A beautiful day

Nicholas Emmett

Norway 1997
Tess Flynn paused. A beautiful spring day, yet there was still snow in those Oslo hills. She stood for a couple of minutes admiring the forested hills, the almost cloudless blue sky, then turned to take a short cut over grass only recently released from its covering of winter snow.

A line of patients crossed the grass in front of her. There were the regressive jaw lines of the low I.Q., the floating look of the patients on heavy sedatives, the staring eyes of the ones who knew too much, or too little. A male nurse came behind them, shepherding them as if they were wayward sheep.
A small man with reddish hair left the group and came towards her. Her jacket was open, and she wore a dark t-shirt with Dublin printed in gold letter on it. The man grunted something in Norwegian pointing at the t-shirt. Tess looked into the face, an endless lost lonely pain. The nurse had swiftly crossed the grass and started to push the man back into the line while apologizing in English. Tess saw tears spurt from the red haired man's eyes.
The little man had been trying to say something, something that sounded vaguely familiar.
That night she sipped a single glass of wine from a bottle she had taken to her room, and got into bed. Through the small window she watched moonlight giving an extra bleak look to Gaustad mental home. She was almost asleep when she sat up with a jerk, "Dublin" that's what the red haired patient had grunted. He must have been a sailor, must have been to Ireland, had been trying to tell her this. Must ask the director.
She knocked on the directors's door next morning and the man said enter, then good morning Tess.
A good memory for names. There were hundreds at the congress, many staying at Gaustad mental home, yet he ---, "I hope I am not disturbing you sir, it's just a minor thing, just nonsense. One of the patients approached me yesterday and I think I said Dublin, just the word, then he pointed to himself.

"What did he look like?"
"Reddish hair, about thirty five. I ran in one of those silly mass jogging events last year and received a t-shirt for finishing, he seemed to find it interesting. It has Dublin printed on it".
They descended the back stairs and stood at the door of a blue colored room. A large number of patients sat on bench seats, with biscuits and coffee in front of them. Tess pointed out the small red haired man and the director turned and looked at her intently.
"Odd, very odd. We call that one Erik, but in truth we know nothing about him. He was found in a forest with serious head injuries, about, about, yes, fifteen years ago".
"They did what they could in the hospital, then sent him here. He was almost imbecile. Had to be fed. But he improved wonderfully, there was a surprisingly large transfer of function, for his age, much activity shifted to undamaged brain cells". He turned and looked at Tess. "He did not speak for two years, then began to learn words, simple phrases, for all the world like a child learning to speak".
Later in the office he poured her a cup of coffee and stood looking at her. Long dark hair, mid twenties, a beautiful girl. Professor Ryan head of the Irish delegation said she had been first in her college. He spoke slowly, "Erik, he had no papers on him, but his jacket was made in Sweden. The Swedish knew nothing about him, and the jacket did not fit him. Much to big. Has been here since, a quiet fellow, gives no trouble. Am surprised he spoke to you, very out of character.

***

England 1982
The red E-type Jaguar moved south along the M-6 towards where it would join the M-1. The 4235 cc, six cylinder engine thudded softly and Sean could feel the sensuous whisper of the big tyres on the pink surfaced motorway.
The restaurant was thirty miles from Birmingham, a place of glass, with a roof shaped like a giant sombrero. He parked the car and ordered toast, eggs and coffee. He sat there feeling like James Bond. Through the window he could see the red E-type. Dad, he had to laugh. There was nothing that man would not do. Buying an E-type.
He paid the bill and stopped at a magazine stand on the way to the car. THE WONDERFUL GIRLS OF NORWAY, declare the caption. He bought the magazine and sat in the car. There were naked girls beside fjords, naked girls in forest pools, and an improbable picture of a naked girls skiing down a mountain slope.
The thought came to him like a whisper in the wind. And why not, everyone thought he was going to Spain. Mum and dad ahd the lads would be surprised to get a card from Norway.

