In Swedish, the verb “skjuta” means both to “push” and to “shoot”—an unfortunate double-meaning, to which this story bears witness.
This story will also possibly explain why, when we were kids, my younger sister Lili-Ann did not uniformly look upon me with the kindest of eyes.
It all started with my mom asking me to keep an eye on her for an hour or two—Mom busy with something or other, most likely baking. This, of course, is the scenario that in a later decade would give rise to the expression “cramping one’s style.” I’m ten or eleven, so she’s five or six, and dragging her around in the snow definitely limits one’s freedom of movement and range of options.
Shackles, ball and chain, leash, such implements come to mind.
But there was little or nothing for it, Mom had asked and Mom had a way of making her wishes bear fruit. So, off I went, the little one (bundled up in god knows how many layers of winter clothing) trudging behind asking me every so often to wait up, would I.
I would stage a token wait then set out again, leaving her farther and farther behind until the next token wait—and so, eventually, in long, slow stages, we made it across the gently up-sloping, snowy (knee-deep) field to our nearest neighbor, Karl’s house. I had planned (before asked to cart little sister along) to go see Karl, the closest I had to a friend at the time, and I figured I might as well stick to that plan, even with Lili-Ann in tow.
Karl, by the way, was what we in Sweden call a “Sladdbarn”—literally a “Skid Child” (a child resulting from loss of vehicle control—a very apt way of putting it, methinks) meaning a child who is born way later than any of his or her siblings, say a decade or two—which was the case with Karl. His parents were ancient: mother probably in her mid-fifties (though she looked like seventy), father most likely in his sixties (though he also looked in his seventies). So, not planned then, our Karl, for when he was eight his nearest sibling was a sister nineteen or twenty, and he had sisters far older than that. Yes, the consummate sladdbarn, Karl.
I knocked on the front door and Karl, who had seen us coming, opened it right away, dressed and ready to join us.
Now, Karl and I had built a sled of sorts from an old, wooden, apple-box and some rusty runners from an old dilapidated kick-sled. Not of amazing construction or anything, but—according to our calculations—it should still obey gravity and head downhill if given half a chance.
We had not tested it yet.
And here’s where Lili-Ann comes in very handily. Neither Karl nor I would actually fit very well in the apple-box that was the housing (so to speak) of this sled. The same could not be said of my sister who was the perfect size.
So, we pull the sled across the road and up a nearby hill (called Risberg, by the way, meaning “Mountain of Sticks”), now nicely covered with old and icy snow, perfect sled surface in other words. Lili-Ann is trudging along twenty or so meters behind, but eventually makes it all the way up to where we stand waiting, Karl and I, for our little (still-to-be-informed) test-driver.
To this day I’m not sure what on earth I could have promised her to make her agree to this daring test run, but agree she eventually did, and so climbed in with a little help from her friends (Karl and I).
Okay? I asked. She looked comfortable enough.
Yes, she said.
All right then, I said, looking at Karl. Her goes.
And so, I pushed the sled over to the steeper part of the hill then down she went, picking up speed, gravity doing its thing, and very well at that.
And picking up more speed.
And more speed.
Until the unforeseen bump which rendered the sled not only airborne but tiltingly so with the obvious outcome that out she came, landing at speed and rather awkwardly and smashing her shin against a rock that peaked through the snow just waiting for something to injure.
And injure (as in break) something it did, though we had no idea at the time.
The idea we did have at the time was that Lili-Ann’s wail was an obvious exaggeration, a way-beyond-reason one. And then she wailed again (as if in severe pain—which, of course, was very much the case). And again. And then the tears, and then more tears and more crying and wailing about how much it hurt.
Oh, don’t be ridiculous, you could not have hurt yourself that much. It’s only snow for heaven’s sake. And stand up will you.
She tried, and that apparently was more painful than ever (yes, her shinbone was now cracked, not a pleasant state of affairs). More wailing and now it was for Mommy and she wanted to go home, now.
Karl and I looked at each other. No way she could be hurt as badly as she made out. Lili-Ann is still sitting down, cannot get up. Hurst too much, she says, cries, screams.
Karl and I look at each other again. Well, if you can’t get up, you can’t walk home, I inform her. I don’t think she tried again, just claimed (so very unreasonably) that she couldn’t. All right then, Karl and I agreed, we’ll have to put her back in the sled and push her all the way home.
Here’s where the word “skjuta” comes in. We’ll have to “shoot” her home is what we said and agreed, but what she heard between sobs and waves of pain was that we were going to have shoot her.
Now, the reason the unfortunate and now imminent end to her young life actually made some sort of sense to her was that her leg was obviously badly hurt and since she loved and knew a lot about horses she also knew that when a horse breaks a leg they often have to shoot the poor creature. Yes, it did add up: she was in effect done for. Broken leg: she would be shot.
She cried and moaned and wailed all the way home, apparently not looking forward to going the way of hurt horses.
Mom must have heard her wailing as we approached our house for she came running out and wanted to know what on earth. We told her that Lili-Ann (who would not stop crying) had fallen out of the sled going downhill and had apparently (me stressing apparently) hurt her leg.
Well, Mom would deal with me later, she informed me—as I noticed Karl slink away and back to the safety of his own house. Mom then piled Lili-Ann into the car (a blue and white Volvo Duett, by the way) and took off for the hospital just to make sure.
At this point, Lili-Ann is convinced that the upcoming shooting will take place in the hospital (since most shooting of horses is done by veterinarians who work at horse-hospitals). I cannot even imagine what the ride into town must have been like for her.
Three or four hours later Mom returns with the test-driver, now sporting a big cast from knee to ankle, keeping the shin-bone in position to heal. She had sustained two hairline fractures forming an X, and not a small one either by the X-ray (pun not intended) that Mom made a big point of showing us (especially me). Look what I’ve done to my sister.
Well, I didn’t mean to, if that’s what you’re saying.
Well, she knew that. But even so, you shouldn’t have put her in that stupid apple-box sled and pushed her down the hill.
Well, I didn’t mean to, if that’s what you’re saying.
For the next six weeks (I think it was), while the shin bone healed, Lili-Ann more or less ruled the house, waited on hand and foot by Mom and sometimes, very reluctantly, by me.
And this is why it’s not a stretch by any means that Lili-Ann had no serious objections to my parents tossing me off the Sand Island Bridge to my death a year or so later—see: Let Him Live.
Our blessed childhood.