Buzz aldrin what happene.., p.25
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       Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion?, p.25

           Johan Harstad

  We walked around the little supermarket, Anna first and me a step behind. She was the kind of person who you’d just assume, if you didn’t know her, was leader of the group. I thought it was something about the way she moved, the straight back, a gaze that seemed constantly searching to get an overview, eyes that scanned the product shelves or the workplace, separating the unimportant from the interesting at a glance, she walked firmly in seemingly predetermined paths, steered us past the canned foods and skerpi meat to the soft drinks, hidden away at the back of the shop.

  “What do you fancy?” she asked, taking a bottle of water out for herself and pointing at the rows of various bottles and cartons in the fridge before us with the other hand.

  “Have they got anything with apple juice, do you think?”

  “Let’s see … apple, apple …” Anna examined the shelves and found a little green carton with a straw. “Here.”

  “Is that nice?”

  “It’s okay. It almost tastes like apples.”


  I took the apple juice and we made our way to the register, paid, and went back out into the cold sunshine, threw away the packaging, searched for something to say. I knew so little about Anna. Apart from the fact that she no longer visited galleries, the details I’d secretly read in Havstein’s archives. She was only the second oldest of the three ex-patients I lived with, but she’d automatically been assigned the sort of responsible mom role, and she kept an eye on us when we turned our backs on her.

  I drank my apple juice. It was pretty all right. Like apple and plastic. Looked across the quay where the rest of the gang sat at a loss, waiting for the ferry to come back.

  “I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but I just wanted to tell you I’m glad you’re looking after NN.”

  “Looking after her?” That wasn’t how I’d thought of it, not at all. She was perhaps one of the best people I’d ever met. I’d not been looking after her. It was more a case of her looking after me, wasn’t it?

  “She’s really lit up since you arrived. So … listen, I’m asking you to be careful what you do. Okay?”

  “What do you mean?”

  “You know exactly what I mean, Mattias.”

  I nodded hesitantly. Drank my plastic apple juice. Looked over at the car, looked like they’d all gone to sleep there. And out in the fjord the ferry came sputtering over.

  Anna squinted at me.

  “Did you really think you wouldn’t be noticed here?”

  I considered it.

  “Yeah,” I answered, and meant it.

  “Well, you’ve failed completely then.”


  She gave me a hug.

  “Come on now, you miserable Norwegian. Or we won’t get to Klaksvík.”

  “And would that be a great loss?”

  She laughed.

  “No, not really.”

  So we walked back to the car, as the ferry prepared itself to dock. We got in, NN was dozing in the backseat and woke up as I moved over to her and settled into the seat. Havstein turned toward me.

  “Did you buy anything?”

  I held the apple drink up. He frowned.

  “Are you drinking that? Plastic apple juice.”

  “Plastic fantastic,” I said.

  The ferry hit the quay, the bow opened and we started the car up, rolled on board, we were almost the only passengers, there were just a couple of cars more and a trailer, and a little family on foot.

  I buttoned my thin jacket up again and once the ferry was out into the fjord I went out on deck, hanging on the railings while the others sat inside in the little café at the front of the boat. It wasn’t the season for tourists, and there was a strong wind, so I got to be more or less alone, except when the odd sailor rushed past on his way to the engine room or the bridge. We were right in the fjord now, and snuck around the edge of Kalsoy where jagged mountains shot sharply above us, small and pathetic in our floating tub. I thought about what I’d been doing for the last few months. Waiting, mostly, without really knowing what I was waiting for. Better times? To get my job back? For Helle to turn up one day and fly me home? Or for the arrival of a new millennium when people might suddenly start buying flowers and plants wholesale? I hadn’t done much. Almost nothing. But then, it seemed plenty of people were able to live lives like that, doing more or less nothing. Taking things as they came. And when I thought about it, it didn’t even seem so bad, really. And anyway I’d started working again now.

  I was back on track.

  I’d stopped waiting. Hadn’t I?

