“If the war comes”

The child sat on the cellar stairs in her grandparent's house. On the left there was a small window. On the windowsill was a basket with things that had been left there, like old keys, some small tools, and garden scissors. There was also a small unbound paperback booklet. On its cover there were black clouds. “If the war comes” was written in red letters.

The child was old enough to read and the text in the booklet was written in a simple way. On every page, there were pictures. There were drawings of people acting, packing luggage, driving ambulances, filling up bathtubs with water, putting up blackboards for the windows, hiding under a table, pulling up the collar and pulling the hat down. The booklet resembled a comic book; the print and the paper were as bad as a newspaper's.

It was not a funny book. It was earnest; on the first page, the king had written his signature. It was a booklet for adults. It was threatening.

But the adults had left the booklet on the cellar windowsill, handled it as if it was of no importance, almost as rubbish. They did not talk about the booklet and the child did not either.

The child sat often on the cellar stairs with the booklet, always alone. If someone would see her reading the booklet, she would feel ashamed.

Among the books in her father's library, there were five big photo books about twentieth century history. It was history, but it was very near in time. The books had a special smell. On every page, there was a black and white photo. Almost every photo showed something terrible. If anybody would see her reading these books, she would feel ashamed.

The grandparents lived in Gotland, near the sea. It was a place with much happiness; summer, holidays, jolliness, and the mother was much more cheerful here than in Stockholm where they lived. But the strange thing was that Gotland also was a place where war in some way was present. There were prohibited, fenced military areas here and there. On the beach, there were small bunkers, remnants of World War II. They had been used for protecting Sweden from the war. The children played in the bunkers.

Every year in August, short before the school started, military supersonic aircraft were flying over the beach and the house. The child was very scared of the planes, or perhaps at most scared of their sound, and ran screaming into the house. The old father still remembers this, when he tells about it, he laughs.