Buzz aldrin what happene.., p.9
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       Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion?, p.9

           Johan Harstad

  Kodak moment. Or perhaps not.

  “No,” I say. Nothing more.

  “I’ve fallen in love, Mattias.”


  I fumbled with the camera in my hand. For a moment I pondered the idea of taking a picture right now, so as never to forget. Desertion at a height of three thousand feet.

  “He …” She cleared her throat. “He’s a bicycle courier, comes into work almost every day.” I don’t know why she’s coming up with that piece of information precisely. I might have started to laugh, but didn’t have it in me, my throat was filled with gravel, boulders.

  “Okay,” I said. “Have you … have you known him … long, or …? I mean …”

  Then she began to cry. A torrent streamed down her cheeks, down into the gravel, across the path, over the mountainside and down into the fjord. In truth it was me who ought to have cried. But I was unable, not with everyone watching. And the situation was absurd, I didn’t know whether I should hold her or just go. Or whether I should make a TV series out of it and sell the rights, daytime soap for stay at home mums with flowery aprons.

  I refused to acknowledge I was dead.

  I was Donald Duck. I had run beyond the cliff edge. But I wasn’t falling. Because I still hadn’t looked down.

  “One and a half years,” she sniffed. She looked at me. “One and a half years, Mattias … I can’t do anything about it.” And then her voice filled with tears. It was hard to catch what she said, but it was something about how she’d dreaded telling me, how she’d waited, putting it off, that it felt like a huge relief when she’d finally decided to do it, to say it. She’d planned to tell me after we’d been on this trip, our last nice trip together. That was why she’d been more cheerful these last few days. She’d decided, she said, and she talked about the courier, about this person she’d had a relationship with for over a year, and I puzzled over who could play her on the TV series, but only made myself sad thinking about it. She had been sleeping with him for over a year, he’d been allowed to be with her, inside her, in our home, in our room perhaps, and I had no idea who he was. A courier. Don’t shoot the messenger, I thought. He was called Mats, that was what she said, she talked about Mats, a devil on the bicycle, for sure, and Mats was more open, Mats went out more, Mats wasn’t frightened of the world, Mats wanted to be seen in the world, and she was so sorry, and she was so little as she stood up there on the mountain, snot under her nose and that windbreaker that was far too big that her father had bought, those little hands and I loved her more than I should. I tried to mobilize some feeling or other against Mats out there, but couldn’t, because I didn’t know who he was, and he might be the nicest person, impossible to tell. Helle cried. I wanted to hold her, wanted to hug her, but it was no longer allowed, because she’d said the reverse password, the doors were closing and there were no more stations on that line. I had to get off here, now, at the top of Norway, among the most beautiful mountains ever, worn down and polished into rounded molars by the ice that was now bottled and sold back to us as mineral water for the people with the world’s cleanest tap water. And I’d just found equilibrium, but now the balance was melting away under the sun in June on that mountain and I thought about a show I’d seen the week before, on Swedish TV:

  An optimistic attitude to life is more important today than ever.

  Yes, I thought.

  Objectively speaking the contents of the bottle do not change whether it is half full or half empty, but subjectively the two views are worlds apart.


  Tell yourself:

  Today I feel good.

  Today there is nothing that can irritate me or get me out of “balance.”

  I thought: No.

  I thought: No.

  I thought: What do I do now?

  I thought: what the fucking fuck …

  And Helle wanted to tell me more. And I didn’t want to hear. Incapable of telling her to shut up. So she said all she had to say. Told me about Mats, that she’d missed me so badly, that I’d disappeared for her in the last few years, and I said: “Do you see me now?”

  “Yes,” she said.

  “I’m not invisible anymore,” I said.


  I gathered my courage. I took a chance, A new ice age might come at any moment.

  “Are you sure? You don’t want to wait, maybe?” I asked. “Think it over. I can wait.”

  “This isn’t going to pass,” she said quietly. “This isn’t some kind of illness I’ve caught.”

  Yes it is an illness you’ve caught. And you can’t see it yourself, I thought.

  “I’m terribly in love with you.”

  More than I ought to be, more than you’ll ever know.

  “I know. Thank you.”

  “ ‘All I know is, on the day your plane was to leave, if I had the power, I would turn the winds around. I would roll in the fog. I would bring in storms. I would change the polarity of the earth so compasses couldn’t work. So your plane couldn’t take off.’ Like in L.A. Story.”

