I was walking to my appointment with Ola, giggling at the thought of how surprised he would be. This week I had much more interesting things to talk about than how dull and meaningless my life was. And this once I did not know what he would say and what he would think. I was humming the goofy sitar-theme of "Winds of Change" (Animals), since this time I was not coming for my weekly fix of comforting sameness. The sitar, the didgeridoo drone of my shades, birds bright in the sky like little jewels with lice and the carbonated bubbling of my happy blood made for spring feelings, helped along by the warmest December ever.
His waiting room was the same but not the same. I was not the same and everything had changed. I was in love. I had had sex. Good sex. I was a hero. In spite of all this I was a little worried that Ola would be angry about my missing last week's appointment. But surely being unconscious in hospital was a valid excuse.
"It looks like you have a lot to tell me today." he said. He looked sort of happy, maybe he too could smell something. There was a golden glow to his mossyness. I had, so I did. I told him about me falling in love. And I told him about the attack and the hospital and Magda and her moving in and me meeting her friends and her parents and having sex and me falling in love. The goldening of the moss had increased, and there was a definite smell of that spice I never remember the name of, so I could tell that he was pleased as punch, which is a strange expression, come to think of it.
Ola made that little movement with his hand he always makes before speaking. It makes me think that he would have liked to hold a pipe. Not to smoke it, he doesn't smoke, but just to wield it, a tool of his trade boosting his authority and confidence.
"These are wonderful news," he said. "Tell me, do you feel depressed now?"
"Not in the least."
"No, And even if this romance ends badly you will be less depressed than before. Unhappy and devastated maybe, but depression is not predominantly about sadness. Everything that's part of life is the opposite of depression, including broken hearts. And I must admit I'm a romantic cream cheese, I believe in the healing power of love."
I was crying.
"Excuse me, I said. "I just realized that pretty soon I will not need you anymore. This growing business sucks sometimes." It did, but not as much as it was fantastic.
We overslept. We had both been so wrapped up in each other last night that none of us remembered that everyday life was about to begin again. Luckily Peter woke up before I was hopelessly late, but there was no time for morning sex, a proper breakfast or a shower. I snagged a piece of bread to chew on while pedaling and was off. If I smelled of sex, so be it. I had at least brushed my teeth.
Our city is mid-sized for being Swedish, small for just about everywhere else. It's small enough to go anywhere in the city by bike, for which I yet again was grateful that morning. I was at my school in twenty minutes. Time for a cup of coffee, thank god.
My entrance caused quite a stir, just as I had expected. Sick leave and then appear with the multi-hued remnants of a royal black eye is bound to be noticed.
"It's ok to joke about it!" I assured them. It would take them a while to reach joking mode, but I knew they would get there.
"What happened?" Karin asked. She's my best friend at work.
"My asshole ex wanted to make clear who was the master of the house. Which he is now, by the way. He can lord it over his hamster."
"What will you tell your class?"
"The truth. If they ask."
"Are you sure that's wise?" That was Birger, my least favorite colleague. I wonder why I seldom get along with gym-teachers. "They are only ten, after all."
"What else would I tell them? That I fell down the stairs or walked into a door?"
"I don't think we teachers should spread rumors about people."
"Rumors! I know you know Roger a bit, but he hit me in the bloody face."
"All I'm saying is I haven't heard his side of the story."
"I'm sure he'll say I provoked him. Well, you are pissing me off right now and I won't hit you."
My class did not ask. I probably looked like I would bite their heads off if they did. Eventually I raised the subject myself. I had dug out some statistics and they were shocked. The boys were sweetly certain that they never would hit someone they lived with, insofar they could imagine living with a woman at all, cooties still being a factor. I hoped they were right. Almost everyone gave me a hug, and I cried a little bit.
The world was a shitty place in so many ways. Peter had chosen to opt out of that world to survive, building his own little universe. I must be careful not to tear down that universe, but it would be nice if his world could expand into mine and the other way around.
"Changes", Band of Gypsys version. Yes, there were changes coming. I had given myself permission to hope, and hope I would. I was banging along on my drums to the music in my head, longing for my left arm. It would soon be with me again, the pain was just a violet whisper now. I was hoping for a life with Magda, of course - that was old new already. I was hoping for friends and perhaps to play in a band. Could I? Maybe, with the right people. I would ask Bettan and Erik if they wanted to play with me sometime. Could I play on stage, with a crowd? Maybe. One step at a time.
I had to synch myself better with Magda, time-wise. I couldn't live my life at nights anymore. Small sacrifice. I was excited. I wanted to change more, faster, broaden my horizons. I went into the bad flat to confront the floor but its passively malevolent plastic shit-brown-squared self-satisfied ugliness defeated me. I staggered out, shaken.
