A washed out image of a pink and blue sunset framed by the dark silhouettes of two city buildings.

Chapter Ten: Nostalgia

Everybody’s gonna be happy. That means you and me, my love,” Ray Davies insists. Then he sings the whole thing again, just to bang it into my chest like a spike. There’s over an hour before our train departs the station next door and all the Kinks’ greatest hits are playing over the P.A. at Café Fiasco in succession. In case you couldn’t guess, the current track is titled “Everybody’s Gonna Be Happy. Don’t get me wrong, I love The Kinks as much as the next serious songwriter, and it’s a delightful song, assuming you’re not clinically depressed.

I holler my order to the bartender as the chorus kicks into a real swing. “Give me three Dark ‘n’ Stormy.” Then I wait, observing her as she makes them with professional, impersonal precision, to shift my focus from the lyrics in all their sick irony, the perversion of their meaning on a day like today. She doesn’t know me like the bartenders back home; she says nothing to distract me from my own thoughts.

I dreaded the last, or rather, the first anniversary of Micke’s death. For weeks in advance, I bore the weight of it across my shoulders like a yoke, dragging my dread around town; to every bar, to every party as if I were hoping to leave it behind, like my keys, my phone, my hat, as I so often do when I’m drunk. The thing is, you always end up having to retrieve those things in the morning. But unlike my many other lost belongings, my dread and my grief would inevitably come calling to collect me.

That first year, I figured people would forget, that I’d languish alone, drinking in the stillness of my dark apartment. As hours ticked by, I’d sit and wait until the minute hand would at last traverse the cusp of another day, marking the finale of the most painful year of my life, all while heralding in still more of the same.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

A washed out image of Axel's celle phone. It's turned off, but the crack in the screen is still prominent. Click to go somewhere or don't.

Complete strangers; fans of Micke’s and mine, musicians I’ve worked with and some that I haven’t, all wrote heartfelt tributes, compelled to tell me how much Micke had meant to them. There came a barrage of messages, calls from friends and family asking how I was holding up, offering to swing by and get me out of the house. I thanked them all and politely declined, but Kåre—I couldn’t turn him away. He spent the night at my place, where we watched silent films together until I eventually passed out on the couch. I forgot to watch the clock at all.

Everyone of those people did their best to make me feel less alone, to help me see I was not the only one grieving, and that had meant something. But the next day, returning to the state of agonizing alone-ness that I’d only begun to grow accustomed to was brutal.

Earlier, my phone was constantly pinging, but it’s hard to say if it was because of what I did the night before or if it’s another virtual Micke memorial. Perhaps it’s both. I have no desire to find out. I put my phone on silent mode as we entered the mausoleum, and I haven’t looked at it since.

The bartender places three glasses in a neat row on the bar, and I snatch them up, balancing them precariously as I make my way to our dark little corner in the back. As soon as he sees me coming, Kåre’s eyes go wide with exasperation, before I even have the chance to dole out drinks.

“What did you do?” His gaze flutters to the ceiling, then descends on a sigh, and he stares at me from the top of his eyes. “I told you very distinctly that I wanted a ginger ale. I’m still hungover from last night.”

“Well, there’s ginger beer in there somewhere. Must have misheard.” That’s a lie. I just don’t want to drink alone; I can tolerate it on any day but today. Taking care not to spill, I set all three glasses down in the center of our wobbly table. “If you’re hungover, this is what you need. Anyway, this was Micke’s favorite.” I hope he’ll drop it now that he’s privy to the symbolism.

“Fine,” he breathes. With visible reluctance, he accepts the drink I slide toward him across the black, chipped formica surface. “But why are there three?”

Reclaiming my spot in the booth beside him, I place one glass in front of me, and the remaining one before the empty seat to my left. “Because that last one’s for Micke.”

Unfortunately, my intention to invoke Micke backfires; the lone glass before the vacant chair evokes a sense of profound absence, rather than presence. I glance away and raise my glass. Kåre raises his, and we clink them together. To raise a toast in Micke’s honor would be the proper thing to do, but I find myself at a loss for words. “To Micke,” is all I can manage.

“To Micke.” Kåre solemnly nods, and we drink.

