by Celia Jenkins
“But I can’t speak Swedish!” Elsa protested.
“It doesn’t matter, Mum,” Karen sighed quietly. She’d said this three times already. “I can only speak holiday Swedish myself.”
Elsa flicked through the brochure for the luxury hotel that her daughter had suggested. It didn’t look like her kind of thing at all. Her and Arthur had always stayed in quiet little B&B’s, usually near the coast; not the extravagant, huge hotels that seem so popular these days. Elsa loved those holidays with Arthur, but she hadn’t travelled for years now. It would be too strange, going somewhere without him.
“Anyway, Jakob will be there too, so we won’t even need to speak Swedish.” Jakob was Karen’s boyfriend. Only half Swedish, but all his family lived there and so he’d invited Karen to his little sister’s wedding. Karen was nervous. She hasn’t met his family yet, even thought they’d been dating for nearly three years.
“It would mean a lot to me if you came with me, Mum.” An only child, Karen had always been close to her Mum, especially since her Dad passed away. “More than anything, I think it would be good for you. Remember the fun you and Dad had on your trip in Amsterdam? You’ll love Stockholm too, I’m sure, and the weather is great at this time of year!”
Elsa moved her coffee mug to spread open the map that Karen had given her of the capital city. Stockholm wasn’t too big, Karen said. Elsa liked the look of the archipelagos.
“There’s so much water, just like Venice.” Elsa smiled wistfully. The Venice trip had been one of her favourites. They’d rented a gondola boat, which Arthur nearly tipped over when he jumped in, making Elsa scream with laughter. It seemed like such a long time since she’d chortled uncontrollably like that. Some days, even smiling was a distant memory. Elsa reconsidered. Perhaps a short break in Sweden was just what she needed…
“Alright, I’m sold!” she raised her hands in mock surrender.
“Great!” Karen said, “And of course we’ll go shopping together, and you’ll have to look out for another souvenir, to add to the collection.”
“Hmm,” Elsa nodded without really agreeing. She hadn’t thought of that.
“So what do you think of Sweden so far?” Jakob took Karen’s hand in his but directed the question at Elsa.
“Very nice. Yes, I like the architecture here – wonderfully classic.” Elsa glanced around the restaurant, which had a homely feel to it. “And I was surprised by how many people you hear speaking English.”
Karen and Jakob exchanged knowing glances. “Didn’t I tell you, Mum? Almost everyone here speaks English, and there are always lots of tourists around too.”
The waiter invited them to fill their plates and they went up to the buffet.
“I always thought that a Smörgåsbord would be… served on a board,” laughed Elsa, “like a cheese board.”
“It just means a buffet, really.” Jakob smiled and stood back to let Elsa choose first. As a lover of seafood, Elsa was in heaven. There were three types of pickled herring, and two types of salmon – her favourite. Plates stacked high, they returned to the table and tucked in.
“What are you up to tomorrow?” Jakob asked.
“Just some relaxing and shopping, right Mum?” Karen had seen a hat shop earlier in the day that she wanted to return to. “And you can find a nice souvenir too.”
Elsa smiled encouragingly but changed the subject to the upcoming wedding. She didn’t want to talk about silly souvenirs, let alone buy one.
Every holiday she’d been on with Arthur, they’d come back with some little piece of ‘tat’. He loved souvenirs; the tackier and cheesier the better. The whole house was cluttered with them now, and honestly, Elsa despised them. All these little seaside statues of portly gentlemen in one-piece stripy bathing suits, miniature plates that decked every wall and shelves full with ornamental yappy dogs made out of coloured shells. She’d thought of throwing them out, but how could she? They were the only thing that Arthur had collected. They didn’t have a camera back then, so these were the only memories she possessed of their trips abroad. Well, Elsa thought to herself, at least I won’t be bringing home a silly ornament from this trip!
Karen found an olive green hat, trimmed in lime coloured silk and adorned in shimmering beads. It would accompany her simple moss coloured dress perfectly. A jade necklace, found in an antique shop, completed the outfit.
“Look at all my treasures, and you haven’t bought anything yet!” Karen laughed and waved a handful of shopping bags in the air. “I hope you’re not disappointed.”
“It’s been such a nice day, how could I be?” Elsa tipped back her head and enjoyed the warmth of the sun on her face. It was early evening, but the sun would be shining for hours yet. On the way back to the hotel, Elsa nipped into a corner shop.
“I hope you don’t mind if I head straight back,” Karen said “these bags are getting a bit heavy.”
“No problem, see you there,” Elsa called as she walked into the little shop, immediately noticing the customer at the desk who was speaking loudly in English.
“Yorkie bar?” he repeated slowly, “I’m looking for a Yorkie bar.”
