Aching, he swings out of bed.
As always, the uncertainties of the coming day crowd in on him and his troubled heart.
He shaves, anxiety nibbling the ends of his fingers. Tell me, he entreats the face in the mirror. Tell me what to do.
He regards himself, unimpressed and with frightened eyes.
Outside the birds start up their morning racket. The air is still and thick with humidity.
Somewhere in another country his beloved, pale, blonde, with ragged red-lacquered fingernails, will be preparing herself for sleep.
When she looks out her window she sees snowflakes in the streetlights
She sees cold white clouds drift down, and with a weightless grace decorate the Old City.
When she looks at the river she sees islands of ice, jagged and adrift in the dark water.
When turns on the TV she hears a foreign language, a language that resembles the accents of a cold war a language she knows
A language with which he is entirely unfamiliar.
She recently sent him a picture of herself knee-deep in fallen leaves in a Swedish forest where men shoot deer.
She has sent him a picture of herself in a black wool coat and a lilac scarf in a stand of silver birch
A picture taken by an individual unknown to him. In a stand of silver birch.
He does not recognise her in this costume. She is a stranger to him in this costume. His head aches with the strangeness
Does she go to bed alone?
Briskly, he pulls on his shoes and socks, thinking that he prefers her in lighter garments.
Outside his apartment in the busy street the air chokes him with its density. Wet and reeking, he could be in Bangkok, not Bondi.
Last night he tried to get it on with someone else, but all it felt like was hard work. All he knew was that she wasn’t her.
It’s left him feeling gritty. Stuck in a life without meaning.
The Pacific Ocean, blue and glittering at his feet. She’s on the grayer edges of the Baltic Sea.
He thinks perhaps he’ll live like there’s no tomorrow. He thinks he’ll spend all his money, fly to the States, fuck a lot of women.
But what he can’t figure out (and it seems to be the crux of the whole matter)
What he can’t figure out (snowdrifts in Gamla Stan: they’re skating on the ponds)
What he can’t figure out (and it seems as if his life might depend upon it)
Is how to get control of his erratic, thumping heart.
In his new shirt (‘Absolut Svensk’) he strides along the beachfront, his gait lopsided from an irregularity in the length of a hamstring.
As he walks, his walk his attention is caught by a woman leading a ferret on a red leather leash. Around its neck, nestled in the fur, it sports a diamante collar.
Its eyes glitter at him, full, he thinks, of bad intention. Its belly scrapes the concrete. Its full tail sweeps aside cigarette butts, globules of phlegm, hamburger cartons, ice cream droppings, syringes and all the other detritus encountered each morning by walkers on the promenade.
The sight distracts him momentarily from his misery, his obsessive speculation as to the whereabouts and doings of his beloved in another country.
As he watches the woman gathers up the ferret and drapes the animal round her neck where it lolls like a mouldy fox fur his grandmother once owned.
Beadily, it eyes him. He has an urge to throttle it brought on, he thinks, by the animal’s smug expression and its air of belonging to someone. As if it knows his loneliness and is flaunting its own good fortune.
He tries to work up an interest in the owner of the ferret. Long, dark hair, a severe fringe and purple lips the antithesis of her
But it comes to nothing.
He doesn’t know if her will ever see his beloved again. He doesn’t know if he will hold her. Kiss her breasts, lose himself between her thighs.
He doesn’t know if he will ever hear her laugh. Hold her feet in the palms of his hands.
(Slim feet, with evenly spaced toes, well-bred feet; Why is it that the recollection of those feet has the power to bring him utterly undone?)
Sometimes, when he goes home from the café, his mind full of jokes and witticisms picked up that morning from his no-account friends, he looks for her in the rooms of the apartment, longing to tell her what he has heard.
But she is in another country
(Does she take another lover inside her? Does she let him suckle at her breast? Do her feet rest in the palms of another’s hands?)
The stories he has for her remain untold.
His head hurts.His eyes fill. If she ever comes home he’ll change everything. He’ll reinvent himself. He’ll become the man she deserves.
He feels strangely breathless.His vision blurs.Traffic noise explodes inside his head.He understands that he is falling onto the filthy promenade where the ferret took its morning stroll.
His arm aches. Something powerful has taken hold of his chest.
He tries to call out her name but nothing happens. Then everything is dark.
In Stockholm it is the middle of the night. She wakes sweating, and gripped by fear. I must go home, she thinks. Now. In the morning.
She looks out of her window onto the white courtyard. Snowflakes drift through the streetlights. Snow transforms all stains and blemishes, leaving everything innocent, like original beauty.
Yesterday, in the grey afternoon light, she’d walked through the Old City. Ice on cobblestones. The wind, freezing off the river, searing the membranes of her nose.
She’d wrapped the lilac scarf securely around her mouth and pulled her black fur hat hard over her ears.
Even under the same roof, she’d reflected, they were in another country. Only in their bed, only through their bodies were their borders dissolved in the most temporary manner.
Is this men and women? she’d wondered.Or is it just him and me?
Alone in snowy Stockholm she begs him, Love me.
Alone on the glittering edges of the blue Pacific, alone on the glittering edges of life he begs her, Love me.