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Part I: PART ONE BUTTERFLY BUSH

1 RAPIDS

It is November and I am dead-heading the butterfly bush in my front yard when my cell phone rings. I don't bother to take off my gritty garden gloves fearing it is just another call from my lawyer. Talking to Maggie is a sure kick in blood pressure and I want to enjoy a spot of sunshine, a clear day, the vivid green grass. Yellow heat on my bare arms. The quiet paradise of my little yard. Go away, junk.

It has taken weeks to get to the job of trimming the bush. I am busy moving into my new townhouse. The bush stands shaggy and tall alongside the entry, shriveled blossoms spotting it like gray hair. An unlucky plant, a victim of circumstances, neglected in the summer heat. After I finish my trim you can again see fragile purple blossoms, and butterflies can dance on fresh lace, shaped in cones, their pointy caps swaying in the breeze. I feel guilty for being overwhelmed and self-absorbed. Is it too late in the fall for this forlorn little bush to attract butterflies? Do butterflies avoid neglected bushes, somehow picking up the scent of despair?

As it turns out, the phone message is not from Maggie, bless her competent and patient heart, but from Inge. Checking on me. We haven't talked since my divorce kicked into Stage Five rapids over the summer, the whitewater full of treacherous rocks.

Just the thought of new demands from my soon-to-be-ex Ben delivered to me through the conduit of his lawyer Jessica, a.k.a. the Shark, brings a torrent of imagined aggressions. Is he refusing to sign off on the money market fund as he agreed after seven hours of mediation? Has he suddenly lost my favorite lamp, which he will not let me have? What about the heirloom Hutschenreuther porcelain dancing girl I left sitting on the mantel in the rush to move out?

I go back inside and sit in the small living room of my new home. Dust floats in the stuffy air. Then I get up and sit in the other chairs in the room to try out the vibes, the perspective. Cleaning up the garden is like making my bed. Little Zen moments of order. I am still trying to "make the place mine." As in, familiar. Stable.

My furniture is wedged in small spaces, lining the walls, making ugly combinations of empty shelves, lamps, and side tables. The pieces are not picked for this space. My living room looks like a storage closet of mismatched pieces waiting for a feng shui miracle. Their real home, their nice original home, is gone--contaminated by friction, memories of Ben's betrayals revealed while I sat in the brown leather side chair, while I clutched my favorite yellow pineapple mug. How can I wash those images away? How many happy times will it take to remove the invisible scars on this furniture? Will the forces of the universe find harmony here in this new place?

~ ~ ~

My mad moments were crazy, in retrospect. They came back to me as bad dreams as I stared at the wallpaper in my room.

After I move out in October, while Ben is at work, I drive back to the house I left behind. The garage door opener is still in my glove compartment. The double-wide door lifts in welcome. Inside the vast, dusty space is the usual junk, with the overwhelming and monstrous addition of the bed he bought hoping to bring us back to one bedroom. It is a hulking structure, loaded with gadgets like massagers and lifts, but didn't stop him from snoring. It didn't stop him from grabbing all the blankets off me, night after night. There it lay, on its side. I don't look at the other stuff but imagine there are more gems of anger, rejection, revenge, thrown into boxes for burning as soon as possible.

The door through to the kitchen is unlocked. Not surprisingly, the sink is full of dirty dishes and the room smells of tomato sauce. It isn't a total mess, though. I am looking for a large colander that escaped me during the marathon of high-tension packing. I forgot to go through a few side cabinets. Of course he doesn't cook and won't need it. Yes, there it is. Some cookie sheets, a Bundt pan, cupcake tins piled together, and—the glorious, large, ample, all-embracing colander. Mine. Nothing like a good kitchen thing. Purchased by me, loved by me, washed by me, stored by me in a place I overlooked in the rush. Sparkling stainless steel.

A moment of trespasser's remorse comes over me. This is a man I once loved. Adored. Fainted to think about. I am in his hermetic and secret world now. It is my turn to violate. Will he notice? Well, had I noticed his betrayals? No, I hadn't, not for a long time. But the truth will out. Kitchen colanders are replaceable with a few dollars. Fidelity is not.

