When Emily Jessup said goodbye to her daughter in Oslo, she did not expect to see her again for at least five days. Mimi was going mountain climbing with friends and was to meet her mother at the end of the week on the tip of a fjord in Flam. Emily looked forward to the time apart.
The first day she met a traveling toothbrush salesman while looking at the mosaics in the City Hall. He told her of the recent rapes and increasing drug use in Norway and recommended caution.
She spent the afternoon in Vigeland Park where corridors of large, tubular statues embraced each other in various forms of family love and comradery. The naked, granular bodies were not of themselves sensual, but became so, for Emily, in their relation to other bodies. There were old women embracing old men and women wrapped up in women; children clung to men and men to each other. When Emily circled the fountain at the end of the long boulevard, she felt a wave of tenderness for her own family. As she walked back down the corridor in the drizzle and the mist, and looked at the statues on the other side, the men and women and children pressed between them, she had another, more sensual feeling.
That first night she pulled a puffy blue eiderdown over her head and curled up like a baby underneath it.
On the morning of the second day, she sketched from a window and wrote exalted postcards to her friends back home. By nightfall however, she grew restless and wanted someone to talk to and wished the rain would stop.
Now it is the third day and it rains still. Emily boards the train for Flam. She chooses a seat on the left side of the car just as the guidebook suggests, and looks out the window and waits for communion with Nature. When the train stops alongside a glacier, Emily leaves the car to stand on the platform. She looks at the bald mound of ice, but is more aware of the cloud of her own breath.
As the train approaches Myrdal, the sun comes out. At Myrdal there is a smaller train that runs past waterfalls, down to the valley of Flam.
During the descent, sun shines through slats of wooden tunnels into the cream-colored car. The train stops halfway down and a loudspeaker invites everyone to step out and take pictures of the waterfall which is short and fat and powerful. Emily spends most of the five minutes watching a Japanese boy take pictures with a Super 8.
Back on the train, she thinks only of her husband. He is in London making a film about a Japanese girl with whom he is in love. Before her holiday, when Emily confronted him, he said only, “Can I help it if she’s in love with me?”
From the station she follows two women to a pension where they are given the last double room. Emily is offered a bed in the dormitory. “If no one else comes,” says the landlady, “You can have it all to yourself.”
Emily throws her things on a cot and goes outside to catch the late afternoon sun. The pension is at the center of the tip of the fjord. On either side, mountains rise like knees. To the right is the village which consists of one store, a large, white-frame hotel, and a railroad station. The rapids from the waterfall run parallel to the tracks. The water is clear and cold over the yellow stones on the bottom. Raspberry bushes filled with berries form a fringe on the western bank.
To the left of the pension is a small hotel and a gravel road that runs along the cliffs of the fjord to the next village. Emily walks along the road, then climbs the moss-covered boulders at the foot of the eastern mountain. She finds a patch of sunlight and sits down in it. Her fingers knead the clumps of moss as they might the neck of her English sheep dog. She has never been in such a place, so clean, so soft, alone.