Buzz aldrin what happene.., p.7
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       Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion?, p.7

           Johan Harstad
 

  Father gestured toward the floor. “Yes, we’ve just had the parquet polished, but you knew that already.”

  “Looks good,” I said.

  “Yes, we’re very pleased.” He leaned out of his chair, stroked the smooth floor. “Yes.”

  “And are things okay at work? Nobody’s sunk their car to the bottom of a deserted lake and demanded insurance money?”

  “Yes … well no, there’s not much of that sort of thing really.” Pause. “What did you really do with those Superman comics?”

  “I sold them at the second-hand store. Bought that moon globe with the money. The one with the light inside.”

  He gave me a knowing glance.

  “Thought so.”

  “Nothing lasts forever,” I said.

  “You’d have been a good super hero.”

  “I did the best I could. But I was scared of flying.”

  Then mother returned with the coffee and sat down, filled the cups. Coffee steaming on the table.

  So the cups rattled and the teaspoons scraped against the dessert plates, and the buns were filled with jam again, were closed and lifted to our mouths that were finally talking together as they should, a proper family, and I was lucky, I had such lovely parents, good folk, and we sat in our sofa and chairs, and I knew this house, I’d grown up here, it smelled of us, of me, the scratches on the arm of one of the chairs had been made by me, ten years ago, minimum, perhaps twenty, couldn’t remember how it had happened, but I knew it was me that had done it, and that it was all right, I knew that the little dent in the parquet near the fireplace was from the Christmas when one of the logs had fallen out of the fire, we’d been sitting at the other end of the room eating our dinner, our backs to it, nobody noticed it before it started burning quietly on the floor behind us, the smoke rose and met the ceiling, crept toward us and our dinner, and even though the parquet had been recently sanded, there was still a dent there, the traces of us, and up on the second floor was my room, as I’d left it ten or twelve years ago, more or less, they’d barely done anything, put a drying rack in there perhaps, a computer they never used anyway, but it was still my room, and I didn’t need to go up there to know how it looked, little had changed, the same ugly curtains at both windows, I’d whined my way into getting them as a fourteen-year-old, a desperate attempt to show Mother I’d begun to understand such things, they were totally useless, of course, nightmare inducing. And the old red down comforter, narrow and thin that used to fall out of its cover, before I got the big warm light blue bedspread one Christmas, the one that was still on the bed with its two used bedside tables at the foot, the creaky steps on the staircase down to the kitchen, Father who always coughed twice in the morning as he came downstairs, he probably still did, Mother outside hanging the washing out, all through the summer, the forest behind the house, Byhaugen a great place in late summer to drink beer, in the winter it looked like Bastogne and as kids we’d dig ourselves in and play soldiers. I lost one of my favorite guns somewhere or other in the forest there, an almost perfect replica of an M1 rifle, bought in Majorca at the end of the seventies. It disappeared as war spoils after one of the greatest battles in Byhaugs Forest in the winter of 1979, I went out with Father several days in a row to look for it, but found nothing, it was snowed under and disappeared, and by the time the Spring came it was forgotten, or I felt too old to go and look for it. I wish I could say I’d found it years later, that I’d tripped over it one day on a walk through the trees and dense undergrowth, but I never did, it was gone forever in the chaos of that afternoon, lost in battle, like so many of the things we don’t need, but that we mourn when they disappear, because everything that’s ever been, will be mourned, default-mode, more or less.

  When Spring arrived and peace finally came to the forest, my gaze had already turned upward, I’d been given a book for Christmas about the moon landing, I’d never thought about it before, it was then I realized that I’d been born on the same night as the Eagle, Apollo 11’s landing module, had landed in the Sea of Tranquility, on the front side of the moon. Father was still glum sometimes over the fact he’d missed the TV coverage that night, sitting in the hospital with Mother, he’d managed to argue his way into being present for the entire birth, I don’t know how, but he wasn’t sent out, stayed with Mother throughout, while one of the nurses ran in and out of the birthing room, there was a TV set out in the corridor, she kept them updated about what was going on up above, out in space, for hour after hour there was scarcely anything to be seen, just blackness almost, until eventually this was replaced by a gray mass. Bad noise quality, pictures, crackling. Father bit his nails to the knuckles, pale faced when the nurse came in one last time, she stopped just inside the door, without closing it behind her, Mother and Father could hear the TV outside in the corridor.

