Sunday at noon, the sky in Copenhagen has the color and sheen of a silver Porsche. That’s a luxurious look on a sports car glistening in the sunshine but in the clouds of autumn in Denmark, it meant a chilling drizzle that feels no better in fiction, than it did in truth.
‘How to make the world better?’ Russell voiced his mission in a mental monolog. ‘I just want to make my world better today.’ The task was daunting: nightclubs were all closed for the day, and perhaps for the whole evening as well. He didn’t know if they would be open at all on the Sabbath. Instead of writing, his pencil sketched a female figure in his notebook. ‘I wonder what I’m thinking of today?’ He needlessly asked his poorly done nude drawing.
“Why don’t you take a city tour?” The hotel’s desk clerk suggested.
“Can you suggest a good one?” Russell inquired out of politeness. ‘The truth is, he’s likely got one that gives him a commission on referrals’.
“What else are you going to do on such a miserable day?”
“You’ve got a point there.” The reporter on a search for stories took the proffered brochure.
“Sign me up.” He instantly regretted his moment’s spur decision. ‘I’ll hate it. I’m not a guided sightseeing trip enjoying guy.’ But it was too late: the desk clerk was already on the phone and booking it. Thirty-two minutes later, he was on a bus.
“Hans Christian Anderson kept his hands busy right here,” the tour guide spoke into a microphone that amplified his obnoxious voice so loud that even a person hiding in the rear toilet compartment couldn’t escape, “and-in-some unchristian ways too.”
‘Don’t give up your day job for a career in comedy.’ The unappreciative bus tourist remarked internally. The guide was fluent in at least four languages and utterly inept at humor in all of them. ‘On second thought, feel free to give up this occupation. You won’t be any worse at a stand-up routine but there, the audience wouldn’t have to leap from a moving vehicles to walk out on the performance.’
“We’ll stop here and walk to where we can watch the changing of the palace guard.” A short while later the tour host explained, as the bus stopped on the street.
‘Unless the royal guards changing involves them stripping from military gear to the white underwear and then donning matching pajamas,’ he mentally scoffed, ‘that’s of no help to my truth or fiction search for stories on how to make the world better.’
‘And then I spied her!’ Russell recalled that instant with clarity, as if a grand cosmic camera had snapped an indelible photo into his memory.
Love at first sight is a trite phrase that doesn’t even begin to manifest the exquisite passion occurring in a fluttering of an eyelid. ‘She was an exotic vision of femininity surpassing my notebook drawing, as the Mona Lisa outshines a kindergarten stick drawing in finger-paint.’ ‘Her eyes were liquid brown,’ Russell recalled dreamily, ‘as a lacquered walnut bar lit by flashing nightclub strobes. Shimmering ribbons of dark brunette hair, raced in tantalizing slow motion, like a torrent of chocolate running over rocks and my fingers yearned to be canoes, shooting the rapids of her tresses and bending the law of attraction.’
She looked at him but didn’t speak. She didn’t need to because her expression asked the question – ‘what do you want?’ Since she was also a proprietor of a coffee kiosk, her setting behind the counter similarly supplied the query.
‘I want you.’ Russell’s mind answered. ‘I want to see what you look like in the pale moonlight and I wish to know how to make the world better. I’d like to my tongue savoring the minty taste of your toothpaste as it explores the surfaces of your teeth.’ “Coffee.” He managed to voice.
She quickly prepared his order but before they could speak more, another customer arrived. And then another wanted coffee and a cookie. Whole busloads of tourists had been watching and photographing the intricate marching drill of the change of the guard, but now they wanted coffee to chase away the chill of the drizzle.
Russell stood apace from the counter, sipping his beverage and occasionally risking a glance at her. His eyes had worked like surveyors, mapping out the body contours hiding in her stylishly casual attire. Occasionally, her brown eyes flicked onto his, as she bustled efficiently about her work duties. And more patrons kept arriving.
‘My dreams tonight,’ he told her in his mind, ‘and perhaps for all of this month, will be of you. But my darling, our sweet fiction fated not to become truth.’ He had ruefully counted buses parked on the street and suspected she would be busy for some time. So long that he would seem as a stalker if he continued to wait. Russell silently toasted the girl’s elegant beauty, before finishing the dregs of his java and tossing the paper cup into the trash.
He trudged back to his tour bus and boarded with the excitement of going to a beloved relative’s funeral.
“The next stop on our search for stories might sound fishy,” the guide chuckled slightly, to give a useless hint for people to be ready to laugh, “but we have a date with the mermaid, in truth instead of in fiction.”
‘Thanks for rubbing it in’. He felt the unfunny joke was mocking him. Then as the bus began to roll away from the curb, he peered out the window a last time.
“Wait!” He yelled out loud. The girl was piling chairs onto the tables and closing up shop. But it was too late, the tour was continuing and he was stuck on it.
‘Why didn’t I linger just a few minutes more?’ He could now see that many of the other buses were seemingly just sitting unoccupied in the large parking lot. ‘My romantic search for a story has ended with my library card marked null and void.’
He hadn’t been enjoying the Copenhagen tour, but now he loathed it. He moved to the very back seat to be as far from the tedious guide as possible and for the bumps in the road to rattle the disappointment from his mind—it didn’t work.
Then the bus came to the final tourist attraction. Sitting on her cairn of rocks in the harbor, the little mermaid looked as forlorn as Russell felt. She was truth or fiction was he.
“Please shoot a poisoned dart into the tour guide’s neck.” He asked the statue. ‘That would be how to make the world better’. Her bronze skin was mottled green with tarnish: it looked like a jungle’s verdant glow on an Amazonian native. A passing seagull had supplied a wide streak of chalk white on her face, resembling a blowgun-wielding warrior’s tribal war paint.
The drizzle had turned to a sprinkle and then as the bus reached its end terminus, to a steady rain. Russell dejectedly stepped down and his shoe splashed into a puddle.
‘One soaked sock is an appropriate end to my day.’ He mentally remarked, and then he looked ahead. ‘But here’s a tour finish with sublime panache.’ The girl was there. I had manifested her there.
She was standing in the alcove of a brick-walled building. The locked door behind prevented her from backing up far enough to gain a full sheltering under the stone lintel. Several droplets landed on the tip of her nose, making it twitch as a rabbit’s.
“My name is Ivanka.” She said as he approached.
“That doesn’t sound Scandinavian.”
“I’m Czech.” Ivanka replied. “Ah.” He made the sound seem as knowing as possible, as if he fathomed perfectly how her being Czech in Denmark held significance. ‘That means just about nothing to my search for stories, but ‘ah’ augers better for my prospects than ‘huh’ would.’