The twins left. It was only Morgan and me in the apartment—Oslo ice blue as ever, sweet; distant Earth—we woke up late, scrambled up some sardines for breakfast and sat around all day watching videos on YouTube. There was stillness in that apartment, stillness and the occasional laugh from a funny video. Morgan and I got along very well, despite not knowing each other. He had a good sense of humor. He put me on to Dexpedition, a travel show that wasn’t about sightseeing or lame restaurants, but about bar hopping, club scenes, drugs and other hip twentysomething entertainment in conflict with the calm and well-spoken PBS Steves crowd. I mean, Dex was no Bourdain, but it was fresh to see a travel show do something different other than food and hotels.
Morgan also had a good heart. He had me watch a BBC documentary on the Anders Breivik massacre. It was macabre, post-somber. The tragedy left a teardrop impression on the Norwegians, Morgan especially who spoke about it as if it was personal. And it was personal. Morgan, a man who’d fired arms himself, wanted nothing to do with them and every five minutes we’d distract ourselves from the video with conversation about the 2nd. No issue is clear, nor one sided. Not the religious issue, not the immigration issue and most definitely not the gun issue. Am I the first to jump front and center of a town forum? No. Do I go out of my way to be political? No. To participate in the democratic process? No. Thank you, Plato. Maybe one day I’ll figure out whether it’s naïve, ignorant or correct to avoid politics. After the documentary, Morgan walked over to the restroom. I sat in front of the laptop starring at the replay button, knowing that massacres like that would happen over and over again. Whether or not I clicked that button didn’t make a damn bit of difference. So I opened up a new tab.
I messaged Eira, expecting her to ignore me. Lucky for me Thor was on my side. Eira replied.
“Hi Mikaíl! Yes, I’d love to meet up with you. My friends and I are going to a party tonight. You should meet us.”
Around 10 or 11, after an entire day sitting around doing nothing, Morgan and I geared up for the night, downing fat gin and tonics like they were shots. I called Eira. She picked up after twenty seconds of ringing.
“Hi, it’s Mikaíl.”
“Oh! Hi! Yes.” She was already drunk. She asked, “Hvor er du?”
I handed the phone to Morgan.
“Hei?” Morgan asked.
He sat there, nodding his head. Eira wouldn’t shut up. Eventually Morgan got her to say where she was.
“She’ll meet us at a bus stop. We can walk from here.”
Morgan and I waited by the stop for half an hour. All the signs were in Norwegian. I imagined Eira reading them out loud in her wild Nordic way—no word intelligible. I felt like she wouldn’t show. The night was dark. It didn’t feel right. Then, from behind some trees I heard a loud, drunken voice yawp, “MIKAÍL!!” A wad of wavy red hair lunged out to tackle me.
“Are you ready to party?” Eira asked.
She was with a skinny girl and the skinny girl’s boyfriend.
“Mikaíl, this is my friend Estelle and this is my other friend Grendel. Estelle, Grendel, this is the American.”
Shit was awkward at first, they didn’t really speak English well, but I could tell they were pleasant folk. The conversation really got underway, after the niceties, then the boy-dude asked me, “Do you like guns?” and everyone got to say their opinion except me.
Every neighborhood in Oslo looked the same—at least at night, at least the ones I saw. Chill, blue street lamps, dry pavement, brick, three story dwellings, townhome looking things—halfway between skinny apartment and expensive house. Every other door was a different shade of green, though, blue, or red. Every square inch clean. We were minutes away from the party and all I could think about was how clean and foreign everything was, distanced was I from the conversation. You might wonder how they do it, how they keep this paradise so pristine—immigration policy? social services? high income-tax? It’s a playground out here for gals like Eira who run around, knock themselves over, lookee.
“Are you always drunk?” I asked Eira.
She took offense. She changed the subject. “Where’s your friend?”
“Morgan?” I pointed him out. “Right there!”
“No-o-o. Your American friend.”
“The bearded one.”
“No. The other bearded one.”
“Rick, I don’t know. Alex is back in Austin.”
