Excerpted: Karin TIdbeck’s “Cloudberry Jam”

A reviewer on calls writer Karin Tidbeck’s stories the result of “several fast-moving literary currents, national and international.” They include the dark Scandinavian folklore of her native Sweden, Jorge Luis Borges, Ursula Le Guin and American sci-fi. Her reworked fairy tales are arresting, disturbing, provocative and very good reads.

Get a taste of this exciting young author with her short story ”Cloudberry Jam” from Jagannath. 

I made you in a tin can. It was one of the unlabelled mystery cans the charity in Åre village handed out. Most of the time it would be sausages or split pea soup.

This is how I did it: I waited until it was my time of the month. I took the tin can from the shelf under the sink. I filled it halfway with fresh water and put half a teaspoon of salt in it. Next I put in a small, gnarled carrot from last year’s garden. I had saved it because it had two prongs, like little legs, and arm-like stumps. Then I held the can between my legs and let some blood trickle into it. Finally, some of my spit. I put some plastic wrap over the opening. The rest of the night, I sat with the can in my lap and sang to you. That’s how you were made, in October, as the first snows fell.

You grew steadily through the winter months. I sang to you and fed you small drops of milk. By Yule you were big enough that I moved you to a larger container, an old bucket. You started kicking then, I suppose because you finally had room to move around. You didn’t need any nourishment other than milk, which was good because the charity in Åre had closed. I wouldn’t go and ask for welfare money. I lived on last year’s potatoes and roots, a bird here and there, cotton-grass from the bog, and whatever I managed to steal from the shops.

The snow was slow melting that year. It wasn’t until late May that the last of the snowdrifts at the back of the house finally disappeared. The little mountain birches were unfolding their first leaves. I lifted the cloth and saw that you were ready to come out. You were curled up in the bucket, perfectly formed, the liquid around you cloudy and brown. I lifted you out and dried you off with a towel.

It was perhaps half past three in the morning. On the porch, the air was sharp and clear. I could see all the way to the Norwegian border, to the Sylarna Mountains. Sunlight trickled over the worn mountaintops. I held you up.

“Welcome home,” I said.

You opened your tiny eyes and looked out over the bog. We stood like that for a while.

Once out of the bucket, you grew quickly. The cloudberries ripened in August, covering the bog in flecks of gold. We picked them together. By then you were walking, your skin becoming thicker and darker in the sun. Although you couldn’t carry anything with your stumpy arms, you were good at snagging the berries with your mouth and dropping them in the basket. I made cloudberry compote and jam. You could never have enough of the cloudberries. I remember you sitting at the kitchen table, golden jam everywhere, smacking loudly.

As autumn slid into winter, you learned to talk. Your voice was low and a little raspy, and you couldn’t roll your Rs. We read together: old magazines, children’s books I had saved. We played in the snow. I had a kneading-trough that we rode down into the valley and I dragged back up. You burrowed into the drifts, shoveling the snow aside with your arm-stumps and wriggling tunnels through the snow. On the eve of your first Yule, you wondered about your origins.

“Where did I come from?” you asked. “Where’s my father?”

Continue reading here.