Illustration: Somnath Bhatt.

T was sitting on a tall wooden stool in the kitchen and the kitchen was made of wood and the tea he drank was lemon from Russian teaware that came from China and he ate dark chocolate, the bitter kind, while reading the paper. Ben Lerner was on the front page of a literary magazine, hiding most of T’s face and the spread he held open with sticky fingers showed Teju Cole walking the streets of Oslo with a tall journalist. The radio was on, T sang along to an ’80s song. She was watching him. The day was in the afternoon. The rain was pouring down hard but still there was a little open patch of sky somewhere further back, closer to the horizon. You could see it from T’s kitchen window.

T is an author, well-known at home in Bergen, but mostly unknown outside of home and outside of Norway. All during her five-day trip she would try not to think about how T was eleven years younger than her deceased father. And anyway, she wasn’t here to think about her father, she wasn’t here to think about anything at all.

*

Earlier today they had walked around together in a steady, lukewarm rain. The newness of summer was slowly fading and with the changing of the season it was possible to feel that something different would begin.

First, they rode on bicycles down a hill, down a hill, around, then down another hill. Once they got closer to the city center, they stepped off of their bikes and walked through narrow streets with hands firmly on the steering wheels. It started raining. She wore a trench coat that didn’t have a hoodie. She contemplated taking an umbrella out of her bag but wasn’t sure how she would balance it in one hand, with the bike in the other. She wobbled in her movements as if she hadn’t ridden a bike in years and the rain fell harder. The persistent downpour forced her to figure out how to balance and move forward at the same time. T didn’t have these worries, his raincoat protected all of him. The writer was from this place.

T took her around and around the city and it felt funny to call Bergen a city since you often saw the same people twice in one day but there was beauty to be found: in the water that embraced the city, like the center of a bowl, and there was beauty in how it showered down, steadily practically every day. Can you drown from too much rain? she asked like she was struggling, and the writer smiled.

T pointed at buildings where he had lived at some points in his life or where his parents had lived or where his grandparents had worked and she thought of how she had never known anyone who had had such a long history with a city and still never been disappointed enough by the place that leaving felt necessary.

As they walked with their bikes, more than ten people must have greeted them along the way. Some of these people stopped, all of them smiled and a couple of them touched T’s arm at the same time as they smiled. His broad body loosened up in their leisurely stroll as if he was pleased with the confirmation of others. The writer ooed and ahhed at the shared performance of greeting others. These people were old, and they were young and what mattered was that everyone recognized each other, everyone felt seen and because they were kind and knew T they saw her too. She shook their hands, offered them her name, and felt damper than these Bergeners, more observed than anyone else. They nodded acceptingly to the sound of her name like it was a word they had known from before, a character they had read about in one of his books, a lover they had met the week earlier or a step-daughter they had heard rumors of.

After the familiar faces said their hellos and goodbyes, T guided her and their bikes to a side street and showed her his favorite café, which was next to an art gallery. After they drank their coffees, they scrutinized the art on the walls, pointing and appreciating, smiling and sometimes laughing. The bicycles waited outside, leaning on each other and together they leaned on a lamppost. Afterwards, the bikes took them to the store where they bought groceries from a small place near a soccer field. Many of the items they purchased from the store were white or yellow, like cucumbers and cheese. It was T who opened his wallet in front of the blonde cashier girl and used coins to pay.

On their bike ride home, the groceries hung from each of the handlebars and swayed heavily in white plastic bags. She struggled making her way forward and hoped that T wouldn’t notice.

When they rolled up to his house, they wanted to put the food away before it started melting but began cleaning out the fridge instead. There wasn’t a discussion about it.

There was butter everywhere.

