Buzz aldrin what happene.., p.33
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       Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion?, p.33

           Johan Harstad

  But that’s in November 1983, a long time ago, I should have remembered it, and if I did know about it all along, I should have mentioned it to Havstein ages ago, or I should now at least, later tonight, explain the real situation to him, explain that this had happened before, and that I hadn’t known what it was then either, that things like that just happen. But I didn’t. Since this was, after all, different, bigger. I said nothing. Stayed mum. Was embarrassed. Full of secrets you wouldn’t want to know about.

  “Father?” I said after a while, “Do you remember the moon landing?”

  “Of course I remember. It was a Sunday. July the twentieth was a Sunday. I was so frightened that night. That something might go wrong, with you. We’d waited so long.”

  “For the moon landing?”

  “For you,” he answered. “And for the moon landing too, I suppose.”

  We leaned our heads back, but there was no moon. Only clouds. Approaching rain.

  “But do you know what I remember best?”


  “The first American to orbit the earth.”

  “John Glenn?”

  “John Glenn. February 20, 1962. He orbited the earth three times. We sat glued to the radio. John Glenn made three orbits of the earth before he was forced to return in his capsule, what was it called? Something to do with friends, I think.”

  “Friendship 7.”

  “Yes, that’s right, Friendship 7. That was dramatic, I remember, part of the heat shield loosened, they didn’t know whether he’d be able to pass through the atmosphere on his return or whether he’d burn up. But it went okay. And over two hundred and fifty thousand Americans went to meet him in the rain on his return. I remember that.

  “I’ve read about that,” I said. “The oldest astronaut on the Mercury Program. A really good guy, I’d bet.”

  “A fantastic person. For sure. What happened to him, I wonder?”

  “I don’t know. But did you know that all the inhabitants of Perth switched their lights on that night, so he’d see them as he passed over the west coast of Australia?”

  “Yes, that’s right. I’d forgotten that. Do you know if he saw them?’ “Definitely.”

  “A wonderful thing to do. Wouldn’t happen today.”

  “Probably not.”

  We said no more on that subject. We went in to the others instead, and it was one of those evenings you never forget, an evening when your father blends in with all your friends, and it seems somehow natural to see him sitting in one of the armchairs in the Factory, and he slips so naturally into the picture and you want to tell him all the stories you’ve been keeping to yourself because you thought that they’d be of no interest, that he’d be unable to relate to the life you live, that he’d think the things you care about were unimportant, but as you start talking, explaining, you see it’s not like that, although you know the distance between you will return tomorrow, a closeness, yes, but distance, a natural barrier, so you hurry to say all you can, to fill out the picture of yourself, and the conversation spreads to everybody in the room, Havstein, Palli, Anna, and Carl, all of them join in, and you fetch some beers from Cloakroom A, give your father a beer and he opens it with a lighter that lies on the table, you’ve never seen that before, thought he could only open beers with a bottle opener, you see yourself in him, as you’ll be, it makes you smile, because there’s some security in that, and it hits you that it’s these details, these nuances, that define the people around you and that your ignorance of them and their routines are the price you pay for holding yourself on the periphery, where you’ve thought, and continue to think that you can’t get hurt, that you’re invulnerable, bulletproof. And so you consider what you’ve missed, how you’d have liked to go on vacation with your father, just the two of you, boys on an adventure, you could have gone anywhere, could have discovered things together, shared the same experiences and when you’d got back home, you could have continued talking about all the experiences you’d shared, and years later you’d have been able to start sentences with do you remember that crazy woman we saw in Tennessee that morning, on that corner, by the old store? But it won’t ever be like that, there are always these distances in the long run, big distances, we’re pulled in so many directions and don’t take enough care of each other, and what remains is the memory of an evening like this, carved in stone, a family’s wall relief, but it isn’t sad, this is how it should be, your father, your very own Man in the Yellow Hat sitting in the chair beside you.

  Father stayed until the Saturday that week. We fitted a visit in to Slættaratin∂ur and to the place where Havstein had watched Aldrin and Armstrong train in the sixties, we got the British weather forecast on Útvarp Föroya Radio and managed to organize two seats on a helicopter trip from Tórshavn out to Sofia’s and Mikines’ island of Mykines on Thursday, watched the Gulf Stream passing below us, keeping us warm, watched the big ships that passed the islands far out on their way to Europe, and Father talked about how things were at home, about Mother, about what he did, trivialities, insignificant events that were nice to hear about, didn’t mention Helle at all, Jørn had called a couple of times after Christmas apparently and they’d talked a little, good old Jørn, Father liked him, always had. We visited Tinganes, where the Parliament had once met, looked at the few buildings that had been left standing after the catastrophic fire of 1673, Father took pictures, documented every nook and cranny of his trip, and I had to stand up straight in every picture, look into the camera, smile, that was the way he liked it. We visited Sofia in the hospital, she lay as she had during the last weeks, no change, but I wanted Father to see her, and we sat next to her bed as I explained what had happened, sentence by sentence.