As if in response, the AC/DC-themed pinball machine opposite us lights up and emits an array of sounds that clash terribly with The Kinks. Intended to grab attention, it would have certainly lured in Micke. He would have stood there endlessly feeding coins into the thing, tilting it on occasion, slapping its sides maniacally, and cussing at it when he inevitably lost. Only moments later, he’d feed it all over again, shouting, “Let’s go, let’s go!” as he drew back the lever with dramatic flare and released it. He loved pinball. He would visit a redneck bar in the heart of Homo Hatesville if it had a pinball machine.

Once the game goes dormant, Kåre suggests, “Perhaps we could — share our favorite memories of Micke? He would have wanted that.” I wonder if Kåre could sense my thoughts as I fixated on the pinball machine in want of a player. “It might help.”

“Maybe it helps you.” I cup my chin in my palm and look away. “It won’t help me.” With my free hand, I plunge my straw into my glass a few times so that the ice cubes bob around in their bath of ginger beer and rum. “But as long as it benefits you… I guess it’s okay.” My heartbeat accelerates, paired with that old familiar sense of strangulation, a cruel hand gripping my throat. Still, I give in. “We can do that.”

“Really?” Kåre’s eyebrows lift into an arch and, his lips moving in exaggerated form, silently mouths the word: “Wow”.

I’ll certainly regret it. But it seems to please him. “You go first.”

Why relent? Why now? Because saying nothing is starting to feel like a denial that Micke ever existed and he deserves better than a fate forever banished to the unspoken recesses of my mind. He should be remembered; we should talk about him. Until this moment, I’ve been selfish, denying him any kind of legacy. He is only a sad song on my latest record, because that’s all I’ve permitted him to be. He was much more than that.

Kåre pulls a pensive expression, tapping the table to the pronounced beat of “Dead End Street,” as he mulls over his memories, eyes shifting about the room as he processes his thoughts. About eight measures of the song go by before he speaks on a long exhale. “I wish I had known Micke earlier.”

“Me too.” Those last two years with him were a poorly designed rollercoaster: disorienting, relentless in its whiplash-inducing, unpredictable jerking, the merciless velocity between stages with few level breaks between the highs and the lows. “It was a bad time to get to know him. I suppose you hardly have many fond memories.” I only realize that I’m gnawing at my lips when sucking on my lime makes my lips sting and saves me from a bloodied lip.

“No.” Kåre frowns, the corner of his mouth twitching ever so slightly. “I have many. When you’re on the road with somebody all the time, it’s hard not to bond, it happens much more quickly, I think. And while it’s true I didn’t know him for long, I felt instantly close to Micke. He was that kind of person. I latched onto him like the big brother I always wanted.” Then, picking up on my quiet laughter, his voice turns defensive. “What’s so funny about that?”

“Yeah, about that, uh… family thing.” I rest my forehead on my hand. “All truth be told, he considered you to be family, too. But… I guess you could say in a — somewhat different way.”

Kåre raises an eyebrow at me. “How so?”

Well, he announced he was adopting you on the day of your audition. Of course, you were not privy to this arrangement.”

What?” Kåre’s jaw goes slack. “Is that why you two were giggling the entire time?” His face pinches into a frown. “I was quaking! I was terrified thinking that you guys only invited me there as a joke.”

My smile slips away into submission as I gasp, then release it, shaking my head. “Oh. No-no-no-no.” The mere thought of him thinking that deflates me like a good pummel to the chest. I place the flat of my hand over my breastbone. “It wasn’t that. Not at all. I’m sorry that you got that impression.” I clear my throat. “It - there was… an inside joke involved there, but uh, yeah, we were unprofessional. I’m surprised you wanted in.” The cracks in my lips are acid-singed as I suck on the lime again, and frankly, I deserve the sting.

“How could I refuse? That day represented every dream I ever had coming true.” He succinctly enunciates each word in the final half of the sentence, if only to emphasize what an utter fan boy he was. “But come on! Out with the joke. You can’t tell me that and then brush it off as if it was nothing.”

It wasn’t nothing. It’s that I’m still not sure how I feel about it. “Sorry, honey. It was an inside joke.” Besides, I no longer think it’s particularly funny.

