parents and his childhood.
– It’s no wonder it’s come to this. They were in concentration camps, he says.
– Also, anyone who thinks as much as I do is likely to self-induce a depression, he explains.
I tell him that it’s not his fault.
He continues to talk.
He talks about the way his mother used to show love, how it was problematic.
The kitchen floor is made of tiles.
I pick up an onion peel from a white tile, throw it towards the compost bin.
It’s time to empty it.
Jonas lies down on his back on the floor.
It’s very possible that he gets food scraps in his hair.
He starts to cry again.
I kiss his hand again and again, in tears, too, it seems.
I touch my cheeks to check.
Yes, I am crying.
– We’re scared, we’re just scared, Jonas stutters in the middle of a sob.
– I’ll ask Pelle’s mom to bring Laban home after gymnastics, I say.
Jonas nods his head.
I should google how you tell a 12-year-old that his father is having a depression.
– Did you go to your driving lesson? Jonas asks.
I have completely forgotten that the morning existed.
– It was fine.
Jonas has fallen asleep on the kitchen floor, and I am standing on the balcony.
I am on the phone.
– Jonas has a depression, I say.
– You don’t say, Mummy-Miriam replies.
– I thought it was a phase, the tiredness and sadness.
– It probably is, are you in the middle of a storm or what?
– I’m on the balcony.
I am wearing Jonas’ jacket, big and orange with fur on the hoodie.
– It’s cold outside, she comments.
– It is cold.
– My poor little Lea.
– We’re going to make it, I say.
– My biggest concern this morning was that I was the oldest at the driving lesson I went to.
– Any nice people there?
– I didn’t go to make friends, I say.
The patio door from the balcony to the inside of the apartment is see through.
I can see Jonas lying on the kitchen floor.
I’m considering waking him up and leading him to bed, but if I wake him, he might not be to fall asleep again.
– He’s sleeping on the kitchen floor, I say.
– Jonas? Mummy-Miriam asks.
I ignore the question, take a deep breath and stare at the fresh soil in the balcony box planter.
The soil is ready for the thyme and coriander seeds I ordered.
– Did you want to come and have a look at my aunties old stuff? Mummy-Miriam asks.
– Jonas is waking up, I better go, I say.
– OK, see you, little Lea.
I remove something some crumbs from Jonas’ hair.
– I didn’t want to wake you now that you were finally sleeping, I say.
Jonas massages his neck.
– I’m going to take a shower, he says.
The Internet tells me that when a family member is sick, it is best to tell the children.
According to the Internet, children notice these things anyway.
A thud wakes me up.
I rush to the window; something flew directly into it.
I open it, stick my head out into the fresh air.
A dark spot on the cobblestones in the courtyard, four stories below my window.
I put on a pair of shorts and a sweatshirt, walk out of the room, cross the hallway, sneak out of the apartment, and run down the stairs.
Crouching in front of a dead pigeon.
I touch the grey and purple feathers, then the beak.
I carry the bird gently with both hands up the stairs.
The feathers tickle my palms.
– Where have you been? my mother asks me.
– Look, I say, showing her the pigeon, it flew into my window.
My father appears from their bedroom.
His hair is messy.
He has bags under his eyes.
Here we are, all three of us around the bird.
I see the reflection of our faces in its dark eyes.
Three little faces, my mum’s, my dad’s, and mine.
Pelle and I go to the same school class, and we do gymnastics together.
We go there when school is over.
Today Pelle’s mother picks us up at the end of the gymnastic class.
She tells me that I am coming with them.
– Your mother asked me, and it’s nice, isn’t it?
– Yes, I say.
Pelle removes the red wrapping around a bath bomb.
– It foams, he says, handing me the bomb.
The round object fits in my palm.
– It’s a bath bomb, Pelle says.
It is a shame that the bomb foams and disappear in the bathtub.
Pelle’s mother enters the room with jam on crackers.
The butter and jam are not perfectly spread out to the edges.
She places the plate on the closed toilet seat.
Once she leaves, I undress.
Dip a toe in the water.
It’s hot, my toe goes red.
Our shiny gymnastics clothes lie on the tile floor.
– You’ll get it right next time, Pelle says when noticing where I am looking, patting my arm.
– Maybe, I say, and imagine myself sprinting towards the vault, bouncing from the springboard, stretching out my arms, placing my hands on the vault.
The handspring front somersault is perfect in my head.
It is not me who is doing it, but a boy of my size with the same hair colour.
Pelle balances on one foot in the bathtub, a cracker with jam in his hand.
He has gotten hair on his crotch area.
I don’t have any hair in that area of my body, but I do have two in my left armpit.
Pelle laughs whilst sleeping.
It’s scary, I sense that something is off.
I imagine mum falling from the balcony.
