The Eve Of Sta. Lucia
The Evening Of Sta. Lucia
The fifty year old editor and poet, Noppe Nilsson, finished his work for the day. It was the eve of Sta Lucia and he had big plans for the coming evening. Everything was going to work out as he planned it. He leaned back in his comfortable editors chair with a soft leather cushion on the seat, filled his pipe carefully and dialled a number on the shining black telephone on his desk. In a few seconds Anne answered. Noppe felt his hearth beating a little faster when he heard her soft voice over the phone. Soon he would be with her again and hold her in his arms. This would be the night he was to bring her the happy news. On this very day he’d made up his mind to tell the wife Lilian. Explain everything straight and simple and after that leaving without guilt and bad feelings pack his bags and move over to Anne.
There was no hesitation and no going back. Of course Lilian must by now have expected that something was going on. He was sure that it was obvious for everyone to see that he had interest in another woman and met with her openly every day in the town. Only last week Anne had given him a tough ultimatum. “ Marry me, or else it is all over between us.” Everything in him shouted yes, yes. I must follow the voice of my foolish hearth. Oh, how he loved that young and beautiful “bird” at the reception desk in the Art Gallery. Noppe just knew he was doing the right thing. He had once again come alive and his miserable poor old body was feeling young again. He felt like walking on fireballs.
Noppe covered his old Halda typewriter, put on the comfortable fur coat of arctic wolf and left the office. It was cold outside and the frozen snow made a squeaking sound under the shoes. Coming to the parking lot he found the car door was stuck. The temperature had reached nearly twenty below C during the afternoon and he had to work a good ten minutes to get the dam thing open. Still he was in a good mood when he started up and put on the radio. Slowly he drove through the narrow streets of the little town and after a short while reached the highway.
He was so sure that everything was going his way. He smiled and lit a nice fat cigar. He thought about the bankbook in the top drawer of the old chest he once got from aunt Edith when she died. He felt warm inside. 20.000 crowns it held and he planned only to claim half of it. Of course, Lilian must have something to live on when he moved out. He thought himself very generous and caring as he drove towards the little house in the grove five miles outside the town. His hearth was singing of joy as he thought of his lovely Anne. She was only 27 years old, beautiful, strong and just made for him. Now they did not have to hide their love anymore. From now on he would be able to show everybody what a he-man he really was. Just imagine, being able to catch a young woman’s love at his age. Not bad at all for a man like himself. Without pain and regrets he would now leave his old life behind and start on a new path. Ahead he could spot a long road of joy and happiness together with Anne.
Lilian worked in the kitchen whipping up cream for the Sta. Lucia cake. For dinner this evening she’d made sailors beef with lots of onions. This was Noppes favourite dish. A bottle of good red vine aired on the kitchen counter. Outside the snow really came down and her hands got stiff cold when she carried out the garbage bag.
This was going to be such a fine evening. She just knew it. Noppe had been very talkative and attending during the last week. Maybe he’d started to feel a little more relaxed now when all the overtime work was finished at last. Things had not always been easy during their 27 years of married life. Noppe was a difficult man to live along side, she’d always known that. Suddenly she remembered the times when her only safe place was the old tool shed behind the doghouse. There she could cry out alone after a big fight and did he ever get mad sometime. Over the years she had done everything for him. He had always kept her from going out to find work. Her place was in the home. His home. It had always been his home and not her. Lilian was just something the cat brought in. At least that’s how she felt. He demanded her to be there and serve him and his writers friends he so often invited home on weekends. She never joined these parties. She was only the housemaid serving food, drinks and doing the dirty dishes late in the evening. Lilian´s world was a very sad business. She’d seldom been able to get her head above the water surface and always gracefully accepted what was given to her and that was not very much. She still carried the pain from polio during her early childhood and her split lip operation had not been all together successful. She had always known that she was no more than an ordinary Plane Jane. When Noppe asked for her hand in marriage she felt like a Cinderella stepping out of the ashes.
Never ever did she think that he married her because of that little thing growing in her stomach? He was handsome but came from a poor working class home. Lilian however was the only daughter of a farmer and well brought up in a good family. The little red house in the Glenn was now her whole world. It was only there she felt safe. Her family was dead since long and Noppe now the only stabile thing in her life.