The laughter. What was that about? Well… when we sat down and viewed the preliminary recorded auditions that were sent in by hopeful respondents to my call for a bass player, I may have rather boisterously proclaimed “He’s hired!” the exact second Kåre appeared on screen. Before he played one single, solitary note.

Meanwhile, there was Micke, slapping me on the arm throughout the entire video and howling, “You’re such a pig!”

“What? He’s adorable.”

Micke raised his eyebrows at me. “And from the looks of it, he started puberty three months ago.”

“That’s not true at all!” I glowered at him. “Now you’re only being mean.”

“Is it legal to hire him with the child labor laws in this country?” That comment made me shove Micke clear off of the couch. He landed with a thud. “Ouch! You bitch!”

“He’s twenty!” I growled through gritted teeth, not so much in Kåre’s defense as my own.

“You’re thirty!” Micke summarily reminded me. I recall how my cheeks burned at the implication of his accusations and the overwhelming shame it dredged up out of me. “You better do yourself a favor and check his ID!” Micke never knew when to quit. He knew precisely how to push my buttons. Then, having had his fill of provoking me, he playfully plucked up a pillow from the couch and threw it in my direction to diffuse the situation.

I refused to give him what he wanted; I simply clicked to the beginning of the video again without so much as a glance in his direction. “Thanks, now I have to watch this again because you didn’t let me listen to him play,” I grumbled.

“Sure, that’s why you wanna watch it again,” he muttered, pretending to sulk but finding it difficult to conceal his subversive smirk.

Amused as he may have been by the whole exchange, when I turned to him again, it was in all seriousness. “It’s not like that, and you know it,” I responded in a low voice. “I love you. I was only kidding.”

“I know,” he replied softly, still chuckling to himself. “But god only knows why.”

So, it was me he was laughing at during Kåre’s live audition, and it was I whom he relentlessly taunted. Micke was high as a kite on amphetamines and seemingly indifferent to how I was taking it. He was playing most of the songs in the wrong tempo. The beat was much too fast and I wasn’t sure if it was because of the drugs, if he was testing Kåre, or attempting to torment him. His behavior was completely inappropriate, and I was only laughing along out of embarrassment.

Once we’d seized a moment toward the tail end of Kåre’s try-out to deliberate in the hallway, I hissed at him: “You need to stop.”

Micke folded his arms across his chest, his lips drawn up into a tight sneer. “Well, are we hiring a bassist today or a boy toy?”

“Shhhh!” I shushed him, glancing over my shoulder in paranoia. “He’s gonna hear you!”

In retrospect, I don’t think Micke had a clue how upset I was. He snorted and buckled over, shoulders shaking with a last burst of laughter. But shortly thereafter, he relented. “Okay, fine. I gotta confess I don’t mind the kid. He seems sweet. And… he’s a good enough bass player.” Which was an understatement. Kåre was hands down the best bassist and the nicest person we auditioned. That was why he got the gig. “But — I’ll have you know, I’m adopting your child prodigy, so…” He continued in his best approximation of an American southern drawl: “…you best stop feasting your lecherous eyes on my son or I’m liable to get my shotgun!”

“What was that supposed to be? Texas?” I groaned.

“Alabama,” he said. “I was going for Alabama.”

“Well, either way, you suck at American accents.” I rolled my eyes and turned to re-enter the room and tell Kåre the job was his if he thought he could tolerate working alongside two idiots like us.

But hell if I’m about to share one paragraph of that story with Kåre.

I like how he says this if I wasn't going to read it!

It’s funny how fast an innocent attempt to speak fondly of the deceased can go sour. I should have kept my mouth shut and kept my mind on other things.

A rogue lime slice suddenly lands with a splat on the edge of the tabletop; it grazes my glass and just nearly misses me, bringing me abruptly back to the present. “Hey!”

An instagram image from Kåres account of a selfie of Micke, Kåre and Axel together in their rehearsal space. Kåre wears a broad grin. Translation of his caption from Swedish: I know, I don't usually smile so big, but I got the gig!

“You’re gonna make that face and not tell me what it’s about?”

Instead of telling him the truth, I placate him with a fraction of it. “He used to call you ‘the kid’ whenever you weren’t around. As a term of endearment. That’s all it amounted to. Like, ‘When’s the kid gonna get here and watch Twin Peaks with us? He’s late’, and then I’d say, ‘He isn’t late, you forgot what time you invited him’.”