She let out a quiet sigh. “That’s too bad. I asked him to take me there one day.”
“You guys really hit it off, huh?” I asked. Eira blushed, or maybe it was the alcohol. The gossiping aunt in me decided to keep digging. “Alex was really impressed with what happened with you and the homeless man.”
“What do you mean?”
“You don’t remember?” I asked. She didn’t. Apparently she had blacked out. I wasn’t surprised. I explained all what Alex had told me: “You were walking back to the hostel, or trying to walk back, you were impossible, and you ran into a kebab shop without a word but to say it was your favorite spot, then in line a homeless man walked in, he got into a fight with the kebab owner, apparently he was a usual, however the confrontation led to a fight, and the homeless man ended up bleeding on the ground outside; but you ran out to help him; you gave him your kebab; you held him in your arms, nursed him; under a single streetlamp in the night, as Alex describes it, you nursing this stranger to health.” Eira was amazed at herself. She told me she was studying to be a doctor and maybe that’s why she reacted the way she did, so helpful. At first I thought it was cute, but after a while she kept asking me to repeat all the nice things I had said about her, skip the being drunk part please. So I told her the story a couple more times, exaggerating more and more every time I told it, just to see how she would react. She was enchanted. After a while I changed the subject, to talk about the air again.
The “party” was in a cramped little two bedroom, with more furniture than people. There were about ten seventeen-year-olds, a few on the floor passing a bottle of wine, two girls dancing by themselves, and the rest on top of one another on the couch. At first we were bored as hell, but boredom turned into something else. It became a silence, violence. Things we ignore.
“I don’t really know anyone here,” Eira told me.
“No, these are Grendel’s friends.”
All the kids were Swedish exchange students going to high-school. It was strange being the second oldest there; Morgan was the oldest and I’m sure he felt it too. None of the Swedes knew how to talk for more than five minutes and there wasn’t any alcohol. I walked out the front door of the apartment and stood in the stairwell, talking to Eira. She’d managed to get even drunker in the half hour we were there.
“Estelle brought a flask.”
“Damn.” I found some water.
Eira was up on a step, making it seem like we were the same height. Her eyes were as fjord-colored as I had last seen them in Berlin. Her hair was messy, in a million waves or fire red radiated heat and thirst. There was also a halo over her. Alex was right. She was different. She did glow in the dark, and all her freckles glowed too.
“I’ve never kissed a Norwegian before,” I said.
She laughed. “Why not?”
I moved my mouth towards her. She didn’t move back. I got so close that our bottom lips touched. I waited. I didn’t want to make the full first move. Our lips lay there, holding hands, nothing more. Our eyes were wide open, unfolding; our breath was one. She smiled and her bottom lip let go. Then I let go. I dove in and kissed passionately, too passionately. Her mouth kept a steady beat. It ended up lasting longer for that. Then it was over. She broke away and the way she broke away told me she was never really into me. At least not like she was into Alex. I wasn’t jealous, just trying to have fun. I stepped back and we resumed the conversation as if nothing had happened. Nothing.
A big, dopey looking male character, seventeen, an inch taller than me, walked up and thought it would be a good idea to ask me questions right after he had seen me with Eira. I still had a stone from the kiss and felt that if I looked away, even for a second, what was hard in me might be found. Thus we talked.
Although he was Swedish, they talked in Norwegian—or Swedish, I couldn’t tell the difference. They said something, turned to me and laughed. Then they said some other bull, turned to me, and laughed again. All of a sudden the two of them kissed. I thought I was special. When they broke away Eira turned to me. The way she looked at me made me wonder what the hell any of this meant, how soon could I leave, where the hell is Morgan?
“We’re very open in Norway.” She said it with a sliver of arrogance, as if to say I wasn’t open or America wasn’t. Then the big dopey kid turned to me. He smiled and put a few fingers under my elbow.
“We’re very open,” Eira repeated.
The teen motioned towards me. I shove him.
