Buzz aldrin what happene.., p.13
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       Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion?, p.13

           Johan Harstad
 

  He came in. Sat in the chair opposite me. I hoisted myself up, pulled myself together. Try to look presentable now. Don’t get in the way. Be a good guest.

  “Hi,” said Havstein.

  “Hi.”

  There was a long pause, as though we were waiting for the day’s script to be given to us. I had the first line.

  “Did you find Jørn?” I asked.

  “Yes,” answered Havstein. “I found him. A very nice guy. Have you known him long?”

  “Yes, since high school, I think.” I was suddenly unsure, problems keeping my thoughts in order.

  “Very nice guy.”

  “He’s the vocalist,” I ventured, “in Perkleiva, the band I came with …”

  “Yes, he told me.”

  “Great band.”

  We sat like that for a while, Havstein put his hands on the table. I was Mickey Mouse, could only talk in falsetto. Big ears.

  “I think you’ll be here awhile, Mattias.”

  And those words felt good to me. Fatherly. Like sitting all day on the top floor of a burning, swaying skyscraper. And then leaping. Knowing somebody has spread out a net.

  “Really? Do you think so?” I looked at him, tried to work out who he was, decided to ask later, not now. There was no point, I would be here awhile.

  “Yes, I think it’s sensible.”

  “I see.”

  “There’s nobody relying on you at home, I understand. No job waiting.”

  I had nothing, neither needle nor haystack.

  “No.”

  “So things are all right from that point of view. That’s good.”

  “Is it?”

  “I thought I’d call your mother in the morning too. If you think that’s okay?”

  Mother. Who still knew nothing, but who knew everything. Mother, like all mothers, always the last, yet the most important link in the communication chain. Mother for whom opportunity had never knocked, who was always a step behind. I didn’t like it. Didn’t like it at all, mixing her in with this chaos.

  “Is it okay? To call your mother?” he repeated. I answered that it was, he could just call. But remember to say hello. To tell her I’d call soon.

  “It can be pretty good here,” said Havstein. “On the Faroes.”

  He didn’t say more, that would have to do as the message of the day. And that was how he was, how he would generally show himself. Calm. Controlled. Practical. Rolled out of the Factory, the new model. Mr. Practical 2000. And I liked him already.

  We had a kind of improvised night snack, Havstein put out some bread, butter and orange juice on the kitchen table, we cut slices from the bread, shared the butter knife, talked about the weather, tentative, opening sentences, that reminded me of those “getting to know each other” trips in high school, where we’d sit for hours with a bunch of new classmates on a bus up to some summer cabins that the more organized students in the class had rented, and none of us would know each other, there was bingo on the bus, and you could end up next to the most boring person ever, or next to the person that would end up being your best friend. Either way, we hardly spoke, at least not on the bus. We gazed out of the window, in suspense, the lid was stuck firm, unopenable in any other way than through this ritual. We’d have to drink our way to friendship, and so we’d sit in the cabin, on tatty old couches in dusty rooms, waiting for it to be seven, eight, or at least six o’clock, so the drinking could start, the first beer opened. Time yawned, and we tried to kill it by eating, to rev up for the evening when we’d all be introduced. And we’d gaze around the room, and think I don’t know any of you guys, and you don’t know me. But tomorrow we will know each other, and then it will seem impossible there was ever a time we didn’t. Of course that’s Johannes, of course, who else.

  And I felt just that way now.

  We sat in the kitchen.

  We hadn’t started to drink.

  Actually, we had no plans to start drinking.

  Eventually we ate in silence, looked out of windows that only reflected our own images back now, we looked past each other, a touch embarrassed perhaps, it was Havstein who took the initiative, I was just pleased not to have to. The formalities. I finished my food. Sat with my hands in my lap. Stared at the milk carton. Mjólk.

  “Have you had enough?” he said.

  “Yes, thanks,” I answered.

  “Come on then, I’ll show you to your room.”

  School trip. Class outing. Sleeping bags rolled out from backpacks. Who will sleep where? Rumors about girls and boys in the same room, even if they were never true.

  “Come on. It’s upstairs.”

  I got up, took my plastic bag with me, and followed Havstein into the corridor and to the staircase at the entrance, the stairs creaked and I tried to spread my weight evenly over the steps, to decrease the noise, to make the least possible din. Havstein swung to the right on the second floor, opened the first door on the left. He stood in front of me in the doorway and said here, but I couldn’t see in, so I moved closer, like a schoolboy, standing on my toes to see over him, and he must have registered it, stood aside and let me into the room, turning the light on behind me.