  “But you can’t do any of those things.”


  I asked if she remembered it, us watching L.A. Story, but she didn’t answer. She looked away, looked out into the Norwegian landscape and I might have wished I could sing now, that I could have sung her back. I wished I was somewhere different. Anywhere. With the Foreign Legion. On the Faroe Islands. Florida. Because who the fuck will want to comfort Toffle. Nobody.

  “We shared some beautiful times,” I said, looking at her.

  Then I turned. I left her on the plateau, went down to the others, fetched my backpack, put it back on. Helle followed after me down the path, her eyes were red, she said she didn’t feel very well, and there was barely a sound between us on the way back, in the three hours it took to walk down to the energy station at Flørli where we waited for the boat. The boat that would take another three hours to Stavanger. We took a taxi home. Helle and I. She put her backpack down in the hall. Changed clothes. Packed. A little suitcase. Stood outside in the hall, put her shoes back on. Suitcase in hand. My little Paddington. Then she left. Drove to one of her girlfriends. And I hoped that Mats was a beautiful person, that he didn’t know the sea is rising a centimeter each year, that the poles are melting all the time. That the earth could be wiped out by a single meteor if it crossed our path. If it was big enough. If nobody was looking after us.

  And somewhere else, in South California, in a house built in the fifties, Buzz Aldrin hugged his second wife, Lois Driggs Cannon, the girl from Phoenix, Arizona, who he found in the end, got married to on Valentine’s Day in 1988. Around them stood all six children from two marriages, together with the only grandchild so far, and the days are spent driving into the Pacific, skiing down the mountain slopes of Sun Valley, Idaho.

  I stayed out in the afternoons after that. I made tracks between Jørn and Nina in Våland, Mother and Father in Kampen, home again to Storhaug in the evenings when I was sure Helle wasn’t there anymore. Didn’t come home before she’d been and gone. She wanted it that way. And every time I went upstairs and let myself into the apartment, it was a little emptier. She moved her things out, her furniture, making the world shrink and the rooms bigger.

  I said nothing to Mother and Father. Just told them I was tired. Lay on the sofa. Father sat in the chair next to me, watching the news, drinking coffee, putting his cup solemnly back on the table between each gulp. Mother was worried I wasn’t eating enough, stood in the kitchen and made food. She baked sweet buns and put the jam out, asked me now and then what the problem was, but I didn’t want to talk, she made meals and put out the best tablecloths. I had no appetite. I tried, but wasn’t hungry. I was nauseous and had to excuse myself, dashing into the bathroom, crouched in front of the toilet bowl, threw up those motherly dinners, until my throat was raw, threw up five or six times a day and thought about Helle. She emptied the flat. I wanna be your dog, but not like this, I was Laika shut in a capsule, tra
veling at 6,000 kilometers an hour around the earth, dying from lack of oxygen minute by minute, gasping for air on the bathroom floor, I found a towel in the cupboard, washed my face and went back into the living room. I lay on the sofa and Father said it would pass, it always passes, he said, and I stayed until they were going to bed, they followed me to the door.

  “And Helle? We haven’t seen her for a while?” asked Mother, and I said: “No.”

  “She’ll turn up some time,” said Father, and it could happen, you could never tell.

  I went around to Jørn’s some evenings after my parents had gone to bed. Jørn stayed up late, sat fiddling with his guitar and four-track recorder until the early hours. We sat in his living room. Watched TV. Didn’t talk much. Watched all those late night shows. M*A*S*H. Jake and the Fatman. Walker, Texas Ranger. I’d told Jørn about the situation, he knew about Helle, how she’d begun to empty out the rooms. He’d asked me if I still wanted to come to the Faroe Islands. Yes, I’ll come, I’d said, I was frightened of the boat trip over, but I said nothing about that. I said almost nothing at all. Jørn and Perkleiva had almost finished their first album, Transatlantika, he’d made a provisional mix and had played it for me several times, not bad, they made a great sound, it rattled along, I thought they might even make it, this could be big, and I caught myself smiling, happy that I wasn’t a vocalist, that I wouldn’t have to spend years crisscrossing over Norway, lugging gear in and out of vans, and then later on a larger scale, in and out of airports, through security control, baggage X-rays, delays, hotel rooms, sound checks, a traveling circus of sound. Almost everybody wants to become a star. But hardly anybody wants to be one. And did I? No way. Fever in the night. I dreamed things you don’t want to know about.