“Mikaíl, there you are!” It was Morgan, appearing just in time. “There’s no beer here,” he said. “I’m leaving.”
Morgan didn’t even wait. He stepped out, into the dark cool Oslo air.
“Goodbye, Eira,” I said, hearing symphony music playing somewhere in the background hoping for a dramatic response. She smiled, that’s it. She wasn’t going to say anything. The ground collapsed. If only I had made a stronger move, I thought, stepping out myself, out of myself.
“Where we going?” I asked, sucking in as much of that clean air as I could. It tasted honeyed compared to the bad taste in my mouth.
“My friend’s at a club.”
An expensive taxi ride later, Morgan and I wound up at this swanky joint at some swanky part of town. Everyone looked like they’d just walked off the red carpet. Every time I looked at someone it was like turning the page of a beauty magazine. Everyone, and I mean everyone, no exaggeration, was drop dead gorgeous. Even the cheap ones looked good in plastic. The standards were all off here—people in Oslo were jaded and they didn’t even know it—or else the population wouldn’t be as low as it was. I swear if you threw one or two hundred, hungry, loud Texans loose in Oslo the population of Norway would double between rodeos. Morgan and I got in line.
“Why are Norwegians so damn good looking?” I asked Morgan.
“What do you mean?”
“Like, the women are gorgeous, and so are the men. All of you are like perfect snowflakes that never melt.”
“You should see how people age here.”
“I’d like that.”
Cover was around twenty dollars. Morgan leaned in close, putting his arm around my neck with one hand, his other hand motioning a big circle.
“You know,” Morgan said, “the Vikings conquered all of Europe at one point. And, imagine, all the prettiest European girls you have ever met. Imagine bringing them back to Austin. You’d have a good pool of genes after that, no? Imagine. That is what the Vikings did. They went around the world and brought back as many woman as they could carry under their arms.”
I pictured a young, strapping Morgan, in deer hide, holding a princess up over his left shoulder and a bag of gold from dead King Arthur’s chest over his right shoulder. Something about this image didn’t sit right with me. But it was mesmerizing, the way a fight is, as we all gather around and bang the ground with our palms and fists, and shout.
Inside we came to a big dancehall area with square yellow tiles flashing and fog shampooing your hair; second, you’d see a long bar counter to your right, over twenty meters, serving slick drinks to slick jackets; and third, you’d spot a raised platform area in the back corner with the DJ booth, a gel-haired jockey spinning an old Ye goodie, and five or six glass tables to chill at and people watch. Morgan’s three buddies were by the bar waiting for us with beers in their hands.
The one up front, the shortest of the three, was of Asian descent yet full on Nord. He had been in the army with Morgan. His name was Hans. Hans yelled, “The American boy! Allow me to buy you a beer, American boy.”
The other two buddies were the same height, same build, and made of the same stuff. Old Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The music was good and all, but I felt too underdressed and too tan for this bar. While the two army kids played catch up and danced, I made my way up to the platform next to the side-acts, side-friends. Both had tall glasses of beer, full to the rim, when they started cutting lines on the glass table over a mirror tray. There was nothing to do but fold my arms and try not to sigh. Over on the dance floor, I saw Morgan and his friends dance their hearts out. They had so much vitality, so much charisma. The army. Working out. Testosterone. And I?
And then—you knew this was coming—two tall women walked in—together four meters tall before stilettos. They had warrior builds, princess struts. The yuppie cats around let out heated calls as they bought twenty-dollar beers and twenty-five dollar shots for the girls, while I sat and grew thin as empty pockets. That’s what I’ll bring home, I thought, empty pockets, looking down at the Stoppard characters, their noses praying to white lines. I wished to know, only, how to approach those girls, know what to say, blame the god damn language barrier, until eventually Rosencrantz next to me stood up and spoke with absolute clarity.
“I’m more into natural drugs.”
“What state you from?”
“Guess,” I said, bored.
“I see you’ve been staring at those girls over there,” spoke Guildenstern.
Without breaking away from the girls, I told him, “What’s a guy gotta do to get a woman like that.”
