Why am I so charmed by how curious and wild he is? And why does this dream always end with the cherry trees near the waterfront?
Hormones were powerful. Ragnhild had never given much thought about having a child, positive or negative. She reacted negatively to marriage. But children were so far off in her mind that they didn’t ever come up in her thoughts until there was no choice. If she wasn’t so attentive about her periods, she wouldn’t have thought she was pregnant until months later.
Her decision about it had to be made in the moment, far faster than any other she needed to make.
She woke up feeling…woozy. Half-nauseous. It wasn’t as bad as her mum said it would be, which was comforting. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have been too scared to enter the nearest abortion clinic after all.
In fact, Ragnhild felt more easy about her future baby when she told her family about it.
She picked and chose who got the news, but mamma and her bestefar were so excited. They had waited a while for grandchildren or great-grandchildren, after all. She didn’t necessarily want them to keep her around all day for parenting tips and questions about the dad, but she loved them too much to say no.
Little brother Kristian was also supportive. He would have found out anyways when Ragnhild didn’t order a beer with him though. He also changed her life more than Axel could have dreamed of doing. Ragnhild was considering the life of a single mum as strongly as she was considering seeing Axel’s face again.
“Everyone reads the Norddeutsch Zeitung. Think about it. It reaches those cold places outside of the EU.”
Print news was dying but never fully did, and it was the Norddeutsch Zeitung that kept the medium alive. It was based out of Windenburg and printed in both English and German. Its web content reached even further. The paper was global and if Ragnhild dusted off her memo pad and camera, her name would be global too.
She didn’t care about the environment as a foremost priority, but she knew that oil was going to kill the world. It was only unpleasant work. Otherwise, she took the bus or her electric car into Oslo. But news made the world better. Not happier, but more aware. News was forever and would outlast oil. Or those military dreams she gave up when she got conscripted then rejected.
Her dad did not get those musings though, or any news that she was pregnant at all. No one else in the family spoke to him anyways because of how little he spoke to them. Mor Torill didn’t get any child support from him and Kristian was fine living his life without a father.
“God morgen Abbath, I hope dad will remember to feed you.” For some reason, a man like Magnus who was away from home half the time thought it was a good idea to adopt the ugliest, neediest cat he could find. They had a neighbor fill Abbath’s food bowl when they were gone but the neighbors said he yowled constantly like a black metal banshee. Ragnhild tried to quit her job to be a petsitter, but then shied away like a coward.
Abbath, twitching his giant goblin ears, almost looked as goofy as his namesake. And she would miss that about him. Would she even be able to get a cat like that in Windenburg? And what about Norway’s black metal, electric cars, and fresh salmon–
“Are you on your period? I can get you a snack before your flight,” Magnus said.
Not like he didn’t try far too late.
“La meg være i fred.” Ragnhild’s mouth was full of bread and jam, but she didn’t care.
“It’s your last day here.”
“I know,” said Ragnhild. “I have to catch a plane, remember?”
“We could grab a beer first.”
“No. Drit og dra.”
Something about the two of them clashed like water and oil. They didn’t shout at each other but the air in Magnus’ house was so tense that it could be hard to even move. And it was hard to Ragnhild to find a cause beyond them not knowing each other well. She thought it would go much better when she moved in with her dad. She didn’t even remember the divorce, because she was only three at the time, and didn’t remember anything about him.
It was a stupid idea. Ragnhild realized she was full of them, from slogging through familial relationships that weren’t working, to being off birth control when she met Axel again.
That must have been kept drawing her to Axel. They had a similar philosophy, and he was always going to be nearby. Half inside of her, and half in the EU’s Schengen Area and participating countries like Norway.
“It’s very nice, I’m glad you let him rent this.”
“Yep…now I hope to never talk to my landlady again.” Ragnhild had never met Archer before, but she liked his attitude. She thought he’d act much differently when she saw his clothes were in shades of white. Plus, he was American, and most Americans were too stubborn-yet-cheerful. Archer was pliable but resented everything. He’d fit in as her neighbor better than any on her own floor.
Archer lived alone on the top floor of that half-timbered fachwerkhaus, which had a scenic view of the canal and the city. He helped her and Axel falsify some info to rent the middle floor for themselves plus two of Axel’s friends. It was small but could fit four people if two of them slept on a futon, and they got the balcony too!
Well, it wasn’t really false info they used. They asked for Ragnhild’s last pay stubs and by working in oil, she procured big ones. And Axel had just started a new job, as long as he wasn’t lying about it. It was a shitty lie if it was. Who wanted to brag about being an underpaid computer lab technician? He used to have much loftier dreams of software and video game design.
“Are you a loud neighbor? I’m tired enough to sleep through anything now…but I’m not sure about these guys,” she asked.
“Come on, I’m fucking everyone up there,” said Archer. He even raised an eyebrow at her. “Uh…so did you get the job with Norddeutsch Zeitung yet? I only ask because we read it in the break room every day. I like news and losing hope for mankind, just like anyone our age.”
“Smart…I’m hoping you’ll see my name. For politics.” Granted, Ragnhild wasn’t the most politically active person. She didn’t even know how she would vote in Germany, if she even could at all. Could she send in her ballot to Norway when it was time instead? But regardless, it seemed like the best way to succeed in journalism, the passion she didn’t even know she had. Politics made money after all, more than something like arts and entertainment.
