Randall’s work routinely invited employees and their partners on occasional trips somewhere in Scandinavia. The most memorable of these for me was to the dramatic beauty of the Lofoten Islands north of the Arctic Circle. It wasn’t, however, the dramatic beauty of those picturesque black blades of angry granite shooting out of the silver plate of sea that made the trip memorable. There was other drama awaiting us.
Before we board for the intended six hour hydrofoil ride from the mainland to the islands, a crew member with a cleft chin, missing teeth, and a closely cropped red beard announces casually that this will be a rough ride. North Sea. Midwinter. Choppy waters. Brace yourselves. Grimly, mechanically, the crew is moving about, battening down hatches, slamming doors shut, unbolting and then belting life jackets and life preservers.
Norwegians, for all their virtues, will not hear that any thing is supposedly rough or hard. Because, naturally, they are what’s rough, they are the thing that’s hardy. Everyone on board is elbowing the next person as if to say, “This chap said what? Ho-ho! Bring on rough.”
Oskar and Mette, our friends, are seated right behind us. While the engines rumble and the vessel jerks and crunches into position, these two are sharing snacks from their hand luggage, giggling, chortling. There are other friends of ours everywhere we look, too, lusty, hunky-dory travelers, who ignore the engine grinding into full ear-slamming throttle and the muffled crew member’s advice over the intercom: We’re heading out. Best to be seated. Waters are especially lively with the wind coming down from the northwest. We’ll be heading straight into it. Please sit down. Really.
So these Norwegians, not wanting to be told this might test their Norwegianness, reluctantly find their seats. A few guys are slapping backs and sniggering, rolling their eyes like high school seniors who’ve just been told by the squirrely substitute teacher to return to their seats and listen to the lecture like all the other nerds. They’re just about on their cushions when, in the space of 0.3 seconds, the vessel lurches from a perfect stand-still to mach speed and I’m slammed into the headrest, cheeks fluttering, gums exposed. A collective Whuuoooh rises like a wave from the passengers and out my little porthole to the left I see we’re slicing like a power saw through a deeply grooved and teethy horizon, gun metal razors spitting silver shavings every direction into the air.
With each hump of air we sail over, we’re airborne, a good half-foot above our seats. I’m whehing and aaahing and ooohing like everyone else, flopping wildly up and out of and slapping back down into my seat. At first this is so funny. We all move like synchronized swimmers, hair flying, limbs rubbery. It’s carnival time. But the roller coaster’s not ending like any predictable amusement park ride. It doesn’t let up at all, in fact. It gets worse. We’re strapped on the back of some rabid cosmic bronco, all hundred or so of us, being randomly whacked and thrashed until our jaws are unhinging, our heads on the verge of being snapped off.
The mood gets heavy. Only a weak laugh or two – Ha. Ho. Ha-ha. – just a couple of diehard one-liners from a log-throwing type back there in the corner. And then instantaneous and complete cricket chirp.
And the rhythmic slosh of ocean slapping metal.
Slosh. Whish. Whoosh. Slosh. Whish. Whoosh.
“Oh, Lord,” I hear Oskar mumble, “Make me pass out soon.”
And then the scene gets juicy. From the silent spaces between the whish-whooshes of the steely walls of our vessels cutting the steelier wall of ocean, someone hurls. Someone hurls in that hacking, open-throated, intensity that cracks the tomb and immediately fills the air with the raw sting of bile. We are quiet, so quiet, so deathly quiet, and the chopping of the water keeps mocking, kershlocking our insides.
I can ride this, like labor pains I can ride this, yes, and ride it through, ride it out, I can, I know I can, yes, ride this, riiiiide. But my whole interior feels whoosh-sloshed and my brain is whishing soupily in my skull. Someone grunts “I need air,” and a bunch of people follow his drunk-like tread out through the ship’s back door and to a small deck. Randall, who’s to my right sitting chipper and looking in the pink, nods to me, motioning that he’ll go around to see if anyone needs help. So like him to be impervious and pleasant, even when slamming and violently gyroscoping through the lowest bowels of Odin’s wrath.
Mette and Oskar are still behind me, groaning and grousing, and all at once Oskar, (who’s a big guy with friendly jowls and a thick neck), projectile vomits. Something damp lands on the back of my ear. “Oh, come on, Oskar. Do you have to be so loud?” Mette is still friendly though she chides him. After all, they are newlyweds. I happen to have sung at their wedding just a few months earlier, and therefore feel a certain investment in their marital bliss. Do you need a piece of gum, I would say? A Tic Tac? In other circumstances, yeah, but for now, forget it, I can’t as much as move my hand to open my bag to get them anything if I had it to offer help in the first place, but I do manage to turn halfway and wink, I believe, wink spritely while I feel an ochre-toned sludgeness glurping from my lower limbs up through my torso, spreading like rancid greenish pancake batter across my whole being, up, out, upward, outward toward my esophagus and tingling toward my trachea. My jaw goes totally slack. I schlurbble something bubbly from my lips toward Mette, caught as I am in that haf-winky-turn, unable to rotate my shoulders back toward my seat, afraid to move at all, and so I watch helplessly at Mette, whose got her hands wrapped around her head and her head between her knees and her knees drawn up to her chest, and is now rocking softly. Not a sound comes from her. And Oskar’s friendly jowls have gone Alfred Hitchcocky; they’ve melted into moroseness the shade of recycled cooking oil. Mette’s hair, I see, has been in the line of Oskar’s fire. But she’s oblivious. She will not yet lose patience with her puking new husband. For this moment, they’re doing splendidly.
