Winning entry (3rd place) in the word-hut short story competition
In Memory of My Forgotten Grandfather Per-Åke Wesster was born in 1918, during a cold winter, in the county of Sormland, Sweden. He was born at a time of uncertainty when the world tried to recover from the first world-war. The import of food was sparse and restricted, and people suffered severe food shortages. As a young boy, Per-Åke grew up far from the worries of the world in a traditional and steady home called the Dale View. His mother was a strict Lutheran and teacher from a local school. His father was a tradesman and the local “Master of the Hunt.” From his father he learnt the language of the forest, he learnt how to track, and he learnt the hunting etiquette and rules. At Dale-View he was free to roam, free to swim in the rivers, and free to camp in the mountains whilst fishing and hunting. Although people had little resources, life was good at the farm; the air smelt of fresh bread in the morning and at night the amber light from the fire would dance around the walls and shine through the windows; and laughter could be heard late into the evening. The world outside changed rapidly and as the years passed the economic depression took place and the family was forced to look for work in Stockholm. The Dale-View farm stood empty. Although he missed the farm, his thoughts as a young man, were now wrapped up in studies and finding work. His mother insisted that he attend Church where he found his new friends, and through the Church he started seeing a young girl called Ester Strand. Her father offered him work as a clerk exporting iron and timber to Germany, it was a good arrangement, as work was hard to come by during this time. They married early and had a son together. His life slid into a routine and often he would dream of the days when he was living in the Dale-View farm. One morning, he walked by a poster which said: “Dance the Night away under the Soul-Moon.” He was captivated by those words, he longed to sing and dance above his worries and responsibilities, but the Church would forbid such activities and he couldn’t share his longing with Ester, she would rarely want to dance. He decided to buy himself a ticket without letting anyone know. He told Ester he was having to stay late on the Saturday night. As he walked into the dance hall, a new world opened up before him. Women were wearing colourful dresses, and they carried feathers in their hats. The air was smoky and whisky scented. A wild and ecstatic music played from the band and it was nothing he had ever heard before. Then something happened to him that changed his life forever. There stood a woman looking at him, holding a cigarette in her gloved hand. A song bird sang in his chest. He didn’t know if he dared to stay where he was, but his wonder at this woman was stronger than his fear. They walked towards each other. She asked him to dance the next waltz with her and for those next five minutes, they danced above all the care in the world, they danced under the soul-moon. The woman’s name was Zayda. The next morning he woke up and felt the happiest he had ever been since he had arrived in Stockholm. He didn’t know what had come over him, but he was unable to let go of the image of the young woman from his mind, and the moment he had shared with her. He remembered before he had left, she had whispered these words in his ear: “If your thoughts have bird wings they can reach me when I am not with you” . On the Sunday morning as he was walking to Church, he saw a sparrow in the park with leaves in its beak - he spoke to it saying: “Please send all my happy thoughts to Zayda,” and the bird flew away. They met again and danced under the soul-moon and the love between Per-Ake and Zayda grew, and just as the snow recedes under the sun, there was no power in the world that could stop their love from blossoming. His relationship to Ester had to come to an end, and he could no longer work for his father in law. Zayda was banished by his mother, she blamed Zayda for the break up of his family and for taking him to those Godforsaken dance halls, where, she said “there was only sin.” As fugitives of love, they lived outside of the traditional society and had a family together, and my mother was born from their love. Per-Åke and Zayda were rarely apart from the day they had danced together. But he found new work as a salesman, and started travelling around the Swedish countryside more often. Each time he was away he would always send be-winged and positive thoughts to Zayda. She could see his messages in the clear eyes of a blackbird, or in the chirping of the chaffinch. But one day as she walked around the lake Lötsjön, Zayda saw a dark feathered crow sitting on the branches, and it was cawing at her, she wasn’t sure what it meant, but it worried her, she had a sense of foreboding. And when he returned, her fear came true, he had been struck down with tuberculosis. He was taken to the hospital where they tried to treat him; he was there for a long while, his health deteriorated, the illness advanced through his lungs. On the day before Christmas Eve, Zayda went out into the winter’s day and she walked by the lake Lötsjön, it was a place where she could feel comforted. She knew that he may not survive the night. The low winter sun pierced through the clouds. She closed her eyes and held her palms together, she sent him her deepest thoughts. Per-Åke laid in his hospital bed where he had been overcome by feverish dizziness. But suddenly his face was shadowed by two large wings. A swan stood by his bed and sang to him the most beautiful song he had ever heard. “Who are you?” he asked. “I have come to invite you for one last dance ” the swan replied. Per-Åke leaned forward and kissed the white neck of the swan. Then he laid down and closed his eyes, and he was at peace. In that same instance, as quick as thought, two white swans could be seen flying above the lake Lötsjön, the swans danced in the air and in the water, together for one last time. And to this day, whenever a lone swan song can he heard singing on lake Lötsjön in Sunbyberg, we remember the longing and the love between Zayda and Per-Åke.