This was a floor which detested everything more complicated than moronic game-shows on TV. A floor that hated everything that was new or different. It certainly hated me and it was mutual. It was racist, too. And Christian in that way which was all -ian and no Christ. I could of course just hire someone to rip it out and put something more open-minded in, but that would be too easy. I was, after all, a master strategist in the world of non-real battles. I would ponder the situation and make my plans. Tremble, floor!
Meanwhile I broadened my horizons by saying hello to my neighbor. He looked very surprised. It was fun to be able to chock people by doing really ordinary things. I felt sorry for all the people who had been normal all their lives and didn't have a clue how fun it was. But now I had to make the bouillabaisse and bake bread, Magda would be home soon.
Peter had made a wonderful fish-soup, served with bread still hot from the oven. This improved my mood somewhat, which was lousy after yet another conversation with Birger. He was of the opinion that I should not say anything about what had happened because newspapers had the policy of not mentioning the name of people accused of a crime until they had been found guilty. Never mind that Roger had tried to take my head off, I should shut up about it because "being accused of a crime is a serious matter." Fuck him!
Peter was angry about it too and tried to think of clever ways of taking revenge. Unfortunately these plans were on the level of letting the air out of Birger's bicycle tires. Some grand-master.
I asked him if he wanted to celebrate Christmas with me and my family. He did.
"Wonderful! I've been having such fun going normal today. It will be a normal, traditional Christmas, right? Dancing round the tree? Almond in the porridge? Lutfisk! Donald Duck! Buying too many presents and eating yourself sick?"
"Not quite that abnormally normal, but, yeah close."
"All right. You have to coach me a bit but I think I can make it. I have to get presents for everyone. Who will be there?"
"My parents, my sister and her family; her husband, (Conny) and two kids (Greta and Emma). And us. That's it."
"Right. Good. How many gifts each should I get?"
"None for the grown-ups. Except me. It's ok if you get something for the kids." He was a little disappointed but seemed to accept the limits. He started talking about the ugly floor in the empty flat but I must admit I didn't really follow him. I was distracted. Horny, to be blunt.
"Peter." I interrupted him. "I don't want to talk about the floor right now. I want you to have me for dessert." He snuggled close and sniffed me.
"Yes." he smiled. "It smells like the dessert is ready to be enjoyed. I think the plant-room will be best." The bed in the plant-room was big, white and ornate. Romantic.
I lay on my back, him kneeling between my legs. He sniffed me again and tasted me carefully.
"Mmmm. You go perfectly with bouillabaisse." I knew that this was the first time for him, but there was no awkwardness or hesitation. Nor was there those puppy-dog looks saying "Praise me because I'm a modern man who do this for you." He just went at it hammer and tongue. Well, the hammer had to wait a little, but he didn't seem to mind.
I came and he didn't slow down. Again, and he seemed almost lost in what he was doing. I had to stop him, move him on to the next step. I would have preferred to have him over me, but that would not work with his arm in a sling. I pushed him on his back and mounted him, careful of his ribs.
We took a shower together, which is not all that romantic and sensual with sling and bandages which are not supposed to get wet. Then I had to grade papers, which of course is immensely un-romantic. But we slept together, in the white plant-room bed. Never slept better.
Sleeping with Magda was almost better than being awake with her and for a moment I considered waking her up to compare. But no, it was more important to feel her sleep, hold her dreams which grew slowly, soap-bubbles of sleepy colors and soft sounds. She whispered my name in her sleep and I almost had a heart attack because I was so proud. It would have been a good way to die, too. I couldn't sleep so I just lay there, trying to record this moment of happiness so I could comfort myself by torturing me with it if she left me.
Tuesday morning came. Everything was grey the way it is grey a cloudy snowless December day in Sweden. Magda was also greyer than usual when she left. I don't think she is a morning person.
Later that day I figured out how to teach that floor a lesson. Ha! But I had to speak to Magda about it, and find the right person. And presents. I had to get the presents. The closer to Christmas the more jam-packed the stores would be. I still couldn't handle all stores, the real big ones, like malls, were out. But I found some things I was happy to buy. I bought a necklace for Magda, that was fun. A small, undangerous goldsmith shop. No other customers. One necklace clearly orange, although made of silver.
"Magda, we have to talk." Oops. That was scary.
"I have been thinking about the bad flat. I think I would like it if someone lived there. Someone who wouldn't mind the floor."
"Fine with me. What did you have in mind?"
