We were somewhat ridiculous, in our little haze of happiness, but I didn’t care at all how ridiculous we looked, I was happy and that was that. We strolled around the little town, two towns from my town the next morning, opting out of the breakfast part of the bed and breakfast. The looks from the front of house staff were enough to put Sookie off sitting through a meal with the same stares. Instead, we found a tiny but adorable café with a specialty in waffles.
“I really like it here, it gives me a chance to use coats I buy every winter and never use, and it also gave me an excuse to use up the nine million scarves I’ve been hoarding – gifts from Gran every Christmas.”
“Maybe it was just meant to be… that you had to come here… get good use out of them.”
“Or just my grandmother’s addiction to knitwear… who knows.”
“Or that too.”
We dug into our breakfast, having worked up a sex mountain sized appetite the night, and early morning before. I was still recovering from my wife’s new-found confidence and knowledge in the bedroom. I was more than honoured that she took the bull by the balls, for diving into a topic that I knew she was not very comfortable with. At least, she used to be uncomfortable with it, now though, she was growing in leaps and bounds, and as her one and only, and the man she married, the pride I felt was immense.
“I have presents for your family; I figured I was your present… so I hope that’s okay?”
I nodded as I chewed. It was more than okay.
“Of course. You should not have been packing the presents. Postage was fine.”
I knew the price of airport baggage that was too heavy.
“Don’t be silly, I can’t show up for Christmas empty handed that would be rude.”
“Have the trust in me, they will not minded empty hands, my grandfather in particulars, he knows how happy you make me…”
“And how happy I was making you yesterday… I cringe at the idea of them knowing what we’ve been doing all this time.”
I rolled my eyes.
“They have made a child, and practiced I am sure for many others… they know all of sex and married and not married as well I am sure. My parents too.”
I knew my sentences were coming out more jumbled now; it was funny how just a month of not using my English could set me back to quickly. If I had to stay here without her after she left for much longer, I would have to embrace the cd to help myself again. I wanted to be fluent and proper soon, if I was to find decent employment, I assumed speaking the most common language would be the thing to be able to do.
“We could stay another night, if you liked to.”
She shook her head, sipping her coffee.
“I would love to, but its Christmas Eve, and I know what a big deal that is to your family.”
She was right and I loved her for it. I wanted my sex desires to win out, but I would probably regret it come Christmas day and the glares appeared from my mother and grandmother.
“You do the tree tonight too, right? That’s what you told me?”
We had discussed our families Christmas traditions shortly after we got married; it was one of the many topics that we discussed in bed. In the rare night when we went sexless.
I really liked sex with my wife, what could I say.
“It is and this year you can do it too! And dinner, the dinner is the best.”
“I look forward to it… should I cook something.”
With that I shook my head, not on her life.
“No. My grandmother, when we have at her house… no one else is allowed inside her kitchen for the cooking time. She is very…” I waved my hand around. “um…”
“Particular?” she tried to help, but no that wasn’t it.
“Not, she is … batshit crazy.”
She burst out laughing then, throwing her napkin at me as we got up from our table.
“You’re terrible, she’s just particular about her Christmas, and that’s okay.”
“Psh… wait until you want water and are no allowed into the kitchen for it.”
Her eyebrows widened.
“One year the up steps bathroom was broken… stairs. Upstairs. It was broken and the tiny one across from the kitchen … we were not allowed.”
“My father had to pee in the bushes outside.” I said with a laugh, though at the time it was not so funny. It was minus thirty.
We checked out of the swinging bed and breakfast, with smiles and hugs from the lady that ran it, telling me she knew my grandparents and that she hoped our time there helped make them some grandbabies. I didn’t tell Sookie the last part, because I knew that Christmas with my family would no doubt bring enough talk of babies from them to her. We knew where we stood, that there were solid foundations that we wanted to lay before we actively started ‘trying’ to get pregnant. That, and the reality of the situation was, yes, we were in love and happy, but it had been less than a year, and as impulsive as we were to marry, making humans was something to take time and consider.