  I didn’t know what I’d expected. Something more like a summer cabin perhaps? Paneled hostel walls, fixed wooden bunk beds with dents in the bed slats and names carved in the frame. It could have been a room filled with enthusiastic brass band players, with Scouts, or panic-stricken children trying to solve the life and death problems of who’ll share rooms, who’ll sleep on top, who’ll sleep below? But we were the only ones here. The two of us. And this was where I was going to stay.

  And the room was white. White painted walls. Anonymous, like a waiting room, with golden brown floorboards, light-colored furniture. There was a desk in here, a bed in the one corner, a good bed, it seemed, and apart from that there were the usual things, cupboards, spindle chairs, brown carpet covering parts of the floor, a map on the wall, and a big window that stood open. The room was cold and damp, Havstein came in after me, walked over to the window, closed it and put the catch on.

  “All right?” he asked, looking at me. “Okay?”

  “Okay.”

  He took a step back, stood in the doorway and looked back at me. I stood in the middle of the room, plastic bag in hand. I had nothing more to say. I was tired, exhausted. I was frightened.

  “Good night,” said Havstein, turning and going out, I only just managed to answer before he closed the door behind him, I listened to his footsteps descend the stairs, and then sat down in the nearest chair, a spindle chair, stared at the ceiling, I could hear the noise of the track lighting, a steady hum, and there I sat, on a spindle chair in the Faroe Islands and it was nighttime, I should sleep, should go to bed, it would be a long day tomorrow.

  Because?

  Why would it be longer than any other?

  What plans had I made?

  None.

  Exactly.

  I’d stopped functioning.

  Yes.

  I was out of order.

  From today the days ran onto each other, they were just Tuesdays.

  From today I was no longer a cog in a machine.

  From today I was officially broken.

  I wrenched my sneakers off, still wet, damp, rolled my socks off, hung them over the bedpost. Took my clothes off, folded them neatly and laid them on the chair next to the desk, drew the curtains, turned off the light and lay down on the bed, it didn’t even creak, as I’d expected, as I’d hoped. It was completely quiet in the room and I wished I was elsewhere.

  But I can’t get to sleep, I lie on my back, eyes closed, hoping somebody will come, that somebody might suddenly open the door, Mom, that somebody will come through the door with cocoa, with warm hands, that somebody will hold this confused head of mine in their hands, ruffle my hair gently, plump my pillow, sit on the edge of my bed and share wise words of experience, reassuring me that nothing bad can ever happen to me, that I just have to dive in, that eve
rything will fall into place. I want someone to come in and tell me things will be better tomorrow, that the saltwater taste in my mouth will go away if only I get some sleep, that I’ll get up tomorrow as always, find my clothes on the chair where I put them the night before, that I’ll get up and take a shower, get dressed, go to work, call Helle from work, go up to Valbergtårnet in Stavanger in the evening, sit on the wall if it’s warm, watch the cruise ships hum into the fjord, for those with enough money and arthritis, and for the first time in my life I wish I didn’t exist.

