All the love this town could thaw out was passed down and still seems to end up devoted to [hockey]: ice and boards, red and blue lines, sticks and pucks and every ounce of determination and power in young bodies hurtling at full speed into the corners in the hunt for those pucks. The stands are packed every weekend, year after year, even though the team’s achievements have collapsed in line with the town’s economy. And perhaps that’s why— because everyone hopes that when the team’s fortunes improve again, the rest of the town will get pulled up with it. […] So they’ve coached their junior team with the same values their forebears used to construct their community: work hard, take the knocks, don’t complain, keep your mouth shut, and show the bastards in the big cities where we’re from.
His mom always says they must be grateful, the pair of them, and he understands her. No one is more grateful than her, toward this country, this town, these people, and this club, toward the council, their neighbors, her employer. Grateful, grateful, grateful. That’s the role of mothers. But the role of children is to dream. So her son dreams that his mother will one day be able to walk into a room without having to apologize.
He blinks the sweat from his eyes, adjusts his helmet, and pushes his skates into the ice. One more time. One more time. One more time.
Sooner or later any sports team has to decide what it really wants to achieve, and Beartown is no longer content merely to play. They’ll replace Sune with the coach of the junior team, for one simple reason; when Sune talks to his players before matches, he gives long speeches about them playing with their hearts. When the junior team coach stands in the locker room, he says just one word: “Win.” And the juniors win. They’ve done nothing else for ten years. It’s just that Sune is no longer sure that’s all a hockey team should consist of: boys who never lose.
It’s only a game. It only resolves tiny, insignificant things. Such as who gets validation. Who gets listened to. It allocates power and draws boundaries and turns some people into stars and others into spectators. That’s all.
One of the plainest truths about both towns and individuals is that they usually don’t turn into what we tell them to be, but what they are told they are. The teacher has always been told she’s too young for this. Too attractive. That they won’t respect her. Those boys have been told that they’re bears, winners, immortal.
Hockey wants them that way. Needs them that way. Their coach teaches them to go hard into close combat on the ice. No one stops to think about how to switch that attitude off when they leave the locker room. It’s easier to pin the blame on her: She’s too young. Too attractive. Too easily offended. Too difficult to respect.
Sune was like Beartown: a firm adherent of the old faith that no tree should grow too tall, naively convinced that hard work was enough. That’s why the club has collapsed at the same rate that unemployment in the town has rocketed. Good workers aren’t enough on their own, someone needs to have big ideas as well. Collectives only work if they’re built around stars.
There are plenty of men in this club who think that everything in hockey “should be the way it’s always been.” Whenever he hears that, David feels like rolling himself up in a carpet and screaming until his vocal cords give out. As if hockey has ever been constant! When it was invented you weren’t even allowed to pass the puck forward, and two generations ago everyone played without a helmet. Hockey is like every other living organism: it has to adapt and evolve, or else it will die.
There’s a constant threat of violence hidden just beneath the surface of a certain type of person in this town that Peter never noticed when he was growing up, but which struck him all the more plainly after he came home from Canada. Neither hockey nor school nor the economy ever managed to find a way out for these people, and they emanate a silent fury. They’re known as “the Pack” now, even if no one ever hears them say that themselves. […] The Pack has scared their opponents away from coming to Beartown, but sadly the same thing applies to sponsors. The twentysomething men at the Bearskin have become the most conservative people in town: they don’t want a modern Beartown, because they know that a modern Beartown won’t want them.
When the kids were little she saw so many other parents lose control in the stands at the rink, and she couldn’t understand them, but now she does. The children’s hobbies aren’t only the children’s hobbies— the parents put just as many hours into them, year after year, sacrificing so much, paying out such huge amounts of money, that their significance eats its way even into adult brains. They start to symbolize other things, compensating for or reinforcing the parents’ own failures. Kira knows it sounds silly; she knows it’s just a silly game in a silly sport, but deep down she’s nervous too, as well as feeling nervous on behalf of Peter and the juniors and the club and the town today. Deep down she could also do with winning at something.
The storm of laughter from all the juniors makes the room shake. In the end even David smiles, and he’ll think back to that moment many times afterward: whether a joke is always only a joke, whether that particular one went too far, whether there are different rules inside and outside a locker room, whether it’s acceptable to cross the line in order to defuse tension and get rid of nerves before a game, or if he should have stopped Lars and intervened by saying something to the guys. But he does nothing. Just lets them all laugh. He’ll think about that when he gets home and looks his girlfriend in the eye.
Robbie Holts is standing alone in the street, hating himself. […] It’s a peculiar sort of angst, the one he lives with, knowing that you had the greatest moment in your life at the age of seventeen. While he was growing up everyone kept telling him he was going to turn professional, and he believed them so intensely that when he didn’t make it, he took it to mean that everyone else had let him down, as if somehow it wasn’t his own fault. He wakes up in the mornings with the feeling that someone has stolen a better life from him, an unbearable phantom pain between what he should have been and what he actually became. Bitterness can be corrosive; it can rewrite your memories as if it were scrubbing a crime scene clean, until in the end you only remember what suits you of its causes.
Amat bounces around between the hugs and pats on the back, and hears himself join in a shouted rendition of “WE ARE THE BEARS FROM BEARTOWN!” so loudly that his chest stings, and he hears the others singing louder because he does, because they want to feel that they’re participating in what he represents now.