Kallö they called their home. It was a beautiful little place and Lilian kept everything just perfect. During summer the flowers made a very fine show and vegetables grew in the backyard. In wintertime the house was warm with live candles in the windows and yellow lamps along the garden path. This was her whole life and she never wanted to leave it. No not ever.
This evening they were going to eat at the dining room table. Lilian used the old tablecloth of ivory coloured linen and red napkins. A homemade crown of cranberry leafs made the table center. The five candles were already lit and spread a yellowish flickering light on the flowered wallpaper. The thing with the Sta. Lucia´s crown on the table was an old tradition in her family.
Lilian was satisfied and felt happier than she had done for a long time. It was now close to seven and Noppe would come home at any moment. She went upstairs to change. That new green woollen dress would do nicely on a night like this. Noppe had never seen it before. She combed her hair and pinned a glittering brooch on the lapel. A little dab of that special perfume she got last Christmas would finish it off. Now she was ready for the Sta. Lucia eve.
Ten minutes to seven Noppe parked his car outside the tool shed. Slowly he walked up to the house, opened the door and entered in to the hall. It took him long time to stamp the snow of the booths and when he put the fur coat on the rack his breathing was heavy. His body perspired and the legs felt like jelly. The cat came to welcome him but he didn’t care. He just walked by her and headed for the kitchen.
“ Hi”, he mumbled. “ It’s snowing heavily this evening.”
“ Oh, hi”, Lilian said as she kept stirring in the saucepan. “ I made your favourite dinner and we will top it with a Sta. Lucia cake. How about that for a festive evening? Go upstairs and wash the dinner will be ready in just a few minutes.
“ I am not very hungry”, Noppe said and took a bottle of bear from the fridge.
Lilian looked at her husband and felt a sting of disappointment. He was always hungry. Was he sick?
“ Oh Noppe”, she said quietly. I made such a big thing of this dinner. Maybe a glass of that old Glenn will make you feel better?”
“ No, I am all right. I´ll just drink some of this.” He opened the can but didn’t drink any of the Golden Lager. He just stood there on the kitchen floor and looked quite lost. When was he going to drop the bomb? How would he start? Oh yes, the beginning was always the hardest. However he was so sure that Lilian already understood that he could not live with her any longer. All that overtime in the office and the weekend trips. My God, no one could ever do that much overtime on his work without getting paid for it. Of course she must have suspected something. He knew that she didn’t have much in her head but… Of course she must be aware of his big change over the last six months.
People do change over the years. I am not that worthless little print worker any more who use to go for pennies and dimes. Now I am an editor as well as a poet. I am somebody in the community. She must realize that. I have moved up in life and she is stuck in the home and in this house forever. Maybe I never even loved her. It was because of the baby we were married. Oh, I have had chances in my days and exiting opportunities at times. It’s strange that I didn’t leave her earlier.
Noppe put on his slippers and got in to the bathroom. He stayed there for a good ten minutes and rehearsed on his big speech. He compared the two women. Lilian – grey, worn out and with no spirit. Anne – young, beautiful and well educated. He had the right to choose the very best and why not. He was the man.
“ Dinner is ready”, Lilian shouted from the kitchen. Bring the vine!
They sat down at the table as usual. Lilian filled his plate with food and he poured the vine. None of them said a word. Noppe felt a small lump in his throat and his heart was pounding. He took a deep breath, coughed and suddenly like a lightning from a clear blue sky he throw the news straight in to Lilian face.
“ I am leaving tonight”, he said loud afraid that she would not hear him. You must have known and felt that I’ve met another woman. Her name is Anne and she works in the town Art Gallery. Vi are very much in love and we are going to be married as soon as our divorce comes through. It’s no use to discuss the matter. I have already made up my mind and I am leaving to night when I’ve packed my bags.
“My God”, Lilian thought. “ He has been drinking before he got home. He never uses to make jokes at the dinner table. He never says anything funny at all as far as I can remember.” She started to laugh and cut a big piece of the beef.
“ Move? Where are you going?”