***

He woke to find the ship moving through Gotenburg harbor. The passport people asked him his business, the purpose of his visit, then waved him through. A map he had bought on the boat showed that it was three hundred and twenty kilometers to Oslo, two hundred to the Norwegian border.
He moved swiftly along a forest sided motorway for the first sixty kilometers. Then the road became narrow, but still forest sided. The E-type took the bends with beautiful precision, and gave a little stretch to reach 120 kilometers on the short straights.
It was chilly under the canvas hood as evening approached, and he turned the heater fully on. He crossed the bridge over Svinesund fjord, between the Swedish and Norwegian border posts. Way below, ships caught in the evening light, appeared like dark doys in the still water, while the setting sun reflected pinkly on the car chrome.
A few kilometers into Norway he pulled into a parking lot in front of a large brown wooden restaurant, and got out and stood in the chill evening air. The sky was streaked with yellow, purple, red. There was patches of snow between the trees.
A large fire blazed in the restaurant. A waitress with plaited hair approached. "Hva skal de ha?". He told her he spo0ke English and asked for tea and sandwiches, while he felt the first touch of loneliness. What was he doing in this cold northern country? Should have gone south to Spain. There would be warm sunshine in Spain. He would spend one day in Oslo, send a card to mum and dad, buy them a little present, let them know where he was. Then shoot south to Spain.
The road ascended an dropped through snow decked forest. He was glad the road was snow free, glad it was not slippery, it wou7ld be terrible if he damaged dad's new car.

At first the girl was only a distant speck, then he saw her hand held out. Long brown hair, a wild looking lovely creature. He felt excitement as he pulled up. He opened the door and she leaned towards him, autumn colored hair blowing in her face.
"You are an Englishman, the steering wheel is on the frown side, yes?"
"Irish"
"my brother's car is not good. It has stopped. Can you give me a lift please?"
His sense of disappointment at the brothers was deep. He forced a smile as she slide in beside him.
"Where is the car?"
She pointed up the main road.
He was excited at the nearness of such a lovely girl, for he had not been very successful in his dance hall attempts at romance. He detested his five foot three, and believed if he was taller girls would be more enthusiastic. He started to talk to her but she was pointing to a side road.
"Into the little road".
He slowed and began to turn, then said doubtfully, "But it's just a forest track".
"The little road go to big road on other side. My brother's car is on the big road".
He drove with snow laden branches almost touching the car, as his doubts increased and increased. Then they were in a clearing where two men, one tall and thin, the other fat, stood beside the open bonnet of a big old American car. He could see no road, the forest track ended at the car. He reached across, opened the door, wanting the girl out, feeling frightened, wanting to get away from this dark snow covered foreign forest. The girl whipped the key form the ignition and leapt from the car. Then all were standing looking at him silently. He got out and felt the cold snow through his thin shoes.
"Give me my keys!"

The fat man took a step toward him. "The little English man can't have the keys, the little English man does not like us, he wants to leave us. Not nice".
"I'll get the police, I…I…".
The fat man pointed to the forest. "He will get a cop, maybe there is one behind that tree".
They laughed, then the girl said: "We are Swedish, the stupid Norwegian policemen call us Raggare".
The fat man grinned. "We come from Sweden to have fun, and what you think", he kicked the side of the yellow car. "the bloody car breaks down. But a nice Englishman give us his car".
Sean started to say he wanted the keys, but the girl held up her hand for silence, and Sean had a feeling of unreality. What was he doing in this forest with these thugs, when he could have been home in Howth with mum and dad, could have been looking down the green waters of the sea below the Baily Lighthouse. He must not let them steal dad's car it meant so much to dad.
The girl pointed to the fat man. "We are bold, but Bjorn is the most bold. Do not annoy Bjorn, give him you wallet and he won't hit you. Your wallet".

