Primrose Silverspoon’s heart skipped a beat when she first caught sight of The Scandinavian Princess. Amongst the vibrant colours of Copenhagen Harbour the magnificent 22,000-ton luxury cruise liner sat there radiant as a virgin bride. Its maiden voyage was a promise of happiness. She cast her beautiful blue eyes over the harbour towards Nyhavn and the hues and shades of the canal-side boutiques and coffee shops, but her gaze was inexorably drawn back to the gleaming white contours of the Ocean Liner. Feeling as if she was walking on the edge of a cliff that was about to give way, Primrose spun around in giddy excitement.
‘Oh, Aunt Beatrice,’ she said, her long dark blonde hair blowing gently in the summer breeze, ‘she’s simply gorgeous!’
Aunt Beatrice, her kindly elderly companion frowned, pursed her lips and looked up over her ever-present half-eyes,
‘Aye, it should be an’ all, the amount I’ve had to fork out,’ she said in a non-specific northern accent.
‘Aunt Beatrice,’ said Primrose giggling, ‘you’re such a tease!’
They had flown from Heathrow that morning to begin their Baltic Cruise. They had one night onboard in Copenhagen before sailing. They walked in the warm summer sunshine through Churchill Park and then back along the charming harbour front. They paused at the Little Mermaid sculpture for photographs and gazed in wonder at the lines of expensive yachts. Primrose breathed deeply hoping she could somehow take her feeling of elation with her. Not since Luc had left her sobbing in white alone at their wedding had she dared to think she could taste the honey of life again. And here in Copenhagen, she had rediscovered la dolce vita.
‘Aunt Beatrice, the song, it’s so right. Copenhagen is wonderful!’
‘Wonderful? Copenhagen?’ Her aunt looked incredulous, ‘Bloody Nelson cannonballed the place once. He had it about right.’
* * *
‘Before I pass on my great wealth to you, young lady,’ Aunt Beatrice said conspiratorially, in The Captain’s Lounge, ‘I intend to have a bloody good time. And you should too. That’s why I’ve brought you on holiday. No sitting around moping. No fretting over that daft Frenchman. Eyes too close together. Knew he was wrong for you the first time I clapped eyes on him.’ She paused to down her glass of brown ale.
‘Typical Frenchman,’ I said to the chaplain, ‘he’ll run at the first sign o’ trouble, I said. And I were right.’
Even now Primrose moved to defend her one-time fiancé. Her heart felt like it had been broken into a thousand pieces, like a myocardial jigsaw of pain. If she had been uncertain before, Primrose knew now that she still loved Luc. However, Aunt Beatrice was right, tragedy had turned Primrose into a dark facsimile of her former self. Then something happened, something extraordinary—something that would force her to change the way that she thought about life, for a bit.
In strode Captain Falcon, a picture of laundered whites, epaulettes and shiny buttons. He was as graceful as a swan yet moved as a wild white stallion that had known no rope around its neck. Primrose’s heart skipped a beat. Her eyes followed him to a small podium where he seemed to be making preparations for a welcoming speech. Leaning towards her aunt she whispered,
‘Oh, Aunt Beatrice,’ said Primrose, her bottom lip trembling, ‘he’s simply gorgeous.’
‘Him? Give over. He’s a right girl’s blouse. Mincing in like some bleached Dale Winton. In charge of a ship dressed like that. Couldn’t change a light bulb. Eyes too wide apart. We’ll sink before we reach bloody Riga.'
Primrose sighed. How could Aunt Beatrice be so insensitive? She made her excuses and returned to her luxury Skydeck cabin that now served as a hospice for the broken-hearted. Pounding her pillow with her elegant fists she lay face down desperately trying to hold back tears. Her mind drifted once again to the comfort of the past, to the dead dark days of Luc and France and the darling scent of his hooped jersey, a horizontal zebra of love. She recalled his thick moustache as black as midnight, the clanking of his ancient bicycle and its elegant basket, the ever-present string of onions and the olfactory charm of his brow-worn beret. All of these things, every memory, every detail was a joy and yet a dagger to her heart. She thought of his big brown innocent eyes that burned like chocolate cakes on fire. They could not let her down. Deep in her heart, she knew there must be some explanation for his non-appearance at their wedding. And this is why she had persuaded her aunt to come to Copenhagen though, of course, she let Aunt Beatrice think it was her idea.
Primrose had a secret. A secret secret. Though Aunt Beatrice had been a tower of strength, though she had a heart where the kettle was always on and only saw the best in people, Primrose could not share her secret. She took out her secret from her diary. It was a postcard from Copenhagen depicting the Rundetaarn, the church with the helter-skelter on top. It was the thing she most treasured in the world. She read it again, though she knew it by heart.
I am in Copenhagen, ma belle. I have something to tell you. It’s important. There is nothing more important. Meet me by the Soren Kierkegaard statue. I work there every weekday morning. L xxx
* * *
In the bright morning sunshine, Primrose made the short walk from the harbour to the Royal Library garden where the statue was on display. It was as if the spirits guided her, though Google Maps helped. Her walk often broke into an excited run. Her elegant yellow bodycon dress turned heads and this made Primrose smile.
She shivered involuntarily. For what seemed an age, but was less than that but more than no time at all, she found herself at the foot of the statue. She nervously took in the panorama and hoped she had not wasted her time. Cruel thoughts of her wedding day intruded on her delicate mind. Then she saw a small outdoor market in the corner of the gardens and there at a cheese stall she saw Luc.