  I thought of Jørn’s brother as I lay there in bed. Hadn’t we grown somehow closer to each other now? A memory from the summer of ’85, we sat on Vaulen Beach together, Jørn and I. Maybe there were other people there too, probably, but Jørn is the one I remember, the only one in the picture. We’d just been in for a swim, we sat warming ourselves on the smooth rocks, it was late, we’d been out for a long time, but it was the middle of summer and we were allowed to stay out for almost as long as we wanted, so long as we reported back when we got home, opened the door to our parents’ rooms, woke them up to say I’m here, we sat on the rocks drying off, just sat there, staring out into space, and on the other side of the fjord the lights began to go out in the houses, it was getting darker around us and I don’t know what triggered it, but I think that was the evening we began to talk, properly, no silly talk, it poured out from some place in my brain, I told him how I talked to my plants, and that I wanted to be a gardener. I went into detail about how the sea was rising and rising, inch by inch, and how it wouldn’t take that much, just one yard more, and almost a hundred million people would lose their homes, and then I went on, telling him how I’d decided I didn’t need to be the best, the most popular, or even liked, I just wanted to find myself a vacant space and stay there, do my thing, maybe I was just frightened of disrupting something, of knocking the world out of its delicate balance by being in the way, in the wrong place, if I was too visible, tied people to me. And I talked about the Presbyterian Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr., the quiet, reserved astronaut who did everything right, pressed the right buttons, fine-tuned their course, did the sums and reflected on the calculations. The man who brought wine and a chalice with him, held communion on the surface of the moon, impossible to get nearer to God, and we talked about whether it was just a coincidence that the director for the manned mission at the Houston Space Center in 1969 was called Christopher Columbus Kraft, or whether it had some significance. I guess we covered most subjects that evening, that is, I probably did most of the talking, for once, and Jørn sat there, listening, commenting, analyzing, Jorn began to fill in the black holes in my universe, he talked about Petter, his big brother that lived on the other side of the fjord, in Dale, the Dale Psychiatric Unit, the madhouse, a closed unit, there were no holes in the fences around Dale, there were no fences out there, only mountains, water, the fjord. Jørn talked about the times he’d gone with his father to visit his brother, white corridors, cold rooms, green linoleum, worn away by a symphony of slippers, and Jørn told me how his brother would always be sitting in his chair under the window when they came in, sitting quietly in his green chair under that window, and how he’d look away, and hardly ever talk, less and less on each visit. Sometimes they’d just sit together in silence. Listen to the shouts from other rooms, the mumbling, the babbling, the chatter after silence, it wasn’t as dreadful as you might imagine, said Jørn, only in brief moments did you remember where you were, otherwise it was like any other hospital, and lots of the patients were very nice, they’d give you toffees and there was always a bowlful of toffees in the smoking room, Petter liked to sit in there when he had visitors, he liked to show the others he had family there, that they’d come to visit, and Jørn described the day they’d discovered something was wrong, how his father had come home from work to find his son sitting naked in the kitchen, with his head on the kitchen table and blood running from his arms. Jørn had been to football practice and when he got home they’d only just been picked up by the ambulance, Petter and his father. The blood had begun to congeal on the wax tablecloth.

  “I miss Petter,” said Jørn.

  “Do you think he’ll ever come back?”

  “Maybe. I don’t know.”

  It was quiet for a moment.

  “Why do you want to be a gardener?” asked Jørn.

  “Because it’s quiet,” I answered.

  I don’t remember how long we’d sat there, whether anybody else came or went, but we’d talked for a long time and that evening it hit me that Jørn was one of those people you shouldn’t lose sight of, one of those people you wouldn’t want to find in your photo album years later, when you were looking at pictures of old friends that had vanished from your life, wondering what had become of them. Jørn had always been my man, and he was today too, sitting in Tórshavn with Havstein, and that was a good thought.

  And the days that had passed, I tried to play them back, what had I really done in the last few days, in this last week? I’d been in Stavanger, I’d said Yes, yes, of course I’ll come, I’d sat in the back of a car that day with Jørn and Roar and Tomas, and we’d taken the road to Bergen, driven on and off the ferries, and when we’d finally arrived in Bergen, we met the two other bands, and we’d boarded the boat. Evening had fallen, and then things had started to go wrong. There was a lot of water, I remembered that, but it had been so dark, I couldn’t remember what had actually happened. I tried to concentrate, to reconstruct the boat journey across, but I was too tired, too slow in my head, and finally I had to give up, it was impossible, for now at least, maybe tomorrow. Everything was potentially different tomorrow, potentially okay. I was cold. I longed for home. Probably for the first time ever. I longed to be back in my empty apartment. Longed for things I knew. I got up again in the end, took the magnolia overalls out of the carrier bag, put them on. It was something at least. And they fit perfectly. I felt a little more at home. Lay back under the covers. And that was how, lying on my back, filled with fear in the bed in Gjógv, in Havstein’s Factory, I slept, on that first day.

  LIFE

  1

  I was woken up by noises from the ground floor. I was lying on a narrow bed, under a duvet with an unfamiliar smell, light coming through the curtains onto a linoleum floor. I wasn’t at home. I had no idea where I was. I might be anywhere. And somebody was talking on the floor below, morning voices, a radio playing music I couldn’t bear to listen to. I lay in bed, with a head that refused to cooperate and a body that wanted to be left in peace. I felt as if I’d drunk weed killer. By the gallon. As if I’d eaten plaster of Paris. I didn’t want to get up. I wanted to stay lying there. Until I knew where I was. Until somebody arrived and sent me back. Collect on delivery.

  It was like being a child again, I’ve stayed the night with the boy next door, and I wake up alone in the room. He’s already gotten up, gone downstairs, and he’s sitting, eating breakfast with his parents. You wake with the shock of not being at home, don’t dare to get up, don’t dare to get dressed. Don’t dare to go down and say good morning.