There is no sign of Penelope the cat. She has free access to the house and the outdoors via several cat doors we'd installed. Out back cornering mice? Happy I hope. It is heartbreaking to leave her behind but my new place is not pet-friendly, and cats hate change. Which is the greater mercy—leaving her here or forcing her to adapt to a strange and confining new life? I'm sorry Penelope. I cannot not stay for you. I'm so sorry.

On the round oak breakfast table is his favorite mug, large and ceramic, golden orange, partially shaped like a friendly lion head, still holding the scent of coffee. I gave it to him when we drove through Shenandoah to see big landscapes of fall color. We were in full-blooded glory ourselves then, flush with love, glowing right alongside all the golden-red-orange leaves. We held hands walking along riotously colored paths in the woods, invigorated by cool air and cheerfully cawing crows. "This mug reminds me of your lion's mane," I said in a tourist shop. "It's magnificent, warm, bold, loving. Just like you!" He wore his own thick blond hair like a mane, falling nearly to his shoulders. We put our palms around the mug over each other, as if performing a ritual of unity. The heat of his hands shocked me.

But on the sideboard is a brochure from the Goose Neck Inn on the Eastern Shore, a day trip out of Washington, where he said one of his assignations with Lisa had taken place. They were both on a business retreat that weekend, and he'd lied about it being three nights so he could spend the third night with her. The place is a cross between a bed and breakfast and a hotel, with a restaurant, and large lawns dotted with trees reaching toward the waters of the Bay.

I picture them sitting on a bench watching the rising moon, listening to seagulls settle down for the night, smelling the salt air, after a dinner of crab cakes and crème brule. It isn't the crème brule that drives me crazy, it is picturing him at her breasts, diving into her flesh with his full weight, her black pixie, her sweet younger skin, her athletic body. My lion, devouring forbidden prey. The smell of his neck. Leaving me with the laundry, the groceries, the yard work. Those hot hands, cold to me now. Not even home. Not even nearby. All I got was a "hello" wave when he got home that night, I remembered much later, reconstructing events.

I put the colander back in the cabinet, on top of the muffin tins. Sure, be neglected. You'll live here in the dark, unappreciated. Unloved. He'll eat out. He'll never know the rich round curve of you in his arms with cool water washing over some cherries curled in the foot of your bowl. He won't appreciate how you channel the water quickly through holes just the right size, rinsing as if in a mountain stream. Your tiny feet just the right size, unobtrusive, easy to wash. Your handles just the size for my hands, and light, responsive to a quick toss of berries or broccoli florets into a bowl.

Then I change my mind and take it out again. I can't let you stay. Right under his nose, a precious thing, never seeing daylight. A hole in my heart, the missing colander, that will bother me forever. Come with me, I say, grab a perfect handle and close the cabinet.

When I leave, the garage door creaks to a thud behind me. I don't worry about fingerprints, but maybe I should.

~ ~ ~

Right after that moment of madness I call Inge back. We only talk a few times a year since she'd returned to Sweden after her divorce.

"How are you?" she asks. She has the slow, low voice of a nurse.

"Barely functioning, Inge."

"Are you taking those hot baths?"

"No time. I've got to keep my job. It's hard." I lean back on my soft couch, my head resting on cold leather.

"Can you take time off?"

"I could but I need to keep my mind off the junk."

She pauses. "Come visit me, then."

"All the way to Sweden?" I sit up with a spot of energy.

I visited her there only once before. In my mind it was a Bergman movie, black and white, overcast, with gloomy old people walking through empty streets at dusk. Maybe that was my kind of place. Metaphysical. We were both forty-nine but she was probably still an attractive blond, a Swedish cliché. In college she'd been a walking willow, tall, her chin in the air, flowing to class or a boyfriend. When I loaned her a shirt, I didn't want it back after seeing her in it.

