The Picnic on the Beach
A clear, sunny morning of September was not the best time to have an abortion.
Funnily enough, that day I had gotten an acceptance letter for the P.h.D. program I had applied to. The one I really wanted to get into. In other circumstances I would have been happy. I didn’t tell Mørten.
I expected a rainy, foggy evening on the sofa after I was done, but the weather was actually good and when we got out of the clinic the day had just started. Mørten asked me if I wanted to go home and get some rest, maybe drink hot chocolate or something. But it was ten in the morning and the sun was shining.
As we waited, killing the time to decide what to do, we walked along the piers. The seagulls were crying and the tourists were enjoying the sunshine. Akershus, the castle, was towering over the seaside.
“I think we should go home and watch a movie. A funny one, maybe.” Mørten kicked some invisible dust away on the pavement, his hands tucked in his pockets.
Seeing him like this made me so sad that I grabbed his wrist and started walking, dragging him behind me, towards pier seven. There was one of those touristy boats that take people to Bygdøy, the small peninsula in front of Oslo’s bay. I had been there only once, when my parents and I had visited Oslo for the first time. As I strode towards the boat, Mørten asked what the hell I was doing. I didn’t answer and addressed the guy who was waiting for tourists to show up.
“Hey,” I said. “How much is it to go to Bygdøy by boat?”
He looked at us. His pale skin was stained with red patches of cold.
“Seventy kroner,” he said. “Unless you are students.”
Mørten squeezed my hand.
“Alright. We’ll come back in a while. When is the last ride back to Oslo?” I asked.
“Five thirty,” the guy answered, already disinterested in us. He was eyeing an old Japanese couple.
“Thank you,” I replied.
I turned on my heels, still dragging Mørten behind me, and walked into the first Kiwi supermarket I found.
After having an abortion, I was going to have a picnic on the beach.
“You should not do this.”
Mørten tried to push me away from the cart, but I tightened my grasp on the handle.
“Go get the sausages,” I said.
He looked at me, his golden brown hair long and a bit greasy, his beard looking like he hadn’t shaved in a while and growing in blonde, brown and even grey patches. He seemed helpless, standing in front of me and holding the portable barbecue in his left hand.
“Give me that,” I said, and I took the barbecue from him. He didn’t push back.
“I don’t understand,” he said.
His eyes were sad. I looked at him for a while, but couldn’t feel sorry for him for some reason.
“You're growing grey hair,” I said.
“I wonder why,” he muttered between gritted teeth, as he turned toward the meat aisle. He said it loud enough that I could hear him.
“I’m a student,” I said, as I flashed my ID card from University of Oslo in the guy’s face. Master student of Archaeology and Viking Studies.
“Fifty kroner,” the guy said after glancing at my card. Then he turned to Mørten. My boyfriend was holding the shopping bag, and he just shrugged.
“Seventy kroner,” the guy told him.
Mørten started rummaging into his pockets, but I stopped him.
“No,” I said, as I handed kroner to the guy. “I’ll pay.”
The guy didn’t say anything and let us on the boat.
Mørten followed me. “I still don’t understand,” he said, the shopping bag hitting his knee with every step.
I thought that the wind would be strong once we took off, but the sun was shining too bright to make me want to sit inside the boat. We were rocking gently. I didn’t feel anything. Anything at all. I didn’t slow down, I didn’t flinch as we walked towards the seats. I felt Mørten’s eyes on me.
“Shouldn’t you feel something down there? I mean, you just—”
“Please, Mørten,” I interrupted, sitting in front of him. I produced a pair of sunglasses out of my bag. “I’m fine.”
He put the shopping bag between his legs. He suddenly looked so old that I wondered if he was still the guy I started dating at the beginning of my Masters.
“That’s not normal,” he said.
“That you’re fine. That’s not normal.”
I turned to look at the sea. We were the only ones on the boat.
“Please, Mørten,” I interrupted him again. “Stop talking.”
He looked at me, and I felt like I wasn’t able to return his gaze. Then I heard some voices—a group of American tourists got on the boat. I turned to watch them. A family of two adults, two older adults and two kids. They paid their tickets, then walked on the small bridge to get on the boat. I prayed that they would sit inside, and they did. I turned to glance at Mørten, but this time he was the one looking at the sea.
I watched the sausages sizzle on the barbecue. Mørten picked one with a stick. He looked at it, the juices oozing off the pinkish meat. He put it back on the barbecue and sat on the sand.
“We forgot to buy the beer,” I said.
“I don’t think you should drink it anyway.”
