north one-two-five

ONE DAY I was in Lapland with Riho and Alar. They were teaching me how to cross country ski. I couldn’t recall how we had all decided to head up there, but there we were. I had a good set of new skis too, just perfect for freestyle. Riho in particular was a strong skier and seemed to know the terrain quite well. “You just don’t have vistas like these down in Estonia,” he said. He was right. There were long, descending slopes that just went on and on, past lines and lines of pines. It was like butter. The freshly fallen snow billowed up like smoke and it only kept snowing. I was happy there but the following day was less happy. That was the day my daughter and I were driving around Kharkiv pulling Ukrainians from the wreckage of ruined buildings. Another Russian missile strike, the bastards. One woman was trapped up on the second floor and we had to pull her free from the rubble. She was a middle-aged singer in a black dress with red curls. She alone had survived. The poor woman had been living indoors since Christmas and hadn’t taken down her decorations, so they were now strewn about in the rubble, the broken pipes and shards of glass and concrete, the plaster and sheetrock, the blinking ornaments. My daughter wanted to keep rescuing people, but I told her that if we kept going like that, someone would need to rescue us or even worse. Besides, the next morning I had to attend a climate change conference in Stockholm. Some denialists were giving a talk at a posh hotel by T-Centralen, but I was surly and disagreeable and interrupted them. The police were called, of course, and I managed to evade them in the kitchen. But the police went in there too, asking to see everybody’s passports. I stole a white coat and pretended to be the sous chef and made it out the back door, but then realized that I had left the cat in the room — North 125 — and had to go back to get her. When I made it back to the room, I saw four officers standing around the door, pounding on it. I didn’t know what to do so I just approached them. “Excuse me,” I said, “but do you happen to be looking for me?” After I was released from jail, I went to get a coffee at a Chinese restaurant. It turned out the owner had assaulted his girlfriend and also done time for it, though he insisted it had all been in self defense, and that she had attacked him first. He was a young kid, maybe 25, with a baby face, and seemed kind enough. It was hard to imagine he had done it, but I decided to leave anyway. I didn’t want to wind up back in the slammer and, anyway, what kind of person drinks coffee at a Chinese restaurant? I went to find another café and rode my bike all the way down the avenue. I saw posters for the elections everywhere, but there was no café open at that hour. I thought about going back to Lapland instead. Maybe there was a good café up there? Some place with warm pastries and cocoa, hot espresso and hot Sámi women? Maybe Riho and Alar were still waiting for me? The skiing had really been wonderful up north and there was no war.

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