Excerpt

Even If Everything Ends

Jens Liljestrand

May 11, 2023 
The following is from Jens Liljestrand's debut novel, Even If Everything Ends. Liljestrand is a critically acclaimed journalist and writer in his native Sweden. He has been a critic for the newspapers Sydsvenskan and Dagens Nyheter and was a long-serving editor of the culture section of Expressen. His bestselling biography about Vilhelm Moberg, The Man in the Woods, was nominated for the prestigious August Prize.

THE FIRST DAY OF THE REST OF YOUR LIFE

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The last time I was happy, we were at a retail park. Society had finally opened up again, and we drove out there with the kids, past the roundabouts and the Ikea, the electronics store, another selling appliances, a huge supermarket, to the place she had found: the last physical shop for that kind of thing now that everything had shifted online. We wanted to go there in person, actually see it with our own eyes, allow ourselves to get drunk on longing for our child.

Carola was in the baby carriage section, on her face the blank alienation of someone who has entered a shrine to a religion she’s aware of but has never actually belonged to, waddling and heavy as the kids who would soon be getting a younger sibling ran among the shelves, between the teddy bears and blankets in shades of baby blue and flamingo pink, changing tables and cribs and beds, pacifiers and oils and bottles, breast pumps and nursing bras and nursing blouses and nursing armchairs, educational wooden toys and electronic monitors that told you when the baby woke up or let you watch the baby as it slept or gave you temperature and carbon dioxide readings for the air around the baby.

Then the kids stopped dead in the middle of the shop. Oh my God, they said. Oh my God, look. They pointed at the rows of adorable onesies and hats and unbelievably small socks. There was a vulnerability to those tiny garments that was almost unbearable, and they stroked the fabric, buried their noses in the material, and sniffed it as though it were a baby, as though their little sister had already arrived, and our eyes met over the shelves and we smiled at having made the right decision to come to such a crazy commercial place, at having brought the kids with us to help them understand, so that they could see and feel the flannel-soft wind that would soon blow through our lives, changing them forever, and I heard myself say, Just grab whatever you want.

My family stared at me in confusion. We were only supposed to be looking at one of the baby carriages, we wanted a point of reference before we bought secondhand, we always bought secondhand, and Carola said something about our carbon footprint, about a cousin whose daughter was about to outgrow her clothes, but I said, Please, just this once, please please please just grab whatever you want.

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She froze to the spot, helplessly watching as the children’s eyes lit up and, with a series of thrilled hoots, they filled their hands and arms with comforters and slings and a huge baby gym made from gasoline-blue cashmere. But before long she started looking around herself, asking the woman behind the counter about cloth diapers, about organic fabrics and ethical, climate-neutral clothing, whether they had any bath sets that were slightly less plasticky, where the cotton in those nice polka-dot cushions came from. Everything she wanted cost twice as much as anything else, but I just laughed and grabbed a cart, and as she was standing with her back to me, I took out my phone and transferred more money.

Once our baskets were full and our love for all things cute and sweet had been sated to a dull satisfaction, she and I walked back over to the baby carriages. Suddenly the only choice was the luxury French model that had won best in test, with a chassis that had taken five years to develop. We chose fabrics for the mattress and the sun hood and the rain cover; we chose phone holders, cup holders, bag holders; we chose everything there was to choose.

The woman behind the register rang up our things and managed, somehow, to find a breezy way to say that we could return the baby carriage for a full refund if anything did happen. And despite her carefree, cheery tone—we’d just need to see a little medical certificate—it was as though everything ground to a halt and we saw the blood on the toilet seat, the deafening ambulance ride, a tiny coffin, a grizzled old gynecologist polishing his glasses and writing a little medical certificate, having to come back here, having to bring the baby carriage with the beautiful designer fabrics and cognac-colored leather accents on the handle back to this grotesque temple to consumerism, and I heard her whisper into the void: Mommy’ll have to do that if so.

But even that anxiety faded, even that moment passed, and all that was left was the sum total, the numbers on the display, a figure that was slightly larger than the amount I’d paid for my first car.

“Would you like to put it on credit?” the woman asked with a dazzling, inviting smile. I glanced around the shop and noticed the other fathers for the first time—the harried soccer fan in the team shirt, the immigrant in the crumpled suit, the man in the leather jacket and taped-up glasses—and I realized that that was how it worked. People have to borrow for that kind of thing, they take out text loans, pay interest, arrangement fees, late payment fees, they sit in their cramped suburbs and chip away at the bill for their teddy bears and blankets and carriages one monthly paycheck at a time, and the feeling of pride inside me grew.

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“No, no,” I said, holding out my card. “I’ll pay the full amount now.”

And Carola stood right beside me; she reached up to my forehead as though I had a fever and mumbled that we could look elsewhere, we might be able to find a nearly new baby carriage online, but all I could feel and hear was her hands in my hair, her fingers on the back of my neck, and are you sure, are you really sure? She touched me, she finally touched me, I couldn’t remember the last time she had touched me, it’s fine, honey, I’ve got this, and the way she looked at me right then, the person I was in her eyes, when everything was forgiven, when everything was perfect and so goddamn well deserved.

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Excerpted from Even If Everything Ends by Jens Liljestrand. Copyright © 2021 by Jens Liljestrand. English language translation copyright © 2023 by Alice Menzies. Reprinted by permission of Scout Press, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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