  Contact light.

  Shutdown.

  Okay, engine stop.

  The midwife looked at mother, straight at her.

  ACA—out of detent.

  Mother looked back.

  Pushed.

  Mode control both auto. Descent engine command override—OFF.

  Father is about to faint, has to grip the stainless steel table beside him, doesn’t know where to look, should he stay, help Mother through the final lap. Should he go out into the hallway, watch the moment he’s waited for, for years? This is before the age of rewind, it will happen now, then it will be gone.

  Engine arm—OFF.

  Father stands there in the middle of the room.

  Mother screams.

  We copy you down Eagle.

  And Mother sends the astronauts to Hell. She has enough to think about.

  Father can’t decide whether to stay or go, he’s in a whirl, looks at Mother, looks out into the corridor.

  Houston, uh … Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed.

  His face grows paler and paler, sweat runs, his eyes sting. Noise from the TV out in the hallway, patients and nurses drawing breath, exchanging hugs.

  Roger Twank … Tranquility, we copy you on the ground, you got a bunch of guys about to turn blue, we’re breathing again, thanks a lot.

  And then Father drops to the floor. Father faints in the middle of the room, lands with a quiet thump.

  Thank you.

  Soon Father opens his eyes, sees two nurses far above him.

  You’re looking good here.

  He pulls himself together, sits up, and the two nurses take him under the arm, help him up and sit him in a chair, push him over to Mother, he takes her hand, and Mother screams, Mother gives birth, Father squeezes her hand and the midwife gets ready to catch.

  Okay, we’re going to be busy for a moment.

  It was Christmas 1978 when I got my very first book about the moon, sat absorbed from Christmas to New Year, studying the pictures, the maps. It was then I began collecting the books, hunting for them in bookstores, junk stores, I had to read everything, wanted to know everything. And it was in the spring of 1979 that I decided to vanish into the commotion out there, to be number two, a person who made himself useful instead of trying to stand out, who did the job he was asked to do. But, of course, it’s only in retrospect I think that, that it started then, an attempt to pinpoint the exact beginning of a life. Only in fiction, in films and novels can we fix a precise moment of change. In reality choices sneak up, thoughts develop bit by bit, and it was perhaps at some time during this first year at middle school that I made an active decision not to be seen. Eventually some people began to see me as crazy, looking down on me as I went past, or ignoring me completely. Not that it bothered me. At least I got left in peace.

  The more friends you collect, the more funerals you’ll probably have to attend.

  The more people there’ll be to miss when they go.

  The more you put yourself forward, the more stones people can throw at you.

  But the person who is alone disappoints only himself.

  Those were my thoughts.

&nbs
p; Our coffee cups were empty, just a couple of sweet buns left on the plate, and I was full, had been for ages, Mother and Father were starting to look tired, maybe it was time to go home, lots to do at work next morning, plants to be potted, deliveries to be made, I love you, Happy Birthday, Sorry for yesterday. Thank you for all your support in this difficult time, It can’t rain everyday, so much to organize, and there were still almost three months before the summer replacement staff would come and take over the whole nursery.

  I said well, I suppose I ought to be getting home now, and Mother said, yes, it was lovely to see you, and it’s always nice having you around, said Father as we went out into the hallway, and hugged, looked like a picture from an IKEA catalogue, got the urge to buy new furniture, in light colors.

  I went out to the car, drove home through downtown Stavanger, it had started raining again and the last of the Mohicans still sat on Hansen Corner, soaked to the skin despite being under umbrellas, because in Stavanger it rains sideways, and they held their hands protectively over their beer glasses, sooner or later they’d have to realize that summer wasn’t on its way this time either, not yet, despite it seeming so perfect earlier today, and it would be as miserable as snow in April, you just had to accept it, that’s how it was, but one day, in a few months, one can always hope for good weather.

