Ingeborg looks in the mirror and sees a young woman in a white summer dress caressing her ankles, draping her body like a soft breeze.
“He loves me, he loves me not,” repeats through her head, “he will have me, he will not.”
She feels dizzy with emotion and stumbles a little to sit down. At the leaded window, on the second floor, she looks out to watch the comings and goings of the town citizens. Soon, he will show up in his Sunday finest to pay a visit.
How lovely the day is, she notices, with cotton clouds on a velvet blue sky, with spring leaves from the linden trees making a faint sound like soft rain.
People are celebrating the end of WWI, and men and women are eager to marry, to settle down, and to start a family. Erik is on his way to ask for her hand in marriage.
Her thoughts drift away from the present to the past and to the future. Last Sunday, Paul, in his perfectly tailored blue suit, lighting up his pale grey eyes, showed up to ask for her hand in marriage and she wanted to say yes on the spot, but her father postponed their reply. She knows her father is leaning towards Erik who as the heir of a tobacco empire is able to secure the right future for her. Erik’s father is a millionaire from selling fine cigars.
Paul, on the other hand, is the son of the local draper who by suiting up the bourgeoisie in town makes a decent living, but according to her father, cigars burn up faster than fancy suits.
Ingeborg looks at her hands. She looks at the lines inside her left hand, and especially at the two short lines right below her little finger: one line for each of the two men in her life. How is it possible to choose one over the other? Both good-looking and decent fellows and both of strong families with a love for her. Why then does she prefer Paul for Erik? Why is he more attractive?
Outside her window she observes the florist carrying a bouquet of peonies in a multitude of red hues and by instinct she knows they are for her from Erik. On her dresser, the white lilies from Paul in the hand-blown blue vase project their large heads towards her. She senses their dignity and sensibility.
With the war behind them an appetite for life has returned and she is happy to see her parents more relaxed and ready to move on. True, that Denmark was not as impacted by the war as most countries in Europe, but still, her parents were worried about her uncle and her cousins who went to fight in the trenches. Her uncle was badly hurt and one cousin died on the field. Thank God, her younger brothers were too young to fight.
Now, she feels the effervescence of happiness rise from her gut through her breasts and lighting up her smile with a breath of excitement. She is witnessing an important time in her life and she feels animated. She wants this now to continue: with two suitors desiring her, she feels of the surge of power within her.
The doorbell sounds. The peonies are delivered. She must choose between Erik and Paul. Looking into the future she lives in grandeur with Erik, supported by a healthy size staff; she travels to Ostindia to live on a tobacco farm among indigenous people; and she becomes part of the elite in her town of Odense. With Paul, on the other hand, she develops her passion for fashion design, she lives a comfortable life in her hometown, and she’s with the man she loves.
Getting up from her chair she walks to the dresser. The lilies nod in her direction and intuitively, she brushes a few hair strands away from her face. Paul is gentle and considerate. His demeanor is that of a musician who plays his instrument with love. He is a coveted bachelor, adored by many women in town. And his eyes are on her. Erik is strong and impetuous. The son of a millionaire whose task it is to continue the wealth. A secure future of adventure and opportunity awaits with him.
Through the window, a glimpse of Erik, striding in a charcoal suit, scarlet handkerchief in his breast pocket, makes her heart jump. He’s at their front door before she knows it, another chime from the doorbell. It’ll take him a few moments to climb the stairs and to chat with her parents. She passes the mirror and almost smiles. At least, she will savor this moment, this moment of all eyes on her and then, she and her father will negotiate.