FIND HER; KEEP HER
SINGH & NORMANN
Love is not an easy thing to understand; not for a little girl. Sometimes love is sitting in Daddy’s lap reading a story. Other times it is lying down outside on the grass to listen to the birds sing. Daddy says nature’s love comes from God.
Love can be dark too; during the daytime it is dark and bad. This is love as well. How she longs for afternoon’s love when she is safe with Daddy. She wants to tell Daddy about the other love but she knows something bad will happen if she does. Nothing bad must happen to Daddy because then everything would be like love in the day and she would die same as Hansen’s dog that was run over by the dustbin lorry. When she told Daddy about the bad dreams he said she should forget them. Just to think about nice things and they would make the bad dreams go away.
She really tried to.
The lights from Haugesund are too far away to reach the outer parts of Kvalsvik bay. Outside the town the coastline is wild and untamed, with no Sunday sun and sandy beaches to soften the bleakness.
The countless number of coves and inlets are invisible until you fall into them. No houses stand this close to the edge of the water, the weather is too rough and the city council finds no reason to confuse the shipping traffic with more lighting. There are no trees here, only heathery plateaux with pockets of green grass and pink gillyflowers.
This is where everyone likes to go swimming during the summer. The innermost cove is the quietest and most sheltered with a small pier and a water slide built by the council many years ago. During the rest of the year, the area is playground to seagulls, adventurous adolescents at the height of puberty and anonymous boats carrying highly unregistered cargo.
He drove to the end of the road and parked the car at a spot, isolated now, but where in the past people had got together for midsummer feasts at a time when people still got together for such things. He could still remember from boyhood the smell of charcoaled hotdogs, the flames of the huge bonfire built from driftwood that smelled of sweet burning saltwater, the ever-present rain that made the fire crackle, the laughter and dancing, the sour sweet taste of lager… his mother’s voice. But that was long ago and lost in time now.
He got out of the car, opened the boot and lifted the bundle out. It wasn’t heavy, only sixty or seventy pounds. He hadn’t been here for many years but it looked the same. The walk ahead of him was long and there were several fences to climb. Someone had been thoughtful enough to build steps over the fences, which were still intact.
Hoisting the bundle over his shoulder he started down the path towards the sea.
Though a slight mist was coming up, the light from the lighthouse playing with the shadows from the sea and sky intermittently showed where he was going. The terrain made it difficult to hold the bundle on his shoulder, his feet got soaked yet he kept up a brisk pace towards the Nazi bunkers down by the water.
He knew the entire coastline was peppered with leftover bunkers; the Nazis had found it as difficult to police the waters as the authorities did today. Then it was guns and refugees, now the boats were smuggling drugs and hard liquor, tobacco and illegal immigrants.
The entrance to the bunker loomed pitch black, low and narrow. Local superstition claimed that the ghosts of German soldiers haunted the tunnels and at least three generations of Haugesund youth had risen to the challenge, daring each other to crawl through the narrow entrances.
He tightened the grip on his bundle, and with the other hand turned on his torch.
The smooth walls worked as an archive for profanities scribbled by local kids for the last fifty years. When they had ran out of words, crude drawings had taken their place. He walked hunchbacked through the corridor ignoring the network of connecting halls and room until it opened out into a semi-circular room. The beam from the lighthouse shone in through the narrow firing holes where Wehrmacht soldiers had once waited, aiming their guns at the British battleships that never came.
He laid the bundle down on the floor and opened the blanket. The sleeping pills he had given the girl were strong. Her eyes were still closed, her red hair clinging to the sweat on her brow. He noticed her nose was runny and he hoped he wouldn’t catch her cold. He extricated the little sketchbook that he carried in his coat pocket, then took off his coat and folded it into a pillow for her.
He made his preparations with meticulous care. He needed the girl to be awake, and she should be surfacing any minute now. He undressed her and noticed the goose bumps on her delicate skin as the cold air wrapped itself around her body.