  I sat up late into the night, watched Friends on TV2, one of their increasingly worn attempts at rescuing Tuesdays from obscurity, ate porridge, drank water, waited for Helle to get home. But as usual she had more staying power than me, was more capable of holding out, and I was already asleep by the time she got home, in the morning I got up before her, didn’t want to wake her, got dressed and went to work, and when I got back she’d nearly always have dropped by the apartment, left a note, before going out again, I wondered if I should book an appointment, but I never got myself on the list, so we met sporadically and by chance in the bedroom, at the kitchen table, and she’d say it’s busy at work, she’d complain, there’s so much to do, and I’d hug her tightly, say it was okay, it’ll be fine, we’ll come through this, I’d say, it felt like pushing an elephant upstairs, and I loved her, wanted her to be home more, oftener, all the time even, the way it had been in the beginning, so long ago, so many years, and she’d say yes, I know, it’s not easy, she’d say, there’s always so much to do, and I’d say it was fine, I’m glad you’ve found something to do, I’d say, that’s how it is in my industry, she’d say, and she’d talk about the advertising industry, one day advertising new chocolates, chips, bigger bags, more for your money, the fat of the land, and the next day advertising slimming products, good conscience in a carton for 44,90 krone at REMA 1000, or trashy music, promoted on TV, saucepan sets nobody needed, pans with cancer-causing Teflon made for next to nothing in Indonesia, and when the cancer is discovered three years later, the pan’s been scrapped long ago and replaced with something new, and nobody knows about the little bits of Teflon that flaked off it each time it was used, that crept into the food, that spread around the organism, through the lymphatic system, cell seizures, but nobody blames the cheap saucepan sets, because this week Nicorette is on special offer, the campaign is ready, and next week the big order for a double-page advertisement for Prince cigarettes will bring massive profits, as long as it’s finished on time, but it’s not easy, usually isn’t, there’s so much to attend to and the Teflon pans say nothing.

  And that was how the days leaped over the cliff edge in flocks, turning into weeks that nobody could stop, until the months vanished into a sunset over wistful calendar horses, and I arrived at the nursery early almost every day, these were the best months, April, May, June, when it grew warmer and warmer with each day, I could feel it, the air warmed, grew drier, despite it raining almost every day, nonstop, and the soil was no longer so cold against my fingers when I put my hands down into it, making space for what I planted.

  And I was doing just that, with one index finger poked into the only potted plant we had in our apartment, when the phone rang, one afternoon in June, and I lifted the receiver with one hand while I continued to stir the compost with the other.

  “Hello.”

  “Hi, how’s things?” It was Jørn, talking on his cell, bad line.

  “Yeah, things are fine,” I answered.

  “Any plans for tonight, eh?”

  “No … well … no, I don’t think so,” I said, wondering whether Helle would be home this evening or not.

  “Want to go to Cement?”

  “Hmm, I don’t know …”

  “Well? It is pretty good at Cement, isn’t it?”

  “Yeah, yeah … sure … it’s just …”

  “What?”

  We usually went to Cement, Jørn and I. Actually, I liked it, there’d even been a band there one night three years ago with the striking name The Buzz Aldrin Band. But I didn’t want to go tonight. This really wasn’t the day to meet anybody I recognized, so I suggested a more divey place, somewhere I thought there wouldn’t be many people.

  “How about Alexander tonight?” I said.

  “Alexander, are you serious?”

  “Yeah?”

  Jørn hemmed and hawed, wasn’t really keen, but then changed his mind, without questioning why I wanted to go there, of all places, probably hadn’t been there for twelve years.

  “Okay. In an hour?”

  “Okay.”

  I tried to call Helle, but her cell was switched off, so I left a note on the kitchen table saying where I was, and that I’d be really happy if she dropped by. Love you. Mattias.

