When she first told her family she was moving to Norway, their reactions were exactly as she predicted: Her mother immediately concerned about her daughter being pretty much on the other side of the planet, her brother not caring one way or the other, his dorm life at the university making him scant more than a satellite in a long elliptical orbit, passing through the family sphere only two times a year, in the summer and for Christmas. Her father crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair at the dinner table, face scrunched up in disapproval.
“You know what bestefar would say about this,” he said. “He moved here to give his future family a safe place to live and the best opportunities.”
“That was almost fifty years ago dad,” she responded, pushing a piece of turkey around on her plate. The anticipation leading up to this conversation had caused her to lose her appetite, much to her mother’s concern. “Are you OK honey?” she’d asked again and again. “You’re hardly eating. You’re thin as a twig. Is it boy trouble?” Her mother always thought any issue was ‘boy trouble’. She smiled to herself. If her mother knew what kind of actual boy trouble she’d willingly gotten into, actively pursued to be quite honest, during her years away at an American university, she was sure there would be a priest or some sort of interventionist at the table instead of a Christmas dinner big enough for 16 people, to be consumed by the four of them.
“Look,” she leaned forward and locked eyes with her father, who leaned forward and stared right back, the same old power struggle they’d kept up since she was barely in her tweens. “That’s what you get for raising your daughter as a modern independent woman,” her mother had told him jokingly more than one time. “A woman who will stand up for herself and refuse to take your bullshit no matter how nicely you dress it up.” She knew this was exactly what he wanted, but still found it hilarious when he was bested by his children and ended up with nobody but himself to blame.
“Look, this internship is one of a kind. It’s a unique opportunity to get to work on actual paintings from an actual famous artist. My roommate would kill for this kind of opportunity. In fact I think she tried to kill me when she drove me to the airport two days ago just so she could take my place!” She said it with a joking demeanor and watched her mother go from shocked to mildly concerned to playing along even though she didn’t like this kind of joke.
“It’s a two year gig. The Norwegians have crazy vacation time, so I’ll be able to come back several times a year. I mean seriously. They get like two months off in the summer, and then they have fall vacation, christmas vacation, winter vacation, easter vacation. It’s all vacation all the time over there.”
When she first read the internship contract from the Mørch Museum she had thought it was some kind of weird joke she didn’t get. A paid internship with more vacation time than most people got in a lifetime sounded too absurd to be real. However, a call to the director of the museum and a conversation with a professor who had worked there for a year confirmed the wild promises in the letter were genuine. “We treat our interns like employees,” the director had said. “To build top class art restorers, we must give them work like top class art restorers, so we treat you like a top class art restorer. Do you understand?” His accent was intense, and his grammar was all over the place, but she understood, and agreed on the spot. Which is why this conversation with her parents had to go well.
“I know bestefar would be happy for me,” she said, her eyes starting to sting from the staring contest she was having with her father over the cooling turkey and stuffing. “And even though I’ll be in Oslo I’ll have a chance to go visit where he was from!” She was sure this last tidbit would do the trick, her father being quite obsessed with genealogy and the history of the family. When his frown just deepened she was confused.
“I’m not sure you’ll find what you’re looking for there. You might find things you’ll regret ever looking for,” he said without further explanation.
Her heart sank and she slumped back in her chair watching the opportunity of a lifetime pushed away by some ancient feud she never quite understood. But then her father’s face shifted into a sly grin and he slapped both hands on the table and stood up, his chair toppling over behind him, startling her brother out of whatever day dream he had drifted away to and causing her mom to shake her head and bury her face in her hands in a mild chuckle.
“Of course you’re going! We got a call from the director of the museum last month. Nice guy, though he could use some work on his norwenglish,” it was a family joke. Her grandfather’s English had always been rather awful, and he often injected Norwegian words into English phrases thinking that pronouncing them in an English-sounding way would be enough for people to understand them. His favorite joke was an old one about a Norwegian farmer in Saskatoon who went to his neighbour to borrow a handle for his grindstone. The Norwegian went up and said “Hello, I want your veiv to slip”, the two Norwegian words pronounced “weivv” and “sleep”. The joke was amusing if you knew the language, and meaningless if you didn’t, much like her grandfather’s Norwenglish, especially if he’d gotten his hands on a bottle of aquavit.
“Why would he call you?” she asked, rather annoyed that the director had felt it necessary to ask her parents’ permission. She was 22 years old for crying out loud! “Oh, he got our number from your university in error. It must have been on one of your files or something. Anyway, he told us why he was calling and we decided to give you a hard time since you had made such a big move without telling us first.”
Her mother smiled and nodded in agreement and put her hands out to grab a hug. When she folded herself into her mother’s embrace, her father jumped in as well and finally her brother stepped over and completed the set.
As she sat in the couch of her communal student apartment wearing someone else’s shirt, a pair of wool socks, and some ratty old shorts, her roommates and friends and … other random people strewn about on the floor and in chairs and everywhere else, two stern police officers hovering over her, she wondered what her parents would say. Her father would probably laugh so hard he fell off his chair while her mother shook her head and tried to put on a stern and disapproving face while trying and failing at suppressing a smile.
“I’m sorry, my Norwegian is not that good. What’s going on?”
The closest of the two officers, a woman with an intense face and raven black hair, clearly colored, looked at the other officer, a much younger man with platinum blonde hair, cool blue eyes, and a disarmingly stunned face. The woman nudged him and he snapped out of whatever trance he was in and started talking.
“Yes? Yes. We are police.” His English was rather good, with a weird mid-western singsongy sound to it and strong east coast influence. Typical of younger Norwegians who learned to speak English by watching American sitcoms.
“I can see that,” she responded, trying not to sound snarky, and failing. It didn’t seem to register at all, the police officers both appeared to be well out of their depth.
“Yes,” he said again. “We have closed this apartment. Nobody can leave. There is a thief here that we need to find.”
“A thief?” she said, genuinely confused. She’d been sleeping and had woken up when someone killed the music and started shouting. That someone had been the police woman now that she thought about it.
“Yes, a thief. You can’t leave until we find him.”
He stopped to think for a moment, then continued:
“We must know who is here. Do you live here or are you just at the party?” he gestured around at the other people in the room who were slowly emerging from their various degrees of too much beer and liquor to realize the party was over and the police were the cause. Man, these Norwegians party hard she thought to herself.
“I live here, with five other students,” she responded. “We had a party last night. Most of these people are friends of my roommates and their friends. Some are mine as well. I’m not sure I can be of much help.”
The male officer was staring at her again, that same lost expression on his face. He was kind of cute in a ‘I have no idea what I’m doing’ kind of way.
“What is your name?” he asked, pulling out a notebook and a pen.
“Julia,” she said. “Julia Valen. I’m from Vancouver, Canada, and I’m an intern at the Mørch Museum.”
“Julia Valen” he repeated as he wrote her name down in his notebook. When he looked up from it, their eyes locked for more than an instant and she saw his face transform through several increasingly intense shades of red. She smiled and felt a blush creeping to her own face as the other officer grabbed his shoulder and pushed him back.
“Seriøst?” she said, giving him a look of stern disapproval that rivalled her mother’s. Julia’s blush reached her cheeks and she hid her face in her hands, pretending to cough. Through her fingers she saw the male officer glance back at her one more time before moving on to try to get something sensible out of her drunk compatriots.