Buzz aldrin what happene.., p.24
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       Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion?, p.24

           Johan Harstad
 

  “Would you move, if you could?” I asked.

  “No.”

  The car came buzzing toward us, slush spraying out to the sides.

  “Somebody’s got to stay behind, otherwise it won’t work,” I said, to myself most of all.

  He leaned forward so as to see the finish line more clearly, to get the precise time that the car came over it. She was leaving, which was why he didn’t want to be with her any more. Then he could start to forget her.

  “You really liked her, didn’t you?”

  The car passed the finish line and slammed on the brakes at 1:23:22.

  “Yes. Should we go back in now?”

  “Yes.”

  Sofus picked up his car and brushed the worst of the slush off with his jacket sleeve and we trotted back to the house. His parents were sitting in the living room watching TV. Sofus sat with us for a quarter of an hour, before being told it was bedtime, and he padded out to the bathroom, through the wall I heard the sound of yawning and teeth being brushed.

  “It’ll be lonely for Sofus,” I said, “Now that Óluva’s moving.”

  “Has he said something about that?” asked Selma.

  “Just that he liked her a lot.”

  “Yes they’ve been together since they were born. More or less.”

  “Why are they going to Copenhagen?”

  “Jens Henrik’s got a good job there,” said Óli.

  “Her father, Jens Henrik,” added Selma, “and they have family there too.”

  “Aren’t there any other children here?”

  “In Gjógv?”

  “Yes.”

  “No. Not any more. Sofus is the only one left.”

  And Sofus came into the living room in his pajamas, got a kiss on the forehead from both parents, and I was given a handshake, the full treatment.

  “Bye bye,” he said to me before turning.

  “Good night,” I answered.

  I stayed there late into the evening. It was still Christmas. Óli got out a bottle of cognac and we sat on the leather sofa with a glass each. Óli talked about the fish factory in the village, the fishing, about boats that sank or that never returned and were just reported missing. He talked about the memorial garden for seamen that was next to the church. I hadn’t seen it. Hadn’t been there.

  “Take a walk there one day,” said Selma. “It might perhaps help you to understand a bit more about the Faroe Islands.”

  “Maybe so,” I said.

  And on we talked. Relaxed, agreeable, post-Christmas chatter. Óli had a good rowboat down in the harbor, and by the way, we must feel free to use it, if ever we wanted to take it out to go fishing or whatever. It was ready to go. No need to ask. Simply borrow it. And later, just as I was about to break up the party, we talked about Sofus again. I was in the hallway tying my laces and Selma and Óli stood in the doorway and waited, I got up and stretched a hand out. Selma shook it.

  “He really appreciated your playing with him today,” she said.

  “My pleasure,” I answered.

  “I could see it in his face. I haven’t seen him like that for ages.”

  I said nothing.

  “It’s not good for him to be alone so much, you know. Or just with us. He needs friends his own age. He needs friends.”

  “I could come here more often.”

  “Would you like to?”

  “Of course.”

  I was useful. I had a function. I was a good investment.

  “He’d like that so much.”

  “I’ve got plenty of spare time.”

  And then I left. I thanked them and wandered home over our wheel tracks and into the Factory. And it was only now that the feeling of Christmas hit, flowed into me, like an actor walking slowly, step by careful step, across the stage floor on a postponed first night, finally ready to deliver his first line, after a long pregnant pause:

  “Christmas.”

