AFTER MY HORRIBLY disturbing consultation with Dr Finkel, I felt very disorientated, so I went to the Deichmanske library where I knew I could relax. Apart from that, my main motive was to read English newspapers without having to buy them. That they were often a couple of days out of date was of little importance. News is like that. You can read a newpaper over a century old and you will probably find the stories are almost exactly the same with slightly different headlines attached to them. Sometimes, it’s difficult for me to imagine there is any news happening anywhere at all. They make it up and put the names of different people, towns and countries to it because it’s all just the same.
When I was an apprentice journalist, I never saw any actual news happening. I always turned up after the event at a location where people told me something had taken place. I sometimes wasn’t even sure it had, but I still kept my tape running.
I had grown particularly tired of the rubbish the Norwegian papers publish. There’s always a story about a cat getting stuck in a tree that had to be rescued by firemen, I think it must be the same cat and the firemen kept it down at the fire station solely for that purpose when they had nothing else to do. Nothing ever happened in Norway, apart from cats getting stuck in trees, it seemed.
It was a Norwegian paper that published lies about the misunderstanding I had with the dog lead I happened to be holding in that shop. I supposed that was a huge story for the crime desk. I knew I wouldn’t be going to that shop again, even if I had a dog. They had lost a potential customer. I was almost tempted to buy a dog to spite them and walk up and down outside the window with it on a lead I’d bought in another shop. Only Wenche wouldn’t let me keep one in the flat. And I don’t really like dogs.
When I reached the reading room somebody had already got the latest copy of The Times. That was the paper I wanted to read. I scowled at him. He wasn’t even English and probably couldn’t even read English. A thin greasy student wearing gold rimmed glasses. I had to take a well-worn copy that was almost a week old. Of course, I could read it on-line, but I always seemed to have trouble logging in. I don’t why I had to choose a funny name that I can’t remember. I suppose it’s because that’s what everybody else did, but they seem to remember theirs.
It isn’t the easiest thing to open a broadsheet with one arm in a sling, but I managed. Ah! this was it. These English journalists knew how to write. They wouldn’t waste their time reporting a wrongful arrest, they had more important work to do.
There were an awful lot of words I didn’t know the meaning of, and my concentration began to wander.
And then I thought of how I would tell a big newspaper magnate about the girl in the Oslo newsagents who had tried to charge me twenty-eight kroner for The Times. Rupert Murdoch. Once I got to know him, of course. I couldn’t help sniggering. He’d like that. My sniggers turned to laughter, and the paper began to shake in my hands uncontrollably. Rupert Murdoch would like that all right. “You should’ve seen her face when I mentioned your name, Rupert,” I’d say, “Scared the poor girl out of her wits. I doubt she’ll be charging those sort of prices again.” The thought of the startled expression on the girl’s face made me laugh all the more, and tears started to stream from my eyes. Suddenly, the newpaper began to rustle violently. I looked up. An old woman, who had obviously got too much time on her hands, despite the amount of time she’d already spent on the planet to judge by the countless wrinkles on her face, had grabbed hold of the paper and was shaking it.
“Sh!” she hissed, “Keep quiet. If you don’t stop laughing, I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to leave.” Pulling myself together, I looked her straight in the eye.
“Madam,” I used my finest voice, “I was just about to leave anyway. This journal is unacceptably crumpled, and probably ridden with germs. Rupert Murdoch shall hear about this when I’m next in London.” I threw the paper to the floor and stomped all over it.
“You needn’t think you can come in here again!” she began shrieking to my back, “I’ll call the police if I see your face in here again.”
Once outside I comforted myself by feeling the stitches in my head, cemented in with dried blood. For some reason I was beginning to derive a certain amount pleasure from them being there. Some flakes came off in my hand, dark red-brown, almost black. I tried to put them back. I would have to have the stitches taken out soon, but I couldn’t risk returning to the hospital for fear of being recognised. If I went up to the hospital they would try and get me into that machine of theirs for a second time. Perhaps I could take them out myself, it shouldn’t be too difficult. Or wouldn’t be had I not my right arm in a sling. I might be able to persuade a friend to do it. But I didn’t have any friends I could trust.