  But Helle didn’t come, and Jørn came twenty minutes late. I was on my second beer, sitting at a table, seating for five, but the bar was half-full at best, a mammoth could have marched through the room without knocking anything over, and for a minute I sat staring at the door in anticipation of something big tumbling in, but the only thing that came in was one of the old alkies, looking as though he’d been steam-cleaned, and then been put through the tumble drier a couple of times, too small for himself, he carried his beer in both hands from the bar, looked around for a place to sit before he shuffled over to my table, sat opposite me and put his beer on the table in front of him, his head scarcely came over the tabletop.

  “I’m a sailor,” his voice peeped from under the table.

  I really didn’t want this. Not one bit, so I looked the other way, looked at the clock, tried to give the impression I was waiting for someone.

  “I’m a sailor,” he repeated.

  I said nothing. Looked at the clock.

  “I’m a sailor,” he said, like a broken record.

  “Ship ahoy!” I answered.

  “SHIP AHOY! SHIP AHOY!” he yelled back, getting no response, perhaps he was too far out at sea, or perhaps he just didn’t have coverage yet.

  “Sure thing,” I said.

  “I’m a sailor,” he said, his repertoire looking pretty limited.

  “Are you a sailor? Wow, I’d never have thought it.”

  “I’ve been a sailor for … forty years. And fifty years,” he snuffled.

  “That’s a long time, weren’t you ever seasick?”

  “Seasick … Hah! No … No. Sailor. America … Afir … Africa, Asia … America.” Then he launched into some shanty or other about Singapore and the girls down there, I’d heard it all before, every alcoholic in this town had been to sea, they’d all been to Singapore and they were all hell bent on singing that song the minute they got your attention, that was just how it was, and he was halfway through the third verse, thumping the beat with his beer on the table so it went splashing all over the place, when the barman walked over to us, he lifted the mini-man up by his collar, pried his fingers from his glass and dragged him outside, it took awhile, despite the barman clearly having done this before, and the sailor managed a whole verse more before disappearing out the door. The barman came back, wiped the beer up from the other side of the table and looked at me.

  “A sailor,” I said. “O
bviously been through some rough times in Singapore.”

  “They always have,” answered the barman.

  Jørn arrived, bought a beer at the bar, came and sat with me, and I told him I didn’t know where Helle was.

  “The Faroe Islands are officially in the bag now,” said Jørn. “Got the final phone calls today from Tórshavn. Perkleiva’s top of the bill at the Ólavsøkan Festival.”

  “Great,” I answered. “Fantastic.”

  “I’ve booked the tickets now too, we’ll take the boat on Tuesday, July 27, Smyril Line, from Bergen via Shetland.”

  I didn’t like boats. I didn’t like this. I didn’t like the Atlantic Ocean. I liked solid ground.

  “How long will it take? The boat?”

  “Er … lets see.” Jørn rummaged in his bag and pulled out a little notebook.

  “Twenty-four or twenty-five hours. Around ten hours to Shetland.”

  “Wouldn’t the plane be better?”

  “It’s damn expensive to fly over, costs almost as much as to New York. Besides we’ve got so much equipment to take. But chill, Mattias, you’ll get a compartment and stuff, there’s no stress, really. They wouldn’t have boats going over if the weather was totally impossible out there. Remember, things have changed a bit since the America Boat. It’ll be fucking great. Just imagine, a booze cruise to the Faroes, with a Bulgarian-Faroese band and some old seadog at the bar.”

  I wasn’t sure whether to believe him.

  So I said: “Hmm, perhaps.”

  “And it’ll all be free, okay? The organizers are covering our travel and everything. We just have to sit in the car, and hey presto we’re in Bergen, hey presto we’re on the boat, hey presto we’re off to the Faroes. Have you talked to Helle? Is she coming, or what?”

  “I don’t really know, she hasn’t said anything, I don’t think she’s managed to get things sorted out yet,” I said, thinking I ought to talk to her as soon as possible.

  “It would be great if you could ask her and get back to me tomorrow. For bookings and everything. And I’ve got to find out if the organizers are willing to cover travel expenses for another person.”

 

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