Sören Markusson fiddled with his ready-made bowtie, pulled the shirt collar snuggly around his thin neck then wrapped the ribbon around and fastened the hook and eye. His mother had carefully sewn the hook with extra thread so that he wouldn’t accidently rip it out.
He heard feet run down the hall as he inspected the shoulder of the white oxford he was wearing. The shirt belonged to his father; his own shirt lay folded on the mending pile with space for three buttons that had fallen off and a torn pocket corner.
“Sören,” Mor called from sitting room.
“I’ll be right there,” he replied, tying his shoes, one which squeaked whenever he climbed up the stairs. However, there were no stairs in this studio so he walked swiftly and silently to where the rest of the family had gathered.
His father stood near the window, fidgeting. The slightly balding farmer glanced at his son, but offered no comment or smile. Then Far palmed his hair down and squinted at the camera box. Wexler Photography, Nils’ brother had advised. Use Wexler and he'll give you a deal. But no deal had yet emerged.
Far cleared his throat and began to massage the webbing of skin between his right thumb and index finger. Seeing this ritual begin, Sören tensed, knowing it was less a calming technique and more the prelude to something volatile. Then the foot began to tap rapidly.
From behind the camera balancing on a tripod, the photographer said, "One more minute, Mr. Markusson, please! I'm adjusting the meter."
“Don't know why Astrid didn't use the Brownie to take our family picture,” Far growled to Sören. Out loud Nils said, "You push the button, we’ll do the rest!” Then with an edge, “Get on with it, man!"
"Focus…I'm focusing! Look at my handsome picture of our brave President Roosevelt. It's on the wall across from you. Say now, his countenance resembles yours, Mr. Markusson, a look of patience and power."
Sonja giggled while her brother bit the inside of his lip. Mor raised her brows at the photographer’s attempt to appeal to Far’s vanity, but winked at her fourteen-year old son. Sonja spoke up, “Our far’s no president, Mr. Wexler!”
Her father leveled his gaze first on the ten-year-old girl and then on the photographer, “Take the picture, Mr. Wexler, or we are walking out of here!”
Sören clenched his teeth. Sonja's eyes grew wide as she slid the palm of her hand into her brother’s.
Suddenly Mor's clear voice cut through the warring air, "Du gamla, du fria, du fjällhöga Nord, du tysta, du glädjerika sköna!"
Sonja, with a catch in her throat, joined in with the English words they had learned, "I greet thee, thou loveliest land on the earth, Thy sun, thy skies, thy verdant meadows smiling."
A tear welled up in Far's eye and he abruptly turned back toward the window. "Å min kära Sverige, my dear lovely Sweden..."