  Didn’t get to sleep that night. At all. Lay in bed awake and counted the beams in the ceiling again and again. There were forty-two. I thought a lot that night, about Sofus who wanted friends, but who had none left. I thought about how lonely it can be to be a child, how tough it can be sometimes, like squeezing a blue whale into a photo booth, and around the corner of every single house you run toward you can bump into the greatest happiness obtainable, a happiness to make you explode, or the darkest abyss you never knew existed, the kind that makes you sleep with the light on, makes you think that nothing will ever be okay again, that nothing can be made good. And you crawl to school, hands out before you, because you’re a reptile and you’re not doing well, you’ve got lousy grades, and you think if you can’t make it now, you never will, because that’s what they’ve told you, that you’ll always be an outsider. And even when it doesn’t turn out that badly after all, on adult reflection, with the benefit of hindsight: things still won’t get easier. You don’t escape it even when you’re a grown-up. It’ll go on demanding every scrap of strength, wrecking you almost entirely. At least that’s how it will feel, as though nothing’s changed. But in truth it has. Everything’s changed. And then you feel it one morning, one afternoon, one Sunday in February, an otherwise dreadful day, you sense things are different, because you know you’d never want to be a child again, not for the world, and you think how you really couldn’t bear to go through it again, and then you realize that something’s lost its grip on you. It’s as if you’ve gone to town for the first day without winter boots. In soft sneakers. You’re nearer the ground. You’ve got a better foothold. Something’s released you and you’re capable of thinking the thought: Things aren’t so bad.

  04:23. Click. 04:24. I switched the light on. Got up. Dressed. Went down the stairs and into the storeroom in Cloakroom A, fetched a couple of beers, went up again.

  Stood on the landing. Was cold.

  Looked at the different doors.

  Wondered a bit what I should do.

  Two bottles of Pils in my hand.

  Disheveled hair.

  I walked into Havstein’s room.

  I stood in his office, as I had many times in the last few days. My second sitting room. I switched on the light, walked over and sat in his office chair, opened a beer and welcomed fictive patients who never came, never needed diagnosing, and were actually surprisingly well.

  Then I got up, walked back and forth, stopped at the bookshelves, read the titles. On psychology. Psychiatry. Self-help literature. Marital Brinkmanship. How Not to Kill Your Husband/How Not to Kill your Wife. Three Ways of Staying Happy. Problems & Solutions. Quackery mixed in with professional literature. Didn’t really feel like opening any of them, I’d read enough psychiatric files to last me a year or a lifetime now, but I stood there wondering for a moment if I should get on the bandwagon and write a book myself. Survival Strategies: Basic Model For a Long and Happy Life. A-three-step program.

  Breathe in.

  Breathe out.

  Repeat as required.

  Something happens to you when you’ve been alone for a few days. Home alone. It’s like when your parents have left you at home to go away to Denmark for a holiday, a week in Ebeltoft. You develop new habits, your body gets new rhythms. Imperceptibly you turn troglodyte, a Robinson Crusoe at home, and your steps create new paths in the house, you sit in different chairs, in Father’s chair, you pursue absurd activities because the boundaries have practically disappeared. You can sleep on the living room floor if you want. Sit up all night. Nobody will ever know. In a matter of days you’re beyond any structure, any previously walked trail. And you almost stop going out too. And then when your parents do return one day, it seems to come on you so suddenly. You always seem to be caught unprepared. No matter how hard you try, how much effort you make. You are Robinson Crusoe, with a big beard and clothed in an animal hide you hunted yourself. The trash, the glasses, the plates, the cushions you forgot to straighten on the sofa where you lay one day, they all reveal where you’ve been, what you’ve done. And a
s they open the front door and walk in, you meet the culture clash at the door and even your own voice sounds strange, unfamiliar, almost new.

  I was sleeping when they arrived a couple of days later. It was the day before New Year’s Eve and I was woken by a face uncomfortably close to my own. I opened my eyes and was staring straight into somebody else’s.

  “Hi,” said Helle.

  I squinted at her. Didn’t believe my eyes,

  “What are you doing here?” I whispered.

  “Have you slept all Christmas, or what?” she laughed. “I’m back. Did you miss me?”

  I rubbed my eyes and opened them again. NN was sitting on the bed next to me, eyes close to mine.

  “Have you slept all Christmas or what?” she repeated.

  I didn’t have time to answer. A second later Havstein came tramping in, together with Anna and Palli, at the rear as usual, he stood there in the doorway.