“Vad?” the assistant shook his head and looked confused. Elsa was surprised – all the other locals she’d met could speak perfect English, but this poor Brit had chosen the wrong Swede to ask difficult questions to. Around his late fifties, with a head full of thick salt-and-pepper hair, more pepper than salt. He was wearing a pair of those awful patterned shorts that people seem to wear on holiday but would never wear at home, which made Elsa smile coyly.
“I don’t think they have those here,” Elsa came up to the counter and said helpfully, breaking the awkward silence between him and the befuddled young cashier, “Yorkie bar was my husband’s favourite too. I noticed earlier that they don’t seem to stock them.”
The man smiled gratefully at her. “Never mind, I’m sure I won’t starve.” He patted his slightly rounded stomach and winked.
“You could try something local?” Elsa suggested “Kex bars seem quite popular.”
“Kex? Sounds like a brand of cat food to me,” he gave a wicked smile and Elsa couldn’t help but laughing heartily. The shop assistant watched them, looking more confused than ever.
“Well, thanks for your help. I’d better get back to the hotel before my daughter sends out the search party.” He started to walk away, but something about that handsome, cheeky smile made Elsa want him to stay.
“Are… are you staying at the fancy place up the road?” Elsa inclined her head towards the hotel. “I’m there with my daughter too.”
“I am. Well, maybe I’ll bump into you again then,” one flash of his charming smile and he was gone.
Karen was dressed up ready for the wedding, make-up done and purse in hand. She’d said I’m off now at least four times in the last fifteen minutes, but she was still stood in the doorway, fussing over what Elsa would do all day without her.
“Are you sure you’ll be alright Mum? You won’t be bored?” Karen fidgeted with her jade necklace, “I’m sure you could manage an outing somewhere on your own if you wanted.”
“Like I said, I just want to relax today. I’ll read my book, and sit in the garden, and that’s more than enough excitement for me,” Elsa shooed her daughter out the door. “Go on now, or you’ll be late.”
“Ok, but at least use the pool or the games room; you should make use of all the facilities on offer!” Karen called from down the hall and Elsa shut the door.
“The games room?”she said quietly to herself. “That’s not really my cup of tea!”
She did however go for a nice morning swim, using the heated indoor pool which was less crowded than the outdoor one. After going back to the room to freshen up, Elsa found herself passing by the games room on her way to lunch. Stood in the doorway was the Yorkie bar chap from the day before, arguing with a fashionable young woman.
“Didn’t I tell you Maisie? This is a young person’s thing.” He gestured to the two boys in the corner who had glanced up from their game of chess.
“I’m sorry Dad, I just don’t know what else to suggest for you to do today. This lecture came up out of the blue and I really need to be there.” She looked exasperated, and heaved her heavy book-bag from the floor to her shoulder.
“Hello again,” Elsa said, breaking the tension between the man and his daughter. He looked up at her and grinned sheepishly.
“To the rescue once more?” he joked, putting an apologetic arm around the shoulders of his daughter, who looked baffled.
“Well…” Elsa wanted to be better acquainted with this man, who seemed so mischievous and affable, but she didn’t want to seem too forward. Suddenly she remembered a poster than was pinned inside the elevator. “I’m on my way to lunch on the terrace. Actually, they have a great set menu deal for two people, but as you can see I’m on my own here… you wouldn’t care to join me, would you?”
Elsa couldn’t believe the words that had come out of her mouth, and as she was beginning to regret being so direct, an impish grin spread across his face.
“That sounds great,” he looked surprised at the words as he said them. He planted a kiss on his daughter’s cheek, “see you later Maisie.”
Maisie stood with her mouth hanging open like a goldfish as the pair scuttled down the corridor. As soon as they were out of earshot, the man learned towards Elsa and offered an open hand.
“I’m Ron, and you?”
She took his hand and shook it formally.
“Elsa, pleased to meet you.” The pair spluttered with laughter as they staggered into the restaurant, neither of them quite understanding where this infectious giggle fit had come from.
“So what did you think of Sweden, Mum?" The seatbelt sign had been switched off and Karen was digging in her handbag for a packet of salty Swedish liquorice.
“I feel like I haven’t laughed so much in ages.” Elsa smiled and looked out the window. “I’m so pleased you talked me into coming!”
Karen had noticed her mother’s mood improving throughout the trip, but couldn’t put her finger on why. Getting back from the wedding, Karen had managed to find out very little about what her Mum had done with the afternoon. The day after that, Elsa had paid for Karen and Jakob to visit a popular spa, leaving her once more to her own devices.
“You’re not upset that you didn’t find a souvenir to take back?” Karen asked.
“That was really more your father’s thing; I’m not so keen on trivial knick-knacks like that. Anyway, who’s to say that I didn’t bring back a little keepsake?” Elsa winked secretively and would say nothing more on the matter, much to Karen’s puzzlement. Ron's phone number, scribbled on a scrap of newspaper, was safely tucked away in her handbag. She couldn't wait to get in contact with him again and see if the spark was still there back on home soil!