She was ahead of me in handling a divorce too, and ahead of me in having a child, which she had late. In Inge's movie they were always laughing. It was hard to imagine Inge getting a divorce. She'd arrived at professional stability, a good income, supporting the two of them in a way that was rare in America. Ah Sweden! Stay in my dreams! Let me pop into a cheerful Pippy Longstockings escapade, a wild child who never has to grow up!

~ ~ ~

It took the whole winter to get to the point where a visit not only made sense, it became a matter of saving my soul.

I'd emailed often to Inge from my home in Washington, D.C. during many winter months of terrible divorce proceedings.

"Sonia!" she wrote. "Come and stay with me. I need help, someone at home. An extra pair of hands, for a while. Please! Ayda would love to have you. As soon as possible. Please, please. Sonia, I really NEED you."

My lawyer Maggie thought it was an excellent idea for me to leave town and stop complicating the last exchange of signatures needed on the divorce papers. Aggravating my soon-to-be-ex Ben was totally unproductive. We were acting on final sign-offs on bank accounts, the mortgage, title to the house. If any of these steps stalled, lawyer fees would continue to go from stones bouncing down a mole hill to another full-blown avalanche. Ben was fragile too, and his idea of therapy was to clobber me at every turn. Maggie could FedEx anything that needed signing.

I worked as a computer systems designer in a large library and led an important project. My boss Brad realized I would be useless from distraction and found a way to let me take a leave without pay for six months.

It took about three weeks to sublet my new townhouse, furnished, to somebody else with an urgent need to relocate, and put some of my personal belongings in storage. A long journey to Norrtalje, Sweden began.

2 TO THE NORTH

From the Stockholm airport, I managed to find the commuter bus to the sea town of Norrtalje. It was early May, the frosts of winter were lifting, the hours of sunlight increasing, spirits warming. People were friendly and knew enough English to help me find my way. They seemed to know I was an American. It's a cliche that Europeans can spot Americans by their shoes, but my shoes were Danish Eccos. My luggage was plain next to a swarm of flashy hard plastic bags dragged by a Japanese group.

Inge was to meet me at the Norrtalje station. I hadn't seen her in five years.

The blue bus with large tinted windows wound out of Stockholm through forests and meadows, crossing bridges over many rivers in the delta that emptied into a big channel serving as an entry to the Baltic archipelago east of Sweden. It was mid-day and traffic was sparse. We passed an "Archipelago" hostel on the way, with white plastic tables and chairs outside. Even in the cool early spring people wore sports clothes as they walked between rustic cabins, seeking fresh sea air and views. It was the beginning of biking season. Many bikes were parked at the main cabin and alongside small sleeping cabins. It made sense that the place was filled with hearty hikers and hitchhikers seeking lower off-season rates. The bus passed ramparts overlooking the sea and in sight of dozens of small islands.

The sight dragged my spirit out of self-absorption. It seemed incongruous to be trapped in thoughts of my crowded townhouse, the constant press of traffic, my bad feeling. The Archipelago was cheerful, full of green promise, under a vast blue sky.

My brochure explained that defensive encampments covered the area during the War, as soldiers watched for submarines and possible invasion. Viking artwork marked small, tiny and ornate hotels. I could see the harbor in the distance. In town we passed old structures dating from 1700—tiny wooden cabins with steep roofs and stone memorials left standing like ornaments. It was an old town that had endured centuries of history. Now tourism replaced shipping as its main business. Their rough bad days were long past. Generations forgot what it was like to be under siege, ready for a surprise attack, hunkering behind tall stone walls, armed and ready.

Inge met me at the bus stop, a long blond braid down one shoulder. She wore a bright blue felted wool jacket and looked like a model from a Scandinavian catalog. Thirteen-year-old Ayda was with her and wore Pippy-Longstocking socks with multi-colored stripes up her legs, a bright red polka-dotted scarf and a bright yellow felted hat with playful tassels nearly a foot long.

I'd just come out of a claustrophobic chamber of divorce horrors, to land in a child's picture book.

"You!" said Inge grabbing me in a hug. "Finally!"