  “Merry Christmas!” they shouted.

  “Merry Christmas,” I mumbled.

  I tried to shake my head awake. It wobbled on my shoulders.

  “Has he been lying there asleep all Christmas?” Anna asked NN.

  “Yes!” she answered grabbing hold of me, dragging me from the covers. I made myself heavy, held tightly to the warm duvet, but she didn’t give in. “Come on! You’ve got to get up. We’re going to Klaksvík. It’ll be 2000 tomorrow night. Wild, isn’t it?”

  “Yes,” I answered apathetically, as I let her tear the soft, warm duvet from me, inch by inch, until I sat in my underwear on the edge of the bed, feet on the cold floor and goose bumps over my entire body, the warmth of a Caribbean map on my back.

  “We’ll wait for you downstairs,” said Havstein. “We ought to get going as soon as possible, so we catch the stores. And the boat. Okay?”

  “Ten minutes,” I mumbled. “And I’ll be ready.”

  “Fantastic.”

  Palli turned in the doorway and disappeared with Anna and Havstein in tow, tramp tramp tramp down the stairs and into the kitchen where I heard them laughing loudly, and my name being mentioned.

  “Did you have a good Christmas in Stavanger?” asked NN as I started getting dressed.

  “I didn’t go.”

  “What?”

  “Missed the flight.

  “Where have you been then?”

  “Here.”

  “Here?”

  “It’s as good a place as any.”

  “But what about food? There was almost nothing left here.” A maternal instinct coming to the surface. I liked it when she cared like that.

  “The gas station in Hoydalsvegur,” I said.

  “Wonderful selection there, I’d bet.”

  “You can’t imagine,” I answered and gave her a big hug. “Welcome home.”

  “Thanks.”

  Then I told her about the plane that left and the bus that didn’t arrive early enough, and about Sofus who’d be all alone when his last friend left.

  “There’s always another bus,” was all NN said.

  “Almost always,” I answered.

  I put my jacket on, yawned, not quite awake, took some money from the envelope that lay in the drawer of my desk and put it in my pocket, and we went out of my room and onto the landing.

  “Thanks for the card, by the way. It was so nice to get it.”

  NN looked at me and frowned.

  “Card? Oh yeah, that. But I forgot to put it out … I was going to … have you been in Havstein’s room?”

  No handcuffs or sirens, a brutal arrest nonetheless. Didn’t know what to say.

  “The telephone rang one day,” I said. “I thought I should answer it. And then I saw your card on the table. On his desk.”

  “So who called?”

  “On the phone? Nobody.”

  “Nobody?”

  “Wrong number.”

  “Havstein doesn’t like us going into his room.”

  I looked down. “No.”

  “You’ve been in his archives, haven’t you?”

  I couldn’t lie. I said nothing.

  “He’ll be furious if he finds out.”

  “He won’t,” I said.

  “No?”

  “Not unless you tell him.”

  NN lifted her hand to her lips, turned an imaginary lock and threw the key over her shoulder.

  “Thanks.”

  “No problem.” She signaled for me to follow. But I didn’t move. “I couldn’t find you in the archive,” the words tumbled out. “Your file, I mean.”

  She stopped. Looked at me. I don’t know if it was a good or bad sign.

  “No, I know. I’ve removed it.”

  “Why?”

  She looked round the room, then back at me.

  “No Name?”

  “That’s right.”

  “So, what’s your name?”

  “Come on,” she said. “We’ve got to go now.”

  She turned heel and went out the door. I went on questioning her as we went down to the others, pressing her as to why she’d taken her file out of the archives, and whether she knew that there were century-old cases lying in those cabinets, I wondered whether she knew how Havstein had come to collect all these papers, but she wouldn’t answer my questions, brushing them off and steering the conversation to other subjects, either because she didn’t know what to say, or because it bored her. I didn’t intend to give up though, I just held my tongue, and decided that I’d get it out of Havstein one day, I’d ask him directly what he was up to. And from that moment, not a day passed when I didn’t think of doing it. Not one day.

