It was push and pull, give and take, love and hate for a number of years. Despite how bad we would get on each other’s nerves, how vicious we could be with our insults, how miserable we could make each other, it never dampened the unending, all-consuming love I felt for him. The fire that roared in my loins, my heart, my soul. I believed that he felt the same way too, why else would Ludie stick around if he didn’t love me the way I loved him? I was so naïve and blind that I never really considered any other reasons.
I discovered the reason in person one fateful summer day between shows. Her name was Hanna and she was Anne’s new understudy. I was cleaning up around the theatre, believing Ludie to have gone to a café with Peter and Lisbeth, when I heard some noises coming from his dressing room.
To his credit, Ludie had locked the door. It was my curiosity and concern that kicked the door in anyway, especially after hearing a female’s high pitched giggles from inside.
What I saw…I can’t even describe. I don’t even want to think about it, it still destroys me, burns my heart to this day. All these decades later and I can’t…well, all you should know is that I found Ludie with his pants down around his tanned ankles, with blonde and vivacious Hanna attending to him.
The rest was a blur, thank the Lord. Instead of cleaning up his dressing room, I messed it up, throwing chairs, tossing about clothes and makeup. I slapped Ludie repeatedly until Hanna tried to intervene, then I hit her right in the lip. I was livid, beyond this plane of existence, I was somewhere else trying to breathe and hold onto the belief that I had love on my side. In one second it was all over. Everything I had, that was important to me, was gone. Ludie was my life and the reason my heart kept beating, the reason my soul kept soaring.
Sadly, even after all that, even after finding out that he had been carrying on with Hanna and a few other women from time to time, he still continued to be my all. I was doomed by my love.
I called in sick the next day and the next day after that. Anne took care of me when she could but she had to go to work – she wasn’t going to let that horrible woman take her place on stage, not after all of that. In fact, Anne was just as mad as I was, also feeling duped by Ludie and she made a vow to make his life and Hanna’s life a living hell.
I never figured out if she did or not. Oh, Anne would tell me how she tripped up Hanna one day after rehearsal, or she openly mocked Ludie during one of their scenes. But I never saw it for myself because I quit my job. My wonderful, promising job. Oh, it wasn’t my dream of all dreams – it hadn’t got me up on the stage yet. But it kept money in my pocket and hope in my life, and I was good at it, damn it all. I was good at my job and I had to go and fall in love with a self-centered actor and spoil the whole thing.
For the second time in my life, love had ruined me, only this time it was my own love that was at fault.
I am more than aware of how dramatic I sound. Let’s face facts, Ludie was not the only actor here. I wasn’t on stage but I had all the desires of the craft and unfortunately the same tendencies as he did. I am sure I was as much to blame for the end of our relationship as he was. But it was a terrible ordeal nonetheless.
Because I quit the theatre and the life I had built up steadily over the years, I had to find work elsewhere. I stayed with Anne because I had no other choice: she was my best friend and confidant and let me live with her rent free until I found a new position.
At first I applied to other theatres, not even caring if I ended up putting makeup on Frederick again, but soon the search proved to be fruitless. It was after the war and money was still tight. Businesses were closing and people were learning how to prioritize in the wake of global turmoil. I eventually found work at a coffee shop near the ferry terminal, serving pastries, cake and caffeine to passengers bound for Finland or Denmark.
It was thankless work but with tips it brought in more money than the theatre position, particularly as tourists would ditch their remaining kronas with me. But despite the steady income, it did nothing to fill the void in my heart.
I worked there, feeling empty and joyless, for a few years. A year can feel like such a long time when you are young and living it, but looking back, I don’t remember a single event or day of my life during that period. Just occasional evening with Anne, listening to her talk about the newest man in her life, as we both drank more than we should. All my work days blurred into each other, an endless sea of hot brown coffee and faceless people. Such a waste of my life. Life is such a precious commodity when you’re done living it.
Then I met Karl. Karl who was kind and warm and gentle. Karl who was tall and built like a small bear. Karl who had a dark beard and dark eyes but possessed the sunniest, lightest disposition in Sweden.
Karl was a frequent customer to the café as he was often taking the ferry over to Tampere, Finland, to do business. He would sit at the counter and make small talk with me, always tipping generously, and when he would return from his voyages, no matter how early in the morning or late at night it was, he would bring me a Finnish Moomin toy as a present.
As I didn’t have much going for me, I started looking forward to those visits from Karl. And I started to find Karl more and more attractive each day. It wasn’t the burning desire I felt for Ludie, nor was it the brotherly indifference I felt with Stäva. It was somewhere in between and that was finally sounding smart to me.
