Buzz aldrin what happene.., p.42
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       Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion?, p.42

           Johan Harstad
 

  That was what he told me. Nothing more. And we never talked about it again. He just repeated what he’d said earlier that night, that I had to promise not to say anything about what he’d told me. I promised solemnly. I promised even though I was burning to know why he’d lied to Havstein about what had happened, and wanted to ask about Sofia, and I would have had a hint of reproach in my voice I think, I wanted to know why he’d seemed so unaffected when she’d been ill and died, and whether it had anything to do with what he’d been through. But I didn’t ask. I knew more than enough already.

  November. With everything that month brought. Carl was clearer to me now, since he’d talked about what he’d gone through, he’d become three-dimensional somehow, and it was somehow reassuring to think he was sicker than me, it meant I could take care of him, or at least that’s what I imagined, although I couldn’t know if he went around the house in Tórsgøta thinking the same about me. We had an understanding for one another, and each did our best to avoid knocking the other off balance. I never mentioned the whale slaughter to Carl again, I scanned the papers for war movies and shows that might not be good for him to watch, when there was construction in the street and the risk of pneumatic drills being used I’d warn him in advance, so he wouldn’t be frightened by the noise and think it was something else. I let him sleep with the light on. I usually tried to make dinner for him, low fat foods that I imagined were good for him. And, for his part, Carl tried his best to ensure my life stayed on the rails. He let me play the Cardigans albums that I’d gotten from Sofia as often as I wanted, and Swedish pop filled our living room most afternoons until late into the evening, I sat glued to the speakers, searching her out in the sound, like a retired archaeologist, until the neighbors started complaining and Carl treated me to some earphones so I could have the volume as high as I liked without worrying about being in anyone’s way. Carl was good at encouraging me, too, telling me I was doing important work at Hvitanesvegur and that the boat would be finished on time, there was no need to worry. And he reminded me to call Mother and Father once a week, every Thursday, at a quarter past seven Faroese time, to report that everything was fine, that I was alive. I said nothing about the boat.

  Life in Tórshavn was different than life in Gjógv. It reminded me of Stavanger, as though the city had been washed in water that was too hot and shrunk it to a third of its size. Carl and I got better at going out in the evenings, after we’d finished working. Hung out a lot at Café Natúr, drank gallons of coffee or beer and got to know the staff, we went out bowling or to the movies in Tinghusvegur, saw whatever was on, regardless. We hung around Niels Finsensgøta, went up to the Manhattan occasionally when Carl wanted to hear live music, or took the car up to the drive-in Burger King near the SMS Shopping Center. We were never bored. Not really. And we talked, we talked and our conversations were like endless serials, starting in the morning and continuing when we came home from work, through the late afternoon and evening until we put them aside for the next morning and then picked up again. We discussed how things might turn out, ought to turn out, we talked about self-healing and the boat, what we should do, where we should go, I wondered if Carl was frightened of going out to sea again, but it didn’t seem so, he didn’t say anything about it and I didn’t ask. It was too late to turn back. We’d be gone on the first of April, heading for Granada or Tobago, as we’d decided, collectively, and we were following Columbus’s footsteps so we’d avoid leaving new ones of our own. We’d started getting the money in place, but time-wise we still weren’t on track. It was just a matter of getting the boat on the water, of working on, everything works out in the end.

  And then the snow came. Lots of snow, in just a couple of nights. The road to Gjógv was the first they closed, one chalk-white Saturday a fortnight before Christmas, and for three days we were marooned. We waded around outside the Factory, linked in a human chain, built snowmen and waited for better times, and when they finally cleared an opening, the mailman found his way through to us with a letter to me. The first I’d had. I took it into the kitchen, tore it open impatiently, wondering who on earth would have thought of writing to me, scanned the contents swiftly.

  It was Sofus!

  Sofus in Tórshavn had taken up a correspondence, written a six-page letter that the Norwegian post office had finally forwarded from Jæren, it took half the day to read, I curled up in the sofa reading about his life in Tórshavn, about school, about Óluva who still lived in Copenhagen and to whom he hadn’t talked for so long, but he wanted me to know that he’d met new people, he’d moved on, he wrote, and not long ago there’d been a whale slaughter just down from where they lived, and I thought, I was there too, I didn’t see you, didn’t even look out for you, why not? And then the thought hit me:

  This demanded a surprise visit. Of course!

  A pre-Christmas visit.

  With glad tidings of comfort and joy.

  I took Carl with me, we pushed the car uphill on snow that just kept coming, and set off from the top, the car gliding down to Tórshavn in an hour and a half. Sofus lived way down Landavegur, almost at the very end, but we found it on the first try, rang the bell and waited impatiently on the steps before the door was opened and Óli came into view.