She tried to wipe one shelf clean with a paper towel because it was covered in yellow grease and when T noticed what she was doing, he started taking items out that were also coated in butter. She continued wiping the insides of the fridge, tearing a new sheet off the roll as soon as the previous one was filled with melted gunk, and moved down to other shelves, pulling out the two boxes at the bottom that are usually used for storing vegetables. Butter had flowed to the back of the boxes and all the way down the back wall, it had melted and solidified into a miniature butterfall, all the way to the bent corners of the fridge, and took some crumbs along with it.

The two of them moved in the kitchen without talking but knew what the other one was doing or would do next, as if they had been married for years, or as if the college-bound daughter was home for the semester, visiting her single father. Or as if they, she and T, cleaned the kitchen after having shopped groceries.

After they were done and they squeezed clean water out of sponges and kitchen towels, she said that it was as if T had been given a brand-new fridge. Again, the writer smiled. T grabbed her by the arm and said dramatically but truthfully This is what happens when you live alone and the man went to light a cigarette.

As she was finishing up and wiped her hands clean from anything oily, she invited the thought: what if she moved in and lived in this dusty house with T, the writer, and kept his house clean as he wrote his final books and watched him die a fairly painful death because of the cigarettes and left him to hopefully fall asleep and stay peacefully dead in his bed while she inherited the house and took over writing at his desk and kept watching the water right outside, until books were written and she died of old age or loneliness.

Whenever he grabbed her as he spoke, she wondered if the man scared himself and needed an arm as a railing to hold on to.

T lit another cigarette and she fell out of love with him. When he sat down, she asked him what he meant by what he had just said and he explained You stop seeing things and got up from his stool. He pretended to walk into things, counters and corners, and intentionally hit the lights by the kitchen door so, woops it was harder to see except for the cigarette glowing in his mouth, and his stumbling, foolish movements made her laugh and say Well that’s OK too, no?

They smiled facing each other.

*

She had started out the day by going for a run before the sun had come up and ran the same road up the hill as she ran down it to avoid getting lost. She found her way back to T’s house just when it started to rain. It was a persistent rain but it wasn’t waking him up. She heard the writer snore when she passed the room he slept in. It was tightly nestled in between the guest room where she was staying for the week and the shower, making their time together (whether awake or asleep) intimate despite the idea of walls.

She pulled off her damp running clothes in the bathroom and let them hang from the side of the sink. Stepping into the shower and after turning the only knob on the wall, she almost burned herself from the hot water. Moving quickly under the water, she cursed the writer and his decrepit house.

Once she dried her steamy body, she softened up at the sight of some water-stained postcards that leaned against the tiles on shelves and on the floor. Turning them over, they revealed her childish but small handwriting. Necklaces hung from the corner of a mirror and rings rested next to a wet soap bar. The jewelry made her wonder if she would end up meeting the young woman who was usually decorated with these pieces.

These days, when she looked in the mirror, she barely noticed the difference from a time before to a time now, how the teeth in her mouth weren’t original but a second set. She saw herself as a long story she didn’t feel like telling.

Covered in a towel, she passed his room again. T was still snoring so he wouldn’t catch her in a state of undress.

After getting dressed, she went downstairs to write but instead started reading from a book picked from one of his shelves. A minute later she felt the morning chill of the house. She pulled at a wool blanket that was folded over a chair and covered herself with it on the couch. Her body continued to stay cool but still she dozed off.

While she was in between sleep and lying on T’s couch in the living room, the writer came down the stairs. He let out a gentle Good morning and planted a big kiss on her face, where cheek and neck meet, and squeezed her in the blanket cocoon. T sat down next to her on the couch, there was just enough room. She told him about her run and he told her that he had had one last smoke last night before retreating to bed.

During breakfast, T quoted Malcolm Lowry.

I’d rather choose hell said T. They were talking about relationships and about writing.

In his kitchen, he got flustered when she said that Knausgaard gained pop star fame because of his good looks. I mean, just wait until they start writing articles about his hands. Have you noticed his hands? She was trying to be blunt to provoke him. T batted her off like a fruit fly.