Then Lars came to mind. Lars, he was just the man for the job. He knew all about needles, pills and medical stuff. So, I set off along the icy pavements to Grønland, on the east side of the city. There was a little coffee bar there, where I knew I might find him.
Lars and I went to the same high school, back in Trondheim and then on to University. I think that was around the time he first started using heroin. He dropped out after a couple of terms. I heard a rumour there was some trouble with a dealer, and he’d had to move to Oslo in a hurry. I never did get to hear the truth of it. But then the truth is probably even more boring than the lies. Any journalist can tell you that.
I never really thought about him from the time he fled Trondheim till the day I ran into him outside Central Station one late autumn. Having not seen him in years he’d changed so much I could hardly recognise him. But it was him all right. He looked dreadful. His face was gaunt, and he walked with that sort of hunch-shouldered shuffle bad junkies get. His dirty jeans hung from his arse like an old man’s. When he showed me an outstretched palm I thought he wanted me to shake it, and offered mine. His fingers were purple and swollen like a bunch of venison sausages. He was only trying to beg. He became angry, and started shouting at me until I reminded him who I was. At first he looked at me with suspicious eyes, which told me didn’t recognise me, though he pretended he did, and smiled. his teeth were in a dreadful state. Nevertheless, I thought better than to tell him. He probably already knew. I gave him ten kroner, and then offered to buy him a coffee. Back in those days I was still making the odd bit of money here and there from selling stories to the newspapers, not a lot, but enough to buy a friend a coffee if I felt like it. It was just before my wrongful arrest. He tried to get me to score some crystal meth with him instead, but I told him I wasn’t interested.
Strange, how a junkie’s eyes can read but can’t be read. They’re either dull as boiled milk or polished like crystal. I couldn’t tell what he was thinking. There were little bits of tobacco stain on his lips from the plug he stuffed behind his upper lip that made his mouth look like a boxer’s, pushing his walrus moustache out even further. I watched droplets of cold breath condense onto its bristles, as he began to tell me a story I didn’t pay attention to, because I knew it was a lie. He was only telling me in order to gauge how much more money he might be able to winkle out of me before I moved on. I could see he’d lost a lot of friends the same way.
I learned he scored his scag in Grønland, where he rented a tiny room from a Moroccan dealer in hashish. Whenever he ran short of cash, which was all the time, he’d head up towards Central Station and off-load a few deals for the Moroccan, till he got enough money to pay for a fix. He was a bit short at that moment, but he was expecting some cash later in the day. I couldn’t lend him fifty kroner, could I? To see him through. He’d be able to pay me back that day. Tomorrow, at the latest. I gave him another twenty. Well, I had the money at the time so why not?
This time, I didn’t want to run into him selling dope at the station; I’d had more than enough trouble with the police as things were to be caught with a heroin dealer selling hash. And I wasn’t at all sure I could trust Dr Finkel not to say anything against me anymore, especially if an officer attached electric cables to his testicles. Even though I didn’t think they did that sort of thing in Norway anymore. If they ever did. Probably. No, I’d see if he walked by the coffee bar; and if he didn’t, I’d call round to his room. He wouldn’t mind taking out my stitches, after all, he was used to needles and blood and things.
In winter it gets dark at around three, that day it got dark even earlier, and the temperature dropped like a falling star. The colder it got the more my arm seemed to hurt. It seemed to get right into the broken bones. And I’d have to stay out as late as possible so I wouldn’t run into Wenche. She’d either start making sarcastic remarks about not running a charity, or she might start asking me about the scan. If she did I’d have to stall her. I couldn’t have her thinking I wasn’t going to go. Maybe, when she saw the stitches were gone she might think I’d already been. Whatever happened, my best bet was to stay out for as long as possible and hope she’d gone to bed by the time I got home. I might be able to stay in Lars’ room. That should be warm. I hoped his fat cow of a girlfriend wasn’t there. With a bit of luck she’d be out turning a few tricks in Tolbudgata. With even a bit more luck that madman who’s cut up a few whores would get hold of her. Only he doesn’t usually work in the town centre. He picks them up out Stovner way.