The drive back was a lot more pleasant than the drive there, the snow had even cleared a little, but my Southern Belle being who she was, was still ‘fucking freezing in here’, and so I was pretty sure I had maxed out my heating system in the delivery truck by the time we got home. It was still so cute seeing Sookie all bundled up and ‘Swedified’ as she put it, endless photos of us on the drive were taken, and of course, of the scenery too, apparently she found a great roaming app or something that meant she could upload them and make everyone back home jealous of her super white Christmas.
God I had missed her and her Sookeisms, so very much.
By the time we got back, it was dark, or for Sweden at this time of year slightly darker, and we were both pretty tired overall. It had been an eventful few days to say the least. Of course, when we got inside, my whole family were sitting, waiting to greet Sookie, and there was Christmas decorations everywhere.
“Sookie! Look at you so lovely!” My grandmother began, with hugs and offers of tea. My mother was more subdued but still pleasant, and my father, well he seemed rather pleased with Sookie, since it was his first time really meeting her; I thought that was a good sign. He rarely smiled, but in meeting her I could see all his teeth, and the smile even reached his eyes.
“Sookie, I have heard so much…so very much it is so nice to finally meet.” He said taking her offer of a hug. Sookie did give great hugs. I think it was her softness, but also her boobs. I hoped my father was not thinking of her boobs, not now.
“You too, it’s so nice to finally meet you in person Jonas, the internet is fine, but it’s got nothing on the real thing.”
Everyone was very excitable as we talked of America, and her flight, her grandmother and brother, our friends, and the dog. My mother was interested in the dog, she had wanted one all her life but my father was allergic, it was a sticking point with her ever since. We had settled down with some snacks and some drinks before dinner, the tree was half decorated – right after the men argued for twenty minutes on how ‘straight’ it wasn’t. Much to Sookie’s amusement, I was sure she didn’t fully understand our Swedish ranting but it was funny to her none the less. I made a note to give her the weak Glögg after that. My wife was a quick drunk.
“Well since it is Sookie’s first Christmas here and first of many married to you my son,” My father began, I knew he had one too many, because he was making speeches, he never did that unless on his way to drunk.
“I think she gets to put the first decorations on the tree this year.”
She looked to me, unsure, and then to my father again. It was sweet of him to offer this, as it was usually his thing, he had done it since he was a kid in my grandfather’s house and tree, and I then did it in ours at our house. Tonight though, it was Sookie’s turn, and while my father was a man of few words ordinarily, this was sweet.
“Thank you, Jonas. This is so lovely.” He earned another hug and it surprising made my mother smile before she nudged me in the arm from where we sat on the large couch.
“She is lovely I admit.”
“Of course she is, but are you sure that isn’t just the wine talking.” I nodded to her cup as we talked in our native language.
“ I have had lots of time to think and see the photos on the face internets, and I see you are happy. You also ‘like’ too many things, so you know, it’s annoying.”
I rolled my eyes.
“You were complimenting Sookie.” I said, nodding to her as she stood about ten feet away, with my father as he talked her through all the old sentimental decorations. We got a few new ones every year but for the most part my grandparents like to keep traditions alive.
“Yes, is she pregnant?”
“I only ask because I care and I want grandbabies soon before I die.”
“Mom you’re not even sixty yet, can we not do this?”
“I want to be young enough to enjoy them okay? You and she are my only hope here, give me a break.”
“No, she is not at least she wasn’t like time I checked…” that came out wrong, how could one check exactly if his wife was pregnant or not? Make her pee on sticks? “But we are taking things slow.”
“You practically raced to the altar, so I am a little surprised.”
“Children are a big responsibility and we want to…find our feet first. I need a job, and we may need a bigger home. Things, lots of things have to be considered first!”
She held up her hands then, taking my glass from me. I was on beer. “I was just asking. And your grandparents will ask too you know.” With that, she padded off to the kitchen where she would no doubt be kicked out in a few minutes, as dinner was almost done and Gran became more stressed as more food became edible.