"I don't feel good about having an empty flat when so many homeless people are coming to Sweden. Of course I can't solve the refugee situation by myself, but I can do a little. And that bloody racist floor will shit itself!"
My sweet Peter sure was eager to get out of his safe bubble-universe. I hoped he would not be in too much of a hurry and live to regret it, but I admired his courage. He felt sure that he would be able to find someone whose chords where sufficiently suitable to fit in. We carried stuff from the attic, grateful there was a bed left. He was always in a hurry to get out of the bad flat. I agreed that the floor was ugly, but to me it was normal-ugly, not evil. Hopefully our refugee would feel the same.
At work, things were ok. My black eye was yesterday's news, literally. I had told Karin about Peter but no one else. I didn't want a lot of gossip about how soon I had switched boyfriends. Karin found it all delightfully funny and couldn't wait to meet Peter.
I made a few phone-calls, and then I met up with the deacon of the nearest church. They had a bunch of Syrian men living in a big room, a mattress dormitory temporary kind of deal. I had brought typical Swedish cinnamon rolls, they had tea. We sat, munching rolls and talking. Some of them spoke English and it was nice to chat about strange Swedish food, their long and arduous journey and their hopes for the future. I found it strangely soothing to talk to people I had no language in common with. It went slow enough for me to follow and communication was not solely word-based.
All the while I tasted their smells and smelled their colors. Some were straight out. Particularly one who reeked of hostility and self-satisfaction, in spite of his friendly smile. But several gave out good vibes. It suddenly struck me that I would have to choose one and thereby un-choose the others. I was someone with power over their lives and I did not like it.
But making a choice was necessary and I knew who I would get along with, a quiet dark red man named Yussef. He only knew a few words in English, but we spoke well enough anyway. I managed to communicate the situation and he managed to communicate that he could not possibly accept my kind offer if not his younger brother was included since it was Yussef's duty to take care of him. It did not matter that the flat was very small - just a room and a kitchenette. Nor did it matter that there was only one bed - if there was no mattress to be found Yussef could sleep on the floor.
The brother was young, surely no more than eighteen. He, too, was red, but a paler shade than Yussefs earthy rumbling red. But, sure, he seemed pleasant enough. His name was David. The deacon helped with the paperwork, thank god, and then we went home to the flat while I pointed out things of interest, naming them in Swedish (which is now English) - jackdaw, postbox, lawn, bridge, shop, oak, home.
They had almost nothing. No prayer mat, unfortunately - the floor would have hated that. They had a small allowance to subsist on and now they had somewhere to live. They were happy for themselves but worried about friends and family. I had to leave now, I still had my limits. My head was full of voices, smells and colors. I left and spent the rest of the day in the nest.
No dinner for Magda today and I was ashamed, but she was not angry and she made pancakes which I hadn't eaten in years. We ate in her kitchen and she invited Yussef and David. They stayed up and talked a long time and I fell asleep in the nest. Before I fell asleep I worried that I had maybe made a mistake inviting two more people into my house, but then Magda came and slept with me and all was well.
I really liked Yussef and David was a nice kid too. Peter was amazing at reading people's character, particularly for a just-reformed recluse. Made me proud that he had chosen me for his girl. Thanks to Google translate we could communicate pretty well. He was worried sick about his wife and daughter, they had been put on different boats in Turkey and he hadn't seen them since then. The daughter was ten.
They wanted to know what they could do to help around the house. I didn't know and Peter had gone to bed by then, but the day after they had cleaned the stairway and raked leaves in the garden. We did find an extra mattress, by the way.
Christmas was getting closer. Previous years, Christmas had only been something mindlessly malevolent to be avoided as much as possible. I still didn't want it in my home, but I was looking forward to Christmas Eve. Me and Magda were now officially a couple and this would be my first time ever meeting-her-family thing as a partner of anyone. Growing, growing, growing.
I was no longer nervous about Yussef and David. They were grateful, but not too grateful, not metallic yellow grateful where all that strident gratitude becomes a burden. And the floor was a lot less smugly unflappable, it lost a little of its stick-in-the-mud brownsquaryness with every Arabic word spoken and every balaclava eaten.
My first Christmas-gift, the day before Christmas Eve, was to lose the sling and most of my bandages. I still didn't have full strength and mobility, but finally I could hug Magda properly, with both arms. That night was my first time in missionary position - again the commonplace was exotic for me and I loved it.
"No, Peter." Magda said. "No tie. No suit either. This is a casual family gathering, you are not expected to dress up. Jeans and a shirt will be fine."
"Ok." Maybe I ought to take notes. "Any pointers? I don't want to disappoint you."
