A Disagreement In Bergen

August 1990

Both now tired, you and your bride of thirty years, just this week, waddle down a steep grade, along the crooked streets that zig-zag Fløyen. You lick your lips, tasting of the sea salt mixed with the drizzle, while waiting for her next remark. You don’t have to wait long.

“I told you we wouldn’t have the stamina to make the climb.” She walks ahead, annoyed, not wanting to look at you. “We should have waited for the tram.”

“We still can.” You wish you could be patient, but time is running out. “The first lift is in less than an hour.”

“Forget it. I need to get out of these wet clothes.”

You look toward the city below, at the boats resting peacefully in the grayness of the bay and the stilted colors of old shops lined along the wharf. It feels like your home away from home, you wish. You spot the place where you ate supper the evening before, under the setting sun. She struggled through her lobster, while you washed down the taste of overcooked reindeer steak with a bitter port you imagined was the dregs straight from the hull of a nearby fishing boat. You decided it was all good anyway.

Back at the Park Pension Hotel, after she bathes, you decide on a hot shower, to sooth your aching joints. The scalding water makes the cramped stall feel that much more confined. As you step out, you wipe off the fog-glassed pictures on the white walls depicting boats navigating the North Atlantic. Suddenly, there’s enough elbow room for seafarer and landlubber alike. But so much water now. You need to piss as you towel off. Once again, it burns and you see traces of blood. That can’t be good, but you choose to ignore. After all, life is full of flames.

It’s early afternoon before the sun appears. It’s getting warm, as you and she linger, seated on a bench, near the fountain in the city centre, people watching, as you wait for the time to board a guided tour by boat through the fjords. You’ve waited forever, all your life, with anticipation, to be closer, surrounded by the swaddling embrace of the Motherland.

You spot a young man with thick brown hair and a dark beard, carrying a travel-worn backpack. He looks like some character out of a wilderness novel. You recall your youth. Your choices. Your doubts. And how it’s too late for you.

“I don’t feel well.” She stands up now, waiting for you. “I’m going back to the hotel.”

You feel a welling of aggravation. “I’m still going.”

“Not without me. Don’t be such a child. You can wait another day. Now go reschedule.”

I won’t, you tell yourself. Not this time. The words grow louder, as you shout at the inner-you that is running out of time. I’m going with or without you. I’m boarding that boat and, I swear to God, I’m getting off somewhere up the coastline and you’ll never see me again.

You walk back to the ticket booth and request a change in departure time. Everyone is agreeable. Well, almost everyone. You walk back to the hotel, the long way, through narrow, old streets. As you walk slowly, you can feel the weight of the city’s centuries’ old fires, of its deaths and rebirths. There’s a fire inside you as well. It can’t be extinguished, as it has spread to far too many fronts. But you know it will end when you end. You want to burn and to burn out the way you want. Defeated, you stare down at the cobblestone, hopelessly realizing how few are able to decide such a thing.

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