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       Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion?, p.1

           Johan Harstad
Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion?

  Copyright © 2005 by Norsk Forlag Association on behalf of Johan Harstad English translation © 2011 by Deborah Dawkin

  Originally published in Norway by Gyldendal, 2005.

  First English Language Edition

  This translation has been published with the financial support of NORLA.

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including mechanical, electric, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

  Seven Stories Press

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  New York, NY 10013

  College professors may order examination copies of Seven Stories Press titles for a free six-month trial period. To order, visit or send a fax on school letterhead to (212) 226-1411.

  Cover art by LACKTR

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Harstad, Johan, 1979-

  [Buzz Aldrin, hvor ble det av deg i alt mylderet? English]

  Buzz Aldrin, what happened to you in all the confusion? : a novel / by Johan Harstad ; translated by Deborah Dawkin. -- 1st English language ed.

  p. cm.

  Translated from the Norwegian.

  eISBN: 978-1-60980-333-9

  I. Dawkin, Deborah. II. Title.

  PT8952.18.A77B8913 2011






  Title Page


  First Band on the Moon Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Life Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Gran Turismo Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Long Gone Before Daylight

  About the Author

  About the Translator

  About Seven Stories Press



  The person you love is 72.8 percent water and there’s been no rain for weeks. I’m standing out here, in the middle of the garden, my feet firmly planted on the ground. I bend over the tulips, gloves on my hands, boots on my feet, small pruning shears between my fingers, it’s extremely early, one April morning in 1999 and it’s beginning to grow warmer, I’ve noticed it recently, a certain something has begun to stir, I noticed it as I got out of the car this morning, in the gray light, as I opened the gates into the nursery, the air had grown softer, more rounded at the edges, I’d even considered changing out of my winter boots and putting my sneakers on. I stand here in the nursery garden, by the flowers so laboriously planted and grown side by side in their beds, in their boxes, the entire earth seeming to lift, billowing green, and I tilt my head upward, there’s been sunshine in the last few days, a high sun pouring down, but clouds have moved in from the North Sea somewhere now, Sellafield radiation clouds, and in short intervals the sun vanishes, for seconds at first, until eventually more and more time passes before the sunlight is allowed through the cumulus clouds again. I lean my head back, face turned up, eyes squinting, with the sun being so strong as it forces its way through the layers of cloud. I wait. Stand and wait. And then I see it, somewhere up there, a thousand, perhaps three thousand feet above, the first drop takes shape and falls, releases hold, hurtles toward me, and I stand there, face turned up, it’s about to start raining, in a few seconds it will pour, and never stop, at least that’s how it will seem, as though a balloon had finally burst, and I stare up, a single drop on its way down toward me, heading straight, its pace increases and the water is forced to change shape with the speed, the first drop falls and there I stand motionless, until I feel it hit me in the center of my forehead, exploding outward and splitting into fragments that land on my jacket, on the flowers beneath me, my boots, my gardening gloves. I bow my head. And it begins to rain.

  It is a Tuesday. There can be no doubt about that. I see it in the light, the traffic outside the windows will continue to stream all day, slowly, disinterestedly, people driving back and forth out of habit rather than necessity. Tuesday. The week’s most superfluous day. A day that almost nobody notices among all the other days. I read somewhere, I don’t remember where, that statistics showed there were 34 perccent fewer appointments made on an average Tuesday than on any other day. On a worldwide basis. That’s how it is. On the other hand a much greater number of funerals are held on Tuesdays than during the rest of the week. They sort of bunch up, you never get on top of it.

  I had a friend.

  And had this not been so, I would never have ended up with a large sum of money in my inside pocket, and been almost run over, I would never have rescued a person from the sea nor been thrown out of various bars. I would not have come inches from jumping three thousand feet down from a mountain, I would never have tried building a boat, and last, but not least, I might never have disappeared.

  But I had a friend.


  Jørn played in a band.

  And I’d said yes. It was some weeks ago now. He’d asked me one evening, as we sat in his apartment in Storhaug. Jørn and Roar were going over with his band, Perkleiva, at the end of July, together with another Norwegian band, the Kulta Beats from Trondheim, they were going to play at some festival over there, on the Faroe Isles, a gig they’d been offered through the Stavanger Council, as far as I understood. Stavanger and Tórshavn were twinned towns, and Stavanger wanted to do its bit for the Faroese National Day, Olsok. Some Danish band, whose name I can never remember, were invited too, as well as all the Faroese artists. That was what I’d been told. More or less. And that I was going with them in the guise of being their soundman. Although that was probably just Jørn’s way of trying to drag me along, to get me out, to show me that it could be good doing concerts, playing in a band, he’d never totally abandoned the idea of the two of us playing together, of me singing. He really wanted me to sing. But I kept my mouth sealed. Officially, for the organizers, the reason for my coming was Claus. Claus was Perkleiva’s producer, but he and his girlfriend were expecting a baby, it might arrive any minute, so he’d canceled, understandably, more preoccupied with ultrasound than the sound of guitars. And I was, well yes, I needed a vacation, and sure, I’d always enjoyed traveling, and no, I had no other plans.