I didn’t really have enough money to spend on coffee, but I still bought a large cup, and sat watching people coming in and out of the place. I wouldn’t mind owning it, they seemed to be taking a small fortune. But Lars’ face didn’t appear amongst the customers, even though I sat there for ages. It got the point where a waitress started wiping the bit of table round my cup in an attempt to get me to leave. But I stayed on just to spite her, and get my money’s worth of heat.
I finally caught up with Lars, outside his flat. He was stoned out of his mind, and in no condition to remove stitches. I told him I’d catch up with him later. He stuffed 100kr in my hand. He mumbled he and his girlfriend had made some money on a deal, and I’d been kind to him on a couple occasions. Though trying as hard as I could, I couldn’t refuse it. My father’s money had already run out. My mind said ‘no’ as my hand said ‘yes’.
Then he managed to persuade me to score some heroin with him, and we went back to his place to take it. He jacked it up and I sniffed a line. I’d never taken those sorts of drugs before. It was horrible. I spent the whole night spewing up in his shitty lav, my arms cradling the bowl like it was made of gold. I can’t see what they see in it. What’s the point of taking something that makes you look and feel that dreadful? Lars said it was all part of it. Part of what? Part of being a dirty slob stumbling about the streets, who everybody tries to avoid?
I don’t like ice cream anymore. it makes me want to vomit. Ever since my mother met that man one lovely spring evening while we were sitting outside a cafe. I was eating ice cream. That man who beat her face black and blue.
Can’t even think why she was out rowing. But she was never the same after meeting that man. It’s true though. I don’t like ice cream anymore. I used to love it. Ever since meeting that man who beat my mother’s face black and blue ice cream makes me want to vomit.
I shall never forget that meeting. Her moist, brown eyes flash briefly up into his. She inclines her head towards her breasts. Her right leg crosses over her left. It starts to swing, and she laughs a laugh I haven’t heard before. Full of spring. I want to go right then. I want us to leave the man who makes my mother laugh like spring.
Kept wandering off after she came to the farm. They said it was a nervous breakdown. I didn’t know what one was. It wasn’t fair to leave me like that. I can’t forgive her for it. I can’t forgive her because it is she who should forgive me, and she isn’t here to do it. I crossed knives on the kitchen table on purpose, though knew it portended death. Anyway, the man who made my mother laugh like spring said everything was my fault before my mother sent me to the farm. I heard him shout it.
But why was she in a boat? She never liked the water. Hadn’t even learned to swim. I didn’t even know she could row. Perhaps she couldn’t. Perhaps she just pushed herself from the jetty and the little boat gradually floated to the middle of the lake as she fell asleep. Grandad said she probably tried to stand and lost her footing when the boat began to rock. It must’ve been an accident if Grandfather says so. It’s easy enough to happen he says. But why go out in the ealy morning mist?
They never found the body. Usually they float back to the top after awhile then get washed ashore I overheard a policeman telling someone. I remember that happened to a little boy near Grandad’s house once. He wouldn’t let me go down to look at the body.
She wouldn’t have done it on purpose. I know she wouldn’t, I know it. Katrina says it’s the worst sin there is But she might not have been in the boat at all. They only found her clothes. If she did go out on the lake I like to think she was looking for the old mother cat’s kittens.
I sometimes wonder why Grandad brought the empty sack back the day he took the kittens. He had lots of empty sacks abut the farm. It’s the sort of thing I think of. He’d have to have had the kittens in something to drop them in the lake. Perhaps he had another sack inside the sack. Years later I asked why he brought the empty sack back. He told me he hadn’t, and it was just a trick of my memory. But I can see the empty sack now in his large and rough hands. I can see the big veins standing out on the back of them, the brown broken fingernails.
