The following is from Johanna Hedman’s debut novel The Trio. Hedman was born in Stockholm in 1993 and holds a Master’s degree in Peace and Conflict Studies. She has lived and worked in Paris, Southern India, and New York, where she interned for the Swedish UN delegation. Kira Josefsson is a writer, editor, and translator working between English and Swedish. The winner of a PEN/Heim grant, she’s translated many contemporary Swedish voices, including Hanna Johansson, Quynh Tran, and Ia Genberg.
The party was in a large house situated on the easternmost edge of Djurgården. Darkness fell over the course of our bike ride, and our lights shone yellow paths on the asphalt. The trees stood black and silent, lining the road, and nothing moved in the forest groves as we passed. We encountered no other people. I had never been this far out on Djurgården before, and if Thora and August were for some reason to drop me off at the side of the road, I might not have been able to find my way back to the bridge.
We heard the party before we saw it. The neighbouring houses lay in darkness, the streets empty. Then, on a hill, squares of light came into view between the trees and the bushes, and Thora pointed at a gravel road where we turned off. It looked more like a mansion than a house, and I suddenly became aware that I was still dressed in the same t-shirt and jeans I had worn all day at work. The windows and doors opened onto the garden. Thora didn’t knock or ring the doorbell, she just walked right in, and August and I followed her.
People with wine glasses and beer cans in their hands were stumbling back and forth between the rooms. Music was booming from a set of speakers in the living room, and a small group of people were playing knockout ping-pong on an oblong dining table. Now and then the white ball would bounce into the chandelier, and whenever that happened everyone in the dining room froze and regarded the small, quivering crystals with a mix of fear and delight. August explained to me that we were in the home of the parents of an old classmate of Thora’s. These parents were rarely at home. Thora said she hadn’t seen her old school friends in forever. She was turned to August when she said this, not me.
“When we get bored we can go swimming,” August said. “If we get bored,” Thora said.
She was quickly swept up by a group of people who loudly declared that they wanted to hear everything about her year in Paris. August and I watched as she let herself be whisked off. The two of us walked through the rooms on the ground floor and August nodded at the people we passed; every now and then he ducked behind me to avoid talking to someone. I wondered how well he knew the other guests. As if he could sense what I was thinking, he started pointing at the various partygoers and described them to me in a hushed voice.
“The son of a government minister,” he said about one guy who passed us. “And over there are the daughters of some of the country’s wealthiest men.”
“How do you know this?” I asked.
“I don’t know, I just do. Knowledge by osmosis,” August said, a hint of fatigue in his voice.
“So they’re not your friends?” I asked.
“No,” August said, taking a small step closer to me. “Honestly, I don’t know if they’re Thora’s friends either.”
“So why are you here if you don’t like them?” I asked.
“Thora likes them.”
“At least, she tries to like them. More importantly, I think she wants them to like her.”
I took a sip of lukewarm beer. “I don’t think Thora likes me,” I said.
“Do you want her to like you?” August asked with a sincerity that surprised me.
“No. I don’t know.”
“Thora doesn’t like anyone at first. It’s nothing personal.”
“Are you together? You and Thora?”
“Why? Are you interested?”
We had paused in the dining room doorway. August leaned his head against the door frame and I pressed my fingers into the embossed logo on my beer bottle as I met his gaze, not sure how to interpret the question, or which of them he was referring to.
“No,” I said.
“We were together when we were teenagers,” August said.
“We’re better as friends.” “You behave like a couple.”
“Are we that boring?”
I smiled wryly, but I could tell from the way August looked at me that he wanted me to respond. I didn’t like the thought that he might tell Thora about our conversation. I looked out across the dining room, at the ping-pong ball bouncing back and forth on the dark table.
“You’re fine,” I said.
August smiled at me, as if he was holding back a laugh. I looked at my fingers. The logo had left marks on my skin.
We played a round of ping-pong. August seemed to aim for the chandelier and I had the sense that he would have enjoyed seeing it crash into the table; he smiled every time the room hushed. I wondered if everyone else in here was the child of parliamentary politicians or celebrities or C-suite executives. August and I headed to the kitchen for more beer and found a guy in a bow tie in front of the fridge, explaining how liquor bottles should be organized to take up the least amount of space. When he laid eyes on August he dropped his soliloquy. He extended the vowels of his “hello” so much that it sounded like he was about to break into song. August introduced him to me as Carl, an old classmate of Thora’s and, August added sarcastically, our host. Carl looked at me and then August as though August were in the midst of demonstrating a complex math problem, and it was only when August mentioned that I was staying at Aron and Laura’s that a flicker of approval crossed Carl’s face and he began to nod, eagerly.
“You know, we always said Laura looked straight out of a Hitchcock movie,” he said, without explaining who was included in his “we.” “And Thora is starting to shape up. Do you know the problem with freckled people?”
“They have a higher risk of skin cancer,” I said.
“They collapse when they get older.” Carl gestured with his hand over his face.
“I’ll make sure to let Thora know,” August said in a crisp voice.
Carl looked at him, face vacant. “Come,” he said. “I’ll give you the tour.”
Neither I nor August told him that we’d already looked around. Carl launched into an avalanche of questions: he wanted to know where I was from, why I had moved to Stockholm, what my parents did for work, how I knew Aron and Laura. August walked behind us. When I looked at him, uncertain of how thoroughly I should answer Carl, he gave me a smile, but I had the sense that it vanished as soon as I looked away.
We paused at the double doors to the veranda, where Carl introduced us to his girlfriend in the same tone he’d used when pointing out the paintings on the walls, the books in the bookcases, the objects in the vitrines.
“What’s up,” Carl asked.
“I’m sick,” Jill said.
“Yeah, me too,” the guy next to her said.
“You’re sick?” Carl said to him.
“Yes. No,” he said.
August and I glanced at each other. I had to look away in order not to laugh. I sensed an unspoken understanding between the two of us that I couldn’t remember sharing with anyone in a very long time.
“Take a painkiller,” Carl told Jill.
“You’re not supposed to do that with alcohol,” she replied with annoyance, and demonstratively raised her wine glass.
Carl turned to August and me as though he’d just had an idea. “Where is Thora anyway?”
Jill straightened her back. “Thora’s here? I didn’t know she was back in Stockholm.”
“I don’t know where she is,” August said.
“You don’t keep an eye on her?” the guy who was not sick asked, and offered me his hand. “I haven’t seen you before. Name’s Casper.”
I gave him mine.
“Nice, nice.” There was a short pause. Their cloudy eyes made me think of broken cameras, incapable of finding the right focus.
Two girls were seated on a chaise longue with their legs crossed. One of them said, loudly: “Like, my first name goes with every surname. It’ll be easy for me to get married. That’s pretty nice to know.”
“That’s good for you I guess,” the other girl said.
“Try to find a name it doesn’t go with.”
I saw August tilt his face towards the ceiling and close his eyes. Without knowing why, I rested my hand against his back for a few seconds. The cloth of his shirt felt more real than Carl and Casper, who had moved on to discussing the value of different stocks, or Jill, who inserted a comment now and then in between humming along with the music and bouncing her head back and forth. August neither said nor did anything that indicated he had noticed my brief touch.
“August!” Casper said and clapped his hand over his fore- head. “Shit, I forgot. I ran into your brother in London the other week—looks like he’s doing good. He wanted me to say hi to you.”
“You’re not planning on following in the footsteps of your bro?” Carl asked.
“No,” August said. “I don’t think I have what it takes.”
Excerpted from The Trio by Johanna Hedman, translated by Kira Josefsson. Used with permission of the publisher, Europa. Copyright © 2023 by Johanna Hedman.