Buzz aldrin what happene.., p.22
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       Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion?, p.22

           Johan Harstad
 

  It’s been a bad day please don’t take a picture.

  Palli and Anna. So that was who they were. I suddenly felt a mild attack of bad conscience for having snooped around in their lives, reading things almost nobody knew, and I put the records back, solemnly.

  For a while I hunted for my own name in the archive, I was pleased not to find it, it was reassuring that I couldn’t be traced back to this place. Hardly anyone knew I was here. That I even existed.

  I’d put almost all the records back into their drawers, when I discovered the envelope with my name on it. It lay at the edge of the desk, on the other side of the telephone, threatening to tip off the edge and onto the floor. A white, oblong envelope. On it, in gold calligraphy it said; To Mattias. My hands went to it, picked it up. I tore the paper carefully, not knowing what to expect.

  Dear Mattias! If you come back before us, we all wish you a fantastic Christmas. You’ll find beer in Cloakroom A. Just wanted to say that we are ever so happy you are with us. This is where your sanity gives in and love begins. Without you we move at random.

  Love from NN, Havstein, Anna & Palli.

  I stood there holding the Christmas card in my hands. She’d made it herself. Crayons. Drawn Gjógv. The mountains. Cut photographs from her magazines and stuck them on, with our names underneath: I was Prince Albert. It would seem. Palli was Johnny Depp. Havstein was Vígdís Finnbogadóttir, Anna was Audrey Hepburn. And she was Nina Persson. Prince Albert? Prince Albert?!

  I look down at the Christmas card and that’s when it suddenly clicks. It’s as though my ears have been plugged all this time and I haven’t heard a single sound. It was like being under water and not understanding what they meant when they told me the rain had stopped. Her name isn’t Ennen. It’s NN. Of course it is! Nomen Nescio. No Name. Ennen. NN.

  Why in the world didn’t she use her name? And why didn’t any of the others use it? Didn’t anybody know it? Not even Havstein? I put the Christmas card back on the desk, walked over to the filing cabinets, began searching through the files again.

  What I was looking for was a folder without a name, or a file of a woman born in 1971, admitted for the first time in the winter of 1984, and containing symptoms or signs similar to those that NN and Havstein had described. The files were organized exclusively by name, making it impossible to pull out files quickly that began in the present day, I would need to go through all the cabinets. It would take time. A long time.

  I was still sitting in Havstein’s office at half past eleven that night, reading through his files. I shuttled back and forth between the desk and the twelve filing cabinets, replacing one bunch of papers, pulling another out. There were six drawers in each cabinet, about a hundred files in each drawer, seven thousand files in all, plus or minus. Far too many cases for them all to be Havstein’s patients. Even if he’d worked as a psychiatrist for over twenty years, they couldn’t all have been his patients. Besides, it didn’t fit, several cases went back to the fifties, 1953, the year he was born, and there were stacks of files from the beginning of the century and upwards, from both Denmark and the Faroe Islands. An entire national history of psychiatry gathered in one place, X-files. Some people collect stamps or dried butterflies, napkins or beer mats. Havstein collected patient files. An indexed collection of every screwed-up and confused head from the past fifty years, and I’d decided to read the whole mess.

  I’d passed file number four hundred and fifty when I decided to go out and get some fresh air. Replaced the last pile of papers before I went out of the room, down the stairs and put on my jacket, went out into the cold air. The rain from earlier had turned to sleet, and I buttoned my jacket all the way up to the collar, not that it helped much, wandered down the street, past the graveyard, and the little white church just down from the Factory and farther down toward the harbor. It was completely dark, outer space dark, and no streetlights, only a lamp in a window here and there, so I had to walk cautiously, hands out in front of me, before my eyes adjusted. Gjógv had gotten its name from the natural harbor it had been built around, the harbor that lay close into the mountain on the northern side of the settlement, a three-hundred-foot long, sixty-five-foot deep vein that sheltered fishing boats from the ocean and poor weather. It was this harbor that tourists came to see. When they came. If they didn’t go elsewhere, to see something more exciting. Tórshavn. The Faroese National Gallery. Nordic Center. Or take one of Palli Lamhauge’s boat trips. Or grow a beard and wait for the whale slaughter in Mivagur. See Klaksvík and die. I made my way toward the harbor, walked around it and up the steep slope to the left, scrambled up onto the mountain, in the sleet, stood leaning diagonally on the slope close to the edge, clinging to an old chicken wire fence, trying to get a glimpse of Kalsoy out there, on the other side of the deep sound, only miles below. But there was too much fog, and it was dark. I could see nothing. Not a yard ahead of me. But I was very bored. Remembered a story Anna had told me about this harbor. About how it had filled with water one day. A tidal wave. It had taken seconds, but that had been enough for half a village to disappear in its wake. An earthquake somewhere out in the ocean, friction between continental plates and there’d been nothing anybody could do, no way to be prepared. I imagined the sea roaring in over the land, heading straight for Gjógv, smashing its way through the narrow natural harbor, splintering every boat in its path, and the houses above, the sea sucking the women into itself as they ran out of their houses to see what the men were shouting about, to see why seconds before the water level had sunk down to almost nothing. And the silence that followed. Gentle waves crashing idly in toward land. I closed my eyes, sleet in my face, and for a moment wished another tidal wave would come. Now. That I’d be torn down from these cliffs, dragged into the North Atlantic before sinking some place out there. Havstein, Anna, Palli, and NN would maybe hear about it on the radio. TV. Think what a good thing it was I hadn’t been there. And then come back after Christmas, after good food and loved ones, come back and see that I’d been there after all, search and not find me. But he who waits for a tidal wave generally waits in vain.

