Based on so many requests, here’s another chapter in the life of poor Kat Jensen. After the blind date fiasco, she is moving on. So life is not that bad for our heroine. Cheers, or as they say in Denmark, skål!
The Real Aquavit Bottle That Launched It All!
Chapter 2 – Crossing the Line
I grabbed my belongings and dodged people pushing my way out the front door. Adrenaline-fueled, I wanted to run but forced myself to walk not stopping to pull on my blazer. The calm, crisp October night air cooled me down from the fight. I hurried north on Columbus Avenue passing slow-moving pedestrians and the well-lit Lincoln Center Plaza with its centerpiece fountain.
“Relax,” I chanted. You’re safe and free again. My mood swiftly changed from fear to being exhilarated and on top of the world. As if I’d escaped some near disaster and emerged magically alive. The feeling I experienced on my last day at a miserable job. My last one, at the bank Charlie so kindly reminded me of, only lasted six months. After two short years with my own consulting business and a taste of real freedom when I could call the shots, it was all coming to an end on Monday.
Maybe I should do something more meaningful like Charlie said. Whatever it was it would be my decision, and a challenge while I was young and healthy enough to do it. My own personal Mount Everest that doesn’t involve hiking.
“But what?” I tried again to imagine something.
At the busy intersection of 65th Street, the traffic forced me to wait before jaywalking ahead. I was several blocks away from the restaurant but looked back, worried Charlie might be following me.
I reassured myself that was nonsense. I’ll probably never see him again, and if I did, we could ignore each other. I mumbled, “I showed him.”
I would never have stabbed him or anyone for that matter. The knife was only a threat. No one will take advantage of me, but then again, no one will want to go on a date with me either. I’ll just have to get used to being alone while I bit my lower lip not savoring the idea.
The sound of squealing brakes and an angry car’s blaring horn came from out of nowhere. I froze and saw the blur of a yellow taxicab. The cabbie yelled out the window, “Damn fool. Watch out,” and shook his fist at me.
I stepped back on the curb and bumped into some people standing behind me. “Sorry. Excuse me.”
Focused on what to do in the future, I’d blindly followed other pedestrians across a vast stretch of Broadway against the light without checking for traffic. I didn’t look at the others standing around me, not knowing what to say or how to explain that I’m not normally this careless or suicidal.
While I waited on the curb, people around me made a few gasps and murmurings. “That was a close call. Holy crap. Geez.” And worst of all, “Glad I didn’t see that.”
I let the crowd pass by when the walk sign flashed and waited for the next one. What a perfect end to an awful week. But when you’re dead nothing matters, and I wasn’t ready. A month ago, I’d say sure but not now. I had forward momentum and a trip to plan. I’ll find my mojo out there somewhere and drag it back for a much happier life.
I trudged the last few blocks to my apartment. I missed my husband, Axel, but I had lots of friends. Except for tonight’s failed attempt, I hadn’t dated. Not even a one-night stand. But I didn’t want another husband. A fun-loving guy to date once a week would be perfect. After my trip, maybe I’ll try again.
I unlocked the door to my empty apartment wishing Xena, my little tabby cat, was there to greet me. She was a real New Yorker, abandoned and rescued from the Bronx. More of a seven-pound dog wearing a cat suit. Somehow, Xena always knew when I was coming home and waited at the door for me.
Losing her this past month after ten years of spending every night nestled together added more unbearable heartbreak. My chest tightened up again as if I wouldn’t be able to breathe, and I tried to think about something else.
As I glanced around my apartment, I realized nothing but memories of what I’d lost kept me here. I didn’t want to forget but needed some distance to heal. Inside the hall closet, I pulled out one of Axel’s favorite hoodies and wrapped myself in it inhaling his faint smell.
“You’re safe now,” I said to my empty apartment while I wrapped my arms around myself in a straight-jacket hug. I wasn’t crazy, but I missed Axel, and not just tonight, all the time.
I picked up Axel’s coffee can with its label hidden by photos and reminders from our trips around the world. His final wish was to have his ashes recycled and stored temporarily in an old coffee can.
We bought gourmet coffee in bags so I’d argued, “At least make it a better class of coffee.”
I ordered a fancy can of Café Du Monde chicory coffee from New Orleans. But at that point, he was too sick to drink it.
I flicked on the radio to drown out the sound of emptiness. The song Beyond the Sea surrounded me, and I reminisced about some of our trips, the easier ones, where we threw our stuff in a cabin, free to explore the ship and ports of call. One photo was from a cruise through the Norwegian fjords, and in late May, we had a snowball fight in the mountains.
“We had some good times, didn’t we Axel? I miss our trips. Soon we’ll go traveling, and I’ll take you home to Denmark.”
I needed to get out, take a chance, and make new memories instead of replaying the old ones. A hoodie, scarf and a few other things were all I had left. My assistant Mel insisted on a serious house cleaning six-months ago, so almost all his personal belongings were donated to Goodwill.
And now after a year, I should scatter his ashes. I’ll start in Denmark, Axel’s birthplace, and have a ceremony with his brother. And then scatter him in some other places. I couldn’t go anywhere before when I was running my business, or leave Xena when she got sick.
“Axel, I’m afraid I need another drink. It was a rough week. Any suggestions?” I didn’t want to mention the details about my first and last blind date.
I didn’t hear him or feel any communications coming through and didn’t believe in it. Axel was an atheist and believed in caring for animals and the environment. After all that I’d been through, I wasn’t sure if a God existed. Now I was unofficially agnostic and hedging my bets since no one made me chose.
The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby song started playing on the radio. “Axel, I don’t want to end up like her. Why did you have to go and die?”