He then proceeded to upset himself when he admitted that he can never write back to his readers. Well, you responded to me, she said, trying to make him feel better. T didn’t apologize but he still couldn’t feel comfortable having just said this to her (a visitor, a reader) and the man mumbled and fidgeted in front of her. It was hard to know how to handle him in this state.

She had arrived late last night, and he had met her at the airport and together they took a cab ride to his house, which rested on one of the hills north of the city. The car drove up hill after hill and she saw the water glitter from the light of the surrounding buildings. The taxi fare crept to an astronomical figure but T insisted on paying.

*

The man lived in a row house. It was grimy, creaky and smelled of old flower water, and when she walked through the door she asked herself What have I gotten myself into, what if he would try to have sex with her and what if she wouldn’t want that and what if he would light a cigarette for her and she would be too drunk to turn it down—she wouldn’t know where to go if she had to get out of his house (do you run and scream and hope that a kind Norwegian helps out?)—there wasn’t even an animal around to distract them from possible silences in between conversations.

T showed her the room that would be hers for the length of her stay. It had a view over the water and the city and after she put down her bags, he gave her a glass of red wine and some cheese that had some butter on its wrapping. T explained his clumsiness, how some butter had melted in his fridge during one hot summer night when he had lost power for a couple of hours and as he was explaining himself, she looked more closely at his things and saw under a coating of dust that there was immense love in everything that he owned. The man had a way of laying things out, covering tables with books facing up, collecting so many different faces staring up at you. And there were little neat piles here and there of notes, cards, stones that would fit into most open palms, a feather from a small bird, or remnants from the sea.

The sight of these calmed her.

*

Before they went to bed in separate rooms T showed her the basement, that’s where he wrote most days. He told her that when she was still alive, his mother spent all her days in the basement, sewing and smoking cigarettes. Now he was sitting here many hours each day, smoking and writing. He had all of the books by Marguerite Duras on the table tops. Old lamps and the walls covering the room were yellow. There wasn’t any natural sunlight down here but again she looked at all of his belongings like a thief. She had this idea that they contained history or meaning.

Coming back up the stairs from the basement, they took their wine glasses to the patio that faced the water and he lit a cigarette and the light from his match couldn’t compete with the light of the full moon that hung above them. Everything smelled wet and clean because it had rained earlier in the day. The water glittered from the city’s night lights. In between gulps of wine, he gave her Lisa Robertson’s book R’s Boat and she flipped through it and funnily enough opened the book to a line in a section called Utopia that went Any girl who reads is already a lost girl and after she read it to herself she read it out loud to him and together they went AHH and laughed and cheers to that and they drank unabashedly. After swallowing, T asked: So, what are you going to do? As if your life is something you hold in your hands, like a bird you’ve caught (to no one’s biggest surprise but to yourself) and you must do something with it otherwise it will escape, it will blow up in your face or drip through your fingers and run down your elbows, moving selfishly away from you like butter.

She swallowed and took another gulp from her red wine.

I mean, you’re welcome to stay for as long as you like. T drank while he kept his eyes on her. Think of this place as a writer’s retreat.

She watched the water, looked up at the moon next, and then back at the water that reflected the moon and said that she’d like to call it a night.

All right.

T stayed and lit another cigarette.

*

On a new day, she woke up early and went downstairs to the living room that faced the water. She positioned herself in the couch with the wool blanket and a book as the early morning thoughts drifted through her mind and in the stillness, she almost dozed off by the time T came downstairs. They went to sit in the kitchen again on his high wooden stools and made toast. They ate the toast with cheese, cucumbers, and drank coffee, both of them taking it black. They talked about love and writing and publishing houses and how his daughter (so it was her jewelry?) wanted him to find someone who either didn’t want to have children (Sophie Calle walked around with a pin when he last saw her that said “I don’t want to have children”) or someone who already had a child and didn’t want another one and she (not his daughter or Sophie Calle) encouraged him to believe that it would be possible to find love again, even at his age, even though she didn’t really believe what she said and felt stupid for forcing herself to say it but T confidently said that he had had enough. It’s enough for me. He will always live alone. Then the writer went into the other room and took his time coming back with a book in his hands. He showed her a dirty poem by Lee Ann Brown and they went back to laughing like old friends laugh, wholeheartedly.

