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Swedes in Stockholm
I guess I could start by describing the lamp itself. What used to be a lava lamp, only there was no lava left. Purple viscous fluid had flowed up and down at one point in the heat of the bulb. It had been opened and crack at some point, or perhaps it cracked and then was opened. In any case, there was no lava left, the bottle cap at the top replaced with a cork, a poor stopper plugging the jaded glass shards stemming from a crack from the heat of the bulb at the bottom of the tank.
The metallic base was covered. The sheen had been replaced with the sticky residue of bumper stickers, oily fingers from some teenager some time ago. Stickers of skulls and punk rock clubs peeled at the angles of the base. Purple trails appeared to bubble from the glass above, coloring the black and white and yellow. All the writing was in Swedish. Numbers written in marker dotted the glass and the metal. 031 - 739 63 97. 210 – 63, followed by unintelligible purple smudges.
I picked the lamp in Stockholm when I lived there a couple years ago. I shared an apartment with a girlfriend of mine. Alina was her name; though I always pronounced it without the L. she was too sweet to correct me. We lived together in two rooms, one for sleeping and one for sleepwalking. We both did. We had a mattress in each room just in case one of us got up in the middle of the night and stumbled into a wall. The other would hear and drag the perpetrator onto the nearest mattress and go back to sleep. That was of course when we did sleep.
Many times we sat until morning listening to music or to the couple to our east ****ing, or the man to our west beating his wife. We lived on a poor part of the city, but it was all we could afford and when we turned up the music we couldn't hear anything. In the evenings when we weren't working, and sometimes when we were we would see smoke coming through the vents from the reefers lit by the veritable commune that occupied near seven rooms below us. No one really owned it. At anyone point there were ten people asleep and ten people tripping.
We didn't know who actually paid for the rooms. Somehow the landlord tolerated them. Alina said late at night once or twice a month, she would hear the landlord's drugged laugh below us. I guess they paid him off in pot or something.
She was an artist, a painter. When the smoke drifted up she said she painted better. That seemed about right. I drove her pieces to shows and auctions for her. The weirder the painting, the more money it made us. Once I slipped a note down the vent saying Tack Själv to the commune. I don't think they ever got it, but they kept smoking anyway.
I was a stock photographer, and I guess I still am. My goal is to find a window in my home or some public place and see how much money I can make off of it. In Stockholm I made nearly 58,000 Krona out of our three windows. That’s about 8,000 dollars I think. Alina and I weren't that broke I suppose.
The lamp. I picked up the lamp outside the door of the entrance to our building. Across the street actually. It was lying on its side plugged into an outlet on the outside of the opposing building. Alina had just walked into the wall of our second room and I had just dragged her by her foot onto mattress number two. I saw a light out the two cracked mirrors that hung on the wall and on the ceiling of our room. I don't know why they were there. They made for extra angles for my photography though, so they stayed.
Once I remember the one on the ceiling began to fall in about five centemetre shards. Alina cut her foot in the middle of the darkness. I took a picture of it and then bandaged it up with a kiss and some roll bandage I bought at a surplus store. I'm pretty sure it was from the Soviet Union, but it was too old to tell the symbols on the wrapping. I wrote jag älskar dig on the inside of the second wrapping. I took a picture of that too. Made us enough money to buy a pack of light bulbs and some candy. If I remember correctly I used one of the light bulbs to replace the one in the lava lamp.
I saw its light shining through the two mirror out our unshaded window as I dragged her. I may have been sleep walking as well, but probably not because I remember it. I unlocked our deadbolt and rusty chain lock and went to the end of the halls to the metal spiral staircase. The iron was rough and hurt my feet. I unlocked the deadbolt and chain lock of the front door and went out into the street.
I saw the light about twenty metres to my right, casting shadows on the stucco walls through the piles of trash bags over flowing from two metal cans. I crossed the street. At the end of the road to my right was a park, very green an beautiful. It made me quite a bit of money. There was a wooden bench and behind that a bonfire in an oildrum. It was an installation piece from a local artist. It burned newspaper and VHS tapes every night that summer. I think that artist made quite a bit of money as well.
The street lamp was wired with thick black cords running out from a junction box by the door of the other apartment building. It was strung up by hooks screwed into the wall until it reached right below a second floor window where it was grappled by a coat hanger. During the day it looked like it was supposed to be hung there, but at night you could see the blue sparks where the owners of that window had spliced the wire and was stealing the public electricity. The streetlight was orange and flickered on and off alternately with the sparks. I took a picture of that too. I loved Stockholm.
The bulb in the lamp was white against the orange as I walked up to it. A little summer wind blew in between the blocks, displacing my black scarf and my black hair. Papers rustled in the gutter and blew off the trashcans. I grabbed the lamp around its base, but then let it go, as it was sticky with adhesive and lava and oil, not to mention be incredibly hot. The next morning I looked at my hand and I had blisters. What is that, a second degree burn? I unplugged the lamp and sat to let it cool.
I pushed a black plastic bag off of the lid and sat on that. I heard a siren in the distance. My scarf rustled again. The street light flickered on and off and I looked backwards to see sparks landing on scraps of paper, mail or flyers or something, and creating little embers that were whisked away by the wind. I looked at my building, and tried to find my room. There it was, on the third floor, a little left of centre. Curtains were being pushed in and out of the open window east of ours by a rotating fan. Everything was quite. Except for the little noise of arching electric current and the buzz of the light. I thought I out to do something, so I began to sing.
