Today's Reading

The television shows are terribly unrealistic but she is not bothered by this. It is in that space between divine truth and humanity's fumbled efforts to make sense of it that Sigrid finds comfort in knowing she is not alone.

By eight thirty at night she has reached a broad conclusion about America. It is not an especially sophisticated conclusion, nor does she suspect that it is original, but it is satisfying to think so deeply about something for a long time and finally hit bedrock. It goes like this: "What a weird place."


On Sunday she wakes to a Scandinavian summer sun that is so intense it threatens to turn her to dust. It is seven a.m. but the sun is high enough in the sky for the day to burn as noon. Sitting up in bed she realizes that her stomach aches from the bag of sour cream and onion potato chips she devoured last night. Neither the stomachache nor the guilt compare to the taste in her mouth that the toothpaste couldn't defeat.

After a shower and coffee she tries, briefly, to hide inside the television again, but it has lost its magic. Without a sign of rain to encourage further isolation, she finally succumbs to her Norwegianness and accepts that she has to go outdoors.

She and her older brother, Marcus, had regularly been tossed outside by their parents, whatever the weather, based on a deeply held if unspoken Norwegian belief that any child who does not spend at least three hours outdoors every day might actually die.

Without her parents to compel her, or a child of her own for a surrogate, Sigrid forces herself outside. She spends the warmest part of Sunday alone on a small beach called Bygdøy sjøbad wearing an extra-large T-shirt over green bikini bottoms that have mysteriously grown smaller since last summer. The thin straps cut into her hips.

She has brought a book written by an American humorist. It is called When You Are Engulfed in Flames, and she bought it solely for the title. On the beach, leaning against a stone wall, she spends most of her time not reading it but watching small children run along the crescent-shaped bay, finding starfish and small crabs, and holding them up in delight and terror for their parents to see. Her father has been asking whether she wants children. She looks at the expressions of the parents on the beach for an answer.

That night, as Sigrid and her sunburn recline on the cool sofa across from the television, her father calls. It is not scheduled but it is not unexpected.

Sigrid puts the television on mute and watches an American police car with poor handling chase another car with poor handling though an urban environment, endangering the lives of hundreds.

"Hi, pappa."

"You didn't call me with the results of the report."

"Sorry."

"I take it the findings were favorable."

Sigrid switches ears. "Why?"

"Because I know you. You wouldn't have shot a man unless you thought it was necessary."

"Maybe I shouldn't have thought it necessary. That's the part the police department is ignoring."

"You made a choice, not a mistake, in a situation where any reasonable person would have experienced danger. You're free to return to work?"

"Yes."

"Come home instead," he offers. "We'd be happy to have you."

"We?"

"Me and Ferdinand."

"Who's Ferdinand?"

"The duck. I could have sworn you'd met."


On Monday morning Sigrid reports to the office convinced that her hair still smells like her compatriots' oversexed flesh, their barbecued pork, and the tropical suntan lotion that no one needs this far north. As she enters the building she nods to the smokers by the door, their faces turned toward the sun like so many sunflowers past their prime.

Inside, the light is weaker and the air colder. She passes through the halls of the building that make the days bleed into each other by design. In uniform, she seats herself outside her commanding officer's door. At precisely 9:15, and on schedule, he opens it and waves her in.
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