In a city lit by a million lights – streetlights, headlights, lights in shop windows; on a red bus that slogs through dirty snow toward the old town; at a time of day, dusk – or twilight or sunset or eventide or nightfall – five nouns for a word that in Swedish is preceded by a verb, kura, which literally means to curl up but in this idiom means something like comfort, kura skymning, comfort the dusk – or soothe or pacify or cheer or all of these things – which is what we are doing, you tell me, in your impeccable English, as the bus stops near the castle and we step onto Stockholm’s damp December streets.

You have lent me a fur coat that once belonged to your dead grandmother. Thick and brown, it falls below my knees. I did not come prepared for this bone chill, nor was I expecting such darkness so early in the day, but you have nothing in your closet for that; no family heirloom will remedy this lack of light, except a promise to comfort the dusk with me, once you have explained what that means.

We cross a bridge. The streets become narrow and cobbled. Crooked buildings lean into each other. Then, dusk’s swift surrender to the dark that frightens students and shoppers, mothers with small children, businessmen and pensioners, even a few misguided tourists back into their caves. Or at least into a café, the Grey Friar Café, with its cellar that dates to the fifteenth century, a cellar that once offered comfort on such afternoons as this to German merchants flush from good trade, or servants with an extra coin for spiced wine, or stallholders or prostitutes, or even a friar dressed in grey robes at a time when to not seek shelter could mean one’s life.

But it is not my life at stake now on this late December afternoon, as we sit in a crowded café in a picturesque part of town and you tell me about her, the other woman – mistress, lover, paramour – three beautiful words, really they are; beautiful words that could mean nothing or could mean everything to a heart not soothed or comforted by the stone cellar’s candled warmth, but ripped out jagged and raw and still beating for the wolves that howl at the city gates.

About the author

A native of Massachusetts, Michelle Valois called Sweden home for nearly a decade. Two years ago, she travelled in India, a place that she…

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Issue 16 · October 2012

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