  A puffin came sailing down over the boat. It made a little swing astern and continued onward along the ship’s side before rising and circling me a couple of times, as though wondering whether to land or not. But I saw in its eyes that it had decided against it. And it flew off.

  Havstein came up on deck through the double wooden doors. He stood next to me, resting his arms on the railings.

  “Well?” he asked. “What do you think?”

  “It’s lovely out here,” I answered.

  “Yes, isn’t it.” He pointed at the island we passed. “That’s Kalsoy. That’s what you can see from Gjógv sometimes. And over there,” he continued, leaning over the rail and looking forward, “is Kunot, with the pyramid.”


  “Ranndalur, a mountain. It looks like a pyramid. Wait and see.”

  I looked around. Naked islands in every direction. Almost gray. I thought how different things looked now, in contrast to when I’d arrived in the summer. Everything had been so green. Almost copper green. Now the colors were faded, nature had shed its skin. A winter coat of fur on the mountains.

  “How was your Christmas?” asked Havstein.

  “Not bad. Quiet.”

  “You didn’t get home, I heard. To Norway. NN told me.”

  I longed to ask him about her, what her real name was. I longed to ask him about the archive and why he kept it. But didn’t. I couldn’t go telling him I’d been rummaging among his things again. Instead I said:

  “Gjógv is as good a place as any.”

  “Didn’t you want to go home?”

  “I missed the flight.”

  “But did you want to go home?”

  A pause. Another bird passed over the boat, not that there was anything dramatic about that.

  “I don’t know.”

  Havstein didn’t answer.

  “I can’t believe we’ll be going into the year 2000 tomorrow,” was all he said.

  “Yeah, feels weird.”

  “I remember thinking how strange it was when we went into the eighties. And the nineties. As if the future was about to begin. But now? I don’t know. It feels like entering a new room, blindfolded. And we’ve got nothing to hold onto.”

  “We have each other, don’t we?”

  He looked away. Gazing far out, into the fjord. It wasn’t easy to guess what he was thinking. I thought about whether it was an advantage or drawback that we walked alone. Or whether it had any effect at all.

  “Yes. We do. And we should be grateful for that.”

  “Yes, we should.”

  “But don’t you think it’s strange, Mattias? Think about it, here we are, five people, all over thirty, and none of us married, none of us with partners. Family. Kids.”

  I thought about NN.

  “Perhaps marriage is just a buffer against loneliness, or perhaps we’re just special people. The exceptions on the margins.”

  “No,” he answered. “There are lots of us. Hordes. And we’re all equally lonely, or maybe we’re not lonely at all, maybe that’s the problem, we’re too self-sufficient. We just want to be left in peace. That doesn’t make children, Mattias. It doesn’t make families.”

  “Maybe there are enough families?”

  “There can never be enough families. Never.”

  He looked away.

  “Fear of contact, Mattias. I had a lecturer in C
openhagen who talked about it. The fear of getting too close to other people. That thing that makes us all move a little farther away on the bus seat when somebody sits next to us. It’s the fear of belonging, the fear of dying.”

  I wasn’t quite sure where he was heading, and I was going to say something more, but he beat me to it, suddenly changing the subject.

  “Did you know that the Americans were here in the sixties, to train for the moon landing?”

  “Wasn’t that Iceland?”

  “Here too. I saw him myself.”


  “Armstrong. Aldrin too.”

  “Here on the Faroes? When?”

  “The mid-sixties some time. The summer of sixty-seven, I think. Up near Slættaratin∂ur. We’d been on a fishing trip, or maybe we were on our way to go fishing, I don’t quite remember. By Ei∂isvatn. A couple of friends and me. And then we saw it, a column of vehicles coming over the hill and parking at the side of the road.”

  I didn’t know whether to believe him, whether he was telling the truth. I’d never heard it before. It could be true. A carefully guarded secret that only few people knew, left out of the biographies for any number of reasons. Or perhaps he was only saying it so I’d forget what he’d just said. Perhaps he didn’t want me feeling bad on the last day of the millennium. But no matter. It was a great story anyway.