  And I knew a bit about sound.

  Not that I had any training as a sound technician, or that I’d ever worked with a band. But I’d always been good at sound. At isolating sounds. I can sit on my sofa with a CD on the stereo and hear all the instruments individually. I don’t quite know how, but I can. The guitar, drums, bass, voice, they all take on different colors in my head; I can hear if there should have been more blue, if there’s too much brown, or that if a hint of pink somewhere in the background had been turned up, it would have been better. I can hear if anybody sings the least bit out of tune. I’ve seen every episode of Counterpoint. You can’t fool me.

  I gave up working in the garden the instant it began raining, but before I’d even managed to grab my bucket of flowers and the somewhat overfilled watering can I’d brought out, I was drenched by the torrent of water that the clouds had emptied over me, I dripped my way over the floor, over the flagstones of the nursery shop, set the tulips aside in a vase on one of the two huge, old, wooden tables in the middle of the room and went into the locker room to hang up my wet jacket. I took off my pants and pulled on one of the nursery’s overalls, a navy blue boilers
uit with a glossy print of a magnolia flower on the back, from the time our boss decided all his staff should dress alike, so as to project a streamlined image, as he called it. And, not least, to promote greater togetherness. To give us a sense of being colleagues. Of being part of a team pulling together. Unity, cooperation. But nothing had come of it, nobody wanted to wear the overalls, it felt unnecessary, we were only a small firm after all, and few staff. And the boilersuits still hung along one of the walls of the locker room, four of them, almost unused, four years on, creases in the arms and legs still sharp. We wore our own clothes now. The boss included. He always had on flowery shirts. Hawaiian. And he was a good chap, even if he never turned up before late into the day, liked sleeping in.

  I’d put on the magnolia overalls, they were tight in the crotch and smelled like new as I walked back into the shop, sat behind the counter, turned on the radio, took out the schedule to see what needed doing, one Tuesday in April.

  The radio.

  The news.

  Bombs were falling over Kosovo and Vojvovdina and NATO hadn’t hit their intended targets as I marked off the day’s first job, which was to drive over to the nursing home with flowers for one of their residents. I looked at the clock. Still half an hour before the others arrived, three quarters before we opened. But they wanted the flowers delivered as soon as possible, and I had no plans, so I started making up a couple of the bouquets they’d asked for, laid them in a fruit basket, and the Cardigans were on the radio, I didn’t know the song, but I tried to hum along as I locked the door to the office, found the harmony, lost the melody, then went over to the radio, turned it off, cast a final glance around, yes, it all looked fine, great plants, nice smell, lovely being here, opened the front door, went out, locked the door, opened the car door, got in, shut the car door, started the car, drove to the nursing home, four blocks away.

  It was the same up here practically every day, somebody would get a plant, flowers. And it was always a bad sign. I came up here often, virtually every week, it was where granddad had been at the end, and there had never been many flowers, unless you were about to die. Then there was an excuse. Then a nurse would come snooping around your room, noting the decay that hung in the walls, suggesting things be brightened up, perhaps we should have some flowers in here, Fru So and So, wouldn’t that be nice, and it’s so dark in here, shall I pull the curtains open a little? and as they did, as they flung their arms wide and pushed the curtains to the sides and as the light burst into your bedroom, it would not be long before the flowers arrived, it had already been decided, and soon, in hours or days, young people would cluster in semicircles at your bedside alongside angels or demons, gazing down upon you with mild or damning eyes, hands folded, waiting for you to vanish forever, never to return.

  I had two bunches with me, tulips and white lilies, many people liked those, they reminded them of something, I don’t know what, but the patients often said it as I came into their rooms with the flowers, as I helped them put them in a vase, what lovely flowers, they’d say, and then the memories, always the memories, the mental photo album it took years to go through.

  Fru Helgesen was to have flowers in her last days.

  Fru Helgesen’s days were numbered.

  Somebody had done the accounts and decided that enough was enough.

  But nobody had said anything to her. She lay in her bed and stared into the white ceiling.

  “Am I going to have flowers?” she asked when I knocked, opened the door and came in after a squeaky voice had pronounced come in from the other side.

  “Of course you’re going to have some flowers,” I answered.

  “Am I going to die now?” She didn’t seem troubled, just mildly surprised.

  “No, of course not,” I said. “You’re just going to have a bit of greenery in here.”

  I was on everybody’s team, I changed colors mid-game and played goalie for both sides. I took everybody’s red cards and sat on the bench. I found a vase under her sink, began putting the flowers in water.

  “Come over here,” she said.

  I came to her. She beckoned me to bring my ear close.

  “You only ever come with flowers when somebody’s going to die,” she said.