  Mother and Father left for Saint-Lô at the beginning of July, got off all right in the end. In fact I’d already started my vacation too, had the summer staff at the nursery, I’d shown them around, told them everything they needed to know about running the place, but since I had no idea what to fill my own time with, I’d ended up going into work as usual. Got up. Drove down at about six. Sat in the garden and waited. Waited for the others to come. Went through everything again with the temps, who were going in circles not knowing what they were doing, tying bouquets too tightly, cutting roses too high up the stem and wrapping flowers in crumpled paper.

  The workload had reduced significantly in the last months. There was less and less to do. This was the year before the future began, and most people wanted to be on the safe side in what time was left. Didn’t want expensive flowers that died when it mattered most. And shopping malls sold plastic and silk flowers for 49,90 kroner, half price, maximum five bouquets per household, or cheaper real flowers, roses, tulips in big quantities. The funeral market was more or less all we had left. I’d noticed a change in Karsten over the last weeks. There was something wrong with him. The bags under his eyes were getting bigger and bigger, the nursery was going badly, but there was nothing I could do. I continued packing flowers, made wreaths, but it was summer and hardly anybody died, they waited for the winter. The wreaths piled up in the staff room, dried and rotted away. Karsten came into work later and later. And I was there earlier and earlier. But it didn’t help. And the auxiliary staff didn’t know anything, they took long lunch breaks without anyone protesting. They’d finish here in three weeks anyway. Then they’d go off back to their studies. Student loans. Small bedsits in Stavanger, Bergen, Oslo and Trondhiem. Tromsø perhaps. Or perhaps they’d go abroad, because they had big plans, there was so much they had to do, studies were long, and jobs were few. There was only room at the top of the pyramid for one or two people. They needed credits, as many credits as possible. Time was short, they already were twenty years old, or twenty-five, and had just begun their studies, had messed around, tried everything. It was getting urgent now, they said, time was running out because one reached one’s peak at twenty-seven. From then on everything would go in slow spirals downwards. One didn’t get a new job after hitting forty, and on that last Monday, the day before I left, Karsten and I were the only ones left in the nursery. We stayed behind after the others had gone, Karsten had asked me to wait and I didn’t have anywhere to rush to. I was packed already. Had been for days. It wasn’t difficult to find my things in the apartment these days, it was almost empty, just a chair left, some boxes and a TV. Karsten poured coffee into two cups, squeezed the last drops evenly out into our cups and switched off the percolator. The red light went out, radio on in the background, more rain was forecast.

  “Mattias,” he said.


  “Things aren’t working out.”

  “I know,” I said, looking out of the window, there were almost no cars out there.

  “I’m so sorry.”

  “It’s not your fault.”

  “No. I …”

  “Don’t think about it.”

  “I’ll fill out the papers this evening, and then I’ll be filing for bankruptcy. It can’t go on.”

  “No,” I said simply. I was tired. I wanted to go home, to bed, to sleep. Things were finally falling apart for real, and it was almost a relief to see it.

  “Yes, I, well, yes, it’s been good working with you, Mattias. You’ve been the best … absolutely.”


  “And … well, I’ve spoken to Jan up at Augland. I’ve recommended you, if he needs more people at his nursery. But, it’s not easy for Jan either, he’ll probably go down the pan too, but things might turn around. Next year, maybe.”

  “Maybe. But it was nice of you, Karsten.”

  “Wish I could do more.”

  “And you?” I said, extra positive. “What are you thinking of doing?”

  “Me? No, I … I’m just about old enough to stop now, so … yes, Torvil and I have got a cottage on Kvitsøy, we’ve talked about it, perhaps we’ll move out there, it’s nice there. She loves it.”

  “Yes, it’s nice there,” I say quietly, “Very nice. But a difficult location for flowers, with all that wind.”

  “That’s for sure. I’ll probably have to give fishing a go instead.”



  “Haven’t you made any plans for the summer, then?”

  “Oh yes,” I said, “I’m going tomorrow … to the Faroe Islands.”

  “The Faroe Islands?”

  “Almost nothing grows there,” I said. “Not a tree.”

  “Not one?”

  “Not one. That’s where you should start up, you know. Flowers and trees on the Faroe Islands.”

  “I don’t think so, Mattias … So, how long will you be there?”

  “Just a week. We’re taking the boat over tomorrow. From Bergen.”