  “There must have been fifty of them,” he went on, “all with big bags, carrying suitcases, with equipment in tow. Then they took everything over to the gravel area, up toward the mountain. And we followed them, keeping a good distance. Hung in the background so as not to be noticed. They went on for ages, organizing this and that, a big ring of people in the middle of nowhere. And then, when the ring finally opened up a little, we saw these two astronauts lurching about in huge suits, performing various tasks. It was hard to make out quite what. But I remember one of my friends had a pair of binoculars with him, and we took turns with them. Lay on the ground, hiding in the grass, spying. Eventually they took their helmets off and it was possible to see their faces. And one was Armstrong. For certain. I recognized the face two years later, I’ve always been good at them. Faces.

  “Did you see Aldrin too?”

  “I think so. But I’m not sure. Didn’t take so much notice of him, how he looked and stuff.”

  “Not many people do,” I said.

  “Look over there,” said Havstein, pointing. “Look at that.”

  I lifted my head, and saw Ranndalur, straight ahead, and it certainly did look like a pyramid, but covered with grass and a thin, speckled layer of snow. It loomed over the port of Klaksvík, like a layer cake, like a stunning community project made by nature or by the people of Klaksvík, and I had to lean almost right back to see the blunted top, almost lost my balance, and I thought that I could have had a camera, have photographed it, captured it on film. But I rarely had my camera with me, not on any of the trips I’d been on. Wasn’t sure who I’d show the prints to even if I’d taken them.

  We turned from the mountain, its image imprinted in our minds as we crossed the deck, went back in to the others, took the stairway down and got into the car as the ferry docked in the quay and opened its hold, and then we drove into Klaksvík. Havstein dropped us off at the bridge and we arranged to meet him a few hours later. He was going to drive up to Múli and visit what he referred to as “the other group.” The “other group” was made up of people like NN, Palli and Anna, institutionalized people who for various reasons wouldn’t or couldn’t fit in with society, without its leading to more problems than happiness. From what I understood, this unit had more residents than our little Factory, and some of them weren’t even as healthy as my gang, as us. Because of this they were only allowed partial freedom of movement. Even its location hadn’t been a coincidence. It hadn’t been until 1994, when the last local inhabitants had left forever, that the state granted money for the building of this house, due mainly to Havstein’s persistence, apparently, and if we felt isolated in Gjógv, that was nothing compared to Múli. There hadn’t even been a road there until the nineties, inhabitants had had to go by helicopter in and out, or take the boat to the neighboring island from where they could cross the bridge over to Bordot, and travel the final five or six miles from there into Klaksvík.

  We strolled away from the quay and down toward Nolsoyar Páls Gøta, found a bakery and bought ourselves a bite, I got myself a currant bun and a bottle of Jolly, and was content, Palli had a French slice that went down in a couple of gulps, something was troubling him, preoccupying him, as though the new millennium was approaching too fast and he hadn’t been able to prepare himself. We walked down the street, making for a shop on the other side, farther down the road. Anna and NN were determined to get me a new jacket, I was still using the one I’d arrived in that summer, a thin Fjällräven jacket without any padding and with pockets that were totally falling apart, and even when I zipped and buttoned it up, and pulled the hood over my head, it still didn’t keep me warm. This jacket’s days were numbered, and I was freezing slowly to death, the beginnings of permafrost across my back, ground frost in my arms, it couldn’t go on.

  The purchase itself went quickly, I didn’t care how the jacket looked as long as it was warm and did its job, so I let NN and Anna choose, and after some going back and forth NN found a huge, brown wool jacket, double-breasted with a big collar and handmade buckhorn buttons, that made me look like a captain. Or a pilot. Not that I could navigate.

  I delved my hand into the pocket of the jacket I was wearing, hunting for my envelope of money, but NN beat me to it and spoke to the proprietor who nodded at me and took her fingers away from the register. NN turned to me and laid a hand over the worn envelope.