“Oh…“ Kåre moans. “I miss our Twin Peaks parties.”

If you want to read my perspective, this time you'll find it here: Nerd Jerkery (tumblr.com)

To access it, you'll need to know what insiders called the drama queen's castle.

Kåre tilts his head wistfully to the side and sips from his straw. A gentle smile forms around it, but quickly evaporates. “There’s something I’ve wondered, though.” He bites down on his lip, breathing in deep through his nose. Then his forehead crumples. “What did I do to make him hate me?”

“What do you mean?” He looks like he might cry and I lean in toward him on impulse. “He —he didn’t hate you.”

“Maybe I’m being paranoid, but…” He scratches his head and draws in yet another protracted breath. “… to me it seemed somewhere along the line, Micke and I went from brothers to sibling rivals. I always wondered what I did, why he went cold on me.”

My mouth tumbles open, and at first I forget to breathe with it, then I breathe too much. The periphery fades with no focal point, but I give my head a firm shake, forcing myself out of it, blinking to dispel the blur. I glance at Kåre, then down at the floor. “You did nothing wrong.”

“What was it then?”

I lace my hands together, set them on the table, and my knuckles slowly go white. “I did not agree to discuss this; you said we would remember the nice things.”

“You’re right. I’m sorry,” he sighs. If there wasn’t a gap in songs playing on the sound system, I’d be hard pressed to hear him. He takes another drink as if to clear his palate. “Please… take a minute or two to calm down and we’ll over?” He drums again as I close my eyes, trying to regulate my breath, my heart rate. Once I appear sufficiently calm, Kåre forces a smile. “Ready?” I nod, so he continues. “I’ll never forget how that guy danced.”

“Oh right, you mean Micke the Cyclone?” I snort.

The soft smile I took to be forced spreads into an authentic grin. “He did not give one fuck about who was in his path or what got broken!”

I release a puff of air through pursed lips. “Oof, yeah. It’s questionable whether you could even call that dancing.” I can almost see him, whirling, a human top on the tiny raised stage in the corner, casting off droplets left and right. “You know he could actually dance? Like, ballroom dancing, even.”

Kåre tucks his chin and shoots me a skeptical look. “No way!”

“No, it’s true. Cyclone was just his default setting.” I chuckle. “Speaking of which, did I ever tell you about the night we met?”

“Not that I recall.” Kåre shakes his head. His face lights up with interest. “I’d love to hear about it.”

“It was after a show at Kafé 44, that premier gig with Nauru as Attax’s support act… before we ever toured together. Way before either of our bands really took off…”

I was exhausted, fed-up and feeling forgotten, toting my beat-up guitar on my back, still wet with sweat from the show. I shivered as I smoked, in my leather jacket and hoodie. The autumn air was harsh, and the slightest dampness sent chills down my spine. I remember thinking how bullshit it was to be the singer of a band and so easily cast aside, stranded on my own without a ride home. Somehow, it made me feel colder.

Nauru’s lead guitarist, Onni Nilsson, my then-roommate, had hooked up with some American exchange student by striking up a conversation around the fact that his singer is also an American. I’m Swedish, I protested. He’s American, Onni insisted. Then he took off with her in our van without saying another word to me. Which was yet another reminder that my supposed best friend, the guy I’d secretly had a crush on for two years, was exceedingly straight and thoroughly uninterested in me. So uninterested, in fact, that he didn’t give me a second thought.

Kåre interrupts by spraying a fine shower of alcohol and saliva across the tabletop. “Wait, you had a crush on Onni?” he wheezes and folds over the table, unable to conceal his delight. “This is some good fucking tea!

“Yeah, yeah, so my gaydar was faulty.” I was always falling for the straight guys. It gave me a reason not to try and subsequently get my heart broken. “By the way,” I add. “That secret goes to the grave with you or I’ll send you there early.”

He wipes at his mouth and giggles into his bar napkin, waving at me excitedly with the back of his free hand. “Go on. Now I gotta hear more!”

I sigh and smile. And continue.