Maybe she was making a phone call, maybe the wind blew her away and now she’s dead, crushed on the concrete.
I hurry out of Pelle’s room to wake up his mother even though it is in the middle of the night, and I feel ashamed.
– I would like to go home, I say.
I don’t add anything, I don’t mention the sense that something is off.
We walk to the kitchen.
Whilst the fridge is humming, she calls my parents.
Dad comes to pick me up in the car.
I feel safe in our turquoise car that looks a bit like a beetle.
He takes my hand, holds it whilst driving, until he has to change gears.
The heat of the seat warms my thighs.
– I didn’t dare to do a handspring front somersault today.
– What’s that? he asks and yawn.
– It’s when you put both hands on the vault and land on the mat on the other side, after a front tuck.
– OK, he mumbles.
– It’s a handspring with a tuck, I say.
– It sounds difficult, he says.
– I have to be able to do it before the competition in June.
– You’ll get there.
Out beetle slides down the driveway to our building.
– Did you do any April Fool’s Day pranks today?
– Pelle convinced me to do one together.
– Are you angry?
My voice echoes slightly in the stairwell.
– No, Dad says, smiling at me, just tired.
Here I am alone at home with a dead pigeon.
It is lying on a piece of paper towel in the middle of the living room table.
Laban wants to bury it in Frederiksberg Have Park.
– Where are you? I ask.
– At the office, Lea answers on the phone.
The office is a publishing house that she manages alone, in a small studio in a yard somewhere in Vesterbro.
She publishes magazines, short stories, and collections of poetry.
– Did you want something?
– Have you been to the doctor yet?
– Not yet, I say, pawing the pigeon.
I look at the star of David, shining in my palm.
Looking up, I realize that the doctor is standing in front of me.
– Jonas, he says.
– Yes, that’s me, I say.
I let go of the star hanging from the chain around my neck.
The doctor asks me how I am doing.
The words come out of my mouth.
The unpleasant wavering feeling I wake up with in the morning.
The thoughts that attack me.
The feeling of having a numb face and body.
The weight of my head.
The tiredness of my arms.
The doctor is typing on his computer keyboard.
I can’t stop.
– I am hearing you, Jonas, the doctor finally says, I hear you and I think you need help.
I nod my head.
– So, he continues, putting his hand on my forearm, your shoulders just lowered fifty centimetres, did you notice?
I lightly massage the back of my neck, annoyed by his benevolent tone.
– I am 34 years old, I say.
– You are 34 years old, he repeats with a questioning look.
– Yes, and you’re talking to me as if I’m 9.
– I’m sorry you feel that way.
– Sometimes I suddenly realize that I am crying.
– I see.
– Without a reason.
– I touch my cheeks like this, and I notice that they are covered with tears.
The supermarket is overflowing with people and products you can buy.
The floors are sticky.
It’s a mess.
I buy stuff we already have and forget the stuff we need.
On the way home, I eat three cereal bars.
I walk instead of taking the bus.
The last cereal bar, I hand to Lea.
We are in the kitchen.
The sleepiness feels like a tidal wave.
It is coming with the force of an ocean.
I lie down on the floor.
The last thing I feel before I fall asleep is Lea’s head on my chest.
The first thing I feel when I wake up is that my neck hurts and Lea is no longer here.
We make love.
The last time we did that is a month ago.
Lea on all fours.
My cock is sliding in and out of her.
I am bent over her, my arm wrapped around her breasts.
I kiss her neck and whisper in her ear:
– It feels so good.
– Huh? she says, glancing back.
– It feels so good.
When we’re done, I hand her the toilet paper roll.
I open the window.
The wind hits my face and body.
The only thing I am wearing is the star of David.
I do not take it off.
The star is there, against my skin.
Lea appears behind me, her chin resting on my shoulder.
The hairs on her crotch tickle my butt cheeks.
Someone is calling Lea on her cell phone.
It’s Pelle’s mother.
– I’ll get him, I say.
– Are you sure? Lea asks.
– I can go too.
– On the bus?
– I’ll go, it will be nice when you get your license.
Lea nods her head.
– Laban, if you don’t get that pigeon out of here, I’ll throw it out myself.
– You’ll throw it away? Laban repeats, in the trash?
He looks at me incredulously.
– It doesn’t belong on the dining table.
Laban nods his head.
Me and a bunch of 17-year-olds are standing around the driving teacher’s desk.
She has to sign everyone’s logbook.
I make my way to the desk and wave my logbook in her face.
– My turn, I say.
She looks up, perhaps about to say patience.
Eyeliner surrounds her eyes.
I am older than her.
She signs without saying anything.
– Lea, right? a young girl asks me, handing me my scarf.
I take it.
– I’m Franciska, she continues.
– Oh yes, I say, as if I had simply forgotten her name.