Her heart skipped two beats causing cerebral hypoxia and a feeling of elation. Everything now depended on his reaction. His serious brown eyes beneath his beret, his swarthy olive complexion and his bold black moustache were as animated as ever as he chatted with a customer. Her heart throbbed so hard in her throat that she almost choked. Then his eyes met hers through the crowded marketplace. Without ever withdrawing his gaze from her eyes he stopped what he was doing and rushed towards her pushing out of his way whatever and whoever impeded his progress. He stood in front of her and then hugged her. She breathed in his male scent and brushed her lips against his hair-roughened neck. She was alive.
They found a pavement café and ordered coffee. He slowly rolled a cigarette and lit it in the old familiar way, spitting out excess tobacco in a charming Gallic manner. She was overcome with a kaleidoscope of feelings and emotions.
‘Primrose, you are probably thinking, why am I in Copenhagen? Why did I bring you to the Kierkegaard statue?' His lolling French accent hadn’t changed.
‘No actually,’ said Primrose, indignantly, ‘I’m still wondering why you didn’t turn up to our wedding. That is actually a more pressing question.’
‘That is not important. Listen, ma belle. I will come right out with it. I ’ave met my maker. It is written in the book. I am a work of fiction. And so are you.’
He handed her a book. It was a Bills and Moon Romance. She thumbed through the pages. She glimpsed her name, then Aunt Beatrice, then Luc and read about her thoughts and feelings. She read how Luc had had a puncture and how his jealous brother had stolen his puncture repair kit so that he could not make the wedding.
‘Where did you find this?’
‘It was left in my bicycle basket, the one you like so much.’
He handed her another book. The names looked unfamiliar, but she had that sense of déjà vu she thought she’d had before.
‘Primrose. I could give you a hundred books, set in different times and places about an heiress with a charmingly grumpy aunt. It is, how you say, formulaic. They all end in the same way with you left a virgin and alone. There’s the handsome but reckless Formula One driver killed in the Monaco Grand Prix, the handsome and gifted actor plagued by self-doubt that takes his own life. The writer, the soldier, the list goes on.’
Primrose wept. The weight of a hundred broken hearts on her shoulders and the grim realisation of her destiny; an unrelenting quest for love without ever knowing what love is.
‘Worst of all, ma petite chou-fleur, you would not believe it. I am a caricature! You! Me! We are all caricatures! I am incomplete, like a care home jigsaw. I don’t even speak French! Every day is a battle against my predetermined instincts. I am down to one clove of garlic a day when my body cries out for it. Anna had to hide my accordion! This is why I come here, Primrose. Kierkegaard, the father of existentialism, reminds me to create my own meaning, my authentic purpose in life.’
‘Anna?’ said Primrose with a salad of sadness and a dressing of jealousy.
‘Anna Karenina. Primrose, I am in love with her. She was a bit of, how you say, a misery-guts at first with a tendency to lose her head, but when I showed her her book she cheered up.'
Primrose’s heart sank like a Herculean stone that was already heavy with sorrow. She had come all this way for one of the loves of her life to be in love with another.
‘Primrose do not despair ma belle. Only when you have thrown off the chains of your creation can you be free! You desperately want to love a man, but you hold back because you think love, romance, and the art of making beautiful love should only follow marriage. Pah! Live for today, Primrose. Gather ye rosebuds! Here comes Anna now and she has brought someone I want you to meet. His name is Heathcliffe.’
‘Hello, Heathcliffe,’ said Primrose, smiling coyly.
‘Hello, Miss Primrose,’ he said, shaking her hand. 'I hear we are cruising on the same ship.' His touch ran through Primrose like an electric shock. Her heart skipped a beat. Her legs turned to jelly. She began to dribble at the mouth. He was as big as an ox and probably as strong. He was a brooding figure of dark masculinity and had an inter-pupillary distance, which she felt sure Aunt Beatrice would approve of.
Then something extraordinary happened, something cathartic that made Primrose fall back into her chair. She was reacting in the old clichéd way, as a caricature, without thinking. The revelation made her head spin. She felt drunk with life. She looked to the heavens, then to the Kierkegaard statue. It appeared to wink at her. Primrose leapt out of her chair, then half dancing like a ballerina gambolled her way through the Royal Library Gardens and around the Kierkegaard statue. She stopped in front of it as awe-struck passers-by looked on at this beautiful young woman in her shimmering yellow dress.
'I like women!’ she yelled at the top of her voice. ‘I, Primrose Silverspoon like women!'
The adoring crowd burst into spontaneous applause and cheering.
* * *
As the sun began to set over Copenhagen harbour, the Scandinavian Princess was a vision of opulence. Excited passengers pressed against the ornate railings on the elegant promenade deck as the ship set sail. As the sun dipped below the horizon, it cast the sky and the harbour in glorious shades of pink and yellow.
Back in the Captain’s Lounge, Primrose stood at the bar in a flowing sunset-pink chiffon gown. Her dark blonde hair cascaded down her back like a waterfall after heavy rain. She ordered a brown ale for Aunt Beatrice. She sensed a newfound freedom. For the first time in her life, she felt in control of her destiny. Anything was possible. She thought of the endless expanse of the ocean before her. She also resolved not to overburden her mind with bad metaphors.
How Aunt Beatrice would take her extraordinary news, however, was another story.