Jilted and jaded, I had walked toward the nearest subway station, knowing full well I didn’t have the money for a ticket. I’d was going to have to climb over the turnstile again or rush through on the tail of the next unsuspecting paid passenger.

It’s then that I heard an atrocious keyboard sample bleeping and blooping away against a tacky, mechanical beat. It would turn out to be the smooth, sexy sounds of the Casio CTK-650 and its preset demo bank, set to Bossa nova. In the street, close to the club, a small crowd had gathered. Some were punks I recognized from the gig, others were likely random stragglers. All of them were dancing, circling the trunk of an old, rusty Saab in the glow of a solitary street lamp. I stopped in my tracks, thinking that I must be dreaming. The entire scene was patently absurd.

I stood there watching just long enough to surmise that the leader of this whole… shenanigan, really is the best word, was the thin, gangly boy with an overabundance of energy. I recall thinking how I wanted to try some of whatever he’d had. That anyone could naturally be that hyperactive seemed highly unlikely.

I couldn’t help but stop and smile as I stared. Primarily at him.

He was sporting a mop of unruly, back-combed blonde hair that curled under at the tips. He wore what appeared to be a white hazmat suit, with a lavender bandana tied around his neck. I recognized him almost immediately as the drummer from the band we had just opened for. I had literally bumped into him backstage between our respective sets and sloshed my beer all over his dingy leather work boots. Too insecure to work up the nerve to say more than a quick ‘sorry’ to him, I scurried off to my own band’s little corner.

Suddenly, there he was, the boy with the beer-stained boots, bounding up to me, skipping the entire way. “There you are!” he exclaimed, as if he not only knew me personally, but had for years. “We needed you!”

Me?” I released an uncomfortable laugh. I didn’t know how else to respond. I was pretty sure he was about to make a fool of me in front of everybody. He had good reason to seek retribution for dousing him with my drink.

The next thing I knew, he was taking the guitar bag from me, gently propping it up against the car. He changed the Casio preset to waltz and took me by both hands, leading me in a circular formation, before finally guiding me with one hand at my waist.

One, two, three, one, two, three, one, two, three, one, two, three,” he called out. He pulled me closer. All around us, the others followed suit, twirling and spinning each other.

“Sorry about your boots,” I interjected, cutting in on his counting off of the beat. I was hoping another apology might stop him from exacting revenge.

“Well, you certainly got my attention, didn’t you?”

I couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic. And I was fast growing dizzy. With only one good eye, I have difficulty getting my bearings when spinning that way.

He seemed to read me. “Look at me,” he said.

I didn’t. I couldn’t. I was too ashamed. He could see my face; he was staring at it after all, but I feared that if I looked at him too, he’d somehow be able to see more of it, even with the shield of long, cherry red hair I was hiding behind.

“Look at me…” he insisted once more, “… and you won’t get dizzy! I’m not some kind of narcissist. I’m trying to help you out.”

At last, I had to give in. He had a thin face with your standard high Scandinavian cheekbones, a strange crooked nose that would seem far too big, were it not balanced out by the size of his deep-set, shockingly bright blue eyes. His eyes were a brilliant shade of blue, even in the pale yellow light. Wondrous eyes that shone when they caught mine. The most beautiful eyes I’d ever seen.

Nearly all of his features were overly pronounced, but not unpleasantly so. Simultaneously funny-looking and seriously handsome, that was Micke. His lips were thin and long, and the corners of them lifted into a dreamy smile. He paused to change the preset (cha-cha) and then picked up immediately where we left off. He hardly took his eyes off of me the whole time.

I felt it move in me, the friction that tosses off sparks, the moment my heart awakened. I knew already at that moment that this was momentous. This was a moment that would change me forever, the moment that made me the man I am today.

Slowly, the others drifted away without so much as a goodbye.

“Your friends left,” I said, glancing around. The street was deserted.

“Oh, they’re not my friends!” he sniggered, reaching into his trunk to turn off the keyboard and closing it firmly with both hands. “I’ve never met them before! Probably never meet them again, either. I do this after every gig!” When he turned to me, and his entire demeanor changed. He was slower, or at least more focused. “Are you tired?” he asked.

I nodded.

“Cold?”

I nodded.