But whining was a waste of time, and I forced myself to do something productive. I confirmed in about a second that the fridge was still nearly empty. Our eclectic liquor collection was long gone. Turned into all sorts of strange concoctions when friends came by before and after he died.
We used to have Scandinavian aquavit, known as the ‘water of life’ in Latin, in the freezer. With the high alcohol content, it never froze. Digging past bags of frozen veggies, I found two bottles, one Danish and another Norwegian, wedged in the back. After I had placed them on the kitchen counter, a thrill went down my spine. I rubbed my hands together to warm them, while not losing eye contact with my friendly elixirs, eager for the tasting to begin.
The bottles were frosty, but like most Scandinavians, they were used to the cold. I plunked my favorite shot glass from Sweden on the counter and poured my first shot, a small one, unsure how it would mix with tequila.
I started with the Danish aquavit in honor of Axel. While I poured, I recalled the Danish warning that one drink, or shot, went to one leg. To avoid being off balance, you must have a second drink for your other leg. But I was already tipsy, so one tiny shot from each would have to suffice.
The liquor’s smooth herbal flavor wafted up, and I inhaled deeply. The label said it was seasoned with coriander, cilantro, and dill.
I confirmed to whoever might be listening. “Not bad. The dill is light and not noticeable. After all, we aren’t making dill pickles.” I giggled at the idea.
I stared at the Norwegian bottle with an unusual story behind it. Barrels of this aquavit crossed the equator in ships known in sailor speak as ‘crossing the line’ not once, but twice, before bottling. I knew all this, but I picked up the semi-defrosted bottle to read more. The tradition started by accident. Barrels of the aquavit were shipped to Asia but didn’t sell. After returning to Norway, the liquor had acquired a unique flavor from being jostled on the ship while crossing two equators.
I admired the beautiful drawing of a sailing ship on the label and wished I was onboard. The label said you could track your bottle’s sea journey with the date on the back. The song playing on the radio was appropriate, the Beach Boys’ Sail on Sailor. I didn’t know all the words but sang the chorus out loud while I googled the company’s website on my phone. Find your Bottle popped up with instructions, so I plugged in the date my newfound friend began his journey.
“All right buddy, let’s see where in the world you went. Perhaps, somewhere I haven’t been.” I stopped to sing the song’s refrain wishing he could sing along too.
While waiting for the details, I threw back a small, second shot to stay balanced. The Norwegian aquavit tasted smoother than the Danish version. Must be the hell it went through to get here.
When the journey flashed up on my screen, I clicked from port to port as the ship’s route went around the globe: Oslo, Brooklyn, Sydney, Hong Kong, Yokohama, Cartagena and back to Oslo. I was impressed with my little friend, a world traveler. Was it twice or three times it crossed the line? Trying to follow the ship on the company’s website made me dizzy.
“Your adventure sounds like fun,” I said to the well-travelled bottle. “I’ve been to all those places, but I’ve never crossed the equator on a ship, only on planes. Might be worth doing on a beautiful sailing ship like yours.”
I rubbed the label trying to feel the ship’s billowing sails and the force of the wind. The bottle stared at me as if it was waiting for more conversation. Were all those people who talked to bartenders talking to bottles instead?
I’d swear someone said, “You go girl.” Or something to that effect, but I wasn’t sure since the bottle probably spoke Norwegian.
When I was having a conversation with a bottle, even if he was a gentleman, I’d better call it a night. I was a one, or maybe two, drink social drinker, and tonight I’d passed my max. I kicked off my boots and stumbled into bed not bothering to change. My bedroom rocked as if I was at sea while I drifted off.
~ ~ ~
The phone rang, and I fumbled around on my nightstand and grabbed the phone, but it slipped, missed the area rug, and banged against the wooden floor. Not giving up, I retrieved it from the floor and croaked out a hello.
“Kat, are you okay?” I recognized Melanie’s familiar voice. She was my soon to be former assistant since our last work day together was on Monday.
“What’s up, Mel?” My voice slurred while I wondered where I was in the darkness. The room swayed as if I was in the cargo hold with the aquavit. Wishful thinking, when I recognized it was my bedroom.
“Sorry to call so late, but I’ve been texting and emailing you for hours. You haven’t responded.”
I swallowed hard and scanned my brain for what to say. “I’m fine but worn out. Can’t this wait?”
“I guess so.”
That was all the assurance I needed. As I hung up, Mel said, “But I should warn you -”
I was too tired to listen. Mel was a night owl and meant well, but it was probably some gossip that could wait. I tried to put the phone back in its cradle, but it fell to the floor. This time, I left it there.
My throat ached dehydrated from my alcohol binge. I dragged myself to the bathroom for a drink of water, and on the way, I discarded my clothes from last night. The liquid was refreshing and a real aquavit. New York City’s tap water was one of the world’s best.
Refreshed, I flicked on the bathroom light and groaned at what was reflected in the mirror. My face was smeared from carefully designed, heavier than usual, glam eye makeup for my date last night with Mr. Rich & Attractive. Unfortunately, he was Mr. Rude & Arrogant. I looked awful, like a zombie with dark, sunken eyes.
My blondish, shoulder-length hair always had a life of its own during the night and flared out from my scalp in all directions. My stomach was queasy, but I didn’t feel that rush of water like I’d throw up. Maybe I’ll be lucky for once. I hadn’t over indulged for so long, not since Axel’s death. Splashing my face with water, I washed off the worst of it, threw on a nightgown, and crawled back under the covers eager to re-board my dream ship and delay the start of another weekend.
And for those of you eager to read the remaining 40 chapters here’s a link to Amazon. AQUAVIT Other ebook retailers also have a bottle. Oops, I mean a book.