Home again! About ten
people waited in the lobby of the apartment building. Only one elevator
was operating. The other two were on service to accommodate the tenants
moving in and out. When you have three hundred and sixty-eight units in
a building there are always people moving in and out. Our building has
the equivalent population of a fair sized village. Well over a thousand
residents call it home.
I felt weak as I squeezed into the elevator when it finally arrived. My
knees seemed to be made out of rubber. When we reached the fifteenth
floor the crowd had thinned out considerably. I unlocked the door to my
apartment and sat down on the stool I keep in the hallway. For some long
minutes I took stock.
The submachine gun which had been my constant companion for the past six
weeks had changed back into an umbrella. It was completely dry, yet
outside the blizzard was still raging. Even my beret was dry. And what
about my parka? It was dark blue once more and quite clean. Back in
Narvik I had been wearing the light brown windbreaker which had been
part of my uniform, and it had been filthy with dried clay and mud and
an assortment of last year’s burrs and brambles.
Had it all been a bad dream? I looked at my watch. Not yet three.
In my mind’s eye I saw the events of the past few minutes again. There
was that sudden snow shower. Sergeant Johnson had parked the Landrover a
short distance away from the building under some scrubby birch trees. I
had run towards the house which had been the Medical Field Station No.
2, Narvik, to warn Major Pershing that we were falling back. Just as I
was reaching for the door knob I heard the scream of the shell,
magnified by the strange acoustical qualities of the falling snow. As I
yanked the door open and stepped across the threshold I noticed the
bright flash of the explosion, exactly where Johnson was waiting with
the vehicle, and I found myself in the vestibule of my apartment
It just could not be, I told myself. Heaven knew what date it was. I had
spent six long weeks fighting the enemy in Narvik. Despite our valiant
efforts the War Office in London had had other plans. General Dietl and
his troops would return to Narvik from the small enclave they were
holding against the Swedish border. They would return and occupy Narvik
and rebuild its totally destroyed port facilities. They would remain in
control of Narvik and Norway for almost five long years until the end of
Wearily I stood up. Yes, what date was it? Suddenly curious I switched
on the radio. Some rock music was just ending. As I looked around me my
apartment appeared to be normal. Nothing indicated a long absence nor
had anybody been in to straighten things up. The bed was made as I had
left it with the sheets a shade crooked and the door to the bedroom
“The time is exactly three p.m. on this unpleasant Saturday, the 27th of
April,” I heard the announcer’s voice from the radio. “Spring is slow in
coming this year ...” I flicked the switch to off. April the 27th.
Today. I had left on April the 27th. And it was still April the 27th. I
sat down on a chair in the kitchen.
If I left on the 27th and it was still the 27th, then one of two things
must have happened. Either it was a bad dream, a nightmare, or a year
had elapsed. But a year could not have elapsed. The odds were very much
against a snowstorm on the 27th of April two years in a row. And anyway,
it could not be Saturday a year later. It would have to be Sunday the
27th. But is was still Saturday. I had just heard it on the radio.
Wearily I got up and looked out the window. There were still five moving
vans waiting in the driveway. It certainly was not a year later. And
besides, who would have paid the rent all that time?
I filled the electric kettle with water and plugged it in. It would be
best to have a cup of tea. My mind kept dwelling on the problem. I had
spent six weeks in Narvik in northern Norway. It had been cold all the
time. During the six weeks the days had lengthened until there was no
night at all. For the past ten days we had had uninterrupted daylight.
Still - it had been only a dream!
As I was sitting at the table waiting for the water to boil my eyes fell
upon my left hand. And I was shocked by what I saw. The tip of my left
middle finger was missing. I examined it in great detail. It was cut off
at the joint just below the nail.
The cut was not smooth. The skin had been pulled over the bone but
apparently had not been quite enough to cover the injury. There was a
small depression right in the center of what was now the tip of my
finger. It looked exactly like the repair job a surgeon might have made
sixty years ago under primitive battlefield conditions. As I pressed
with my thumb on the top of it I found it to be tender. No - it had not
been a dream!
The water was boiling and I made the tea. I remembered the past six
weeks. Sergeant Bill Johnson. Did he survive? No, his Landrover had
suffered a direct hit just as I walked through the door to warn Major
Pershing. Narvik and the fight against the Germans had been real enough.
I had lost the tip of my left middle finger in the encounter. It could
not be shrugged off. But it - the war - was history. It had taken place
over sixty years ago!
There was no solution to the enigma. I had spent six weeks in Narvik as
a captain in His Majesty’s Forces. I had lost the tip of my left middle
finger, yet no time at all had elapsed here on this 27th day of April.
Slowly I reached for the cup of tea and began sipping it.
As the days turned into weeks and the weeks kept piling up my Norwegian
experience took on an air of unreality. Often I would think that it had
been a dream, a particular vivid dream. And then I would look at my left
hand and know that it had not been a dream at all but an actual
experience. I had lived through six weeks of the battle for Narvik from
April to June 1940, and here in my current life no time at all had
elapsed. A paradox? Yes, most certainly. Ye t I could not explain it,
not even to myself, except perhaps through magic.
