Recovered from the Wayback Machine.
Coming home from the park tonight, I had the windows rolled down to catch the evening breezes, and the music cranked loud, enjoying being out of the house and away from the computer. I was on autopilot, not really paying attention to my surroundings until I pulled up behind a dark green car at the spotlight. The license plate read KRSTOF.
KRSTOF. Kristof. A name that evokes images of dark gypsies with mysterious ways, brilliant red sashes holding hair back from unnerving black eyes. I peered into the back window of the car but the glass was too dark and the sun against it to bright to see anything more than a shadow of a head. A male head. Of course.
When the light changed and as we drove, I thought about this man in the green car, with the name that rolls across your tongue like fine chocolate or the merest wisp of fine cognac.
Kristof is a hiker, like myself, but unlike me, with my walks along the Katy Trail and Powder Valley, he’s traveled all throughout the world, hiking the fjords in Norway and the hills of Scotland. He speaks with a slight accent, the product of his early youth spent in Europe, as the son of a university professor who taught medieval history.
His face is lean and dark from the sun, and wrinkles formed grooves down his cheeks and a single line between his eyes. He’s is in his 50’s, but age sits on Kristof as lushly and caressingly as the dark, sable soft mustache sits over his thin lips.
His hands grab the leather wrapping of the steering wheel, fingers long and slender but strong; gentle hands with calloused fingertips, a legacy of years of playing classical guitar. Around his neck he wears a silver necklace, weighed down by an extraordinarily carved amber leaf, held in place by intertwined silver vines. The pendant was a gift on his 40th birthday from his mother, an artistic and eccentric woman who used to make him soft boiled eggs sprinkled with chives and dotted with caviar for Sunday breakfast.
His parents are separated, and have been for years; though apart, they still remain close. There is love between them and always will be, but it’s not enough to overcome their need to be free — a need that chafes at the bonds of daily cohabitation. As soon as Kristof was old enough, they talked with him about this need to be apart and from that moment he alternated his time between them, content with his odd but satisfying family.
Kristoff’s father is retired, living in Denmark and doing research for a book on Margaret, Queen of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Margaret, a queen in a land dominated by men, was gifted enough to capture the hearts of the people and keep peace in her homeland of Denmark; strong enough to extend that peace through marriage and alliance to include Denmark’s neighbors, a rare moment of unification for an area with strong regional ties.
Kristof’s mother is visiting Russia, searching for fine specimens of Baltic amber, the stone she uses for all of her jewelry. At one time she used other stones, such as onyx and opal and Lorimar, but after her first creation with amber — the very pendant on her son’s necklace — she would work with no other material. In Moscow, she meets with an old friend and over cups of strong tea served in tall glasses held by delicate silver filigree, they talk of rumors that another piece of the famous Amber Room has surfaced. Entirely crafted of fine amber in different hues, the Amber Room was a gift to Peter the Great from the King of Prussia, and they say to walk within it was like bathing in pure sunlight. The room disappeared during the War, stolen by the Nazis and some said destroyed in a fire, others said at the bottom of Baltic Sea when the ship carrying it was sunk.
As much as he loves his parents, though, Kristof’s mind is not on them, Margaret, or amber. He’s thinking of a trip two weeks ago when he was visiting a close friend who lives in Maine. They had spent a fine day out on a boat owned by his friend’s brother, sailing about the bay with the Atlantic breezes cool as they blew through Kristof’s thick, dark hair; the sun warm as it touched upon the glint of silver at his temples and in his mustache.
The boat was trim and sleek and the gathering of friends and family was warm and friendly, made more so by another guest, the cousin of his friend’s brother’s wife. He had noticed her as soon as he stepped on to the boat, a woman with chestnut hair down to her shoulders softly framing a face lovely, but not beautiful. She had a light dusting of freckles across her nose that he only noticed that evening when they walked along the beach and he bent down to meet her face tipped up to meet his. The moonlight and the golden glow of the antique streetlight next to the beach picked out her soft grey/green eyes, a hint of laughter and something else, something more subtle, reflected back at him.
In the morning, they shared strong, rich coffee made smooth by sweet creme, and spread blueberry jam on fresh, still warm muffins. The day promised to be another fine one, with only faint wisps of fog curling around the trees by the shore. They ate on the porch, sitting in rockers worn grey from years in the salt air and smooth by the bodies of past visitors, occasionally tossing crumbs to the seagulls that shamelessly begged at their feet.
Kristof remembered her soft curves and generous mouth and the blue-green tang of the ocean, always the ocean behind and around them; but more, he remembered her laughter and how well their words met and melded into crystaline phrases he could still recall. He told her about autumn in St. Louis, looking at her from the corner of his eye as he spoke about the deep greens of the hills turned into the same brilliant colors of his mother’s collection of fine amber. He also made sure to talk about nights filled with delicately fried catfish accompanied by dark beer, and cool, blue jazz. His words were both a promise and a lure, and he wondered whether he should wait until he got home, or pull over then and there and call her on his cell phone.
At that moment, Kristof turned into the left turn lane, and I pulled up beside him and then passed, eyes forward and on the traffic surrounding my car.