A Storyby Gina Ochsner
Eivind Hess walked quickly, gripping the handles of his valise. Down the street a battered blue Volvo labored up a small hill. As the car cleared the rise it belched with triumph and a black jet of exhaust chuffed from the tailpipe, hovered, then disappeared in the lowering cloud of four o’clock dusk and fog. Five dark shapes, dogs, loped after the car. Dogs—as far as the eye could see—dogs. Good God! Hess had no idea a town as inhospitable as Tromso could have so many dogs. They traveled in pairs and in packs, baying and barking, driving the neighborhood cats before them. Few, if any, of the dogs wore collars or tags, and there was something in their eyes that suggested they had never been domesticated, or if they had, they knew better now.
A large black dog emerged from the fog and followed Hess down the length of the street. Hess turned on his heels, waved his arms, and shouted, but the dog merely sat on its haunches, silently regarding him. Hess gripped the handle of his valise and picked up his pace. It was late October. The light had tipped sideways for the season and people were already eating their potatoes with the skins on. In two weeks Hess knew the sun would disappear altogether and darkness thick as liver would consume the sky.
When he reached the three-story house at the end of the street, Hess stopped, opened his valise, and checked the address. Dr. Karl Hovde’s house. As boys he and Hovde had skipped rocks together past the spit, had gotten whipped together at Sunday school for asking existential questions. But how things had changed: Hovde the dean of academic affairs and living in such a fine house—so tall it looked like a long finger pointed at God. And Hess still a lecturer and researcher after all these years. Well, he had never wanted much, was happy enough to imagine himself spending his whole life in search of a stone, of a cloud, of the answer to an answer. It was why he’d gotten those daydreamer’s beatings in the first place.
Hess climbed the steps to the house and knocked on the heavy wooden door and waited. The dog followed Hess up the steps and lifted a leg, squirting the wrought-iron railing. The front door swung open, whining on its hinges. At the threshold stood Saskia, the town beauty, an oily smile on her mouth. A long purple scar began at the point of her collarbone and disappeared into the bodice of a red evening gown, the kind with rows of pearls sewn up and down the length, and her small breasts rode high on her chest. But her shoes! Hess couldn’t quite figure them out; underneath her evening gown she wore white sports shoes, the kind the kids in Trondheim were breaking each other’s noses over.
“Oh, come in! Do!” Saskia opened the door a bit wider to let Hess through.
Hess could hear a man down the hall in the kitchen, apparently speaking to someone on the phone, scolding: “Well, obviously you didn’t let the rhubarb sit properly! In the bowl, stupid, you must sugar the stalks and let them weep for at least half an hour.”