The glowing numbers on the clock radio told Sofie that she must have slept for at least ten hours. The air humid and close, the sheet soaked with sweat; it was like lying in a puddle. She pictured them, the Krohg-Iversens, as if from afar, reduced to a couple of rotting, saturated logs, bumping up against each other in a backwater. The rain still drummed on the skylight. She slid her arm across the sheet. Otto was sitting on the edge of the bed; he gave her a tender look and squeezed her arm gently.
‘Come downstairs,’ he said. ‘There’s rolling coverage of last night’s storm. It’s bad.’
The TV was on in the living room. Sofie sat down on the sofa and reached for a blanket. It took a while for what she was seeing on the screen to make sense. What the reporter was saying didn’t fit with the images of a big house swept away by the torrent and carried down a raging, swollen river. Otto sat down next to her.
‘They’re saying people might have died,’ he said. ‘Lots still missing.’
‘How long have you been up?’
‘Since about seven. The reports were already coming in. And now there’s footage too.’
An amateur video showed a river in the process of demolishing a bridge. The water had almost reached the road across, and a boat, several tree trunks, branches and planks of wood had become wedged in the structure and were battering away at it. The reporter said that several smaller bridges had been destroyed. A district police chief was being interviewed and asked people to stay indoors and avoid driving.
‘Where exactly is this?’
‘Everywhere. All over the eastern part of the country – anywhere there’s a river. But Oslo’s been badly hit as well. The metro isn’t running. They’re telling people not to travel for the time being.’
Sofie hauled herself up, and with the blanket wrapped around her, walked over to one of the windows. It was no longer raining as heavily as it had during the night and evening before. The city lay wet and grey beneath the cloudy sky, just like on any other rainy day. But the wind still howled and whistled. A meteorologist appeared on the screen behind her, explaining how prolonged drought might make it more difficult for the ground to absorb rainfall. Several more experts followed. Words once used to describe the extreme had become commonplace. The experts could just as well have been talking about what they’d had for breakfast. People seemed to have accepted that these abrupt cloudbursts, frequent storms and weeks of drought were now to be considered the norm.
‘First all the fires,’ Otto said. ‘And now this.’
Sofie crawled back onto the sofa. More updates soon followed. The situation became clearer. During the night, river levels had risen at record speed, so quickly that not everyone had been able to react in time. Several houses were gone, washed away, without anyone knowing whether the people who lived there had managed to get out.
Otto made some sandwiches, which they ate in front of the television. He chewed without noticing the taste, feeling as if the water was creeping up around his ankles. He couldn’t tear himself away from the screen, even though after a while it was the same bulletins over and over. They could easily spend the whole day like this, as they had done during similar catastrophes. Otto glanced at Sofie. Her skin was bluish-white in the light from the TV, the colour of soured milk. She was staring at the screen, but her thoughts seemed elsewhere. Eight years, he thought. Eight years and almost one month since they had sat on the same sofa, but in another house, in another part of town, watching another catastrophe play out on the screen, the start of the catastrophe which would gradually take over their lives.
At first there was only smoke, debris, sirens, dust. Then glimpses of people stumbling around in confusion. Bloodied faces, bloodied clothes. Paramedics and police attempting to establish control. It wasn’t long before the first text messages started coming in. ‘Turn on the TV.’ ‘Are you safe?’ They started ringing round to family and friends, and while they were making sure their loved ones were out of harm’s way, a new tragedy began to unfold, in the rain, on the island.
And they had been worried that she might catch a cold.
Otto could replay every second of that evening, every single movement. He’d been standing in the kitchen talking to a friend on his phone when he heard a scream from the living room. The scream became a wail. Otto rushed in and saw her pick up her phone and dial a number. He knew who she was trying to call when he saw the text rolling across the screen: reports of gunfire on an island outside Oslo. Her lips moved as she listened to the voicemail message. She hung up, then tried the number again. And again and again.
They’d seen Marie off the day before. The girl with the rucksack far too big for her. She carried the heavy pack as if it held everything she was going to become. All this she carried proudly out of sight. She was too young to go, but she’d been so eager. She would be going with friends, two girls a little older than her. They would be sharing a tent. She would be safe. The first day, Sofie and Otto had worried constantly, particularly during the heavy rain on the Thursday evening. ‘I’m fine,’ Marie had laughed on the phone. ‘I’m fine, I’ve got my wellies, the concert’s about to start, bye!’
Sofie kept trying to get through. All the way out of Oslo. Otto skipped between channels, listening for updates, trying to find out what was happening, trying to understand. But on the way up to Sollihøgda, she suddenly attacked the radio, pounding the buttons, his arm. He almost drove off the road. ‘Make it stop!’ she wailed. ‘Make it stop!’ He switched off the radio, put a hand on her knee, she pushed it away. ‘You try,’ she sobbed. ‘Marie doesn’t want to talk to me … ’ He pulled out his mobile, put it on speakerphone, called. They listened to the ringing, the sound of her voice made them start. It was as if she were in the car with them. Hi, you’ve reached the voicemail of Marie Krohg. I can’t take your call right now… She sounded so serious, so grown-up, their funny little girl. Their silent teenager. Strong and stubborn. Surely nothing could happen to her. He tried calling twice more. Sofie sobbed loudly. He asked if she had a number for either of the girls Marie was with. Sofie found a number for one of the mothers, her hands shaking. A man answered. Otto could tell straight away that the girl’s dad was just as terrified as them. He just wanted to get off the line, they too were waiting for a call. The call. From the daughter they couldn’t get hold of. But before hanging up, he told Otto it was important not to call Marie. Some of the kids out there had begged people to stop ringing.
‘That’ll be why she’s not picking up her phone,’ Otto said to Sofie. ‘She’s turned it off, she’s hiding, maybe she’s lost it.’ But his efforts to see this as positive only served to feed their fear. Because that was when they truly understood it. Understood the scope, the madness. Understood what was actually happening out there. Young people fleeing, hiding wherever they could, keeping out of sight, phones on silent. The ringing could give them away. All over the island, phones were beeping and ringing. But where there was ringing, he had already been.
They were stopped by a police cordon, could get no closer. ‘It’s not us you should be worried about!’ Sofie stood screaming at a burly policeman in full uniform. Otto had to get out of the car to intervene. ‘Why aren’t you out on the island? Why aren’t you protecting my little girl?’ Sofie had howled over and over. The policeman was unwavering. Sofie collapsed. Shut down. They couldn’t see the island, but they knew it was out there, just beyond the police cordon, beyond the bend, beyond the trees, not far from land. It had been a relief, but also frightening, to see the transformation in her. Because Sofie was gone. I’m losing you, Otto had thought. Now I’m losing you too.
This extract from Seven Days in August was translated from Norwegian at the 2015 International Creative Writing and Literary Translation Summer School, organised by the British Centre for Literary Translation in partnership with Writers’ Centre Norwich. The translators were Dorthe Erichsen, Paul Garrett, Anna Halager, Rosie Hedger, Sean Kinsella, Olivia Lasky, Sian Mackie and Lucy Moffatt, with workshop leader Kari Dickson and author Brit Bildøen.