The sight of her skin excited him. He undressed himself and lay down next to her, caressing her with his warm fingers. Waiting for her to wake up.
The singing from the trees weakened, becoming more like a breath through the treetops, then grew stronger as the wind picked up. The song contained no words only sounds that almost but never quite resembled words. The wind grew into a howl; the Storm Creator was coming.
She heard him approaching and her throat tightened. The words from the trees became almost clear enough to understand. Then the Storm Creator’s wings muffled the song and Andrea could hardly breathe any more. And then the wings choked the song and devoured the trees.
Andrea sat up pulling the blanket to her chin while streams of icy sweat ran down her body. Her breath was stuck on short, hard gasps. The curtains flapped back and forth, letting in waves of cold air. She pressed her head into her knees and forced herself to breathe normally until her heartbeat calmed and the trembling stopped.
Only then did she get up and throw the blanket on the floor. It was useless now anyway.
The bathroom was just big enough to contain a sink, a toilet and a small shower. She ran the cold water faucet and put her wrists under the flow, letting it splash onto her face and neck. Her eyes looked dark in the mirror, the pupils dilated so much the colour of her eyes disappeared.
‘Never eat tacos before going to bed,’ she mumbled.
The shadows in her face contrasted with her pale skin. Her freckles alone were unchanged, glowing against her skin while her damp hair was glued to her skull.
She pulled a face at the mirror and looked over at the clock. Four thirty. There was no point in returning to bed, she wouldn’t fall asleep again anyway. She had learned to accept nightmares as a part of life. She could do nothing about them, although acceptance wasn’t much of an alternative either.
She thought about it while she stood in the shower, letting the water run over her, grateful for the soap washing away the bitter taste of fear in her mouth. The nightmare was always the same. No variations, no surprises. The trees tried to save her with their song before the Storm Creator arrived.
‘Just stay awake.’
She laughed at her own anxiety. Harley used to tease her about saying everything aloud. ‘It sounds as if you don’t have anyone else to talk to,’ he said. If only he knew how right he was, she thought to herself and laughed again. The laughter was crisp and shaky, but it helped to think about something else.
She wrapped herself in a large towel and dried her hair with another. She put on make-up and in no time her cheeks were rosy and the dark shadows under her eyes were gone. Her hair curled as it dried and her eyes regained their original green. She smiled into the mirror and blew herself a kiss, leaving the gloom behind.
‘Thank God for make-up,’ she said to herself as she put on her ‘uniform,’ loose pants, a silk blouse, and jacket; all in shades of grey.
She went into the kitchen and sat down at the table, poured herself a glass of orange juice and turned on the radio. The little room boomed with ‘Hit the road, Jack.’ She lit a cigarette and stretched joints and knuckles, popping and cracking like small fireworks. She thought about home.
Mama was dead and nothing could change that. But Papa Paco was alive and she missed him so much it hurt. When she was little he always knew the best ways to help her get through the nightmares; singing children’s songs in the world’s most out of tune baritone voice for as long as it took to get rid of the Storm Creator.
‘Stop feeling sorry for yourself,’ she said aloud. She stubbed out her cigarette, emptied the ashtray in the bin and carried the bag outside. Then she came back, rinsed the glass and set it upside down on the counter, went out to the hall again, put her coat on, hung her scarf around her neck and ended with a woollen cap. There. She was ready.
She took one last look in the hall mirror, scrutinizing her appearance. No signs of the nightmare. She looked like a professional, confident, elegant and with the right amount of efficiency and distance. The invisible woman; the grey eminence which was perfect since she wanted to be invisible; to walk unnoticed in the real world, among the real people. To be remembered by name rather than face. Perfect.
Andrea picked up her sketchbook last. This was why she was in Norway, to make a living working with what she loved most. She was close; at least she was working in the proper field. It had taken a long time to get where she was. Sheer will power and stubbornness got her to this place and would take her even further. ‘And no ridiculous nightmare is going to stop me!’ She knocked her hand against the mirror to emphasise the words and went out to face the new day.