"Just be your sweet self. Try not to worry about making an impression and you'll be fine. If you feel shy you don't have to speak. Just relax."
Weirdly, my heart beat with the beat of Ravel's Bolero in the taxi to Magda's parents. Nervous, yes, but again; good nervous. Bolero's is not a beat that accepts defeat. Cinnamon!
Door opens, hello Magdadad, hello Magdamom! Met you before, old pals now. Her mother a bit of a big rodent today, bustling about. Rabbit? Guineapig! Daddy; warm beer. Both friendly.
Then big sister Lisa. Orange, too, but not as strong as Magda. Blonde, but otherwise the sisters were in many ways alike. Lisa gave me a hug and informed me she had heard a lot about me. I answered likewise since that sounded good although it was not strictly true, as far as I could remember. I had learned that the wheels of social life were greased by small polite lies and now I was practicing. Husband Conny ; a laid-back denim smell/color. I knew that Lisa was a teacher, now I learned that Conny was, too. And Magdamum. Did teachers usually run in packs?
Sugar and spice and all things nice were what Greta and Emma were made of. Pepper and bile, too, thank god. I fell in love right away. Magda had asked me if I liked children but I didn't know then. Now, after about half a second, I knew that I at least liked these children. They seemed to take to me as well and wanted to show me things right away. They had made drawings which were brilliant and they wanted to include me in a very interesting game where the rules kept changing. The pillow which was a hill suddenly was breakfast and the shoe that was a boat became a cow. The nuttier my contributions were the more earnest they were in accepting them and I reveled in the lovely feeling that nothing mattered but was very important. They smelled good, too.
It was adorable the way he was lost in the game just like my darling nieces.
"There's a lot of baby-sitting in store for you two." my sister said. "He really is sweet."
"Sweet and brave," I said proudly. "And a man when it's needed."
"Stop right there." Dad said. "Remember there are fathers present. Does he want gloegg?"
"I would like to try some gloegg." Peter said. "I've never had it." Gloegg is warm spiced wine which is only served at Christmas. You put raisins and almonds in it. "But then I don't think I should drink any more alcohol."
"Is there a problem?" Dad asked.
"I don't know. I've never been drunk, really. Slightly tipsy is fine, I know I can handle that. I've had a beer or a glass of wine now and then. I think I want to try getting smashed sometime and see what happens, but not with kids around. Who knows, I might get real obnoxious."
"Skoal!" Dad said. "To Nils!" Nils was my brother, who died when he was eighteen. The first toast is always for him. He was handicapped, two years younger than me. Died of kidney failure. Peter thinks my urge to help people has a lot to do with Nils. I can see the logic, he may be right. According to him Ola would say just that.
Gloegg was nice. The spices set off a deep bass-with-a-bow humming, helped along by the alcohol. Everybody's colors took on more intensity. This was why I usually avoided drinking except very little and alone - all my impressions grew and what was complicated became impossibly complicated. But I knew I was safe here and the chords were in harmony. In fact it was good to get larger doses of everyone, but I declined when Magdadad asked if I wanted more. I must not get too cocky.
Greta and Emma wanted to play more and I did too. This game began somewhere else but evolved into their creeping around pretending they were invisible and then jump out and say Booh! My job was to pretend to be scared or angry or happy and make faces and strange noises. (KWAEEK) This was fun, too and I could talk a bit with (OOOUMPH) the others if they didn't mind the occasional (IIIILP) interruption. They didn't. I talked about (FLAAFF) music with Conny. He was into World music, a genre I knew very little of, except Irish folk annd what Yussef sang while working. I liked (UMPHAAA) that well enough. Conny introduced me to Tinariwen, for which I will always be grateful. Red desert earth and fragile monotonous beauty. (GOOOOP)
Three o'clock - time for Donald Duck. End of GOOOOP-game. The probably weirdest of all Swedish Christmas customs is that almost all swedes watch an hour of Disney cartoons every Christmas Eve, the same ones every year. Except me, I had never seen them before which apparently was a major weirdness to all. We all sat down to watch except Magdamom who fussed around offering us things to nibble on and putting the final touches to the Christmas dinner which was to follow. I offered to help, but no.
I didn't mind an hour on the couch, particularly not when Emma wanted to sit in my lap and watch. Heaven is a three year old girl warm and alive and in your lap and smelling of little girl sweat from having played with you. I was so happy and so proud that she chose my lap. I would have fought a tiger for her, no questions asked.
Pride was another of these new feelings. Pride that Greta and Emma liked me. Pride (of course) that Magda liked, even loved, even wanted to have sex with me. Pride that I was a hero. Pride that I had been such a good fellow human being and invited Yussef and David into my home. Of course there were plenty of shortcomings, they were old friends or at least acquaintances, but it felt nice to finding more and more to balance them with.