*

After breakfast, they put on their gear, mainly rain clothes, and T asked her to try on some jackets that seemed rubbery but they were too big on her and they joked about how his publishing house could fit in there, under her coat. He ended up finding her a jacket that wasn’t too big and they both looked at her in it with the feeling that the item may have been his daughter’s or his daughter’s mother, obviously during a time when the woman was still alive.

They moved on without her keeping the jacket and left the house.

A neighbor’s dog, a tall short-haired pup called Leon Pilot joined them—and it started raining, but it didn’t make them hesitate. On the way to the trail they met a white-haired man T’s age who held a large empty Coke bottle next to a trailer park. Looks like it was his dwelling place and the men knew each other and they talked and she half-listened while holding the leash to Leon Pilot. Then T said Be well to the man and to her he said—as they were walking away—that the man with the trailer had once been a good artist, a very talented artist until his wife had died. She waited for him to continue the story and maybe explain the empty Coke bottle but he didn’t.

When they reached the path, T unhooked the leash on Leon Pilot. For the next steady three hours, they walked up the mountain and it was raining on and off, sometimes hard like bullets, but they weren’t cold and agreed that they enjoyed the sounds that the water made through the trees and together with the wind. At one point, after walking up and up and higher for a long time they had to cross some water. Looks like it had rained so much earlier in the week that the water flooded one section of the trail and they had to figure out how to cross. T said he would carry the dog over the water and he did but she went first to be able to turn around and grab the dog at the other end. She got over the treacherous section with one jump to a smoother side but that’s where her balance slid too far back in her heels and she slipped and tried to cling to a tall wet rock but there was barely anything to hold onto. She kept sliding down, getting closer to the water that gushed from being overflowed and the dog came closer, worrying and wanting to protect her but couldn’t do anything but sniff the ground. She didn’t know where to put her feet. T came and put his hands out, inviting her to use them as stepping-stones. It worked. Like a tall giraffe on a big slippery rock, sliding outwards with all of her legs, she embarrassingly picked herself back up again. The incident was thankfully over faster than she could reflect on her missteps and they continued and sometimes they talked but mostly they didn’t and this was very much OK for both of them.

At some point the rain hit them harder again, which made it difficult to see where they were going or where they should step so T said Let’s stand under this tree until the rain slows down and they did and he searched for sticks for the dog to grab and run away with.

T and Leon Pilot began chasing each other under a set of five trees and she watched the males, moving beautifully around in the green moss, like a pair of best friends. They danced like this was a trek they conducted regularly and this was where they rested when they wanted to rest or play when they wanted to play. She stood and watched and smiled. She was relieved that she wasn’t cold from all the water. The rain came down in a way you think it might never end, and this endless feeling was like a sound that surrounded them.

At one point, she caught T putting a stick in his mouth when the dog was holding on the other end of it with its teeth and it was hard to tell the beast from the animal but she wasn’t frightened.

*

Back at his house, once they were all warm and dry again, T put on a song by Håkan Hellström in the kitchen because he said one of Håkan’s songs was in his head and T sang along and appeared happy. Känn ingen sorg för mig, Göteborg!

She was making them tea. Have no sorrow for me, Gothenburg!

Then he put on Tomas Andersson Wijk and he sang to her Livet vill mig inget ont. He repeated with closed eyes Life wants me no harm. With the song still oozing in the background and Leon Pilot dozing off in a corner, he asked her So, what do you do back there in the big cityAre you writing?