Karl’s intentions were pure, honest and obvious. We started courting each other with the caution I should have taken with Ludie and soon we were an agreeable and happy pair. Karl had his own business importing caviar to other European countries and he did quite well for himself. I quit my job as he took care of me and eventually I moved out of Anne’s and into his house on the outskirts of town. We were married shortly after.
The wedding was a very small, civil ceremony in a courthouse. Anne was my maid of honor, Lisbeth was there too and so was Peter. Karl had his older sister Lulu and a few of his employees and army buddies. I wore a simple white gown that matched the ease of the event and for our honeymoon we sunned ourselves for a week on the beaches of Spain.
We frantically tried for a baby. I felt that because my career was a now distant dream and I had security and a reliable sense of love, that having children would be the most logical step. I felt ready for them, more than I ever had before.
But though Karl and I were intimate as much as possible, nothing ever “stuck.” I was left feeling useless and ashamed. I worried that the abortion I had all those years ago had done some permanent damage to my body and I blamed myself day in and day out as my monthly redness kept coming like clockwork.
Being the good man that Karl was, he never blamed me. He was over ten years older than I and often made remarks that perhaps he was too old to become a father. I told him it was nonsense – he was older but he was a still a man and in fine shape and health. I knew it was because of me, because of the horrible choices I had made when I was younger.
We kept trying though, year after year. The goal eventually became less important as we got older and we focused on other things in our life – for me it was watching films and sewing skirts in the latest fashions, for him it was sailing his new sailboat around the archipelago. But the urge to have a child kept building and building inside me, like tiny flames that would never fully go out.
Eventually though, I had to give up on that like I had given up on so many things in my life. Oh, I know I sound selfish complaining about a life that most women would have been happy to have. I had a husband who loved me, whom I loved too, I didn’t have to work ever again and spent most of my days toiling around our house in the countryside or on the sailboat. But I was lonely and loneliness can do so much damage to even the hardiest individuals. Anne had married a film director and had moved to Hamburg, Germany and I had lost touch with my other friends. Only Karl’s sister Lulu would come by but even though she was pleasant company, she was too plain for my liking. There was still that part of me that craved the drama and excitement that life used to have.
To tell you the truth, there were some days where I would pray to see Jakob again. My meetings with him had happened so long ago but there was excitement and adventure in the ghostly boy and it saddened me to think that might all be over too.
As it was, in 1959, when I was 34 years old, my past finally came back to haunt me. Only it wasn’t Jakob. Not at first.
I was strolling through the open air market down by the docks, perusing the stands for the freshest shrimp for that night’s dinner when I heard someone call my name. It was a male voice, deep and rich but ripe with uncertainty.
There was no guessing whose voice that was. I could tell from the way the hairs on my arms stood up, from the hot, pooling feeling in my stomach, from the way my heart skipped a beat and staggered on.
Despite feeling frozen to the ground, I turned on the spot and saw Ludie through the maze of shoppers.
He was pushing forty now and looked even more handsome than he did when he was younger. His hair had thinned out a little bit and had lost a bit of the sheen but it was still colored like gold and honey and his eyes were that sharp, calculating blue.
I didn’t know what to do or what to say. All those feelings of betrayal and heartache came rolling back just as if it were yesterday. A part of me wanted to hug him in the joy of seeing an old friend. Another part wished I could have taken the nearest fish and battered him over the head with it then kicked him over the side of the docks until he hit the water below and drowned.
Ludie didn’t seem to be too concerned with how I was going to react. As soon as he saw my face, he raised his hand in a slight wave and his lips parted to show those show business teeth of his.
I wish I could tell you that I told Ludie to go straight to hell and that he wouldn’t deserve anything more than that, but I didn’t. I was a fool, again. A weak, sad woman.
I returned the shy wave and within minutes we were walking together out of the market and to a nearby park, the sun sparkling off of his hair and the buildings and his smile and the light in my heart.
“Listen, Pippa,” he said taking hold of my hand in his, adjusting himself on the park bench to face me. “I was a terrible fool.”
I gave him a slight smile, not disagreeing with him at all. “You were. But so was I.”
“No, my darling,” he said, reaching up for my cheek. “You were magnificent. You were the love of my life and I threw you away. I was young, stupid and out of my mind. I didn’t know how to handle my feelings or my fame or anything of that nature. I spent the last few years regretting what I did to you, wondering if I’d ever get the chance to redeem myself in your eyes.”
“It has been almost fifteen years,” I told him, trying to take my hand back. “A lot has changed since then. You can’t blame yourself for your past.”
“But I can and I do,” he said. His eyes explored my own and I was shocked how little they had changed. It made me wonder that if the eyes were windows to the soul and his reflected the soul of the selfish boy I once knew, was that person still inside of him?
“I’m married now.” I flashed him my ring.
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