There were nineteen people in the little living room, but they had invited at least as many more. Roksana really wanted the place to be packed tonight—for her and Z’s housewarming. She hoped people would think it was a good opportunity to party. They would come, wouldn’t they?
Young Thug tunes thundered out of the sound system she had borrowed from Billie—and which Z had linked up to SoundCloud on his phone. Thuggy delivered—his listless, droning voice in a melodious riddim rap. It was a full-body experience, a dive into a warm, swirling, glittering sea of styles and sounds. Roksana glanced around the room again: Did people like the tunes? Were they having fun? Was the atmosphere good?
People had brought their own drinks. Bottles of sparkling wine lined up on the coffee table. Roksana had explicitly asked for it in her Messenger invite: Bring bubbles! Roksana & Z will supply the tunes, party, and nibbles. She hoped it hadn’t sounded too forward.
The nibbles consisted of peanuts and chips, but Roksana had dribbled some truffle oil into the sour cream—and everyone said it was the best dip they had ever tasted. Still, the food wasn’t exactly the main event—the focus was on the party, and the party was fueled by the music. The sound system, the choice of songs, the mix. Z had even managed to get ahold of a smoke machine and a mini-laser show. They hadn’t had time to put up any pictures or posters, so it was perfect, the best use for a white wall. The ironic smoke hung around the sofa like a cloud, and Roksana thought it felt like she was in a club, a super exclusive one. The only difference was that they were missing a DJ booth and that the people still arriving would have to wade through a hallway full of Roshe Runs and retro-inspired Vans. It was Z who had insisted on the no-shoe policy. “If we’re going to do this, we need to limit the amount of cleaning we have to do afterward. Because I suck at cleaning. Have I ever mentioned that?”
Roksana didn’t know what Z had or hadn’t said—they hadn’t exactly planned to move in together. Still, it should work out. Z was a good guy.
She checked Instagram and Snapchat to see whether anyone had uploaded anything from the party. But no, so far their event hadn’t made it into that territory. Please, people, she thought, you like the party, don’t you? Can’t you just dance, even a little bit, a few of you, at least? And take some photos.
The apartment was pretty big, 560 square feet, but it was on Nystadsgatan in Akalla, which was pretty far out from central Stockholm and from Södertörn University, where she was studying. But Roksana hadn’t had any other choice. She had been renting a room from Billie before, on Verkstadsgatan in Hornstull, until Billie had decided to become polyamorous and have three of her partners living there at the same time. Z had suggested that they rename that part of town Whore-nstull. But for Roksana, it wasn’t a joke; there just hadn’t been room for her—plus, she couldn’t cope with one of the guys playing cheesy Swedish pop on Billie’s stereo all day, not even ironically. As luck would have it, Z had been kicked out of his sublet that same week. He had spent three days sleeping on his gran’s sofa and had been an inch away from a serious mental breakdown.
Roksana was standing between Z and Billie. All around her, the guests were mingling. A few were rocking gently in time with the music. She didn’t want to watch them too openly—it would be too obvious. She checked Instagram and Snapchat again. Maybe they thought she was boring, just sticking with her besties; maybe her besties thought she was beige for just sticking with them.
She had her hair up in honor of the evening, and she was wearing her new silver Birkenstocks. Other than that, she was wearing her usual blue jeans and a white T-shirt she had found at her mom and dad’s place. Billie moaned about it sometimes, but Roksana stuck to her usual look; her style icons were George Costanza and practically everyone from Beverly Hills, 90210. The whole thing was a middle finger to trends and fashion ideals.
Billie was in a great mood—that was a good sign. She was wearing Adidas pants, a loose long-sleeved T-shirt, a choker, and a soft Gucci cap on top of her pink hair. She had even dyed her underarm hair pink—“To celebrate you guys,” she claimed. It was hard to believe that she would be starting a law degree in just a few days’ time. Roksana was glad that Billie had left all her boyfriends and girlfriends at home—she was always more relaxed without them. She was Roksana’s oldest and probably closest friend, but after their recent problems, she didn’t really know quite where they stood.