Sure, she kind of lied. I’m writing, she told him while she steeped her tea bag in and out of the water-filled cup. The tea bag had drenched through and through, she wasn’t sure what else there was to say.

The truth was, it had taken her a long time for all her holes to heal. Those months were not like a cheesy film montage where you saw the heroine collect herself in various ways to be strong and confident again, doing anything and everything to re-attract the opposite sex for the movie to have its happy ending. The man usually cleans out his apartment and starts caring for an animal or a neglected niece. With women, it’s usually long walks along bridges and painting walls, taking up meditation or running. They cut their hair and eat plant-based meals. Sometimes they start their own business or apply for that dream job.

She was quiet for days and quietly neglected to return to her simple office job. The stillness was there mainly because the tears in her mouth and vagina needed time to close itself back into their normal state. In her days of healing there wasn’t much she wanted to say to the world. It was still hard to know what to say.

T continued the conversation. I always liked what you sent me.

She did something with her mouth but didn’t say anything. She moved her shoulders, smiled gently, and took another bite of her sandwich. She hoped that all of her gestures gave an impression of making some kind of sense.

Particularly the pieces about your father being a famous writer. And the teacher who was in love with you. You know how to describe how pitiful men are.

She drank her tea and T went back to singing in Swedish.

After a nap in separate rooms the writer came downstairs and sat down next to her in the sofa and they had both been so sleepy that their half embrace felt like they had just woken up next to each other. It was late in the afternoon. Leon Pilot had been returned to his owner next door.

Did he ever hurt you? T asked her in a whisper and she became too self-aware of her body, how it was so close to him and his genitals, as if she was lying next to her father and shouldn’t be lying so close to another man.

He waited a beat and when she didn’t say anything he went ahead and quoted her, said that it meant something to him when she once wrote to him on a postcard that All I want is to love and to be loved and they asked each other why it had to be so difficult or did they just agree that perhaps it was not possible?

She wasn’t sure but this was OK.

It was time for them to drink.

*

The next day, she woke up late because she was hungover from last night’s dinner but it was still only 9 a.m. and it seemed like T usually slept until 11 a.m. Looks like she woke him up when she started taking out the clean dishes from the dishwasher.

He came downstairs in a white cotton nightshirt, resembling a preacher or a hippie. For some reason it was harder to talk this morning, maybe because they both had plenty to drink the night before but this time he put the radio on and made fewer jokes. They talked about the hike they wanted to take and since the day was already midway in the making they changed clothes and packed up their things to make a move. No quoting dead or living poets this morning.

*

After a couple of trial and errors on how to get where they wanted to get to, they started their walk and they walked for five hours straight. During many of these hours they didn’t say anything to each other. First, they walked up and up and up and then straight and straight and straighter and then up a little more and then just down down down. So many stones, so many steps on stones that thoughts disappeared into the distant background. The only thing that was of importance was to keep a look out for the next step the opposite foot had to take and to repeat this process. And repeat this process. It didn’t rain but because it had rained earlier (in Bergen, if it wasn’t raining it had rained earlier) her feet got wet after three hours but she continued because by the time she felt the water through her socks there was no turning back and the wind blurred so many fears and anxieties away and they made jokes and said hello to the few people who passed them by. Once they reached their destination (Ulriken) they hugged and tried not to kiss or maybe he tried to kiss her, she couldn’t tell because she just wasn’t sure which side to put her cheek against his and so they did this weird face dance where they switched cheeks three times before landing their hug. The back of her ears and the front of her neck flushed with blood. She tried to soften her face but made some twisted expression. What was she doing here on this mountain with this man, this writer who last year had been given an award for having written the worst sex scene in a book?

In the early days of when she still felt wounded in her mouth and in between her legs, she carried herself like all men were scum, but spending all this time running away from the obvious things meant that she forgot to grant herself permission to run towards herself and see where it would take her. Right now, she had taken herself up to the top of a mountain in Norway.