I hurry out.
The bus is crowded.
– It’s funny, we’re going in the same direction, says Franciska who is suddenly standing next to me.
I’m trying to work on my laptop.
Franciska wants to know where I am going.
– To pick up my son from school.
– Wow, you have a son.
– I’m going to see my mother, she says.
My laptop dies, no battery.
– Not really, Franciska says.
– Why not?
– She is in a hospice.
I look at Franciska.
– You don’t have to stare at me like that, she says.
– Everyone looks at me like that.
– It’s called compassion, I say.
– Anyway, see you later Lea, she says before leaving the bus.
– You’re suffocating me, bubbe, Laban moans.
Mummy-Miriam is hugging him tightly.
Then she pinches my cheek.
Laban leaves the house to say hi to the chickens.
– Did you tell him? Mummy-Miriam asks me.
I shake my head.
The kitchen walls have light blue and white tiles.
I scrape a piece of dirt embedded between two tiles and flicks it to the floor.
Mummy-Miriam flips a bread pan onto a cutting board.
The sound of a loaf of ryebread landing heavily on wood.
– Lots of snowdrop flowers outside, I say.
Outside, the birch trees stretch their bodies towards the grey sky.
Hard-boiled eggs and ryebread with herring.
– Pelle got a dog, Laban says.
– Good for him, Mummy-Miriam replies.
– It’s a Bolognese, like the pasta.
Laban laughs and carefully places a whole half egg on his tongue.
– His name is Peanut, he adds.
– Your mother had a dog when she was a kid, says Mummy-Miriam, looking at me.
– Dad said we could have one too, Laban says.
– Good for you, says Mummy-Miriam, dogs are wonderful.
– Laban, I say, before taking a deep breath.
– I would love to have a Collie or a Dalmatian, Laban continues.
– Laban, intervenes Mummy-Miriam.
She caresses his hand.
– Your mother is trying to tell you something.
– That I can have a dog?
He smiles at me and bats his eyelashes.
They are as long as Jonas’.
– I’ll check with your father, I say.
– If we get a Dalmatian, we could call him Gollum.
– Like Golem of Chełm? asks Mummy-Miriam, excited too.
– No, Laban replies, looking at her dejectedly, like the character from Lord of the Rings.
Laban slumps into an armchair, looking tired, headphones in his ears.
– We’re going to the garage, I say, waving to him.
I am in the garage with Mummy-Miriam.
Her aunt died six months ago.
And she has arranged her things in small piles.
– There’s that too, says Mummy-Miriam.
My hands are full already.
A few books, a thermos, a porcelain figurine, a candlestick.
Mummy-Miriam taps a metal construction with wheels.
– I saw on TV that you could make a tiny house out of it.
She doesn’t know what a tiny house is.
The porridge is burnt.
With plenty of sugar, the gooey mixture becomes edible.
I can feel dad watching me.
I turn to him.
He sits at his desk doing nothing.
I wonder if Pelle is disappointed that I left his house yesterday.
– Hi, I write in the chat in Minecraft on my phone.
He answers me straight away.
– Laban, if you don’t get that pigeon out of there, I’ll throw it out myself.
I lift my head.
My mother waves her toothbrush at me.
Toothpaste foam sprinkle everywhere when she points it towards the dead bird.
– Yes yes, I say.
My gymnastics bag can be attached to my backpack.
And my water bottle fits right into the pocket on the side.
I place it in the pocket and lift the pigeon.
I leave it next to a tree in the yard.
Then I hurry to join dad who is waiting for me on Viktoriagade.
While crossing the bike lane to the bus stop, he almost gets hit by a bicycle.
I apologize to the cyclist.
On the bus, I chat with Pelle on Minecraft.
He tells me that he is waiting for me at the bus stop.
After school, his mother picks him up.
He wants to show everyone his dog.
It’s a little white dog named Peanut.
He barks and runs around Pelle.
– Do you want to come to my house to play with him? he offers me and a bunch of other kids from our class.
Sofus wants to.
Agnes and Sebastian do not answer.
– I can’t today, I say.
Grandma smells funny.
A mixture of petrol and mint.
My mother touches a metal structure with wheels on in Grandma’s garden.
My mother wants to take it home.
It’s heavy and she ends up asking bubbe not to throw it away.
– Thank you, Mummy-Miriam, she says, kissing bubbes cheek.
I ask her what she wants to do with the metal thing.
She shakes her head slightly and replies:
– Just a little personal project.
We return to the house; I sit down in my favourite armchair.
Grandma disappears into the kitchen.
– Laban, mom says, placing the stuff she found in the garage on the coffee table.
– Yes, I say.
– Can we talk?
– I’d rather go home.
– Your father, she begins, is, uh, he has a depression.
– Do you know what that is? she asks.
– Of course.