  “Mattias!” he exclaimed.

  “Merry Christmas!”

  “Isn’t it a little early?” he leaned out and looked up, as if checking the date by the weather.

  “Best to be on the safe side,” I answered. “Christmas almost always comes before you expect it.”

  “True enough.”

  Óli-type sentiments again. Had the hang of it now.

  “And this is Carl.” Carl took Óli’s hand. “Carl’s from all over the place.”

  “Is he?” answered Óli. And then to Carl in Faroese: “Is that right?”

  “Carl only speaks English. He’s mainly from America.”

  Óli swapped language and greeted Carl again. Improved communication.

  “You’d better come in, both of you. Selma hates drafts.”

  “Who doesn’t,” I said as we followed Óli into the hallway, into the living room, and I noticed that although this house was different they’d decorated it exactly like the one in Gjógv. Thought they must have taken Polaroids before they moved. It was like coming back home. We sat on the sofa as Óli called out for mother and son, there was a commotion upstairs and then they came down the stairs on the double and into the living room, Selma gave me a warm hug, greeted Carl, and disappeared into the kitchen to put the coffee on and then Sofus came running over to me.

  “Mattias!”

  “Hi.”

  Massive hug from Sofus too, not sure I’d expected that.

  “I got a letter from you,” I said.

  “Me too … from you.”

  “I promised.”

  “So, Mattias,” shouted Selma from the kitchen, “you’ve been to Norway?”

  “Yes,” I shouted back, “But just for a visit. There’s no better place than this, you know.”

  She didn’t answer, I wasn’t sure she’d even heard.

  “Why don’t you come and visit more often?” Sofus wanted to know.

  “Didn’t think you needed me anymore, you’re such a big boy now. Going to big school and stuff, with lots of friends, I’m sure. Have you got yourself a girlfriend?”

  “Yuck! No way!”

  “Oh come on, Sofus,” said Óli. “That’s not quite true.”

  “I don’t have a girlfriend!”

  “So what about Annika then?”

  “Annika’s just nice.”

  “Who’s Annika?”

  “A friend.”

  We pressed him a little, he rather liked it, I think, Annika was as good as a girlfriend anyway, in the universe of a twelve year old. Sofus explained how she was in the same grade, lived on Perskonugøta and was wonderful at kicking a football, better than him. She had very long hair, two brothers, an orange bicycle with a bell with three different rings, an
d she had tons of CDs. These were no trifles. I supplied the simultaneous interpretation for Carl and he nodded enthusiastically at everything.

  “It sounds as though you’re the luckiest guy in Tórshavn,” said Carl. “To have a … friend like that.”

  I translated for Sofus.

  “But she isn’t a girlfriend.”

  “No, of course not,” Carl and I answered in chorus, each in our own language, and I thought to myself, remember to be kind to her, Sofus, you must always remember to visit her as frequently as now, bother yourself with the life she’s living ten years from now, you must never start to hide yourself away, because then people will disappear, you’ll lose them, one by one, and they’ll never come back.

  Selma came in with the coffee. We drank coffee. Our cups were refilled. We drank more.

  “So, Mattias, are you living in Gjógv permanently now? Sofus said you work planting trees. That’s great. We need that.”

  “The Factory’s being closed down.”

  “What?”

  “There are too few mental cases on the Faroes, doesn’t seem to be worth the effort. Not even half the effort. The state’s decided to close the whole caboodle down.”

  “Oh, no.”

  “Oh, yes.”

  “They’re depopulating Gjógv, bit by bit, I just don’t understand it.”

  “We’d better start swimming, or we’ll sink like a stone.”

  “I don’t understand that, either.”

  “It’s an old song,” I said. “The times they are a-changin’.”

  “They are, it’s true.”

  “Anyway it’s probably worse for Havstein.”

  “What do you mean?” asked Selma.

  “He’s the one who set it all up, didn’t he? He initiated it and built the Factory up from nothing, his father chipped in with the money, and Havstein put all his energy into getting the place to work, converting it, getting it shipshape. Imagine if everything you’d built up was taken away, it can’t be easy.”

  “You shouldn’t believe everything you hear, Mattias.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “Just that things aren’t always what they seem. Havstein has some problems,” sighed Selma. “It’s a long story.”

  “Really?”

  Óli stared down into the floor, blankly, he didn’t like this at all. Selma cleared her throat.

  “There was a time when he … well … I think he drank too much. I’ve heard. A family weakness, it goes way back.” A look of shame crossed her face. “He should tell you himself. I shouldn’t talk about it.”

