Sigrid stands to adjust her tie but does not step forward into his office. She wants to avoid signaling that this might be a long conversation. "I'm taking leave," she says immediately.
"You don't have to," her CO says, standing with his hand on the door lever. "You're cleared. The report was definitive. You rescued the hostages and took out a criminal network. You might even be up for a medal."
"I'm going to take leave."
He nods as though he understands something, though Sigrid can't imagine what that might be. "There's counseling," he says.
"I'm going home."
"You won't mope around your apartment, I hope."
"My father has a farm."
"How long will you go on leave?"
"Until I'm back."
She drives north to Hedmark with one suitcase. There is traffic on the E6 as she leaves the city, but it thins out and she settles into the drive, following signs for Trondheim.
The farther one travels by car from Oslo into what Sigrid thinks of as Norway—Oslo not being a part of it—there are fewer speed cameras. She always feels that as the speed cameras disappear so too does the state and its central control. Her breathing becomes freer, the air a little sweeter, and the tension in her shoulders releases. When she watches American Westerns she wonders if this was how they felt with their horses, six-shooters, and the view of the horizon.
Her father likes to insist that the cameras are not really speed cameras at all but part of a complex troll-detection grid set up around Norway's most populated areas. From the bar atop the SAS Radisson in the center of Oslo, where she has on occasion had a drink, this theory might seem preposterous, but out here, on the highway, there is no denying that the farther she leaves the city behind, the more she feels the essence of the woods, the weight of the shadows, and the flow of a million small waterfalls that spill from cracks in the plunging fjords.
When traveling south into Roman Europe on vacation, Sigrid feels antiquity. But as she journeys north into Norway's forests, what she feels is ancientness.
Maybe there are trolls.
There were never any trolls in the woods behind the house in 1973 when she was five and Marcus eleven. There was, however, a graveyard by the small church adjacent to their property. That is where their mother, Astrid Ødegård, was buried that year. Sigrid can only remember the four of them as a perfect family. Her earliest memories are of two enormous horses at the farmhouse, three stuffed animals she used to play with—a blue dragon, a pink one, and a panda bear—and her parents sitting in the living room reading at night by a fire. She can smell kanelboller.
The memories are mismatched, separated by time, and unlikely to be reliable. Sigrid has never tried to concoct a story to connect them or question what feels most authentic about them. What is important, she has always believed, is how the memories make her feel. And they make her feel happy. The heart is one of the few places where facts and truth may be separable.
When her mother died, though, that happiness ended. The family broke apart. Marcus was angry at his father for his mother's death and became—in Sigrid's view—irrationally unwavering in his certainty that it was Morten's fault and then, later, his own. Neither made sense to her. The consequence of Marcus's anger was that their daily life—getting him off to school, doing his homework, managing their activities, surviving the intensity of weekends—became impossible.
And yet, this is not how she remembers her brother. Her enduring memory, her enduring feelings, are of how much she loved him. How much fun he was. How they were inseparable. How she would abuse him and make him cry and he would take it because there was no meanness to him, no revenge, no cruelty.
Morten explained to Sigrid, much later, that the year after Astrid died proved to him that Marcus was not going to forgive and was not going to heal unless a new approach was taken. Morten was devastated by his inability to turn the situation around while grieving for his wife and trying to be a support to little Sigrid. Morten ultimately succumbed to the recommendations of doctors and extended family that life would be better for everyone if Marcus moved in with Astrid's sister Ingeborg, who lived in a village by the Hardangerfjorden and ran an apple farm with her husband, Jakob. They were childless, loved Marcus very much, and were desperate to help.
Astrid had died of cancer. When Sigrid became a police officer she checked the death certificate and even asked for the medical records. She had not been suspicious, but her access to the files made them impossible to avoid. They were as expected and exactly as her father had explained. What was not in those records but was true nevertheless was that her parents had loved each other. She learned this from the stories of neighbors and the comforting words of family and friends whose memories never conflicted. Her feelings, she knew, were not a lie. Her memories were youthful and incomplete but they were not wrong. So why Marcus blamed Morten and himself for Astrid's death was never clear, even though she asked, and even pressed him, as they grew up.
This excerpt ends on page 15 of the hardcover edition.