After one dream I had, where a man told me to try to think of nothing, I sometimes try. The problem with trying to think of nothing is that you immediately try to think of the something that nothing is. The something that nothing cannot be composed of in order to render it into nothing in the first place. Nothing is the complete and utter lack of something. Death is nothing.
I’m crossing the road. Something’s wrong. I turn my head. I hear the engine gunning. I see the chrome grill, the blinding headlamps. A shadow crouched behind the wheel. Taking aim. Straight for me. Nowhere to run and no time to think. Cars streaming every which way. I prepare for the impact. Up in the air, thudding down onto the bonnet, smashing the windscreen to smithereens, and up again, like a football kicked in spite. Up, up, spinning, spinning; snatching at sky, words running through my head, “I’m dead, I’m dead.”
Vicious as that. No time to feel pain, I’m thinking too fast. No time for visions of past life playing before my eyes. The second impact is about to wipe me out. Maybe I grab hold of a piece of sky for that vital second. Suspended between heaven and earth for that briefest of instants. Just enough time to work it out.
Then I know I’m not dead at all.
I’m on the road, the taste of bloody grit fresh in my mouth, blood gushing from my skull, blurring my vision. I want to get hold of the guy who did it and punch his lights out. I try to jump up, but my right arm is killing me. Crowds of the stupid get in my way to gawp as though I might have fallen from a spaceship. I scream a silent scream.
Dr Finkel put one hand on his back and made a groaning noise as he leaned backwards.
“My back’s killing me, and I have to listen to you repeat yourself all the time.”
“Why don’t you see a chiropractor?”
“It’s these shoes, they’re too tight.”
“Well, see a cobbler then.”
“Perhaps, if you stopped repeating yourself so much, that would ease the pain.”
“Do you really think so?”
“Do I really think what?”
“Do you really think I repeat myself so much?”
“It might go altogether if you stopped talking completely.”
“Do you really think so?”
“Well, at least we could give it a try.”
“Do I really I repeat myself so much?”
“You’ve been telling me the same things time and time again for months.”
“But do I? Do I really repeat myself so much?”
“You’re not trying hard enough,” he said in a pleasant singsong voice.
When I learned my mother was never coming back, I felt such an awful sense of loss I can sometimes still feel in the pit of my stomach. As though something was ripped out, leaving a sense of dread of everything, I will never lose that sense of dread. And if I ever learn to love again I will lose someone. I must never love. The pain is too much.
When the winter sun shines in Oslo, you can say what you like, but it must be the most beautiful city in the world. Everything glistens like gold, the air is liquid gold, the sun hangs low in the horizon, shimmering, molten gold. I haven’t been to all the other cities in the world but there can’t be one better than Oslo on a sunny winter’s day.
When it’s like that I like to go down to the square in front of the Town Hall where you can look out across the fjord, or up in Akershus, the old fortress. Oh, Trondheim’s a fine old city, all right, but you can’t beat Oslo on a clear winter’s day.
And since the accident, colours seem brighter than before, or maybe I just didn’t notice how bright they really are. Most people dream in monochrome, I’m one of the lucky few who always dream in Technicolor.
I can spend ages looking at the colours. Sometimes they’re so beautiful I start to feel the tears well up in my eyes. That’s when I have to move on. It’s not done to display outward signs of emotion here in Norway, people don’t like it. I don’t like it. It’s alright when you’re drunk. When you’re drunk you can throw your arms about anybody and blub like a child, or you can sing and dance in the streets, nobody minds if you’re drunk.
Luckily, it’s not too far to walk into the centre of town from Sinsen, and soon I was wandering about in front of the Town Hall on that clear winter’s day. My intention had been to drink it all in, but somehow I got to thinking of something else.
