Monotony was starting to set in, so we opened a bottle of wine and sat on the balcony in winter jackets and scarves and we drank. We spoke about the future mostly, and joked about what we must have looked like to the neighbors across the way, had they taken two seconds to look out the window. Our balcony doesn't have the best of views, overlooking a gravel-covered road that doesn't allow cars, and a two-story brick apartment building (identical to ours and the dozen or so others around the complex) provides the dismal backdrop. But if you stared into the sliver of black sky that poked out from under the overhanging roof, you could see the stars through the haze of our frozen breaths, and that's why we sat there.
Choosing red wine seemed like a good idea at first (I always prefer red wine in winter, while in summer it's best to drink wheat beer). As the time passed the wine became too cool, and I wished it had been white instead. We hid the opened bottle inside the closed balcony door to preserve what warmth we could. I've been quietly looking forward to the warmer climes of the Caribbean, and she has been troubling over a decision to switch schools. I spent a large part of my wine recalling old memories of my college classes and just what the Tourism program was like back home. With no resolution, but both feeling alive, we drained the last of our glasses and returned to the warmth of our apartment, and I wished I was outside again.
The next morning I made breakfast for myself and a cup of coffee for the wallpaper man. The house was disassembled, the dining table, couch, chairs, plants and small refrigerator all piled on top of one another in the center of the room ensconced in protective plastic. The man was painting the ceiling a bright white, and he wasn't sloppy. The old wallpaper had been torn down the day before, and the walls were bare, save for vertical white stripes of leftover glue. After attempting a brief conversation in misunderstood Swedish with the wallpaper man, I bounded out the door, my bag stuffed full of what I'd need to spend a day on the streets of Uppsala. I had my laptop, my book (Sterling Hayden's Wanderer), my spiral notebook, my Speedo and goggles (but no towel – I'd regret this), a thermos full of milk, a Ziploc full of muesli, leftover hummus sharing space in an old Tupperware container with some broken pieces of knackebrot, and two containers of whole wheat pasta. I pedaled into town on my newly acquired girls bike with the green frame and blue seat that was six inches too low for me.
My days have been spent exercising, writing, reading, and trying to do interesting things so that I have something interesting to write about. I sat down in a small café, Café Linne, my favorite spot in Uppsala to have a cup of coffee, but since I stopped drinking coffee this week I had a cup of tea. The cups they serve tea in are enormous, and I'd pee about six times that day, and it became very difficult to focus on a cohesive essay when I constantly had the urge to relieve myself. I got through editing an essay I planned on sending to a magazine. Then I focused on a few blog entries, drank some more tea, peed a few more times, and headed to the library where I devoured every word of a recent Spinsheet magazine, "researching."
I was in a wine mood that evening. I returned smelling like Chlorine because I didn't shower with soap after swimming in the pool. 2000 solid meters of training interspersed with tips on my form as she swam circles around me, and I became frustrated. I'm fitter than most, so why am I so freaking slow in the pool? The apartment resembled something like normalcy, save for the pile of crap that remained in the center of the living room. The plastic was gone, and the walls now glowed a soft lime green, which was supposed to be striped and grey but the wallpaper man couldn't follow directions. I organized the place, even going as far as re-installing the psychedelic curtains and watering the plants. Our blue couch does not match the green walls.
Since I was supposed to meet her for a drink after work, I opened a bottle of wine. It was cheap and Italian and tasted cheap but didn't taste Italian. I drank the whole bottle and then got on my bike again, feeling like a superhero, and rode into town faster than I ever had before, my scarf trailing heroically in the breeze behind me. Toward the castle I flew, and I descended upon the town, where she waited for me on the bridge. We turned a corner and crossed under an ancient iron gate into an enclosed yard filled with large oak trees. The pub was down the cement steps of an old basement, and the entrance was two steel doors set at a 45-degree angle, opened towards the sky, the kind that hid the entrance to your best friends basement where you'd go to hide and play army with nerf crossbows. They asked me for my ID, to which I obliged, and they did not ask for a cover fee. We emerged into a small room with brick walls that gently curved inwards and formed the arched ceiling, low enough that I had to duck in places. Small alcoves with protective iron grates on either side of the room housed candles that provided the light and the ambience. Nirvana's Unplugged in New York played loud enough to hear, but soft enough to enjoy, and my 5th glass of wine tasted remarkable.
She worked again the following morning, but not too early, and we enjoyed an enormous breakfast together. My mind was submerged in fog, but I was not hung-over, and I set out before her, bag packed again, but this time for fun and not work. The bus to Stockholm was to leave at 10:40am, and I only left the apartment at about 10:33, nervously walk-running to the stop where I met her friend Karin, pronounced Car-in. We made small talk about Sweden and traveling and tea, and once we hit the open road I dove into my book and didn't emerge until well within the city limits. My astounding sense of direction was of no use when we got off the bus, because I did not know the destination. I was at the mercy of Karin, and resigned to the role of follower as we rode the escalator downhill.
She finally showed up about six hours later as I was making dinner for us all. The first glass of wine evaporated the fog in my brain, and the second only made me sleepy. The third heightened my senses, and the fourth put my in a decidedly cheerful mood. I ate far more than I should have on Saturday evening, including an entire steak, a large fillet of salmon, two football-sized baked potatoes drowning in olive oil, grilled Portobello mushrooms, zucchini and a salad. I topped it all off with a chocolate-filled banana that spent 10 minutes melting in the oven and about one minute melting in my mouth.
We rode the train back to Uppsala because I love riding the train in Europe, a method of travel that somehow went the way of the covered wagon in America. I began the journey reading my book, and writing my own story in my head. My mind speeds along with words and sentences, yet I struggle to put them on paper. Every waking hour I spend rehashing my life and trying to figure out how to make it sound interesting when the stories flood the pages in my head. In a moment of clarity I immediately put down my book and spent the duration of the train trip staring out the window and watching the scenery go by. I experienced the present and at that moment detached my brain from it's longing of the past and restrained it from speeding into the future.
I decided then to start doing things worth writing about. I thought to myself, if I want to write a book about my life someday, now is the time to fill the pages with experience. The writing will be easy then.
The scenery drifted by, and my right arm supported my head, while she stroked the forearm of my left with her soft fingers. She has hands that are difficult to describe, but are the first thing I noticed about her long ago. Hands were the first things I noticed about every girl I've ever laid a curious eye on, and if they were not right, the girl was immediately dismissed. Her hands were right. When we met, they were athletic but unmistakably feminine, and they were perfectly proportioned, the knuckles not too big but not too small either, and when she nonchalantly rested a hand on a knee, they assumed an aesthetically pleasing form that I usually associate with boats and cars and mountains. The only other person with hands as perfect as hers that I've ever met was my high school gym teacher, but she was a foot shorter than me.
Most of the way we saw farmland and horse racing tracks and green forests with grey rocks in them and no snow and it could have been Berks County but no, it was Sweden. The train stopped and we got off and we walked the few miles back towards our apartment. I rode the one bike we had between us while she sat on the back, her hands securely around my waist. We waited until we were on the bike path though, so the police wouldn't catch us like they did two weeks ago when I pedaled, drunk, into town to see a band. Then we got home, she went to work, and I commenced reading, then writing some. I tried to fix myself a hot drink with rum and fresh squeezed orange juice, because alcohol always makes me write better and we were out of wine, but it tasted terrible so I poured it in the sink. Darkness had settled in long ago, and the hour approached 10:00pm. I read what I had written, and I was pleasantly surprised by the words like I always am after completing an essay, and then I wanted to go outside in the dark and run, because I wanted to have something more to write about later, but I couldn't.