MONDAY, JUNE 4
The evening was turning out better than expected. Of course she had been a little nervous earlier, because it had been a long time since they had all seen each other, but now her anxiety had eased. After an extra-strong welcome drink, white wine with the appetizer, several glasses of red with the entrée, and port with dessert, everyone at the table was in a lively mood. Kristian told another joke about his boss, and the hoots of laughter echoed off the walls in the old limestone house.
Outside the window, fields of grain were swaying, and the poppies were still a few weeks from blooming in the meadows. Beyond the fields, the sea could be glimpsed in the last glow of twilight.
Over Whitsuntide, Helena and Per had taken a few days off and driven to the cabin on Gotland. They usually got together with Helena’s childhood friends on one evening during the holiday. This year, the second day of Whitsun was the only time that was good for everybody, so that’s when they had agreed to meet.
It was unusually cold for the time of year, around fifty degrees. The wind was blowing hard, howling and whistling in the treetops.
Helena laughed loudly at Per when he started singing the Gotland song, a satirical ballad she had taught him, about the field mice from the mainland who chased Gotland girls on their summer vacation.
Around the table, they all raised their voices for the chorus. Helena’s best girlfriend, Emma, was there with her husband, Olle, along with the neighbors Eva and Rikard, and Beata with her new husband, John Dunmar, who came from the States and was the new member of the group. Kristian was the only one who was still single. A handsome guy but an eternal bachelor, it seemed. To this day he hadn’t ever lived with a woman, even though he was thirty-five. Helena had wondered over the years how that could be.
The candles were burning in cast-iron candlesticks in the bay windows; the log fire crackled in the open fireplace. Spencer, Helena’s dog, lay on a fur rug on the stone floor, licking his paws. He gave an audible sigh and curled up in the warm glow of the candles and fireplace.
Helena went out to the kitchen to uncork a couple more bottles of wine.
She loved this sparsely furnished cabin, where she had stayed every summer since she was a child. Actually, she and Per needed to be alone. Have some time to talk and be together without cell phones, computers, or alarm clocks, after a stressful and hectic spring. Still, dinner with her old friends wasn’t a bad idea, Helena thought, realizing how much she had missed them.
She was awakened from her reverie when somebody ran a finger down her spine.
“How’s it going?” Kristian’s voice was low and disarming behind her.
“Fine,” she replied, turning around with a laugh that was slightly forced.
“How are you doing, anyway, you and Per?” He gave her nose a little pinch. “Does he still make you happy? Or what?”
“Well, sure. If a girl can’t have you, she has to take the next best thing,” she said, and walked ahead of him out of the kitchen.
“Okay, it’s time to dance,” piped Beata, who seemed to be in high spirits. She leaped up from the table and started rummaging through the CDs. One of the few modern touches in the cabin was the stereo, an absolute must for Per before he could even imagine spending more than twenty-four hours in the house.
Soon the voice of HŒkan Hellström could be heard from the speakers. Per followed Beata’s example and began whirling around with her. The others also got to their feet and danced so the floorboards shook.
Afterward nobody could remember when exactly everything went wrong.
Suddenly Per tore Helena out of Kristian’s arms, and they disappeared out to the veranda. Inside the house the dancing continued.
After a while the porch door opened. Helena came rushing in with her hands in front of her face and dashed into the bathroom. Her upper lip was bleeding. In an instant the party atmosphere was replaced by a bewildered gloom.
John shut off the music. Silence descended on the room. Except for the barking of the dog, who stood outside the bathroom door and snarled at anyone who came close until Helena opened the door a crack and let him in.
Kristian went out to talk with Per, and the others followed.
The blow came so fast that Kristian didn’t have time to react. Per landed a direct hit on the bridge of his nose.
Rikard and John grabbed hold of Per before he had a chance to do any more damage. They dragged him from the veranda and onto the lawn, wet with evening dew. The wind had died down, and a gray mist hovered all around them. Emma and Beata looked after Helena. Eva helped Kristian wipe off the blood and put on an ice pack to reduce the swelling as much as possible. Olle called for cabs. The party was definitely over.
Copyright © 2006 by Mari Jungstedt