Stop 6 of the blog tour – Novel excerpt shared by Jess, from chapter 2, which uncovers why Ellen and Simon travel north to the fictional town of Svartjokk
‘He’s overwrought. He needs a holiday,’ Mum announced the next evening. She and Ellen were standing on the veranda in the back garden, laying the table. Dad was in the kitchen, chopping onions for the bolognese. ‘He could go with you, Ellen.’
‘Mm-hmm.’ Mum brushed a stray lock of hair from her face. ‘You could both do with a week off. You’ve never had a holiday alone together. Dad and I can’t always trail behind you like guards. Simon is fourteen and a half, he needs a chance to stand on his own two feet.’
‘But where would we go?’
‘Svartjokk?’ Ellen froze in her movements, a plate in her hand. She put it down slowly. ‘Why?’
‘You know why, we’ve talked about going north for ages.’
‘As a family, yes. Not as… not as a way to punish Simon.’
Her mother gave her a wide-eyed stare. ‘It’s not a punishment, Ellen! You agreed, before, it would be good to go. And you did that school project on the Sami this year. You said yourself you’d like to see where your granddad grew up, and the Sami…’
Ellen bit her lip. It was true. She was curious about her granddad’s people. The Sami, the indigenous people of northern Scandinavia, were originally nomads who made their livelihood from reindeer herding. The Swedish settlers who’d arrived in the 1700s claimed the land, pushing the Sami away from the ancient grazing areas. Later, a rigorous assimilation had taken place in an attempt to integrate the Sami with the Swedes. Families had been separated, communities pulled apart, the reindeer herding business decimated. Only a minority of the Sami people kept the tradition going now. Ellen had done her school history project on the assimilation, and the horrid race biology studies that took place in the 1900s, where university professors had measured the skulls of living people to determine whether ethnic groups such as the Sami were biologically different from the Swedes. It was part of a unit her class had done on ethnic minorities. She’d spent hours and hours poring over the Sami collection at the Nordic Museum in Stockholm.
‘It would be interesting,’ she admitted. ‘But why now? Why not next summer?’
‘Well, it won’t be right now, Ellen. By the time we get tickets and accommodation sorted out it will be mid-July.’ Her mother straightened and tucked a lock behind her daughter’s ear. ‘You know how things have been, Ellen, between your father and me… This incident didn’t make it any easier.’
‘It will be good for you. And you’re good with Simon – you’ll manage.’
‘Yes, yes, of course…’ Ellen had done excursions with her brother before. The beach, the park, museums, canoeing. At Svartjokk they’d be doing pretty much the same, just further away from home. All you needed with Simon, really, was patience and an open mind. But that would be more easily said than done when they’d be so far from home, and Ellen would have to be responsible for making sure her brother didn’t get himself in trouble. ‘I have a summer job,’ she said. ‘They might not give me time off at such short notice.’
For a moment, Camilla seemed about to apologise for something. Her lips fixed into a forced smile. Then her face smoothened, back to business. ‘We’ll figure that out somehow.’ She put her hands on the chair and leaned forward to her daughter. ‘Tickets up north sell out fast this time of year, Ellen. If I don’t book tonight, they will be gone. You need to decide now.’
Ellen opened her mouth, closed it again. An image of Svartjokk grew in her mind. Open-air mines, deep forests, the lonely mountain Dundret looking down on the tiny buildings and streets below… Reindeer, scampering through the forests and along the moors. Never more than pictures in her imagination. Here was a chance to make those a reality. She felt a tugging sensation in her gut. A curious sense of longing.
‘What does Dad think?’
Camilla averted her gaze. ‘He agrees.’
‘Really?’ Camilla usually came up with the ideas, while Niklas went along with them, after a good deal of nagging.
‘We think it would be a chance for you to explore your roots. And it would make up for the fact you couldn’t go with him to your great-grandmother’s funeral.’
Ellen gripped the back of the chair. ‘It’s quite a lot to take in.’
Camilla leaned over the table and put her hand on Ellen’s. ‘It’s going to be all right, sweetheart.’
Ellen moved her hand away and looked over her mother’s shoulder, through the window. She saw her own reflection in the glass: the apple-cheeked face, the line of freckles under her corn-blue eyes and her yellow-white, slightly wavy hair reaching down to her shoulders. Her short, soft frame. Often, she was taken for fifteen rather than seventeen, and Simon… With his skinny arms and legs and knobbly knees, his voice which still hadn’t broken, people often thought he was twelve. Ellen tried to imagine the two of them on a train with their rucksacks, on their way to a part of Sweden that was as distant and unknown as another continent.
She shook the thought away, looked beyond her reflection to her father’s tall, hunched-over figure, and went into the kitchen. ‘Dad?’
Her father turned to her with red-rimmed eyes. ‘Just the onion,’ he said. Before his face could betray him, he turned back to his work. The knife cleft an onion in two. Chop, chop-chop.
So he’d heard everything they’d said, Ellen thought.
‘Please, Ellen, speak to Simon,’ Mum called from outside. ‘He doesn’t want to talk to me right now.’
Ellen was quite certain it was the other way around.
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