Weather aside, the trip itself was as beautiful as it can get. We anchored off unspoiled islands that hadn’t changed one bit since the days of the Vikings. At night under a coal black sky filled with stars, birds bobbing on the equally dark water, I thought just that. I am looking at the same exact scene people have been looking at for thousands of years. On one island, Klaus retrieved logs left in a shed and made a fire so we could use the sauna. Lying nude on a wooden bench in the steam, the feeling of finally being warm after days of cold suddenly turned me on. I only had to touch myself for about fifteen seconds before I came. Which was a good thing as we’d given Camilla our word that we were just friends and it kept me from doing something really stupid back on the boat which I would have regretted.
Klaus chopped the same amount of wood we’d used to leave for the next people before we left. I carefully wrapped the matches back in their plastic bag and washed the beautiful brass bowl used in the sauna hut to throw clean hot water over your body after all the sweating. There were no posted instructions; no reminders to “Please be considerate and leave the sauna as you found it.” We were in the territory of a homogeneous society and everyone adhered to the same unwritten rules.
Klaus had always been easygoing, but now he was drunk all the time and we were arguing constantly. I wasn’t allowed to do anything without his permission and his “requests” were shouted orders. The funny thing was, he kept saying he couldn’t believe how much I’d changed! I found myself studying the railings and cleats and rigging—determined that if he tried to push me overboard I would take him with me. How he managed to sail so well was a mystery; perhaps after making the same trip through the archipelago for so many years, it was something akin to the muscle memory they talk about in ballet dancers.
I was trying to be gracious when we got back to the apartment in Stockholm and met Camilla for the first time. “It was a glorious trip”I gushed. “Really?”she replied. “Wasn’t he drunk all the time?” So maybe it wasn’t only because she was a liberated Scandinavian woman that she trusted us and wasn’t the least bit jealous. I shouldn’t have gone back to their apartment, I should have stayed in a hotel. But Stockholm was expensive and Klaus had stayed with me so many times in New York. Why should I have to spend $2,000? So I didn’t. Instead, I waited until after Klaus left for work before getting up and I was sure to be out when he came home. Only once were Camilla and I alone and she showed me how to easily cure salmon by sprinkling sugar, salt and chopped dill on the fish before tightly wrapping it in plastic. “Then all you have to do is flip it a couple of times a day for three days,”she told me. I liked her. We weren’t that different. But I could leave and she couldn’t. After so many years it was impossible for Camilla to abandon a man in Klaus’s condition.
It rarely stopped raining and it never did get warm. During a heavy storm I became disoriented trying to find my way home and asked directions from a lady coming towards me. Klaus and Camilla lived in an upscale residential area and when I could clearly see the woman beneath the umbrella, I realized she must be from the neighborhood. Neatly coiffed gray hair, stylishly dressed with a distinctive gold brooch on her lapel—probably in her seventies—she insisted I accompany her home to have tea and dry off. As soon as she put water on to boil, I watched her alternate layers of apples she’d peeled and sliced with melted butter, sugar and cinnamon in the bottom of a cast iron frying pan, then pour a batter she whipped up on top of the mixture. It was the kind of skillet where the handle is metal so the coffee cake can safely bake in the oven. Friends popped in and out the entire afternoon. Her deceased husband had been a well-known classical musician, and her lovely apartment was filled with valuable antique furniture and memorabilia from years of performances abroad. When I used the bathroom, I passed her bedroom—the dresser top scattered with family pictures in standing silver frames and open boxes of jewelry. I’m not the kind of person who would ever take anything, but without knowing that, she’d invited a total stranger into her home. “Been doing it all my life,”she said when I expressed concern for her safety, “and I’ve always met the most interesting people.”
I changed my ticket to leave sooner than originally planned, but didn’t tell Klaus. Even though we were barely talking, I knew it would annoy him to come home from work and discover that I’d left without saying goodbye. Of course, the morning of my departure he was late leaving for work and like a teenager sneaking out, I was forced to get dressed and put on lipstick under the covers. I was sleeping on the sofa bed in the den that didn’t have a door. The moment I heard him leave, I folded the sheets and left them neatly on the bed, grabbed my suitcase and raced out. If he’d forgotten something and come back, I would have gotten busted. We never spoke again and though I’ve never checked, there’s no way Klaus could still be alive.