"Inge, I don't know what to say. Don't let me faint," I said, turning to give Ayda a hug too. "Oh my, you've grown!" I held her by her shoulders now nearly parallel to mine. She was on her way to her mother's looks: blond, blue eyes, a mischievous smile. She presented me with a Scandinavian gnome which she said would watch over me. It was four inches tall, about an inch wide, mostly a tall cone hat in gray wool over a bunch of hair and whiskers bursting out under it, around a big nose. The body was just a ball under the hair, in the same fabric.

I held it in my cold palm. I accept a guardian in any form, at this point. Even a whiskered clump of wool.

Inge and I had known each other thirty years.

We got my luggage and put it in the back of an old gray Volvo. For ten minutes we drove through country fields and forests, then through a fence to an old farmhouse. The house was of dark red wood, square, two stories high, with white windows and a small white porch with decorative rails. A large stone chimney filled one side of it and it was surrounded by beaten pots holding wilted plantings.

I knew Inge felt quite all right to leave Stockholm a year ago and return to her hometown of Norrtalje with Ayda. The small farm was scented with sea breezes. Country life was less complicated and hectic than city life. A familiar childhood home, rent-free, was vastly better than a tiny, expensive apartment in Stockholm, where there was a severe housing shortage. Inge could do her web design contracts from home, still tethered to big city life via an excellent Internet connection, and commute into the city once a week. They were on the bus line out of Stockholm and had places to stay in the city if they wanted to. It wasn't really a working farm. There was a garden to keep, maybe a few goats, cats and dogs. Ayda could ride bikes by herself to lookouts over canals and waterways, and especially toward the Baltic Sea, where she could watch grand ferries sail to and from Finland.

"Nothing like Rochester, huh?" Inge said. "Not a golf course for hundreds of miles." She'd spent years in Rochester, married to an American.

"I don't know, Inge," I said. "This is like a postcard. Are you sure this isn't a fairy house?"

She laughed.

Inside, clean lace and embroidered curtains hung lightly on nearly every window. A few tables and a padded wooden bench, with worn paint and chipped corners. The furnishings could have been from the fifties in America. Pictures on the wall showed fishing boats from various angles. A fully-tiled fireplace and mantel were the loud centerpiece of the room, with colorful folk patterns drawing all the attention.

Far into the room I saw a large plain farmhouse table almost exactly like the one I'd left with Ben when I moved out. It made me heartsick. It's just a thing, I thought. But a thing that I sought out, negotiated into our lives, treasured, touched with joy.

"Upstairs, please," Inge took my bag and led the way.

My bedroom, under a slanted ceiling, had two twin beds with quilts on top. The walls were covered in pale blue and beige pastel stripes. The dresser and side-table had faded paint in other beach colors and had obviously been in the family a long time. Out the window, I could see a wide green meadow coming to life and scattered trees. Totally rural; not a soul in sight.

Ayda took off her hat showing me Pippy pig-tails. "They're too young for me, but I wanted to make fun." She pulled them out playfully, nearly a foot long in each direction, like the drawings of Pippy. She giggled and danced off.

"My mother's having dinner in her room tonight," Inge explained. "She hasn't much energy and doesn't want any excitement. She's got a TV. It keeps her awake. She's usually more cheerful in the morning." Apparently, it was a struggle to convince her to get up, bathe, and eat. She claimed to be too tired but Inge thought she was really depressed. Walking could be a solution to her lethargy, but she resisted.

"You, my friend, have one task. Heal yourself. Find joy," said Inge.

"I'll try."

"Go in and talk to my mother a little. She's in a funk but may be a distraction for you."

I was immediately embarrassed about my own funk which I hoped was invisible.

"She speaks English. You're a curiosity. Take her outside herself. She's difficult. Your arrival is a blessing to us. She's really tired of us and our nagging."

"How's her health?"

"She's got thyroid pills. The rest is in her mind, I think." She looked frustrated.

"How long has she been like this?"

"Several years. My father died five years ago but she got this diagnosis two years ago and she hasn't recovered from just wishing she was dead."

"Oh!"

"I know." Inge turned to Ayda. "You've heard this." Then to me, "I don't know if a thyroid deficiency does this to you but her depression just goes on and on."