She told me she was pregnant this morning. Came right out with it, Wenche did, my landlady. Said it like somebody might say they were hungry, or bored. “By the way, I’m pregnant.” By the way of what? I might’ve asked. Or whom. For that matter. I’d heard her retching in the bog each morning, but thought it was something to do with the awful food she cooks. Of course, it’s nothing to do with me; I wouldn’t touch her with somebody else’s. But it’s the way she said it. “I thought you ought to know,” a sentence of pregnance, pregnant with meaning, pregnant with a missing, So you better start looking for another place to live. She didn’t have the guts to say it, but it was plain enough to see by its absence. Who the fuck would want to go to bed with her? Unless it’s that creepy little bloke from the council who keeps on sneaking round. He might, he looks desperate enough. I always had her down as a lesbian, though I wouldn’t put it past her to have herself artificially inseminated. She’s only done to get me out. Well, I won’t go. Funny though, she’s started feeding me again, not on a regular basis, but saying things like: There’s something on the stove if you want it from time to time. I know why, she didn’t get me with the accident so she’s trying to poison me. Sometimes, I let her, I go up and have myself a big bowl of whatever’s there, and spoon that poison down like a man who doesn’t know what she’s up to. It did cross my mind that might be what was making her spew up, eating the poison she had prepared for me by mistake.
Other times, I ignore her offer totally, and walk straight into my room as though I’m completely preoccupied and haven’t heard. I know her game all right. I can play it better then she can.
I was having to slip out of the house early now as she was hanging around all day. Somehow, she was managing to skive off waiting tables. The way some women act while pregnant you might think it was a terminal disease. They start taking time off from work and stroking their brows with the back of their hands like characters from silent movies.
I hadn’t managed to get a wash or a shave for several days. But I do that sometimes. I like the smell of my own stale sweat.
There was another letter from the hospital the other morning. Luckily, I got to the post box in the lobby before she did. They want to do something about my arm, they say. All I want to do is get rid of this bloody sling. I got Lars to get me some painkillers last Thursday, it was hurting so much. The cold seemed to have got right in. Seems junkies can get you anything you want, and more often than not it’s cheaper than the pharmacy. It’s marvellous, when you think about it. When I told him I wasn’t sleeping very well, because of my arm – I was having to lie on my back all the time – what did he do but go out and get me some sleeping tablets. Just like a doctor, in a way. No, better than a doctor, at least he never looks at me as though I’m a drug addict.
I could see the sling was going to be a problem, it was too tight for a start. I’d put another sling over the silly one they gave me at the hospital, one more like the old-fashioned type. It made me look a bit more respectable. That was half of it, the doctors at the hospitals don’t know what they’re doing these days. I was muttering to myself, going over things over and over again in my mind.
Despite the painkillers Lars had sold me, my arm still ached. It was the dreadful cold, so I decided to go into the warmth of the shopping complex at Aker brygge, where the old ship repair yards used to be. But that was almost worse. I could only put it down to the drastic change in temperature. There was a dull ache no amount of rubbing would stop. My sling was beginning to look filthy from all the rubbing I’d done over the days since I’d left hospital. The pain got so great I had to sit down. I’d backed out of Lars taking the stitches from my head the day he said he would. But the letter from the hospital made up my mind for me. I’d have to trust him to do it. I had a piece of paper with his phone number on. I’d seen it just the other day. Trying to figure out what I was wearing, I searched my clothes for it, I always wear virtually the same clothes. It had to be somewhere. After what seemed like an hour I found it a pocket I could’ve sworn I’d already looked in three times. I know it wasn’t there before. My head was sore round the stitches and little bits of pus had started to ooze from a couple. Perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea to let him loose on my head with a pair of scissors. He might be HIV positive, for all I knew. A lot of junkies are. He’d only cut a finger with them, then his blood would drip onto my pus. Nevertheless, he was the only person I knew, who would do it. He was in. He said he’d love to, as he’d never done it before. I said I’d be round in an hour or so.