Billie pulled out a carton of cigarettes. “What’s the deal here? Do I have to go out to the balcony, or is it OK if I smoke in here?”Please, people, she thought, you like the party, don’t you? Can’t you just dance, even a little bit, a few of you, at least? And take some photos.
Z looked up again. “Hell no. The smoke gets into the curtains and bedsheets. Roksy and I have talked about this.”
Billie rolled her eyes. “But you don’t even have any curtains.”
Z was firm. “Makes no difference. Smoking indoors isn’t cool.”
“Is this going to be some kind of clean living place or what?”
Roksana laughed. “Yeah, only plant-based, organic food. Forks over knives, you know the drill. And no plastic sets foot inside the front door.”
Z pulled out a ziplock bag and a pack of OCB Slims.
“Anyone want their own joint? I’ve got plenty.” He held up the bag. “You know there’s a golden rule when it comes to marijuana. Keep sativa and indica separate. Both are subspecies of cannabis, but the plants look completely different, different thicknesses of leaves and all that, but who cares. The important thing is the effect: it’s like night and day. Indica’s your regular couch stoner variety. Like, it gives the right high for someone who wants a Play-Station and chill feeling. But this is a twenty-four-month sativa, the Châteauneuf-du-Pape of weed. It doesn’t get any better than this.” Z carefully separated the grass on the rolling paper. “You smoke this, you get high. Then you smoke some more and get even higher. There’s no ceiling, I swear.”
That was all beginner’s bullshit. The difference between sativa and indica wasn’t always clear, but Z loved putting words to things, chatting away. It was who he was: he couldn’t just keep up with the world—he had to be able to describe what was going on, narrow it down, understand it in terms of categories and structures. Sometimes, it felt more like a competition.
Roksana took the joint Z held out to her and took a deep puff. “Have you finished mansplaining yet?”
They laughed, Z too. “You know what I’m like,” he said.
Z was nice, in his own special way: he saw patriarchal structures as clearly as he saw the principles of weed; he didn’t just understand society’s patterns, he was also aware of his own position in the power hierarchy. A man who explained things to women. A man who always knew what was what. A man who began 90 percent of his remarks with the words “So, it’s like this . . .”
The hours passed. Erik Lundin mixed nicely with Lil B in a sweet fade to Rihanna—a bit unexpected, but shiiit, she was good—and then something completely different that only Z knew about: apparently their name was Hubbabubbaklubb. People were bouncing on the floor, free spirit dancing in the corners, bobbing in time with the music. Z’s little laser show beamed geometric shapes onto the walls. There were empty plastic glasses and broken chips all over the table. Rizla papers and wine bottles strewn on every other surface. She might even have seen a rolled-up banknote—people were too obvious sometimes; it wasn’t cool.
They had to be having fun now? Roksana checked her phone for the two hundredth time. The only thing that had been uploaded was a screenshot of Z’s playlist, accompanied by a cigarette emoji and the words smoke w every day.
Roksana had warned the neighbors, so they should be okay, she and Z weren’t exactly planning to have parties like this every weekend. Plus, for some reason, she got the impression that the guy they were subletting the place from, David, didn’t care all that much. So long as he got his money, he was happy, though the strong smell of weed that was probably lingering in the stairwell might raise questions. One of the neighbors had told her that the guy who lived in the apartment before them had caught the police’s attention. They had apparently arrested him and raided the place a few weeks earlier, but then they had handed the apartment back over to David. Roksana didn’t care; David had said they could live there for as long as they wanted, so she didn’t care who had been in the apartment before, or what they’d used it for. The important thing was that people thought she and Z were doing things right now.
That it was a good start to her mini collective with him. A good start to the term.
Her friends had gone. Too early, it felt like. Roksana tried to stop the thoughts swirling through her head: Had she been too much of a cliché when she told them she was thinking of studying in Berlin? Hadn’t she been nice enough?
The living room looked like a war zone. The rug in the kitchen was damp; there was weed on the windowsill. She wondered how Z would cope with the cleaning afterward.
Billie said: “Shit, everyone just disappeared, including my ride. Guess a lot of them wanted to see Ida Engberg.”
Z was on the sofa. “Ida Engberg, she’s the absolute bomb. Maybe we should go, too?” Z was so high on his so-called twenty- four-month sativa that he probably couldn’t even stand up straight.