"How sad. For all of you." I put my arm around Ayda, who'd spent many of her early years away from this grandmother, while living in America.

"My brother Ammon comes to visit from time to time. He's up north. He thinks it's all attitude. He's impatient with her and with us. He thinks we pamper her."

"How?"

"We're too kind. He thinks we should make her get up and walk. Come to dinner." In honor of my arrival we were going to have Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes, and lingonberry jam.

"And?"

"I'm too worn out. We have to have a life too. I can't spend all my time tending to her." She smiled at Ayda. "Ayda spends some time every day after school in her room, reading and talking. Ayda's not going to pick up the malaise." She laughed. "But I'm a little worried about you."

~ ~ ~

For the first few days I disappeared into my bedroom. Jet lag. Flashbacks.

I lingered in bed and stared at the wallpaper on the slanted ceiling, a series of representational tiles with an ornate pattern of light purple swirls radiating out like a thousand mandalas. I felt dizzy looking at it, as if I were sitting on a merry-go-round or cycling through a series of tableaux drawn to torment me: depositions, lawyers, moving boxes, fainting, Ben stunned and angry.

Pushing myself up from the warm bed clothes, I forced myself to shower. A generous down comforter and down pillows created a haven I could burrow into forever. My old nightgown, bought when I still entertained Ben in bed, felt like the torn dress on a doll, too naked, too thin, and possibly ready for the rag pile. My bathroom was shared with the old lady and had a tub and a shower. It was wallpapered in pairs of small green penguins stacked in rows from floor to ceiling. The house had been in Inge's family for seventy years and had cracks in the walls from settling over a long time. The hot water heater was new and blessedly generous, unlike the situation in many European bathrooms. Some I'd seen still used the "heat on demand" gas wall-mounted contraption that heated cold water as it passed through. In the old days they had a meter that was easy to read as money going down the drain. Inge had been able to upgrade things so they had the combination of antique quaintness without the discomfort of primitive fixtures. Still, they'd not yet adopted the American habit of central heating so well that you could wear light clothes indoors.

Inge left me to recover from jet lag, on top of weeks it had taken to pull myself together to sublet, leave my car with a friend, pack up valuables. At work I had to rush to finish some smaller projects and to pass other projects on, staying sensitive to those who were assigned to absorb them. For someone falling apart, temporarily suspending my crowded life was a superhuman effort, all the while pretending it wasn't happening.

I left Ben bewildered. He couldn't decide if he was being abandoned or just excused from further engagement. He asked if he could help and at the same time had his lawyer the Shark bite me. Many small financial and property assets had signatures from both of us. My lawyer took the brunt of the Shark bites. On her advice I initiated no further conversations with him—my mental health couldn't take it. And there was the gesture of the restraining order to keep me away.

The next night, after having a hearty soup with Inge and Ayda in the evening, I ventured into the cold May air of Norrtalje's outskirts. Within a few evenings I found my circuit: right at the front gate, down to the main road, back through a cul de sac, a vague path through fields, the woods, a dirt road, the back gate. It was better than Valium. There were almost no people in this area, thus no interaction was required. I might as well have been at a sanitarium.

I saw little of Inge's mother Eleanor. I could hear her in the bathroom. Ayda brought her dinner and visited every night. Inge was in her room periodically, talking in a low voice. I saw the old woman through the door as I headed down the stairs. Mostly we didn't acknowledge each other.

3 SWEDISH BABE

I met Inge in college during my junior year, while we were searching for required titles in the bookstore. We were both taking sociology: The changing family structure in the 20th Century. She'd just arrived from Sweden.

"I hear that people don't get married in Sweden, now," I said. "And it's not a big deal. Sex is uncomplicated."

"I wouldn't say it is as free as the breeze," she answered. "We're still mostly Christian. Maybe with a lighter touch."

"Don't spoil the myth of Sweden for me, Inge."

She laughed. Later on she got a better idea of what I was talking about.

We started to meet for lunch and dinner in the cafeteria. I helped her catch up on notes from class. We discussed required readings which were harder for her because of the language.