  “Don’t worry, she’ll send the bill to Havstein.”

  “But why?” I answered, feeling embarrassed. “I don’t want him to have to pay for it.”

  “He won’t. He’ll get reimbursed, of course.”

  “Who by?” I asked, confused.

  “By the government.” She handed me the bag holding the jacket. “Put it on. Then you won’t have to freeze all day.”


  “Don’t thank me,” she laughed. “Thank the Faroe Islands.”

  “Or Denmark,” came Palli’s voice from behind us.

  “Yes, for that matter, thank you to Denmark, from Denmark with love.”

  Because the Faroe Islands were Danish soil, however independent, and Denmark supported the Faroes with a yearly billion, and the Faroes supported Havstein, and Havstein supported me, I was on welfare, so to speak.

  And then we were out of the shop.

  We strolled down over Biskupsstø∂gøta and I was given a guided tour of Klaksvík, we walked around the harbor, went into all the stores, into the video store, I walked beside NN, I think we talked about the New Year, and Anna and Palli walked just behind us, lost in a long conversation, talking over each other, laughing, they were good times, and I thought how the next year might not look so bad, things weren’t perhaps as hopeless as they seemed, even a plane with a damaged motor can land on a disused airport, so long as you take time to plan, and keep cool.

  It was Palli who suggested we go up to Christianskirkja while we were waiting for Havstein to return from his “home visit.” I was up for anything, I was a tourist for the day.

  But Anna objected. “Come off it, Palli, we visited the church last time we were in Klaksvík.”


  “So we’ve got a church right opposite the Factory and you never visit that. Why not? That’s a church too.”

  “It isn’t the same.”

  “Isn’t it?”


  The connection was probably better here, I thought, perhaps there wasn’t any coverage in Gjógv and God was only contactable by fax during office hours. I looked at Anna, Anna looked at NN, but she just shrugged and since the rest of us didn’t have any strong objections, we turned and walked up to the church,
Palli in the lead.

  The church stood on the slopes high above the main road, much larger than the wooden churches found in every single little village. This was sixties Faroese architecture, it had walls built of stone, reminiscent of the old ruins on Kirkjubøur, and large windows like the ones in the old Faroese boathouses. We sat on one of the pews, there was nobody else in the church, Palli sat next to me, eyes shut, the only one of us who could really call himself religious, the rest of us sat with our heads leaned back, gazing up at the ceiling and gables, covered with as many stencils as an old Viking hall. Óli had told me how most of the churches in the country had a miniature ship hanging from the ceiling to protect the sailors, bless them on their way, and one was hanging from the ceiling here, but this was no model, it was a full-size eight-man rowboat, and it appeared to be floating on a windless sea getting nowhere. Palli came to, it was between him and God, he opened his eyes and looked at the three of us who sat there waiting, cricks in our necks.

  “An eight-man vessel,” he said. “An eight-man … boat.”

  “It looks like it’s floating up there,” I said. Suddenly I had the sense we were all under water.

  Palli gazed up at the boat. Air bubbles exiting his mouth as he breathed, seaweed on the rows of pews.

  “The clergy used these boats in the old days. To go from island to island. And this boat never sank. It was the only one that didn’t. It stayed afloat. It was out with three other boats from Skar∂ village, Christmas 1913. The weather was terrible, and all three boats sank. Seven men vanished in the waves and never came back. This was the only one to make it back. All the men of the village died that day, apart from a seventy-year old man and a fourteen-year old boy who’d been left ashore. And it was Christmas too. Their wives couldn’t get by on their own, so they took their belongings soon afterward and moved to Haraldssund, leaving Skar∂ deserted. Nobody’s moved up here since.”

  None of us said a thing.

  We gazed up at the boat.

  The sea seemed to swallow man and mouse in this country. And everything is water if you just look long enough, even human beings.

  A vibration went through the bench. Anna was the first to say anything.


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