On the ferry from Bergen to Austevoll, I clutch my contract in my cold hands. I left the fortress and the Rosenkrantztårnet (Rosenkrantz tower) at about 3 pm. Now the evening is about to sweep the sand of the beach. Austevoll consists of 667 islands off the west coast of Norway. The highest point is Mount Loddo, which rises 244 meters above sea level. Austevoll comes from austr (east) and völlr (meadow).
I have just returned from a long journey. I have travelled through a large part of America, ridden through the arid steppes of Panama with the sun as my only habit. Now the icy wind reminds me that I had a life before I left to discover the wide world. The ferry pulls into the port. We hear a whistle, then complete silence. The passengers disembark like ghosts without looking at each other.
I have nowhere to sleep, I have no more friends in this city. I clutch my crumpled contract to my chest. I walk on the thick cobblestones that litter the ground like prayers, I hurry between the silhouettes that are becoming increasingly rare. Here and there a few rays of sunlight fall on my dark circles.
I arrive at the Somosk factory an hour later. I sit down in front of the heavy wire mesh doors. A young woman is walking her white dog a little further. I look at her, she turns her head away. How long has it been since I’ve washed?
The next day I start work at the Somosk factory in Austevoll. The factory mass-produces salmon with the « Norwegian » label. The boss, Thorstein, shows me around, his fat right hand on my left shoulder. He walks me through the poorly lit rooms. A light bulb goes out as we pass. Thorstein apologizes for the dilapidation of the place. « But we are Norway’s leading salmon factory, » he tells me, drooling on his long black beard. I sniff and sit down in a corner. The light goes out. Thorstein has been gone for a while. I spend the nights of the following week in the factory. In the morning I get up to go to work, wash in the workers’ showers, then shave quickly.
The sun filters through large windows into the room where we prepare the salmon. A labor inspector has come to observe our practices. The inspector, whose name is Tord, didn’t realize that we were hiding all the chemicals as he moved from one production line to another.
Yes, we produce the salmon that is the pride of our country and yet… I must say that we do not skimp on cosmetics. We use the most toxic and chemical means possible to make the pink flesh of the salmon shine. We use synthetic dyes.
In the evening, when my day is over, I sit in front of the North Sea. Its black color floats like a flag before my soul. I think of Solveig, who never loved me, even when I kissed her during a communal party, on the lawn in front of the lake in Reyvik. Then I close my eyes and imagine a foreign sun, which would come to warm my eyelids. But the night is always sincere with me, and faithfully, it embraces me in its turn with its icy wind.
The Somosk factory has two main buildings, and a market hall where traders come to collect our wholesale products. This morning, Tord is back. The inspector is confronted with many complaints from customers, who complain of stomach aches. Thorstein had tears in his eyes when he left.
I watched the Norwegian queen’s speech on television. She ended up poking with her fork into a dish with a well-oiled salmon from the Somosk factory on top. What an advertisement. But why was Thorstein crying when the inspector left?
The next day, our boss gathered us in the break room. « The salmon we sell are toxic. We have one week to change the recipe, you have to « Å blø for laget » (bleed as a team), otherwise the symbol of our country will be tainted with unwelcome publicity. Adle samen må vera me (everyone must participate). If we don’t, the media will pick up the story of the toxicity of Austevoll’s salmon. If not, the Norwegian monarchy could be decapitated. And while pronouncing these last words, he signed himself the tears went up to his eyes like a sardine goes up the river, viscous and fast.
I stayed a long time with the colleagues to think. And then what, I had come to Austevoll to lead a quiet life and forget Solveig. I didn’t want to get involved in a dark story of rotten salmon.
I walked for a long time that night, I didn’t want to sleep. Near the North Sea, a restaurant illuminated the shining quays. I walked to a kind of garland that hung like our futures in Austevoll. I grabbed one of the flowers and the waitress brushed past me. She looked up at me and I knew that my future would be forever changed. I waited for her to finish her service, stamping my feet. I passed a car parked down the road from time to time to watch myself in the rearview mirror. I wasn’t bad for a redneck!
I invited the waitress to accompany me after her shift, « But where? » she asked, and she motioned for me to follow her. In the back room of the restaurant, we found a comfortable couch, where she started to kiss me. Her colleagues had all disappeared once the last plate was washed. It must have been around four o’clock in the morning, when my eyes fell on a refrigerator in the room. The girl slipped out and brought me a bit of salmon of a lighter color than the one we produced in Saumosk. I spread some of it on some bread and had to admit to myself that it was absolutely transcendent, delicious and refined. I took several more pieces of bread, and salmon, and forgot the presence of my new girlfriend. She finally got tired of it. I took the rest of the salmon with me, and conscious that I was going to transform the fatal future of Norway, my beloved country, I hurried back to the factory.
The first street lights were beginning to come on in the courtyard, and Thorstein was the first to arrive; I immediately told him about my majestic discovery. He examined the piece of salmon that hung like an old woman’s neck, flanked by aluminum foil. Thorstein bent down and sniffed the food. Then, with his index and middle fingers, he caressed the flesh of the pink fish. He brought his fingers to his nostrils and closed his eyes. « It’s incredible. Kid, we saved Norway. My eyes shone with excitement. There were no more stars in the Norwegian sky, only glitter, glory condensed into balls of fire that shone over our heads as we went out to talk about the future of our country in the open courtyard.
« It’s a revolution, » Thorstein agreed. I agreed. We had a few hours before Tord, the labor inspector, came, so we turned on an old radio that was crackling intermittently. Thorstein swept up the toxic salmon leftovers on the floor, threw away some garbage cans filled with the last week’s chemical salmon production, and ran to hide them in a dark corner of our warehouses.
All night long, we thought about how we could produce this salmon that had magically appeared in our lives. Finally, we decided to produce toxic salmon again, but to present the labor inspector with a sandwich into which we would slip the life-saving salmon.
And so it happened. The inspector was delighted. He rubbed his cheeks and began to cry. In his eyes, the North Sea swallowed up all the taste experiences he had had so far. I almost passed out from happiness. I thought that I had saved my country thanks to this magically occurring salmon, and to Solveig’s beautiful face, which did not think of me where she was. I told myself that my parents would be proud of me from the oil sky and I slipped a « thank you » to the inspector who left, happy as we all were.
The week that followed was paved with jubilation. We worked hard, producing the same toxic salmon but praying and looking everywhere for the salmon I had stumbled upon in the arms of a young waitress dressed in a simple white apron.
I even went back to the restaurant to seduce her and to find the fridge where the fish had come from, but I couldn’t get hold of either of them.
In the end, the factory did not survive the economic crisis of 2008. I had to find a job in London as a waiter, I spoke perfect English. I met my wife there and on our honeymoon in Edinburgh, in a small restaurant on the night heights illuminated by the candlelit walls of Scotland’s capital, I ordered a salmon dish. When I saw on my plate the exact counterpart of the salmon I had once tasted between the arms of a pretty Norwegian waitress, life seemed very dull.
I turned on the television as we returned to our hotel. On the Norwegian channels, the monarchy was once again being criticized by the mainstream media. I took advantage of the fact that my wife had fallen asleep to write the business plan for what would one day become the largest salmon factory in Norway, Saumoskosse 2. The wind was spraying icy drops on my wife’s face as she lay in an unbuttoned white blouse on a single sheet. I closed the window, crumpled up my business plan, and set out to walk around Edinburgh in search of a Scottish salmon dish.