In Norway there is an old proverb: "Large houses are cold, said the man, he slept outdoors on Christmas night."
Anne-Linn could hear Tassen barking eagerly long before she came up to the door. Once again she marveled at the keen sense of hearing some animals have. She had read somewhere that a dog could hear 16 times better than a human. Of course, she did not need that kind of hearing herself right now: The old boy sure had lungs! Laughing, she unlocked the door and braced herself as the big, heavy dog shot out, trying to bowl her over. He had never managed that when she was prepared; she was already 10 when he was born, and when he was fully grown she had developed the strength to stand up to him. That never kept him from trying, though. And he had enjoyed a much greater success rate with the guests who occasionally came over. Of course, since Anne-Linn had rather few friends, they too learned eventually.
"Are you really that glad to see me, or do you just want to paw on my chest?" she asked laughing.
"That's what I thought. Come on, you must be starving. And I need to sit down a little before we take a walk. So sorry to be away so long, but Saturday is work-day you know!"
Tassen made no hint that he knew anything of the sort, but he did not protest outright either. That was a nice thing with him, he had no habit of protesting. He was, all in all, the ideal listener.
She switched on the computer, fed the dog and sat down. There was a mail from her mother. Anne-Linn had a feeling she knew what it would be before she even opened it. She was not surprised.
The company needs me to stay here in New York until Wednesday, so I'll stay over till Thursday and fly directly to Paris. I should be back the weekend after. Could you bring in the mail and look after the house? Don't worry about the lawn, I've told the gardener to come twice a week from now on. Also I've told the pool people to make it ready before I'm back, so you may see them one of the days. I hope the weather is as nice as it looks on the satellite photos! Wish I were there with you. I'll buy you something in Paris. We'll stay in touch!
Anne-Linn sighed. Tassen whimpered. She sighed again, found the leash and let the big fuzzball drag her out the door. When they came to the road, she turned her head and took a look at the house. House? Mansion was probably the right word. Of course, it wasn't her house. Not anymore. Since she turned 16, she had lived in her own apartment on the ground floor. Having half the right side of the main floor, it was pretty spacious, even though it was just a small fraction of the huge 3-floor building. She remembered when they first moved in here, how she and Joachim had used to run through the endless corridors, playing hide and seek in the many rooms that were never used for anything else. It was like a castle to them, and they were used to a nice upper middle class home already.
And then, everything changed. And now ... "It is like a museum, isn't it?"
"Yeah. It isn't your fault. The damned devil. He might as well have killed Joachim with his own hands."
"OK, OK. Let's think about something happier. How about we call Susan and Bodhild and ask if they can come over for a while tomorrow? I could go see the new movie with them and then we could stay here a while after, how does that sound?"
"Then it is settled. Well, if they want, that is."
A few flower petals danced past her on the breeze. She looked up and saw the tree almost bare of flowers. So short their blooming beauty ... a few days and then it was over. A sudden melancholy settled on her, a sadness she could not understand. She had long since finished grieving for her brother. Only a smoldering anger remained for the most part now. Oh, there were times, like his birthday, or Christmas, when she still missed him acutely. But this was not like that. It was a new and different emptiness. She cast about in her mind for the source of it, but found only the emptiness itself. As if something briefly had been there, but then disappeared. Disappeared without a trace.
A sparrow landed not far away, grabbed something and flew off. Toward the nest, no doubt. Despite its twittering sound and energetic flight, it did not cheer her up like such things used to do. If anything, the melancholy seemed to settle deeper in her soul, as if every new detail added to an outline she could not see.
Spring flowers had shot up in the grass along the roadside. The first bumbling bumblebees were out, landing heavily on the flowers, tasting them briefly and then buzzing off to the next. Tassen was too old and wise now to try to bother the bumblebees. At other times, his wariness might have amused her. But the flight of the bumblebee only increased the strange empty sadness inside Anne-Linn.
Sound of happy laughter made her turn her head. Up the small road along the river came a young couple, the man pushing a baby stroller. Some comment he had made obviously seemed hilarious to his young wife. What it was, Anne-Linn had no idea of. They were still so far that only the laughter carried on the wind. But they were making their way towards the same crossing that she was heading with Tassen.
Suddenly tears stung her eyes without warning. She blinked, and for a moment the sunlight separated into a multitude of colors as her lashes became a prism. Then the strange flash of colors was over, and only a sense of confusion remained. Tassen whimpered; she realized that she had suddenly tugged hard at the leash, much harder than she used to. "Sorry" she muttered. "Come. Let's go home. Now." She thought he looked strangely at her: Usually he was the one tugging and she was the one following. But right now, she could not bring herself to care. The sunlit road seemed gray and wet with the unexpected tears she tried to hold back, as she hurried home.