“Erik goes set the table please.” My grandmother called from the kitchen and I just rolled my eyes playfully at Sookie as she glanced over, clearly engrossed in the stories of my youth my father was no doubt regaling her with. I didn’t know if I felt sorry for her or not, my father, when in the mood really could make the most boring story seem amazing. I think it came from spending lots of time at sea, he was a dreamer with nothing to do for hours at a time but tell his stories. I hoped one day I would become that good a storyteller. Probably not though, I thought as a child maybe that’s why he was so quiet at times, until he let it all out and then his stories were unstoppable. Maybe he was just keeping them all in to make them great.
I shook my head at myself, maybe I Sookie was not the only rapid drunk in the family!
The Christmas ‘Jolbord’ was kind of unreal, there was everything from various types of cooked fish, meatballs, all kinds of cheese which was just amazing in itself, potatoes, cabbages, breads and Swedish Christmas rice pudding – Risgryngrot, to which Erik made sure I knew what a big deal finding the one almond was. It was strange but fascinating all the same, I loved learning about their traditions. Of course, there was turkey and ham, and roast potatoes and mash, all kinds of veg too. When his family went all out, they really went all out. I was stuffed by the time his grandfather was offering me seconds. It was rude to refuse, because there was just so much food to go around. However, I was having a wonderful time; everyone was talking over each other, sometimes in Swedish, sometimes in English, sometimes in both. I heard stories from everyone that night, even Erik’s mother
The red tulips, and red and white Amaryllis adorned the table as the newly decorated tree glowed at us from the corner of the living room, the modest dining room held one of the most beautiful and ornate dining tables I think I ever saw in my life. In gaps in the conversation, I found myself looking at the detail under my nose. I found out then that it was a wedding gift from Carl to Greta over sixty-five years before. I was so touched, and more so, when Erik told them of our new bed, and it hit home that while I thought his gift was just to replace our Ikea filled house with something real, it was also his wedding gift to me, even if he did not say as much. I wanted to cry it was so sweet and beyond romantic, in fact I was sure it was the most romantic thing I had ever heard of, never mind received. Even if I had been having my doubts about marrying a man, and a family I barely knew, they would have been resolved right then and there. Things were just right, even if they were new, we had hurdles to over-come, that was life, and I was sure I could handle it with him – with them, if they would handle it with me.
That night, as we both somewhat wobbled our way up the narrow and steep staircase, hand in hand, and climbed into his – now our bed. We had exchanged little gifts that night after dinner too, he bought me a gold necklace with a tiny fish and anchor on it, which I thought was beyond sweet of him, and I gave them the gifts I brought from home. Erik’s gift was just me, which was a little presumptuous, but hey, I was a damn good gift and I even beat the BMX so there was that. When we got into bed though he had another gift for me.
We joked that it was his penis, when he said he had such a gift, but it wasn’t his penis – as giving as he likes to be with that… it was a ring. A very old ring.
“It is something some Swedes do, on the wedding to the wife.” He was a little drunk, which mean whatever English he had grasped was now off running away with his sobriety somewhere in his brain.
“It is a ring to for children, for motherhood. One ring for engagement…” He rubbed my ring finger, “One ring for wedding and husband, and one ring for Children.”
I was shocked.
“I know we are waiting for the babies and that is so very okay. We are very new…after all.”
“But it is something we do, and should have been done at the wedding but my Grandmother wanted you to have hers, so she had it cleaned… it took a time. Nevertheless, she didn’t want to post it in the postage. She fears our postman, she says he steals.”
I burst out laughing at that, it was hard not to. He looked so sincere and serious, I loved that his crazy grandmother believed such things, or hey, maybe the postal worker did steal. Who knew really?
“Do you like?”
“I love.” I slipped it on my right hand ring finger, I wasn’t sure where I was ‘meant’ to wear it, but he didn’t object so it fit perfect and I didn’t complain.
“It has survived two wars, one and two, it was my Grandmother’s, her mother’s and her mother before her, and it has seen many things.”
It was a gorgeous antique gold ring, plain but beautiful and looked well placed on my hand.
“Are you sure she doesn’t mind?”
