Sundowners – Extract

Rianne walked down Frognerveien, a long, winding street in one of the most fashionable parts of Oslo. The streets were still covered in snow, the blackened barks of the birch streets silhouetted against the bleached landscape. She stopped, pulling a map out of her pocket and quickly checked the street names. Tidemansgate. Eckerbergsgate. There it was. Eckerbergsgate. She turned up the small street. The houses were large, almost stately, with beautiful gardens, old stone walls and snow covered trees. She dug her hands down into her pockets and continued walking up the street. 31… 33… 35. There. 35 Eckerbergsgate. She looked up. It was an elegant old townhouse, white, with painted grey shutters and a dark slate gabled roof. She paused outside the gate for a moment, as though she were considering whether to turn and run. She blew her nose, squared her shoulders, and pushed the gate open. She walked up the garden path to the front door. It opened before she reached it. Her heart was thumping loudly – she could feel and hear it in her head. As she walked into the hallway, she felt a tremendous sweep of expectation, of exhilaration. As she often did when faced with something so huge she could scarcely believe it, she felt herself slipping away to watch herself, as if from far away. The words circled round and round in her mind. Her father was alive. It had been over a week since Riitho had told her the news and she still couldn’t believe it. Her heart was in her throat as she turned to the two heavily armed young Norwegians who were guarding the entrance. They nodded a greeting.

‘Miss de Zoete? He’ll be down in a minute,’ one of them said, hoisting his gun onto his shoulder. Rianne swallowed. Her heart thudded uncontrollably. Her mind was racing. She tried to recall her father’s face. It came back to her in snatches… Marius seen through the eyes of a six-year old, an eight-year old. She remembered the smell of him, yes… the prickle of his stubble as he bent to kiss her goodnight. He was hard to recall. She’d lived for so long without memories, pushing them away, that all she could summon now, when it mattered so much, was a feeling, not a memory exactly – the sense of him, not the details. Her pulse was racing. He would be there, in front of her, any minute now. What would she say? What would she do? How should she be? But it all happened so quickly. There was a sound of someone clearing his throat, above her. She looked up at the landing on the first floor. A man was slowly descending down the sweep of the staircase. Tall, much thinner than she remembered… a shock of almost white hair falling over his face. He reached the bottom and slowly walked towards her. They stared at each other.

‘Papa.’ Rianne’s voice caught in her throat.

‘Rianne.’ He clasped her forearm. A clasp, not a caress.

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