Sean lunged towards the girl, towards the hand that held the keys, but the fat man, amazingly light on his feet, spun in front of Sean. Sean's arm was caught in a judo lock, an ippen-Seoi-Nage, an arm lock and spin, a hip under Sean's stomach, and he was lifted as if he were a feather. His head hit the side of the American car with a sharp sound and he lost consciousness.

***

Mr. and Mrs. Blake looked doubtfully at the sign in the dim light of the hall. A dirty brass plate proclaimed "Johnson & Boyle, Private Detection".
A hoarse voice told them to enter. A man of about fifty stood up and shook their hands. He was Boyle, yes he had taken their telephone call, yes he remembered it was about a missing son.
Boyle could see the woman's eyes were red from much crying, could see the tremble in the man-s hands. He listened to them quietly, then spoke slowly.
"Three months, it's doubtful if we can help. We have connections in Paris, Barcelona, Rome, Lisbon, Madrid, people we can contact. But three months since he disappeared, and the police found nothing. We can try, but it will be expansive, very expansive".
Ireland 1997
Tess Flynne took off her white coat. The last patient had gone and standing looking down at the Dublin traffic she wondered would she go out for lunch. She turned, looked at the phone book, and picked it up.
"Yes I am looking for missing persons". She waited while the switchboard connected her to the proper section of the Castle Police station. "Yes, it's probably nonsense, but I was recently in a mental institution in Norway and a patient kept on approaching me, pointing at a t-shirt on which said Dublin. The administration there don't know who he is, but he first arrived there in April 1980. About Thirty five, red hair, around five foot three".

***

She drove her blue mini towards Howth. The policeman had rung back the previous afternoon, had asked her to go to the Castle Police station. She felt shocked and nodded as soon as she saw the photograph. A smiling, happy looking, fifteen year younger version of the man, but undoubtedly him.
The policeman had been doubtful when she said she would call on the parents, saying it was police business, but he had agreed when she said she was a doctor.
She drove the mini up the hill of Howth. The waters of Dublin Bay were green and fresh in the late spring sunshine, and below she could see the red and white walls of the Baily Lighthouse. She could hear sea gulls above the mini engine.
There it was, a fine blue bungalow, with a view of the whole bay from its front. They couldn't be short of money with a Bungalow on Howth Summit.

She approached the door, concentrating, knowing how carefully it must be handled. But the woman who opened the door was a cool handsome person possibly in her late fifties. Not the look of someone who would break into hysteria.
"Yes?"
Tess could see no alternative. It had to be blunt. "Please, can I come in, I have some news about your son."
The woman's intelligent eyes widened, and she shuddered and looked as if she might collapse. "Sean", just the single word, and she indicated Tess should follow her in. They entered a sunlit room and Tess sat in an indicated chair. The woman sat opposite her, and Tess took a copy of the police photo from her bag and handed it to the woman.
The woman took one look at the photo and Tess could just hear her: " Sean, my poor love. Where did he die?"
Tess stood up, put her arm on the woman's shoulder. "I met your son, he is alive. Will I make tea, I am a doctor".
She stooped at the kitchen door. The woman was sitting staring at the photograph. "Mr. Blake, when will he get home?".
The woman reluctantly looked away from the photograph. "Sean, his father died three years ago".
She made tea and gave it and tablets to the woman. Red and purple ran across the sky above as the sun sank, as they talked. Tess told her carefully, yet there was no way to avoid describing the man's condition. She told the woman that her son did not seem to speak English any more, that he only spoke a child's level Norwegian, She did not seem to take this seriously.
The woman spoke in a low vice, clutching the photograph. Tess told her there was no sense in rushing off to Norway, the police in Dublin said the Norwegian authorities there must be convinced that the man was indeed her son.
The woman's talk was disjointed. There was something about her husband, how he built up his business. Things were going at their very best, they had bought the bungalow, Sean had just passed his exams, and there was a car. A Jaguar sports, more then they could afford. But they used to go and look at it in the showrooms, father and son, as if they were both small boys looking at a toy. They bought it. It was red. A beautiful car.
"Young Sean went off in it. He had lots of friends, but I think he wanted to prove he could do something on his own. A sort of test, an adventure, to go down to Spain. He used to like reading James Bond books, used to like those spy films with Sean Connery. But how did he end up in Norway, in a mental institution?"
That woman was now crying, crying as if flood gates had opened, crying, as if she would never stop. Tess put her arm around her shoulder.