She walked like a gazelle, confident, quick. I was more like cat, careful but precise and good at leaping tall men. Once in the main college bar, a fairly artsy guy came over and said, "I'm going to marry one of you."

"You'll have to hurry," I said. "We turn into witches on a dime."

We all laughed. It was fun to be young, available and naive. Every guy was a possible future, holding the promise of great sex, new adventures, the delights of discovery. Inge and I would make up stories while we watched men. "That one is going to want five kids, Inge," I said sipping my beer. "You'll be busy for twenty years. No art shows, no climbing in Yosemite."

"Oh, but yours over there is going to want to go to Paris for a melancholy decade. After a long bout of existentialism and poverty, one of you is going to break and come back to live with parents and take a job in a restaurant, where you'll be a colorful server, although moody."

She was studying graphic design which made her doubly cool. I was going be a systems librarian, working with computers, which made me strange but safe. Guys would not feel they were competing with me. It was a woman's career. Not too foxy, and solid.

~ ~ ~

Inge met Luke the same year we met in college. She told me all about him. He was a tall, dark basketball player. She went to parties at his fraternity and was the trophy girlfriend of the hour. Coming from introverted, serious parents, she blossomed, constantly dashing off to another party or excursion, her tall skinny body dressed in slight clothes. I thought of warning her against the male fantasy, in our culture, of a Swedish babe or an Asian, but I'm certain she wouldn't have heard me.

Luke and I were in an American history class together. He was on track for law or business, although the kind of track that had big poofy cushions on both sides thanks to his parents. They wanted him to have fun in college and be a man headed for the Rotary and the country club. Success wasn't about having the best brains, to them; it was about connections. I was more a bohemian, apart from his group, and thought the saving grace for my friend Inge was that she would go back to Sweden at the end of the year, and finish college there. Let her have fun and experience what I considered "America lite," being the artiste that I was.

I ran into her in the library about six a.m. during finals week. "Inge, what are you doing here?"

"I've got a paper in sociology. Maybe you can check the English?"

"Of course. I thought it was due last week."

"Yes. Yes. I got an extension. Last week was the end of basketball season. I had to go. Luke insisted. Then we had to watch the other games."

"Inge!" I slapped my hands down on the table like an exasperated parent.

"I know."

"He should let you study."

"He does. He does."

"Give it to me." I took off my jacket and sat down, trying to remember we were tired, love was blind, and she was leaving anyway.

I saw them together later in the week, at the end-of-term dance party under a summer's night sky. He had his arm around her neck, a bottle of beer in the other hand, and they were beaming like debutantes. He was a head taller than Inge and she was holding him up.

~ ~ ~

After Inge went back to Sweden, Luke stayed in touch with her. He spent his last year playing basketball and finishing a degree in business, then they went on a months-long student tour of Europe together, staying in youth hostels and living on bread, cheese, and wine. He had enough money to pay for cheap train and bus tickets.

Then he went back to Rochester and joined his father's insurance office. His father took him to play golf and network with local business people. Inge later told me his parents thought he was ready to settle down. They tried to set him up with local girls. I guess he clung to the adventure and excitement of prospects with Inge.

She was still a student in Sweden for several years, and then she was living at home and taking low-paying starter jobs just to get spending money. He visited a few times and met her family. Her parents were not thrilled with her trans-Atlantic romance. She and I exchanged letters a few times a year.

It took him nearly eight years to convince her to come back and marry him. One day she called me. I'd been workng in libraries for a few years, having finished graduate school. I had money for the first time, a starter apartment, starter friends from work, and free time, finally, to go out on weekends and look for fun.

"Sonia! How are you?" she asked.

"Inge. What are you up to?"

"Marriage. I'm coming to Rochester to marry Luke. He just bought a house and asked me."

I was never thrilled with Luke, but having her closer for visits was good news to me. "Congratulations! Inge, you'll be closer to me. Visit?"

"Yes. I'm coming over next month. We'll send you an invite to the wedding."