  And then I sang. Right there. There was nothing else to do. Christmas carols, I think, Silent Night, and it was such a beautiful sound, my voice carried way out on the wind, spun out across the water, sideways toward the mountains, before it returned to settle calmly in my pockets, in my mouth. And I started to walk.

  I struggled back down along the narrow path, clinging to the chicken wire, walked back toward the Factory. Thought of Helle as I passed the Factory. Hadn’t thought about her for a long time, in fact. Had stopped having visions of what she was doing at every moment. I didn’t think about what she might be doing now, at that moment, but thought about Little Christmas Eve thirteen years ago, the evening I’d met her outside the school in Stavanger. It had snowed, I’d thrown a snowball. I’d thrown a snowball onto a roof and won myself a girlfriend. I looked at the slope. Sleet. Slush. Bent down and filled my hands with this slushy stuff. Tried to make it into a ball, unsuccessfully. Squeezed the water and ice together, aimed at the church roof. Threw. And it disintegrated before hitting its target, and ice rained over the church roof and the loneliest of the eighteen Faroe Islands.

  Christmas Eve. I woke early. There was no Christmas cavalcade. No nuts for Askepott, no smell of Christmas Eve dinner and unopened presents, no perfume or clacking stiletto heels in the early afternoon, no freshly ironed clothes ready to put on. It was cold in my room. I got up, dressed quickly and went down to Havstein’s room, straight to the filing cabinets, and began where I’d left off on the previous day, a new round of faltering lives in my hands. I read through stack after stack, a rumbling stomach under the files, and the sun rose and came in through the window for a few hours, before it vanished and it was dark again. It was Christmas and here were more people who no longer dared to go out to meet others, who couldn’t sleep at nights, or couldn’t face getting up, who had changed beyond recognition or took long walks and had to be
fetched back in the evenings. Anorexia and self-harm, nightmares and recurring visitations of dead sailors in the bath, the woman of forty-two who got it into her head that her husband, dead for eight years, still came to dinner every Tuesday, and who always put out her finest china, silver cutlery, prettied herself with lipstick and rouge, a dress and smart shoes, and was just as disappointed each time he didn’t turn up.

  At around six in the evening I took a break, lent back in the chair and wished myself a Merry Christmas.

  “Merry Christmas, Mattias,” I said.

  “Thanks, same to you,” I answered.

  Went down into the kitchen, rummaged around in the fridge, found the chicken and French fries I’d bought in Hoydalsvegur the day before, it more or less made itself while I sat in the living room, the TV on, watched some carol singing from one or another church, the Faroese Boys’ Choir sang Christmas in, solemnly and slowly, in my own tempo. Wandered into Cloakroom A, found half a case of beer at the back, took some bottles back with me and put them on the kitchen table. Tiptoed up the stairs and stood for a moment outside NN’s room, my hand on the doorknob, as if I was frightened of being discovered, before carefully opening the door, and going in. It had that closed in smell already, after just a few days. But it also smelled of NN, soft and calm, soap and fresh towels. And the stillness in here, like a theater set at night, when you return to it hours after the performance is over, but the doll’s house still stands, the piano is still there, the drawing room, the little cornet filled with macaroons is still on the table. I went over to her bookcase, took one of her CDs. The Cardigans. Life. It had the most Christmassy cover, a smiling skate-queen Nina Persson surrounded by pretty pale blues and white.

  So I sat there.

  In the kitchen. The last Christmas night before the future. My first Christmas without people.

  Ate chicken.

  Drank beer.

  French fries.

  The Cardigans.

  C’mon and love me now.

  And I was fine.

  Yes, I was.

  But could have done with a few more people here.