*

The next day, they both slept in because they had been so sore from the hike the day before and once they woke, they agreed that they had slept like a good deep dream and laughed and she told him I dreamt that I blew out a candle on your kitchen table, and to him this sounded like poetry.

That evening, they made salmon and pasta with a thick creamy sauce and laughed about how much butter they had been eating together during her stay and they drank red wine with their food and got so full that they didn’t have enough energy for dessert and she sat down for a little while to read or write, because the evening was still young, and T went outside to have a cigarette.

Coming back some minutes later, he started explaining things to her as if he didn’t want her to sit and be by herself. Eventually she closed her computer or her book and let him talk. She nodded in agreement when he moved to fill her glass with wine and they talked about adultery, love and sex, and he told her the story of when Sophie Calle proposed to him and neither of them could really understand how it was possible to have a sexual relationship with more than one person at a time but they both could say that they knew people who did know how and he told her that the last woman he had been with was also sleeping with two other men and she asked him how old this woman was and he said she had been twenty-five and she thought to herself Of course.

So, it’s her jewelry.

He probably would have wanted to kiss her if she had moved towards one.

She knew this because of the way he laughed into his glass of wine and quoted singers who were much younger than him and she didn’t do anything when he did this, just listened and watched him.

She asked him what time it was and whatever time he would say she would move towards indicating that it was time for her to retreat to bed. Her hug to him was kind but quick. She went upstairs with a glass of cold water and that’s how their third night ended. Right before she had retreated to bed, he had asked her who was waiting for her back home and she hid her answer in a last gulp of wine.

*

Today they skipped preparing breakfast because T suggested they would eat in the city. She went to wash her face, put on a pair of jeans, a T-shirt and her trench coat and they both agreed that today would be a sunny day so they could even wear their sunglasses. T wore a white T-shirt and gray sweatpants with legs tucked into a pair of rubber boots. They jumped on their bicycles as if this was something they did together each Monday morning and casually rolled down to town. Her feet dangled next to the pedals and she kept her legs straight when the bike was heading down the hill. This looked like a freeing feeling.

T showed her his other favorite café in the city center and they bought coffee and fresh sandwiches and planted themselves down by the window to watch the morning crowd walk by. They talked about how people walked and tried to guess what kinds they were based on their movements and it was liberating for both of them to be observers instead of participants. T told her that every day he would keep his eyes out for a man who would walk by the café at the exact same time and this man had quite the funny walk. It was starting to become a pattern for the writer to say Every day I come to this place or This is my favorite poet of all time or She is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen and he would say this to many places and to many poets and about many women and she let herself believe him every single time. It didn’t matter which one was his very every day or which one was his very favorite, or his most beautiful. Together they talked about prose versus poetry and money versus love and agreed they preferred poetry over prose and love over money.

Afterward, they rode their bikes through the old part of town and T pointed at more buildings and showed her expensive stores with expensive rainwear and she was tempted to buy a new coat just to be decadent but she didn’t.

T asked if they could bike down to the bathhouse and she said Of course and so they did.

When they arrived to the right neighborhood, they jumped off their bicycles and walked the rest of the way, swirling on narrower streets that were cobbled and lined with rose bushes, and coming out around a corner T pointed at an old wooden house and said This is where we will live and she said Yes, we will live here and he smiled widely with both hands on the steering wheel.

The bathhouse appeared around a corner at the same time as the sun came out and suddenly it felt like a hot summer’s day, not an early autumn afternoon and she got warm and took off her trench coat and showed her bare arms and he handed over dark chocolate wrapped in silver foil for her to eat while he changed into his swim trunks. For some reason, it didn’t surprise her that T always walked or biked wearing the right clothes in Bergen.

The sun shined on her face and on her arms while T was in the water. Chocolate melted in her mouth and on the fingers that held the now soft broken piece. In the water, T’s lips were turning a pale shade of purple, but the man didn’t seem to mind. The sun was retreating behind clouds again.