  “So it’s not true, any of it, is that what you’re saying? Wasn’t it even his project? The Factory, him and his father’s?”

  “Mattias—” Selma went quiet, averted her gaze, apologized for having brought the subject up. Óli got on track again, distracted us, talked about other things, asked us what we’d do now, and the subject I most wanted to discuss vanished from view, they’d battened down the hatches, there was no more to be gotten from them, no use resisting.

  So I reluctantly changed my focus, told Selma and Óli about our plans, how we’d decided not to be spread to the winds, and how we’d agreed to leave. I told them about the Caribbean, about the boat, the hull that was already molded down by the harbor, about the rigging that would arrive in February, and how we’d leave on the first of April. Assuming we had the boat ready, that we’d raised enough money and managed to finish it all. And nobody must know about it.

  Sofus was sad and Selma put her arm around him.

  “Are you going away again?”

  “It looks like it, Sofus.”

  “How long will you be away?”

  “A while. A pretty long time.”

  Óli looked over at me and Carl. I think he was sad, too. Almost.

  “Do you need help?”

  Which was how we got six more hands to help us with the boat. Selma sewed cushions and ordered furniture along with Anna, beds, sinks, tables, goodness knows what, everything we needed, they divided the responsibility over the phone, while Óli drew on acquaintances and services from far and wide. And he came down to the building shed almost every afternoon, with Sofus, and they made such a sweet pair, Óli with his big carpenter’s belt round his waist and his worn out blue overalls, Sofus dressed identically, overalls with the legs generously cuffed and a miniature version of Óli’s belt. Sofus sometimes brought Annika with him too, she’d sit on a beer crate and watch him work, and when he saw that she was watching him, he’d work even harder, really put his back into it, tightened the screws even more firmly. And every day the stiff skeleton in the warehouse down by the harbor looked more and more like a boat.

  I didn’t go back to Stavanger that Christmas. No point somehow. Havstein invited everybody’s relatives to the Factory instead. But not my parents. I didn’t tell them. And I still hadn’t told them we were going to the Caribbean in three months, I didn’t mean any harm by it, that was just how things were.

  I’d gotten a book about Arctic gardening from Mother and Father, where or why they’d bought it, I don’t know, but it was beautiful, even though I didn’t exactly live in Greenland or Alaska. They also sent the usual supply of socks and chunky wool sweaters. Grandma had knitted a wool hat for me, but she’d gone senile since I’d last seen her, had lost the plot slightly, and the hat was bright pink, about a yard long and wide enough for me and Havstein to fit both our heads in. But it was warm, and that’s always something.

  One January evening I was walking along Sverrisgøta with Carl toward Manhattan when I heard somebody call my name, it wasn’t a friendly voice, but it got me, by the throat.

  “Mattias! Stop!”

  I froze. Carl turned, looked at me, then laughed. “What have you gotten yourself involved in?”

  “Go ahead, I’ll be with you in a moment.”

  “Who the hell do you think you are?” The voice drew nearer, but was no friendlier for that. I turned, Ey∂is stood there before me, I hadn’t seen her since the summer, the night at the cabin in the middle of nowhere, the night before I’d gone home.

  “Oh, hi.”

  “Hi? Is that the best you can say? What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

  “Not a lot.”

  “You’ve got some nerve.”

  “I do? I’m sorry.”

  “Sorry? Haven’t you ever learned it’s rude to abandon girls in the morning? Or were you away from school the day they taught that?”

  “I had a proper absence note. I was at a funeral.”

  “What are you talking about?”

  “I was late, I had to catch a flight. There are hardly any flights from here to Norway.”

  “You could have told me.”

  “I’m sorry.”

  “I liked you, Mattias. A lot.”

  Her hair had gotten even shorter over the fall and winter. Only the merest rumor left. She still had her denim jacket and the same nose. I wondered if she’d gotten shorter or if I’d grown. I didn’t ask.

  “I wanted to get to know you, didn’t you realize?”

  I hadn’t realized. But I think it made me happy to hear it. But I was getting cold. It was snowing and the snow was settling in a layer on my jacket. I wondered where the nearest St. Bernard dog might be, and who would dig us out in the spring if we stood here much longer.

  So I said: “Come on,” and I gave her a hug, a long hug, I held her close and I wondered whether to bend down and scoop up enough snow to make a snowball and throw it onto the roof or whether it was best not to. And just then I was kissed, firmly, precisely, I received forgiveness in Sverrisgøta and the snow stopped, the dogs went back to their baskets and we went up to the Manhattan and walked through the doors as the band started playing.

 

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