When we went to Norway we killed slugs.
We ate dinner at midnight as the sun revolved overhead, spinning in slow concentric circles, never dipping beyond the horizon. There was no night.
We looked up at the clouds, and she asked us if we wanted to do her a favor-to justify spending the night in her garage apartment at no cost. We weren't freeloaders, so we said O.K. She told us about the slugs.
There were hundreds of them crawling around the garden area-small families leaving slime trails on rock walls. We collected them one at a time, placing each of them in a huge plastic bag. We saw them pile on top of each other, felt their collective weight tugging on the plastic. Watched them squirm around, looking for any signal of familiarity, their antennae moving this way and that, trying to make sense of their situation.
We went in front of the garage and found some little guys crawling in cracks of asphalt. Tossed them in the bag, and then we grabbed a big box of table salt. Scooped out a couple of spoonfuls.
He was the one who did it. I just watched. Watched the slugs foam and bubble and die. But we only killed the top layer, he said. Give me the bag. I have an idea. I shook the mix of salt and slugs and watched as more dissolved, turning to jelly. They were turning into green honey. They were turning into poison. Maybe we should have poisoned them instead. Do birds eat slugs? We could have found a neighbor with a bird. Is salt such a bad thing? We were just trying to help out the landlady.
I remember hearing some TV biologist say that certain animals can't feel pain. They haven't developed a complex enough nervous system to comprehend what's happening to them, he said, or I remember him saying. Should we have poisoned them instead? They were pests. I don't know. She asked us to do it-- we were just helping. Don't worry about it. I feel bad. Go to sleep.
The sun was shining through the window. I remember grabbing my camera and taking pictures of the street below us. I had never seen dawn and dusk occur simultaneously and wanted to document it, but the pictures were blurry. I guess that's the best way to describe what it's like to live in day and night, and day is night, and we were living there for only a short while.
It was too hot to sleep.
- - -
We ate breakfast in the front yard. Slugless. We had done a good job. Their family smiled and talked to us in fractured English. Said we could use their shower but that the door did not lock. Said we shouldn't have to worry about it.
There was a window in the shower facing their neighbors' multistory house. Wouldn't they see me? All they had to do was look out the window, and there I was. Naked. In the shower. In Norway. Does that make it any better? I'm not sure. These people would never see me again. I took off my clothes, waved to whoever might be watching, and stepped inside.
They didn't have any soap, so I washed myself with over-scented shampoo. The picture on the bottle was of a woman running in a field of lavender, her hair flowing in the wind. I guess that I was supposed to feel as if I was in that field, as if I was with that woman. Running. Smiling. I did not feel as if I was in that field. I was that field. The fragrance made me choke.
It was a couple of minutes before I found a towel. I wandered around the bathroom, tracking water on the tiled floor, opening cabinets at random. I remember praying that nobody would barge in, desperately needing to use the only toilet in the house. The entire room smelled like lavender. My eyes itched as I dried my hair, standing in the tub. I sneezed.
- - -
The sun loomed over us as we walked down the sidewalk, avoiding slugs that crawled over leaves and twigs with undying patience. We were talking about how we felt the vacation was going. It's weird, he said. I've never been in a place like this. I looked up at the sun. It felt like early morning. We never knew what time it was. The shadows played tricks on us. I saw my mother standing in an alleyway. She was old and wrinkled. Tangled white hair fell in front of her face, and she brushed it out of the way. She smiled at us and waved.
As we approached an intersection, I strained to see if the traffic light was red. Wanting to make sure it was safe to cross. Wasn't paying attention to my feet. Felt as my sneaker pressed on a small lump, felt it sink down, felt the pressure growing in the mound underneath me, felt as it gave way, felt my foot connect with concrete. I wasn't looking at my feet. The light was green. The TV biologist said that broccoli screams when you cut it. I wonder what slugs do when you flatten them. I know what they do when you pour salt on them. They gurgle as they morph into foam, into jelly. The light turned red. It was safe to cross.
The little guy clung to the bottom of my shoe and refused to let go. With each step, I dragged his slime across town, marking our territory. It was two in the afternoon, but the sun sat at a weird angle in the sky, casting a glare on our surroundings. My sunglasses sat crooked on my nose. Sweat collected on our foreheads. There was nowhere to go to escape the heat. We stumbled upon a park and sat next to a fountain.
