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Grünerløkka by Adam Moorad

I think it was the codeine; this was after my money wire arrived. I had checked into a backpacker motel indefinitely: a room with four walls, each painted a different color, each peeled; the ceiling too. It was Oslo, the dead of winter; every hour felt late. Awaking fully clothed and bleeding from my nose in the bathtub, my hands had pruned and were shaking. I felt jetlagged, I remembered naught.

Malibu was sitting on the toilet beside the tub, in a bathrobe. We had shared a bunk bed for about a week. He claimed to be an aristocrat and an avid surfer. He had no accent. I thought he was insane.

He sat proudly on the pot and read aloud from a small phrase book:

“Jeg har gått meg bort,” with a poetic oration. “Kan du hjelpe meg?”

The words filled my head with troubled thoughts. I sat up and my ribs felt broken. My nose dripped into the bath, the water turned red.

“Did you hit me?” I asked him.

“No way,” he said. “You were like that when I found you.”

He looked wounded. I watched a tear well in his eye, as if he were going to cry.

“Are you alright?”

He shut the book, tilted his head and seemed to contemplate some faraway thing.

“No,” he said. “Not really.”

“What’s up?”

“Ahh... I don’t know. I feel divorced from Life. Like I’ve lost touch with Life.”

It was one of those sentiments. There was nothing to say.

“Have you ever seen that movie It’s a Wonderful Life?”

“Nope.”

“It’s a Christmas movie.”

I tore a square of tissue from the roll on the wall and used it to plug my nostrils. My skull was full of pressure; I felt medicated and ridiculous, full of self-want and pity subsisting on some primordial instinct.

“I hate Christmas,” I said, nasally.

“Well it’s one of the most famous movies ever made.”

Slowly, I stood and let the water roll off my heavy clothes.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said. I took off my shirt and rang it out. “Who’s in it?”

“Some old people,” he said. “I think they’re dead now.”

I walked from the bathtub towards the window. Through the glass, the world looked unearthly. Metal chimneys marked the horizon, their smoke plumes spawning molten fauna amid a citrus aurora.

“Where are we again?”

“Grünerløkka.”

“Grünerløkka,” I scoffed. “It sounds so heavy and ponderous.”

There was a bottle of cough medicine on the windowsill. I screwed the cap off in my mouth and guzzled. The contents bled down the back of my throat, cancelling everything.

“Are you sick?” Malibu said.

I dropped the empty bottle on the floor.

“I’m always sick.”

He rose, cinched his bathrobe and flushed.

“You shouldn’t drink that stuff if you’re not,” he said. “It isn’t healthy.”

The toilet began to rattle and sound off like a flock of screaming birds as it overflowed. The way the sewage spilled, it reminded me of a birth.

Malibu seized a toilet brush from a stand behind the tank; he squealed and speared the bowl in a frenzy, prancing about the spew. I tried to ignore what was happening as the water rose around my ankles. The carpet felt like silt between my toes. I stared at the ceiling and watched a flake of paint peel, happy I couldn’t smell.

He managed to lodge the brush inside the pipe, partially staunching the flow. By then, most of the floor was a bilious color. I climbed onto the bunk and watched the water spread flat and slow towards the dry side of the room.

“I’m calling downstairs,” he said. “This is ridiculous.”

“Don’t do that,” I said. “They’ll throw us out.”

He shrugged, ankle-deep, bent over in the posture of a child soiling himself. The empty medicine bottle floated across the floor like an abandoned vessel.

Then a loud rap hammered the door; the force of it cracked the frame. Rowdy voices mumbled on the other side.

“Are you expecting someone?” he asked me.

“No,” I said. “I don’t think so.”

“Then who is it?”

“It could be housekeeping.”

“NO THANK YOU,” he answered. “PLEASE COME BACK LATER.”

The knocking paused for a second, continued and intensified. The voices babbled into barks.

“Go see who it is,” I said.

“I’m not doing it. You do it.”

“Who dropped the grenade in the toilet?”

“Fine. I’ll do it, but this is ridiculous.”

Malibu unhooked the latch and the door flew open. A throng of skinheads stormed inside, their faces drunken and painted black and white. Some had no teeth; each wore steel-toed boots. Together, they looked like conjoined members of a soccer team. I recognized a few from the lobby, chanting over pint cans and comparing scars. At that moment it occurred to me, they were probably staying in the room beneath us. I had heard their techno music through the floor at night.

One of the skinheads emptied a pint can and crushed it between his palms. Another began spooling his arms and shouting what sounded like profanity in a foreign tongue.

Malibu referred to his phrase book: “Hadde laget ditt vinne?”

They looked at him, puzzled, cavemen.

“What did you say?” I said.

“I asked them if their team won.”

One skinhead stepped forward, slipped and fell and started swimming. The rest laughed. Another picked up a clock radio from the dresser and threw it into the window. The glass shattered; he looked at Malibu and salivated; my stomach filled with butterflies.

“Say something else,” I said. “They’re going to kick our asses.”

Malibu paged furiously.

“Hvor er du fra?” he said. (“I’m asking them where they’re from.”)

Each skinhead waded deeper into room in his own direction. On the whole they appeared stupid but volatile, ignoring anything Malibu said.

“They’re guests here,” I said. “I think they’re in the room below us.”

Malibu looked at the floor, which was now all water, and winced.

“Well that sucks.”

The winter air poured in through the broken window. Two skinheads took turns kicking the toilet until the bowl broke into a hundred pieces and water spouted directly from the pipe in the floor. The others cheered.

Malibu said something else, but it didn’t matter. Nothing made sense. No one seemed concerned with the flood. We were lost there, somewhere in what qualified as civilization. It could have been daytime, but the sun outside held no more power than a sponge. In this light the smoke, which had been a bright orange, had turned a deep blue.