The mouthwatering smell of chorizo, chicken and spices greeted me when I came in the door late Thursday afternoon. The message yesterday had left me feeling uneasy and I had ended up going back home in the boat. I spent the afternoon reading. I needed to brush up on my Norwegian. And what better way than to read a good novel? Emma had tons of those, but complained that she rarely got around to reading them. Today, I’d gone out kayaking again and made a proper picnic out of it. I’d gone to the same bay I’d found two days earlier and I’d taken a flask of tea, some sandwiches, a packet of biscuits, sun cream, which I had forgotten the previous time, and the novel I was reading.
“And what’s that you’re making?” I asked excitedly as I walked into the kitchen.
“Jambalaya. And there is a chocolate orange cake in the oven.”
I was absolutely starving. Jambalaya and Emma’s chocolate orange cake were some of my favourite foods. It had also been two things my mum had been good at making. I drew in my breath. Of course.
“We’re celebrating right?”
“Yes. I know it’s a little sentimental of me. It’s not as if I’m doing this every year, but she would have been 60 his year. And I do miss her to be honest.”
I walked over and put my arms around her. “I miss her too.” I said. “Good old mum. You know how we used to row a lot over the silliest things? I know it happened, but I only seem to remember the good times now. And, well, I am sorry she won’t be around for when I potentially get married, have kids, get promoted….”
It worried me slightly that I’d put husband and kids before a job promotion. The die-hard feminists would not be very impressed with me. I wasn’t impressed with me. But if I thought about it, marriage and kids were still things the modern society was expecting women to aspire too. Or was this the postmodern society? Anyway, I was no better than the rest of my friends, most of who were coupled up. Melissa had even got married last year and I was her bridesmaid. Now she had a baby on the way. It all seemed a bit surreal to me. In my head, I was still a carefree teenager. My friends were carefree teenagers too. We were way too young to think of wedding dresses or dirty nappies.
“Speaking of which,” Emma broke the hug and went over to the cooker to turn down the heat. “Anybody in the picture at the moment?” I shook my head. “I split up from my boyfriend six months ago.” “The lawyer?” I nodded. Ronald (Please don’t call me Ron) and I had been together for three years and had lived together for one of them. It had been a very sensible and grown-up relationship with frequent dinners in posh restaurants with his lawyer friends, Sunday morning brunches in the French café around the corner from where we lived, uneventful sex and going on walking holidays together. I was the one who had ended it. Six months after Ronald had moved in with me, he had gone to a work retreat for a weekend when I had to work flat out because of something or rather. He had come back a changed man. No more caffeine, no refined sugar, no junk food. Not that I wasn’t healthy, but without my morning coffee, or a strong cup of black tea, I was just not nice to be around. And what’s wrong with a cheese burger when you have a hangover, or an ice-cream or piece of cake every so often? Had Ronald kept his new ways to himself, it would have been ok. No, scrap that. It would only have taken longer for us to break up. I didn’t like the walking holidays that much. He lectured me about how I needed to change. Ronald also started going to church. That in itself is fine. I’m such a rare thing as a Norwegian catholic, although I’m more of a lapsed one. Still, I love a catholic mass every so often. Ronald however, had gotten into that kind of crazy Pentecostal church who only give Christians a bad name and make them a laughing stock. And he started to preach another way of life to me. I remember the day I’d finally had enough. I’d come home to find that all Ronald’s things had been removed from our bedroom into the spare room. Ronald had come home half an hour later, and seeing my shocked expression, he’d said that “We’re living in sin Sandra. I want to do right by you. So I’m sleeping in the spare room till we marry and can be together as before, but sin free.” Then he had dropped down on one knee and proposed. My answer had been two words. “Get out.” It had practically been very easy since we’d lived in my flat and I was the owner. Though Ronald had taken the break-up hard. He’d been begging me for weeks to take him back. Now though, he’d given up. He was no longer in my life, except I occasionally did receive some mail for him.
