The party that night was to be at the Hudsons. Jenny Hudson stood in front of her mirror pulling up a pair of glittery tights. Her face was so red she wondered if it would ever go back to its normal colour. She opened her bedroom window and leant out into the night. The village was quiet. Across the valley, the ridge of the mountains was sharp against a clear sky dusted with stars. On its mount above the village, the church spire was illuminated. Far out to sea, a single light shone, Jenny guessed, from a fishing boat. Over all of this, the low, heavy, creamy mother of pearl moon. Jenny opened her mouth and drank in the cold night air. She inhaled deeply through her nose. Below her, by the pale blue rectangle of the steaming pool, she saw a pinprick of orange light.
‘Sam, is that you down there?’ Coughing in the darkness. The orange light vanished. Jenny smiled to herself. ‘What are you doing?’
‘Good. You can go down to Lena’s and remind her about the party.’
* * *
Lena thanked the boy for the invitation but didn’t invite him in. After he left, she sighed and shook her head. New Year’s Eve parties were always the worst. Someone would open the lid to a piano or produce an out of tune guitar and ask her if she’d mind, if it wasn’t too much trouble, if, if. She did mind. Very much.
Lena went back to her seat by the open fire. Marcus, Jenny’s husband, sat by the fire, hand clasped around a glass of red wine. She placed a hand on his shoulder and said, ‘You have to go back now.’
He stood up, finished his wine. She held out her hand for the glass. ‘I know,’ he said. ‘Will we see you later?’
‘I don’t think so.’
‘You know you’re very welcome.’
‘OK. Happy New Year.’
‘Gott nytt år.’
He stooped, hugged her and kissed her on both cheeks. She walked with him to her back door.
‘What will you do tonight?’ he said.
She smiled up at him. ‘I don’t know but don’t worry about me.’
* * *
Sa Fonda was filled with bodies moving to the beat. Rafa was DJing until midnight and he’d gradually raised the tempo. One boy was dancing with his shirt off. Even in the middle of winter, his torso was a deep, dark brown. Rafa was sure the boy was steaming.
The air was alive and turned to warm pulsing gold.
At midnight the music would stop so they could hear the church bells chime. They would eat 12 of the grapes from the bowls the owners of Sa Fonda would place along the bar. Rafa would hand over to Matteo, higher up the pecking order. He wanted to make those last minutes count.
The track he was about to play was one of Rafa’s own. He’d sampled the vocal from a vinyl 45 in his dad’s record collection called ‘Eftersom’. He had no idea what that meant but the girl singer had a beautiful voice.
Rafa smiled at the wide-eyed girl dancing in front of him. She’d told him she was on the island with her parents for the holidays. Now she was dancing as if she’d just been let out of prison. He started the track and was thrilled to see her feel her way into the beat. When the sampled voice appeared, the girl began to mouth the word ‘Eftersom’ too, looking into his eyes.
Afterwards, Rafa couldn’t be sure if he’d really seen the old lady standing in the doorway to the bar as he played the song. Had she been smiling? While tears ran down her face, bright in the moonlight.
* * *
‘Can I ask why you came tonight?’ Jenny said as she helped Lena on with her coat.
‘Thank you so much for singing. You have the most beautiful voice.’
‘It was my pleasure,’ Lena said.
Lena Conradson is a Swedish singer who released several singles and EPs between 1959 and 1966 and was a member of the Pearlettes trio. She was 15 years old when she released the original version of the Christmas song ‘Hej, mitt vinterland’. As far as I know, she never recorded a song called ‘Eftersom’.
I used ‘eftersom’ because I understood it mean ‘because’ in Swedish. I’ve since been told that a native speaker would say ‘För att’ or ‘på grund av’, which mean ‘because of/due to’. Sadly, neither of these is particularly poetic. Please don’t revoke my poetic license.
May your New Year be filled with connection, music and golden light.