“With a sliver of arrogance.”
“Why do I want to touch their face?”
“Because you are horny.”
I faced the boys, noticing finally that they had these, white collared shirts on, part-way unbuttoned, complimenting their greasy gelled hair and five o’clock shadow. I also noticed they were doing me a once over too. I ended up looking down, away, to admit, “You’re probably right,” then laughed when I saw the one talking to me had stop paying attention. He was praying over the table again.
When he came up for air, he asked, “What state you from?”
I said, “Texas.”
“Just walk up to one of them,” he said, “and pull out your gun.”
The other guy came up from the table, laughed, sneezed, then went back down.
“I ain’t bring my gun with me,” I said, playing along.
“A Texan without his gun? No wonder you feel sad.” He laughed a loud Nordic laugh. My pockets felt especially empty now.
Morgan and Hans eventually came to us.
“We want to leave,” Morgan said. We did. We took a bus. I don’t remember paying. It was crowded. A bus full of white faces, you’d think this town was segregated. Lucky for us we found some seats way in the back and sat down on clean, cushioned seats. I almost fell asleep, but Guildenstern tapped my shoulder.
“Hey, so you’re from Texas, right?”
“But you don’t talk like a Texan.”
“What do Texans talk like?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never met one.” He stared at me, so did the rest of the bus. I felt really out of place, like I’d sat on the wrong half.
“I’m sawreh,” I said in a dry, tumbleweed twang, “I jus’ ain’t bin raised right, I gess.”
The whole back of the bus roared in laughter. Then Guildenstern asked, “Do you own a gun?”
I looked out the window; only the street lamps shed light, made things glow. “No. I don’t.”
“Why does everyone in Texas own a gun?”
“Not everyone,” I said. “We’re not that smart.”
“Why do I hear Texans love their guns?”
“Not sure, maybe because guns are loud.”
“Do you think guns are ok?”
Everyone on the bus leaned in towards me—2011 still fresh in their minds.
“Yeah,” I said, “if the right people own them.”
“What if the wrong people own them?”
“I guess you would have to shoot them.”
He said, “But I don’t own a gun.”
I said, “Neither do I,” wondering if anyone saw the shooter card I thought would be funny to carry around with me in my wallet during this whole damn eurotrip, but ended up never pulling out, because who the hell wants to see that, and who the hell would ruin a trip by talking about it, nothing but sex, drugs and cash, cause a lot of wags want to hear it, sex, drugs and cash, lotta wags.
There were some head shakes. The bus came to a stop. But Rosencrantz, full of tact, changing topics, leaned in: “Want to learn some Norwegian?”
“Next time you want to hit on a Norwegian girl, walk up to them and say, ‘Jeg liker å slikke fitte.’”
“Jag licka oug sleeker feeter?”
“No. Jeg liker å slikke fitte.”
“Jag leeka aug slikkuh feetuh?”
Rosencrantz shouted, “YES!!” I shouted even louder, “JEG LIKER A SLIKKE FITTE!” Every guy in the bus started cracking up.
“WOAH!” Hans yelled. “LOOK AT THE TEXAN!”
All the girls shook their head.
“JEG LIKER A SLIKKE FITTE!”
We got off the bus and waited for a different line to take us home. We were the only ones at the bus stop having fun.
“Hey, Hans,” I said, slapping his shoulder. “Wanna know something?”
“JEG LIKE A SLIKKE FITTE!”
We were all laughing and I didn’t even know why. The girls next to us at the bus stop moved further away from us.
“What do you have in your mouth?” I asked Morgan. “Don’t tell me it’s JEG—”
“Here, take one.” He smiled. “It’s natural.” He handed me a little white bag. “Tuck it under your upper lip.”
I stuck it in my mouth. Within minutes my legs went completely numb. And I in tune again.
I was dizzy, couldn’t feel my legs, but at least felt alive. So much for sliver, I thought, and shivered. Distracted. It’s a good system, something, they got here, of protection. Everyone got to talking about the environment. Faded.