It was hard to concentrate on the Disney-cartoons. Chip and Dale were throwing nuts at Pluto, but I didn't understand why, if there was a why. There was a bowl of nuts on the table, they were more interesting to me. They mumbled to themselves in their beautiful brown sensibleness. Nutty is a very inappropriate word. Nuts are, as I said, sensible. They are what they are and that's it. I carefully chose the prettiest nut (a meaningless concept to them) and put it in my pocket. I would plant it as a keepsake and to celebrate that she got away from Chip and Dale.
The dinner was massive. Risgrynsgroet; a sweet porridge made from rice. There should be one almond hidden in it and whoever gets it is supposed to get married next year. I planned to eat a lot of porridge if I had to - that almond was mine. Or Magda's. Lutfisk - a weird fish dish. It's made from saithe or ling which are dried until hard as wood. They can be stored like forever in that state and a few days before cooking them they are softened in water and lye. White, slimy, tasteless and considered a great delicacy.
Then there were pickled herrings, baked ham, smoked salmon, ribs, meatballs, sausages, bread, potatoes, cheese, kalvsylta, which is a not very good thing with small pieces of meat in jelly, beets, janssons frestelse (a potato dish with salty fish in it), cow's tongue and pigs feet. I reeled at the sight of this aggressive multitude of dishes.
"Don't worry," Magda whispered. "Eat as much or little as you want and you don't have to try everything." Still, the chords were discordant. We didn't eat in the same room, thank god, and it was bearable for short hunting trips to slay a rib and a beet or whatever.
I started with the porridge, and very cunningly asked everyone to please be quiet for a moment. The rest of the food tried to distract me, but I was able to concentrate and localize the almond by sound and smell. The others thought I was kidding, so it was a great delight to be able to display the almond of upcoming matrimony. Lots of kidding about marriage ensued. Magda's cheeks were a little red, but I knew from her smell that she was not displeased. I wanted to propose to her right then and there, but I had no ring and it would embarrass her if she didn't want to say yes. I would ask in private. Soon.
The effects of the gloegg had faded away and I risked having a bottle of Christmas beer with the food. I must admit that the combined forces of food and drink got the better of me. I politely thanked Magdamom for a fantastic meal, staggered into the TV room and fell asleep on the couch.
When I woke up Magda and the girls had made me into a rabbit. They had made ears out of towels somehow, painted my nose black and then black whiskers. They all laughed their heads off when I pretended to be outraged, my heart full of love. Smell of blueberry pie, a Strauss waltz. The girls wanted to know why I had talked about lobsters in my sleep when they put on the ears, but I had no answer to that.
It was now time for presents. Magdadad had gone out "to buy a newspaper" and he knocked on the door dressed in a Santa-suit of seldom seen hideousness. Greta and Emma took it in their stride, modern kids are apparently afraid of nothing. At their age I probably would have shat myself if I had met a creature such as the Magdadad-santa. Good thing my "dad" always had been busy being unconscious from having drunk too much at Christmas.
Well, this Santa was as jolly as he was hideous and soon the room was full of torn paper, delighted cries, ho-ho-hos (could be a great band-name) and me, who tried to follow who got what from who (rabbit ears flopping) and how the girls and Magda would react to my presents. It felt like one of the more frantic Pogues-tunes from the inside. My rabbit ears had by now lost both their rabbit-ness and their ear-ness. I looked more like wilted rhubarb with nose and whiskers.
Greta and Emma opened their presents at the same time, which was good since I had bought them both the same thing - a pair of good binoculars. They played with them a lot that night, actually - watching things like the neighbors and reported what they got for Christmas. They wanted to go out and watch things too, but all birds were asleep and the moon hidden behind clouds. Magda loved her necklace, just like I thought she would. I also gave her a pair of long-distance skates, since skating is something I like and hoped she would take to, too. That kind of skates you use on frozen lakes and she seemed happy enough with it.
Magda had bought me clothes. A pair of trousers and a sweatshirt. I loved them and I loved that I hadn't had to buy them myself. A new hope turned up - the hope that I would never have to buy my own clothes again. I sat, happy, nibbling homemade Christmas sweets in spite of being full. I felt like I belonged. I was no longer Peter the freakish recluse, I had a family, belonged to a tribe. It was good to know. Everything felt good right now, my rabbit rhubarb ears, my overflowing stomach and my future, growing brighter and brighter in my mind.
Merry fucking Christmas, everyone.
Feb 12, 2018 in romance