Buzz aldrin what happene.., p.14
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       Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion?, p.14

           Johan Harstad

  I don’t know what day it is. I’ve lost track. I’m tired, I sleep too much and I don’t ask Havstein when he comes in, I accept the food I get, obediently, I am the monk in the highest, narrowest tower of the castle. Doing penance in silence.

  What were Buzz Aldrin’s thoughts on the night before liftoff? Tomorrow I will be in space. I will be among the first people out there, we’ll find the moon, approach it, bring the landing module carefully down onto the dusty surface, in the basalt. In thirty-six hours I will set foot on the moon, I will walk around up there. Me. And what were Buzz Aldrin’s thoughts when he got back home, after days in quarantine, on that first night with his family at home, after he’d brushed his teeth, gone into his bedroom, got undressed and lain under the covers? I’ve been on the moon. I’ve actually been up there. It was me. I’ve been up there, and now I’m here again, in my bedroom. Those are my footprints in the carpet to the bathroom, just as they’re my footprints in the Sea of Tranquility, nearly four hundred kilometers and another planet away. Impossible to sleep on such a night. Impossible to slow the brain. After traveling at 40,000 kilometers an hour there can be no talk of putting the brakes on. Collision is the only possible outcome.

  More sleep, of the kind that neither starts nor finishes with any marked break, but lies calmly covering your face, darkening the world, a sleep you can’t rely on for a second. And laughter. Laughter from the floor beneath, mixed with the radio and the rain, stairs that creak and doors that open, food that is served and my mouth that chews but refuses to speak, refuses to say anything, questions that are asked and afternoons that melt into each other, nights spent wide awake, sitting at the window, not like a bird, but like a sheep, caught with my head in the wire fence, and uneven streams of images projected into my sleep, the ferry trip, Helle, Father, Jørn, synchronized swimmers covering the entire Store Stokka Lake, in circular pulsating formations out on the water, we stand around and clap, tightly packed crowds around Stokka Lake and the synchronized swimmers change formation, turning into swans, sea serpents, flowers, Mother in the middle, wearing her bathing cap, Mother back on the team, and Jørn stands beside me in his brother’s room and we try to turn the ceiling light on and off, but we can’t break the code, and somebody must tell us to stop, we’re wearing the switch out, we’re told, and I cut the roses on a slant, put them in a vase and fill it with water, put it on Grandfather’s bedside table and he is so happy with the flowers, and now I part the petals carefully with my fingertips, see Helle lying there among the roses, with the courier, Mats, and Grandfather says, look, how beautiful they are, and I say, yes, but it isn’t easy, and we look down among the flowers, not many things are easy, laughs Grandfather handing me the binoculars and ruffling my hair, I look at Helle through the binoculars before I lean back, I put my head back as far as I can, see the meteorites gathering speed toward us and Grandfather lays his binoculars aside, down on the ground, don’t you need them anymore? I ask, pointing at them, and with his head leaning back Grandfather tells me, no, I don’t need them anymore. Not when they’re as close as they are now, and then my sleep turns black again, I sleep for a long time, and when I wake up, my head has cleared, fine weather, and Havstein is sitting in the chair again, the curtains drawn back. Outside, it’s raining. Overcast. And yet it is light, and in places the sun almost comes through the clouds.

  “Hello,” he says.

  My voice: “Hello.”

  “So how are things now?”

  “What day is it?” I lie in the bed, my hands clutching tightly to the sheet.

  “Friday,” he answers.


  And then: “It might just turn out to be a nice day,” he says, squinting out of the window. “I thought you might like to get up today, meet the others. We could go out for trip, if you fancy.”

  I want to get out of this room. And I want to stay here. To never go out.

  “Yes,” I say. “Okay.”


  “Good. That’s good. You can use the shower down the hallway. I’ve washed your clothes, they’re there,” he says and points towards the desk. “We’ll meet for breakfast downstairs afterwards, okay?”


  Havstein goes to leave, but stops, turning to me in the doorway, as they do in American movies when they’re about to impart words of wisdom, to say their doorway exit lines. But he says nothing. He waits a moment, goes out, closes the door behind him.

  I was so heavy in my body.

  I weighed a thousand pounds.

  I had magnets under my shoes.

  I folded the duvet carefully back. Pushed my feet over the mattress, out toward the edge. Put my feet on the cold floor. Curled my toes. And there were no birds singing outside.

  I just stood there for a moment to begin with. Feeling what it was like to be up, thinking for a moment that I’d returned. That it was over. Imagined that I felt lighter in my body.

  But I didn’t.

  How desperate is it possible to be?

  That’s something that’s never been researched.

  There are no statistics.

  There are no graphs to compare oneself with.

  No diagrams with uplifting figures.

  I could still change my mind.

  Go back to bed.

  It’ll sort itself out, all this, I thought.