– OK, I know that’s not a nice thing to hear.
– It’s okay, I mean, it’s sad for him.
– And for you, she adds.
– He’s your father, and it’s always nicer to have normal, well-functioning parents.
– Sure, mom, can we go home now?
– Is that what you want?
Grandma appears in the room.
I can tell by looking at her face.
I can feel it in the way she hugs me goodbye.
They both annoy me.
On the bus, I play Minecraft.
– It will be nice to be able to take the beetle when you get your license, I say.
– Yes, you would like that? my mother asks me.
– Yes, that’s what I just said.
She nods and looks at me with a worried expression.
– It’s true that he’s a little weird right now, I say.
– Your father?
– He seems floppy somehow.
– What do you mean?
– You know, like tired and sad.
I lean towards her.
We’re almost the same height.
She grabs my hand and squeezes it hard.
– It’s okay, mom, I say, I’m fine.
On a scale from 1 to 10, it’s actually an okay morning.
I get out of bed before my brain is awake.
– ‘morning, Lea mumbles.
– I’ll make breakfast, I say.
Three cups of oatmeal, rice milk and water.
I sprinkle flax seeds, cranberries, and coconut flakes on top.
Then I go to the bathroom and poops whilst watching the latest news on my phone.
I hear Lea waking Laban up.
By the time I go back to the kitchen, the porridge has started to burn
I pour myself a bowl, before shouting to Lea and Laban that the porridge is ready.
Recently, Laban has been preparing his own lunch for school.
He eats his porridge while buttering his ryebread.
He is very meticulous in the way he does things.
The thickness of the bread.
The amount of filling.
I watch him place the perfectly buttered slices of bread on parchment paper and wrap them up nicely.
They look like swaddled babies.
Laban carefully slips them into his lunch box, then adds a small container with nuts and dates.
The porridge cools and hardens in my bowl.
I stare at my emails without understanding the content.
I take the bus with Laban.
We say nothing, sitting side by side.
My brain is like a compact marble ball stuck in my skull.
The bus is full of people going to school and work.
– See you dad, Laban says.
– See you later, I say, looking at him.
Obviously, 17 minutes have passed.
– Have a good day, I add.
– You too, he replies, patting my cheek.
He gets off the bus and looks around before crossing the bike path.
He joins a group of kids he seems to know.
Then he turns around and waves at me.
I wave back.
When the bus starts again, I lean my forehead on the window.
The glass is cold.
I close my eyes.
My brain vibrates as the glass shakes.
I get off the bus and walks to the library, where I work.
– Do you have a book to recommend to me? asks a woman with sweat on her upper lip.
– It depends, what do you like to read?
– A lot of different things, literature and fiction and that kind of stuff.
– I see, maybe you could give me some writers you like.
– No names come to me at the moment, answers the woman.
– Can’t you give me some advice?
– No, I say.
I arrange the reserved books on a shelf.
One at a time.
Ignore a customer who asks me where the children’s books are.
Lea calls me and asks how I am doing.
– It’s hell, I say, and I start to cry.
– Go home, Jonas, what are you doing at work, you should call in sick.
– Did you talk to Miriam about it?
– Yes, why?
– She sent me a message.
My phone almost slips out of my hand as I pull out a book that is not correctly placed.
It’s a self-help book of which we have many copies, and never available.
– Are you still there, Jonas?
I want a cigarette, even though I haven’t smoked since high school.
I have few desires, and decides to follow them when they come, whatever they are.
I buy a pack of cigarettes and a lighter with the print of tiger in 7eleven.
I smoke three cigarettes without thinking about anything.
Police officers are walking around in front of the synagogue.
They know me because I work at the library and because I go to the synagogue from time to time.
– Is everything okay, Jonas? someone asks me, putting his hand on my shoulder.
I turn around.
The rabbi smiles at me.
– Hello, I say, suddenly not knowing his name.
He smiles with his whole face, looking like he is really happy to see me.
– Yes, I’m fine, I say, shaking my head.
– Glad to hear it, he replies.
– Well, I say without getting up from the bench on which I apparently has decided to sit, actually, I’m not doing very well.
– Oh no, the rabbi replies, whose name, I now remember.
– Moishe, I say out loud.
– Yes, he says.
– I’m in bad shape.
I crush my cigarette on the floor.
A pigeon lands next to me.
The bird hops around on the pavement looking at me.
Moishe holds my forearm.
I stare at the pigeon.
– We can carry heavier burdens than we think, says Moishe.
I look at him.
I follow him inside the synagogue.
Sit down on one of the wooden benches.
My legs feel heavy as lead and my arms are moving strangely as I stand up.
You have to do that from time to time.
Get up, sing, pray, read and sit down.
The synagogue is golden and pleasant.
Translated from the Danish by Marina Heide