But that’s typical Johannes. He’s never lacked any sense for the finer things in life. Beauty, romance, festivity. Everything a little extravagant. At least when he’s in that mood. Nothing gaudy—not at all—Johannes has more style than that. I guess that was one of the things I fell for. Dinners at all kinds of exciting restaurants, sometimes several times a week, even if it was both Monday and Tuesday and everything. “Come on, my lovely, let’s go out to eat,” he’d say as he came whirling into my room at the nursing college, like some fresh wind from some exotic location. “The night is young and life is short.” And we had a good time, we really did. Flowers sent by courier. Sometimes several times a week. Who could resist? He was both sweet and exciting, a brilliant doctor—which he still is, naturally. And good-looking, or more than that: a handsome man, his dark hair making that white lab coat look even more blindingly white. God help me, but it was almost like something out of a romance novel. The doctor and the nurse.
Well, that’s not really anything to be thinking about now. It was so long ago, five years actually. You get a lot of strange ideas when you have so much time on your hands. I can see that the windows need to be cleaned. And there’s dinner—maybe I should get started on that before Ida wakes up. I thought we’d have meatballs in curry sauce. Both she and Johannes really like that. Personally, I’m not so crazy about curry, but I can eat it naturally. Once you’re full, it doesn’t matter what you’ve eaten, right?
Was that the doorbell? The doorbell is ringing—who can this be at this hour?
A man and woman are standing outside. Not anyone I know, a middle-aged couple. In their forties, I’d guess, or around fifty. Maybe some people we haven’t met yet, who live farther down the street. We already know our closest neighbors a little. Some of them even came over on their own to say hello and welcome us to the neighborhood. We’ve also been at the neighbors next door for a beer—a couple about our age with two small children. We’re really lucky to be living on a street where people show an interest in each other. Always a good way to get to know someone in a new place.
And yet … isn’t there something strange about those two standing at the doorsteps? Something stiff and unpleasant. Wouldn’t people be smiling, seem a little more pleasant, if they were coming to visit someone for the first time?
They ask whether Johannes lives here. Or Doctor Krener, as the woman says. She’s the one doing the talking. It occurs to me that there is something almost hostile in her voice, but that can’t be right. It must just be me.
Yes, he does. I’m Johannes’s wife, I say.
The two outside the door say nothing; they just stand there staring strangely.
“Is there something I can help you with? Or has something happened—do you need medical attention?” Even I can hear how foolish the question sounds. If they needed medical attention, wouldn’t they have called for an ambulance? Or seen their own doctor.
A shadow crosses the woman’s face, like a cloud passing before the sun and suddenly transforming the landscape. The man says nothing, just stands there beside her staring, stone-faced. The woman looks as if she is about to start crying. Or as if she has been crying, actually, her eyes seem swollen and red.
“Would you like to come in? Johannes isn’t home right now. But he should be here soon. He gets off early today. I’m a nurse, if there’s … I can make us a cup of coffee…”
Stone-face moves for the first time: “Thank you … but we really have to …” His voice dies out; he glances at the woman next to him.
“We would, thank you.” Her expression has changed again. There is a determination in her face that wasn’t there before. Something almost hard. “We could both use a cup of coffee. And if Johannes will soon be home, as you say….”
I hold the door open. They step in, the woman in front with resolute steps, the man more cautiously behind her.
They still haven’t introduced themselves. It confirms my impression that something is wrong in some way or another. Otherwise, why would they be so rude? Well, I can also just start myself.
“I’m Agnethe,” I say, taking their coats. “Agnethe Krener.”
“Hanne Dahl Andersen,” the woman says. Her handshake is dry and abrupt. “And this is—”
“Erik,” mumbles the man, extending a hesitant hand.
We stand there in the hall. Neither of them makes any attempt at saying anything else.
“Yes, we’ve almost just moved in,” I say, mostly just to say something. I need to fill the awkward silence. “Well, ‘just’—it’s actually been about half a year now. From Copenhagen. So everything’s still a bit new. But come on in. The living room is in here. Please, sit down. I’ll just go and put some water on for coffee.”
The woman walks into the living room. She acts as if everything is normal, but I can see how she’s looking around, taking it all in. In my mind’s eye I run lightning-fast through the living room—no, there’s nothing to worry about. Everything is neat and clean. The décor and the furniture, nothing to object to there. Those pretty Kaare Klint chairs, and the teak table and chairs, things from Illums Design Store, practical, modern things. The large rug is a genuine Oriental, an advance heirloom from Johannes’s parents. The small chest of drawers is just something I took with me from home, something my father made, but in this context it looks fine. So, let her look. Some of Ida’s toys are lying over by the television, but gathered up and placed in a basket. I tidied up after I tucked her in for her afternoon nap. There isn’t anything lying around.