The soughing, she loved that word, the soughing of the fir trees overhead. The intermittent plop plop of the tint cones as they hit the soft moss-laden needles covering the ground.
She was a stranger, and even more crucially a lesbian stranger in a strange land. Performing her daily ritual of tai chi, as far from the censorious eyes of the maddening crowd as possible, enabled her to keep going. To keep her head above water. Working on the perhaps erroneous assumption that if she couldn’t see anyone she couldn’t be seen as she embraced tiger and punched tigers ears in a deliciously-felt solitude.
Usually she didn’t mind the conversations going on without her, over her head, in a language that was all the more incomprehensible because she hadn’t the energy to even learn the basics beyond the simplest hullo / hej, goodbye / hejdo and thankyou / tack. Although, from time to time she surprised even herself by how much she gleaned from hearing the odd word here and there, like her name or glass / icecream. By putting it together with the inflection of the voice and the expressions on people’s faces she was able to comprehend the gist of what everyone else was privy to, at least.
Mostly though, and especially when no-one had thought to tell her what had been decided for the day, she felt out of step, in a fog of misunderstanding. Very often on the verge of tears she didn’t quite know how she could get around this. Except to suffer through.
Apart from that, everyone was being most kind. Which enabled her to say how beautiful everything was, in English, and to practice one of her few Swedish words over and over again, tack tack tack, many more times a day than was strictly speaking necessary.
Then again, she did feel grateful for the comfortable hospitality and saying tack to show she wasn’t completely ignorant (of the language) and to show respect, was one of those universally acknowledged words that drew a response, however brief. Either a ‘You’re welcome,’ or just a smiling nod in her direction, before they went back to the business at hand and left her to her own devises once again, allowed her some sense that she was part of the company.
If she was staying for any length of time, she told herself every other day, it would be worth seeking out a class and disciplining herself to learn enough of the language to at least get by. But as she was only there for a few weeks and as most Swedes spoke or at least understood more English than she did Swedish then it seemed a bit of a waste of her precious time.
Later, as she was sitting in the sunshine on the terrace while everyone else was either sleeping or having a quiet chat as they cooked dinner (a chat she didn’t even begin to imagine she might join in) a squirrel scratched it way down the trunk of one of the fir trees in the garden facing onto the forest at the back of the house. Two birds flew down and dive bombed it as it scampered across the grass.
The sticks and wires were still laid out on the impeccable lawn from the previous night’s game of croquet. The garden was so neat the small fir cones scattered about looked as if they’d been carefully placed for effect. Like the two white wooden chairs strategically side-by-side beyond the clump of bushes surrounding the bird bath. Flowers in pots, pink roses, white daisies, yellow pansies and purple pelagoniums completed the effect of a Swedish garden well kept and completely ordered.
Even though she’d watched the ball being kicked around the lawn, has seen the games, had herself participated in the croquet, the garden still seemed staged with none of the wildness and overgrowth she was used to in an Aussie backyard.
Still, it was a backyard. And she was staying the weekend in a house, a big house. She hadn’t realised how stifled and closed in she’d become staying in small heated fully air-conditioned flats for these past several weeks. Till she’d felt her whole body respond to the space and the fresh air. Yesterday, they’d eaten on the terrace and played in the backyard and she’d gone to sleep in the large basement room on her own without feeling she was putting anyone out.
It was summer. The wind in the fir trees sounded like the sea. The warm fine sand between her toes, the taste of the Ahus glass / icecream on her tongue, the watery northern sunshine on her sunblocked skin, even the small mist of rain on her glasses, all combined to make her feel as if she did belong. A little bit. Somehow. It was alright.
© Jean Taylor 2015