  Just as then, I curled up in my bed now, trying to work out where I was, why I was here. And everything that had happened in the last weeks and months wrapped itself up in a ball of panic that threw itself at my head and I heard footsteps coming up the stairs, a creaking on the treads and a hand that knocked at my door.

  “Mattias?”

  I didn’t answer, pretended to be asleep, fooling nobody.

  “Mattias?”

  “… Yes?”

  He opened the door, stuck his head in, and when he saw me he came right into the room. Havstein. My harbor Havstein.

  “Good morning.”

  “Yes,” I answered. “Good morning.”

  Havstein cast a look at my clothes, they lay neatly folded on the chair despite still being damp, dirty. He smiled.

  “How are things with you?” he asked, picking my clothes up, putting them on the desk and sitting down on the
chair, doctor-like, all he needed was my file under his arm. Stethoscope.

  Which must have been when I started to cry. Rivers of despair ran down and across the floor, completely without warning, the first time in a long time, like a child. I hid my face under the duvet, lay there shaking, fell completely apart at the seams in front of Havstein. And I was despair’s puppet as I lay there, everything in total ruin and not one good plan left up my sleeve. So what could Havstein do? Nothing, because there was nobody who could comfort this Toffle, and I tried to laugh at the idiotic comparison. But I couldn’t, my laughter turned into nothing but low, gurgling, guttural noises.

  Havstein sat there in his chair, waiting for me to resurface, he didn’t sit on the edge of the bed, didn’t stroke my hair, didn’t turn into my father, and I was grateful for that, he didn’t lose composure and as so many others might when confronted by somebody spontaneously bursting into tears, throwing themselves over one, comfort’s fire blankets. Havstein remained in his chair, and slowly but surely I composed myself, let go and peered over the top of the duvet, taking short gasps of air, sat halfway up in bed, dried my eyes with sleepy fingers, feeling embarrassed, naked. That was when he noticed I was wearing the overalls. He didn’t pass any remark. Said instead:

  “It’s hard?”

  “Yes,” I replied clearly, without giving it a thought. And then, quickly: “But it’s a little better now.” I sniffed. Havstein was prepared, he handed me a tissue from one of the desk drawers and I blew as hard as I could, tried to drain myself, but with only moderate success. Havstein got up, went to the curtains and pulled them open. It was raining outside. I lay back down again, and I think I slept.

  And the days and nights would coagulate in slow motion, like cars seen through dirty windows, now and then I’m awake, in the morning, at night. I’m woken by noises from below, the sound of chatter, the radio, Havstein brings food up to me a couple of times a day, sits next to my bed, talks. But I say nothing in reply, like an oyster on dry land, tightly shut, sleeping sixteen or seventeen hours a day, but I wake up at night, always at night, when the others are asleep. I lie wide awake, listening to the sounds of snoring, of bodies turning in their beds, of the rain outside. I get up, go over to the window, draw back the curtains, open the window, and it’s dark outside, the air is damp, I sit and stare out, look at the contours of the mountains to the right, the sea that lies straight ahead of me, stretching all the way to the Arctic, and I squint down at the rocks on the shore, searching for a fixed point by which to check if the sea is rising, but it isn’t, apart from at high and low tide, as normal, and I sit by the window until I’m cold, then close it and on the bed again, stare up at the ceiling, trying to run through the last few months, and I don’t know what I’ll do now. I have no idea. And Helle? What is Helle doing? Helle is asleep now, alone or with Mats, I imagine she’s sleeping badly, that she’s tossing between the sheets to no avail, because something’s not quite as it should be, but she doesn’t know what. She’s happy with him, surely? Yes, of course. Perhaps it’s her job? Isn’t it quite what she’d hoped for, how she’d dreamed it would be? But hardly anything is as we think it will be. And I think about Father who’s back from Saint-Lô, together with Mother, and Father is waiting for a postcard from me, he walks down to look in the mailbox every day, but there’s nothing there, another day and nothing, but you’ll get a card, when I have the time, when I’ve got one, and I think how Father would have been pleased if I’d called, or for me to call him now, bringing him to his feet at the other end, hearing him make himself comfortable, talking with Father, for hours on the phone, but there isn’t a phone in here, and Father’s asleep now, next to Mother, lying on his back with one arm around her, and his arm has gone to sleep, but he doesn’t notice it until he gets up, before he shakes the life back into it in the bathroom that morning, and that’s when he sees it, in the mirror, after he’s come out of the shower, that there’s an imprint of Mother in his arm, a little dip in his arm where she’s lain, every night for all these years. I think about Father’s arm.

 
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