“She did not have a daughter to give it to; I know she does not mind.” He clarified and kissed me, and I kissed him back with vigour. This was one of the sweetest things anyone had ever done for me, and it almost made me want to break our pact on trying for kids just to do that ring justice.
But that would be silly, right?
Instead, we made out, heavily for some time that night but both admitted to being too tired and drunk…but mostly tired, to do anything other than that. It was nice to just kiss sometimes; kissing was underrated as a bedtime activity I decided.
The next morning with my body clock well and truly wonky, I woke up early – too early – and everyone else was still asleep. The house was tinged in darkness that unique shade of blue that happened at pre-dawn. I tiptoed downstairs for some water, admiring the Christmas tree we had all helped to decorate the night before, and just enjoying the silence for what it was.
It got me thinking on the amount of changes that I had made in my life in less than a year, as the year before I had woken up on the same day, alone in my house, alone in my thoughts and generally feeling rather sorry for myself. I had geared myself up for Christmas with my grandmother and brother, and still couldn’t muster any excitement over the holiday as I lacked anyone to share it with. This year, after all that had happened, I realised how fucked up I was.
I didn’t appreciate the people in my life because I had become too preoccupied with what I didn’t have rather than what I did have. The pressure from friends, family and society would do that to a single woman in her thirties from time to time and it really, really sucked.
I didn’t want to take for granted my family – what I had left of them. Or my friends, and what they meant to me. I really didn’t want to take Erik or his – now my – family for granted either. I wanted to make a conscious effort to appreciate it all. I wondered if I could do it, keep that train of thought over time, and not let myself get distracted. However, I wasn’t sure if any of us could, in the long run at least. Life took over, we got ‘busy’ we forget and are forgotten and it’s not really anyone’s fault, that is what life was. Nevertheless, sometimes, that sucked too.
I took the moment though, just sitting there at six am, cradling my coffee in my hands at the age old table that sat in Erik’s kitchen. The wood similar to the larger less used one in the dining room – I knew it too was probably built by Carl’s hand and I admired it’s simplicity but the beauty that sat beneath, the legs were delicately carved and stunning even after what I wagered were at least forty years of sitting in place.
“You are up early.” I heard from behind me and I looked to see Carl.
“My internal clock is a little broken, I guess.”
He nodded shuffling over to the coffee pot, in his blue pyjamas and grey dressing gown.
“It might be a little, and by the time you’re getting used to here, you’ll be there.” He frowned.
“That I will be.” I said as he took a seat next to me.
“And Erik then soon after.” He sounded sad at that prospect.
“You will miss him?”
“Of course, but we are used to his absences. He would go to sea for months at a time, mostly in summer, but this is …different.”
“I’m sorry.” I said, even though I wasn’t really sorry that I would get my husband back. But I was sorry that he had to miss him for that to happen.
“Nonsense, he is happy there, you make him very happiness you know?”
That made me smile.
“I hope I do.”
“Oh, you do and he gets to meet new people and hopefully in time get over his fear of people. Too many years at sea I think made him a little…what is the word stikklish?”
“Of people, crowds, large cities. He was offered a job, you know. In Stockholm at this mammoth company to design and work with their wood products, big money, big invite.”
I didn’t know that.
“But he refused, stayed here… we worked on pieces that made a little money… we built his grandmother her downstairs bathroom she had wanted. Then he went to sea again for months. He never spoke of it again.”
By this point, I was confused but not all that surprised that Erik had been headhunted by a company.
And suddenly, the penny dropped.
“Carl, was this big…company… was it Ikea?”
He nodded before standing up to go to the cabinet in the kitchen and taking some pills with some water.
“Yes, the people they came after some big hot shot person in the city bought some of our things, sweet talked him for a time and for a time I did think he would go…but he didn’t.”
I pursed my lips, suddenly fully realising where the hell Erik’s hate of Ikea really came from.
“It is a shame; I think it would be nice for the world to see what Erik can think of. He built the town benches you know they put them in the tiny park by the water. They’re very pretty.”