The rush lifts him up, his endorphins are bubbling, and afterward he will remember thinking: “How can anyone possibly experience this without thinking he’s a god?”
Even in Hed people recognize them, and they get slaps on the back and congratulations. After the movie, when Amat thinks they’re on the way home, Lyt turns off the main road just after the Beartown sign. He stops by the lake. Amat doesn’t understand why until Kevin opens the trunk of the car. They’ve got beer, lights, skates, and hockey sticks in the back. They put their woollen hats down to mark the goals.
They play hockey on the lake that night, four boys, and everything feels simple. As if they were children. Amat is amazed at how straightforward it is. Staying silent in return for being allowed to join in.
Even then, in the police station in Hed, she knew she would survive this. Even then she knew that her mom and dad wouldn’t. Parents don’t heal. […] There will be days when Maya is asked if she really understood the consequences, and she will nod yes, and of all the feelings inside her then, guilt will be the greatest. Because of the unimaginable cruelty she showed toward the people who loved her the most.
They sat there in the police station. She told them everything. And she could see in her parents’ eyes how the story made the same terrible sentence echo through them, over and over again. The one every mom and every dad deep down most fear having to admit:
“We can’t protect our children.”
Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion. The world becomes much easier to understand and much less terrifying if you divide everything and everyone into friends and enemies, we and they, good and evil. The easiest way to unite a group isn’t through love, because love is hard. It makes demands. Hate is simple.
So the first thing that happens in a conflict is that we choose a side, because that’s easier than trying to hold two thoughts in our heads at the same time. The second thing that happens is that we seek out facts that confirm what we want to believe— comforting facts, ones that permit life to go on as normal. The third is that we dehumanize our enemy. There are many ways of doing that, but none is easier than taking her name away from her.
She will always be this to them now: at best the girl who got raped, at worst the girl who lied. They will never let her be anyone but that. In every room, on every street, in the supermarket and at the rink, she will walk in like an explosive device. They will be scared to touch her, even the ones who believe her, because they don’t want to risk getting hit by shrapnel when she detonates. They will back away in silence, turn in a different direction. They will wish that she would just disappear, that she had never been here. Not because they hate her, because they don’t, not all of them: they don’t all scrawl BITCH on her locker, they don’t all rape her, they aren’t all evil. But they’re all silent. Because that’s easier.
“It’s never your fault, is it? When are you going to admit that it isn’t ‘hockey’ that raises these boys, it’s YOU LOT? In every time and every place, I’ve come across men who blame their own stupidity on crap they themselves have invented. ‘Religion causes wars,’ ‘guns kill people,’ it’s all the same old bullshit! […] YOU’RE the problem! Religion doesn’t fight, guns don’t kill, and you need to be very fucking clear that hockey has never raped anyone! But do you know who do? Fight and kill and rape?”
Sune clears his throat. “Men?”
“MEN! It’s always fucking men!”
Ana feels like pushing her neighbor up against the wall and telling him that the locker room where those boys sit telling their stupid jokes ends up preserving them like a tin can. It makes them mature more slowly, while some even go rotten inside. And they don’t have any female friends, and there are no women’s teams here, so they learn that hockey only belongs to them, and their coaches teach them that girls are a “distraction.” So they learn that girls only exist for fucking. She wants to point out how all the old men in this town praise them for “fighting” and “not backing down,” but not one single person tells them that when a girl says no, it means NO. And the problem with this town is not only that a boy raped a girl, but that everyone is pretending that he DIDN’T do it. So now all the other boys will think that what he did was okay.
My name is Amat. I saw what Kevin did to Maya. I was drunk, I’m in love with her, and I’m telling you that straight so that you lying bastards don’t have to say it behind my back when I walk out of here. Kevin Erdahl raped Maya Andersson. I’m going to go to the police tomorrow, and they’ll say I’m not a reliable witness. But I’m going to tell you everything now, everything that Kevin did, everything that I saw. And you won’t ever forget it. You know that my eyes work better than anyone else’s in here. Because that’s the first thing you learn on the Beartown Ice Hockey Club, isn’t it? ‘You can’t teach that way of seeing. That’s something you’re born with.’
Inside the house his dad is sitting with a newly opened bottle of whisky in front of him. They didn’t get everything they wanted this evening, but they haven’t lost either. Tomorrow their lawyer will start to prepare all the arguments why a drunk young man who is in love with the young woman is not a credible witness. Then Kevin will start playing for Hed Ice Hockey, taking his team with him, almost all the sponsors, and all their plans for life will be intact. One day very soon everyone around them will simply pretend that this has never happened. Because this family does not lose. Not even when they do.
None of them sees the first skate of the child who’s the last one out. She’s four years old, a scrawny little kid in gloves that are too big for her, with bruises everyone sees but nobody asks about. Her helmet slips down across her eyes, but the look in them is clear enough.
Adri and Sune come after her, ready to hold the girl up, until they realize that there’s no need. The four boys at the center circle will build a new A-team next season, but that doesn’t matter, because in ten years’ time it won’t be their names that make the people of this town stand taller.
And they’ll all lie and say they were here and saw it happen. The first skate of the girl who will become the most talented player this club has ever seen. They’ll all say they knew it even then.