"Excellent," he said with a broad smile. His mouth looked nicer now.
He scratched his head. His hair was disheveled, and grew in thick clumps straight up from his head like the leaves of a pineapple. Now it looked even worse.
"I can drive you up there," he said. "There's room for your carriage in the back."
Ragnhild thought for a moment. She stared up Skiferbakken, which was long and steep. The man pulled on the handbrake and glanced in the back of the van.
"Mama's waiting for me," Ragnhild said. '
A bell seemed to ring in the back of her mind, but she couldn't remember what it was for.
"You'll get home sooner if I drive you," he said.
That decided it. Ragnhild was a practical little girl. She wheeled the carriage behind the van and the man hopped out. He opened the back door and lifted the carriage in with one hand.
"You'll have to sit in back and hold the carriage. Otherwise it'll roll around," he said, and lifted in Ragnhild too.
He shut the back door, climbed into the driver's seat, and released the brake.
"Do you go up this hill every day?" He looked at her in the mirror.
"Only when I've been at Marthe's house. I stayed over."
She took a flowered overnight bag from under the doll's blanket and opened it, checking that everything was in place: her nightgown with the picture of Nala on it, her toothbrush and hairbrush. The van lumbered over another speed bump. The man was still looking at her in the mirror.
"Have you ever seen a toothbrush like this?" Ragnhild said, holding it up for him. It had feet.
"No!" he said. "Where did you get it?"
"Papa bought it for me. You don't have one like it?"
"No, but I'll ask for one for Christmas."
He was finally over the last bump, and he shifted to second gear. It made an awful grinding noise. The little girl sat on the floor of the van steadying the carriage. A very sweet little girl, he thought , red and cute in her sweat suit, like a ripe little berry. He whistled a tune and felt on top of the world, enthroned behind the wheel in the big van with the little girl in the back. Really on top of the world.
The village lay in the bottom of a valley, at the end of a fjord, at the foot of a mountain, like a pool in a river, where the water was much too still. And everyone knows that only running water is fresh. The village was a stepchild of the municipality, and the roads that led there were indescribably bad. Once in a while a bus deigned to stop by the abandoned dairy and pick up people to take them to town. There were no night buses back to the village.
Kollen, the mountain, was a gray, rounded peak, virtually neglected by those who lived there, but eagerly visited by people from far-off places. This was because of the mountain's unusual minerals and its flora, which was exceptionally rare. On calm days a faint tinkling could be heard from the mountaintop; one might almost believe it was haunted. In fact, the sound was from sheep grazing up there. The ridges around the mountain looked blue and airy through the haze, like soft felt with scattered woolen veils of fog.
Konrad Sejer traced the main highway in the road atlas with a fingertip. They were approaching a traffic circle. Police Officer Karlsen was at the wheel, keeping an attentive eye on the fields while following the directions.
"Now you have to turn right onto Gneisveien, then up Skiferbakken, then left at Feltspatveien. Granittveien goes off to the right. A cul-de-sac," Sejer said pensively. "Number 5 should be the third house on the left."
He was tense. His voice was even more brusque than usual.
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