I looked for somewhere to sit down. I had to think the whole thing through properly again. The pain in my arm was killing me. The only seats available seemed to be in cafés. I checked my money, I’d still got that hundred kroner note Lars had given me after his girlfriend gave him some cash to score a large deal for her. I didn’t ask him, he just gave it to me. But I’d need that to get some more painkillers and sleeping tablets. It might not even be enough. And coffee was expensive. In dreams the price of these things seemed to change from day to day. I couldn’t really afford a cup of coffee in a place like the one I chose. Still, I sat down hoping I wouldn’t be noticed. Then I started rubbing my arm. I could swear there wasn’t any blood getting to it and that was why it was aching so much. Those damn doctors! They had made my blood move more slowly.
I didn’t notice the uniform approach until the tapping on my shoulder. I looked up into the young pimply face of a security guard.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
I smiled as best I could.
“Fine, thanks,” I answered weakly, “I’m waiting for a friend.”
“Yes, well,” suddenly, he was taking my good arm and trying to pull me to my feet, “Perhaps it’d be better if you waited outside.”
“Take your hands off me!” I shouted. A crowd began to form, “Look at this,” I told them, “you can’t even sit down and mind your own business any more without some thug coming along to disturb you. It’s the uniforms that do it, they all think they’re above the law. All I’m trying to do is have a cup of coffee. It’s not the first time this has happened.” Then I glanced at their faces. I couldn’t believe it, they were all looking at me as though it was my fault. As though I had done something wrong. There I was being accosted by an ignorant thug not worthy of licking my boots and they were trying to avoid my eyes, every single one of them.
“Surely, you can’t believe,”
“Come on, the less said the better.” Now, he was pulling at me. I resisted, “Alright, if that’s the way you want it.” He pulled out a radio thingamajig and put it to his mouth. He started speaking some sort of gobbledegook into it, which I knew meant he was asking a small army of thugs to come and molest me. Once they got me outside, they would give me a thorough beating. You read about it all the time. I should know; I’m a journalist. They’d have to get me outside first. I wasn’t going without a struggle.
“I can tell you, that you’re going to be in serious trouble over this, young man. Do you know who Rupert Murdoch is?” I asked his ignorant blank mush. “No, of course you don’t. You wouldn’t, you’re an ignorant thug, you probably didn’t get as far as reading while you were at school. You’ll know soon enough, mark my words. You won’t hear the end of this.” I could tell my words were having an effect. “And don’t think I’ll just settle for an apology, oh no, not likely.” I started to wag my finger at him so he knew I was being serious, “You’ve stepped way over the mark here, my friend. And in front of witnesses.” Out of the corner of my eye, I could see a figure elbowing its way through the crowd. Jet black hair, cornflower eyes, panther strides, she was smiling. Kari.
“Knut,” she was calling, as though we were best friends, “What’s wrong? Are you all right?” Three more gorillas, on their way over for a piece of the action, slowed their pace as they spotted her. She strode towards me laden with shopping bags.
The guard looked aghast. “Sorry, is this gentleman waiting for you?” He seemed hardly able to credit it.
“Yes,” she said putting the bags down, “He’s been in an accident. He was knocked down by a car a little while ago. He hit his head rather badly.” I rose to my feet, and was about to protest when she butted in.
“Come on, Knut, let’s get a taxi.” I was speechless. She was spoiling my finest moment. I’d had him on the run till she turned up. She picked up her bags and we started to make our way to the exit. As soon as we were outside she unleashed the cornflower blue on me
“You look dreadful,” she said. “What on earth have you been doing to yourself? You need a shave.” The knuckles on my left hand began to whiten, and I could feel the blood drain from my face.
“I can look after myself, thank you very much. I was just giving that thug a piece of my mind when you turned up. As for not shaving, I’m growing a beard. You made me out to be some sort of headcase, back there. You know, you should learn to mind your own business!” I turned, and was just about to storm off when my legs gave way beneath me. A plastic bottle of pills spewed from my pockets and skidded across the ice.
“Knut!” she shouted. Next moment she had my head cradled on her knees, and was holding the pills in front of me. I felt a trickle of warm blood making its way down my cheek.
“How many of these have you taken?” she asked.
“Oh, I don’t know, I take them when my arm hurts.”
“And how often is that?”
“All the time.”
Copyright © 2013 Bryan Hemming