***

It was raining when the car from Gaustad mental home collected them at the airport. Thess pointed out to Mrs. Blake that there had been ice on Oslo fjord when she had been there two weeks before, but now it was gone. They drove past wooden houses in the Oslo suburbs, and the driver pointed out Holmenkollen ski Jump. Tess knew that Mrs. Blake heard nothing, saw that she was trembling as they moved through the gates of Gaustad. They stopped in front of a large red brick building. The director, as courtly as ever, greeted Tess, and shook Mrs. Blake's hand.
In the director's office a white coated male nurse stood with Sean. Mrs. Blake rushed towards the thirty five year old man, and threw her arms around him. Tess heard the man say, "Mor".
They gave Tess a room overlooking the forest while Mrs. Blake and Sean got a room next to her. They ate in the director's private room, a dinner of salad, boiled potatoes and melted butter, and salmon. Tess found she was extremely hungry, as if from the release of tension, but Mrs. Blake and Sean ate almost nothing. The woman could hardly take her eyes off her son. As if he might vanish again if she looked away.
They went to Mrs. Blake's room and Tess remained with the director. The elderly man poured her a cup of coffee and she put cream and sugar in it. She sipped, very good coffee.
He smiled. "Professor Ryan showed me your article in The Mind Magazine. Evolution and Higher Consciousness. Interesting."
"Thanks".
"You heard Erik speak when his mother came in. I can't call him Sean, he has been Erik to us too long. He spoke in Norwegian mor, mother in Norwegian".
She nodded. "I don't think she realized".
He stood and looked through the window then turned. "You heard of Clause Muller?"
She nodded. "Left Germany for America when he was eight. He spent his life in a small Midwestern town, no contact with Germans. Spoke English all his life, forgot his German completely. He was eighty five, in the town's old person home when he suddenly began to speak perfect German. He had regressed to eight years old, the language had remained buried in his brain". She paused. "And Sean?"
"We have dried during the recent weeks. Even took him to a school for the children of English speaking foreigners, in West Oslo. No reaction, no sign of any English, just a child's level of Norwegian. The Neuro people say the frontal lobes were badly damaged in the attack. O yes, the police think he was hit by a weapon or thrown. The main language seat of the brain is damaged. There has been wonderful transfer of function for his age".
Tess shook her head. "Claus Muller did not have damage to his frontal lobes".
The director smiled. " You are a very ambitious young woman, and you have wonderful opportunity here".
"It is not just that, he is not just an object of study for me. I am very sorry for both mother and son. I don't think she realizes as yet that he can't speak English".

***

It was a beautiful sunny morning. Tess had spent the night in the bungalow, and she now stood at the window while Mrs. Blake made breakfast in the kitchen. Dublin bay shimmered below in the bright light. Sean stood at the end of the garden, quietly looking down at the sea.
Tess had been saddened when she arrived the previous evening to find a language course in English Norwegian, tapes, books, papers, on the sitting room table. Sean has only spoken bits of Norwegian in the previous week, and the poor woman was desperately attempting to learn a few Norwegian phrases to communicate with him.
They went into the garden and stood looking at Sean. There was a feint buzzing sound above, a small silver plane in the sky.
Tess decided. She knew it was taking a chance. She walked to his side, grabbed his arm roughly, and shouting pointing at the sky. " What is that?"
Distinctly both mother and Tess heard "plane".
The man had spoken English. His mother had heard. She ran and put her arms around her son. Tess nodded in delight. It was a beautiful day.