  What else did we talk about during those days? I don’t remember, but I remember that it was nice having him there, that we all went to Café Natúr before he left, and Father told Carl jokes, he doubled up over the table with laughter, I didn’t know Father had it in him, but he certainly did, had the gift, we didn’t discuss the possibility of my traveling home, not before Father and I had some moments alone outside the Factory when we came home that night, I promised I’d come that summer.

  “Of course I’ll come,” I said.



  “Are you sure?”

  “Yes,” I answered. “Very sure.”

  I drove Father to the airport the next day, with Havstein and Carl in the back. We made a trip out of it, and Father promised to come back to visit us again, and bring Mother this time, guaranteed, nothing ever came of it of course, and it was never mentioned again. A year from now there wouldn’t be anybody left at the Factory anyway, nobody to visit. And we’d leave our tracks in the village, in the streets, but they’d stop where the land stopped and the sea began. We just didn’t know it yet.

  I stand in the bathroom in Gjógv brushing my teeth, put the radio on above the sink, listen to the news with half an ear as I stare at my face in the mirror. It changes from day to day. Some days more than others. Not a lot, of course, but if you look closely, train yourself, concentrate, you’ll see minuscule changes in the skin, a wrinkle on the brow that’s changed overnight, by just half a millimeter, maybe, but you can see it, with practice. Your contours grow finer, your silhouette weaker. But you’re still not quite gone. It takes time. Years. But you’re vanishing. Vanishing from yourself, transforming into another, every day, so you’re no longer the person you were. The microscopic cells that formed your face in the photograph your parents have hanging in their living room are gone, exchanged for others. You’re no longer who you were. But I am still here, the atoms may swap their places, but nobody can control the dance of the quarks. And the same applies to the people you love. With almost stationary velocity they crumble in your arms, and you wish you could cling onto something permanent in them, their skeleton, their teeth, brain cells, but you can’t, because almost everything is water, impossible to grasp. And gradually every trace they left i
s gone, the house they once lived in, the drawings they made for you, the words they wrote on scraps of paper that vanished. And you’re left with memories, and they too finally fall away, like old wallpaper, and with time the same will go for this planet on the edge of this utterly peripheral galaxy, and it will be impossible to answer the question: was there life there? Did anybody live there? On earth? And my thoughts run on.

  I was sitting in the passenger seat in a car outside Tvøroyri on Su∂uroy when I was told that Sofia was dead. The Thursday after Father had left. An average afternoon, the kind of day nobody remembers once its gone, one of those days when it doesn’t rain, but the weather’s not too good either. And later, when the police interrogate witnesses about their whereabouts that day, none of them can remember.

  I hadn’t visited her for four days.

  There wasn’t any particular reason, things probably just hadn’t worked out that way.

  I regretted it now.

  Havstein had been to some guy’s house to pick up some papers, I never asked what they were, I’d just come for the ride, never been to Su∂uroy before, and when he came out of the house with his cell phone in his hand I knew something was wrong, something had happened over which he had no control.

  He sat in the car.

  “Sofia died today,” he said, simply.

  I wasn’t surprised. I’d expected it. Sooner or later. Nevertheless I had a sinking feeling, this was the price you paid, I thought, for growing attached to people.

  Nothing is more irrevocable.

  Absolutely nothing.

  I said nothing. Gazed out the car window. Maybe it was raining. Maybe it wasn’t. It made no difference.

  “When?” I asked.

  “This morning,” he answered. “Quarter past eight.”

  I thought about what I’d been doing at that precise moment. I’d been in the bathroom, brushing my teeth, an unremarkable moment. Had I been thinking I should go and visit her again? That I loved her? No. Not then. Later that day, maybe, almost certainly. But not at that moment. I’d done nothing special. Almost nothing.

  It had been a completely ordinary day.

  Maybe that’s the way it is, maybe those are the days that people die. Ordinary days.

  “Was there anybody with her?” I asked.

  “Her mother was there. It was her that called. She was there all night I think.”

  For a moment I was hurt that nobody had called me in the night, told me and asked me to come down to the hospital.

  But I couldn’t expect that.

  “Do you know when, when the funeral is?”

  “Tuesday. One o’clock. In Saksun.”

  “Saksun? Why is she being buried there.”

  “I don’t know. Because it’s nice there? Her mother wanted it.”


  “I don’t know. That’s how it is.”

  Havstein started the car and we moved off in the direction of Drelnes to catch the seven o’clock ferry back to Tórshavn. I sat there beside him, and as we drove on board I imagined Sofia, who had, quite unaware, begun to die early that morning, without resistance, while her mother sat at her side losing the last of her family in the country.

  I thought about things I’d read. That when a person’s dying, they lose their senses minutes before. One after the other. First the sense of taste, later the ability to smell. Then their sight goes. Their sense of touch. Hearing. The sensation of pain. Like turning out the lights and leaving the office for the day, locking up after oneself, and losing the key on the way home.