~ ~ ~

Inge was coming to America by way of a flight that stopped in Reykjavik and we decided to meet there for a bachelorette party of two. We'd seen each other a few times when I traveled to Europe in the eight years since we met in college. These would be her last days of independence. I was single at the time. Girl-bonding sounded like fun before she started building a marriage.

We met in our shared room at the Hotel Borg, a large place in the town center with Art Deco features.

Inge glowed with the lean youth of a year-round runner and the extra dose of early, enthusiastic love. The movie of Luke and Inge had progressed beyond infatuation and fantasy: He wasn't the exciting party boy and heroic basketball player any more; he was a man with a good job who could provide a home.

"Inge, you look fantastic," I said clumsily pulling my suitcase into the room. She was wearing a neck-baring maroon cashmere pullover, funky navy knickers, socks spotted with bright yellow, orange, and green, and purple felted-wool slippers.

"Sonia!" she pulled me into her arms. I took off my black down coat. We were both twenty-nine. I was wearing my travel clothes: a loose gray sweater, black sensible pants, and plain black shoes. Neither of us had put on weight, unlike most of our peers, who'd had children already and now wore the look of tired mothers, aging ahead into the middle years.

We had a glass of wine in the room before going to dinner. Out the window, the sun had set behind dark clouds but you could still see an icy ridge of snow-covered mountains in the distance, with a cold fog swelling over the top. April wasn't the best month for tourism, but it was dramatic for the arrival of longer days, lengthening about three hours in the course of the month, headed for twenty-one hour days at the end of June. We felt like we were witnessing just a bit of this fairy-land where, for a few months, there'd be nearly no night. All would be sunshine. I had the delusion that, if there was no night, you wouldn't have to sleep either, and the happiness of sunshine would fill your day.

Many Icelanders still believe in fairies, the small "hidden people" dressed in gray with black hair, who live under rocks and in crannies, who have wild dancing parties and dislike crosses, churches and electricity. People believe the fairies have magical powers and personalities. The thought that elves were living in an underworld in the landscape outside our window helped intensify the euphoria of our reunion in the middle of nowhere, away from our relatively mundane homelands.

"What awaits you in Rochester?" I asked. On my last visit to Stockholm, Inge lived in a cramped apartment, working as a web designer, with a small circle of regular friends who drank and ate together in cafes, having fun and talking about life, politics and art.

"Luke bought a house. I've seen pictures. It's very big. American-size. There's a garden, and a lawn. It's in the suburbs, though. The city has several universities, but we're not close to them."

"What does he like about living there?"

"He's making good money. He plays golf. Sees his parents a lot." She turned to look out the window.

"You've met them?"

"Yes. They're nice. Very normal." She put her wine glass down on the window sill and folded her hands.

"Not too normal for you? Are you going to miss Stockholm?"


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

This is Sevo’s third novel, after White Bird (2014) and Vilnius Diary (2011). She’s a boomer, a woman of the sixties. Her fiction probably involves foreign travel, spirituality, the conventions of love, and finding yourself. And willful women. Whose surfaces of life often hide secrets. She’s translated from Bengali and Lithuanian and was the recipient of a national Translation Fellowship. Her great-grandmother’s novel (1902, which she translated) also delved into the idea of open marriage.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
In my adulthood, the norms for sexual behavior have gone from “forbidden” to hook-ups, Sex and the City, and Girls. I wanted to portray a woman who came of age at one end and tried to find her path. When we fall in love, we try to attune to our lover. Sometimes the sand shifts beneath our feet.
Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
A.
I want readers to experience divorce through fiction. Learn that there’s no rule book, and there’s no clear fault for things going wrong. We swim in an environment of values that shift around us. The book tries to capture love, break-up and recovery, like Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage.
Q. Tell us about the cover and the inspiration for it.
A.
The Mariner’s Prayer: “Dear Lord, be good to me. Your sea is so wide, and my boat is so small.” Its messages, I think: you cannot possibly figure out the whole world around you; don’t blame yourself; try to make a life with other souls; enjoy the view (of Norwegian fjords); become your best self.

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