  “I didn’t think you liked boats.”

  “I don’t.”

  “Take care of yourself, then.”

  “You too.”

  Karsten got up, disappeared for a moment. I heard him rummaging in a box, noise of wrapping paper, tape. Then he reappeared in the doorway, and I got up and took my jacket.

  “Here,” he said giving me the parcel. A soft parcel. “This is about all I can give you. A memento. You never know what might come in handy.”

  “Thanks,” I said, taking his hand. I rummaged in my pockets, found the keys, gave them to him, went out the door and closed it behind me. And as I opened my car door I saw him standing there tying a bouquet, he’d put his leather apron on, hadn’t given up. Was working until the last minute.

  I sat in the car for a long time before starting the motor. The sea rose. A centimeter per year. The icebergs on the coast of Svalbard shrank with each year. The polar bear suffered from pollution and there were only fifteen arctic foxes left in Nordland. The population of Nordland rose, the Mayor of Sevland bit his nails and was terrified that Statoil’s offices in Forus would be blacked out on January 1, 2000, and Stavanger would go under as a city, that the lighthouses would go out, the computers fail and ships run
aground on Sola Beach, oil spills in every single nook. And hadn’t Helle said I’d begun to vanish for her, wasn’t that what she’d said up on the mountain? Yes. And now I thought about it, hadn’t I begun to fall apart even before she said it was over, that it was finished? Hadn’t the joins begun to glide from each other long ago, the continental plates begun to slip out of position to form new countries so the maps no longer matched the terrain?

  It’s the dead man’s handle in my brain that decides it in the end, it swings back and closes the entire system down, and I remember only fragments of the final twenty-four hours. Our apartment. My apartment which was now quite empty. Only one chair remaining. I sat down on it. I sat and did nothing. Watched the TV that stood on the floor flickering, a show about the Serengeti, I think. I don’t know. I had the parcel from Karsten on my lap. Hadn’t opened it yet. Opened it now, tore the paper, it was a pair of overalls. Karsten had given me one of the magnolia boilersuits we’d never used. Completely unused. Didn’t have a single thought. Looked at the TV. Serengeti. Shit. Carried the TV to the window, and threw the set out, sending it onto the asphalt two floors below. It exploded all over the pavement. It was a superb noise. It was an awful TV. Right. Now there was nothing else to tidy away. I think I sat up for a long time. With the boilersuit in my lap. Staring into the wall. My bag packed and ready at the front door. Sat there until the doorbell rang next morning. Jørn and Roar stood outside, the rest of the band were in the car. And we all drove off to Bergen, me dozing off in the backseat, endless roads, on and off the ferry, on to Bergen, a massive boat. The Smyril Line.

  We drive on board and the language changes, I no longer understand what’s being said. Already in the first hour some people recognize Jørn, kids, they want our autographs, and I pull back, say I’m not in the band, I’m not one of them but it’s no use, and Jørn says Look what you’re missing out on, and the boat lies heavy in the rough sea threatening to go under at any moment, and he asks if I won’t reconsider, for just one second, joining the band, for his sake. I’m freezing. I sit in the bar in my wool hat. Body shaking. Nose running. I throw up in the toilets as the boat rolls through the night, side to side through the Atlantic, and the Shetland gang with beards and big wool sweaters laugh and shout as they drink. I’m sitting in a bar with the others, a disco below, blue liqueur in a blue room, and I feel so angry, so tired, so excruciatingly tired. Jørn looks at me with wide eyes, yells something or other at me, and then we’re up on deck, there’s a strong wind and we have to use both hands to keep hold of the rails. We stand on the quarterdeck, I shout to the others, but nobody can hear. Jørn shouts something back, but all I can hear is the sound of water, wind, propellers, I’m handed something and drink it without tasting it. My arms are aching, my knuckles are burning. All I want is to sleep. I lean over the rails, squint toward the wake. The boat plunges down into the waves, rising again on the other side. It is dark, the middle of the night. Somewhere far away to the left there seems to be land, for the first time in ten hours. Might be the Shetlands. Or Greenland. Might be New York. Singapore, for all I know. I know nothing. I sit myself down, sit down on the wet deck, turn my head slowly, see Jørn and Roar and the rest of the band, and a band from Trondheim standing in a semi-circle around me, I lie down, on my back. Let my head bump gently onto the deck. It’s the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine).


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