“My drums are in the car, but I think I have enough space for you. And your guitar, with any luck.” Apprehensively, he ran his hand through his nest of golden locks before asking, “Can I drive you home?” He must have sensed the discomfort in the shallow laugh I gave, because he added, “I swear I’m safe. Totally sober! There’s not a single thing in me that wasn’t prescribed.” That I had a very hard time believing. He’d have to be heavily intoxicated to be so infatuated with me. That takes some serious beer goggles.

“I’ll just catch the metro or something,” I said, picking up my guitar from the ground where it toppled over at some point and slinging the strap over my shoulder. “It’s cool. I live way over in Masmo. I wouldn’t want you to go out of your way.”

His face split into a bemused smirk as he shook his head. “Sorry to inform you, but the last train left ages ago.” He glanced at the plastic, purple Swatch watch on his wrist to be certain, then he waved it in front of my face to prove his point. “It’s my fault you missed the train. The least I can do is drop you off.”

I sighed, relenting out of necessity. “I guess I don’t have much choice. It’s not as if I can afford a cab when I can’t even buy a bus ticket.”

“Where are you from? You sound… are you Finnish?” He squinted at me, as if it would help him better decipher my utterances. “Is that it? Your dialect is… well, I can’t place it. Swedish isn’t your native language, is it?”

“I didn’t grow up here,” I confessed and looked away, the old tinge of shame stirring in my chest. “But I am Swedish. And it is one of my native languages.” I used to hate anyone knowing that I was raised in the U.S. The political climate was extremely hostile in those days, especially in the punk scene. I’d frequently tell a half-truth, as I did that day: “I grew up in Norway.”

“Oh, so your ‘dialect’ is svorska!” he laughed, and I felt my cheeks blazing.

“Is that even a thing?”

“Yeah. It’s a thing. Don’t look so embarrassed, it’s really cute!” He took up both of my hands in his and he gazed at me. He looked at me long and hard as I looked down at my feet. I wondered what he was thinking. If he was disgusted. When I glanced up to check, he was smiling. A wide, silly grin. “Look at you!”

“I wish you wouldn’t.”

“What on earth do you mean? You’re lovely! And I don’t even know your name.”

“It’s Axel.” I was bracing myself for the punchline. Nobody had ever called me lovely. Here it finally comes, I thought, the world’s longest set up for a cruel joke.

“I love that name!” He pretended to swoon. He had to be pretending. “My favorite uncle’s name was Axel.” He released one hand, but held on tightly to the other. “I’m Micke.” Suddenly, he frowned. “I saw your set. Why are you so shy now? You were a lunatic on stage!”

Indeed, he had come out during our set to watch from the audience. At first he moved as a manic dervish, whipping up the crowd to our benefit. But when I dared to glance over at him mid-set, he was standing in place, staring up at me from the foot of the stage as if entranced. Now, in retrospect, I understand what I couldn’t possibly know then. I had simply calmed the storm with a storm of my own; we were two hurricanes colliding, slowing and merging on impact.

“All that stage stuff is just an act.” I shrugged, giving off another bout of uncomfortable laughter. “I’m not that interesting in real life.”

“Shut up! I bet you’re fascinating!” He delivered a tiny whack to my arm before tugging me closer to him by the sleeve, as if to reveal a terrible secret. “You know what? My band is booking a tour. I don’t know if you heard, but we finally got signed.”

“Oh. Congratulations.” I hadn’t even heard of his band before that night. I had overheard their singer saying that they had recently moved to Stockholm from Karlstad, of all the boring places to start a punk band. They were newer to Stockholm than I was.

“Your band should come along and open for us. My bandmates will fucking kill me for not consulting them but… please say yes!”

“Why? I have no authority to make that kind of decision.” Yet another nervous laugh issued from my lips. I was glowing like an ember again. He was still gazing at me intensely, and I wished he’d knock it off. Speaking of embers, I also wished he’d let go of my hand so I could light up a cigarette. I was jonesing for a cigarette. “Why would you want me to go on tour with you?”

“Because I need to see you again. And again. I already don’t want to leave your side.” His voice softened, slowing in its cadence. “Seriously, I don’t want to take you home right now, but I will.” I assumed he had to be very desperate to get laid. “You don’t believe me, do you?” I shook my head and stifled a smile. Actually, I wished I could believe him. “I’ll show you, then. I’m never gonna leave you alone. You’ll get sick of me. It’s going to be horrible for you. I apologize in advance!”