  No it won’t, I thought. It really won’t.

  My clothes lay on the desk ready and freshly washed. I stretched out an arm and took hold of my jeans, lifted a leg and guided it through the fabric. Balancing on one leg. Didn’t fall. The next leg, pulled my sweater on, also newly washed, the smell of unfamiliar washing powder. It was raining outside. Wind. Water. Waves. I pulled on a pair of brown socks that lay on the desk. They weren’t mine, I didn’t know where mine were, but I accepted the ones I was given. Socks. Got my shoes on, they were dry, even the soft insoles.

  I scanned the room, turning three hundred and sixty degrees. Bed. Window. Desk. A mirror hung beside the door. I stood in front of it.

  But saw nothing.

  Laid my hand on the door handle.


  Stairs down.

  I went into the hallway and down the stairs to the ground floor. I heard the radio was on. Elton John. Clung hard to the banister. Heard talking. Women’s voices. Havstein. Down the stairs.

  Step by step. Twelve steps toward rehabilitation.

  An optimistic outlook on life is more important today than ever.

  The treads creaked.

  An optimistic outlook on life is more important today than ever.

  I went down the stairs. Held onto the handrail.

  An optimistic outlook on life is more important today than ever.

  Mattias is going down the stairs. Me. Nothing more.

  An optimistic outlook on life is more important today than ever.

  More important today than ever.

  And then I was down.

  I stand in the hall at the bottom of the stairs, right near the solid front door, nobody has heard me come down. My shoes are on. I could run out the door, look for a bus, go down to Tórshavn, out to the airport. I could get away unnoticed. There’s nobody to miss me. I could go home. Disappear out the door, walk down to the sea, just keep walking until I’m under the water, just keep going as far as I can manage, until I’m sleeping with the fishes. Or, I could go up again, creep up the stairs, find the telephone. Ring Jørn. Get someone to fetch me. Rescue me. An ocean of possibilities to choose from. I’d selected Helle. And she’d deselected me. Selected another prize from one of the top shelves. Most people have chosen cheap plants this year, but I’ve chosen to get off a boat at Tórshavn, to disappear into the rain without knowing why, to lie in a bus shelter, to let Havstein pick me up. Because he was the first person to come along. Simple.

  And then I decide that I can’t bear this any longer.

  I decide to begin the journey.

  And I walk into the living room, to the others.

bsp; One foot in front of the other.

  Johnnie Walker.

  So I walked into the kitchen of what had once been the Factory in Gjógv. The first thing I saw was Havstein standing at the kitchen workbench, the same generous body I’d remembered from my first hours here, too many days ago, perhaps weeks, and now he was standing here slicing tomatoes, the only time we’d have tomatoes in the house as long as I lived there, they were so expensive, there were hardly any vegetables in the stores, we had to go to Tórshavn to get any, and Havstein was performing a little jig in front of the tomatoes, humming to the rhythm, because somebody had put on a CD of the Cardigans in the living room, Nina Persson gushed from the speakers and little whoops of enjoyment were coming from in there, and Havstein caught sight of me as I stepped into the kitchen, he put the knife and tomatoes aside, came over to me, arms outstretched, and gave me a good hug, a Faroe-hug. I’d lost weight and almost disappeared in his embrace, then he pushed me along in front of him, past the long kitchen table, past the big open windows overlooking the harbor, and the sun streamed in, I remember it was cold in here, but it was the first dry day, an almost cloudless sky, and I could see for the first time how things actually looked by daylight, I saw the blunt, rounded mountains that rose in gentle waves all around, the total absence of trees, the way the green, green grass lay like a carpet over the mountains, the knolls, reminding me of the felt-covered fiberglass mountains on the table in the basement, where Father kept his model railway in the old days, this was Märklinland, the entire view from the window in just two colors, green and blue. Blue sky. Blue sea. Green land. Havstein shoved me into the living room ahead of him, pushed me into the large room where I’d sat on my first day, and there, in the middle of the room were two girls of about my age, dancing uselessly, totally out of rhythm. They saw me, stopped dancing, swung over to me, and I got more kisses than I had had in the last year, vanished in arms and hair and it smelled good from every direction, smelled like perfume, grass, mild shampoos.

  That was how I met them.


  And Ennen.

  That was how I actually met Havstein.

  That was the day things started to happen.

  The day I began to walk.

  I remember being given breakfast. Orange juice. Bread. Cheeses and cold meats. I still didn’t have much of an appetite, but it was improving, I ate a slice of bread, struggled with it, swallowed, drank some juice, hadn’t had that for ages, probably didn’t say much, oranges in my throat, let the others talk, answered when I was spoken to, ate another slice of bread, felt it help, saw I wasn’t under constant observation as I’d feared as I’d walked down the stairs. I wasn’t a patient. Wasn’t some piece of driftwood nobody quite knew what to do with, wasn’t a spare part. I fit in. That was my feeling. As though I’d been expected.