Alina appeared in our window, looking like sleep, looking onto the street questioning, and then smiling when she saw me. I smiled back. She was short with white hair that fell about her blue eyes. Below her little orange dots appeared at the window. They were the tips of hand rolled cigarettes and the bloodshot eyes of their owners. I put my hands in my pocket and looked down at the lamp. I bent down to touch it. Cool enough, I thought. I continued singing as I cradled it like a baby with the cord trailing behind me.
I walked up the stairs and had to stop to reel in the cord because it was bouncing and making too much noise on the iron. Alina was sitting on the little table we ate at and talked at next to our stereo, across the room from her easel. I wasn't very good at Swedish so she talked to me in English some times. Except when she was angry then she spoke in Swedish very quickly so all I could say was ursäkta because I couldn't tell what she was saying. She spoke a lot of languages.
"God morgon, why are you so up? You should be sleeping like me."
"I know, but you were sömngång, and I had to put you back to sleep."
"what do you have there?" she motioned with her head at my lamp because she was sitting cross-legged with her hands clasped between her knees. She was wearing a black tank top and had her hair pushed over one eye. She looked very pretty.
"It’s a lava lamp. It was on outside so I went and looked at it. I think I'm going to keep it."
"Is it broken? It looks broken."
I looked down at it. I hadn't noticed before but there was nothing in the glass besides a little bit of water that had leaked onto my shirt.
"Skit!" I held it at arms length with my left hand and looked down at my shirt. "Yeah it's broken. It still works though. It was just on." Alina shrugged. I walked over to her and plugged it into the power strip on the table. It burst on and the light went out right away. The filament burned out. Alina laughed.
"Yeah it works great." She clapped her hands together. I shout her a dirty look, but then I started smiling at her. She had that affect I guess.
I walked to the other room where there was the pack of light bulbs I had bought. I carefully lifted the cracked glass out of the base and unscrewed the broken bulb. I started to replace it with a 60 watt one, but stopped and unplugged it first. I screwed in the new bulb and plugged it in again. It came on and stayed on. "Ha!" I yelled. Alina looked contented. I held the glass jar over the base and dropped it in. the light instantly shattered and went out.
"Helvete!" I muttered. Alina was laughing again. I did too. "Shut up Aina! I'll get the right kind of bulb tomorrow."
I unplugged the lamp, kissed her, and walked to the other room. I lay on the mattress defeated. Alina came and lay down next to me. We slept.
The next day I took a portfolio with two of her paintings to a studio on the other side of the quarter we lived in. one was a picture of the bonfire at the park and the other was a picture of an old man sitting on the bench opposite the fire smoking two cigarettes at once. They sold for about 2000kr and 2800kr. Not bad. I liked them quite a bit. On my way back to our home I picked up a small light bulb, a new paintbrush, and a new roll of film at the store a few blocks from our house. I heard a siren in the distance as I drove. Perhaps the police decided to shut down the commune, or someone called the cops on that abusive man. I smiled because I loved our apartment.
I parked in the car park half a block behind our building and walked through the alley to the back door, then up the spiral staircase. I knocked at our door but no one answered it. I didn't think Alina had gone out, so I called her name. "Aina! Open up I have a surprise!" she must have been out. I grabbed the key I kept above the door frame of the room opposite ours and unlocked the door. Alina hadn't locked the door with the chain. I was glad for that because it's hell to open those from the outside.
Alina wasn't home. Maybe one of her friends had called her and they had gone out or something. I screwed the bulb into the lava lamp and carefully placed the glass on top of it. I plugged it in. the light it shed was very bright and illuminated the entire room. I could see smoke coming through the vents and breathed it in. I felt quite alright and laid down to sleep until Alina came back.
She came back. She knocked at the door, and I rose in my boxer shorts to greet her. I yelled for her to come in but she just knocked again. I walked slowly to the door and opened it with my eyes half closed. A man was there. In blue pants and a blue shirt and a blue hat. He was a police officer. "Mr. Kraapz?" he said through his mustache.
"nej. Engelska?" Alina must have put me down as her husband on our housing certificate. I was alright with that, actually. The officer nodded.
"You are not the Mr. Kraapz?" he asked. He spoke very slowly.
"Nej, that is my girlfriend's last name. We live here together."
"Oh" he said. He looked at me. Pale skinned. Skinny. Blue and white striped boxers. There wasn't much to look at. He continued, "Your girlfriend. She is dead. I am sorry. You must come to the police office at once Mr. Kraapz. I am sorry."
I stopped. I shivered. I looked around. I stopped. I looked at the officer. "Va?" I said quietly. "Vad!?" I yelled.
"Put your clothes on Mr. Kraapz. You must come to the polis office. I am sorry"
I stepped backwards and stumbled on the mattress. I fell over and cut my hand on a piece of the mirror. I didn't know what to do. "Vad?" I remembered saying. I said it over and over. Then in the police car I kept saying her name. "Aina… Alina…" I cradled my head on my fists then my hands. I dug my fists into my eyes to clear off the tears.
I learned later. Alina was walking towards our apartment with a box of light bulbs. Small ones that would fit the lamp. There was an electric tram. She looked up and saw it and she jumped out of the way. She jumped into the passage of a car on the other side of the tracks. She was crushed by the wheels. The driver fled and she lay there for nearly a quarter of an hour until a police officer saw her and radioed in. she was dead on arrival to the hospital. I cried. I cried so much.
Her brother made a testament to her in the grassy median on the other side of the tram tracks. It was very simple. A cross and a pile of rocks. A sign that said "Vila I Frid. Aina Kraapz." I wonder why he left out the L. I don't know. A little while later, after the funeral I went back to our apartment. I put a change of clothes and some money in a suitcase. The lamp. Some extra light bulbs. I caught a train and never went back to Stockholm. On a bump in the tracks the bulbs shattered all over my clothes.