A man let his dog off its leash. Let it jump into the water, chasing after a yellow tennis ball. I washed my foot off in the stream. The smell of lavender in the air. The smell of lavender stuck to my clothes. Took off my shoes and threw them in the water. The dog splashed over to me and took my shoes, running off to the other side of the park. It dropped them at the man's feet. He returned them to me a few minutes later, smiling apologetically, and I gestured that it was O.K. Dogs are dogs. After he walked away, I dunked my head in the fountain's water, allowing the lavender to swirl in the flow.
I opened my eyes underwater and saw the Virgin Mary above the surface, looking out toward the city. She was without her child but was easily identifiable, and She was crying. I imagined her in the winter, covered in snow and ice, forever weeping, icicles forming under her tilted head. I blew bubbles up at her and wondered what we were doing here. My nose was filling with water that stung my throat. I closed my eyes, but She was still there, looking out at the city, looking at the sun that did not belong; a sun that was unsure of where it should be, pacing back and forth each day, never resting, never stopping.
He pulled me out of the fountain. Said I had been underwater for a long time. Said that we should start heading back. I slipped on my wet shoes, and we took some pictures of the park as we walked toward the gate. Looked at statues of various historical figures that meant nothing to us. Imitated their poses. My hair was already starting to dry in the heat. I remember that. Being shocked at how quickly it dried. The camera felt heavy in my hands.
I can't remember what a normal day feels like. Does that make any sense? No, I get it. It's like we're constantly stuck between morning and day and night. I'm always tired, but I've always just woken up. I'm always hungry. I never know what time it is. Even when I check the clocks, it doesn't feel right. It's hot all the time. I feel like I should take a shower or something. I don't know when I'm supposed to sleep.
We kept seeing people that we recognized on the corners of streets, in the windows of restaurants, walking past us on the sidewalk. They were flashes of recognition that led us nowhere. Each person a disappointment, coming out of the shadows, revealing their true nature. The sun's slow spiral continued above us, cutting through clouds. It was getting late. Not dark, but late.
- - -
An idea of twilight.
The stepping stones that connected our apartment to the main house were dotted with a variety of insects. A couple of slugs escaped last night's attack, and after we ate pasta, the lavender-smelling landlady asked us to walk around and scatter salt on them. Vegetables scream when you cut them. I remember asking her what was so bad about the slugs. Why did we have to kill them? She said that they ate her flowers. They were bad for the garden. I wondered if they knew what we were doing to them. Wondered if they could feel pain. Wondered where they went when the cold and snow came in November. Wondered if they knew what it meant to die. Sweat caused my shirt to cling to my back. I wiped my face with my sleeves. The sun was shining brightly. It was one in the morning.
- - -
We went back to the park with the fountain the next day. I wanted to get a better look at the Virgin. He said we could take some more photos, and I noticed that she wasn't actually crying. She was just covered in bird shit. White globs that looked like tears trickling down her cheeks. I tried to splash her face with water. Not sure what I was hoping to accomplish. Guess I thought that I could clean her off somehow. We took some more pictures, posing with wet-faced Mary. Walked around in the fountain. Watched some street performers doing flips off a nearby bridge, running around wildly, giving an illusion of disorder to the display. Their broad smiles reflected the sun's rays.
A crowd had gathered, watching them fly off the side of the walkway into the soft grass below. One of them was my father. His neatly-trimmed mustache bounced up and down as he laughed. He took a picture with a tiny digital camera as a woman did a back flip over another performer and landed in front of him. Somehow we caught his eye, and he waved. It was the first time I'd seen him in years.
We turned around and left the performance in search of a place to eat. The Virgin looked out at the city, and we followed her gaze, keeping in her line of sight. We walked across the bridge that connected park to concrete.
It was unbearably hot outside.
- - -
We hitched a ride to the top of a fjord. Looking down on the city, the sun at an angle above us, reflected on the buildings. Behind us was a ski jump, a strange reminder of the country's typical clime. What were we doing here? We took some pictures and left.
Realized that there wasn't any film in the cameras.