  Thought how living rooms all over the country, in Scandinavia, the Nordic countries, Europe, the world, were filled with people who sat eating, at this very moment, families gathered around the table, children impatient on their chairs, don’t want don’t want don’t want to sit here anymore, want to leap from their chairs, to run to the tree, but it isn’t allowed, not yet, they’ll have to wait until everyone has eaten, until coffee is drunk, until the cakes are on the table, and elsewhere, in other time zones, the gifts are already in the hands of small children sitting in their pajamas, cross legged, in front of the tree, if Christmas trees are the tradition there, a big red fire engine in a child’s hands, vroom vroom, and for the spoiled children of Texas, the time is only noon or one in the afternoon, and the presents won’t be opened until the next morning, Mother has overstretched herself and with tears in his eyes Father packs the brand new rifle, a carbon semiautomatic home-assault rifle, home protection, life membership in the NRA and red lingerie from Victoria’s Secret for his wife, because that’s the done thing, and Buzz Aldrin stands in his garden and watches a shooting star in the sky, makes a wish for something, I don’t know what, has wrapped an exact replica of the moon-landing module for one of his grandchildren, it’s thirty years since he walked on the moon and he still remembers that Christmas, the Christmas of 1969, it snowed so much that year, and I think of Havstein and the others who will soon be unwrapping who knows what, of the English or Welsh family from the airport and the Christmas lights that finally work, of Helle who gets everything she wants, and all the people who sit on their own in front of their televisions because they have to, because there’s nobody else, of Jørn and Nina who will go to town in a few hours, to Checkpoint Charlie, and my parents who are sitting with our relatives now, chatting happily if one ignores those moments in which Father grows distant and excuses himself, says he’s going to the bathroom, but doesn’t, goes into the hallway instead, to the phone, several times in the course of the evening, a hairbreadth away from calling me up here, but he doesn’t, nothing comes of it, and he goes back in, sits with the others, unwraps something from Black & Decker, always something smart from there, my presents have been put aside, put up in my old room, on the bed perhaps, timeless gifts perhaps that I can have next year, because I’ll surely be home by then? Yes, I think I will. I expect so. Probably.

  Ninety minutes and forty-two seconds later. I’d played the Life album, done the washing up from dinner, was sitting in the living room with a beer, watching TV and feeling something was missing. It wasn’t Christmas somehow without the trashy frills. I missed having the money-grabbing shopping center to despise, the mechanical Christmas elves, silently, repetitively performing behind newly cleaned shop windows, the gaudy Christmas lights hanging over streets, and the crackly Christmas wrapping at the counter. I missed the Christmas tree that dropped its needles, spiky and painful to walk on in stockinged feet, the Christmas carols really meant for other days and songs about Jesus who we’d long since given up waiting for, and who, if we were honest with ourselves, was born at a completely different time of year, the cards you forgot to send before it was too late, the Santa Claus who was really only an uncle in a red bathrobe. I missed Dudley Moore in the afternoon, a Christmas matinee, Arthur, or Santa Claus: The Movie in which he played Santa’s little helper, Dudley Moore, actor and concert pianist, didn’t appear in films anymore, didn’t release records, nobody had seen him for ages, Dudley had melted into the crowd and was only rarely seen out, at a party he particularly wanted to go to, and he got embarrassed looks, he stammered when he spoke, staggered when he walked, it wasn’t funny anymore, but Dudley Moore wasn’t drunk, Dudley Moore had a parasite eating into his brain, nanometer by nanometer, but nobody knew, nobody asked, and a few years later, in the autumn of 2002, he died, he refused to see his children in the last months, didn’t want them to remember him like that. And Liza Minnelli cries wherever she is. Arthur on the rocks. I missed Christmas. I missed Dudley. And for the first time, I missed the others. All of them.

  That evening, and well into the night I was back up in Havstein’s room, reading my way through filing cabinet after filing cabinet. I found nothing on NN, there were too many, it could be any one of them, I gave up at some point or other, I just wanted to have read the files, have the feeling I’d done something useful, that I’d cared about these people, given them a thought, Christmas—a time for reflection—I did what I could to make a contribution, read my way through the archives, and around me Christmas dissolved in all directions.

  It wasn’t until the Wednesday between Christmas and New Year that I went outside. There’d been some light snowfall during the night, but not enough to settle. A thin film that disappeared as soon as I stepped on it. I went into the street and drew in the cold air, killed time with my breath and feet, stamped my way through the day and it was completely silent in the village, nothing to go out for, its few permanent inhabitants used the day to visit friends and relatives in other parts of the country, took their cars and went away for a few hours. I shuffled back and forth, happy just to be outside, and to think of something other than the patients that had worn down the linoleum of hospital corridors. And the moment I’d managed to release that thought, my head filled with another; what I was doing here, why I wasn’t on a flight home. There’d been a flight today. I hadn’t booked it. I’d decided to stay. “Stand at ease.”

  Because I was doing just fine here, wasn’t I?

  Yes. I was better at least.

  I panicked for an instant; maybe I was digging my life deeper and deeper into a ditch with every second that I did nothing, shovelful by shovelful. Did I have plans at all for going back? Had I decided to stay? Or was I here for no other reason than because I’d come? It wasn’t as if I was stranded here, like some Robinson Crusoe arriving on the Faroes in distress, after a relationship had run aground, h
ad sunk dramatically and violently.

  But when I thought about it, there weren’t any reasons for going home. I had no job in Stavanger.

  Had nowhere to live.

  Jørn managed perfectly well without me, with many people around him.

  But my parents. I missed Father. He’d have preferred me not to be so far away.

  But still.

  All I wanted was to be useful, didn’t want to be in the way, and right now I’d be useless in Stavanger, I’d end up living stressfully at home with Mother and Father. Restless, jobless. It was unthinkable.

  I was doing something here. Fulfilling a function. Repairing winter gardens. Later I might find something else, in town, if I needed to. Or I could leave. Whenever. Wherever.

 

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