“ To Anne, of course. She lives in a very nice apartment in town and that’s were we are going to stay.”
Lilian turned pale. “ My God”, she said. “ He is not joking. Holy Mother, what’s going on?”
A long silence came between the two. The ticking from the dining room clock sounded like a hammer in a black smith’s workshop. Noppe started to shake. He was not sure what to expect. Would she rave and cry. Throwing herself before his feet and beg him to stay. No he must not give in. He had to be strong. This was it. This was the end of his marriage and his life with Lilian. He could already feel the great joy of the coming night together with Anne. One night when he didn’t have to brake up at midnight and drive home to Kallö.
Lilian stared down on the plate with meat, onion and bright red cranberry jam. Her spine felt stiff. What happened? Was she dreaming, or what? Within a few moments the whole world crushed to peaces around her. It felt like her life passed in front of her eyes like a movie. She remembered all the tears and the hurt she’d gone trough during the life with Noppe. Tears were building up behind her eyelids and the blood came to a boil but she must try to stay calm. Whatever happened she must not show her feelings.
“ Oh Dear Lord, give me strange, just this once. I beg of You, dear Jesus. The dam bastard must not win. No, not this time.
Lilian looked at her husband and clenched her fist tightly under the table. The fingernails cut in to the tender flesh of her palm. The eyes looked like glass and the voice sounded like it had come from a magpie. When she finally got the strength to speak she looked straight in to Noppes eyes.
“So you’re moving out. Be sure to leave the cat behind. Kitty is mine. The car that father gave me for Christmas present two years ago stays in the garage. And further, the bankbook and what’s on it will never be touched. Remember that I got that money after my mother died. And of course there is that damn fur coat a bought for you. Do you remember how a slaved and worked cleaning the class rooms in the village school just to be able to buy you the dam thing? I wanted you to look good on the new job. As I recall, you never even said thank you for that Christmas present. As I say the coat stays on the rack in the hall. It’ll make a perfect bed for the cat or I may even give it to the new church verger. I think he would be happy to have it for the winter. You know Noppe, I am almost happy to be red of you. Can’t stand your snoring at night and hate making love to a man that lost the spark ages ago. Does your new flame know about your prostate cancer? Is she going to look after you in the future when you lie there in bed not able to take care of yourself? And, have you told her about your two grown children that you never cared for?
Noppe leaned over the table and closed his eyes. He mumbled something to himself. Lilian didn’t hear it. This was not what he had expected. There was no raving and no crying. In front of him across the table sat a woman he had never seen before. A monster being almost as cruel and hungry as an alligator of the Nile. How could she do this? How could she treat him like a pile of dirt after all these years? Noppe was frozen stiff and could hardly breath.
Lilian got up and started to clear the table. Her body was shaking and her legs could hardly carry her out to the kitchen. She opened the fridge and took out the bottle of whisky, filled half a drinking glass that she emptied in one big swallow. She turned to her chocked husband and said:
“ All you can take away from this home is the old kitchen sofa, the one you bought on the Rosedales auction a couple of years ago. I do hope that your new life will be all you ever wanted. Now I am going to lay down upstairs for a while and when I return I expect you to be gone from the house. I never want to see you again.
Noppe stood a few minutes in the hall and for a moment he thought about Anne. He looked at the nice and warm fur coat but did not touch it. Instead he took the old worn out woollen number, the one that he had not used for a very long time. When he was dressed he left the house walking slowly down the lonely and slippry road towards the church. He found a bench next to the old count Douglas grave and sat down on it. Big tears fell from his cheeks and he mumbled over and over again.
“ How can she do this to me? How can she drive me out of the house on a cold night like this? And that lovely fur coat, oh my God?” Everything went so wrong; it wasn’t men to turn out like this. He felt like the biggest looser in the world. Without anything there would be no Anne and he had absolutely nothing at all.
Big snowflakes like soft pieces of cotton floated down over the lonely unfortunate man and from the Church Hall came the sound of a girl’s choir singing the old hymn of Sta. Lucia. It was the 13:th of December when everybody celebrated the eve of Sta. Lucia.
The Story written by Inger Malm
Skriven av: Inger Malm
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