She got the key from their landlady and finished any outstanding paperwork. In spite of her roommates being literal mental patients, they got their paperwork and deposit in on time, according to the landlady. All Ragnhild had to do was move her stuff in, and hope she could raise a baby in the same place. Her lease lasted longer than any pregnancy.
The lights were off in the apartment and Ragnhild expected it to be empty. Axel said that he and his friends were all employed after discharge. It was part of the promise to rehabilitate them to the greatest extent possible.
But two of them were asleep in the living room, and Ragnhild wasn’t told which one was Trent and which was Istvan. The apartment had only one bedroom and only one futon in the living room. Whichever one of them was sleeping on the couch needed to man up and share a bed with another guy. It wasn’t sexual unless they obsessively kept making that way.
As quietly as she could, Ragnhild went to work decorating the kitchen with her photos. She strung them up on a line with a typed out article she wrote about the Norwegian Stortinget. Her last weeks in Norway were spent trying to cover politics as best as a total civilian without a press badge could. And it was that content which she sent to Norddeutsch Zeitung with her application.
Ragnhild wasn’t narcissistic enough to keep it up forever, but for once, she was proud of her work.
She was about to get a late lunch ready when the door opened and Axel stumbled in. He was dressed nice for the edgy kid she knew him to be, in a tucked in sweater and jeans with no extra zippers or tears. It made Ragnhild a little happy, even, knowing his recent past. He looked like he got that programming job he always wanted, even if that wasn’t the case yet.
He slammed the door of the balcony before she could even greet him. It woke up his roommates.
“We overslept, didn’t we?” The red-haired one rubbed his eyes. “Oh hey, it’s the pregnant girl!”
“You can tell?” she asked him. He sounded potently American, like a lot of Windenburg University students. He must have been Trent.
“As if Axel will shut up about it,” he said. The other guy, who had to be Istvan, still looked bleary-eyed.
“Take me back to stay-at-home dad stuff,” he mumbled. “You ever feel down about no country having your back when you need to see your kid again?”
“I think Axel told me that story,” said Ragnhild. It was something about being lazy with visa paperwork, just like Axel was, but with an added edge of being a legally-unmarried gay dad. She knew Axel had some feelings deep down that he always denied, but they hadn’t affected his life’s story yet. In fact, there was nothing more straight than pining after one woman, yet getting another one pregnant.
“See, and I’ve had some therapy that’s told me it’s okay to be desperate and delusional, but that it won’t help me,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s something that will help you, but I like how it sounds.”
“No, I’ll remember that,” said Ragnhild. “I’ll make sandwiches.”
She got one for her hungry self when she remembered that Axel was still seething on the balcony. His life wasn’t in danger; even at his stupidest, he had to know that the worst injury would be a broken arm if he jumped. But he couldn’t keep loathing her. It didn’t matter much when she was jokingly called the pregnant girl, but there would be a baby in their apartment that summer.
“Bad day?” she asked. He was vigorously washing a load of clothes in a basin they kept outside. There was a washer and a dryer in the basement, but the landlady said that they’d get a rent cut for doing laundry by hand. She remembered when she lived with Axel during uni too. He would cook or clean or make a new GUI when he got stressed or wasn’t having sex, and would slack off a little when he had more sex.
“No…I actually got a clean bill of health today,” said Axel. “I can have all the salt I want and they reminded me to not attempt mutual suicide again, so…whatever. What can I even do on this balcony besides wash my roommates’ boxers?”
“Wash my bras too?” Ragnhild chuckled a little. “I forget what you used to be like. You did this every day when we couldn’t fuck.”
“My cousin says that I had to have been crazy this whole time, but it lurked beneath the surface.”
“We won’t get the old you back, because you’re already there. I’ve been telling myself that.”
“Something’s missing from keeping myself in check. If I was able to do it for twenty-two years, then what?” he said, moodily curled up on the ground. His hands still dripped with water and soap.
“You need to fuck a sane person,” said Ragnhild. “No offense to crazy Thu or anything, but she sounds as crazy as you.”
Ragnhild knelt down to Axel, putting a hand on his back. “You’ll get through this,” she said. And she meant it. It was his first time paying for an apartment on his own, after all. His parents spoiled him with paying for everything when they were in uni together. She still appreciated that. It was before Magnus remembered he had kids and sent her money and job offers too. “You’ll get through this because you’re getting better and Windenburg has a lot of hot people.”
“No…what if Thu comes back? I already yelled at her for being with another man after I left, and then I’ll look like a hypocrite,” he said. “And what if I knock up another girl? I can’t afford to do that.”
“Learn to use a condom and remember me when you forget,” she said. “Or there are men.”
“Yeah right, I’m not bi.” Axel didn’t blush but Ragnhild could still tell when his cheeks were turning hot with embarrassment underneath his brown skin. Like he was hiding something, such as trying to hide sometimes being mesmerized by a great ass at the bar back then. Ragnhild didn’t care; she often was too.
“Whatever. There’s a lot of work to do, and you need to let go of all your stress,” she said. “It will kill you faster than your liver will. And no matter what, use a fucking condom.”
A/N: Abbath was the only fitting name for the goofiest cat I could make…
(imagine taking my music recs seriously but I recently revisited Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism and reminded myself of what I love about the second-wave of black metal…especially because Immortal is just a little in on the joke)