I sighed. I knew he had talent, hell, I had witnessed it, I slept in it at home for heaven sakes, but I never knew he was offered something that huge and opted to turn it down for whatever his reasons. I figured is family was the biggest factor, and yet he married me on a whim and moved across the world with no prospects. It made no sense, not really.
I hopped back into bed next to my sleeping and a bit of enigma of a husband. He swore he was just a simple man who wanted unassuming things and while that was probably true, I wondered why he chose to be that way. Most people had a certain percentage of ambition in their lives, his seemed to be there but not be there, at least not enough to make choices in a career field but to make plenty when it came to love. It was sort of ridiculously romantic, but also a little scary.
When he opened his eyes, I wished him Merry First Christmas as my husband, the first of many to come and we snuggled for a time, it was just lovely really. But the question was still burning in my head.
“Why’d you turn down a job with Ikea?”
He was silent as I continued to rest my head on his chest, we weren’t looking at each other and for that I was kind of thankful. This was somewhat awkward.
“I don’t know.”
“I… did my grandfather tell you?”
I looked at him then.
“He did, my question is why didn’t you?”
“It was nothing I wanted to talk about it happened and that is that, they asked and I said no.”
“Super Mass-produced items are not my idea of good workmanship. They wanted me to design and shape, teach, but then what is the point if machines make everything and there is no personal touching to the work? It was easy money yes, but it was not good. I was needed here more than I needed money and the fancy car and flat with lots of windows.”
“I mean I think it’s great, you’re talented so it’s nice that people like that saw it.”
“I like that people like you see it, like people in small towns and at home. They see and know the hard work and lasting material they are getting. With Ikea it was all mass…”
“Mass produced crap, I know…” I sighed. “But still.”
“Do you want me to have a job like that?”
“With a big company and making lots of money? Would that be so wrong if I did?”
“I didn’t think it mattered so much to you.”
“It doesn’t! I just think hey if it was me and I had the talent to do something like this… I’d take it, life would be easier.”
“How? Because of the money?”
He rolled his eyes then, both of us sitting up straight against the headboard then. One that I realised one of the Nordmon men probably built.
“Money doesn’t make things easier.” He protested.
“Oh? Ever been poor? I think the impoverished would really disagree with you there.”
He pursed his lips then, clearly angry or pissed or just plain annoyed. It was hard to tell.
“I did not take the job because of reasons.”
“Yeah, evil money and mass production.” I snapped getting out of bed, his reasons for quitting were probably valid but it was frustrating that he was so static on the subject of what he could do and just how he could make money from it if he applied himself properly.
He got out of bed too, angrily and he stomped over to pull on his underwear and jeans.
“I wish I had known that making lots of the money was such a big idea for you, but I did not think it was. I think you were okay with me being… me and being how I am.”
Oh god, this was spiralling to a place of evil.
“I AM. God, Erik I am just asking here, what do you have against … I don’t know… doing well for yourself? Is it a working class guilt thing? Because I’m working class, and I don’t think I’d feel guilty about applying my talent is all.”
“I was needed here more okay? More than their offer.”
He did not answer me so I went to him, and I could almost feel the frustration rolling off his body.
“Hey, hey look at me here. I’m not nagging or picking a fight. I do love you for who you are… I’m just curious as to why you are the way you are. I’m not asking you to go apply for some big fancy pants job here… if that’s not who you are that’s fine too. I just… want to know about you. I’m happy with us the way we are with what we have and where we’re going in life… know that.” I said placing my hands in his and squeezing to reassure. He had become like a giant scared cat, just backing away with a hiss when he did not like the tone of our bickering, but I could coax him back out slowly.
“Carl took ill, it was his heart.” He sighed as we moved to sit at the side of the bed then, him still holding my hand. “He was sick and wouldn’t admit. My father came back from the boats and we all took care, there were doctors’ fees… and so I sold some of my designs to IKEA… we got some money and added to the house, paid the bills, and in time we got him well enough.”
That surprised me.
“I did that for money, I sold pieces that I had dreamed up to them and they created them… for years for millions of people all the same and all without the …work.”
I got it then, he had felt like he sold out to them and that is where the bitterness stemmed from. I felt like an asshole.