  “No, I don’t think so,” I answered. “Lots of people get flowers.”

  “But nobody survives them.”

  “The flowers?”



  “But they’re lovely flowers.”


  “Yes, they really are, they remind me of something, I don’t know what, we had flowers like that in our garden, I think. Oh, I don’t know. But they’re lovely. Truly lovely.”

  “Tulips and trumpet lilies,” I say. “That’s what they’re called.”

  “Lovely. And white, too. Are you a gardener perhaps?”

  “Yes, I’m a gardener. I work right across the way.”

  I made a gesture and pointed in the direction of the nursery.

  As though she could see through the walls, the privileged X-ray vision of the elderly.

  She looked at the flowers, stuffed in the vase on her table, they were messy, and she noticed it, they were cheap flowers, among the cheapest we had, they wouldn’t last long, they’d do themselves in within a few days, at best.

  “Do they last long, these ones?” She pointed at the flowers, tried to catch hold of one of the leaves, but couldn’t reach, I lifted the vase, held it out to her so she could touch them, feel the leaves, she breathed their aromas in, whistling through her nostrils and sniffing everything in that had once been.

  “Yes, they do,” I said, “they last a long while.”

  “Good.” She gestured toward the vase as I put it back and got up to leave, and as I shut the door, she was still lying with her arm stretched toward the table. “Good.”

  I walked into the reception room with the bill, handing it to one of the older women who worked there, she signed it and thanked me, handed me my receipt, asked if I wanted some coffee, but I refused, wanting to leave, and not stay.

  “It’s always been nice having you come,” she said. Then she peered nervously around the room, as though the words she had to say had tumbled to the floor and found themselves in the trash by mistake. “But, ehm, well, this all gets terribly expensive in the long run. Yes, not that, well, I mean, it’s certainly not that we think you charge more than you have to, but …” I waited, I knew where she was going, and I could have left, but I stood there.

  “Well, of course old people do die, and, as things stand, well, it’s, we’ve had to, well we’ve decided to go over to cheaper flowers, yes, from, from, from a supermarket chain. So …”

  “RIMI?” I asked.

  “No, REMA,” she corrected, embarrassed, looking deep into the table. “Yes, one can’t get around the fact that they’re cheaper in the long run, and they’ve made us an offer, so, yes.” And then, as though the thought had occurred to her there and then, she added: “We just want to make it nice for them in their last days, I’m sure you can understand … yes.” Her face had practically fallen into the table.

  “Of course,” I said. “Hardly anyone buys from the nurseries any more.”

  She looked uneasy. “Really?”

  Looked as though she was searching for something more to say.

  “Forget it,” I said, turned and walked out, drove back to the nursery, let myself in and sat in the chair behind the counter, radio on, and no news, nobody dying, only music.

  But I was doing all right, wasn’t I?

  Yes, I was all right.

  I was totally all right.

  Had everything I needed.

  I was Mattias. 29 years old.

  I was a gardener.

  And I loved my job.

  I really loved it. I’d often come into work early, before the others, maybe an hour before, I’d let myself out into the garden at the back sometimes, icy mornings, breath hanging frozen on the air, I’d sit o
n the bench out there, sit and listen to the cars as they drove past, wearied engines, unhappy people on their way to jobs they loathed, meetings with people they’d never agree with, to prices they couldn’t beat, offers they couldn’t match, business that had be put on hold, ideas that had to be scrapped for lack of funds, plans that would never be realized but that remained like little scabs in their palms, that itched every time they met new people with new ideas, shook their hands and greeted them, promising new, unviable projects.

  If I could have had just one wish, I often thought it might have been for nothing to change. To have everything fixed for eternity. I wanted predictable days.

  I sat in the garden, I was still early. Later, an hour later, the others came strolling in. There were four of us, amongst them a girl of my own age, rather well-built, she’d been to Ås agricultural college, that was virtually all I knew about her, we didn’t talk about these things much, we didn’t talk much at all, I don’t know why, that was just the way things were. If we talked, it was about flowers, about what we had to do, that we mustn’t forget to water the new plants in the corner of the nursery, that I needed to prune some bushes. Had she remembered to prepare the wreaths for the funeral? Remembered to make up the bouquet that had been ordered, and to attach the card; Get Well, Come Back Soon, Happy Birthday, Birthday Greetings, Congratulations, Congratulations, Hearty Congratulations. Yes she’d remembered, and didn’t I think the chrysanthemums were lovely at this time of year? They’re always lovely, I said, and I cared about these things, this was where I was at, right here, this was my world, my job, the garden at the back of the nursery, that stretched as far as the roundabout separating Hinnasvingene and the A44, on the way to the center of Stavanger. I was a cog in the world; I was not in the way. I did what I was supposed to do. Was a nice boy.

  But what did I want?

  This was what I wanted.

  To be a smooth running cog in the world.

  To do the right thing.

  Nothing more.

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