  It was almost cloud-free that day, and a couple of degrees above zero, we crammed into Havstein’s little Subaru and drove down along Funnings Fjord, crossing Eysturoy in the middle and continuing down the famous Skálafjør∂ur fjord. This was, according to those in the know, the country’s best harbor, used by the British as a marine base during the war. There’d even been talk in the mid 1700s of making it the center of political power and trade, but then people had got distracted, forgotten it perhaps, who knows, but it had come to nothing, even though it would have been a good idea. Instead the region around the fjord had grown into the most densely built up area of the Faroes, a Scandinavian Tokyo, a microscopic megapolis with over five thousand inhabitants. Yet possibly the least interesting place I’ve ever seen, and as I sat squashed up against the car window, next to Palli and NN, I thought how if anybody had come here to take photos for a picture postcard, nothing would have appeared on the film, it would have been unexposed, because there wasn’t a single thing to look at.

  It wasn’t until we approached Leirvík, where the ferry was, that I began to wake up properly and my hearing returned fully. I’d been leaning, half asleep against the car window almost the entire journey from Gjógv, so my ears only vaguely registered the conversation that circulated in the car, Christmas reports, the presents everybody had been given and from whom, and somewhere, as though packed in cotton wool, the car stereo played the Cardigans, and now and then NN sang to it, tapping the rhythm with her fingers on my jacket. We drove into the quay just in time to see the Dúgvan floating off toward Klaksvík, loaded with the cars and passengers that had gotten here on time, and there was no alternative but to park and wait the hour it would take for the boat to return. It wasn’t a big deal. It was a nice day, on a day like this we could just stay in the car, button our jackets up, open the windows, and enjoy the cold, clear winter air on our faces and hands, close our eyes and imagine it was spring. Which is what we did. We parked the car on the quay, first in line, and sat there, windows rolled down, leaning back in our seats, not needing to say a word. I lay thinking about the new millennium that would be upon us in less than thirty-six hours, wondering if it would be different, or if everything would just go on as though nothing had happened. I wondered whether all the world’s computers would go out of control, lose count and collapse, revolt against themselves. I wondered what would happen if we had to start all o
ver again. Would we start making video games everybody could program? Would Commodore 64 make a comeback? Would my watch, that had stopped one night in July, start again? Impossible to tell. Out in the world professors wrote articles explaining how the world was at knifepoint, this was the battle against the clock, at precisely the zero-point of the new millennium all the banks’ debt records would be wiped out, interest rates would soar, our bank accounts would either vanish or expand. Underdeveloped countries would become developed. Time for fairer trading. It would be impossible to tell when the semi-skimmed milk was beyond its use-by-date, or how long the pizza had been in the oven. The car might explode when you put the key in the ignition to drive across town to see your girlfriend. The gas tank would catch fire from a spark caused by a short circuit in the car stereo, traveling via a myriad of wires and devious routes, that single millennium spark would work its way into your gas tank, light the fuel and explode out of the tank, through your dash board, setting your body alight, and your face would melt, you’d be fried in your own fat in your fake leather car seats. That was how they talked, wrote. And at home in Norway, the biggest newspapers had already printed a whole page in which the prime minister pronounced that precautions were in place, there was no need for panic so long as we all stayed calm. Although, for those of us whose fear was of the prime minister himself, no guidance was given.

  We’d been sitting in the car for half an hour, barely saying a word, when Anna decided to get out and go to the supermarket next to the church and buy herself something to drink. She asked if anyone wanted to come too, but none of us wanted to move, so we stayed in our seats. Does anyone want anything? she asked. No, we were fine. She opened the door and started walking across the quay, I changed my mind, went after all, bounded over to catch up with her.

  “Changed your mind, Mattias?”

  “Yes,” I answered, “I was getting cold in the car.”

 

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