  I didn’t go all the way home with Havstein, instead I got out at Tórshavn and took the bus home instead, as Sofia had hundreds of times through the years. I thought she deserved that. Then I remembered the patient files. Was she dead because she’d removed her record from the archive? Maybe she’d already erased herself there, removed herself from the larger community? Wiped herself out. Or was it the trigger points, the loneliness, the isolation that was already there from the outset, or it might have been because she came from Mykines, just as Anna’s painter had, or that a puffin had flown past one day, looked at her with narrowed eyes, or simply changed the air stream around her by a fraction with the beat of its wings, starting the whole thing off? Nobody knew. I stood at the bus stop, waited for a bus, chose the longest route home, it took almost two hours to get to Funningur, then I walked the last miles, went up the footpath that wound tightly back and forth to Slættaratin∂ur, and then took the long, gently sloping road from there and down toward Gjógv, and when I got down to the Factory and went in, they’d already gone to bed, all of them, not a sound in the house, only my quiet footsteps up the stairs.



  Borrowed a black suit from Palli for the funeral the next Tuesday. It rained. I wish I could have said that the weather was nice that day, that as we drove down to Saksun the Faroes looked completely different than they had during all the months I’d been there. I wish I could have told you that there was something in the air that day as we crammed ourselves into the Subaru, in our black suits and dresses, that the wind was unusually mild in the hour it took us to drive, that it felt as though the entire country held its breath. But it didn’t. It was the most ordinary day of all, the kind of day when there were only repeats of repeats on TV, and the clouds were the same as they’d been for days, for 99.4 percent of the population it was a day nobody would remember, except for people who had birthdays, or who were fired from their jobs, or who’d finally left home or the country, people who’d remember this date forever as the day things changed, for better or for worse.

  It was a Tuesday. That was how it was.

  Averageness’s own day. The wasted days’ parade.

  I got up early, got dressed, sat at the breakfast table, ate my breakfast in my suit and read the medical dictionary, I’d found it up in Havstein’s room. Read about death. I’d never really thought about it before, nobody close to me had ever died, I’d been to hardly any funerals, apart from Grandma and Grandpa who’d died ten or twelve years previously, I remembered it being sad, missing them. But that was still different. It was harder to comprehend that Sofia was never coming back. Grandma had been a lovable but peripheral person, but Sofia had filled every room around me. If I closed my eyes, I could still bring back the feeling of my arm around her on the day we’d sat in the car from Klaksvík, the feel of her ribs against my fingers. I thought about how she’d never sit at the kitchen table again, never reach for the orange juice, pour it in a glass with one hand, rest her head on the other, elbow on the table, and sigh. Never again would I get frustrated about her sitting on my bed and scrunching up the duvet that I’d just smoothed out so nicely. She’d never take that plane to Copenhagen, and I thought how there’d forever be a spare seat on that plane, each time it flew, and no bus would ever be full. Nobody would ever lie in her bed. Nobody would play the Cardigans. There was one person less to report microscopic events to, one Christmas present less to think about. One more person who could never disappoint you. Time would force you to live as though she never existed.

  I went up to Carl’s room, found him sitting in a chair in the middle wearing his pajamas.

  “Hi,” I said.


  “You all right?”

  He sat up straight in his chair and brushed his thighs.

  “Yes, I’m okay.”

  “You sure?”


  “Good, maybe it’s time to get dressed?” I said, and gestured toward my own suit.

  “You’re probably right. What’s the time?”

  “A quarter past ten,” I answered.

  “And how’s the weather?”

  I saw that his curtains were pulled back. He sat, half turned toward the view.

  “It’s raining.”

  “Thought so. I thought it should rain today. Didn’t you?”

  “Maybe. I don’t know.”

  “Have you seen my suit?”
r />   “It’s hanging in the bathroom,” I answered.

  “It’s probably time for me to put my suit on.”

  “I think you’re right.”

  “Five minutes. I’ll meet you all downstairs in five minutes, okay?”

  I said fine, went back down, Anna and Palli were sitting in the living room, Havstein was standing in front of the kitchen mirror doing his tie.

  “I can drive if you want,” I said.

  “No, you don’t need to. But thanks for the offer.”

  He got his tie straight, looked at himself in the mirror. Then he looked at me.

  “Have you decided what you’ll sing in church?”

  “Yes,” I answered.

  Funerals on the Faroe Islands aren’t like the ones in Norway, where you can barely fill the front pews, but where the pews at the back are filled with curious retirees determined to keep themselves updated, and where the priest alternates between three or four ready-written sermons giving you the sense that all he’s done is fill in the dead person’s name and geographic location, a formula, and he who believes in me will live on forever dead or not, have a good trip, and our loss is great and terrible and so forth, and the priest pats the coffin, uses the first name of the person he’s never met, proclaims how much they loved life, he had so many friends, there was so much more she wanted to do, he had so many plans, nobody knows where the Lord might jump, his ways are as mysterious as the rush hour traffic in Rome. It’s like fortune telling in tea leaves, vague presumptions that are only roughly right.

  On the Faroe Islands you didn’t need to ask your boss for time off to go to a funeral.

  People went because for each person that died there was one less inhabitant, one less person to meet on the road, one less person who spoke the same language.

  And once everyone was in, there was barely space in the church for a hymn.


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