Because some of you have asked for it, here it is: the opening to Mine.
Sophie Taylor loved the North, the Far North, the frozen silences, the sleds pulled by reindeer, the intricate red and white embroidery on the hem of a woven blue skirt. The love affair, helped along by a childhood safari within the Arctic Circle, started even earlier with an illustrated, leather-bound book of fairy tales that her mother Anne had brought home from Norway, where she had gone to study ice, snow and the receding Jostedalsbreen glacier.
Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen, especially the story of The Snow Queen, stole Sophie’s attention. She considered the Queen in all her spidery finery, snug in a high-backed sleigh, protected from the whirling snow, commandeering her malamutes, the blue-grey fox and the two snapping swans. Her fur-trimmed cloak had billowed up, out and settled over them all.
With the treasured volume wrapped in her thin arms and a willow branch rapping against her bedroom window, Sophie never imagined then that one day she might fall in love, marry and move within miles of her beloved Far North.
“Estonia,” Tucker Mägi had said, spreading jam on a toasted bagel during breakfast at a local deli in Rye.
“Really?” Sophie answered, knowing exactly where the country lay, below Finland and across the Baltic Sea. “Is Mägi an Estonian name then?”
“Yes, and so is Tõnis, my actual first name.”
“Tõnis?” She repeated, wrapping her tongue around the strange sound.
“Yes.” He repeated. “Bitch of a language, Soph. I don’t speak it. Too many umlauts. Tried it once. That, and folk dancing.”
Tucker’s grandparents originated from Estonia, which for Sophie equaled the Far North, or close to it. This alone made Tucker stand out, and while she never bought into the theory of a “one and only,” this single fact appeared to be a bit of sorcery. She certainly didn’t want her age to be the reason why she thought so, but at thirty-nine, time was running out, especially if she wanted a child, which she did and which she felt was a perfectly good reason for getting married.
While Tucker read the New York Times and helped himself to another bagel, Sophie imagined Estonia, the country now shaded a pale blue in the atlas, like the other two Baltic countries, lumped together, tucked away at the top of the world, riding the shoulder of the Great Bear, Russia. She remembered when this part of the world, the old Soviet Union, was a No Go zone, always and forever shaded a bright red, stamped with a monolithic U.S.S.R.
Who would ever travel there?
On a lazy Sunday morning, when they both wanted nothing more than to escape to the beach, anywhere along the Sound, Tucker hustled into the kitchen of his small, rented house on a relatively quiet, historic street in the center of town.
“Take a look,” he said, placing a heavily creased document on an already cluttered breakfast table.
“What is it?” she asked, pulling a picnic hamper from the top of the refrigerator.
“Something from Dad.”
Tucker spread out the oversized paperwork.
“Is this Russian?” she mused.
“I think he thought I might be interested.”
“Never. You wouldn’t ever get him or his father back there. Ever.”
No one in Tucker’s family had any interest in Estonia. The Mägi family, now well established in Louisville, Kentucky, had for the past two generations bred Derby-winning thoroughbreds.
“It is Russian,” Sophie said, studying the text, “and I’m guessing the flipside is Estonian? Get them translated? May be worthless, but on the other hand…”
“Fortune made,” Sophie laughed as they got into his rusted Audi, “and then maybe you can trade in this wreck.”
Tucker had the papers interpreted and discovered he might own a long disused sawmill and timberland in the old country. In addition, it appeared he held rights to a manor house, or maybe just four crumbling walls and a couple of lean-tos.
“I should marry you or hire you,” he said. “Left to my own devices, I’d have thrown that paperwork out, or at least shoved it into the Back of Beyond.”
“Marry me, or hire me?”
“I have a job.”
“Well, in any case, keep it in mind.”
“Okay,” she said. “Noted.”
Have a lovely October, one full of “getting things done.” Or not.