*

When they came back to the house, they unpacked food they had just bought, and made warm cheese sandwiches and drank black tea with small slices of lemon that somehow had butter on them. Evening was coming. T told her that he wanted to make an anthology with contemporary American authors and showed her a Swedish anthology that introduced translated French poets. The book was a new treat for them to share. After their afternoon meal, the sun came out again. She sat down in the living room to write on the couch and he went outside to the backyard to stare at the sun with closed eyes and a cigarette in his mouth. It burned slowly and the writer fell asleep quickly.

Seeing T snooze peacefully, she wondered if she should go and kiss him in the sun and taste the menthol cigarette cloud on his breath and she liked this urge because it was a sober one. She wouldn’t have been able to blame it on anything but her own instinct, perhaps the first one she had had in a while. He was handsome and alive in the sun. She wanted to kiss him because he sang everywhere he went and jumped and leaped and ran up hills and smoked and drank and rode his bike when he felt sad. He did this to feel better, Mister Smoke, Mister Lust for Life.

Maybe in her thinking, she was getting a piece of herself back, a piece she had forgotten about for a long time, a piece that yearned for someone to care for her like a mother, but who took the shape of a father.

She let the man gently snore outside on his bench in the back yard and she let herself dose off too with her body lying on the sofa in the living room that was also covered in afternoon sunlight.

*

That evening, when T said that he would have no more books in him except for The Year and The Last Book, she started to gently cry. It seemed like he didn’t notice but it didn’t matter. She didn’t want to accept his words when he said that he only had ten years left in him and wanted to die the same age as his mother (sixty-three).

You should die the age of your father (eighty-four) but he didn’t believe that this was possible because of his drinking and his smoking and his walking and his jumping. My heart will cave he said and repeated to her, but this meant he was released from falling in love because he knew that he didn’t have anything to give (if he only had ten years) and hearing this liberated her.

This was the moment of her liberation.

Here she thought, during her Bergen days, that she was arriving to something, they were going to start something together, T and her, but they wouldn’t, they wouldn’t and this was for the best because you can’t spend your life cleaning up after a writer who you admire.

At least she was always going to be the one who told him about Marlene Dumas, which had been completely new to him. A girl can teach a father figure something too.

T told her about the time in his life when they had met for the first time, how he had gone and told his ex that they had met and this made the ex jealous and he got a slight thrill from telling that story to her because he knew that woman had pained him for two years after six mainly good ones and he wanted to pain her back some. She watched him sitting in his own kitchen eating vanilla from Madagascar which the box claimed it was from and she listened to his words and didn’t want to realize that she had made him feel something because she thought this is what she does to men most of the time.

She wanted to be more than a friend but less than a lover and certainly never a daughter to T.

*

On her last day in Bergen she woke up at 5 a.m., probably because of all the wine she had had the night before and it was still dark outside, still silent, all rain having washed away the city’s chatter and banter so she waited for another hour in bed before she put on her running clothes and shoes and left the house. T was snoring in the room next door.

Only the birds were awake at this hour and even they were hesitant of the day. The road she was running on was so steep that she walked instead of running but she had already gotten the heat up and the sun began to turn the sky into a faint pinkish blue. It wasn’t the first time during this trip that she thought of someone back in the city but this was the first time she entertained the idea of how she didn’t know him fully but imagined the ways in which she eventually would and a slight tremor surfaced from the patch in between her legs. And the feeling didn’t scare her, maybe because she was surrounded by nature instead of city or maybe because she was more in control of herself than she had ever been. Whatever it was she looked around curiously to see if there was an area somewhere away from the path where she could masturbate, and the more she thought about it the more she had convinced herself that she should masturbate.