I wanted to slap him right on his face. I wanted to tell him to get a grip, wash his hair, shave and stop acting like our life was over. The world hadn’t ended. We were on the beach, eating sausages on a portable barbecue. Nothing was over.
And for a second, right after my impulse to slap him, I felt well. I felt better than how I had felt for the last few weeks, even months, maybe. I felt something.
“These stupid sausages won’t cook,” he said.
“Stop picking them up.”
We had chosen an isolated spot on the beach. I didn’t remember much about it from my first visit with my parents, but I didn’t remember much about Bygdøy in general. The only vivid image was my father and my mother arguing all the way back for some stupid reason, as they always did.
“The weather is beautiful,” I said. I put a hand on my belly. Again, I felt nothing.
“What did your mother say?”
Mørten kept rolling the sausages on the barbecue.
He turned to me slowly, his lips twitching. “What do you think I’m talking about?”
Of course I knew what he was talking about. I just didn’t want to answer.
I shrugged. He kept his eyes on me.
“About the baby.”
He kept on calling it “the baby.” It was not a baby, I wanted to scream. Not yet.
“I didn’t tell her,” I said.
Mørten tightened his grip on the stick. “You didn’t tell your mom?”
“No,” I said, and put my hand on the sand. I wrote my name, Frida, then erased it.
“I think the sausages may be ready,” he murmured after a while.
We ate the sausages.
I had to tell him. “I have been accepted to the P.h.D. program in London,” I said. “I’m starting in January.”
He wiped his mouth with his sleeve, and I saw his shoulders stiffen. “What?”
“I didn’t think I was going to be offered funding. That’s why I didn’t tell you that I applied. My professors told me it was impossible for an international student to get funding for a P.h.D. in my field.”
“Wow.” Mørten looked at the sea in front of him. The sky was turning white. The sun was still shining, but it wasn’t as bright as before. “Wow,” he repeated, nodding.
I didn’t answer. Then he turned to me.
“What the fuck happened, Frida?” he asked. He tapped his stick on the sand. “For real, though. We were two kids having fun, we fell in love, and—” He shoved the stick in the ground. It drew a perfect curve in the sand.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
He didn’t raise his eyes. “How do you feel?” he asked.
He hadn’t stopped asking that for days. Weeks, actually.
I remained silent. I was ashamed. But he eventually turned to me.
“How do you feel?” he asked again.
His green eyes were tinted red with capillaries, as if he had been experiencing a lot of tension and he was still doing his best to avoid breaking down. I couldn’t really blame him.
I put my hand on my belly. Mørten followed it with his gaze.
“I don’t feel anything,” I said. “Nothing at all.”
He looked into my eyes for some time. Silences like these had started to happen to us more frequently than ever. We used to talk about everything. Every little thing was a potential ice-breaker for a new conversation. Not now.
Still keeping his gaze on me, he started nodding slowly and then turned to the sea again. We were alone and quiet for a couple of minutes, until we heard someone laughing.
The two kids of the American family were running on the shore, their bare feet splashing in the low tide. One of them threw a red plastic bucket at the other. Their parents were walking slowly and holding hands. I stared in front of me, looking at the sun setting in the white Norwegian sky, behind the grey sea.
The kids stopped a bit far from us and started building a sand castle. We heard their laughter.
“I’m cold,” I said. I turned to Mørten. His shoulders were trembling in his blue sweater and he had his face buried between his legs.
“It’s getting chilly,” I said. I raised my hand to put it on his shoulder, but before I could do it, he looked up at me. He was sobbing. His face was all wet and his eyelashes were sticky.
“Mørten,” I said.
I had seen him sobbing only once before, when his grandfather had died and I went to the funeral with him.
He shook his head and turned to the American kids, sniffing. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m so sorry.”
I wanted to hug him and snuggle with him in front of the sea, like every other couple would have done. We would get up, hand in hand, catch the boat and go home, cuddle in bed and maybe watch a movie and fall asleep and wake up feeling at least a bit better. He would prepare breakfast before I woke up, making sure everything was appropriate for me to eat after the abortion. He would put a sweet post on the tray and we would eat together and smile and then cry and then start our life together all over again after this bad thing. I wouldn’t have to leave for London in four months and we would just be together.
Instead, I didn’t hug him. There was something wrong with me, I knew it.
I had been aware of it since I discovered I was pregnant.
I couldn’t help it.
I let Mørten sob until the sun was completely set, the American family was gone and he had no more tears. Then we got up and kept quiet for the rest of the trip home. The sea had washed the kid’s castle away.