“We need to clean and air this place. But you go if you want. It’s cool with me,” said Roksana.
Billie’s pupils were as big as the cosmos. “I can help you clean up the worst of it.”
“How were you planning to get home, then? Taxi?”
“First metro into town?”
“Kayak?” Billie laughed.
Roksana opened the balcony doors wide. She didn’t feel drunk anymore, and only a little bit high, but the cool, fresh air still came as a surprise—it was like her mind had been rinsed with mineral water. She peered out at the shadowy trees: the apartment was on the first floor—it wasn’t all that far to the ground. She could make out a thin dusting of snow down there, but right beneath the balcony it looked like someone had torn up the grass, and she could see footsteps leading away in the darkness.
Billie could get home however she wanted; it wasn’t Roksana’s problem.
“I saw that you had a fold-up bed in the closet. Can I sleep here?” Roksana turned around. The room really was a mess; someone had knocked over a bong, and the water had seeped out beneath the coffee table—but she couldn’t stop her heart from skipping a beat: Billie wanted to stay over.
“Don’t you have to get home to Fia, Pia, Cia, Olle, and whatever they’re called?”
“You sound a bit heteronormative right now and fascist.”
“I didn’t mean it like that. But you did actually kick me out of your place. And now you want to sleep here.”
“We have to question the prevailing norms, and that also applies to the way we speak. Words are authoritarian instruments in the gender power balance . . .” Billie grinned at herself. Her mouth was crooked; it always had been. “But I’m so sleepy. And it’s ages since we had breakfast together.”
They opened the closet door. A musty smell hit Roksana. There wasn’t a light inside, but Z used the flashlight on his phone to shine a beam of light over a cardigan and a denim jacket that Roksana had hung up. He was okay with Billie staying over, too.
There was something off about the closet. Roksana didn’t know what it was, but it gave her bad vibes.There was something off about the closet. Roksana didn’t know what it was, but it gave her bad vibes.
“Can I borrow your phone?” She shone the light onto the wall. The closet was almost empty, with nothing but the bed, her two pieces of clothing, and a few abandoned hangers dangling from the clothes rail inside. The smell wasn’t actually musty; it was more like old wood and stale air. But she suddenly realized why the space had given her a bad feeling—and it wasn’t the booze or the weed she had smoked. No, something wasn’t right. The bathroom had to be on the other side of the wall, but, if that was the case, the closet should have been bigger. The angles were all wrong. The architect must’ve been tripping. Something was built weirdly in there.
And then she started to knock. Even now, she realized that she wouldn’t have done it if she hadn’t had the cocktail of drink and drugs that she’d had earlier. She knocked on the inner wall. She knocked everywhere, at the bottom, in the middle, higher up—like she was searching for hidden treasure somewhere. Roksana stood on her tiptoes and felt the top of the plywood sheet behind the clothes rail. She managed to push her fingers in above it. It creaked.
“Z, help me with this. I think this wall is loose.”
Z staggered into the closet. Billie watched them from outside. Z: high and tall.
“Pull it a bit,” said Roksana.
Z yanked the wooden sheet. It moved. The entire wall came loose and fell down on top of them.
Roksana managed to raise her hands in time; somehow she had been expecting that very thing to happen. The board was thin and light, not even half an inch thick.
“What the?” Z groaned. It had hit him on the head.
They peered into the space that had opened up in front of them: narrow, maybe five square feet in total. There were two boxes inside. Roksana suddenly felt focused, sober: the fresh air from the open balcony doors had made it all the way inside. Cool. Clarifying. What was this hidden space?
She bent down and picked up the box closest to her, which was roughly eleven by eleven inches wide.
Z was on his feet now. “Is this some kind of self-storage place or what?”
She placed the box on the living room floor.
It was easier to see in there. The cardboard box wasn’t taped shut.
Z leaned forward. Billie did, too. Roksana bent down and folded back the flaps.
They all stared at the contents.
What the fuck?
From TOP DOG, by Jens Lapidus. Used with the permission of the publisher, Vintage Crime/Black Lizard. Copyright © 2017 by Jens Lapidus. Translation copyright © Alice Menzies.