“Not since crazy Ronald,” I laughed.
“Better to have nobody than to have someone like that,” Emma replied and opened the oven door. “Why don’t you go upstairs and have a quick shower? Dinner will be ready in ten minutes.”
We started the meal by toasting my mum Eline Martinsen and then we ate in silence. But it was more of a greedy silence than an awkward one. After too much jambalaya, and a dessert consisting of strawberries with lemon juice and pistachio cream, we took our wine out on the veranda. Smells of summer BBQs and the sound of families laughing together wafted towards us. I couldn’t see much though since the hedges gave quite a lot of privacy. We needed to let the food digest before we attacked the cake.
“I often think of how she died.” The words just tumbled out of me all of a sudden. “I sometimes think that if….” I couldn’t finish the sentence out loud. Emma bent forward and put a hand on my forearm. “Sandra, you know as well as I do, that Eline’s death was a tragic accident. It was that drunken man’s fault if we’re gonna start putting blame on anybody.”
The sane part of me knew Emma was probably right. But the irrational part of me, as well as His voice and the image of the text I’d received yesterday spoke louder.
“An accident,” Emma repeated. “Now, will you go inside and make some tea and bring out the cake?” That’s the great thing about Emma. When you’re digging yourself too deep into your mental crap, do something practical.
The cake was just as juicy and delicious as I remembered. And the green strawberry and mango tea complimented it well. “Emma, can you please tell me about my father?”
That too, wasn’t something I had planned to ask there and then, although I had been wondering about it since He had come into mums and my life when I was eleven.
“I don’t know that much really. Did Eline never tell you anything?” I shook my head. “I actually know very little about her life before London. And whenever I asked about my father, she turned away and refused to talk.”
“I was very young. Only a teenager. But Eline worked in a clothes shop in Grimstad which doesn’t exist anymore. She didn’t own the shop, but she was a manager. I think she liked her job a lot. It was more of a boutique shop. Not as posh as Belinda, but it was a good store with imported designer clothes from around Europe. The not so well known, but also not that expensive designers. She was married, but you probably knew that. His name was Frank Mikkelsen.”
“Hold on,” I interrupted. “Mum was married? How come I had no idea?”
Emma stared at me in surprise. “You really had no idea?” I shook my head. “Why has nobody mentioned that?” “I guess everybody thought you knew. And as for Eline, I don’t know. But it’s strange that she never told you. I’m so sorry Sandra, I never meant for you to get to know this way.” I wanted to ask how exactly I was supposed to know, but I held my tongue. It was unfair to Emma. Mum was the person I should have had words with, but she was dead. “I don’t suppose mum had another child too?” I said knowing I sounded more sarcastic than what was fair. “So she didn’t tell you?” Emma said quietly. “She had a boy before you called Sven, who died of a heart failure when he was one year old. Eline was already pregnant with you then. She took it hard, but pulled herself together for your sake. I think in some ways you saved her. Then, when you were one, Frank disappeared. Nobody knew what happened. He just disappeared completely off the face of the earth it seemed. It was too much for Eline. First her son, and then her husband. So she wanted to start a new. She didn’t want to go to Oslo. It was too close she said. People were talking about her. There were mean newspaper articles about her. How she, perhaps, had murdered her son and husband like Gerda had seemingly done with her to ex-husbands. And she was scared that some crazy people in town would make sure social services took you away from her. In Oslo, she could still be tracked down. So she went to London, changed back to her maiden name, Martinsen, and you know the rest.”
I nodded. Mum had run a successful boutique in London for clothes, but had chosen to go for Danish design rather than designers from all over Europe. “They are the only clothes that will fit me. These English designers and brands assume everyone has narrow shoulders,” she used to say.
“Frank Mikkelsen was, is, incidentally the son of Sven Mikkelsen,” Emma continued. “That’s Gerda’s first husband. But Frank was not Gerda’s son. He was the son of Sven’s mistress. The one he allegedly went to see on the day he drowned.”