Niklas Radström, born in Stockholm in 1953, is a versatile story-teller: prose writer, poet and dramatist. He is prolific and moves with apparent freedom and ease between genres. As a poet, his first collection, Poems Closely Related to Silence, appeared in 1975. The Moon Does Not Know (1989), his first novel, became a best-seller. While Time Thinks of Other Things won Sweden‘s most prestigious literary award in 1992. His most recent novel Streetcar on the Milky Way (1996) forms a trilogy with Angel Among Shadows and What You Will. His plays include: Hitler‘s Childhood and Quartet, which is based on Schostakovitch‘s Eighth String Quartet. Radström divides his time between Stockholm and the Baltic island Öland.
The Streetcar along the Milky Way (part)
When I turn towards the street again, I note that most of the clouds have drifted away from the tops of the trees. Over in the other end of the flat, my father puts the telephone receiver back. While my mother is setting out the teacups on the table by the sofa, Father returns to the drawing-room. "That was the theatre calling," he says. "They'll run the performance again tomorrow."
" So, is she better now?" Mother asks, just a tram sweeps round the corner, on its way down the street from Charles' Field.
"Our great star's severe throat-infection seems to have been nothing more than a touch of the DTs," Father says, and I watch as the tram advances down its track towards our house.
Mother gives a little laugh at what Father has just said, and I listen as he puts the gramophone on once more and then walks through the room up to the window where I am. The record is the same as before: the one with the sliding notes like the way it feels when my swing in the doorway begins to speed up. I look down the way and there are the two shadowy figures in the avenue, staring up towards my window. One of them raises his arm to point at me. I think, I'll show Father where they are, but before he has reached the window they are swallowed up into the darkness. Everything turns black. The street, the trees, the houses and the cars, the shadows and the street-lights, everything is wrapped in darkness. At the same time as the gramophone music falls silent I see the lamps dim and go out in the tram, now almost level with our house. I hear the grinding from its wheels against the rails the car stops in its tracks. Behind me I hear Mother exclaim. "I spilt it", she wails. "The electricity went just when I was pouring the tea."
In our house the electricity goes off all the time in the winter. Just a few days ago it was dark for almost half an hour before somebody managed to replace the right fuses in the basement. Father is standing next to me now. He is still holding a lit cigarette. Its glowing tip is almost the only thing I can see in the darkness. He puts his hand on my shoulder. I hear Mother bump into something as she gets up from the sofa at the other end of the room. There is a fire lit in the tiled stove, and I can see the flickering blue flames. Then I hear how Mother reaches out for the box of matches that lies on the ledge of the tiled stove. She strikes a match to light the candle in the candlestick, which stands on the shelf above the radio. "Please, could you pop down to the basement and have a look at those fuses?" she asks Father, and then she picks up the candle to go to the kitchen.
But Father stays at the window, next to me. His hand is still resting on my shoulder as he leans forward over me and looks down at the street. "Pointless," he says when Mother returns with a cloth. "It's dark everywhere. It looks as if the electricity has failed all over town."
I turn back towards the window. By now my eyes have got used to the dark and I can once more make out the snow under the trees and, between their trunks, the dense shadows thrown by the parked cars. Tyre tracks are imprinted into the white snow in the street. Mother puts the dishcloth down on the tray and joins us at window. "Look!" Father says, "There's the Wintry Way - between the trees. Can you see it?"
Mother nods, and I look at the snow under the trees along the avenue. "It's like a glittering band in the dark night," Mother says.
Perhaps it is the moonlight, which makes the snow-crystals down there in the street gleam cautiously in the darkness. Wintry Way, I think. All the snow in the world like a shining band in the night. "Yes," I say.
Father puffs on his cigarette. "People everywhere in the world have always believed that the Wintry Way is the road of the dead," he says. "Long ago, the Indians thought their dead were walking down that road. Maybe the dead have their houses along it as well."
I look at the dark houses on the other side of the street. It is hard to distinguish the pale façades.
"Look," Mother says. "Charles's Wagon."
I watch the dark tramcar, standing quiet and still in the street. Its light blue colour is barely visible. It is standing there, stuck to its rails by the ice and filled with darkness, as if its only passengers were shadows.
"Charles's Wain," Father says. "Maybe that's what the dead travel in."
There we are, all three of us, standing together at the window and observing the Wintry Way. If I had looked up I might have realised that Mother and Father were staring up towards the sky over the trees in the avenue, while my eyes had been fixed on the snowy street. As it was, how could I have known that they were really talking about the stars?
Later Mother says that we should go and have a cup of tea. But I stay at the window, looking at the dark tram in the snow-covered street. Mother asks me if I don't want to join them. "Soon," I say.
A small blue spark flashes just where the tram's trolley touched the cable along the street. The inside lights up and I watch as the passengers turn to each other in relief. At the same time as the lights come on in all the windows, and in the street-lamps along the avenue, a shudder goes through the tram and it starts running down the tracks. The gramophone turntable is whirring around, and the music is playing, the notes lifting out of the dull murmur and soon sounding as if they have caught up with themselves and found their places in the piece of music. I keep watching as the passengers are settling down in their seats and the tram passes below the window. Then the faintly lit number-plate disappears in the direction of Djurgårds Bridge.
Translated by Anna Paterson