“You must be insane,” I said. “If you’re not drunk, then you are definitely insane.”

“Was there ever any question of that?” He grinned, dropping my hand, and I lit up a smoke at last. “I was dancing in an empty street with complete strangers for over an hour. Do you have to do that? You’re cute, but you smell like an ashtray.”

“Thanks.” As if I needed something more to be self-conscious about. “You really… you think I’m cute?”

“Sure, why not?”

I figured I might as well scare him off right then and there, rather than later, when he’d inevitably wake up beside me in the unforgiving light of morning. Never had I done what I was about to do. In fact, my hands were shaking as I peeled back the wall of hair obscuring the hideous half of my face. Not that I trusted him. It was that I did not, and I couldn’t risk getting hurt again.

“Watch out! You’ll go up in flames!” He swooped in, brushing the hand holding my cigarette away, taking over the task of holding my hair to get a good view. “You must spray the fuck out of that to keep it in place!” He waved my hair back and forth as if it were a sheet of aluminum. “You know, I have this appendectomy scar. I never thought to grow out my chest hair and glue it down like a comb-over!” By then I was grinning. He was contagious. He was a goddamn plague! “I still think you’re cute.”

This was definitely a dream. But I wanted to avoid waking up for as long as I could. And thus began the negotiations. “Maybe I can crash at your place. I bet it’s closer than mine.”

He screwed up his face. “It’s a pigsty, honey. I live in a squat. I can’t allow that.”

“I don’t care.” I shrugged and attempted to blow a smoke ring, but it came out a wobbly mess and dissipated quickly, likely as mortified as its maker.

“I do. I care what you think of me,” Micke said. “And that would make a lousy first impression on you, so… you’re not invited. Yet. Just let me bring you home.” He stared down at his boots and went silent, contemplative. I thought perhaps he had changed his mind about wanting to stay with me after seeing my face in all of its horrific glory, but was too polite to say it. But when he looked up, he asked me, “Can I… kiss you, though?” He bit his lip, eyebrows lifted, waiting intently on my response.

“Um. O-okay, if you wa…”

He cut me off, his index finger pressed firmly to my lips. “Stop it with that shit. Seriously, I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t want to.”

I was terrified, but I closed my eyes and he kissed me in a way I’d only read about. It was a sweet, innocent kiss, nothing outrageous. But it was our first kiss and I’ll never forget how that felt for as long as I live.

“Hey, what about…” I was reeling from the momentum, from the speed at which this was progressing. “Um… maybe you can stay with me?” I could only imagine how shocked Onni would be when, for once, I also got laid after a show. “That way you don’t have to drive back. It will be too late by then anyway and you might get tired while driving, which… w-would be dangerous…” The strange mixture of anxiety and excitement I felt made it it difficult to spit out the words.

“Brilliant idea!” he exclaimed, clapping his hands together. He fished a mess of tacky key chains more plentiful than keys from his pocket and unlocked the passenger side door for me, holding it open like a true gentleman. “Seems to be a solid solution. I’ll stay with you.”

And he did. He stayed. Not counting when we were both touring with our respective bands, we were rarely apart from that night onward. Until the night he died.

I never got sick of him. It was only occasionally horrible for me. But he said he would never leave me alone, and he broke his promise.

We had twelve good years. Give or take.

My straw makes a sad slurping sound to notify me that I’m done. With that drink, anyway. Someone has to drink Micke’s. Alcohol is too damn expensive in Norway to justify such a horrific waste, symbolic or not. Micke wouldn’t mind; he’d be more offended if I left it.

“You should have seen Onni’s face when he woke up to Attax’s drum kit in our living room and their drummer in my bed!” Oh, it was the sweetest revenge.

“You both really lived together from day one?” Kåre gapes at me in disbelief.

“Yeah, well, that squat Attax was living in? They were heating the place with a bunch of space heaters plugged into a string of extension cords that stretched across the way from the neighbor’s place. It was a total fire hazard! I refused to let him stay there on sight.” I laugh now, but it was pretty bad. “Anyway, it was intense. We had this urgent desire to make up for lost time, for all the years we hadn’t known each other existed. Everybody else thought we were crazy. I admit, I was swept up in the whole thing and got carried away. But I’d never been in love before and the thought that someone could love me was totally foreign.”