“The doors on your kitchen island at home?” He said with a slight shy smile. “Are mine.”
“But you hate that island.”
“For reasons. Reasons you know now.”
I hugged him then.
“You did a good thing, and they were really pretty so you should be proud. Sure they lacked your personal touch, but it still came from somewhere and it helped your family… you sound ashamed and you need never be. It’s awesome.”
“Awesome.” I countered with a smile.
“That is only because you have freakish love for that stupid store.”
“Alas, this is true. But hey, IKEA paid for the swank bathroom your gran has rocking down stairs, that’s something right?”
He smiled then and I was so glad. I didn’t like Erik’s hurt face.
“For the record again, not egging you on to become some sell out, okay? If that’s not something you feel comfortable with that’s fine.”
“And if Martha Stewart ever calls… I will not urge you to take that job either.”
“As her personal florist? For sure, husband. Imagine the work! Psh, so not cut out for that. Small town girl an all.”
“I think you are right however. I maybe limited myself out of fear of losing them.”
“I get that. I do. I just don’t get how you didn’t accept that offer but you accepted mine.”
He smiled then.
“IKEA doesn’t have your breasts.”
With that I giggled knowing he was kidding, or at the very least half kidding.
“The IKEA thing was years ago, I was younger then and now… I wanted a life apart from here, from the guilt of leaving. But I love you and I wanted to be with you more than I felt guilty, so it won out.”
“You’re a good son, and a better grandson, but I agree you need to think of yourself too. You know your grandparents would say the same.”
“I still feel guilt. He is not well and she tries to compensate. My parents help a lot but they are not so young anymore and the weather seems to get harsher every winter, and work is heavy and long and I just do not know what to do for them.”
“Does he want to retire?”
“I had asked years ago he said flat no. But now, maybe he needs a change for the better?”
“Well what if you asked him? Maybe they could come visit us for a while, when things get settled with us a little better? Maybe in the summer? We could decorate the spare bedroom and they could stay a few weeks, see how things go?”
He looked at me confused then.
“You would want that?”
“I want them happy, I want you happy.”
“And I want you happy; would that be something that would make you happy?”
“I don’t know, I like them and I want to help in any way we can, if them having a vacation somewhere warm and sunny does that, then hey.”
Besides, I thought, my grandmother was dying to meet Erik’s family so it could be a good get together.
He smiled then, kissing me on the cheek.
“I think that is a fantastic idea, Sookie.”
“Well, we’ll see what they think okay? We won’t force them, but it might be nice for them to see where you’re living too, make it clear I’m taking good care of their only grandson.”
He grinned then.
“And that I take care of you.”
There he was again with the equality thing it was mildly hilarious. As if I was going to accuse him of not doing his bit.
“Okay, go shower, I’m going to go down help your grandfather with breakfast, he said something about pancakes.”
“Oooh” He said standing up with more of a pep in his step. “Are we okay, Sookie?”
“We can argue and get past it, it’s how life works. I just want you to …feel okay with telling me things. I want us to know each other in all the ways there are. Isn’t that the point of being married and doing this whole life thing together?”
He took my hands then and gave them a little squeeze before kissing them and letting them go.
“It is and I have to know that and open more to you. I am not so good at opening about all things. But I will try harder.”
With that, we were over our little spat, and I tied my dressing gown tight and descended the stairs to help with breakfast. I wanted to wait until the time difference balanced out a little better before I called Gran and Jason; it was weird being away from them at Christmas. It was my first ever away from home, but then this was now my home away from home – at least from what Carl insisted on me calling it, it was. Just like that, I was back to my train of thought on appreciating what I had over what I had not, this year I did not just gain a husband. I gained a mother, a father, a grandmother and a grandfather, as well as a handful of impressively hilarious Swedish friends that I would no doubt be seeing again on my stay. All in all, not a bad year at all. I could only wonder then, how my life would change even more in the coming year.
I was both terrified but utterly excited. I knew whatever it was, with these people by my side there was not much I could not face. I only hoped they, and more importantly he, felt the same way.