Spring did come that year. In due course it turned into summer, and
summer came and went. I kept working in the construction office as I had
for years. The following winter was unusually severe with plenty of snow
and long stretches of extremely cold weather. On those days when the
thermometer dipped to below minus thirty degrees traffic was relatively
light as many cars would not start. Nevertheless, traffic grew at an
unprecedented rate and it became a major chore to get to work. What used
to take twenty minutes now consumed twice that much time, both in the
morning and again in the evening.
Still, I should not complain. While the unemployment rate climbed to
well over ten percent I had a good job and pleasant working conditions.
Before I realized it another spring was on its way. With considerable
apprehension I watched the 27th of April approach. Would I experience a
repeat of last year? Well, the 27th of April came and went. It was a
real pleasant, sunny day with a temperature of around twenty-five
degrees. I clearly remember it. It was perfect shirt-sleeve weather.
Tempting fate I went downstairs right after lunch. I descended in the
elevator which was empty except for myself. Once again it did not stop.
Only on this day, a Sunday, there were no moving vans waiting to be
unloaded. The lobby was also empty. Should I take a chance and go
outside? What if ...?
Resolutely I pushed the door open. It was quite hot in the vestibule
from the sun shining through the windows. Here I had one last chance to
change my mind. If April the 27th was a day on which strange things
might happen to me ...
There was only one way to find out, and that was to push open the door
to the outside and walk through it. And that was what I did.
I half expected to find myself in some strange locality, maybe in some
medieval village or deep in the forest or perhaps even in another
theater of war. But nothing happened, nothing at all. I stood outside my
apartment building, with the flower beds to my left and the walkway
crossing the driveway and running straight out to the road, flanked by
more flower beds and the two mountain ashes. So there was nothing wrong
with the concept of time as a steady progression running from the future
through the present into the past.
An hour later I returned from my walk. The rest of the day, April the
27th, went by quite uneventfully. That year we had an early spring. By
the middle of May all the trees were in full leaf which was at least ten
days earlier than in most other years here where I live in this northern
Every morning as I waited for the elevator to take me downstairs I
looked out the window at busy Warden Avenue. The lines of cars stopped
for the traffic light had doubled in length from the previous year. That
was progress for you!
One strange phenomenon had occurred this year though. Beginning in
early May it had rained every weekend. The other days from Monday to
Friday were sunny and warm. During the night from Friday to Saturday it
would cloud over and on Saturday and Sunday it would rain all day. It
was not just a light drizzle. That would have been bad enough. No, we
experienced heavy downpours, more in the nature of cloudbursts. And the
rains would last until late Sunday. Then over night it would clear up
and we would have again sunny and warm days until the following weekend.
June was a most ideal month. Temperatures were near twenty-seven or
twenty-eight degrees with low humidity and brilliant sunshine except for
the weekends when it rained.
Being an avid reader I always had several books home from the library.
As I sifted through the half dozen volumes sitting on the coffee table
in the living room I suddenly realized that three of them were due
today. Once more I checked the date. Yes, Saturday, June 21, it said on
the library slip in the pocket attached to the inside back cover. And
today was June the 21st, and the first Saturday since spring that the
sun was shining.
It was the middle of the afternoon of a most pleasant day. I looked at
the clock. Just about a quarter to three. I really should take the books
back to avoid paying the fine for being late. And I had read them as
well. But it seemed such a chore to walk down the two long blocks to the
library. However, I could take the car.
But no, on such a pleasant day, who would want to drive when you could
walk there in fifteen minutes. And besides, I could do with the
exercise. But it was more than a kilometer to walk! I diddled around for
a few minutes trying to decide whether to go or not to go, and if I
went, whether to walk or to drive.
I’ll go, I decided. I put on my running shoes, took the books, locked
the apartment and walked along the hallway to the elevator. I glanced at
my watch. Exactly ten to three. I could be back by four.
I pushed the button for the elevator and mentally prepared myself for a
lengthy wait. It was Saturday and from past experience it always took
several minutes on Saturday afternoons for the elevator to arrive.
People did their shopping and we had three hundred and sixty-eight
apartments in our building. I began to walk towards the window to watch
the traffic on Warden Avenue down by the traffic light at the corner.
I had taken maybe two steps when the elevator doors opened. That was
fast, I said to myself as I stepped inside and pushed the button for the
main floor. I had the three books in my left hand. I studied the
pictures on the covers. Before I realized it the doors opened again and
I was at the street level. I crossed the lobby which was deserted. But
outside a couple was walking towards the entrance. They came into the
vestibule, fumbling for their keys to unlock the door to the lobby. Both
the man and the woman were carrying two shopping bags each. They had
been at the Miracle Mart. The printing on the plastic bags said so.
Shifting the books to my right hand I opened the door from the inside.
“Thank you,” the woman said as she passed me.
“Thank you. What a great day,” the man observed. I nodded to them and
Then I went into the vestibule. Outside the two mountain ashes cast a
light shadow over the flower beds in which a profusion of peonies and
I reached out with my left hand to open the door of the vestibule to the
outside. Briefly my eyes caught the display on my digital watch. It read
2:50:59. I thought nothing of it at that moment. I pushed the door open
and stepped across the threshold at the instant the display changed to
There was a sudden draft. I half turned, looking at the ground. The gust
of wind slammed the door shut behind me. As I raised my eyes I stopped
dead in my tracks. There in front of me ...