So I turn away and pin myself to my porthole, begging inwardly for Oskar to at least keep his vomit within his own aisle.
The red-beareded crew member is striding by, casually doling out these tidy, pint-sized white bags. He’s just riding this Perfect Storm, this fellow, riding it like you ride a parade float on freshly spread asphalt. Cruisin’. He hands me a bag and I smile in thanks, but I sense my lips have been replaced by those from a horny toad and I’m coming undone, becoming amphibious. Focus, focus. Concentrate, concentrate. Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale. . .
Out my porthole is the horizon, so cruelly removed, so placid way out there, so unconcerned, conceited, so stuck up, that horizon. I drill my glare right into its line and start Lamaze breathing. I am becoming one with the horizon. It is in me. I, in it.
Is that Oskar softly crying?
My back is turned from the grisly scene where I know everyone’s hacking, groaning, buckled over and falling sideways into seats, legs slumped in all directions or curled into the fetal position. Someone’s spread eagle on the grimy Astroturf floor, her fur coat speckled with someone else’s (I assume Oskar’s?) fluids. More people are heading outside, trudging over the limbs of the vomit-coated victim in the middle of the floor. Each time the vessel takes air, she’s a couple of centimeters or more off the floor, and then comes thumping back down again limply. Barely a whimper.
I need to escape Oskar The Spewer, so I rise from my seat like an arthritic head of state, ready to address my executioners, eyes closed, shuffling blindly toward air. Along the vessel’s railing outside there’s a line up of rear ends above half-buckled knees. A couple of bodies are even on their knees, arms strung through the railing, grips loose or clenched, heads tucked into the chest.
Per Olav, tall, barrel-chested, normally gregarious enough to do rollicking Elvis impersonations at company dinners, stands in the middle of the crouching cluster where he’s letting out a low, sonorous Gregorian chant of a growl. His lips are chalky. His eyes are sunken and red. His pockets are bulging with crisp white vomit bags. Then in one movement his head’s in one of those bags he holds with two lifeless fingers, he’s convulsing twice, filling the bag, and then he throws the thing into the wake like a trucker throws his twelfth cigarette. “Jeg haaaaaater Lofoten!” (I hate Lofoten) he yells, a mucusy gurgle lubricating each vowel.
The woman next to him isn’t so well prepared and, with a half cry, vomits, too, but into thin air. Into thick air. The chunks and juice make a swirling, fireworks kind of pattern and drop on the chest of the pasty-looking man to her right. Neither she nor the man as much as flinches.
I return to the tangy interior and, eyes half closed, finger my way to my seat. Back in deep meditation, I’m in the most perilous mindset, feeling smug, convinced I might actually end up being one of the superior two or three übercreatures here who survives intact, without spilling or splitting my gut. I’m all calm, all peaceful now, and by sheer force of will I’m hummy-dumming something to my frontal lobe while my eyes, blinkless, channel the sea gods. A small circle of my forehead is melding with the cool, steady glass of my porthole window, and I see nothing, know nothing but the steady, perfect serenity of the horizon. I am that line. I am the line. I am a line. I am in line. Line. Line. Line.
Then the unthinkable happens. A tap-tap-tap on my shoulder. My teeth I grit so tightly I can’t speak, can’t respond, and though I do not want to turn – no, I can not turn, glued as my skull is to the glass – I’m chronically polite. I turn. The way people freshly set in neck braces turn, I turn. I tuuuuuurn my head while peeeeeeeling my eyes off my line. And here: Randall’s blue eyes. “So. . . how you doing?” he whispers sympathetically, leaning close to me. His tenderness undoes me.
That he’s able to rip out and open one of those white bags in time to catch the perfect upward arc of my vomit, remains to this day a moment of matrimonial wonder. And he never even winces when that eruption comes with the same sound and force you get when you rip a whole gymnasium’s carpet off of super adhesive on cement. He extends me a scented moist towelette.
Six virulently fetid hours later, the world stops beating us up, the sky settles down, the hydrofoil shudders into harbor. I smack my lips, drag my trembling fingers through my sweaty hair, and look around to see that every last one of us (but Randall) has just stepped out of the ring with The Destroyer. Folks have bruises and abrasions, clothes are torn and soiled, hair is plastered into gummy, geometric shapes, someone actually has a gash on his face and Anita, dear Anita, Randall’s assistant, has broken her ankle.
The huddled masses yearning to breathe free stagger into the linoleum-tiled entry port at Lofoten Islands. I am relieved to see Mette and Oskar limping together, even if the young husband is leaning heavily on the young wife, and the wife is looking with disgust in the other direction while handing husband his wadded sweatshirt, which he takes in one hand as if barely coming out of full anesthesia, and uses like a towel to wipe off the last drips of bile clinging to his chin.
© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.