She excited herself. At that point it was almost as if she didn’t have a choice but to do it so she did since there was nothing else that could take place in her mind. Leaving the path, she walked inwards to the woods until the trail wasn’t visible anymore and she faced the city which was softly flickering below her. She sat down on a tree that had fallen over and put her hand down between her pants. Her ears perked like an animal’s, with eyes wide, staying alert for possible strangers, but no one came except for her.

It happened quickly, as if thought and gesture went hand in hand.

When she pulled out her hand from her pants, she checked her fingers for her smell and noticed the moistness and went about things like it didn’t happen, but she seemed perkier and stood up straight like freshly cut grass.

She strolled and ran and found her way back swiftly.

When she got back to the house, she drank a tall glass of water, jumped in the shower and changed into some new clothes. She went downstairs and made herself a cup of tea. It was only 8am and she wanted to text someone back home but hesitated. Instead she moved into the living room to read on the couch. After a couple of minutes she fell asleep. An hour or so later T came down in his pastoral nightshirt and started making breakfast. She was reluctant to wake up, as if she had already done enough with the day but the clinking of porcelain, the kettle boiling and the fridge door opening to close suggested a new beginning.

*

During breakfast they talked about age and she told T that she had always been with older men and they tried to understand why many of them had been her teachers and because T had said last night that he didn’t believe he would live for much longer she wanted to tell him that she thought it was important that they just stayed friends. It was a thought that came quicker than she could say in words but the words still came and afterwards it was hard to look at him. T didn’t look at her either she noticed a moment later, which gave him a serious face.

We would resent each other.

We would end up ruining ourselves.

and T nodded to her words.

Him agreeing with her was what gave them both relief. She had said the right thing.

She added that she would end up hiding his cigarettes and drinking his wine and this made him chuckle. He gave her a wild man’s gaze, which is the gaze that old men give to young women where one eye is larger than the other, more fixed on their object, than the subject they are talking about.

You’re right. By now, I am a collector of bad habits.

T moved on like he didn’t want to lament on the inevitable and started singing Leonard Cohen to her and she didn’t think it was ridiculous one bit, in fact she thought it was one of the most charming things he could to at that moment. It made her excited to return to her city and continue writing and she imagined T would stay singing in his house, alone, long after she was gone.

And maybe this kind of connection and separation is what literature was about.

*

She sat and read or wrote while he made dinner and tonight’s special was skate with chanterelles, potatoes, carrots and fennel, and he was planning on soaking it all in butter and they joked about it under the candlelight, how Norwegians like their butter, and it all tasted so much better with butter and then when T was serving her he accidentally dropped a slice of buttered carrot in her water glass and that made them laugh some more because now they had butter water and she hadn’t even poured the wine yet but now she did and it was beautiful the way it shined by the light from the candle and matched everything off-yellow on their plates. The food was delicious because it was salty, warm and creamy through and throughout and they talked about that as they brought their wine glasses to their lips and gulped the wine and laughed and everything felt decadent but as if they deserved it because they were creatures who loved and wanted to be loved and they loved what was in front of them, the person, the meal, and the light from the candle. They would enjoy every bite and every breath they could swallow.

The evening passed quickly, like a celebration, like they both were relieved that it was her last night in Bergen. They kept on laughing and drinking and singing and mispronouncing words because they sounded better like that from their buttered mouths.

An empty bottle of wine tipped over but didn’t break. They opened another one.

When they said goodnight in the a.m. they hugged longer than usual and he told her that she was a wonderful human being and she thanked him for everything and again she wondered if he would kiss her and when he didn’t it was what it was, and she understood that she didn’t need a kiss to feel loved.

Szilvia Molnar

Szilvia Molnar is the author of the chapbook Soft Split (Future Tense Books, 2016), which received praise from Sjón, Jerry Stahl, and Jonathan Lee. Her writing has been published in Lit Hub, Triangle House Review, Two Serious Ladies, The Buenos Aires Review, and Neue Rundschau among others. Originally from Budapest and raised in Sweden, she splits her time between New York City and Austin, Texas.

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