  We ate breakfast together, the open windows behind us letting a breeze through, they talked in Danish to me, or Norwegian, a sort of mixture, Faroe-Danish, I understood, we talked the same language and then when we’d finished eating Havstein disappeared up to his bedroom, came back down, car keys dangling from his hand.

  “Are you ready?” he asked.

  “For what?”

  “To go out. You don’t intend to sit in here forever, do you?”

  The two girls giggled, but Havstein hushed them.

  “No,” I answered at a loss and got up, padded up to my room to fetch my jacket.

  We covered the entire Faroe Islands that day. Zigzagged across the country, along roads carved in the sides of mountains. Havstein had a car, a red Subaru, rusted with the damp of two hundred and eighty days of rainfall each year. Ennen drove, Anna sat in the passenger seat, while Havstein and I sat in the back. We drove west, over the mountain and towards Ei∂i, stopped on the road some miles away, parked the car in a byway on a little plateau, close to a bend, and got out. The local council had put some binoculars up here, a permanent telescope, and I had charge of it and pointed it out over the ocean, looked a long way, to America, no doubt, swung it in toward land and then down towards the western tip of Streymoy, where two huge, sharp rocks lay close to the sea.

  “Those are Risin and Kellingin,” said Ennen, pointing. “The Troll and the Witch,” she said, with the strangest Norwegian accent I’d ever heard. “Those are the most important landmarks, photographed by every idiot tourist that ever set foot here since everybody got cameras.” I stared, the two rocks looked matted from the torrential rain, and I gobbled the view up, tourist that I was. We continued down toward Oyrarbakki, crossing the bridge from Eysturoy to Streymoy, and then farther south toward Tórshavn, driving at the foot of the mountains, on smooth roads through the simple landscape, grass-covered hills and dark brown mountains, like driving on a green moon, Mare Humorum, broken only by small settlements here and there, small and large clusters of houses painted in all colors, vivid blue, pink, black, signal yellow, settlements with fifty to five hundred inhabitants, each with their own church, and the odd gas station on their outskirts, Statoil with greasy-spoon cafés and imitation leather chairs at the back, French hot dogs for ten kroner, for whoever wanted them. And the birds, the seagulls, the puffins, that only occasionally appeared, circling the tops of the round mountains, skimming the surface of the sea in the inlets. And sheep. Sheep. Sheep. Sheep up in the mountains.

  Driving a car through the Faroe Islands was a unique experience. Like being in a Monaco Grand Prix: a combination of domestic cars and heavy-goods vehicles, and as in any motor race, there was only ever one route from A to B. In fact it was practically impossible to get lost, and if you did it would only be a matter of stopping at a gas station, asking for a road map, and hiding your surprise when you received a fifteen by twenty centimeter map that not only showed the entire Faroe Islands, but every single road too. Generally only one road was built from one place to another. There was one road from Ei∂i to Tórshavn. The one everyone had to go down. As fast as possible. It was the road we were on now, and it was here that I understood overtaking was not a necessity but an extreme sport, an exercise in aesthetic mobility. And if you opened the window allowing the moist air to slam into the car, you could hear the road signs stutter their hopeless messages.

  80 km í mesta lagi … 80 km/hr at the most … 80 km í mesta lagi Pleasepleasepleaseplease.

  Ennen was the youngest of us, two years younger than me, and used to the traffic. She didn’t let herself be daunted by the overtaking of trailers at bends on the tops of hills, at the entrances of narrow, unlit tunnels, while I shut my eyes and waited for the collision, for my neck to be flung to one side, to smash against the side window, for the seat belt to rip the skin on my chest, for the noise of twisting steel and for the trailer to drive into the wall of the tunnel, sparks raining as it ran across the concrete, the smell of gasoline reaching us in those final seconds as we lay trapped in the wreck, bones sticking out in all directions, a spark igniting the fuel as I waited for somebody to come and cut us free from the wreck, to the sound of melancholy music. But Ennen didn’t think like that, wasn’t bothered by the car two hundred feet behind ours that accelerated and overtook four or five cars before overtaking us at one hundred miles an hour, only to slam on the brakes, turn off on a side road and drive carefully down to one of the settlements we passed, Ennen put her foot on the brakes nonchalantly and took the car toward the shoulder as she half turned toward us at the back, telling me about what she saw, pointing and gesticulating out of the windows.

  “That village is called Svínáir,” she said.

  “Look down there, that’s how typical fishing boats look,” she said.

  “Look at those mountains with blunt tops,” she said.

  “Look at those villages there,” she said.

  “Look at the sea,” she said.

  Look. Look. Look. Look. Look. Look.

  That was how it was. Havstein. Anna. Ennen. And me. In a Subaru down near Tórshavn, one day when the sun was high, August 1999.


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