Looking back, I can see how some con man could have easily taken advantage of that insecure, insatiable desire for somebody, anybody at all, to love me. I was lucky that it ended up being Micke, a guy so pure in his intentions.

Kåre heaves a sentimental sigh. “You two were totally relationship goals. Which explains why I’ve been single for so long. I set my bar way too high!”

I’m unsure how to respond to that. He set his bar based on half-truths and careful omissions. The lightest breeze could knock it down, so flimsy is its support. Still, I’d hate to spoil his fairytale. Disney is no real-world default. Any connoisseur of the brothers Grimm knows that such stories have their dark sides. We sit in silence for a moment, more out of reverence than awkwardness. It feels as if I’ve misled him.

Fast nearing the bottom of Micke’s drink, I tilt it slightly, really plunging in the straw to suck up the dregs as Ray Davies sings away, this time somewhat more appropriately: “Thank you for the days, those endless days, those sacred days you gave me…

That’s it. I know I’m going to crumble if we don’t get the fuck out of here.

To my great relief, Kåre glances down at his phone, realizing, “Hey, we had better get going. We still have to grab our bags from the storage locker and Ola’s gonna meet us with your hat right before we leave.”

As we rise and shimmy back into our jackets, I say, “Thanks for remembering Micke with me. And thank you for listening.” This represents the first occasion that I’ve willfully reminisced about Micke and felt warm, even happy while doing so. “I actually think that helped. For once.”

A restrained smile spreads across Kåre’s face as he zips up his leather jacket. “That’s a pretty good sign.”

“Yeah. Maybe it is.”

And then, out of the blue, I’m overwhelmed by a wave of nausea, forced to drop to my seat again. The swimming slap hits so acutely that the entire room is awash, rolling over me like the tide rushing in. My vision goes black again for a second.

Ray continues singing underwater. Or perhaps it’s me who’s listening from beneath the waves: “You took my life. But then I knew that very soon you’d leave me…

When you’re caught in the current and tossed end over end, it’s hard to discern up from down. You look for the light, search for the sun, and you swim towards it. Me, I’d rather sink. But something in me is rebelliously buoyant.

I don’t want to experience happiness thinking about how things used to be. As Kåre said, it’s a sign. A sign that I’m healing; that this level of hurt won’t last forever. It’s the light I refuse to see. The light I’ve been actively swimming away from.

“Are you okay?” Kåre freezes in the middle of pulling on his gloves, concern etched into his brow. “All the color drained from your face.”

“Was there much color to begin with?” I ask with a disoriented laugh and shake my head, an attempt to fight off the vertigo and regain my bearings. “I got sick to my stomach. Sorry. Something about… talking about Micke like that.”

“Didn’t you say it helped?” He takes a step closer and bows slightly over me. “You just made progress, Axel.” His voice is wavering. “It’s natural to feel like this, eventually. Things will get better. It will get easier.”

An instagram image from Axel's account showing the sunset's reflection in the glass of a highrise. Axel captions it: 'The last sunset' in Swedish. Tor comments: Dude. I think you meant to say 'The latest sunset'.

Progress denotes movement, moving on along with everybody else. And the more I move on, the farther from Micke I am. I realize that. And I so desperately don’t want to move on without him.

“I’m fine now,” I assure Kåre, standing up once more and checking the booth to ensure we left nothing behind. “Let’s get out of here.”

We rush out into the frosty autumn air as the damage of Ray Davies thanking whomever is already done, ending in a hopeful final refrain.

Crossing over the bridge toward Oslo S, the liquor that last hastily-consumed drink warms me as it washes through my veins. At least the sun has attempted to peek through the clouds just before it sinks below the horizon. It paints the sky a multitude of colors; crimson, begonia, burnt sienna, gold. A glimpse of heaven or hell. My last sun at the end of the world. As we cross over toward the station, I slip my arm around Kåre. We stop in the center to watch the remains of the day burn away.

“Thank you for today. And for every other day you’ve stood by me,” I tell him. “I mean that.”

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